NTS LogoSkeptical News for 15 December 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Evolution education update: December 11, 2009

A new talk by NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott is now available on-line and NCSE is now using ncse.com as its primary domain name. Plus Ray Comfort is now being accused of plagiarism.


Now available on NCSE's YouTube channel: Eugenie C. Scott's "Creationism: Still crazy after all these years," a presentation at the 2009 Atheist Alliance International conference in Burbank, California. Scott describes the evolving history of the antievolution movement in the United States, from attempts to balance the teaching of evolution with "creation science" or "intelligent design" to the present spate of stealth creationist tactics such as "academic freedom" and (in Texas) "all sides of scientific evidence." A question-and-answer session followed, introduced by Richard Dawkins, who commented, "I must say, it's a very good feeling to have Genie Scott and her gang on our side in this battle." NCSE thanks the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science for permission to post the video on the NCSE YouTube channel. Other presentations from the conference are available at the Dawkins Foundation's YouTube channel.

For the video and NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:

For information about the AAI and its conference, visit:

For the Dawkins Foundation and its YouTube channel, visit:


NCSE is now using ncse.com -- shorter and easier to remember than ncseweb.org -- as its primary domain name. The change is already in effect on NCSE's website and e-mail. But never fear: links and e-mail to ncseweb.org will be automatically forwarded to ncse.com.

NCSE is grateful to Jeff Bennett, president and chief operating officer of NameMedia, Inc., for extending a substantial discount on the ncse.com domain. Said Bennett, "We understand that you are a non-profit organization with a big mission." It's a mission that you can support by joining or renewing today -- at ncse.com.


Did Ray Comfort plagiarize part of his "special introduction" to the Origin of Species? That's the charge of Stan Guffey, a lecturer in biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who told the Knoxville Metro Pulse (December 2, 2009), "The introduction begins with a nice, sweet little biography, then degenerates into intellectually lame, lazy distortions, selective reading of the literature, picking and choosing of facts, and misreadings of the historical record." He added that Comfort "gently moves folks into the notion that they don't want to read what comes after the introduction. He just wants his 50 pages read, 47 of which are anti-intellectual, dishonest drivel, the first three of which are pretty good because I wrote them."

The Metro Pulse observed, "A few sentences were chopped or shortened, and a paragraph on Darwin's youth was rearranged and reworded, but most of the passage appears taken directly from Guffey." Alert bloggers detected the apparent plagiarism months ago and confronted both Comfort and the publisher about it, but Guffey was never asked for permission to use his biography of Darwin. When copies of the book were distributed on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Guffey offered, "Would you like me to autograph this?" The Metro Pulse reported, "Guffey is preparing a cease-and-desist letter through an attorney to prevent further distribution of the book and is contemplating further legal action."

NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott previously criticized Comfort's introduction as "a hopeless mess of long-ago-refuted creationist arguments, teeming with misinformation about the science of evolution, populated by legions of strawmen, and exhibiting what can be charitably described as muddled thinking." Likewise, David Quammen, the author of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (W. W. Norton, 2006), commented, "Comfort's confused polemic ... will do a severe disservice to anyone who takes it for an entryway to Darwin's great book." For further criticisms of Comfort's "special introduction" to the Origin, visit Don't Diss Darwin, created and maintained by NCSE.

For the story in the Metro Pulse, visit:

For Don't Diss Darwin, visit:

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- 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

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Monday, December 07, 2009

The Discovery Institute Gets Personal


..Michael Egnor is likening me to a prostitute for defending good science in the face of the Swifthack controversy. He says my approach to journalism is equivalent to turning "tricks." Or to quote:

3) "Trick": a work-related act performed by a prostitute.

A spot-on description of Mooney's science journalism.

Egnor doesn't appear to understand that when a scientist uses the word "trick" in a non-public email, as Phil Jones did in the now exposed CRU correspondence, it isn't necessarily meant as either prostitution or deception. There are far more innocent possibilities–"trick" can be a cool new method or technique, for instance. That makes the particular email being referred to much less than a smoking gun. Michael Mann has more on that. So does Phil Plait:

These files are not evidence of fraud. I am a scientist myself, and I'm familiar with the lingo. When we say we used a "trick" to plot data (as one of the hacked emails says), that doesn't mean we're doing something to fool people. It means we used a method that may not be obvious, or a step that does something specific. Plotting data logarithmically instead of linearly is a "trick", and it's a valid and useful method of displaying data (your senses of sight and hearing are logarithmic, for example, so it's even a natural way to do things).

