NTS LogoSkeptical News for 17 October 2008

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, October 17, 2008

Evolution Exposed: Deconstructing False Science


Part 5

Positive mutations advancing various life forms are a fundament of evolution. Therefore, slow, progressive mutations should be easily demonstrated. But are they?


This series investigates the theory of evolution, revealing that there is much more to the story than what is commonly taught. After laying a truthful foundation and building upon it, the reader will see that the theory collapses, and that the confusing series of explanations, definitions and suppositions supporting it are weak and shallow. Each part builds upon the previous, and the entire series should be read to grasp the fullest picture—and the vital implications that flow from its conclusions.

The story of evolution continues. In this part of the series, we look at two assumptions that are flimsy when carefully inspected. At the heart of the evolution teaching is the assumption that mutations produce more advanced traits or characteristics. However, all geneticists admit that this requires new information.

The blueprint for all living organisms is locked inside DNA. For cells to develop and organs to form this detailed blueprint is required. For different types of cells to appear, new information is needed—the blueprint must be expanded. Evolutionists understand this. To explain the infusion of new information, they have put their hope in mutations. This is fraught with problems.

The first problem is that nearly all mutations are negative in effect.

As discussed earlier in this series, inferior organisms (such as those with negative mutations) are removed by the process of natural selection. This is also true of what are termed "neutral" mutations. Natural processes are designed to eliminate defects from the gene pool. In the light of proper interpretation of natural selection, consider the following from the head of the international Human Genome Diversity Project, evolutionist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza:

"Evolution also results from the accumulation of new information. In the case of biological mutation, new information is provided by an error of genetic transmission (i.e., a change in the DNA during its transmission from parent to child). Genetic mutations are spontaneous, chance changes, which are rarely beneficial, and more often have no effect, or a deleterious one. Natural selection makes it possible to accept the good ones and eliminate the bad ones" (Genes, Peoples, and Languages, p. 176). (Emphasis ours throughout.)

We have already shown that natural selection does "eliminate the bad." In no way, shape or form has it been proven to "accept the good ones."

We can again play the game of "let's suppose." Imagine that "positive mutations" are accepted and retained. Would such mutations explain the appearance of new species? This is the core of evolution and proving that positive, sustainable mutations can result in a new species is critical.

An often cited example is that of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. It is purported that bacteria, through mutations, adapt to antibiotics. However, as the following quote asserts, what actually occurs is an information loss—not a gain: "In no known case is antibiotic resistance the result of new information. There are several ways where an information loss can confer resistance" (Refuting Evolution, Jonathan Sarfati).

A simple analogy: Imagine all of the parts needed for a functioning dimmable light. There are electricity, wires, a potentiometer (controlling electricity flow), a switch and a light bulb. These were all designed to function in a specific way. If the device controlling the flow of electricity were removed from the system, the light would get much brighter. The room appears better lit and it seems like the entire system has improved with the loss of a device (information). This may seem like an improvement.

However, the one who designed the system would know that this change was stressing the system. Each component was designed to handle a certain amount of electricity. While the boost in current may not appear to be a problem at first, over time, the circuit will overload and stop functioning completely. So is the case with mutations. Even though something may appear to be an improvement (as in the case with antibiotic-resistant bacteria), the overall "health" of the organism is diminished.

Evolution cannot sustain itself with the loss of information. Over time, the result would be no information. The only way higher life-forms could develop would be with more—in fact, MUCH more—information. For instance, imagine a fish "evolving" into a bird. While this may sound amazing (yet is actually ludicrous), it is considered a valid possibility in evolution. How could all the necessary changes to skin, bones, organs, limbs, etc., develop without new information?

Regardless of one's belief concerning life's origin, most understand that new information is required for more advanced life forms. And, conversely, any information already present must be sustained. Ultimately, the continued loss of genetic information will result in the destruction of the life form—not an improvement!

Finally, regarding the formation of new forms of life, British physicist Dr. Alan Hayward stated, "Genes seem to be built so as to allow changes to occur within certain narrow limits, and to prevent those limits from being crossed. To oversimplify a little: Mutations very easily produce new varieties within a species, and might occasionally produce a new (though similar) species, but—despite enormous efforts by experimenters and breeders—mutations seem unable to produce entirely new forms of life" (Creation and Evolution: The Facts and the Fallacies).

Yet each and every day, millions of children are taught that mutations—defects—have resulted in the millions of plants and animals and, ultimately, human beings.

The Real Record of the Rocks

Often, news organizations run stories about discoveries at archeological digs. These could be fossils dated millions—even hundreds of millions—of years old. Usually, these announcements are accompanied by colorful renderings of the creature as it had once appeared.

Most assume that such drawings are based on whatever is the discovery. They seem to be able to determine minute details needed to produce amazing illustrations. Surely, this must be based on mountains of evidence and research, which is cross-checked with past discoveries. At this point, you may have begun to develop a bit of cynicism toward modern science. If so, you will not be surprised that the "facts" used to prove and draw these "ancient" creatures is based on little more than bone shavings, bad science and invalid assumptions.

Despite all the splash and splendor that accompany such discoveries, the evidence behind them is more artistic and creative than scientific and factual.

To understand why evolutionists have become so creative with the fossil record, you must first understand the gaps in it. What was once hoped to be the glue bonding all aspects of evolution, the fossil record has torn it apart.

The gap in the fossil record creates two interrelated problems for evolution.

First some background. The fossil record is separated into certain eras—or strata. Each of these eras contain certain types of creatures, and is thought to be specific to a period in history. For instance, the Cambrian stratum is dated to about 530 million years ago (according to evolutionist dating methods).

The first problem lies in that, out of nowhere, fully formed creatures appear in the fossil record. The Cambrian era, for example, contains the oldest known vertebrates. However, as stated by evolutionist Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, "We find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history" (The Blind Watchmaker, p. 229).

Indeed, "just planted there"—or, better phrased, they were put there! The fossil record does not show the formation of any creature; they all appear to be "just planted there."

The second issue is related to the lack of any transitional forms. World famous evolutionist and paleontologist Dr. Gaylord Simpson freely stated, "This regular absence of transitional forms is not confined to mammals, but is an almost universal phenomenon, as has long been noted by paleontologists. It is true of almost all orders of all classes of animals…and it is apparently also true of the analogous categories of plants" (Tempo and Mode in Evolution, p. 105).

Just five years later, Dr. Simpson was forced to admit, "It is thus possible to claim that such transitions are not recorded because they did not exist" (The Meaning of Evolution, p. 231).

The lack of evidence has caused some evolutionists to adopt new versions of evolution. Others continue to embrace the idea of gradual transitions, asserting that transitional fossils do not exist yet, and will be discovered in the future. Not only is this the logical fallacy of "argument to the future," it ignores a well-established pattern of discovery.

Another analogy makes this clear. Imagine an opaque jar full of hundreds of marbles. Slowly, one-by-one, the marbles are removed. Each is examined for color and texture. At first, it would be just as probable that each marble could be red, blue, yellow or any other color. However, if over time, only red marbles were removed from the jar, the natural conclusion would be that the jar is full of red marbles. Of course, a new color could be removed from the jar, but as more and more red marbles are removed, the likelihood becomes less and less. This is exactly what is found in the fossil record.

Well over a century of discoveries have repeatedly demonstrated there are only "red marbles." There will be no magic fossil to change this, even though some scientists have tried to create "magic fossils" from tiny bone fragments.

Artistic Science

One such "discovery" is worth reviewing. It received television coverage and was featured in National Geographic. Scientists believed they had found a "walking whale," presumed to be a missing link between land mammals and whales. It led paleontologist Daryl Domning to state, "We essentially have every stage now from a terrestrial animal to one that is fully aquatic" ("Legged Sea Cow Fossil Found in Jamaica," National Geographic, October 2001).

The following month, impressive renderings of this "walking whale" appeared in the same magazine in the article "Evolution of Whales." It was now settled—the whale's evolutionary path had been established and the theory had been proven true.

Or had it?

All the hoopla came from nothing more than part of a jaw bone and some skull fragments—nothing else! The creative minds at National Geographic created a COMPLETELY FICTIONAL rendering from almost no evidence. This could be compared to finding a scrap of metal, and then asserting that you can render the exact replica of the building from which it came. This is beyond ridiculous!

Later, a more complete skeleton of this same creature was discovered. With more facts in place, it was obvious that this creature was solely a land animal. However, the later revelation received very little media attention and no correction was published!

This is not the only example of data misconstrued to fit within the theory of evolution. The vast number of misrepresentations has led to statements such as this: "What the 'record' shows is nearly a century of fudging and finagling by scientists attempting to force various fossil morsels and fragments to conform to Darwin's notions, all to no avail. Today the millions of fossils stand as a very visible, ever-present reminders of the paltriness of the arguments and the overall shabbiness of the theory that marches under the banner of evolution" (Jeremy Rifkin, Algeny, p. 125).

The honest approach would be for evolutionists to admit their mistakes and dismiss the theory. Instead of admitting the errors in gradual evolution, scientists proposed an even more ludicrous idea: punctuated equilibrium.

