Saturday, December 27, 2014

Karl Giberson: 2014 Revenge of the Creationists

Karl Giberson has written a post for the Daily Beast called “Revenge of the Creationists,” in which he outlines all of the recent developments in the land of young-earth creationism, although he lumps in climate change as well, a related and often correlative movement.  Aside: I am currently working on a post involving the examination of young earth creationism as a natural theology-based heresy.  Anyway, back to Giberson.  Of course, leading the charge is Ken Ham.  Giberson writes:
America’s leading science denialist is Ken Ham, head of the Answers in Genesis organization that built the infamous $30 million Creation Museum in Kentucky. He also put up a billboard in Times Square to raise funds for an even more ambitious Noah’s Ark Theme Park. Ham’s wacky ideas went primetime in February when he debated Bill Nye. An estimated three million viewers watched Ham claim that the earth is 10,000 years old, the Big Bang never happened, and Darwinian evolution is a hoax. His greatest howler, however—and my top anti-science salvo of 2014—would have to be his wholesale dismissal of the entire scientific enterprise as an atheistic missionary effort: “Science has been hijacked by secularists,” he claimed, who seek to indoctrinate us with “the religion of naturalism.”
It is quite clear from his writings that Ham has absolutely no idea how science actually operates and, as further evidence of his bad judgment in this area, relies on writers who know little to nothing of the areas in which they write.  This creates a two-fer-one bad science punch, giving your average scientist (and even most reasonably educated people) yet another reason to think Christianity is stupid. 

I differ from Giberson in his analysis of his point number four:
Climate change is arguably the most serious form of science denial. Creationism may be wrong, but embracing it won’t wreck the planet.  The last few years have seen many howlers on climate change including Senator Inhofe’s claim that humans cannot possibly influence the climate because “God’s still up there." 
There are plenty of examples of people who have embraced the young earth model who believe that the climate will be just fine because all of the changes recorded in the geological record are only six thousand years old.  The corollary to this is that, because earth is only six thousand years old, God must be returning soon, so why should we care how we treat the environment?  I saw that argument made a few years back (cannot find the post at the moment).  Albert Mohler gets a spot, as well as the Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer, for this skewed analysis of the Cambrian explosion.  The only people missing are Kirk Cameron and Banana Ray Comfort.  Read the whole thing.  His tone is dismissive, but he is largely correct in his assessments.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bill Nye Thinks Creationism is "Raising A Generation Of Young People Who Can't Think"

Bill Nye has been interviewed on Newsmax TV, and, in his customary blunt way, argues that:
“Religion is one thing. People get tremendous comfort and community with their religions," Nye said. "But whatever you believe, whatever deity or higher power you might believe in, the Earth is not 6,000 years old.”
Here is the video:

Nye has a very peculiar view of religion. When he is asked why the whole debate is so vexing, he argues that it all boils down to a fear of death and that we just don't want to die. One of the central tenets of Christianity is that, after death, if you accept Jesus as your savior, you go to heaven. When death comes, despite the desire to live life to the fullest and to hang on to life (not inconsistent with Christianity, by the way), we accept it, because we know that heaven awaits.  That is faith.  His response almost comes from a complete ignorance of religious knowledge or history. 

His assessment of how creationists view scripture is largely correct, in that they want to use the Bible as a science textbook.  It is not clear that this debate extends into the realms of physics and chemistry, however.  Otherwise, you would not have so many scientists who have signed the "Dissent from Darwin" petition.  The catch is that, when you get into the realm of the earth sciences, the knowledge gaps become pronounced and arguments that promote the young earth fall short.  That is why there are so few earth scientists that have signed the document.  They make up less than 1% of practicing earth scientists.

The sad thing here is that he is right about the view of scripture that creationists have but does Christianity no favors.  In his view, religious sentiment is okay, as far as it goes.  How many people will he reach that agree with that?  This is one of the reasons that I fear that the leaders of the young earth movement will drive people away from God.  If it is just fairy tales, then why bother?

Monday, December 15, 2014

You Knew This Was Coming... is reporting that Ken Ham and AiG are fighting the Kentucky Tourism Board's decision to rescind the tax credits for the Ark Encounter.  Linda Blackford writes:
On Thursday, Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham accused the government of discriminating against a religious organization after state officials notified Answers in Genesis, the parent organization of the Ark Encounter park, that it could not receive state incentives because its hiring practices would discriminate against non-Christians.