And even if the particular email in question was a smoking gun, as I have explained, such proof of wrongdoing on the part of one scientist–or a small group–would not change the science of climate change, or the policy outlook, or what we have to do in Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, I continue to marvel at how the anti-evolutionist Discovery Institute seems to be following exactly the same anti-science line on global warming.

Fashionable Nonsense: Reconciling science with Genesis


Profile. Laelaps is the blog of Brian Switek, a freelance science writer based in New Jersey. This blog frequently features his musings on paleontology, evolution, and the history of science. Switek also blogs for Smithsonian magazine's Dinosaur Tracking.

Switek's first book, Written in Stone, will be published next year by Bellevue Literary Press.

Category: Books • Creationism • Nonsense • Religion
Posted on: November 30, 2009 6:07 PM, by Brian Switek

At least I know that, if I fail at everything else in life, I could write a book claiming to reconcile science and Christianity. People love them. No matter how many times the same old talking points are trotted out there always seems to be room for one more volume on the subject. And even if readers do not entirely agree with the content of such books many are still comforted by their existence. Among the "Things Christians Like" is to see scientists saying that hard evidence from nature supports Christian beliefs.

I do not say this to belittle the scientific expertise of authors of these books, such as Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Paul Davies, Dale Russell, Simon Conway Morris, and (as I will get to shortly) Andrew Parker. They are certainly experts in their respective fields. What I am continually frustrated by, however, is their insistence that nature documents the influence of supernatural power.

Lately it has become fashionable to find some refuge for God in the natural world, some signal that tells us there is a cosmic someone who planned for our existence. This trend is not concerned with recognizing nature as it exists and modifying theology to match it, but with impressing particular religious views on nature. Sometimes such attempts are well-received, other times not, but many people are generally happy to see such efforts. It is more important for science and religion to "play nice" than for us to recognize that nature cannot provide the direct evidence for divine intervention in the universe that many people desperately want to exist.

The latest entry into this subgenre of evolutionary apologetics is The Genesis Enigma: Why the Bible is Scientifically Accurate by biologist Andrew Parker. In this new book Parker claims that the creation narrative of Genesis 1 presents an accurate prognostication of our current understanding of the evolution of life on earth.

I honestly do not recall hearing anything about Parker's new book at the time it was released two months ago, but today the Washington Post published a guest blog in which Parker presents readers with a muddled essay. In a few short paragraphs Parker breezes through what he interprets as the "scary" convergence between Genesis and modern scientific discoveries, all as a paean to something "inexplicable" outside our senses that can only be recognized as God. Parker closes with;

If we stick to science and avoid concocting theories of creationism, God may be revealed without self-deception...and in a form so much more powerful and guiding. So it has been for me.

Oh, what a little confirmation bias can do.

In 2003 Parker published a book called In the Blink of an Eye in which he suggested that the evolution of vision triggered the "Cambrian Explosion." In the wake of the book he began to receive letters that his hypothesis made sense of Genesis. The evolution of vision, his correspondents suggested, corresponded the second command of "let there be light" (Genesis 1:14) in Genesis. Nevermind that this second command was for "lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years"; Parker believes that it corresponds with his favored evolutionary hypothesis. It is not about the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, he says, but the first time that animals could see the heavenly bodies thanks to the evolution of eyes.

Things get even more complicated when the rest of the order of Creation is considered. Grass and fruiting trees (angiosperms) are called forth on the third day, but both of these kinds of plants did not evolve until the Mesozoic (popularly known as the "Age of Dinosaurs"), many millions of years after plants evolved. Forget about the specifics, says Parker. Grass and trees just mean photosynthesizing organisms.

But what of the fact that Genesis 1 places the creation of sea creatures, including whales, and birds together on the fifth day? Marine animals evolved long before birds, that is true, but birds evolved from dinosaurs long before the first whales evolved from terrestrial, hooved ancestors. This is followed on the next day by mammals and "creeping things", again confusing the chronological sequence of evolution that we know from the fossil record. (The first mammals evolved before birds, and anything that might be called a "creeping thing" upon the earth existed on land before the first tetrapods lived at the water's edge.)

And it cannot be denied that the creation narrative of Genesis 1 is followed by a second, very different story in Genesis 2. In the second story God has a garden all planned out but no one to take care of it, so he creates Adam and plants a garden in which Adam can live. At that point God realizes that his creation is missing something, a helper for Adam, and so he creates the entire diversity of animals in an attempt to find a suitable partner for the first human. Giraffes, porcupines, leopards, parakeets, squirrels, weasels... none of them measure up, so instead God snags a rib from Adam to make Eve. That story does not fit so well with what we understand about the history of life on earth, and Parker just waves it away without so much as a second thought.