While many still hope for the long-sought undiscovered transition fossils, punctuated equilibrium has gained much traction within the evolution community. The theory states that global catastrophes accounted for the sudden leap in evolution. These events would cause sudden and drastic "systemic mutations." What the theory fails to address is that such mutations would devastate an organism. In addition, earth-shaking events would not provide the new—and vast—supply of information needed for the complexity of life to increase.

The concept of punctuated equilibrium has also been called "hopeful monsters." For advanced life to appear—and not be destroyed—out of the ashes of an enormous volcanic eruption or catastrophic asteroid impact is definitely hopeful!

Sad to say for evolutionists, "…these theories amount only to giving more or less fancy names to imaginary phenomena; no one has ever observed the occurrence of a 'systemic mutation'" (Theodosius Dobzhansky, Plant Life).

This is further supported by the writings of two evolutionists: "…the occurrence of systemic mutations, yielding hopeful monsters, can be excluded in view of current genetic knowledge" (Stebbins and Ayala, "Is a New Evolutionary Synthesis Necessary?", Science, August 1981).

So how do evolutionists explain the fact that neither gradual evolution nor punctuated equilibrium is consistent with the geological record? And how do they account for the sudden explosion of life in the first place?

They do not, because they cannot!

The body of evidence has led many scientists, like geologist William Dawson to conclude, "…the record of the rocks is thus decidedly against evolutionists" (Nature and the Bible).

Paleontology is not a field of science in which evolutionists can find refuge or hope to repair their broken theory.

The Dating Dilemma

One of the most notable problems with the fossil record is related to how fossils are dated. Like many "sciences" dealing with evolution, there are sweeping generalizations and assumptions applied. Typically, two types of dating are used—radiocarbon and associative.

The first and most known, radiocarbon dating, measures the ratio of non-radioactive carbon (carbon-12) to radioactive carbon (carbon-14) to determine the age of the object.

In summary, scientists have discovered that when cosmic rays come into contact with earth's atmosphere, they react with nitrogen-14 and create carbon-14. In turn, carbon-14 then reacts with oxygen, producing carbon dioxide. Plants take in carbon dioxide. Animals in turn consume plants, ingesting the carbon dioxide. When plants and animals die, their decay changes carbon-14 back into nitrogen-14. And hence, the cycle continues.

For example, a sample of petrified wood could be measured. When it was alive, the wood would have had a similar ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 as the air surrounding it. However, when it died, decomposition would slowly release carbon-14 into the air, while the carbon-12 remained constant.

If a scientist knew the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 in the air when a tree was alive, and the rate at which carbon-14 was released from the sample, he could theoretically calculate its age. Scientists have generally assumed that the ratio of these isotopes has remained constant in the atmosphere.

The problem? Evidence demonstrates dramatic shifts in the ratio!

Notice: "Not only then has open system behavior of these isotopes been demonstrated, but apparent 'isochrons' and their derived 'ages' are invariably geologically meaningless. Thus none of the assumptions used to interpret the U-Th-Pb radiometric system used to yield 'ages' can be valid" (A.A. Snelling, "U-Th-Pb 'Dating': An example of False 'Isochrons'," Third International Conference on Creationism).

No matter how loud the confusing and misguided attempts to explain away the variations of these isotopes, there are variations. Findings are cross-referenced with items that have already been improperly dated. It allows them to declare the radiocarbon date "reasonable," based on previous finds, which are also based on other finds. And so the cycle continues.

This is problematic because most samples used for comparison were also dated using radiocarbon! Remembering the logical fallacies covered in Part One, this is a perfect example of "begging the question." Basing a conclusion on an assumption is not only unscientific, it is dishonest!

For the last century, science has used radiocarbon analysis to create a flawed chart on which to compare other finds. When a new fossil is discovered, it is compared to existing fossils at that stratum. It is assumed that millennia of time compressed the strata and, therefore, all fossils found at a particular layer are of similar age. Faulty radiocarbon tests further "validate" the date and the sample is used as proof.

Much more could be said about these dating methods. But as you can see, they are far from reliable. It is troubling that science bases so much on an unsound and easily manipulated method.

It has taken several pages to demonstrate the absolute absurdity of these two evolution assumptions. However, like many assumptions already revealed, the theory collapses when these are disproven.

There is still much more to cover in the next issue…

Related Literature

Banned Book Week and Intelligent Design Part 1: Darwinist Law Professor Supports Library Censorship of Pro-ID Books


This week is the American Library Association's annual "Banned Books Week." Given recent issues with the economy and the presidential election, Banned Books Week is probably not attracting as much media attention this year as usual. But we want to observe Banned Books Week by posting a 3-part series revisiting some recent instances of support for banning or censoring intelligent design (ID) books and ideas from libraries and student minds. In 2007, New York Law School professor Stephen A. Newman wrote a law review article in Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion praising the efforts of librarians who prevented pro-ID books from entering their school's library collection. The article provides a telling example of how prevalent among some academics is the notion that it is acceptable and appropriate to ban the pro-ID viewpoint. Newman writes:

"Consider the experience of two librarians who received copies of two intelligent design books, Darwin's Black Box by Michael Behe and Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson, as donations to their high school collections. When the librarians refused to put the books on the school library shelves, they were accused of censorship. In fact, exercising their professional judgment, they concluded that these books had 'little or no value to our students and come from those with ulterior motives.'"

(Stephen A. Newman, "Evolution and the Holy Ghost of Scopes: Can Science Lose the Next Round?," 8.2 Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion (Spring, 2007), internal citations removed.)

"Accused of censorship"? I wonder why! Newman praises the librarians for using their "professional judgment"--but we will analyze his endorsement of their censorship in more detail below.

Newman's Newspeak

In George Orwell's famous book 1984, the authorities create a new language called "Newspeak," which changed the meaning of English words in order to control the thoughts of the people. For example, according to the Newspeak Dictionary, the "Chocorat," or chocolate ration, was defined as follows:

"1: The chocolate ration in 1983 was 30 grams per week. (standard Hershey Bar is 43 grams)
2: In the year 1984, the chocolate ration went up to 25 grams per week."

As another example, "Crimestop" was a new word which meant to stop one-self from thinking "any dangerous thought." Thus thought control was redefined as a virtue (stopping a crime) rather than a vice. Here, we present some similar examples of Stephen Newman's own "Newspeak":

"Professional Judgment": In Newman's Newspeak, he praises these librarians for exercising their "professional judgment" by banning these books. But for those of us who aren't interested in Newspeak, why should we consider their "professional judgment" anything less than dogmatically censoring viewpoints they don't like? It seems that some Darwinist librarians and academics really aren't about open access to information; they're about using their power to indoctrinate students by censoring ideas they disagree with.

"Access to ideas": Newman tries to hide his censorious approach by paying lip service to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the 1982 case Board of Education v. Pico. He states, "Students must have access to ideas, to prepare 'for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society in which they will soon be adult members.'" (quoting Pico, pg. 868). In Newman's newspeak, I suppose that giving students "access to ideas" means that books that express scientific dissent from neo-Darwinism should be banned from school libraries.

"Undermining the teaching of evolution": Continuing his Orwellian approach, Newman asserts, "Undermining the teaching of evolution deprives [students] of access to the best ideas in science." But no one in the ID movement is advocating that any less evolution be taught than currently is taught. And placing these pro-ID books in the library certainly won't prevent evolution from being taught in the classroom. Let's briefly examine the actual educational policies that the ID movement supports:

Under such an approach, evolution is not censored, but it's taught with both its strengths and its weaknesses. Call this "undermining" or give it whatever Newspeak labels you want: such a balanced approach is completely inimical to the indoctrination that takes place when viewpoints are censored so only one viewpoint will be heard.

"prepare 'for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society": In Newman's Newspeak, the way to "prepare" students to participate in scientific discussions on this topic is apparently to censor scientific viewpoints that dissent from neo-Darwinism. But most folks, including most of U.S. Congress, tend to believe that preparing students to participate in public discussions about biological evolution dictates that they should learn about more than one scientific viewpoint on this topic:

"Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

(Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act)

If you truly seek policies that would give students "access to ideas" and "prepare [students] 'for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society in which they will soon be adult members,'" and you aren't interested in buying into Newman's Newspeak, then you need look no further than the educational approaches endorsed by the leaders in the ID movement.

Final Commentary on the Librarians' Rationale for Censorship

According to Professor Newman, the librarians rightly justified their censorship of Michael Behe's book Darwin's Black Box and Phillip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial from the school library as follows: "The books did not meet the usual selection criteria, which required that books 'support the curriculum, receive favorable reviews from professional journals, and be age-appropriate.' Noting that intelligent design theory had been 'repudiated by every leading scientific organization, including the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences,' the librarians determined that teaching intelligent design 'would be tantamount to teaching about the existence of Santa Claus.'"