”We have been working on this project with Kentucky for more than two years, so this just-received denial announcement is as disappointing as it is costly for our ministry without the expected rebate," Ham said. "Our construction has already begun at the Williamstown, Ky., site, and it must proceed. We are fully prepared to defend our fundamental rights in court if necessary, as this issue is of huge importance, not only to us, but to every religious organization.”
The legality of the hiring practices has gone around the houses and, after some thought, I think that it does not rest in Ham's favor. Ham fired back:
"The legal question here has already been answered unequivocally by the courts," said Mike Johnson, chief counsel of Freedom Guard. "No state is allowed to treat religious organizations less favorably than other organizations who seek to avail themselves of a facially neutral economic incentive program. Just because some state officials may not agree with the message of a Christian organization does not mean that organization and its members can be censored or treated as second-class citizens."
That is a smokescreen. Ham knows that the whole thing would never have even come up if it hadn't been for someone leaking the hiring practices.That is not the first time that Ham has obscured the real reasons for why some have questioned his actions.  This has the makings of a long drawn-out fight.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ark Encounter Loses Tax Incentives

Reuters is reporting that the AiG-fronted Ark Encounter project has lost the tax incentives it so desperately wanted for the construction of the life-sized (but not necessarily biblically-based) Noah's Ark.  Steve Bittenbender writes:
Kentucky has pulled potential tax credits for a proposed Noah's Ark-based theme park, telling the developer on Wednesday that the plans had evolved from a tourist attraction into a ministry seeking to advance religion.

State tourism officials had given preliminary approval for tax incentives of potentially more than $18 million over 10 years for the Ark Encounter park slated to open in 2016, but later warned the park's parent company, Answers in Genesis, that it could lose them if it hired only people who believed in the biblical flood.
Nobody has yet been hired but it is pretty clear that the tourism board became uncomfortable when the hiring dust-up occurred and finally just got cold feet. Mike Zovath says that the project will continue but chief counsel Mike Johnson was quoted as saying this “will be a huge financial loss to the organization.” I can only guess that this decision, which the Ark Encounter may fight in court, will have a large effect on the sale of the junk bonds to finance the undertaking. This is a huge win for opponents of the project.

Ironically, this comes on the heels of a huge ad campaign to promote the project, including billboards in Times Square. Here is a YouTube video of the 15-second ad clip: 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Response to The Ignorance of Blind Faith

A.J. Castellitto wrote a piece for the site American Clarion called The Ignorance of Blind Faith, in which he (she?) writes (in the best David Klinghoffer or Cornelius Hunter fashion) the following critique of “evolutionism”:
Ultimately, the overall problem with blind evolution both in process and acceptance is the non-skeptical adherence to a contrived, ideologically-based foundation. Especially since a sinless, godless form of evolution is arguably a building block of communism, apathy and moral decay.

For many, evolution is a cherished and heavily defended concept that resembles religious dogma. The main exception is that most of the radical aspects of evolution proposed by man preclude God. On the contrary, the consideration and inclusion of Intelligent Design theories provide healthy skepticism and rational thought beside the explanatory limits of unguided materialism.

True science should leave no lasting place for unsupported assumptions, unfounded speculations and insurmountable barriers. Not surprisingly, long ago evolution entered the realm of ‘scientism.’ This is why the funding continues to follow the agenda.
Here is how I responded on the site:
The concept of biological evolution is a lot like the concept of atomic energy. When it became possible to use atomic energy to develop nuclear power plants, with their attendant cheap power and radioactive waste, many people decried its use, claiming that it would poison the environment, lead to meltdowns that would jeopardize the health of millions and so on. When it became possible to create the nuclear-based weapons of mass destruction, people decried their existence and use as an existential threat and lobbied to get their use eradicated and to have them destroyed. These were no less than globally moral issues. Underneath it all, uncaring, disinterested, sat the reality of nuclear power. It existed. It was there. It wasn't going to go away.

Evolution is, objectively, one of the most well-documented, supported scientific theories in existence. It just is. I have studied biological evolution for over thirty years. Over 99% of the naturalists out there that actually study the data are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that it explains the present and past biodiversity of the planet. You might debate how it is used by those who would perpetrate abuse of their fellow humans. You might debate how it has affected the spiritual walks of the people who encounter it. You might debate how it has affected the globally moral questions we ask. But that won't make biological evolution go away. As humans, we need to ask how to answer those questions in light of evolution. Does it change them? If so, how?
An open question.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Bad News in Texas

Apparently, the Truth in Texas Textbooks push has won some major concessions to what kinds of education kids in Texas will get in the coming years.  And it happened in a not-so-above-board way.  Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer has this to report:
When they write the history books about the State Board of Education, last week’s drama over our new social studies textbooks probably won’t go down as a high point.