In fact, Parker is utterly convinced that he is correct. When some of these inconsistencies were mentioned in an interview he conducted for the magazine Reform Parker asserted that the correspondence between Genesis and the history of life seemed clear enough to him. Unfettered by historical or theological scholarship Parker stated;

But I have no biases now and I didn't have then. I just put them together [Genesis and the history of life] and they matched perfectly. And what I used is what I think is the best version of the history of life on earth, and my best interpretation of the first page of Genesis.

By this logic, almost anyone could have written the same book. It appears to be simply an exercise in cherrypicking answers and ignoring contradictions. Such a technique at once both strongly literalistic and so weak as to be meaningless. Genesis 1 really does correspond to history, Parker argues, except when it doesn't, in which case we are not thinking loosely enough to allow the pieces to fit.

I am sure such a game of mix and match could be carried out with almost any other sacred book you care to name. (For another example of this kind of confirmation bias, note the belief that theropod dinosaurs were faithful steeds for Adam and Eve.) Parker's premise is flimsy (and that is being charitable), yet it is still welcomed by some because it provides a refuge for God at a time when the faithful are having conniptions about the "New Atheists" (same as the old atheists). I am truly baffled by such attempts at reconciliation that are made so blindly. It appears that these days many people value being nice over rational thought, and I expect that we will continue to see similar half-baked efforts to reconcile evolution and Christianity for a long time to come.

Bruce Chapman on "Hide the Decline," the Mantra of Corruption


Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman has written an insightful essay examining the broader significance of the ClimateGate scandal, including its implications for the Darwin-ID debate. Noting that certain major media outlets have tried to spike the ClimateGate story, Chapman observes that "the story is just too compelling to suppress in other outlets and on the Internet." But he goes on to ask:

what will it take for the media to take up the exactly parallel case of scientists who question the ability of Darwinian natural selection to explain the origin of life and the development of species? In several instances (the Richard Sternberg case, the Guillermo Gonzalez case), email trails have shown a similar attitude of entitlement and coercion. And money in the form of federal grants also suggests a similar pattern of prejudice and cronyism in universities and research institutions, not to mention at supposedly scientific journals.

Or do the media really imagine that the case of climate change is unique?

Posted by John West on November 30, 2009 12:03 AM | Permalink

"Hide the Decline"--the Mantra of Corruption


The perpetrators of the ClimateGate scandal are trying hard to minimize the significance of their email trail and what it reveals of efforts to prejudice climate change discussions. The obfuscation and hand-waving are working (of course, and as usual) with The New York Times and certain other major media. The BBC had the story and attempted to spike it. But the story is just too compelling to suppress in other outlets and on the Internet.

Scientists know that this is an honest tattle-tale moment. They know that the treatment of dissenters has been disgraceful. First you say they can't be heard because they haven't published in supposedly sacrosanct "peer-reviewed journals," then you keep them from appearing in those journals; then, when a journal does publish them, you denounce the journal as--by definition--"unscientific".

It's nice to see The Wall Street Journal and other leading organs take up this issue of authoritarianism. Lorrie Goldstein of the Toronto Sun further points out that money and power are central to the climate change debate and that Big Government provides money to push in a certain direction.

In the practical world of politics and public policy, the ClimaeGate scandal further diminishes prospects of an international agreement at the forthcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen.

But what will it take for the media to take up the exactly parallel case of scientists who question the ability of Darwinian natural selection to explain the origin of life and the development of species? In several instances (the Richard Sternberg case, the Guillermo Gonzalez case), email trails have shown a similar attitude of entitlement and coercion. And money in the form of federal grants also suggests a similar pattern of prejudice and cronyism in universities and research institutions, not to mention at supposedly scientific journals.

Or do the media really imagine that the case of climate change is unique?

Posted by Bruce Chapman on November 26, 2009 11:24 PM | Permalink

Barbara Hollingsworth: Keeping the lid on - and the science out


By: Barbara Hollingsworth
Examiner Columnist

December 1, 2009 As a long-ago biology major, I once shared romantic notions of scientific geniuses like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein shrugging off critics of their paradigm-changing theories and following the physical evidence wherever it led.

I now know that science is sometimes sacrificed to ideology, as exemplified by the recent scandal at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit and the ongoing attempt to silence proponents of intelligent design.

