NTS LogoSkeptical News for 12 August 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Evolution education update: August 7, 2009

The way is clear for the government to seize a creationist theme park in Florida. And the complete run of Creation/Evolution is now available on-line.

DINOSAUR ADVENTURE LAND TO BE SEIZED?

Dinosaur Adventure Land, Kent Hovind's creationist theme park in Pensacola, Florida, is to be seized by the federal government, the Pensacola News Journal (July 31, 2009) reported. In November 2006, a federal jury found Hovind guilty of fifty-eight charges, including failing to pay payroll taxes for his employees, structuring financial transactions to avoid reporting requirements, and "corruptly endeavor[ing] to obstruct and impede the due administration of the internal revenue laws." Hovind was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison and to pay over $600,000 in restitution.

After the judge presiding over the case ordered that two bank accounts and ten real properties located in Pensacola be forfeited to satisfy the financial judgment against Hovind, two claimants filed separate objections. Eric Hovind -- who is running Creation Science Evangelism while his father is incarcerated -- claimed ownership of a single property, in which he lives, while Glen Stoll -- who was hired by Hovind to restructure his ministry so its assets would be managed through supposedly tax-exempt trusts -- claimed ownership of the remaining nine as well as one of the bank accounts.

Eric Hovind's claim was upheld by the court in its July 29, 2009, order, which noted that the conveyance of the title to his home was not part of Stoll's scheme for restructuring the ministry. But Stoll's claim was not: the court held that "Stoll has not shown he played anything more than a titular role in the trusts he created, and the court finds he was a nominee title holder for Kent and Jo Hovind. ... As such, Stoll has no legal interest in any forfeited substitute property and lacks standing to challenge the court's June 28, 2007, and October 8, 2008, forfeiture orders."

Among the properties forfeited appears to be Dinosaur Adventure Land, which describes itself as "a theme park and science museum that gives God the glory for His creation." Reporting on his visit there in the November 2004 Skeptical Inquirer, Greg Martinez concluded, "Dinosaur Adventure Land is just a playground tricked out with dinosaur dressage to attract an audience that can then be enticed, seduced, and eventually duped into accepting superstitions, pseudoscience, and plain nonsense passed off with a patina of both scientific and religious authority."

For the story in the Pensacola News-Journal, visit:
http://www.pnj.com/article/20090731/NEWS01/90731016/1006

For the court's order (PDF), visit:
http://ncseweb.org/webfm_send/1130

For Greg Martinez's account of his visit to Dinosaur Adventure Land, visit:
http://www.csicop.org/si/2004-11/hovind.html

CREATION/EVOLUTION NOW AVAILABLE ON-LINE

NCSE is pleased to announce that the complete run of Creation/Evolution is now available in PDF form on the NCSE website. Published from 1980 to 1996, Creation/Evolution was the leading source of information about and criticism of the creationist movement through that momentous period, which saw the rise and fall of attempts to require the teaching of "creation science" in the public schools as well as the beginnings of the "intelligent design" movement. Creation/Evolution was originally published by the American Humanist Association, under the editorship of Frederick Edwords; in 1991, it was acquired by NCSE, and John R. Cole became its editor. In 1997, Creation/Evolution was merged with NCSE Reports to produce NCSE's current journal, Reports of the NCSE, edited by Andrew J. Petto.

Highlights of Creation/Evolution include Frank Awbrey's "Yes, Virginia, There is a Creation Model" (issue 1), Laurie R. Godfrey's analysis of the creationist movie Footprints in Stone (issue 6), Robert A. Moore's "The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark" (issue 11), Conrad Hyers's "Genesis Knows Nothing of Scientific Creationism" (issue 12), a special issue on the Paluxy footprints (issue 15), Thomas McIver's report on his field study in the Grand Canyon with a group of creationists (issue 20), John A. Moore's "Is 'Creation Science' Scientific?" (issue 28), Bernard Ortiz de Montellano's "Afrocentric Creationism" (issue 29), Eugenie C. Scott's review of Phillip Johnson's Darwin on Trial (issue 33), Taner Edis's "Islamic Creationism in Turkey" (issue 34), and Robert T. Pennock's "Naturalism, Creationism, and the Meaning of Life" (issue 39).

For the complete run of Creation/Evolution, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/media/cej

For information about subscribing to Reports of the NCSE, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership

God's children in the tunnel of evolution

http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=God%E2%80%99s+children+in+the+tunnel+of+evolution&artid=Yq51FCVJXtA=&SectionID=41ptteGX1Qw=&MainSectionID=41ptteGX1Qw=&SEO=Why+Evolution+is+True&SectionName=42QPdTRt8sE=

G K Rao
First Published : 09 Aug 2009 11:21:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 08 Aug 2009 10:04:44 PM IST

In Jack London's The Seawolf, the fastidious castaway Humphrey van Weyden observes two of the ship's crew in an argument. He is fascinated to note that that each one makes a statement and sticks to it as if it were gospel. Reason as a tool of persuasion is of no use here. The only way you might shake him from his position is by physically shaking the belief out of him.

Most people might shake their heads in disbelief at the crudity of such a procedure, but a scientist, especially a biologist, may be tempted when confronted with one of God's Children. This year sees the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and the world should be celebrating the life and work of a man who is at the centre of the major scientific revolutions of the 20th century. Unfortunately, his importance and his claims to immortality have been diminished by the ugly, continuing controversy between evolution and creation.

At first sight this should be a non-starter. Darwin's thesis that all living creatures have evolved over time from common ancestors through natural selection has been confirmed time and again, thousands of times, from many different angles, in the 150 years since 1859, when his book On the Origin of Species was published. Today, the Darwinian thesis is as close to a universal law as anything can get. But the detractors are louder than ever, more numerous than ever.

a simple process

The real problem is that Darwin's work cast serious doubt on the gospel as truth, and he is still paying the price for it. The descendants of the children of God who so viciously attacked him when he was alive are still at it, but this time in a more oblique way, by promoting a doctrine they call Intelligent Design (it was originally called creationism).

At first, scientists sneered at it as an absurdity that would soon go away, but they were in for a rude shock. It became part of the conservative political agenda in the US, and it is now pushing its way into Britain as well, as Richard Dawkins, one of the most articulate defenders of evolution theory, noted with dismay.

What baffles and outrages scientists is that, without producing a shred of credible evidence, the promoters of Intelligent Design expect the their doctrine to be treated on par with a theory that has withstood the most rigorous tests that could be devised in a century and a half. Creationism's rationale is very similar to that of Humphery's crewmates.

Faced with such dogmatic determination, a scientist can do only one thing; refute it with all the power, all the evidence at his disposal. That is just what the distinguished evolutionary geneticist Jerry Coyne has done in his book Why Evolution is True. "I offer it in the hope that people everywhere may share my wonder at the sheer explanatory power of Darwinian evolution, and may face its implications without fear."

This is the ruling spirit of the book, showing how well Darwin's explanation of the world is borne out by the facts. Evolution is essentially a simple process that can engineer profound changes over time in an organism. It is, in fact, a perfect example of Occam's Razor. It depends on no outside or overarching entity to accomplish its miracle. There is no mystery about it either. The answers can be found if you ask the right questions.

This is what Coyne does as he leads the reader through the entire business. He patiently addresses the question why the earth shuld be billions rather than thousands of years old, through geophysics, plate tectonics and geology. The last is the richest of the three fields and also one of the foundations of evolutionary theory and modern biology. It is in the rocks that we see the clearest evidence for both evolution and the age of the Earth.

the hand of god

Coyne explains in painstaking detail with the aid of drawings, photographs and graphs the path that evolution took and takes in specific cases, providing comprehensive evidence for the process. The explanations flow seamlessly, and they have the elegance of simplicity. This is what strikes the reader most forcibly; evolution, for all its near-universal reach, can be explained in a series of steps, some linear and some lateral, going either way in time. We can trace our way all the way back to Ramapithecus more than 10 million years ago, or the other way (if Ramapithecus had been alive today).

There is no need to look for the hand of God; random mutation and natural selection are sufficient as tools of change. Each argument is buttressed with unimpeachable empirical evidence, and there is a sense of being above the storm of contending theses. It isn't quite that, but in tone it is far removed from the harshly strident language of Richard Dawkins. As a putdown for Creationists it is just as definite, but it doesn't treat the naysayers as idiotic rabble.

At another level Coyne's work is a first-class primer for anyone who might be interested in evolutionary biology as a discipline. And for the ordinary reader it is an unforgettable introduction to the wonderfully precise ways of science.

At the end of the book, a reasonable person would agree that evolution is most probably true, and that other attempts just can't explain the diversity of life as convincingly. Reason, unfortunately, is not our natural state. The power of unreason is great, especially if it is allied with religious dogma. That is why the defenders of reason have a long way to go in their battle with the likes of Humphrey's crewmates.

— grao@epmltd.com

Bible class and the governor's race

http://www.dailytexanonline.com/opinion/bible-class-and-the-governor-s-race-1.1814970

Rebecca Counts

Daily Texan Columnist

Published: Monday, August 10, 2009

Updated: Monday, August 10, 2009

It's no wonder the American Civil Liberties Union is concerned about the state of religious freedom in Texas.

There is the recent announcement that the Legislature is forcing schools to teach elective classes about the Bible if as few as 15 students are interested.

The law offers no stipulations on how teachers of these classes need to be trained, saying only that the classes "shall not endorse, favor, or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward, any particular religion or nonreligious faith or religious perspective." As many have pointed out, the lack of clear requirements brings teachers of such courses into dangerous, lawsuit-ridden waters.

My pastor went to school for more than eight years before he began teaching about the historical and cultural implications of the Bible. The best these public school teachers got was a week long seminar voluntarily provided by the University.

The larger problem with this law is its narrow focus on the Bible, not any other religious text. What if 15 students were interested in learning about the Quran? Surely, a law that picks one religion for instruction will not withstand a constitutional challenge.

This requirement, however, is only the latest in a string of developments in which Texas education is putting religious freedom at risk.