Against such Darwinist censors, these books need no defense, but nonetheless it's worth keeping the following points in mind:

Johnson's book Darwin on Trial was considered "exemplary" by leading non-ID evolutionary paleontologist David Raup (see Doubts about Darwin, pg. 260), and leading origin of life theorist Robert Shapiro (who also rejects ID) said Darwin's Black Box "should be on the essential reading list of all those who are interested in the question of where we came from."

Most school districts haev policies encouraging critical thinking and consideration of alternative viewpoints. In this regard, including these books in a public school library would certainly not fail to "support the curriculum."

ID critics may find it convenient to quote blanket condemnations of ID from scientific organizations in order to claim it has been "repudiated," but what such statements actually show is that much of the opposition to ID from the scientific community is not scientific in nature, but political. After all, since when do leading scientific organizations issue press releases and edicts against an idea? Indeed, Discovery Institute senior fellow John West's research found that AAAS "board members voted to brand intelligent design as unscientific without actually reading for themselves the academic books and articles by scientists proposing the theory." Similarly, the NAS, whose biologist membership is ~95% atheists and agnostics, has made many fundamental misrepresentations of ID in its attacks on the theory.

There is support for ID in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

Finally, as for the "teaching intelligent design 'would be tantamount to teaching about the existence of Santa Claus'" comment, this not only hints that these librarians have anti-religious bigotry, but it shows that they are not even capable of treating those who support intelligent design with respect. It's no wonder that Newman liked their approach: he too bashes ID proponents as "Consciously favoring ignorance over reason" and says ID "should grate on anyone who values knowledge and uses his brains for a living." It sure sounds like Newman is trying to encourage the practice of crimestop to me.

The fact that such abrasive language and support for outright censorship is acceptable in a respectable legal journal should concern those who oppose things like banning books and support things like intellectual freedom.

Posted by Casey Luskin on October 3, 2008 8:25 AM | Permalink

Behind the creationism controversy at Britain's Royal Society


By Paul Mitchell 17 October 2008

Last month, the Royal Society's education director, Professor Michael Reiss, was forced to resign for advocating, at the very least, the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in school science classes.

The controversy arose after Reiss, a well-known educationalist and practicing priest, gave a lecture at the British Association for the Advancement of Science's summer Festival of Science entitled, "Should creationism be a part of the science curriculum?" He told the audience, "Creationism is best seen by science teachers not as a misconception but as a world view."

The Times headlined its story, "Leading scientist urges teaching of creationism in schools," and began, "Creationism should be taught in science classes as a legitimate point of view, according to the Royal Society..."

Not unexpectedly, the notion that the prestigious Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge—founded in 1660 since when it has functioned as the British academy of sciences—was promoting creationism provoked the anger of many of its leading members.

Nobel Prize winners Richard Roberts, John Sulston and Harry Kroto wrote to the society's president, Martin Rees, demanding "that Professor Reiss step down, or be asked to step down, as soon as possible".

"We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome," the letter said.

"Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?"

Kroto said he had written to Rees soon after Reiss's appointment saying it was "extremely disturbing".

"There is no way that an ordained minister—for whom unverified dogma must represent a major, if not the major, pillar in their lives—can present free-thinking, doubt-based scientific philosophy honestly or disinterestedly," he explained.

"The thing the Royal Society does not appreciate is the true nature of the forces arrayed against it and the Enlightenment for which the Royal Society should be the last champion," Kroto added.

Within days, the Royal Society announced Reiss's resignation. Its September 16 statement said that Reiss's comments were "open to misinterpretation" and that "while it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation"; he would "step down" as Director of Education and return to his position as Professor of Science Education at the Institute of Education. It added, "The Royal Society's position is that creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

The fact that Reiss is a priest and an advocate of the "science and religion debate"—which seeks to bridge the chasm between the scientific method and religious beliefs—should have sounded the alarm bells to the Royal Society before it appointed him to the new position in September 2006.

Reiss claims that he is opposed to the teaching of creationism in science classes and is simply advising teachers how to deal with the subject if it comes up in discussion. If so, then many will rightly question why he has spent such an inordinate amount of time on the "science-religion debate" since he was appointed. Reiss has produced a number of articles, interviews and lectures in the two years he has been at the organisation. He has also managed to squeeze in the publication of, "Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism" in 2007, draft "Should science educators deal with the science/religion issue?" and "Imagining the world: the significance of religious worldviews for science education."

The more you look into Reiss and the "science-religion debate" the more you see the all-pervasive hand of the Templeton Foundation, set up by recently deceased billionaire John Marks Templeton. It has helped to develop an intellectual atmosphere where the Royal Society had no qualms about appointing Reiss.

Templeton made his fortune from investing in ailing nations, industries, and companies at what he called "points of maximum pessimism."

He asserted that religion had lost its authority in the twentieth century and looked to "scientific revelations" as the "gold mine for revitalizing religion in the twenty-first century." To rectify this situation he set about using his wealth to that end—endowing the Foundation with approximately $1.5 billion—sufficient to provide some $70 million in annual grants.

He established the Templeton Prize for Progress toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, dedicated to those "trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity."

The approximately £800,000 ($1.5 million) prize money exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes and is the largest single annual financial prize given to an individual.

Making clear the relationship between his religious proselytising and his defence of wealth and privilege, Templeton provided enough cash to transform the Centre for Management Studies into a full college—Templeton College—at the University of Oxford to help promote free market ideology. He also set up the lucrative Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science and Religion to give cash-strapped journalists, "an opportunity to examine the dynamic and creative interface between science and religion".

In its early days the Templeton Foundation funded a number of projects and people in the "intelligent design" (ID) creationism movement. The foundation sought to distance itself from the more extreme fundamentalist elements, particularly after US District Judge John E. Jones ruled that ID was religion and not science in the high-profile school board legal test case in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2005. Parents at the school had complained about the board's imposition of ID teaching in biology classes.

The first time that the Royal Society appears to have been openly involved with the Templeton Foundation was its acceptance of nearly $300,000 in 2004 in support of lectures on "the nature of human knowledge and understanding" by a series of academics associated with the Templeton project. Most prominent were:

* George F. R. Ellis, a mathematics professor at the University of Cape Town, who is considered one of the world's leading theorists in cosmology. He is currently President of the International Society for Science and Religion and winner of the Templeton Prize in 2004. Ellis praised the Foundation for reinvigorating the "science and religion debate" and for getting it recognised as an academic subject in many universities and colleges. He said, "The way in which science and religion by and large complement each other is becoming ever clearer, as are the natures of the various points of tension between them, and some possible resolutions of those tensions."

* Professor Martin Nowak, Director, Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University. Nowak sits on the Foundation's Board of Advisers and is co-director of the Evolution and Theology of Cooperation research project at Harvard sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. In a lecture given at Harvard in March 2007 called "Evolution and Christianity," he argued that "science and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach."

* Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne, former president, Queen's College, Cambridge and Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral and 2002 Templeton Prize winner. He is a leading proponent of critical realism, which aims to show that the language of science and Christian theology are similar, allowing for dialogue between the two.

* Ziauddin Sardar, the Professor of Postcolonial Studies at City University, London and regular columnist for the Observer and the New Statesman. He delivered a lecture at the Royal Society saying, "science matters because it is vital for the recovery and survival of Islam itself." He concluded, "Thus, the revival of science and a reform agenda for Islam in Muslim society need to proceed hand in hand."

During 2007, the foundation sponsored a conference on the new "multiverse" or parallel universe scientific theory, featuring a contribution from the Royal Society's President Rees and cosmologist Bernard Carr, professor of mathematics and astronomy at Queen Mary, University of London. Carr has received a grant from the Foundation for a project entitled, "Fundamental Physics and the Problem of our Existence", and is the editor of a book based on a series of conferences funded by the Foundation, entitled "Universe or Multiverse?"

The Templeton Foundation has also pumped millions into other organisations and projects such as the Metanexus Institute, formally named the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science. Its web site says, "Metanexus affirms that a long and evolving Earth and Cosmic history is a well-established fact of science, but that the interpretation of this natural history, how it happens and what it means, is open to diverse points of views."

Reiss has reviewed several books for Global Spiral, including one in 2006 titled, "Science and Religion in Schools: A Guide to the Issues for Primary Schools" by Brooke and Rogers in which he says, "There is no shortage of books on science and religion but, perhaps surprisingly, there is a paucity of materials that are of high quality and can be used in schools. Until the Science and Religion in Schools Project, that is. This initiative, supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, has painstakingly produced these exceptionally good resources."

"For myself, I am delighted these publications have seen the light of day. They are sensitive to current English and Welsh National Curriculum and Examination requirements [which Reiss helped design as a member of the Labour government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority] but are not beholden to them and are eminently suitable for use in any English-speaking context. I cannot recommend them too highly. Even if you do not teach in a school, I suspect you will gain much from them," he added.

That a priest could be appointed to such an influential position in one of the world's most prestigious scientific institutions is a sign of an intellectual climate corrupted by power and wealth. One (very rich) man's backwardness and personal influence on the intellectual climate must be replaced by one of democratic control of research funding. The rise of charities like the Templeton Foundation was facilitated by the Labour government's slashing of basic research funding, enabling them to fill the void and through faith schools and academies that seriously undermine the opportunity for children to be educated in adequately funded comprehensive schools free from religious sectarianism and indoctrination.