After punting on a preliminary vote Tuesday, the board approved the textbooks on Friday despite receiving hundreds of pages of revisions at the last minute, which many members hadn’t read. Those revisions came partly in response to 1,500 worried letters from the public that were still arriving just last week. Though the 10-5 vote split on party lines, members agreed that this year’s textbook approvals had been a mess.

But the process was a big win for at least one man, Roy White, and his fellow volunteer textbook watchdogs.
White’s year-old group Truth in Texas Textbooks made an impressive entrance into Texas’ ancient and ongoing fight over what children learn in school, with a recently-released 469-page review of this year’s social studies textbooks.
Unfortunately, the folks who are in charge of either voting up or down on the textbooks did not have the time to examine all of the complaints TTT made because at least the ones involving evolution and the age of the earth were completely bogus.This is not good because, often, where Texas goes, the rest of the nation goes.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Possible Mollusk Etching by Homo erectus

Science Magazine (and quite a few other outlets) is running a story involving the discovery of a 500, 000 year-old mollusk that shows some rudimentary carving.  Michael Balter writes:
In 2007, Stephen Munro got the shock of his life. The archaeology graduate student was studying mollusk shells gathered more than 100 years ago on the Indonesian island of Java, where an early human ancestor, Homo erectus, had roamed at least 1 million years ago. As he studied photographs of the shells, Munro spotted one apparently engraved with a pattern of zigzag lines. “I almost fell off my chair,” he says. That’s because the oldest known engravings date back 100,000 years and were made by modern humans—the only species thought to be capable of making abstract designs.
If this has been accurately interpreted, this suggests that Homo erectus was capable of considerably more cognition than is generally ascribed to this form. While there is evidence that Homo erectus controlled fire and, perhaps, had hafted tools, there has been, as of this point, no evidence of symbolic thought.

Some are not convinced:
Yet even if ancient humans engraved the shell, says Russell Ciochon, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the team has not shown that H. erectus did it. Ciochon, who has spent many years working at sites in Java, agrees with criticisms that the shells have been taken out of context, because Trinil was not an occupation site where early humans actually lived. Rather, Ciochon argues, the human fossils found there (which include a skullcap widely agreed to be H. erectus and a thigh bone that could belong to either H. erectus or H. sapiens, a matter of sharp debate) were washed into the site by a powerful flood, and nothing found with them—including the shells—can be assumed to have been associated with them originally.
Here is the shell.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Another Professor in Hot Water Over Evolution

Inside Higher Ed is posting a story about a professor at Georgia Southern University, a state school in Statesboro, Georgia.  Quoth Colleen Flaherty:
Lecturing for a week about how “evolution could not have happened.” Offering extra credit for students to watch the film “God’s Not Dead.” Showing religious bias in exam questions. Student reviews saying he’ll try to “convert you.”

Those charges, among others, make up a complaint filed recently by two First Amendment watchdog groups against T. Emerson McMullen, an associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University. The institution says it’s now investigating the professor for allegedly using his classroom at the public university to promote his anti-evolution Christian beliefs.
Apparently the Freedom From Religion Foundation and The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science have become involved in this and have pushed for an investigation into the charges.  It strikes me that if he is a science professor, these are serious charges.  If, on the other hand, he is a history professor, then it is incumbent on him to get the history correct.  If he does that, then the sole focus should be on whether or not he is using his classroom as a pulpit.  Despite his insistence otherwise, enough of the student comments indicate that, at least to some degree, he is. 

When I teach Anthropology 110: Human Origins, I am open to speaking with students about the apparent conflicts between evolution and Christianity, but I do not openly discuss them in class or promote EC.  I also use established science.  To do otherwise, I believe, would hurt the cause of Christianity.  Wisely, the Discovery Institute has left this one alone. 

One of my Readers Pointed Out...

That my dad was quite an accomplished scholar who lived a long and varied life.  It is difficult to overstate the importance he played in my life and how much fun it was to be his son.  He taught me many things and, later in life, especially after I had kids of my own, his advice was golden and his friendship was a great joy.  I will comment more on his passing and his role in my life when there is some distance and I can do it and still see the keyboard at the same time.  In the meantime, here is an obituary of him.