The Texas Board of Education is also considering a change to current American history curriculum that would emphasize the influence of Christianity and de-emphasize the tradition of separation of church and state, as the Austin American-Statesman reported last month. Gov. Perry appointed a noted creationist to head the State Board of Education, and new language in the curriculum code makes creationism easier to sneak into biology classes.

If this is the stamp Gov. Perry wants to leave on our education system, we need to start searching for a sensible replacement as soon as possible. Astonishingly, the other gubernatorial candidates have been nearly silent on the failure of our political process to make sensible educational reforms.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's Web site lists "science and education" as one of her issues, but the articles included under the heading addresses only science — not any other area of education reform. Larry Kilgore, a Christian activist and Republican gubernatorial hopeful, discusses education on his Facebook page only to note that "Washington & Austin usurps [sic] the authority of local school districts."

Democrat Tom Schieffer, who announced his candidacy for governor last March, neglects to include any substantive criticism of the current education system on his Web site, saying only that "we cannot give up on public education."

Even Kinky Friedman is letting us down, remaining oddly silent on this issue.

Anyone else ready to join the race?

Counts is a plan II honors, history and business honors senior

Extinct Walking Bat Found

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/08/090807-walking-bat.html

Carolyn Barry in Sydney
National Geographic News
August 7, 2009

A walking bat in New Zealand took its marching orders from an ancestor, a new fossil-bat discovery reveals.

Scientists had long thought that the lesser short-tailed bat evolved its walking preference independently.

Since the bat's native habitat lacks predators, researchers reasoned that—much like flightless birds on isolated islands—the bat had adapted to its safer surroundings in part by walking.

But the discovery of fossils of a now extinct walking bat in northwestern Queensland, Australia, suggests that the modern-day bats descended from 20-million-year-old Australian relatives.

"We were amazed to find they were virtually identical to the bats in New Zealand today," said study leader Sue Hand, a paleontologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

The fossil bat had a similar groove in its elbow as its modern counterpart. This supports a specialized muscular system that allows bats to launch from the ground, where they spend about 40 percent of their time.

Unlike their modern relatives, the ancient bats had plenty of predators, Hand said, including marsupial lions and carnivorous kangaroos.

But the quick little bats, measuring up to three inches (eight centimeters) long, would have easily escaped capture.

"They're very agile on the ground, quick to fly, and reasonably aggressive," Hand said.

Bat Die-Off

The New Zealand bats "were in a perfectly good position to exploit a predator-free niche," she added.

Gaining the ability to walk and burrow opened up new food opportunities for the mammals, she added.

"Being on the ground allowed it to have an incredibly broad diet—an advantage when things became colder."

About 15 million years ago, when Australia underwent a climatic shift that made the continent cooler and drier, the Australian walking bats seemed to have died off.

Of the 1,100 known present-day bat species, the lesser short-tailed bat and the American common vampire bat are the only two known to walk on the ground.

The vampire bat is still thought to have evolved its walking ability independently, probably because walking allows the bat to chase after injured prey on the ground.

The finding was published July 20 in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Must science declare a holy war on religion?

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-mooney11-2009aug11,0,6581208.story

The so-called New Atheists are attacking the mantra of science and faith being compatible. Others in the science community question the value of confrontation.

By Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum
August 11, 2009

This fall, evolutionary biologist and bestselling author Richard Dawkins -- most recently famous for his public exhortation to atheism, "The God Delusion" -- returns to writing about science. Dawkins' new book, "The Greatest Show on Earth," will inform and regale us with the stunning "evidence for evolution," as the subtitle says. It will surely be an impressive display, as Dawkins excels at making the case for evolution. But it's also fair to ask: Who in the United States will read Dawkins' new book (or ones like it) and have any sort of epiphany, or change his or her mind?

Surely not those who need it most: America's anti-evolutionists. These religious adherents often view science itself as an assault on their faith and doggedly refuse to accept evolution because they fear it so utterly denies God that it will lead them, and their children, straight into a world of moral depravity and meaninglessness. An in-your-face atheist touting evolution, like Dawkins, is probably the last messenger they'll heed.

Dawkins will, however, be championed by many scientists, especially the most secular -- those who were galvanized by "The God Delusion" and inspired by it to take a newly confrontational approach toward America's religious majority. They will help ensure Dawkins another literary success. It's certainly valuable to have the case for evolution articulated prominently and often, but what this unending polarization around evolution and religion does for the standing of science in the U.S. is a very different matter.

It often appears as though Dawkins and his followers -- often dubbed the New Atheists, though some object to the term -- want to change the country's science community in a lasting way. They'd have scientists and defenders of reason be far more confrontational and blunt: No more coddling the faithful, no tolerating nonscientific beliefs. Scientific institutions, in their view, ought to stop putting out politic PR about science and religion being compatible.

The New Atheists win the battle easily on the Internet. Their most prominent blogger, the University of Minnesota biologist P.Z. Myers, runs what is probably the Web's most popular science blog, Pharyngula, where he and his readers attack and belittle religious believers, sometimes using highly abrasive language. Or as Myers put it to fanatical Catholics at one point: "Don't confuse the fact that I find you and your church petty, foolish, twisted and hateful to be a testimonial to the existence of your petty, foolish, twisted, hateful god."

More moderate scientists, however -- let us call them the accommodationists -- still dominate the hallowed institutions of American science. Personally, these scientists may be atheists, agnostics or believers; whatever their views on the relationship between science and religion, politically, spiritually and practically they see no need to fight over it.

Thus the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences take the stance that science and religion can be perfectly compatible -- and are regularly blasted for it by the New Atheists. Or as the National Academy of Sciences put it in a recent volume on evolution and creationism: "Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth's history. ... Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts."

A smaller but highly regarded nonprofit organization called the National Center for Science Education has drawn at least as much of the New Atheists' ire, however. Based in Oakland, the center is the leading organization that promotes and defends the teaching of evolution in school districts across the country.

In this endeavor, it has, of necessity, made frequent alliances with religious believers who also support the teaching of evolution, seeking to forge a broad coalition capable of beating back the advances of fundamentalists who want to weaken textbooks or science standards. In the famous 2005 Dover, Pa., evolution trial, for instance, the NCSE contributed scientific advice to a legal team that put a theologian and a Catholic biologist on the stand.

Long under fire from the religious right, the NCSE now must protect its other flank from the New Atheist wing of science. The atheist biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, for instance, has drawn much attention by assaulting the center's Faith Project, which seeks to spread awareness that between creationism on the one hand and the new atheism on the other lie many more moderate positions.

In this, Coyne is once again following the lead of Dawkins, who in "The God Delusion" denounces the NCSE as part of the "Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists," those equivocators who defend the science but refuse to engage with what the New Atheists perceive as the real root of the problem -- namely, religious belief.

It all might sound like a petty internecine squabble, but the stakes are very high. The United States does not boast a very healthy relationship between its scientific community and its citizenry. The statistics on public scientific illiteracy are notorious -- and they're at their worst on contentious, politicized issues such as climate change and the teaching of evolution. About 46% of Americans in polls agree with this stunning statement: "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."

In this context, the New Atheists have chosen their course: confrontation. And groups like the NCSE have chosen the opposite route: Work with all who support the teaching of evolution regardless of their beliefs, and attempt to sway those who are uncertain but perhaps convincible.

Despite the resultant bitterness, however, there is at least one figure both sides respect -- the man who started it all: Charles Darwin. What would he have done in this situation?

It turns out that late in life, when an atheist author asked permission to dedicate a book to Darwin, the great scientist wrote back his apologies and declined. For as Darwin put it, "Though I am a strong advocate for free thought on all subjects, yet it appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity & theism produce hardly any effect on the public; & freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follows from the advance of science."

Darwin and Dawkins differ by much more than a few letters, then -- something the New Atheists ought to deeply consider.

Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum are coauthors of the new book, "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future."

An Evolutionary Biologist Visits the "Creationism Museum"

http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/141900/an_evolutionary_biologist_visits_the_%22creationism_museum%22/

Posted by PZ Myers, Pharyngula at 5:00 AM on August 11, 2009.

We visited the Creation "Museum" last Friday.

I'm careful to put the title in quotes, because it is not a museum in any respectable sense of the word. I knew this ahead of time; I had no expectation of any kind of credible presentation in this place, but what impressed me most is how far it failed to meet even my low hopes. They clearly want to ape a real museum, but they can't — their mission is the antithesis of open inquiry.

The guards are a clear example. Real museums have guards, of course: they're there to protect valuable exhibits from theft and vandalism. But real museums want their guards to be discreet and not interfere with the attendees appreciation of the exhibits. At the Creation "Museum", one of the jobs of the guards is to suppress criticism. They hover about in rather conspicuous uniforms, armed with tasers, and some use police dogs to check out the visitors. They don't want dissent expressed in their building, and they admit it themselves.

There was a lot of mocking inside the museum Friday (and to a lesser extent during Dr. Jason Lisle's noon lecture) by dozens of the 285 in the SSA group, and some of the mocking could be clearly heard by many of our guests (especially in our Noah's Flood rooms, but also in the Garden of Eden exhibit when words like "garbage" were uttered, etc.). Several times during the day we had to ask mockers to keep their voices down (I did it five times myself), but generally, it was more peaceful than what we expected (many blog comments from those who were coming were promising some very aggressive actions).

Think about the genuine museums you might have visited. Can you imagine the curators at the American Museum of Natural History being concerned that someone might openly disagree with an exhibit? Do you think Niles Eldredge bustles about the museum, shushing anyone who questions the displays? Would they turn away a visitor wearing a Jesus shirt, or one that baldly declared evolution is false? At real museums, the attitude would range from indifference to active encouragement of discussion. The Creation "Museum" cannot tolerate that.

We were asked to sign a document before we entered that required us to be "respectful" of their facilities, which apparently meant more than simply appropriately regarding their building as private property. One of our atheists was in an entirely friendly conversation about evolution with a creationist visitor, when one of the guards came up and asked them to stop, saying that we had signed an agreement not to even discuss anything in the building where others could hear. (To his credit, the creationist said that he welcomed the discussion the guards wanted to silence, and they continued outside.) They knew we disagreed with them, and they were clearly on edge…and they knew that their beliefs could not stand up in the face of free speech.