Antievolutionists asked to review draft standards in Texas


Three antievolutionists have been appointed to a six-member committee to review the draft set of Texas state science standards, and defenders of the integrity of science education in the Lone Star state are livid. "The committee was chosen by 12 of the 15 members of the board of education, with each panel member receiving the support of two board members," as the Dallas Morning News (October 16, 2008) explains. Six members of the board "aligned with social conservative groups" chose Stephen C. Meyer, the director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wiconsin, Superior, and Charles Garner, a chemistry professor at Baylor University.

Meyer, Seelke, and Garner are all signatories of the Discovery Institute-sponsored "Dissent from Darwinism" statement. Meyer and Seelke are also coauthors of Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House, 2008), which, like Of Pandas and People, is a supplementary textbook that is intended to instill scientifically unwarranted doubts about evolution. A recent review by biologist John Timmer summarized, "But the book doesn't only promote stupidity, it demands it. In every way except its use of the actual term, this is a creationist book." Garner reportedly told the Houston Press (December 14, 2000) that he "criticizes evolutionary theory in class."

Meyer and Seelke also testified in the 2005 "kangaroo court" hearings held by three antievolutionist members of the Kansas state board of education, in which a parade of antievolutionist witnesses expressed their support for the so-called minority report version of the state science standards (written with the aid of a local "intelligent design" organization), complained of repression by a dogmatic evolutionary establishment, and claimed to have detected atheism lurking "between the lines" of the standards. A version of the minority report was adopted in 2005, despite criticism from the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association, but the balance of power on the board changed, and supporters of the integrity of science education quickly restored a proper treatment of evolution to the standards.

Referring to the appointment of Meyer, Seelker, and Garner, Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network told the Austin American-Stateman (October 16, 2008), "I think these state board members have really lifted the veil on what their real agenda is here ... It's clear they picked a few experts and a few people with a clear conflict of interest and a political agenda." Similarly, in a press release issued on October 15, 2008, Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman lamented, "It is unfortunate that some SBOE members have such a poor regard for the education of Texas science students that they must resort to pushing their own anti-evolutionist and Creationist religious ideologies into the science standards revision process."

The three remaining members of the committee -- "veteran science professors from major Texas universities," as the Morning News observed -- are David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, Gerald Skoog, a professor of education at Texas Tech University, and Ronald Wetherington, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University. The American-Statesman noted, "a seventh panel member could be nominated. The panel is expected to send recommendations on the proposal back to the board in the coming months," with a public hearing following in November 2008 and a final decision on the standards scheduled for March 2009.

October 16, 2008

Creationism vs. Atheism at the Box Office


Thursday October 16, 2008

As the pro-intelligent design film Expelled comes out in DVD this week, the ads crow that it is the top-grossing documentary of the year. But its record has been eclipsed by the anti-religion film Religulous after only two weeks in fewer than half the theaters "Expelled" was shown in.

According to the LA Times:

"Expelled," hosted by commentator and character actor Ben Stein, opened April 18 at a whopping 1,052 theaters and grossed a total of $7.7 million at the domestic box office during its full run, according to data tracker Box Office Mojo.

That was nothing like the breakout blockbusters "Fahrenheit 9/11" ($119.2 million), "March of the Penguins" ($77.4 million) or even "An Inconvenient Truth" ($24.1 million), but nothing to sneeze at either: It was the 12th-highest gross ever for a documentary....

"Religulous," playing at 568 theaters, is benefiting from positive word of mouth. The controversial documentary, hosted by comedian Maher ("Politically Incorrect") and directed by Charles ("Borat"), dropped only 35% in its second weekend, compared with the industry average of about 51%. By Monday it had topped $7 million, on pace to surpass $7.7 million by Friday and ultimately to a spot in the all-time top 10 for the documentary genre.

Both are unabashed advocacy films starring popular television figures who have appeared both as comics and commentators. "Expelled" urges schools to add the religiously-based intelligent design theory to biology classes and argues that excluding it is a form of harassment. "Religulous" argues that religion is responsible for anti-intellectual, fundamentalist behavior that is a serious threat to human survival.

Imperfect as these films are, the good news is that there is an audience for this kind of provocative material that challenges assumptions on all sides and gets people talking about faith, science, and politics. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Editor's note: Buy Expelled on DVD.
Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008)

Smithsonian Controversy


Editor's note: Dr. Sternberg's account seems to be in great conflict with the known facts. Read on.

In 2004, in my capacity as editor of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, I authorized "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories" by Dr. Stephen Meyer to be published in the journal after passing peer-review. Because Dr. Meyer's article presented scientific evidence for intelligent design in biology, I faced retaliation, defamation, harassment, and a hostile work environment at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History that was designed to force me out as a Research Associate there. These actions were taken by federal government employees acting in concert with an outside advocacy group, the National Center for Science Education. Efforts were also made to get me fired from my job as a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Subsequently, there were two federal investigations of my mistreatment, one by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in 2005 , and the other by subcommittee staff of the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform in 2006. Both investigations unearthed clear evidence that my rights had been repeatedly violated. Because there has been so much misinformation spread about what actually happened to me, I have decided to make available the relevant documents here for those who would like to know the truth.

My Account of the Controversy

Summary of Retaliation and Discrimination
Short Statement of Facts
Detailed Statement of Facts and Response to Misinformation

Government Investigations of the Controversy

U.S. Office of Special Counsel Letter (2005)
U.S. House of Representatives Staff Report (2006)
U.S. House of Representatives Staff Report Appendix (2006)

Media Coverage of the Controversy

January 28, 2005, Wall Street Journal: "The Branding of a Heretic: Are religious scientists unwelcome at Smithsonian?"
February 14, 2005, Washington Times: "Researcher Claims Bias by Smithsonian"
August 16, 2005, National Review: "Unintelligent Design: Hostility toward religious believers at the nation's museum"
August 19, 2005, Washington Post: "Controversial Editor Backed: Editor Explains Reasons for 'Intelligent Design' Article"
August 25, 2005, The O'Reilly Factor (Fox News): Transcript
November 10, 2005, All Things Considered (NPR): Transcript
December 22, 2006, The Scientist: "Smithsonian 'discriminated' against scientist."
April 2008: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
For further information about news coverage of the controversy, see Sternberg, Smithsonian, Meyer, and the Paper that Started It All

©2008 Dr. Richard Sternberg

Why Evolution is True


Posted on: October 13, 2008 11:32 AM, by PZ Myers

I hope Jerry Coyne will forgive me that my frequent thought as I was reading his new book, Why Evolution Is True was, "Wow, this sure is easier to read than that other book." That other book, of course, is Coyne and Orr's comprehensive text on Speciation, which is a technical and detailed survey of the subject in the title, and that I wouldn't necessarily recommend to anyone who wasn't at least a graduate student in biology. We all have our impressions colored by prior expectations, you know, and Jerry Coyne is that high-powered ecology and evolution guy at the University of Chicago whose papers I've read.

The new book is simple to summarize: just read the title. It's aimed at a lay audience and answers the question of why biologists are so darned confident about the theory of evolution by going through a strong subset of the evidence. It begins with a discussion of what evolution is, then each subsequent chapter is organized around a class of evidence: fossils, embryology and historical accidents, biogeography, natural selection, sexual selection, speciation, and human evolution. If you want a straightforward primer in the experiments and observations that have made evolution the foundational principle of modern biology, this is the book for you.

Why Evolution is True makes an almost entirely positive case for evolution; it has an appropriate perspective on the current American conflict between science and religious fundamentalism that avoids dwelling on creationist nonsense, but still acknowledges where common misconceptions occur and where creationist PR, such as the Intelligent Design creationism fad, has raised stock objections. It's a good strategy — the structure of this book is not dictated by creationist absurdities, but by good science, and creationism is simply noted where necessary and swatted down efficiently. It's a more powerful tool for it, too — creationists can lie faster than anyone can rebut them, so the best strategy is to focus on the real evidence and force critics to address it directly.

You all really ought to pick up a copy of this book if you don't already have a sound understanding of the basic lines of evidence for evolution (or, if you do, you could always get Speciation to get a little more depth). I recommend it unreservedly. Oh, except for one little reservation: it won't be available until January. Go ahead and put it on your Amazon pre-order list, then.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where voting for Palin is a matter of belief


15 Oct, 2008, 0001 hrs

DAYTON, TENNESSEE: Miss Eleanor would have been three when the 'Monkey Trial' trial took place here. She spent her life as a math teacher. One math problem that she or the several generations of teachers in Tennessee (including the current one) haven't posed to their students is: If a boat were to accommodate a pair of animals of every species, how big would it need to be?