More than 800 Ph.D.-level scientists around the world are seriously considering ID to explain the origin of life, but you'd never know it. Most do so clandestinely for fear of being ostracized by their peers or even forced out of their academic positions.

Some have secretly contacted the Discovery Institute (www.discoverinstitute.org) after researching ID, Stephen C. Meyer, author of "Signature in the Cell" -- now in its fifth printing and one of Amazon.com's top 10 science titles -- recently told me over lunch.

Others, like Cold War dissidents making furtive contact with the West, arrange discreet meetings to discuss what "evolutionary biologists don't want to talk about, the origins of the information in the digital code of DNA necessary to produce life."

When former Cambridge biochemist Douglas Axe computed the chances that the four amino acids that form DNA could self-arrange themselves into just one functional protein, he found it was 1:10164 -- or less than the odds of finding one marked subatomic particle in the entire observable universe.

In other words, the evolutionary story now universally taught to students fails to account for the origin of the basic information that forms the very blueprint of life. Yet even though most of the scientific establishment rejects the notion of an intelligent designer, Meyer says nobody has come up with a better explanation.

Ironically, attempts to discredit ID have turned it into forbidden fruit on college campuses. Many recruits are grad students who understand the complex nanotechnology of the cell and the dead ends in Darwinian evolution much better than their professors. "It looks like engineering," Meyer says. "Replication. Digital code. We own the metaphors. They know the future is with us."

The day before a debate in Shrewsbury, England, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth in February, Meyer quietly met with some of the top biologists in the United Kingdom who wanted him to know they "were on our side" despite the "reflexive hostility" shown by evolutionists who resist the theistic implications of ID, but find it easier to brand its adherents as "creationist whackos" than to address the numerous deficiencies in Darwin's theory.

"The actual evidence shows that major features of the fossil record are an embarrassment to Darwinian evolution; that early development in vertebrate embryos is more consistent with separate origins than with common ancestry; that non-coding DNA is fully functional, contrary to neo-Darwinian predictions; and that natural selection can accomplish nothing more than artificial selection -- which is to say, minor changes within existing species," writes Discovery Institute senior fellow Jonathan Wells, who has two Ph.D.s from the University of California at Berkeley in molecular and cell biology. "Faced with such evidence, any other scientific theory would probably have been abandoned long ago. Judged by the normal criteria of empirical science, Darwinism is false."

Isn't it interesting that the vast majority of Americans have never heard any of these scientific challenges to Darwinism even though the scientific method is based on questioning existing theories? "If we've defined science such that it cannot get to the true answer, we've got a pretty lame definition of science," Axe said.

Amen to that.

Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

Modern conflicts over science, Darwin


December 1, 2009

Below is a transcript from a Georgene Rice KPDQ-FM interview with David Berlinski, a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture and the author of several controversial essays and books, including his latest, "The Deniable Darwin".

Georgene: Would Darwin be surprised at the utter loyalty many scientists have today toward his theory?

Berlinski: He was a man of considerable self-confidence, so he would be pleased but not necessarily surprised.

Georgene: You introduced the notion of skepticism in much of your writing, and I suppose one might ask: "What's your beef with science?"

Berlinski: I don't have a beef with science. It's just honest criticism. I have great respect for the great theories. It doesn't suggest a lack of enthusiasm or devotion, quite the contrary.

Georgene: So is there a value to science? Or is the approach flawed? Or are the goals or areas of interest misguided?

Berlinski: Science is the great cathedral of our culture. It's our Notre Dame, a magnificent structure four centuries in the making. But why do we assume that every cathedral is by definition complete? Science is a great cathedral, but it's radically incomplete…….

Georgene: What then should be the primary goal: recognizing that it's something of a conceit to imagine that we can know more than we actually do? Or that we shouldn't assume that we have discovered the full answers to the questions?

Berlinski: I think both, with the addition of a third maxim: that in our collective undertaking we don't rule out other approaches without very careful arguments and a defense of the position. For example, religious approaches. It just makes no sense to rule them out of court by definition. Or to claim that, for example, intelligent design doesn't count as a possibility in thought because it's not science.

Georgene: One of the reasons intelligent design is rejected is because it is thought to be motivated by ideology……..and that Darwinism has no ideology and is unfettered from any influences that would be anything other than what raw science would reveal?

Berlinski: Everybody has a bias, a point of view and an agenda to execute, especially in the human and the biological sciences. There's no such thing as an unbiased point of view……People who are advocating intelligent design have a certain vision of things—a certain goal—and to argue them out of court because you've said, rather arbitrarily, "it's not science", is just to make science a much less interesting pursuit than it might otherwise be.