There were other differences with real museums once we got inside. Think about the layout of serious museums, like the AMNH or the Smithsonian or our local Bell Museum: you enter, there are various rooms and areas organized by subject matter, but you're free to explore. In fact, that word, "explore", is a central theme of most museums. Maybe it's unfair to compare a small potatoes, non-science affair like Ken Ham's building to major scientific institutions; it's more of a place for family entertainment. So compare it to the Pacific Science Center, or OMSI, or the Franklin museum or the Science Museum of Minnesota— places where kids come on field trips and families show up with 5-year-olds, and entertainment is a major function. Exploration is still the byword, and they also emphasize interactivity.

Ken Ham's Creation "Museum" does none of that. They have a script you're supposed to follow. There is a single route that snakes through the building with a series of exhibits with a linear agenda. You are supposed to get their Sunday School lesson plan of the 7 C's (creation, corruption, catastrophe, confusion, Christ, cross, and consummation). Exploration is not an option. You will follow their track. There is no interactivity, either — it's a chain of displays, dioramas, and little scenes, supplemented with frequent videos that tell you what to think.

This was not a museum: it is a haunted house. It is a carnival ride. It shows throughout in the layout — the rubes are supposed to be shuttled through efficiently, get their little thrills, and exit so the next group can make the trip. If they'd had a few million more, I imagine they would have invested in tracks and little cars and turned it into the Creation Ride. The creators of this place wouldn't recognize a museum if they woke up in the middle of the Smithsonian on a bed of museum maps with a giant sign saying "MUSEUM" in front of their faces and an army of docents shouting directions at them. They seem to have gotten all their information about how a museum works by visiting Disneyland.

What about the scientific content? They must have made some kind of argument, right? Wrong. They didn't even try.

This is their core premise. They claim that scientists and creationists are all working from exactly the same set of facts, and the only difference is in how we interpret them…and that they have an extra source of information that scientists reject, the Bible.

Their first big exhibit is a perfect example of the principle in action. It's a model of a dinosaur dig, with two men working away at excavating the bones. There is a video accompanying it in which the two views are presented. The younger Asian fellow in front says, and I paraphrase, "This animal died about a hundred million years ago. Its body dried in the sun for several days before being slowly buried under layers of sediment in a local flood." Then the avuncular creationist says, "I see the same bones, but I believe this dinosaur was killed suddenly about 4400 years ago in a huge global flood, which buried it deeply all at once." And then he goes on to explain that see, they have the very same evidence, but he understands it in the light of God's word.

It is a profoundly dishonest display. No, they are not using the same evidence: the creationist is ignoring all but the most superficial appearances. The scientist says a few details about this particular dinosaur, but what Ken Ham hides is that every statement would have a large body of evidence in its support. This isn't two guys stating their mere beliefs in a field…it's one guy, the creationist, closing his eyes to the evidence and spouting Biblical gibberish, and one scientist stating the conclusions of substantial investigations.

The scientist does not say a particular fossil is 125 million years old simply because he feels like it. It's a conclusion built on careful observation of the geology — if you read a paleontology paper, you'll often find a substantial discussion of the details of the rocks surrounding the specimen — and by the morphology of the rocks, the history of the area, the physics of the radioisotopes present, the other animal and plant fossils found in the same plane (which, in turn, had their ages evaluated). It is the product of an impressive consilience of evidence, all of which the creationist is rejecting, or more likely, of which he is utterly ignorant.

It's part of our problem in getting the message of science out. In this video, the white-bearded creationist speaks calmly, acts like a pleasant and reasonable fellow, and appears capable of tying his own shoes. But if you know even a scrap of the actual science being misrepresented, you know that he's an ignorant fool who is telling lies to children, and he transforms instantly from Santa Claus to predatory propagandist. I think that's what they actually mean by "same facts, two views".

It's an ongoing theme throughout the "museum" that there are these two views in opposition, and it's often stated quite unashamedly that the conflict is between God's word and…human reason. It's also quite clear that human reason is the enemy to Ken Ham and his crew.

This display is a beautiful example of their tactics, though. I had come to this place expecting a Gish Gallop of misdirection, in which they'd hurl a barrage of half-truths, out-of-context information, and outright lies about the science at the viewer, which usually puts the informed critic in the position of having to struggle with correcting point after point, each one requiring more time to address than the creationist spent asserting it. This place is very different. Instead, we get a Ham Hightail, in which he hurtles along heedlessly pretending that the evidence simply doesn't exist, so he doesn't need to argue against it, and it's enough to back up his claims by quoting Bible verses.

I suppose it works well for the gullible attendees, but for those of us looking for some ideas with which to wrestle, the impression left is one of credulous vacuity. It's an empty "museum", with no real ideas, no evidence, just a collection of props to illustrate an unquestioned myth.

When they do make plain statements that contradict the science, they don't bother to provide a reason to accept their view over the scientific one — reason is the enemy, you may recall. It's enough to simply declare that this is GOD'S WORD, therefore it is true. Never mind that it is only one narrow interpretation of their god's awesomely vague words, that many of their fellow Christians can interpret it differently, or that the evidence of nature (which, presumably, is their god's creation) says something completely different. It is simply no problem to declare that human affinities to other animals are not real, we are unique and unchanging, and that divergence (of a very limited sort) only happens to animals. It is a simple-minded absolutism that relies on ignorance.

The "museum" actually spends more time condemning heretics than it does science, which, as I said, is mostly ignored. I was rather amused to discover several prominent exhibits frothing madly over Charles Templeton — I almost felt some sympathy for his foundation, since they get hammered from all sides. Almost. (Never mind, wrong Templeton. The exhibits do no refer to the founder of the Templeton Foundation, but to a apostate Canadian author and cartoonist…not to say anything against the fellow, but it's even weirder that he was given such prominence here.)

One mantra was repeated over and over: "millions of years". This is also the enemy, an idea whose sole purpose is to undermine their literalist interpretation of scripture. In several places there are little tirades against the whole concept that the world could be more than 6,000 years old — it's bad, not because there are problems in the evidence supporting an old earth, but simply because it would have the unfortunate consequence of opening the Bible up to interpretations other than their rigid formulation. They had a lovely symbolic representation of this idea with a wrecking ball labeled "MILLIONS OF YEARS" demolishing a church.

Reason is an enemy, millions of years is an enemy, let's add another: reality is their enemy. No wonder they're so paranoid!

Much of the museum consists of little more than pretty affirmations. The various exhibits that have gotten a fair amount of press, such as the models of Adam and Eve, the construction of the Ark, the consequences of the Fall, etc., etc., etc., just sit there. There isn't any evidence for them, other than a few sentences in an old book, so the construction crews in Kentucky just let their imaginations run loose and built improbably scenes out of the fabric of quaint myths. But there they are, solid and visible, and that's their sole purpose — to solidify Bible scenes in the minds of the faithful. This stuff has all the verisimilitude and significance of a wax museum exhibit of Britney Spears, Queen Elizabeth, and Liberace…more emptiness, with much money spent to make it a pretty void. There is a great deal of useless noise in this theme park…well, useless in making a defensible argument, at any rate. This is all eye candy for the believers.

There are some jarring moments. A lot of effort is spent discussing how horrible the consequences of the "millions of years" worldview are, yet they rather blithely skip over the horrible consequences of their imaginary god's actions. The space dedicated to Noah's Ark and the flood is very large — it might be the largest section of the "museum" — and the grim horror of that story is treated callously. A diorama contains, rendered in loving detail, a few rocks in a rising sea covered with desperate people struggling and frantically waving to the Ark serenely gliding by. Ah, yes, a little hint of the joys of heaven, when the saved will be able to smugly watch the suffering of sinners in hell.

There is an appalling video recreation of the flood which shows children playing and villagers going about their business in a small ancient town, when suddenly an immense wall of water rises on the horizon, and then…the roar of the tidal wave and the screams of the doomed. Charming.

I do not think I like these people.

I was also a bit aghast at this display.

With complete seriousness and no awareness of the historical abuses to which this idea has been put, they were promoting the Hamite theory of racial origins, that ugly idea that all races stemmed from the children of Noah, and that black people in particular were the cursed offspring of Ham. If they are going to reject science because of its abuses, such as eugenics, they should at least be conscious of the evils perpetrated in the name of their strange cultish doctrines, I should think.

Again, though, there's absolutely no science in any of this — every conclusion is built exclusively on an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible. There is nothing at all for a scientist anywhere in this entire edifice. There is nothing for anyone other than a fundamentalist Christian who has bought into a great deal of presuppositionalist nonsense, either.

One last example of this irrational absurdity. This is a strange thing: they seem to take pride in their boldness of stating this idea, making comics about it and even selling t-shirts in their store that declare it. They have an answer for where the sons of Adam and Eve got their wives, and they are quite definite about it. They married their sisters. And that was all right.

I think they might be disappointed to know that I find nothing shocking about their conclusion. What I find terrible is their rationale, which they explain at some length in this ugly wall of text.

Again, no science anywhere in there, just reasoning after the fact from a pre-determined conclusion. Everything written in the Bible must be literally true, so since 1 Corinthians and Genesis teaches that Eve was the mother of all people, no other interpretation is possible but that Cain had to marry another child of his mother and father.

The rest is excuses, claiming that since they were genetically perfect, inbreeding wouldn't have been a problem, and most amusingly, it was OK because God said so. Anything god says is good.

Since God is the One who defined marriage in the first place, God's Word is the only standard for defining proper marriage. People who do not accept the Bible as their absolute authority have no basis for condemning someone like Cain marrying his sister.

There is no rational argument that can address the claims of a group of people who claim absolute authority from an invisible man whose voice is heard only in their heads. We cannot change their minds with science; if you think you can sit down with a genetics text and a paleontology text and a geology text and run through the evidence and expose the foundations of the Creation "Museum" as false, you're doomed — there is no rebuttal to the illusion of an omniscient authority.