It'd have to be a little bigger than Dayton (10,000 people), and, in fact, all of the Bible Belt, I suspect. But why recalculate when Noah's done all of that already? Miss Eleanor will vote Republican. This is not a given with everyone who shares her beliefs - and everyone in Tennessee, give or take a few confused liberals, does. Religion is the superset here, two of its subsets happen to be Republican and Democrat.

Miss Eleanor's decision has a lot to do with John McCain's vice-presidential choice. "Long before she became a running mate when everybody wanted her to have that abortion (Palin's fifth child has Down's Syndrome, a condition that affects both physical and intellectual growth)... and she said that the Lord had given her this baby and she certainly wasn't going to get rid of it... Oh I hope she wins this election," she says. And with that she left the Dayton coffee shop. It was her birthday, and she had come in for lunch. As she does often, sitting at a table from where you can read the Ten Commandments on the wall.

People wear badges here saying: "I'm voting for Sarah Palin... Oh yeah, and that old guy too." The Alaska governor is anti-abortion; her views on gay marriage are that the only union sanctioned by God is one between man and woman; and she is a believer in the biblical version of the origin of man and the world (created in a week). What more proof does Dayton need that she will make a fine vice-president? Even the dominant Baptists grudgingly set aside their belief that the woman's place is in a home for Sarah's sake.

According to state law, and this applies to all public schools, creationism can't just not be taught, teachers could get sued for even mentioning it. Darwin is an integral part of the curriculum and has to be taught as a theory (as opposed to a fact), because even though the evidence is overwhelming, it is still a theory, unlike, say, the laws of motion. People like Sarah Palin would prefer if creationism was taught alongside Darwin's theory as an 'alternative' theory, but tough luck to them.

In practice, though, schools and teachers in places with the same beliefs as Dayton have got around the problem quite easily: they simply make an error of omission, by not teaching evolution. Result: kids who have never heard of Darwin, leave alone the Galapagos islands.

There is one cost that these towns incur for doing this that they refuse to take into account. The 'advanced placement' exam that high-schoolers take to go to college has a curriculum where evolution is a central theme. If you fail the test because you haven't heard of natural selection or cannot answer questions on the evidence in support of evolution, your chances of going to college are greatly reduced.

Moreover, if you do well on these tests, you get credits to take with you to college. Which means you can graduate in less than four years. For parents who have to pay huge fees, every semester gained is several thousand dollars saved. One would have thought that Dayton, which so cleverly brought money back into town with the Scopes trial, wouldn't mind sitting through a few evolution lessons if it saved a few thousand bucks.

But no, that's asking too much. Judge McKenzie, who presides over the court in Dayton nowadays comes from a family that was involved in the trial that made Dayton famous - on the prosecution side. He says his favourite word is 'jail' and his least favourite word is 'atheist'. Neither he nor his kids have read anything about evolution. Nor have the two young convicted felons I speak to next. "Do you think all the world's animals would fit on one boat?" I ask. "Sure" says one, "if you took just two of each."

(This is the second of a two-part article. The first part appeared in the edition dated October 14, 2008.)



Submitted by: Hush Communications
Tuesday, 14 October 2008

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Stifling talk on creationism is stopping freedom of expression


12:26pm Monday 13th October 2008

By Rev Kevin Logan

"GAG the creationists," goes up the cry from the fundamentalists of science and politics; those who can't abide the idea of an incredible God creating our beautifully-designed universe.

As far back as Tony Blair, MPs have been demanding that schools mentioning a Creator and Creationism in their curriculum be censored and disciplined by Ofsted.

A month ago, Britain's science leaders in the Royal Society sacked their highly qualified education officer for daring to suggest that creation might be discussed along with evolution as an explanation for how we've got where we are today.

In July, the European Committee on Culture, Science & Education proposed a ban on teaching creationism and Intelligent Design, the argument that a universe has a designer.

Now, this committee has had its knuckles well and truly rapped by the European Centre for Law and Justice.

"To censure discussion and teaching of creationism" declares the centre, "would violate . . . the European Convention on Human Rights, the Charter on Fundamental Rights of the EU and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child."

It also points out it would hamper "progress of students by restricting their examination of competing scientific ideas and would necessarily violate the freedom of expression, including academic freedom, as well as the rights to the free exercise of religion."

When fundamentalists of any persuasion seek to censure everyday ideas, society does well to remove the gag and fight hard for its God-given freedoms.

Monitoring of creation studies left to schools


16/10/2008 1:00:01 AM

CHRISTIAN schools in NSW are teaching creationism or "intelligent design" with little or no monitoring of whether it is being improperly included in science classes in high schools.

The head of the NSW Board of Studies, John Bennett, told a NSW parliamentary committee yesterday that the education watchdog relied on the Christian schools network to assess whether schools kept to the NSW curriculum, which forbids the teaching of creationism in science classes.

Dr Bennett said teaching creationism was not outlawed in schools, but those that taught creationism were obliged to make clear to students that it was not part of the curriculum and could not be part of an examination assessment.

Responding to questions from a NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, he said that apart from an inspection once every five years and spot checks, the board also relied on individual complaints.

"I don't believe [improperly teaching creationism] is broadly spread," Dr Bennett said.

Creationism has been a big political issue in the US in recent years with the Christian conservative movement - closely associated with the conservative wing of the Republican Party - pushing to have it taught in schools, and treated as a defacto science.

Some US surveys show more than half of all college-educated Americans believe that the world was created less than 5000 years ago and that evolution is a fraudulent scientific theory.

An investigation is under way after a recent complaint about the teaching of creationism at one of the schools in the Christian Schools Australia network.

The executive director of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, said yesterday all schools in the network met science teaching requirements set by the Board of Studies, including the teaching of evolution as a scientific theory.

"We, on behalf of the Board of Studies, conduct registration inspections on the independent schools [in our network]," he said.

But he said the syllabus stated that students should be taught the social and cultural context in which science took place.

"There's plenty of room for schools to teach ideas which go beyond science. Any school is entitled to teach outside the syllabus," Mr O'Doherty said.

He used the example of schools being able to teach Aboriginal dreamtime legends as long as they also taught the science syllabus.

Dr Kaye said such an approach was a gross misinterpretation of the flexibility the board of studies gives to schools.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/10/15/1223750129835. ...


The creationism row


The inculcation of scientific temper and the analytical ability to discern between science, fiction and legend from an early stage of one's development could only advance the cause of science

Saionton Basu

When The Times last month shouted out, "Leading scientist urges teaching of creationism in schools," asserting that Michael Reiss, a biologist and an ordained Church of England clergyman, had explicitly advocated that state-school biology classes teach creationism, a long-standing debate was but waiting to be ignited.

The background to the headlines was a lecture at the British Association for the Advancement of Science's Annual Festival, where Reiss had articulated his now public position: The teacher should explain why creationism is not science and why evolution is, when students from a creationist background raise this issue. Given the wide media exposure, the Royal Society moved swiftly to axe Reiss from the society's rolls arguing that the media's misinterpretation had "led to damage to the society's reputation".

While we could debate the merits of the Royal Society's knee-jerk reaction and the ethics of responsible reporting till apocalypse occurs, the issue at core is the more critical task of dealing with young minds at a formative stage in school.

I was not present at Reiss' lecture, but what occurs to me was that rather than making a pitch for teaching creationism, he was advocating a stance which does precisely the opposite.

The inculcation of scientific temper and the analytical ability to discern between science, fiction and legend from an early stage of one's development could only advance the cause of science. In a sense it would be far better to confront superstition head-on rather than pretend it does not exist.

In this battle between creation and evolution raging in the Western world, I do believe Indian educationists need to sit up and revisit the teaching methodologies being applied across the spectrum of schools.

The heart of the issue which needs to be dealt with is really how to respond to students who have been steeped in scientifically untenable beliefs due to their family or community backgrounds when they ask about those beliefs in classes.

There are a class of people who argue that allowing discussion of scientifically untenable beliefs such as creationism in class confers it legitimacy. The solution, according to this group, is to firmly direct students to take such questions elsewhere. A shut-up-and-take-it-elsewhere response from a teacher will only serve to perpetuate unscientific beliefs and do the greater community a great disservice by not equipping a student with all the tools to effectively debate such issues and arrive at a conclusion.

The reactions fuelled by Reiss only serve to bring back a very old debate which the education boards in India have been trying to tackle for a very long time now, with limited success— that of rote learning versus application-based learning. This is a fresh opportunity to not only revamp the examination standards but also to focus wholeheartedly on the teaching methodologies in vogue.

In the end, here's the statement from the Royal Society that hit the same media rooms in London days after Reiss' exit: "Creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

I cannot help but recall T.S. Eliot's verse, which probably best sums up the Royal Society's position:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Saionton Basu is an advocate in the Supreme Court of India. Comment at otherviews@livemint.com

Pseudoscientists and Their Worlds


Worlds of Their Own: A Brief History of Misguided Ideas: Creationism, Flat-Earthism, Energy Scams, and the Velikovsky Affair. By Robert Schadewald. Xlibris, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4363-0435-1. 272 pp. Paper, $19.99; hardcover, $29.99.