Georgene: Has there been an evolution in your thinking on the subject of science and some of these other issues you deal with over time? Are you seeing certain changes in the way you approach these issues?

Berlinski: I hope so………my thinking has matured, it's evolved….I think I'm a good deal more skeptical now than I was when I began these essays….because I've seen too much that I regard as corrupt within the sciences.

Georgene: How do you account for the "increase in fraud" as you've just described it over time? Is it because of necessity in order for science to move forward?

Berlinski: I think the polemical issues, the underlying ideological issues, have become so heated and so corrupting that people are now willing to make claims that they really would have hesitated to make in the 1960s and 1970s. A sense of judiciousness has been under attack in many areas of biology, many areas of evolutionary psychology—even in physics, people are saying things now that they wouldn't have said 30 years ago.

Science center intolerant of intelligent design

[Also child pornography, but that's another matter.]


Pete Chagnon - OneNewsNow - 12/7/2009 6:30:00 AM

A West Coast-based group is suing a science center for its refusal to release sensitive documents.

The Washington State-based Discovery Institute had filed a request to obtain public documents from the California Science Center after the latter cancelled a contract with the American Freedom Alliance (AFA). The contract originally allowed the AFA to screen a pro-intelligent design film at the center's IMAX theater in October of this year.

In November, the center released 44 pages of documents and claimed that all the records requested by the Discovery Institute were included. However, Casey Luskin, the program officer with the institute, claims that is not true.

"Well we know for a fact that the California Science Center's claims were not true because we have actual e-mail documentation of e-mails that should have been disclosed in response to our public documents request, but were not," Luskin explains. "We obtained those e-mails through other parties that are involved in this whole issue, but the bottom line is that the California Science Center violated the California Public Records Act by not disclosing these e-mails to us. And the reason why this is important is because these e-mails show clear evidence of their intolerance and viewpoint discrimination against intelligent design."

A lawsuit has since been filed with the State Superior Court in Los Angeles County,

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hemant "The Friendly Atheist" Mehta Interviews Ray "The Banana Man" Comfort


Hemant Mehta does a fascinating interview with Ray Comfort, not about Creationism, but about Comfort's personal philosophy and the way he has gone about promoting Creationism and Christianity in general. Comfort, you'll recall, is the guy who tried to prove the existence of a benevolent interventionist God by appealing to the human-convenient shape of a banana--a plant that's been heavily modified by humans through controlled selection in agriculture. Kudos to Mehta for giving us a glimpse inside this particular head.

Hemant: The banana. Do you stand by the argument in your video? Do you regret saying what you did? Do you like when people associate that video with you? Was it a joke? Are you aware that the banana in your video is genetically modified while a "natural" banana would be virtually unrecognizable? (There are several other questions regarding the Banana, but these are the overall themes).

Ray: I deeply regret doing the banana routine on television without a live audience. I have been doing it for live audiences for more than 20 years, and it's never failed to get a lot of laughs. Regarding genetic modification. There isn't any evidence that the banana has changed its shape in the last 2,000 years. The anonymous creator of the well-publicized YouTube clip used a picture of a modern banana that was shaped like a potato, to make me look like a fool (and he did a pretty good job). To see evidence that the banana hasn't changed shape, go to the bottom of http://www.livingwaters.com/origin/presskit and click on the PDF of "The Banana Controversy." Humbling though it has been, the subject has worked in my favor. Being "The Banana Man" has left me with a very low bar to reach. People are quite amazed when I'm able to string a complete sentence together.

It's worth noting that, given Mehta's audience, this is pretty atheist-centric. However, I'm well aware that belief in the Christian God/Jesus (or any other deity) doesn't preclude acceptance of evolution and doesn't equate with scientific illiteracy. Mehta seems to be aware of that as well. Comfort, on the other hand, appears to be a little confused on the subject.

The Friendly Atheist: Interview With Ray Comfort

Day-Age creationism is almost as goofy as Young Earth creationism


Category: Creationism
Posted on: December 1, 2009 7:03 PM, by PZ Myers

One of the most common strategems for reconciling evolution and the Bible that I've run into is the Day-Age hypothesis, the claim that each of the seven 'days' of the book of Genesis represents one of God's days, which doesn't have to be 24 hours long, but could be millions or billions of years instead. All you have to do is stretch the timescale of Genesis to fit the geological timescale, and voilà, it's a perfect metaphorical description of the very same processes science has described. Why, those old Hebrews couldn't have known all that geology and astronomy, therefore they must have received insider information from their creator.