You will also not make headway by coddling religious belief or respecting their delusions. I recalled this quote while I was there:

The American scientific community gains nothing from the condescending rhetoric of the New Atheists--and neither does the stature of science in our culture. We should instead adopt a stance of respect towards those who would hold their faith dear, and a sense of humility based on the knowledge that although science can explain a great deal about the way our world functions, the question of God's existence lies outside its expertise.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum, Unscientific America, 2009

This is precisely what Ken Ham wants. He demands that you respect his ideas, and he certainly does hold his faith dear. His whole premise in his theme park is to amplify uncertainty about science, to insist that scientists must be more humble, while asserting absolute certainty about the existence of his god, and that his belief is the sole explanation for all natural phenomena.

Don't give it to him. All his carnival act deserves is profound disrespect and ridicule. Go to his "museum" as you would to a cheap freak show, and laugh, laugh, laugh…and go home to publicly mock and heap scorn upon it.

Irreverence is our answer, not dumb humble deference.

PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He runs the science blog, Pharyngula.

Discovery Institute Shows DNA Evidence for Intelligent Design

http://www.popdecay.com/2009/08/discovery-institute-shows-dna-evidence-for-intelligent-design/

August 10, 2009 by Staff
Filed under Science

A new video by Discovery Institute, "Journey Inside The Cell," launched today at www.SignatureInTheCell.com dramatically illustrates the evidence for intelligent design within DNA, as described in Stephen C. Meyer's book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (HarperOne 2009).

The original animation by Light Productions reveals in intricate detail how the digital information in DNA directs protein synthesis inside the cell, revealing a world of molecular machines and nano-processors communicating digital information.

"This video is going to make things worse for critics of intelligent design," Dr. Meyer explains. "They will have more difficulty convincing the public that their eyes are deceiving them when the evidence for design literally unfolds before them in this animation."

Narrated by Stephen Meyer, the video is a short tour of the molecular labyrinth, the cell's sophisticated information-processing system, which not only produces machines, but also reproduces itself.

You can view the video at www.signatureinthecell.com, www.intelligentdesign.org, or on Youtube.

Survey: School instruction on human evolution 'abysmal'

http://blogs.usatoday.com/sciencefair/2009/08/survey-school-instruction-on-human-evolution-abysmal.html

School-mapmanual More state school standards include evolution, finds a nationwide report card, but coverage of human evolution is "abysmal."

Nationwide, 40 states receive passing grades, compared to 31 in 2000, finds the Evolution Outreach & Education journal report led by Louise Mead of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, Calif. But only 7 states adequately cover human evolution, the survey finds.

"State science standards chart the course for science education in America, affecting curriculum, textbook adoptions, and ultimately what teachers are -- and aren't -- allowed to teach," says Mead, in a statement.

"Unfortunately, even if state science standards accurately reflect the central role of evolution in biology, there is no guarantee that evolution will be taught effectively," says the study, noting surveys showing significant numbers of biology teachers prefer creationism.

By Dan Vergano

Mayoral Candidate Wants Creationism Exhibit At Tulsa Zoo

http://www.newson6.com/Global/story.asp?S=10888260

Posted: Aug 11, 2009 7:19 PM PDT Updated: Aug 12, 2009 8:35 AM PDT

"Some may ask why this issue during a Mayoral campaign? And I say why not?" said Anna Falling.

Falling says God was dishonored four years ago, when the Tulsa Parks Board rejected an exhibit which borrows heavily from the first book of the Bible.

A Tulsa Zoo spokesperson said in a statement that the Tulsa Parks Board resolved this issue in 2005, after a very public process involving the entire community.

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- A mayoral candidate has resurrected a controversy over Creationism at the Tulsa Zoo.

A push to exhibit the Christian story of creation at the Tulsa Zoo failed four years ago. Republican candidate for Tulsa mayor, Anna Falling, is bringing the issue front and center.

It's the same exhibit and the same arguments, but now it is given from the bully pulpit of a candidate running for mayor.

"Some may ask why this issue during a Mayoral campaign? And I say why not?" said candidate Anna Falling.

For Anna Falling, the road to city hall runs through the Tulsa Zoo. She's made her Christianity central to her platform and now the exhibit depicting the Christian story of Creationism is her first campaign promise.

"Today we are announcing that God will be glorified in this city. He shall not be shunned. Upon our election, we hereby commit to honoring Him in all ways that He has been dishonored," said Anna Falling.

Falling says God was dishonored four years ago, when the Tulsa Parks Board rejected an exhibit which borrows heavily from the first book of the Bible. Supporters argue the zoo includes other religious icons like the Hindu god, Ganeesh, and Christianity should also have a place.

"I am surprised that has come back up again. It was a bad idea the first time around," said Brian Cross with Friends of Religion and Science.

Brian Cross fought the exhibit the first time around. He says the other exhibits that reference religion are not there to proselytize, but educate people about other cultures.

"They weren't put up here at the behest of any particular group in order to advance their agenda. That's the difference. She wants to promote for her religion. The curators of the zoo want to educate," said Brian Cross with Friends of Religion and Science.

"Unless we find ways to engage the Church back into public policy decisions we will be lost as a city, state and nation," said Anna Falling.

Her speech was part sermon, part rallying cry. And, it's already winning over some voters.

"I think she stands up very strong for her beliefs. And, I think by doing this she shows that. And, I think that's good. We need a mayor that comes up and is strong about their opinion and is not afraid to express their opinion," said Creationism supporter Angela Childress.

Anna Falling is gathering signatures to appeal to the Tulsa Parks Board about the Creationism exhibit.

A Tulsa Zoo spokesperson said in a statement that the Tulsa Parks Board resolved this issue in 2005, after a very public process involving the entire community.


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Feds can seize Dinosaur Adventure Land

http://www.pnj.com/article/20090731/NEWS01/90731016/1006

Kris Wernowsky • kwernowsky@pnj.com • July 31, 2009

A federal judge has cleared the way for the government's seizure of a creationism theme park in Pensacola.

A ruling this week says the nine properties that make up Dinosaur Adventure Land, and two bank accounts associated with the park will be used to satisfy $430,400 in restitution owed to the federal government.

Kent Hovind, who founded the park and his ministry, Creation Science Evangelism, is serving 10 years in federal prison as a result of a tax-fraud conviction for failing to pay more than $470,000 in employee taxes in a long-running dispute with the Internal Revenue Service.

Kent Hovind was found guilty in November 2006 on 58 counts, including failure to pay employee taxes and making threats against investigators.

The East Peoria, Ill. native sparred with the IRS for 17 years before his conviction. He claimed no income or property since he was employed by God and said that his ministers were not subject to payroll taxes.

Hovind is incarcerated at the Edgefield Federal Correction Institution in South Carolina.

His wife, Jo, also was sentenced to a year in federal prison for her role in the tax fraud. She's currently jailed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Marianna.

U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers' 16-page order released late Thursday gives the government the green light to divide up the nine properties in and around the 5800 block of North Palafox Street and begin to sell them until the $430,400 forfeiture amount is satisfied.

The properties have a combined value of more than what the Hovinds owe, according to Rodgers' order, and any excess property available after the sales will be returned to the Hovinds.

The Hovinds' son, Eric, and business associate Glenn Stoll unsuccessfully tried to block the government's attempt to seize the properties. They said they are the legal owners.

Only Eric Hovind, who has managed the park since his father's incarceration, was successful in his claim, according to Rodgers' order.

Stoll said he owned nine of the 10 properties in question, according to a motion filed with the court. Eric Hovind claimed ownership of a single property, where he lives with his family. He will be allowed to keep the Cummings Road home.

Kent Hovind made a series of quick transfers to conceal his ownership of the properties at risk for seizure, according to court documents filed by the U.S. attorney's office.

Eric Hovind was not available for comment Friday. His secretary said he could not be reached until Monday.

Evolution education update: July 31, 2009

NCSE's executive director is among the scientists consulted by Nature for their recommendations for summer reading. And the Society for Developmental Biology honors a Supporter of NCSE with its Outstanding Educator Prize.

GENIE'S SUMMER READING

The journal Nature (2009; 460: 574-577) asked a number of scientists -- including NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott -- for their recommendations for summer reading. Scott picked Mark Pallen's The Rough Guide to Evolution (Rough Guides, 2009), writing that Pallen "provides a concise summary of what you need to know: a brief history of the idea that all living things share common ancestry, a complete survey of the mechanisms of evolution and a solid summary of how life originated and then adapted through time to a changing planet. He livens up the story with literary, musical and cultural references so that you never feel you are being told to eat your vegetables." She added, "Alas, it is not only non-specialists who don't have a firm grasp of the strength of theory and data supporting the modern understanding of evolution -- many scientists outside the field of evolutionary biology struggle too. This entertaining handbook will bring anyone up to date."

For the article in Nature, visit:
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v460/n7255/full/460574a.html

To buy The Rough Guide to Evolution (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/1858289467/nationalcenter02/

For Mark Pallen's blog for his book, visit:
http://roughguidetoevolution.blogspot.com/

SEAN B. CARROLL RECEIVES PRIZE FROM SDB

NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll was awarded the Viktor Hamburger Outstanding Educator Prize for 2009 from the Society for Developmental Biology, at the society's sixty-eighth annual meeting, held July 23-27, 2009, in San Francisco. Carroll, Professor of Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Medical Genetics and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was honored "in recognition of his pioneering role in elucidating the genetic and molecular basis of morphological evolution, and for his exceptional contributions to making scientific advances in this field accessible to both students and the general public."

After summarizing Carroll's scientific achievements, the SDB's citation noted that he "has also led a second life, equally successful, as a public educator in the realm of evolution," listing his books From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, The Making of the Fittest, Into the Jungle and Remarkable Creatures. "Indeed," the citation continued, "the philosopher Michael Ruse has opined that if Charles Darwin were alive today, there would be no scientist that he would rather spend an evening with than Sean Carroll."

The prize, established in honor of Viktor Hamburger, a preeminent embryologist and developmental neuroscientist of his era, recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to developmental biology education. Previous recipients include Robert DeHaan, NCSE Supporter Bruce Alberts, Leon Browder, Lewis Wolpert, Scott Gilbert, and, in 2007, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. Founded in 1939, the Society for Developmental Biology seeks to promote the field of developmental biology and to advance our understanding of developmental biology at all levels.