Donald Simanek is an emeritus professor of physics at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania. His Web site www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek includes science, pseudoscience, humor, and satire. He can be reached at dsimanek [at] lhup.edu.

The word pseudoscience is a bit slippery. It suggests something "fake" or "fraudulent"—something that is not a science but pretends to be. We can easily name some of the classic examples: astrology, phrenology, homeopathy, parapsychology, and creationism. People who promote such pseudosciences have been called "paradoxers," because they propose ideas that superficially seem plausible but on closer examination are internally contradictory or counter to what is possible in the real world. The term has been applied to circle-squarers, perpetual motionists, and those who believe the Earth is flat. Sometimes the term "fringe science" is used.

We must admit that in the history of science, some of the early "accepted" ideas would, if judged by the standards of today's science, qualify as pseudoscientific: astrology, alchemy, geocentric solar system models, the luminiferous ether. So how do we distinguish science from pseudoscience?

Bob Schadewald had a continuing interest in fringe science and pseudoscience. This posthumous collection of his published and unpublished materials (skillfully edited by Schadewald's sister Lois) is a highly readable account of several varieties of pseudoscience, including Flat Earth theories, perpetual motion, creationism, and predictions of the end of the world. The unifying theme is "fringe thinkers" who create their own versions of reality, contemptuous of the models of nature accepted by established mainstream science. Schadewald treats his subjects with respect and even sympathy (he knew many of them personally), but he clearly reveals why their ideas are flawed and misguided.

Here you will find the stories of colorful characters such as Immanuel Velikovsky, who rewrote the book on solar system astronomy; Charles Johnson, who was certain that Earth was as flat as a pancake; John Keely, who claimed he could tap etheric energy to power a freight train coast-to-coast on a gallon of water; and assorted creationists, who freely engaged in "lying for God."

One might suppose that these folks and their worldviews have little in common. Surely one who believes the Earth is flat and one who believes it is hollow cannot think alike. But, as this book reveals, they have more in common with each other than they do with mainstream science. Looming large in their thinking and their motivations was a literal belief in the King James Bible. Velikovsky used biblical sources freely. Flat earthers' beliefs were bound up with fundamentalist religious beliefs. Creationists and flat earthers have common historical roots, and I don't know of a single perpetual motionist who was not also a religious fundamentalist. The flat earthers were united in their contempt for the idea of gravitational force. To them, it was a sufficient explanation to observe that "things fall because they are heavy." Even here we find a parallel to Velikovsky, whose 1950 book Worlds in Collision and three subsequent books made much of electromagnetic interactions between planets and comets while dismissing gravity as nonexistent or relatively unimportant.

Velikovsky supposed that a comet was ejected from Jupiter, went careening around the solar system brushing Earth and Mars, and finally settled down to become the planet Venus. In several passes of Earth it managed to cause the walls of Jericho to tumble, interrupted Earth's rotation (making the Sun appear to stand still for Joshua), caused the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and miscellaneous other seemingly miraculous events of recorded history. Few who read these books realized that Velikovsky had published a little-known pamphlet Cosmos without Gravitation (1946) in which he declared "The moon does not 'fall,' attracted to Earth from an assumed inertial motion along a straight line, nor is the phenomena of objects falling in the terrestrial atmosphere comparable to the 'falling effect' in the movement of the moon, a conjecture which is the basic element of the Newtonian theory of gravitation." Velikovsky clearly rejected Newtonian gravity, replacing it with electromagnetic interactions.

Bob Schadewald recognized that some pseudosciences are relatively harmless, but he considered the creationists a serious threat to the integrity of science because of their political campaign to inject their religiously motivated philosophy into public-school science courses. For this reason he attended creationist conferences (calling them "great entertainment") to see what they were up to and was on friendly terms with many of the prominent creationist spokesmen. But at the same time, he helped found the National Center for Science Education and served on its board. This organization is on the front lines in the battle to preserve the integrity of science in the schools against the efforts of creationists to redefine science to include the supernatural.

This book can be enjoyed on several levels, for Schadewald writes with droll humor, and many of his characters have comic dimensions. Included are his interviews with Immanuel Velikovsky and flat-earther Charles Johnson. Here is the story of naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, who in 1870 unwisely accepted a wager with flat-earther John Hampden on the flatness of the water in the Old Bedford Canal. John Worrell Keely's story was fodder for late-nineteenth-century journalists, who delighted in reporting on his antics promoting machines that ran on etheric energy. Keely was a clever showman who kept his Keely Motor Company going for twenty-six years without producing a single product or paying a dividend to his wealthy investors. Nor did he reveal his secrets.

Concluding chapters on "The Philosophy of Pseudoscience" explore the common characteristics of these independent thinkers. This is an informative and entertaining book of continuing relevance, for pseudoscientific ideas of this sort never die but are continually reborn in new clothing.

Fish With First Neck Evolved Into Land Animal -- Slowly


James Owen for National Geographic News

October 15, 2008

The skull of a 375-million-year-old walking fish reveals new clues to how our fish ancestors evolved into land dwellers.

The fossil fish—called Tiktaalik roseae—was discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 2004 and provides the 'missing link' between fish and land vertebrates, according to scientists. It's also the proud owner of the world's first known neck.

The new study confirms that the prehistoric fish, which had limblike fins, heralded a momentous departure from water for vertebrates (animals with backbones) but that this evolutionary transition wasn't as sudden as previously thought.

Careful analysis of the skull, gill bones, and palate of the fossil indicate that Tiktaalik was an intermediate step between fish and land animals, with physical feature from both—allowing the fish to live in shallow water.

"We see that cranial features once associated with land-living animals were first adaptations for life in shallow water," said study co-author Jason Downs of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

From Fins to Limbs

Researchers already knew that Tiktaalik was a nine-foot (three-meter) crocodile-style predator with a neck, primitive lungs, and leglike fins adapted for life in the shallows.

The team's latest findings, to be published tomorrow in the journal Nature, reveal the switch from an aquatic to a terrestrial life in vertebrates also involved incremental, complex changes to the skull.

The study indicates Tiktaalik shared many internal skull features with more primitive fishes, but that its head was also amphibianlike, suggesting the animal was possibly capable of breathing air and feeding on land.

"The new study reminds us that the gradual evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapod [four-limbed land animals] and the transition from aquatic to terrestrial lifestyles required much more than the evolution of limbs," said Ted Daeschler, a paleontologist at the Academy of Natural Sciences who co-led the 2004 team.

Air Breather?

"It may have been more capable of air breathing and land walking than more primitive finned animals, but it's still an aquatic animal," said Downs.

Tiktaalik's less fishy skull features included a flattened palate, a solidly constructed head, and a much shortened hyomandibula—a bone that supports the gill cover. As a result, the fish had the world's first known neck, the researchers said.

This suggests the animal wasn't particularly good at pumping water into its body, Downs said.

"This sort of pumping function is necessary in fish for breathing and feeding underwater, but it's not important once out on land," he added.

"But that's not to say Tiktaalik was incapable of gill breathing. If you look at the gill skeleton it's quite unchanged from the primitive condition," Downs said.

So if Tiktaalik was also breathing air, "it might have been as simple as reaching its head out of water and taking a gulp," he said.

Scientists had previously argued for the rapid evolution of the first land vertebrates from fish. But prior to the Tiktaalik discovery, the internal head skeletons of such intermediate fish forms were missing from the fossil record, the study team said.

"Tiktaalik continues to demonstrate itself an as animal that is really helping us to inform this fin-to-limb transition," Downs said.

Fossil Evidence

Per Ahlberg, a professor of evolutionary biology at Uppsala University, Sweden, says he agrees with the latest study findings, which were funded in part by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

He said that in many respects Tiktaalik's skull is reminiscent of an earlier amphibian-like fossil fish called Panderichthys.

(See related: "Ancient Fish Had Primitive Fingers, Toes"[September 24, 2008].)

"What's nice with Tiktaalik, however, is that the material is better preserved so it's giving us a clearer picture of how the braincase is being rebuilt during the fish-to-tetrapod transition," Ahlberg said.

"Tiktaalik shows a somewhat more advanced stage of this rebuilding than Panderichthys, so it's another valuable piece in the puzzle," he added.

The appearance of the first four-legged vertebrates was a drawn-out evolutionary process that "didn't happen all in one go," Ahlberg said.

"It's very much a matter of comparing one animal with another and putting changes in context rather than focusing on your individual missing link," he said.

Downs, the study author, said the way Tiktaalik fits so neatly into the fossil record perfectly demonstrates "the predictive power of paleontology."

"What's most surprising about Tiktaalik is that, really, it's not surprising at all," he added.

Science curriculum reviewers criticized


By Kate Alexander | Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 11:31 AM

Some of the State Board of Education's appointments to a new panel appointed to review the state's science curriculum standards has drawn quick fire.

Two authors of a textbook called Explore Evolution have been named to the six-member panel.

The textbook is distributed by the Discovery Institute, which promotes intelligent design. The book is described as presenting "the scientific evidence both for and against key aspects of Darwinian evolution."