Believe me, I've heard it a thousand times, and I'm not exaggerating when I say they claim it was impossible for the authors of the Bible to have known all that information that lines up so precisely with our modern understanding of the universe's origins. Really. Would I lie to you? The Washington Post has a perfect example in a short piece by the biologist Andrew Parker (who we have encountered before). He actually has respectable credentials in the field, has written an interesting (but terribly flawed) book about the Cambrian explosion, and is definitely not a young earth creationist. Those guys are deeply crazy.* Which, when you look at how nutty Parker's views are, means that we haven't even begun to plumb the depths of derangement of which these people are capable yet.

I recently volunteered to place the creation account of Genesis 1 side-by-side with our new scientific understanding of the history of life and the universe. Excepting the absurd fiction that the world was created in seven days, I found an eerily-close match. Amazingly, the precise wording of the Bible's first page, and the events inferred and the sequence with which they are placed, tells the story of life's history according to our current best scientific understanding. That a man without scientific knowledge , should write such a thing in 700 BCE is almost scary. And then another man of similar stock placed it on the first page of his people's most important book. This is what I call a genesis enigma.

On the Bible's first page 'Let there be light' is mentioned twice, why? Recently science has provided answers in both physics and biology -- the formation of the sun followed by the introduction of vision -- and I played some scientific role in the second.

In Genesis 1, emphasis is placed on sea creatures, despite this biblical author being landlocked with little or no knowledge of marine life. Who in their right mind would have placed these center stage? The more I looked, the more the Genesis creation story seemed unlikely to be the result of a lucky guess. That got me thinking a few winters ago.

Are those words really sacred, in some way? As a scientist not in the habit of contemplating the divine, I was later surprised to discover within religion some good old rationality.

No, Genesis 1 does not line up with reality. Try it yourself.

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. Day 1

God makes heaven and a formless earth, and light and dark, apparently in that order.

This isn't right. The earth is a relatively late arrival; there was roughly 9 billion years between the Big Bang and the accretion of the earth. That's a mighty big gap, and a false statement in the very first sentence. Now if it said, "God created matter and energy," maybe then it would fit.

I don't get all the "waters" stuff. The early earth wasn't covered in water.

6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. Day 2

God creates heaven by separating waters.

Again, water all over the place. This doesn't fit any physical explanation for the history of the universe or the earth.

Note that what is being described here is an aquatic universe in which god creates a solid firmament to separate the earth and its atmosphere from a great watery ocean in which it is floating; this isn't your modern astronomy by any stretch of the imagination.

9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

13 And the evening and the morning were the third day. Day 3

God raises up the land on a watery earth, and then he creates trees and grasses.

Again, flowering plants and grasses are late arrivals in the history of life on earth. Grasses arose in the Cretaceous and flourished in the Neogene; angiosperms evolved in the Jurassic. This puts them well after fish (day 5), for instance.

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Day 4

Finally, God gets around to making the sun and the moon and the stars.

You are all aware that these astronomical objects preceded the appearance of life, I presume?

20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Day 5

God creates everything that flies in the air and lives in the water.

Isn't this just a little weird? It's a distinction entirely by habitat, ignoring the fact that whales, for instance, first evolved on the land and then moved into the sea. Birds are also more late arrivals on the evolutionary scene.

Most important: squid are completely neglected in this scheme. Apparently, they are just random members of the lumpeninvertebrata, snapped into existence as part of a great sushi gemisch, and not even worth mentioning. Blasphemy!

24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.

31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Day 6

God creates terrestrial animals, and people. The people are put in charge.

It's a rather shameful compression of time. After all, the first terrestrial animals (something like the trigontarbid fossils from about 440 million years ago) preceded humans by about, oh, 440 million years. I guess they were wandering about masterless for a great long time.

God slacked off on the seventh day, so we'll ignore it.

And don't even get me started on Genesis 2, in which a male human is created first, and all the other animals afterwards, and a woman was an afterthought.

Parker is way off base — there is no way to line up Genesis with any modern, scientific history of the universe. Why, it looks to me like raw guesswork building on a Middle Eastern oral and written tradition that had no privileged information about cosmology at all!

Parker's other assertions are way off, too. He has a bit of an obsession with the evolution of vision, so what he's trying to claim is that what is being described is first the physical creation of light on Day 1, and then Day 4 is a metaphor for the evolution of vision, which allowed creatures to see the light. Which doesn't make sense. There were no creatures with eyes on Day 4, just a lot of plants sitting in the dark waiting an indeterminate time (but more than 24 hours) for some way to photosynthesize.