For the prize citation (PDF), visit:
http://www.sdbonline.org/Awards/Carroll-Hamburger09.pdf

Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The New Old Flood Geology

http://blog.beliefnet.com/scienceandthesacred/2009/07/the-new-old-flood-geology.html

Thursday July 30, 2009

In 1923, self-taught geologist and amateur scientist George McCready Price published his work The New Geology. A vocal opponent of evolutionary theory and an advocate of young earth creationism, Price dedicated much of his book to bringing down the "geological column," a strategy which he believed would undermine the support of evolutionary theory and make way for the acceptance of a literal six-day creation.

The geological column, exemplified by the rock layers along the walls of the Grand Canyon, offers us a chance to glimpse back into geological history. Towards the top, we find remains of more recent geological events. As we descend the column, the rocks and fossils found in each new layer are the remains of an earlier geological time. In a way, the geological column is like a time machine, allowing us to view the change and development of the earth and its creatures.

Price, however, disagreed. "This alleged historical order of the fossils is clearly a scientific blunder," he wrote. In fact, he argued that there is no way to know whether or not fossils from one layer lived before, during, or after those from another. The so-called "geological column," he argued, was nothing more than an artificial chronology assigned to these buried rocks.

Unfortunately, Price failed to realize that no single geological column exists. Rather, our knowledge of the fossil record comes from comparing samples from thousands of partial records across the globe. By combining these chapters, we can -- and have -- created a detailed history of the planet.

Why critique the scientific reasoning of a book that is almost 90 years old? Certainly, many other scientific ideas from the same time have been proven wrong. The difference, however, is that while most of these theories have since been corrected, Price's New Geology still forms an important part of modern young earth creationist thought.

To read more about Price, the problems with his book, and how his ideas are still accepted today, be sure to read Karl Giberson's scholarly essay "Adventist Origins of Young Earth Creationism".


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A new ally for the DI

http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/07/a_new_ally_for_the_di.php

Posted on: July 28, 2009 12:30 PM, by Josh Rosenau

The BBC's Joe Boyle ponders Nigeria's 'Taliban' enigma:

They have launched co-ordinated attacks across northern Nigeria, threatening to overthrow the government and impose strict Islamic law - but who exactly are the Nigerian Taliban?

Since the group emerged in 2004 they have become known as "Taliban", although they appear to have no links to the Taliban in Afghanistan.…

The group's other name, Boko Haram, means "Western education is a sin" and is another title used by local people to refer to the group. …

their mission appears clear enough: to overthrow the Nigerian state, impose an extreme interpretation of Islamic law and abolish what they term "Western-style education".

In an interview with the BBC, the group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, said such education "spoils the belief in one god".

"There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam," he said.

"Like rain. We believe it is a creation of god rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.

"Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism."

The Disco. 'tute have yet to weigh in on their views of the origins of rain, but creationists traditionally distinguish questions of origin from scientific study of something's existence. We were not present when a raindrop formed, so how can we question Mr. Yusuf's assessment?

We can only hope that the Nigerian Taliban's interest in creationism will finally rejuvenate the sadly defunct Flat Earth Society, a group whose clarion call for more accurate maps has been much reduced since the death of group leader Charles Johnson in 2001. They do, however, have a web forum in which much fun might be had by Nigerian jihadis.

And now, a special TfK contest:

In honor of our imminent 5th blogiversary (yep, first post was August 10, 2004!), I'll give some sort of tchotchke to the person who sends (via email, comment thread, or their own blog) the best 419-style spam message targeting flat earthers. I will judge the contest, with "best" defined as maximizing both humor and mimicry of genuine 419 spam. Feel free to produce a spambaiting dialog between scammer and scammee.

Intelligent Design debunked by 'flaws' in design?

http://www.examiner.com/x-8276-Methodist-Examiner~y2009m7d28-Intelligent-Design-debunked-by-flaws-in-design

July 28, 1:29 PM

Must design be optimal in order to be the product of intelligence?

In the battle over Creationism, Darwinian Evolution and Intelligent Design, there is often more heat than light. Rhetorical and political aims take center stage on all sides and the result is endless confusion on the part of those trying to understand what the issues actually entail. Often meaningful debate gets drowned out by attacks on one's political/theological affiliations (or lack thereof). William Dembski is no stranger to this, as his lectures and writings have generated a good bit of needless controversy. However, his book "The Design Revolution" is one of the clearest defenses of the validity of ID theory in print and deserves a fair reading by anyone seeking to enter into the fray.

Particularly insightful was his section on the difference between intelligent design and "optimal" design. Here is Dembski's take on the subject:

The word INTELLIGENT has two meanings. It can simply refer to the activity of an intelligent agent, even one that acts stupidly. On the other hand, it can mean that an intelligent agent acted with skill and mastery. Failure to draw this distinction results in confusion about intelligent design. This was brought home to me in a radio interview. Skeptic Michael Shermer and paleontologist Donald Prothero were interviewing me on National Public Radio. As the discussion unfolded, I was surprised to find that how they used the phrase "intelligent design" differed significantly from how the intelligent design community uses it.Shermer and Prothero understood the word intelligent in "intelligent design" in the sense of clever or masterful design. They therefore presumed that intelligent design must entail optimal design. The intelligent design community, on the other hand, understands the intelligent in "intelligent design" simply as referring to intelligent agency (irrespective of skill or mastery) and thus separates intelligent design from optimality of design.

[I]ntelligent design needs to be distinguished from apparent design on the one hand and optimal design on the other. Intelligent design stresses that the design is due to an actual intelligence, but it leaves entirely open the attributes or qualities of that intelligence.

Apparent design, by contrast, asserts that the design is not actual. For instance, Richard Dawkins begins his book The Blind Watchmaker with the quotation, "Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." Dawkins then requires an additional three hundred pages to argue that this design is only an appearance and is not actual. Apparent design therefore constitutes a negation of intelligent design.

Many biologists sidestep intelligent design and the evidence for it by shuttling between apparent design and optimal design. To argue for apparent design, they simply lay out the case for pure, unaided Darwinism. To argue against intelligent design, they substitute a handy strawman, identifying intelligent design with optimal design. To render intelligent design as implausible as possible, they then define optimal design as perfect design that is best with respect to every possible criterion of optimization. (Anything less, presumably, would not be worthy of an intelligent designer.) Since actual designs always involve tradeoffs and compromise, such globally-optimal-in-every-respect designs cannot exist except in an idealized realm (sometimes called a "Platonic heaven") far removed from the actual designs of this world...

Assimilating all biological design to either apparent or optimal design avoids the central question that needs to be answered, namely, whether there actually is design in biological systems regardless of what additional attributes they possess (like optimality). The automobiles that roll off the assembly plants in Detroit are intelligently designed in the sense that actual human intelligences are responsible for them. Nevertheless, even if we think Detroit manufactures the best cars in the world, it would still be wrong to say that they are optimally designed. Nor would it be correct to say that they are only apparently designed (and certainly not for the reason that they fail to be optimally designed). Is there an even minimally sensible reason for insisting that design theorists must demonstrate optimal design in nature? Critics of intelligent design (e.g., the late Stephen Jay Gould) often suggest that any purported cosmic designer would only design optimally. But that is a theological rather than a scientific claim.

Although attributing intelligent design to human artifacts is uncontroversial, eyebrows are quickly raised when intelligent design is attributed to biological systems. Applied to biology, intelligent design maintains that a designing intelligence is required to account for the complex, information-rich structures in living systems. At the same time, it refuses to speculate about the nature of that designing intelligence. Whereas optimal design demands a perfectionistic designer who has to get everything just right, intelligent design fits our ordinary experience of design, which is conditioned by the needs of a situation, requires negotiation and tradeoffs, and therefore always falls short of some idealized global optimum.

...Indeed, there is no such thing as perfect design. Real designers strive for constrained optimization, which is something altogether different. As Henry Petroski, an engineer and historian at Duke University, aptly remarks in Invention by Design, "All design involves conflicting objectives and hence compromise, and the best designs will always be those that come up with the best compromise." Constrained optimization is the art of compromise among conflicting objectives. This is what design is all about. To find fault with biological design because it misses some idealized optimum, as Gould regularly used to do, is simply gratuitous. Not knowing the objectives of the designer, Gould was in no position to say whether the designer proposed a faulty compromise among those objectives.

...In my public lectures, I'm frequently asked about the alleged suboptimal design of the human organism. At the top of the list...is the topsy-turvy arrangement of the human eye. The problem with the human eye, evolutionary biologists endlessly tell us, is that it has an inverted retina. Accordingly, the photoreceptors in the eye are oriented away from incoming light and situated behind nerves and blood vessels, which are said to obstruct the incoming light.

In fact, there appear to be good functional reasons for this construction. A visual system needs three things: speed, sensitivity and resolution. Speed is unaffected by the inverse wiring. Resolution seems unaffected as well (save for a tiny blind spot, which the brain seems to work around without difficulty). Indeed, there is no evidence that the cephalopod retina of squids and octopuses, which is "correctly wired" by having receptors facing forward and nerves tucked behind, is any better at resolving objects in its visual field. As for sensitivity, however, it seems that there are good functional reasons for an inverted retina. Retinal cells require the most oxygen of any cells in the human body. But when do they require the most oxygen? Their oxygen requirement is maximal when incident light is minimal. Having a blood supply in front of the photoreceptors guarantees that the retinal cells will have the oxygen they need to be as sensitive as possible when incident light is minimal. (Some vertebrate eyes with inverted retinas are so sensitive that they can respond to single photons.)

Now my point here is not that the human eye can't be improved or is in some ultimate sense optimal. My point, rather, is that simply drawing attention to the inverted retina is not a reason to think that eyes with that structure are suboptimal. Indeed, there are no concrete proposals on the table for how the human eye might be improved that can also guarantee no loss in speed, sensitivity and resolution...

Design is a matter of tradeoffs. There's no question that we would like to add to or improve existing designs by conferring additional functionalities. It would be nice to have all the functionality of the human eye without a blind spot. It would be nice to have all the functionality of the respiratory and food-intake system as well as a reduced incidence of choking. It would be nice to have all the functionality of our backs and a decreased incidence of back pain. It would be nice to have all the functionality of the female pelvis along with easier delivery of children. It would be nice to have all the functionality of our jaws without wisdom teeth. But when the suboptimality objection is raised, invariably one finds only additional functionalities mentioned but no details about how they might be implemented. And with design, the devil is in the details.