Here's a snippet about textbook from its Web site:

The purpose of Explore Evolution, is to examine the scientific controversy about Darwin's theory, and in particular, the contemporary version of the theory known as neo-Darwinism. Whether you are a teacher, a student, or a parent, this book will help you understand what Darwin's theory of evolution is, why many scientists find it persuasive, and why other scientists question the theory or some key aspects of it.

The Texas Freedom Network criticized the appointment of the textbook authors, Stephen Meyer, vice president of the Discovery Institute, and Ralph Seelke, a biology and earth sciences professor from the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

"Texas universities boast some of the leading scientists in the world," said Kathy Miller, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network. "It's appalling that some state board members turned to out-of-state ideologues to decide whether Texas kids get a 21st-century science education."


Texas Freedom Network Manufactures Bogus Controversy Over Science Standard Reviewers


Editor's note: This is our joke of the day. Notice the source of this shocking information is the Discovery Institute.

Last update: 9:52 p.m. EDT Oct. 15, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas, Oct 15, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire via COMTEX/ -- The Chicken Littles at the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) are ranting that the sky is falling because two of the six experts selected to review the state's science standards co-authored Explore Evolution, a textbook that examines both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution ( www.exploreevolution.com).

What the TFN doesn't reveal is that another of the expert reviewers co-authored a one-sided, Darwin-only textbook! David Hillis, a biology professor at UT Austin co-authored the 2008 edition of Life: The Science of Biology, a textbook whose previous editions have been approved for use in Texas high schools. Hillis also serves as a spokesman for a pro-evolution lobbying group that is trying to remove language in the Texas science standards requiring students to study the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Gerald Skoog, another expert reviewer, has signed a statement issued by the same pro-evolution group, and he too has been a science textbook author and has a long history as a pro-Darwin activist.

"If being a textbook author really is a 'conflict of interest,' then why isn't TFN attacking Hillis and Skoog?" asked Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "In truth, textbook authors are precisely some of the experts who should be having input into science curriculum standards."

"TFN and other Darwinist activists are manufacturing a controversy because they don't want a serious examination of the science standards, especially of their effort to gut the 'strengths and weaknesses' language. What are they afraid of?" asked Luskin.

"We think it's fantastic that Dr. Meyer and Dr. Seelke have been invited to review the Texas science standards and explain why students should learn both the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories," added Luskin. "And we also think it's great that people like Dr. Hillis and Dr. Gerald Skoog were chosen. Unlike the TFN, we think the state board of education should be applauded for choosing a diverse group of scientific reviewers. Getting honest input from science experts with diverse views is imperative if we're going to build a world-class educational system."

Both Dr. Meyer and Dr. Seelke are practiced reviewers having been involved in other states' standards review processes. Dr. Meyer has previously been invited by the states of Ohio and Kansas to testify on their science standards.

Dr. Meyer is director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, and earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin of life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences.

Dr. Seelke received his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine and has been an Associate Professor or Professor in the Department of Biology and Earth Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Superior since 1989 where he researches evolution's capabilities and limitations in producing new functions in bacteria.

SOURCE Discovery Institute

3 evolution critics on panel that reviews science curriculum in Texas schools


09:52 PM CDT on Wednesday, October 15, 2008
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Social conservatives on the State Board of Education have appointed three evolution critics to a six-member committee that will review proposed curriculum standards for science courses in Texas schools.

Two of the appointees are authors of a book that questions many of the tenets of Charles Darwin's theory of how humans and other life forms evolved. One of them, Stephen Meyer, is also vice president of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that promotes an explanation of the origin of life similar to creationism. The other author is Ralph Seelke, a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Also on the panel is Baylor University chemistry professor Charles Garner, who, like the other two, signed the Discovery Institute's "Dissent from Darwinism" statement that sharply questions key aspects of the theory of evolution.

Three other committee members are veteran science professors from major Texas universities – the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and Southern Methodist University.

The committee was chosen by 12 of the 15 members of the board of education, with each panel member receiving the support of two board members. For example, Republican board members Geraldine Miller of Dallas and Pat Hardy of Weatherford selected SMU anthropology professor Ronald K. Wetherington, who is also director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the university.

Six other members of the board aligned with social conservative groups chose the three committee members who have signed the "Dissent from Darwinism" document along with several hundred educators from across the U.S.

It states: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged."

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller, who frequently spars with social conservative groups, called it "simply stunning that any state board members would even consider appointing authors of an anti-evolution textbook to a panel of scientists." The textbook is titled Explore Evolution.

"Texas universities boast some of the leading scientists in the world," said Ms. Miller, of the progressive, nonprofit group. "It's appalling that some state board members turned to out-of-state ideologues to decide whether Texas kids get a 21st century science education."

Jonathan Saenz of the conservative Free Market Foundation said the panel is "balanced" because two of the other three members, UT-Austin biology Professor David Hillis and Texas Tech Professor Gerald Skoog, have joined a group of science educators wanting to eliminate a current requirement that weaknesses of the theory of evolution be taught.

"If the theory of evolution is so strong and without weaknesses, why are the evolutionists so afraid to let students have a discussion about it?" he asked.

"Close-minded efforts to ban students from [hearing both sides] is dangerous and a clear detriment to students."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Congratulations to Randy Moore


Posted on: October 15, 2008 11:05 AM, by PZ Myers

My colleague at the Twin Cities branch campus of the University of Minnesota, Randy Moore, has won an award from the Discovery Institute: The Award for Most Dogmatic Indoctrinator in an Evolutionary Biology Course. Congratulations to Randy! He won it for this paragraph:

The evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming and comes from diverse disciplines, such as molecular biology, paleontology, comparative anatomy, ethology, and biochemistry. There is no controversy among biologists about whether evolution occurs, nor are there science-based alternative theories. Evolution is a unifying theme in biology; teaching it as such is the best way to show students what biology is about and how they can use evolution as a tool to understand our world. [Evolution] is as important an idea as there is in science - it is a great gift to give to students.

The Discovery Institute claims there are at least four mistakes in that paragraph. Their summary of the "errors" is hilarious, and shows how delusional those guys are.

So I hope Randy Moore doesn't get too cocky here — the award was given by a gang of incompetent judges who don't know what they are talking about.

Fossil helps understand evolution from fish to land animals


Thursday, 16 Oct 2008 00:01

A 375 million-year-old fossil discovered in Canada is helping shed light on the evolutionary transition between fish and land animals.

In a new study published in the journal Nature today, academics claim the transition from aquatic to terrestrial lifestyles involved complex changes not only of the appendages but also to the internal head skeleton.

The Tiktaalik rosease was first discovered in 2004 more than 700 miles above the Artic Circle on Ellesmere Island.

The creature was described as a large aquatic predator and experts believe it represents a "textbook example of a transitional fossil".

Tests carried out on the head skeleton demonstrated the intermediary of the Tiktaalik roseae.

"The braincase, palate and gill arches of Tiktaalik help reveal the pattern of evolutionary change in this part of the skeleton," said Dr Jason Downs, from the Academy of Natural Sciences.

"We see that cranial features once associated with land-living animals were first adaptations for life in shallow water."

Dr Ted Daeschler added: "The new study reminds us that the gradual evolutionary transition from fish to tetrapod and the transition from aquatic to terrestrial lifestyles required much more than the evolution of limbs," said Daeschler.

"Our work demonstrates that the head of these animals was becoming more solidly constructed and, at the same time, more mobile with respect to the body across this transition."

Along the lineage of lobe-finned fish that leads to tetrapods, trends in head shape include a flattening of the skull and a lengthening of the snout, the authors describe.

During the transition, the interactions among the different parts of the head skeleton also were changing.

For example, the hyomandibula bone gradually becomes smaller. In fish it links the braincase, palate and gill skeletons and coordinates their relative motions during underwater feeding and respiration.

In the transition to life on land, the bone gradually loses these functions and is eventually used in enabling an animal to hear and in humans, the hyomandibula, or stapes, is one of the tiny bones in the middle ear.

Monday, October 13, 2008

State Board of Education Wants to Change Evolution Standard


Posted: Oct 3, 2008 09:20 PM CDT
Updated: Oct 3, 2008 10:32 PM CDT

Texas schools may soon take the debate out of the evolution debate.

In classrooms right now students are allowed to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories like evolution. But next year, that may change.

The state mandates all Texas schools follow the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum.

Amarillo High School Cluster Director Gary Angell says, "we have teks in all courses and it is basically a list of standards we teach and objectives."

Part of that is allowing students to question the theory of evolution. But a revision to the standard would require teachers to present the theory as fact.

Kim Beth Buchanan, Curriculum Director for Canyon I.S.D. says, "the phrase strengths and weaknesses was deleted from the new science standards."

Tis a position supported by 800 scientists across the state who have joined together online.

Even if the strengths and weaknesses phrase is deleted, Buchanan says that will not stifle a student's question on evolution. She says, "if a student brings that up as a discussion in their analysis of evolution, then of course the teacher will listen."