I'd be more impressed if the Old Testament scribes had written, "And lo, on the fourth day, God created opsin and G proteins, and enabled a primitive signal transduction pathway, and God called the signal transduction pathway vision, and God saw that it was good." That would be scary accuracy. "God poofed the Moon into existence and stuck it to the firmamement with a handy pushpin,", not so impressive.

And what the heck is Parker smoking that he thinks this text puts emphasis on sea creatures, placing them center stage? They get one clause in one sentence on Day Five, the only ones specifically mentioned are whales, and they're sharing billing with birds!

I think Andrew Parker is going to have to be my favorite example of an intelligent, educated man who has been totally god-whacked into madness by religion, seeing stuff in texts that is simply not there.

*By the way, talking to the ordinary creationist, the kind of person you might bump into the coffee shop, you will sometimes find ones who endorse the Day-Age theory. I've even encountered a few grad students who use it to reconcile their beliefs with science. However, by far the most common kind of creationist haunting our country today is the young earth creationist, who dispenses with all that conciliatory fol-de-rol and simply declares science completely wrong in its interpretations and that the earth is literally and actually less than ten thousand years old and that God did it all in precisely six 24 hour days. This has been a trend; anecdotally, I've found the YECs are much more common and much more arrogant in their beliefs now than, say, twenty years ago. It's what Answers in Genesis promotes, after all.

For the sake of completeness, I'll mention that another way to reconcile the Bible with an old earth is the Gap Theory. This idea states that there is an undescribed gap in the history of Genesis 1, right after "God created the heaven and earth", in which the earth was riven with catastrophe and chaos, when there were fallen angels and giants and dragons fighting against the legions of heaven, and during which geology happened. This sounds like a very fascinating period that would make a great fantasy novel, but it didn't involve humans, so God didn't think we'd be interested…so he starts with the restoration of order and the creation of Eden, which occured 6000 years ago. Personally, I have never met a single creationist who endorsed this interpretation, although I know they're out there: this was the favored explanation in the Scofield Bible so beloved of fundamentalists for so long.

Another by the way, that a lot of people haven't figured out yet: fundamentalism does not demand belief in young earth creationism. This is another trend, fueled by people like Ken Ham, who insist that the only true fundamentalist doctrine is one that involves a literal 6000 year old earth created in a literal 6 days. They seem to be winning the propaganda war, too, since many creationists and evolutionists alike think that fundamentalism and young earth creationism go hand-in-hand.

Donald Prothero's Imaginary Evidence for Evolution


Need evidence for Darwinian evolution? Just make it up.

That's the lesson of Donald Prothero's book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). Prothero is a professor of geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles. On November 30, he teamed up with atheist Michael Shermer (founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine) to debate Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg of the Discovery Institute.

Shermer wrote the foreword to Prothero's book, calling it "the best book ever written on the subject." In fact, "Don's visual presentation of the fossil and genetic evidence for evolution is so unmistakably powerful that I venture to say that no one could read this book and still deny the reality of evolution."

Of course, "evolution" can mean many things, most of which nobody would deny even without Prothero's book. For example, evolution can mean simply change over time, or minor changes in existing species ("microevolution"), neither of which any sane person doubts. Both Shermer and Prothero, however, make it clear that by "evolution" they mean Darwin's theory that all living things are descended from a common ancestor, modified principally by natural selection acting on unguided variations ("macroevolution").

The modern version of the theory asserts that new variations originate in genetic mutations. Some of the most dramatic mutations occur in "Hox genes," which can determine which appendages develop in various parts of the body. On page 101 of his book, Prothero shows pictures of two Hox gene mutations: "antennapedia," which causes a fruit fly to sprout legs instead of antennae from its head, and "ultrabithorax," which causes a fruit fly to develop a second pair of wings from it midsection. But both of these are harmful: A fruit fly with legs sticking out of its head is at an obvious disadvantage, and a four-winged fruit fly has no flight muscles in its extra pair of wings, so it has trouble flying and mating. Both mutants can survive only in the laboratory; in the wild they would quickly be eliminated by natural selection.

Some Darwinists have suggested that ancestral four-winged fruit flies could have evolved by mutation into modern two-winged fruit flies. But this explanation doesn't work, because a two-winged fly hasn't simply lost a pair of wings; it has acquired a large and complex gene (ultrabithorax) that enables it to develop "halteres," or balancers. The halteres are located behind the fly's normal pair of wings and vibrate rapidly to stabilize the insect in flight. So the two-winged fly represents the gain—not loss—of an important structure. (See Chapter 9 of my book Icons of Evolution).