Yet even if such details were forthcoming, they would undercut not design as such but only its quality (i.e., its degree of excellence). And even here we have to be careful. Just because a design could be improved in the sense of increasing the functionality of some aspect of an organism, this does not mean that such an improvement would be beneficial within the wider ecosystem within which the organism finds itself. A functionality belonging to a predator might be vastly improvable, but it also might render the predator that much more dangerous to its prey and thereby drastically alter the balance of the ecosystem, conceivably to the detriment of the entire ecosystem. In criticizing design, biologists tend to place a premium on functionalities of individual organisms and see design as optimal to the degree that those individual functionalities are maximized. But higher-order designs of entire ecosystems might require lower-order designs of individual organisms to fall short of maximal function...

Biology is, among other things, a drama. Interesting dramas require characters who are less than optimal in some respects. In fact, authors of human dramas often consciously design their characters with flaws and weaknesses. Would Hamlet be nearly as interesting if Shakespeare had not designed the play's lead character to exhibit certain flaws and weaknesses, notably indecisiveness?

I'm not saying that weaknesses or flaws in the design characteristics of organisms or ecosystems can be the basis for a design inference. Design inferences are drawn by identifying features of systems that are uniquely diagnostic of intelligence. At the same time, weaknesses or flaws in the design characteristics of organisms or ecosystems could be compatible with evolutionary changes guided by an intelligence. Such an evolutionary scenario—in which not every aspect of organisms taken in isolation is optimal—would not entail that any intelligence guiding evolutionary change is necessarily flawed...

We've veered a long way from science, and for good reason. In arguing that nature couldn't be designed because various biological systems are suboptimal, opponents of intelligent design have shifted the terms of the discussion from science to theology. In place of, How specifically can an existing structure be improved? the question instead becomes, Would any self-respecting deity really create a structure like that? Gould was a master of this bait-and-switch. For instance, in The Panda's Thumb he wrote:

If God had designed a beautiful machine to reflect his wisdom and power, surely he would not have used a collection of parts generally fashioned for other purposes.… Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution—paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.

Gould was criticizing here what's called the panda's "thumb," a bony extrusion that helps the panda strip bamboo of its hard exterior and thus render the bamboo edible to the panda. (The panda's thumb, which is an enlarged radial sesamoid, in fact serves the panda extremely well in rendering bamboo edible.)

The first question that needs to be answered about the panda's thumb, and indeed about any biological structure, is whether it displays clear marks of intelligence. The design theorist is not committed to every biological structure being designed. Naturalistic mechanisms like mutation and selection do operate in natural history to adapt organisms to their environments. Perhaps the panda's thumb is such an adaptation. Nonetheless, naturalistic mechanisms are incapable of generating the highly specific, information-rich structures that pervade biology. Organisms display the hallmarks of intelligently engineered high-tech systems—information storage and transfer, functioning codes, sorting and delivery systems, self-regulation and feedback loops, signal-transduction circuitry—and everywhere, complex arrangements of mutually interdependent and well-fitted parts that work in concert to perform a function. Opponents of intelligent design are fond of equivocating, staging ad hominem attacks, slaying strawmen, making simplistic theological claims in the guise of science or simply stonewalling. What they are not fond of is squarely facing the astonishing evidence for intelligent design and seeking to refute it point by logical point.

[William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 57ff.]

Whatever one's personal thoughts on Dembski's political or theological outlook (being favorably disposed towards Ann Coulter certainly SHOULD give one pause, admittedly!), his presentation of the core claims of Intelligent Design and his defense of it against both anti-ID attacks and Creationist co-opting of it are well thought-out and deserve to be taken seriously by those who dismiss ID as legitimate.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Evolution education update: July 24, 2009

A new creationist movie is accused of misleading and misrepresenting its interview subjects. Meanwhile, NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott was interviewed in Science News, and a chance to vote for NCSE -- if you're a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer.

HISTORIANS MISREPRESENTED BY CREATIONISTS

Three historians of science are unhappy about their treatment in a creationist movie about Darwin, as they explain in a note in the July 2009 Newsletter of the History of Science Society. Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, and Sandra Herbert write, "We have recently been featured in a documentary film, 'The Voyage that Shook the World,' produced by Fathom Media of Australia and directed by Stephen Murray of Synergy Films, New Zealand. We were led to believe that the movie was being made to be shown as an educational film on Australian broadcast television and possibly elsewhere. Fathom Media was revealed to be a subsidiary of Creation Ministries International when publicity for the movie began to appear on the internet."

Previously, William Crawley, a blogger for the BBC, reported (June 21, 2009) that Bowler was "unhappy to be appearing in what he regards as an 'anti-Darwinian' film which offers an historically distorted portrait of Darwin" and that he along with Browne and Herbert "only discovered that they had inadvertently contributed to a Creationist film a month before the film's release." Phil Bell, the CEO of Creationist Ministries UK, acknowledged that Fathom Media was established as a front company, explaining, "At the end of the day ... [when] people see 'Creationist', instantly the shutters go up and that would have shut us off from talking to the sort of experts, such as Professor Bowler, that we wanted to get to."

Crawley added, "I asked Phil Bell if this method of securing an interview was 'deceptive'. He said: 'Well, it could be called deceptive. But I think, at the end of the day, I would say that more people are concerned about how we've made a documentary, that's a world-class documentary, clearly with wonderful footage, with excellent interviews, and balanced open discussion.'" A subsequent statement, posted on CMI's website on June 27, 2009, amplified: "We were and are under an obligation to speak the truth, but not to provide exhaustive information where it was not sought," adding, "Further, and perhaps most importantly, we were determined to deal fairly with the material that the interviewees provided."

The interviewees themselves, however, are not satisfied with the fairness of the movie, writing, "Janet Browne's remarks about his childhood delight in making up stories to impress people is used to imply that the same motive may have driven his scientific thinking. Peter Bowler's description of Darwin's later views on racial inequality is used in the film, but not Bowler's account of Adrian Desmond and James Moore's thesis [in Darwin's Sacred Cause] that Darwin was inspired by his opposition to racism and slavery. Sandra Herbert's comment that Darwin's theory required explanation of many aspects of life was edited down to imply that his theory required explanation of all aspects of life."

Bowler, Browne, and Herbert end their article by musing, "Academics perhaps do need to be more aware of the fact that the media organizations are not always open about their underlying agendas." (The similar case of Expelled springs to mind.) "Had we known the true origins of Fathom Media," they continue, "we probably would not have contributed, but the producers do have a point: if academic historians refuse to participate when movements they don't approve of seek historical information, these historians can hardly complain if less reputable sources are used instead." They accordingly recommend a few websites for information on the history of Darwin and evolution, including NCSE's.

So far, The Voyage that Shook the World seems to have attracted little attention independently of the controversy over its misleading the historians: no reviews of it appear at Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. The sole positive review cited at CMI's website is from Ted Baehr on Movieguide, which, despite its neutral name, describes itself as a ministry "dedicated to redeeming the values of the mass media according to biblical principles, by influencing entertainment industry executives and helping families make wise media choices"; Baehr also gave four stars to Expelled. There are no signs that the movie is going to have a theatrical release in the United States.

For Bowler, Browne, and Herbert's article, visit:
http://www.hssonline.org/publications/Newsletter2009/July_Perils_Publicity.html

For William Crawley's BBC blog post, visit:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2009/06/creationists_defend_darwin_fil.html

For CMI's statement defending its conduct, visit:
http://creation.com/the-voyage-darwin-film-defended

For NCSE's compilation of information about Expelled, visit:
http://www.expelledexposed.com/

EUGENIE C. SCOTT INTERVIEWED IN SCIENCE NEWS

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott was interviewed by Science News about the need for scientists to watch their language when talking about evolution and the nature of science. "What your audience hears is more important than what you say," she observed, recommending, for example, that scientists describe themselves as "accepting" rather than as "believing in" evolution.

Answering the question "What should scientists and people who care about science do?" Scott replied, "I'm calling on scientists to be citizens. American education is decentralized. Which means it's politicized. To make a change ... you have to be a citizen who pays attention to local elections and votes [for] the right people. You can't just sit back and expect that the magnificence of science will reveal itself and everybody will ... accept the science."

For the interview, visit:
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/45594/title/Accept_it_Talk_about_evolution_needs_to_evolve_by_Eugenie_Scott

NCSE AND WORKING ASSETS/CREDO MOBILE

NCSE is again slated to be a beneficiary of Working Assets/Credo Mobile, the telephone company established "to help busy people make a difference in the world through everyday activities like talking on the phone. Every time a customer uses one of Working Assets' donation-linked services (Long Distance, Wireless and Credit Card), the company donates a portion of the charges to nonprofit groups working to build a world that is more just, humane, and environmentally sustainable." Every year, the donation pool is allocated among the groups supported by Working Assets in proportion to the customers' votes. The more votes NCSE gets, the more money we get!

If you're already a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer, you can vote on-line:
http://www.workingassets.com/Voting/Default.aspx

If you're interested in becoming a Working Assets/Credo Mobile customer, visit:
http://www.workingassets.com/

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership

What do the scientists say?

http://www.examiner.com/x-14745-Knoxville-Creationism-Examiner~y2009m7d6-What-do-the-scientists-say

July 6, 2:39 PM

Well, it appears some took exception with the way I described evolution in my last article. I must admit I did condense the concept a bit. I assumed those in the know would be able to keep up.

They want to defend the term "evolution" as being the process that happens farther down the line than the one cell beginning and the development of the reproductive system. That's all well and good, but the argument still begins with the beginning. How did life begin? How did we go from the nonliving to the living? If you want to believe that it occurred on its own with no divine intervention then you have that right, but what is the evidence?

According to Andrew H. Knoll, Fisher Professor of Natural History with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, in an interview with NOVA on PBS, when asked "What do you think was the first form of life," answered, ". . .one has to imagine that the first forms of life would have been much simpler than anything that we see around us. But they must have had the fundamental property of being able to grow and reproduce and be subject to Darwinian evolution.