The board of education will cast a final vote on the change next spring.

The State Board of Education is taking public input on this issue.

You can see the science class standards and tell the board what you think through the Texas Education Agency.

Here is the link to that website: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter112/index.html

Everything you need to know about ID


Posted on: October 11, 2008 10:23 AM, by PZ Myers

It's a wonder that these people know how to tie their own shoes. I was sent a link to Perry Marshall's Intelligent Evolution Quick Guide, and it is certainly a fine example of the kind of reasoning that allows creationism to thrive. It's a short guide, but it goes on for over a page, when the essential syllogism that defines ID is actually presented in three all-encompassing lines.

DNA is not just a molecule - it is a coding system with a language & alphabet, and contains a message

All languages, codes and messages come from a mind

Therefore DNA was designed by a Mind

As I'm sure all of you sensible readers can immediately detect, his first premise is a deeply flawed analogy and his second is simply undemonstrated and entirely false, so his "therefore" is unwarranted. Three lines, three errors: a perfect representation of creationist thought.

I give to you the cockroach. It contains DNA, and it copies it and propagates it to the next generation of cockroaches, yet is it even aware of its DNA? Does it use its tiny little cockroach mind to construct a complex molecule? No. Mindless chemistry does it. There is no thought behind the synthesis and modification of the DNA molecule at all, yet it is true that it carries out complex activities with the aid of other molecules in the cytoplasm…but without the assistance of any intelligent beings at all.

Similarly, I give you the creationist. They contain DNA, and a large brain as well, but they don't use that brain at all in producing progeny. After a little embarrassed tickle and grunt, mindless chemistry takes over in fertilization and development, and 9 months later, another mind emerges from one of their unencephalized wombs. We can trace the origins of that DNA back and back and back, and at no point in its history does it seem to be produced by conscious design, and the farther back we look, the less available potential there was for intelligent intervention. Bacteria are even less clever than cockroaches, you know.

If you want to understand our history and our evolution, the first concept you have to be able to grasp is that natural processes produce all the complexity and diversity of extant life without the guiding hand of any external agents. Once you've realized that, it becomes apparent that we can work backwards through our ancestry without invoking magic or cosmic helpers — that Intelligent Design creationism is a superfluous hypothesis that can be dismissed in the absence of any corroborating evidence.

Brunswick school district: the patient may be getting better


Posted on: October 11, 2008 12:46 PM, by PZ Myers

The Brunswick school district, AKA Dover's dumber little brother, is still struggling with the creationists trying to smuggle creationism into the science classroom. The latest report, though, suggests that the pro-science side is being aggressive in fighting back, and the pro-ignorance side is backing off due to pocketbook pragmatism — a costly court case could hurt them badly.

I thought this comment was revealing.

District 2 Republican Catherine Cooke, who presents herself as an active parent and therefore insider in the county school system, said she knows creationism is not to be taught as science, but she's not against the topic being explored in some form.

"There's a lot of scientific proof for creation," Cooke said, without elaborating on that proof. "It's not one-sided."

Wow, Ms Cooke: a contradiction — she knows it's not to be taught as science, but she thinks it is scientific — and a falsehood — there is no scientific evidence for creation. It actually is that one-sided.

I also liked the subtle dig in the reporter's description, "without elaborating on that proof." Of course she didn't, she can't. I've sat down with a lot of these people who claim there is science behind creationism, and when I ask them to get specific and tell me what some of it is, they suddenly get the look of a poleaxed rabbit and start stammering the names of creationist authorities who told them so, at best.

A year later, Creation Museum claiming big crowds


By Dylan T. Lovan Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The museum exhibits are taken from the Old Testament, but the special effects are pure Hollywood: a state-of-the-art planetarium, animatronics and a massive model of Noah's Ark, all intended to explain the origins of the universe from a biblical viewpoint. | Audio slideshow

The Creation Museum, which teaches life's beginnings through a literal interpretation of the Bible, is claiming attendance figures that would make it an unexpectedly strong draw less than a year and a half after it debuted. More than a half-million people have toured the Kentucky attraction since its May 2007 opening, museum officials said.

For creationists — Christians who believe the Bible's first chapter of Genesis is the literal telling of the universe's start — the museum is a godsend. Many have returned with family and friends, some from faraway states arguing it's one of the few with a Christian worldview.

Many scientists say they fear damaging effects on science education when young people tour the museum and fail to square its lessons with what they're learning in school. One display shows humans coexisting with dinosaurs — despite the two species being separated by 65 million years in most science texts.

"We're depressed, I think," said Dan Phelps, head of the Kentucky Paleontology Society, who toured the museum shortly after its opening. "There's been such a push in recent years to improve science education, but stuff like this still hangs around."

Phelps said he fears some teachers, shying away from the origins controversy, may choose to omit mentioning evolution studies in the classroom.

State education officials said they have seen no sign of students challenging science teachers in their classrooms based on conclusions drawn from visits to the Creation Museum.

"It's not been a huge issue. In fact it's almost a nonissue for public schools," said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education. "Teachers have been dealing with these things long before the Creation Museum came into being."

The Creation Museum doesn't draw nearly as many visitors as the nation's top science museums, which boast larger facilities and government funding. The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington attracted 5.8 million visitors in 2006; the Children's Museum in Indianapolis brought in 1.2 million that year, according to a list compiled by Forbes magazine.

But for its size and budget — it took $27 million in private donations to build — the museum has been an overwhelming success, founder Ken Ham said.

The museum in rural northern Kentucky, a 30-minute drive south of Cincinnati, has drawn more than 550,000 visitors in 15½ months, by its own count.

Regular visitors pay $20 for admission, but about 10 percent were admitted for free over the last 15 months, museum officials said. Ham said it draws families, home-schooled children, Christian school groups and even many skeptics.

Inside, evolution is replaced with the Old Testament stories of Adam and Eve as the first humans and Noah rescuing the human race from a worldwide flood.

Ham feels the sleek presentation puts it on par with well-funded science museums. Patrick Marsh, who helped create exhibits at Universal Studios in Orlando, was brought in as the museum's director of design.

"We made a decision quite a few years ago, that we wanted to do it first-class ... as good as you would see at museums or Disney World or Universal Studios," Ham said. "It's become an attraction in its own right, regardless of the message that we have here."

One visitor, Bill Michaletz, drove his family from Wisconsin in May.

"I do believe in creation, that God created it all," said Michaletz, who has five children. "I'm appreciative that there is a place to go for ourselves and our kids, to look at that view."

World's Oldest Footprints Found in Nevada


Kimberly Johnson for National Geographic News
October 10, 2008

Scientists believe they have uncovered Earth's oldest known footprints in the mountains of Nevada—a fossil find that suggests animals have been walking around about 30 million years longer than previously thought, according to new research.

The controversial tracks—described by one skeptical scientist as "paired rows of dots"— may indicate animals had legs in the late Protozoic era, about 570 million years ago, according to lead researcher Loren Babcock.

"We keep talking about the possibility of more complex animals in the Ediacaran—soft corals, some arthropods, and flatworms—but the evidence has not been totally convincing," he said in a statement.

"But if you find evidence, like we did, of an animal with legs—an animal walking around—then that makes the possibility much more likely."

Digging Up Dirt

The fossilized animal tracks were unearthed near Goldfield, Nevada, near Death Valley, in the Deep Spring rock formation.

The sedimentary formation—made of sandstone, siltstone, shale, and limestone layers—is about 600 million years old.

Babcock and others on his research team were analyzing rock dating back to the Ediacaran-Cambrian period when he flipped over a slab of sediment and found the supposed footprints.

"It was basically an accidental discovery," Babcock told National Geographic News after the findings were presented earlier this week at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Houston, Texas.

The footprints are a couple of millimeters across and look like centipede leg marks, he said.

"It's like taking a dull pencil point and poking it into sediment," he said, noting that such a description may not be so far from how the marks were actually made.

About 570 million years ago, the area was covered by a shallow sea. The water had a mat-like surface made of sediment grains that were held together by a cohesive network of bacteria and fungi, which would have easily preserved animal tracks.

Prehistoric Time Line

The tracks were determined to have been made in the Ediacaran period by comparing the "footprints" layer to previously dated layers with similar features.

"There is nothing we can use to [directly] obtain numerical age date," said Babcock, who acknowledges the findings could be hard for some to swallow.

"If everyone accepted it right off the bat, I'd be shocked," he said.

"Paired Rows of Dots"

Precambrian paleontologist Nick Butterfield said he was "deeply skeptical," about the conclusions drawn.

"From the description—paired rows of dots—it just doesn't sound like a trackway," the University of Cambridge scientist said in email.

"Centipedes and their ilk shuffle along and leave continuous traces in soft (sub-aerially exposed) sediments—they don't carefully step ahead, lifting each foot out of the mud to place it exactly in a previously made footprint," he said.

The probability the tracks were made in an underwater environment is even lower, he said.

"With a specific gravity essentially the same as water/mud, small aquatic invertebrates simply don't sink into the mud and don't leave footprints."