Friday, April 29, 2016

What Happens When You Get Cited by Young Earth Creationists

This is an issue that has plagued Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge in the past, when you get misquoted by a young-earth creationist.  Now, Dave Hone has written a column for the Guardian about how this has affected him personally:
Recently, I spotted a short creationist essay that had cited a paper of mine on various recent pterosaur finds and which was supposed to be some kind of response to an article written for the Observer. The creationist piece attempted to argue that these new discoveries helped support the idea that these pterosaurs were made by a creator. Oddly enough, I was left rather unconvinced, not least because of the obvious mangling of some fairly simple and very well-known history that contradicts the arguments presented in some delightfully ironic ways.

For a long time, pterosaurs were regarded as rather inept fliers and little more than unusual gliding reptiles, but this view has been overturned with more modern studies. In his piece on how our understanding has changed with new research, palaeontologist Dr Mark Witton wrote in the Observer that in the past, pterosaurs had been regarded as little more than “gargoyles with lanky limbs”. Our valiant creation-support correspondent then asks “Was th[is] description… a result of mere evolutionary speculation? Based on seeing pterosaur fossils occur in strata below other flying vertebrates, perhaps evolutionists reasoned that pterosaurs evolved first and therefore represented evolution’s initial, clumsy attempts to produce large flyers.”

Ah. Now, you see, there are a fair few issues here. Although the idea of changing species had been around for many years, there’s a good reason that biologists give so much credit to Darwin and On the Origin of Species for laying down the foundations of natural selection and ideas about changes over time. Darwin’s work was published in 1859, but pterosaurs were discovered around 1780 (see Wellnhofer, 2008; a point made in Witton’s piece but mysteriously overlooked). Early thoughts about them could therefore hardly have been influenced by “evolutionists” as there can’t really have been many around. Indeed, early researchers had considered pterosaurs might be marsupials and amphibians, or perhaps swimming animals (Wellnhofer, 1991) before most settled on flying reptiles.
Because the writer does not have the background to properly assess the prehistory of pterosaurs, he makes rudimentary, silly mistakes that destroy his own argument. This is, sadly common in young-earth creation circles and I have dealt with it with regards to the inept posts on AiG's site by David Menton and Elizabeth Mitchell, in which, clearly not knowing anything about the fossil record, they make suspect claims about the individual fossils that do not bear up under close analysis. 

Another hatchet job by AiG.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kansas Court Rejects Argument that Evolution is Religion

Raw Story is reporting that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the motion of Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) to stop the teaching of evolution in the public schools on the grounds that it constitutes religion.  David Edwards writes:
After the state of Kansas adopted Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in 2013, Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) argued that teaching science without a religious explanation for the creation of the universe would indoctrinate children into atheism.

COPE said that teaching evolution took children “into the religious sphere by leading them to ask ultimate religious questions like what is the cause and nature of life and the universe – ‘where do we come from?’”

“The purpose of the indoctrination is to establish the religious Worldview, not to deliver to an age appropriate audience an objective and religiously neutral origins science education that seeks to inform,” the group insisted.
The court ruled that COPE could not show that any students had been harmed or that it had any evidence that the a religious perspective was being taught.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

British Office of Standards and Education Weighs in on Private School Teaching

On the website, it is being reported that Ofsted, the Office of Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills has reviewed the curriculum of a private school and found it wanting:
In news that could have wide implications for the teaching of creationism in private schools, an independent religious school in London has been criticised by Ofsted for having a policy which ‘promotes the teaching of incorrect content’ on evolution and creationism, and told that it does not meet the minimum standards for an independent school. Getters Talmud Torah’s downgrading is the first time the British Humanist Association (BHA) is aware of this happening in a private school...The school’s policy states that ‘our curricula for Science, Geography and History will not reference evolution or prehistoric events that would de facto predate the creation of the world 5776 years ago’. Ofsted’s report says that as a consequence of the school’s approach to evolution and the age of the earth, ‘the curriculum still does not ensure pupils have sufficient or correct knowledge and understanding in the required areas of their education.’
The only parallel I can think of in the United States was when a student at a private school had his acceptance to the University of California school system rescinded because they felt that his science education, comprised mainly of creationism studies, was lacking.Here, private schools, even colleges, have enormous latitude in what they can teach.

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Evidence of Monkey Migration

Tech Times is reporting research that indicates that monkeys made the journey from South America to Central America much earlier than thought.  Ted Ranosa writes:
In a study featured in the journal Nature, researchers from the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) have identified the remains of an ancient species of monkey known as Panamacebus transitus, which was recovered during excavations for the Panama Canal.

Jonathan Bloch, a paleontologist from the FLMNH, explained that the
Panamacebus transitus was a close relative of modern-day capuchin monkeys, or "organ-grinder" monkeys, and squirrel monkeys that are typically found in Central and South America.

An analysis of the prehistoric monkey's teeth revealed that they were encased in rocks that dated back to 21 million years ago. This suggests that the animal was somehow able to reach Panama from South America even before the two continents were connected with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama.
Monkeys are extremely resourceful and a rafting hypothesis has been floating around for quite some time, with little evidence to support it. Now we have some.

WARNING: I almost gave this story a miss because the ads on the Tech Times site are intrusive and omnipresent.  Several videos launched that I was not able to stop.  I get that there is a need to advertise, but this kind of thing is ruining the internet.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

No Extra Vacation For Kentucky Schoolchildren

 A bill that would have extended summer vacation for Kentucky school children has died.  NCSE writes:
Kentucky's Senate Bill 50 (PDF) died in the House Education Committee when the legislature adjourned on April 15, 2016. The bill would have extended the duration of summer vacation in the state's public schools in order to boost tourism — including to a creationist attraction.
[Damon] Thayer was referring to Ark Encounter, a Noah's-ark-themed attraction — now scheduled to open on July 7, 2016 — operated by the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which also operates a "museum" in Kentucky.
Just think, four extra days a year to go to the hall of misinformation. They would have to spend the next school year unlearning everything they found in the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. Fortunately, saner heads prevailed, although I am quite convinced that it was the practicality of implementing the law that swayed them rather than any understanding that the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter do not actually teach any real science.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Creationism in Poland?

NCSE is reporting that a creationist book has been distributed to Polish schools, even though they did not ask for them.  They write:
A controversy is smoldering over the distribution of a creationist book to schools in Poland. According to Gazeta Wyborcza (March 2, 2016), unsolicited copies of Maciej Giertych's Ewolucja, Dewolucja, Nauka (Evolution, Devolution, Science) were sent to the biology teachers in public and private secondary schools across the country in early 2016.
A dendrologist and socially conservative politician, Giertych is also a persistent critic of evolution. For example, in 2006, as Ulrich Kutschera reported in Reports of the NCSE, Giertych moderated a seminar at the European Parliament (in which he was then representing Poland) in which evolution was criticized by a number of creationists.
A critic of Giertych's remarked that the book uses very little in the way of hard evidence and is biased in presentation.  Creationism keep rising in unexpected places. 

Friday, April 01, 2016

Ken Ham Endorses Evolution

In a surprise announcement, Answers in Genesis leader Ken Ham has taken an about-face and now agrees that the theory of evolution is, in fact, the best way to explain biological diversity.  In a statement for, Ham said:
“I was challenged to go to the BioLogos site by a reader and, after reading a number of articles on evolution, I realized that my understanding of it has been seriously hampered by my rigid, narrow mindset. It was really an eye-opener.”
Ham further said that he will take down all of the anti-evolution articles that are currently circulating on the site and replace them with more important articles about how to build up one's faith and reaching out to people in a secular world.