So it might be that the earliest things that actually fit that definition were little strands of nucleic acids. Not DNA yet—that's a more sophisticated molecule—but something that could catalyze some chemical reactions, something that had the blueprint for its own reproduction."[1]

Further, when asked "How does life form," Dr. Knoll responded, "The short answer is we don't really know how life originated on this planet. There have been a variety of experiments that tell us some possible roads, but we remain in substantial ignorance."

As reported in Science Daily, David Deamer, Biochemist with the University of California, Santa Cruz, says that "Life began when one or a few protocells happen to have a mix of components that could capture energy and nutrients from the environment and use them to grow and reproduce." The term "protocell" refers to self-organized thermal proteins with attributes of life. Dr. Deamer also proposed that "Evolution began when large populations of cells had variations that led to different metabolic efficiencies," and "if the populations were in a confined environment, at some point they would begin to compete for limited resources."

I guess that's different from what I said yesterday, but it sounds the same to me.

What is truly amazing about all scientific research is that it results in man's best guess based on the information discovered so far. Scientists can spend eternity looking for a way to manipulate the conditions and come up with some sort of explanation consistent with what they already think happened. All that tells us is that if those same conditions happened naturally, then this is one possible outcome. This is not evidence of what actually happened, because there is no way to prove the conditions ever happened naturally or that the beginning of life was the end result. "Science is the study of the natural world through observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanations."[2] Even Darwin questioned the lack of physical evidence in the way of fossils to support his own theory, and in the time since then still nothing has been discovered.

Now, evolutionists want to refute creationism as unscientific since there is no way to prove the supernatural through the normal scientific methods. On the other hand, scientists are willing to look to the extraterrestrial for matter needed to substantiate their view if they can't find what they need here on earth.

In regard to the comment that creationism is not a theory, I propose that to those who do not accept it as truth, it is a theory. To me it is truth, but I am not writing this to myself. So, we come down to either someone created us or we created ourselves.

Intelligent design is evident in everything. Whether you are looking through a microscope or a telescope you see order. There is order in the way every species continues. There is order in the very structure of the human body and the way it operates.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." [3] The Bible gives us the information we seek on how everything began. It is given in order with some detail, and when He gets to the creation of man we are told that man is created in the image of God. [4] This is not claimed on any other part of creation. Man being created in the image of God is the only species capable of purposefully improving his/her own circumstances. Man has the ability to reason and repair. Man has the ability to design and produce intricate machinery. Man even has the ability to study the natural world through observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanations. Nothing else in creation is capable of any of this.

The most beautiful words, "And God said. . . "

References

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 1859

NOVA Science Programming on air and online. (2004) Origins: How Life Began. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/origins/knoll.html

PCS Edventures, Inc. (2009) Term & Browser. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from http://discover.edventures.com/functions/termlib.php?action=&termid=2466&alpha=s&searchString=

University of California - Santa Cruz (2009, February 25). Synthetic Biology Yields Clues To Evolution And Origin Of Life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 5, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2009/02/090215151611.htm

[1] Interview conducted on May 3, 2004, by Joe McMaster, producer of "Origins: How Life Began," and edited by Peter Tyson, editor in chief of NOVA online
[2] Edventures Term & Browser definitions.
[3] Genesis 1:1, King James Version of the Bible.
[4] Genesis 1:26-27, King James Version of the Bible

Author: Penny Howell
Penny Howell is an Examiner from Knoxville. You can see Penny's articles on Penny's Home Page.

The Greatest Trick Intelligent Design Ever Pulled

http://www.campusprogress.org/fieldreport/4263/the-greatest-trick-intelligent-design-ever-pulled

One of the architects behind the unscientific intelligent design movement is finding success in referencing its greatest enemy: Charles Darwin.

By Matt Zeitlin
July 6, 2009

Last month, while speaking at McLean Bible Church, a megachurch in McLean, Virginia, intelligent design superstar Dr. Stephen Meyer rolled out a magnetic white board adorned with block letters spelling out "DC ROCKS." John Donahue, the head of McLean's apologetics ministry and a domineering man whose closely trimmed beard makes him look more like Chuck Norris than Jeremiah, introduced Meyer. A self-described "celebrity-geek," Donahue first warning the attendees that "our faith has come under attack" and that "no doctrine or ideology has had a more negative effect that the 'so-called' theory of evolution." Evolution, Donahue continued with the passion of a true believer, was supported by "fraudulent research, cherry-picked data, fabricated drawings, and scientific fraud." Meyer, Donahue insisted, was "one of the finest scientific authors of our time," and was there to show how the "scientists" got it all wrong.

Meyer's "DC ROCKS" demonstration served to show what all those evolutionary scientists were missing. The fact that the letters stuck down the board was the result of the laws of magnetism, Meyer said, but the letters arrangement, in a way that bore meaningful information, was the product of intelligence.

This is the core argument that Meyer makes in his new book about an old debate. The book, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, is perhaps the longest, most detailed, and most "scientific" of any works produced by the Intelligent Design movement. And it's not surprising that Meyer is the author of this doorstop work. He co-founded the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) at the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based think tank that has been at the center of the ID debate for more than a decade. Despite Meyer's self-presentation as someone who derives his belief in an intelligent designer purely from observable scientific evidence, Meyer's connections to the religious community show he can't abide the theory of evolution because of its purported ideological consequences.

If there were ever anyone that could put a respectable face on the Intelligent Design movement, it's Meyer. He began his scientific carrer as a geophysicist, and he went on to Cambridge where he received a doctorate in the History and Philosophy of Science in 1991. Meyer wrote his dissertation on the different explanations of the origin of life. And while his background in the methodology and history of biology gives a certain heft to his arguments, it's also important to note that he isn't a biologist. His defense of intelligent design and his attack on Darwinian evolution is not entirely scientific, no matter what Meyer might purport.

The origins of the ID movement can be found in the so-called Wedge Document, a founding manifesto and fundraising document for the CSC, which lays out a broadly ideological agenda. It sets out a multi-decade plan for "the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies" and for the acceptance of "the proposition that human beings are created in the image of God." Although the Wedge Document inveighs against secularism and materialism, Meyer still presents himself as a scientist who is just following the evidence.

Since Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 court case in which Judge John Jones ruled that the city of Dover, Pennsylvania could not teach intelligent design in their classrooms because "the religious nature of ID would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult, or child," the question seemed to be put to rest. But Meyer—despite authoring a "Note to Teachers" in the discredited textbook—has kept on promoting the theory that evolution and natural selection are not sufficient explanations for the appearance of life on earth and, moreover, insisting that his work is purely scientific.

Meyer's presentations come equipped with props for his demonstrations: a set of large plastic blocks, made "for students ages 2-4" that snap together to represent chains of amino acids that form proteins in DNA. Meyer exhaustively calculates how the 20 amino acids that form proteins and ten sites where the proteins can be linked combine into 10 trillion possible combinations. He confidently concludes that "no scientist believes blind chance can do this."

After casting sufficient doubt into an audience over the question with his tricks of whether life could have come about without input from some greater intelligence, Meyer pulls his best rhetorical trick—he references Darwin. You see, Darwin, like Meyer, wasn't around to witness evolution, he said, so he instead had to depend on "inference to the best explanation," which is just a fancy way of saying that you look at a bunch of possible explanations for some phenomena and then pick the best one. Meyer cites the Victorian geologist Charles Lyell, to demonstrate that computer programmers producing code and we haven't observed a similar natural process, then DNA could only be the product of a designer.

Meyer, while speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation recently in Washington, D.C. said, almost as an aside, that the "denial of design is the foundation of this worldview in the west of physical materialism." The only mention of God while at Heritage was in reference to the so-called New Atheists.

When I asked him to speculate on the nature of this designer, Meyer hedged and carefully said that his argument left open two possible agents for creation of life on earth, "aliens of God." He just so happened to favor the God hypothesis. Sidestepping the tricky question of the origin of this great intelligence, Meyer assured me that God could very well be prior to the universe because of the apparent "fine tuning of the universe." Meyer also argued that the big bang theory means there was a non-material cause; God had to be there.

But when asked at the McLean church if young earth creationists—i.e., those that follow a literal biblical timeline stretching back roughly 10,000—had "fueled New Atheism by giving it something to caricature," Meyer said the Discovery Institute takes a "neutral position on this" and that the prevalence of young-earth creationist views didn't matter because "we would have been treated exactly the same way."

It's no surprise that Meyer remained open, or at least didn't condemn, such an anti-scientific belief. Creationists are the ID movement's base. A 2006 Gallup poll showed that 46 percent of Americans believed that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so"—a position that is totally out of line with basic scientific knowledge of geology and archaeology. The Discovery Institute specifically targets these very people. Part of the long-term plan in the Wedge Document is to "build up a popular base of support among our natural constituency, namely, Christians. We will do this primarily through apologetics seminars." McLean Bible Church, for example, hosted an apologetics event a month before Meyer's to discuss how Noah's Ark actually could have held all those animals. So it made sense that Meyer avoided offending his "natural constituency."

Meyer more or less goes along with literal interpretations of Biblical texts; such an attitude is indicative of bait-and-switch behind ID. On one hand, ID-ers rise money and outline their goals by framing their research in terms befitting an ideological crusade. But Meyer maintains that his belief in God is based on scientific evidence of "fine-tuning" in the universe. But Meyer says that basic scientific tenants of "phyla, class, [and] order can not be explained" by evolution and natural selection. Meyer, in online debates, will go on to say that he thinks the Cambrian explosion or mammalian radiation "exceed evolutionary explanation."

Meyer, despite his thin scientific coating, is trafficking the half-baked, over-motivated arguments that have always been peddled by creationists for as long since Darwin developed his theory of evolution. Meyer's focus on the mystery of DNA is just a distraction. Stephen Meyer is not a scientist. He is an ideologue in the truest sense, someone who is willing to abide any distortion or untruth in order to maintain support for his crusade. His book may be new, his evident fascination with the inner workings of DNA maybe be appealing, but is just another in a long line of clever people who can't stand the science of Darwin.

Matt Zeitlin is an editorial intern at Campus Progress and a sophomore at Northwestern University.

The Mistakes That Argue for Evolution

http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/06/the-mistakes-that-argue-for-evolution/

July 6, 2009, 1:10 pm
By Kenneth Chang

Heard enough of the Creation Museum? If not, go read the article I wrote last week about a visit by paleontologists there (it's a good article, I promise) as well as a follow-up blog posting (that's good, too). And then Answers in Genesis responded to my posting.

My post today is not about the Creation Museum. Rather, it's about the opposite: why are the vast, vast majority of biologists so convinced of validity of the theory of evolution?

Actually, a large chunk of this post comes from Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University who has been at the forefront of the evolution wars, explaining why biologists are convinced of evolution. He gave this talk at the North American Paleontological Convention in Cincinnati last month, and I think it's worth reading his words unfiltered, in context. (There's some scattered but noncrucial jargon. "Homologous" just means of similar structure and function. "Beta-globin" is an important protein because two beta-globins plus two copies of another protein known as alpha-globin make hemoglobin, without which your blood could not carry oxygen and your cells would suffocate.)

Dr. Miller told an anecdote of how he caught two students plagiarizing.

Two of my students cheated on a written assignment by submitting the same paper. And I called them in and said, "Guys, I caught you."

They said, "Well, our papers aren't that similar. We have different titles. We begin in a different way."

What they had done was rearrange all of the paragraphs and put in new words and stuff like that. At superficial glance, they looked entirely different. And they said, "Our thinking is the same, because we're roommates, of course. And we had discussed this, we talked about it, so it's not surprising we come to the same conclusion. But look, none of the paragraphs in our two papers match."

And they were right about that. So they said, "How would you think we copied?"

I said, "I ran your papers through a program that looks for unusual matching strings. You guys misspelled the same six words in the same six ways. And when you have matching mistakes, there is no other explanation other than a common ancestor for the paper." And they broke down, and they threw themselves on the mercy of the court.

In the same way that the spelling errors pointed to the students' copying from an earlier paper (or one another), Dr. Miller said, genetic errors point to the lineage of different species.

The human genome includes five copies of the gene that produces beta-globin. In the middle of these genes is a stretch of genetic code that clearly was once a sixth beta-globin gene. But this so-called pseudogene now contains mistakes that prevent it from producing RNA that can be transcribed into beta-globin protein. Dr. Miller continued:

It turns out that there is an organism that has matching mistakes in its beta-globin pseudogene. That organism actually turns out to be the chimpanzee, and also the gorilla – beta-globin pseudogenes with exact matching errors. And there is only one explanation for that at the molecular level, which is common ancestor.

In 2005, a couple of weeks before the start of the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial in Pennsylvania over the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, the journal Nature published the full chimpanzee genome. Humans and chimps share about 98 percent of the DNA and most of the genes. That general fact had been known for some time and by itself is not immensely convincing. But there are stronger arguments in the details, and Dr. Miller discussed one argument presented at the trial. Again, the evidence centers around a glitch.

We had to put this into terms – no offense intended here – that were so simple that even an attorney could understand them. And I want to show you how we did this.

We humans have 46 chromosomes – 23 pairs. All of the other great apes have 24 pairs of chromosomes. So how is it that we are missing a pair of chromosomes that all these recent relatives actually have?

Is it possible that a pair of chromosomes just got lost in our lineage? Well, no. There are so many important genes on every chromosome that the loss of both members of a homologous pair would be fatal, wouldn't even get past embryonic development. So the only possibility is two chromosomes that are still separate in other primates must have gotten accidentally stuck together to form a single fused chromosome in us. And that's the explanation that exists in evolution. Here is why evolution is science and not conjecture. If that's true, we want to be able to find that fused chromosome. So if we can, that is a powerful confirmation of an evolutionary prediction.

Well, can we find it? It turns out it is much easier to recognize a fused chromosome than you might think. The tips of all chromosomes are covered with a very special DNA sequence, in a region called the telomere. It is really easy to recognize. Near the center of every chromosome is an equally recognizable region called the centromere. If one of our chromosomes was formed by the fusion of two primate chromosomes, you know what it would have? It would have telomere DNA at the center, and it would have two centromeres. Should be very easy to recognize.

We scanned the human genome. Do we have a chromosome like that? The answer is, you bet we do.

It is called human chromosome number two. Our second chromosome has telomere DNA at the center. It has two centomeres. We have placed it as being from primate chromosomes 12 and 13 and so exact is the correspondence that people who work on the chimpanzee genome now call the chromosomes they used to call 12 and 13 2A and 2B, because they correspond to those two halves of the human second chromosome.

Is there any question, to explain these facts – and these are facts, this is not hypothesis or conjecture – any way to explain these facts in light of the view that our species was uniquely designed or intelligently created? The answer is no. You can only explain this by evolutionary common ancestry. About the only thing you could say is maybe the designer wanted to fool us into thinking we evolved and he rigged chromosome number two to make it look that way.

And the only thing I can tell you is if that was his intent, he did a heck of a job. Because the marks of evolution are literally all over our chromosome.

Not surprisingly, the Creation Museum people come to a different interpretation.

Darwin survey shows international consensus on acceptance of evolution

http://www.examiner.com/x-10571-Jackson-Atheism-Examiner~y2009m7d7-Darwin-survey-shows-international-consensus-on-acceptance-of-evolution

July 7, 11:09 AM

In a press release, a British Council poll into awareness of Charles Darwin and attitudes towards evolution has found that there is a broad international consensus of acceptance towards his theory of evolution.

The British Council, the UK's international body for cultural relations, announced the results of its global survey at the World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) in London on Tuesday 30 June, 2009, as part of its international programme Darwin Now, to mark the publication of Charles Darwin's groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection on 24 November, 1859.

The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI, surveyed over ten thousand adults across ten countries worldwide including Argentina, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Great Britain and the USA.

The results show that the majority of people polled have heard of Charles Darwin with the highest levels of awareness in Russia (93%), Mexico (91%), Great Britain (91%), and China (90%) whilst less than half of people polled in Egypt (38%) and South Africa (27%) saying they had not heard of him. Overall, the majority (70%) of people surveyed have heard of the British naturalist.

Adults in the United States (84%) showed the highest levels of awareness and understanding of evolution and Darwin's theories followed by Great Britain (80%) saying they had a 'good or some knowledge' of the theory of evolution.

In all countries polled more people agreed than disagreed that it is possible to believe in a God and hold the view that life evolved on Earth by means of natural selection at the same time, with those in India most likely (85%) to be of this opinion, followed by Mexico (65%), Argentina (63%), South Africa, Great Britain (54%), USA, Russia (53%), Egypt, Spain (45%), and China (39%).

In six out of ten countries the majority of people who had heard of Charles Darwin and know something about his theory of evolution agreed with the view that there is enough scientific evidence that exists to support the theory against an overall average of 54 percent.

Only Russia (48%), USA (42%), South Africa (41%) and Egypt (25%) remained sceptical about the scientific evidence that exists to support Darwin's theory.

The results also show that a significant proportion of those people surveyed in the USA, South Africa and India (43%) believe that all life on Earth, including human life, has always existed in its current form.

In all other countries, people in China (74%), Mexico (69%), Argentina (68%), Great Britain (63%) Russia, Spain (56%), and Egypt (52%) were of the view that more people thought that life on Earth, including human life, evolved over time either by a process guided by God or as a result of natural selection in which no God played a part.

Dr Fern Elsdon-Baker, Head of the British Council Darwin Now programme, said: 'The international Darwin survey has thrown up some very interesting results, especially as it includes data from countries not previously covered before. The most encouraging aspect of the survey shows that whilst there are diverse views on Darwin's theory of evolution, there appears to a broad acceptance that science and faith do not have to be in conflict. Whilst the results show that there is some way to go in communicating the evidence of evolutionary theory to wider audiences, it is evident that there is clear space for dialogue on this sometimes complex area of debate.'

The survey is now open to the public in each of these countries and can be completed by visiting the survey online. Over the coming months, this survey will create the largest data set ever gathered on the public's understanding of evolutionary theory.

For more information and to request a copy of the survey, please contact, Tony Stephenson, Adam Michael, or Benjamyn Tan on +44 (0) 20 7457 2020 or send them an email.

About Darwin Now

Darwin Now is the British Council's contribution to the international celebration of the 200 year anniversary of Darwin's birth (on the 12th February) and the 150 year anniversary of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species' (on the 24th November). Through this international programme of activity the British Council is seeking to engage new audiences, to make Darwin's theory of evolution relevant to their lives, and to encourage involvement and debate. Darwin Now will look at the impact of Darwin's ideas and their impact on contemporary biology, medicine and society. It comprises a year long programme of activity including outreach work and exhibitions in schools and further education colleges, a mobile exhibition, interactive website with and supporting workshops. The campaign is expected to run in up to 50 countries worldwide, including the regions of Europe, North Africa, East Asia, America and Latin America.

In the UK, highlights include the British Science Association, Festival of Science in September, and a youth summit involving 60 students from around the world, which will be held at the Natural History Museum in July. The programme culminates in three-day international Darwin's Darwin's Living Legacy Conference on Science on Society, which will be in partnership with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, between 14-16 November, 2009. For more information, please go to http://www.britishcouncil.org/darwin

The survey in Great Britain was conducted by Ipsos MORI between 3rd April and 9th April 2009. 973 interviews were completed amongst a nationally representative quota sample of adults aged 18 and over on an omnibus survey. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in the respondent's home. Results have been weighted to the known population

About British Council

The British Council, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2009, works in more than 100 countries worldwide to build engagement and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people. During 2008, the British Council reached over 128 million people worldwide through a range of cultural programmes involving the arts, education, science, sport and governance. For more information, please go to www.britishcouncil.org

About MORI

Ipsos MORI, part of the Ipsos Group, is a leading market research company in the UK with an extensive global reach. The Ipsos network covers more than 55 countries across the globe, providing clients with the best service in five key specialisms. For more information, please visit the Ipsos MORI website at www.ipsos-mori.com.

Author: Will Henry
Will Henry is an Examiner from Jackson. You can see Will's articles on Will's Home Page.