Prothero ignores the evidence and suggests that ancestral four-winged flies simply mutated into modern two-winged flies. Modern four-winged mutants, he writes on page 101, "have apparently changed their regulatory genes so that ancestral wings appeared instead of halteres."

Not only does Prothero ignore the evidence from developmental genetics, but he also invents an imaginary animal to complete the story he wants us to believe. Page 195 of his book carries an illustration of an eighteen-winged dragonfly next to a normal four-winged dragonfly, with the following caption: "The evolutionary mechanism by which Hox genes allow arthropods to make drastic changes in their number and arrangement of segments and appendages, producing macroevolutionary changes with a few simple mutations."

Yet there is no evidence that eighteen-winged dragonflies ever existed. There are lots of dragonflies in the fossil record, but none of them remotely resemble this fictitious creature.

No matter. In what Michael Shermer calls "the best book ever written on the subject," Donald Prothero simply makes up whatever evidence he wants.

Posted by Jonathan Wells on December 1, 2009 5:00 PM | Permalink

Fossil find in Beaumont fuels earth age debate


Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/05/2009 02:46:21 PM PST

The discovery of a ground sloth skull west of Beaumont has stoked the debate over man's origins and the age of Earth. Some scientists say the fossil dates back 1.8 million years.

"It's one more grain of sand on the beach of evidence for evolution," said Jim Blauth, a biology professor at the University of Redlands.

The skull was discovered Nov. 18 at a Southern California Edison work site in San Timoteo Canyon as earthmovers prepared land for a future relay station.

"This is very significant because of its age and it is the first to be (discovered) this far west," said Rick Greenwood, Edison's director of corporate environment health and safety. "The paleontology community is very excited about it."

Greenwood said the skull will be placed in the San Bernardino County Museum, which is in Redlands.

Some scientists said the sloth fossil is the first from the Ice Age to have been discovered west of the Rocky Mountains.

But there are doubters.

Creationists who believe Earth is only about 10,000 years old balk at talk about the fossil's age.

Among them is Frank Sherwin, a writer and speaker with the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research.

Sherwin, who holds a master's in zoology from the University of Northern Colorado, said that while such findings are exciting, claims about the ancient date of the skull should be met with skepticism.

"The fossil record doesn't document these alleged millions and millions of years the evolutionists talk about," Sherwin said.

His organization believes man and animals were created at virtually the same time. Secular scientists stumble over the complexities of the natural world and continue to adjust the age of Earth to fit their theories, Sherwin said.

He said most secular scientists today date Earth at about 4.5 billion years, in contrast with Charles Darwin and his peers, who about 150 years ago argued whether Earth was 20 million years old or 200 million years old.

Sherwin pointed to the rate of genetic entropy among humans as evidence for his beliefs. Many "young Earth" creationists teach that the human genome is deteriorating at such a pace that people would already be extinct if they were created millions of years ago.

Moreso, "young Earth" creationists such as Sherwin believe their theory squares with the Bible's account of origins in the first two chapters of Genesis.

"We don't find the enormous time periods in Scripture," Sherwin said. "We take a literal six-day creation."

But not all creationists agree that the Genesis account teaches God made the world and everything in it in 144 hours.

"Our perspective is that the Earth is 4.5 billion years in age," said Fazale "Fuz" Rana, an Upland scientist who is vice president of research and apologetics at Reasons to Believe, a faith and science ministry based in Glendora.

"Old Earth" creationists say the Hebrew word for "day" in the first chapter of Genesis may be interpreted to mean an age of time that could be millions of years rather than a 24-hour period. Genesis then, according to "old Earth" creationists, teaches that a creator formed Earth over the course of ages, which harmonizes science with Scripture.

There is much at stake in the debate among creationists, said Rana, who has a doctorate in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry and did some post-doctoral training at the universities of Virginia and Georgia.

"Young Earth" creationism is a roadblock to many looking into Christianity, he said.

"The `young Earth' perspective really sets the Christian faith up for ridicule. When they say that the Earth is young and ridiculously young, then it's very hard for anybody who has a bent toward science to take the Christian faith seriously."

Rana was an agnostic who converted to Christianity while in graduate school. His inquiries into what he called "elegant" biochemical systems convinced him that they had to be designed by a creator.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have the opposite experience when they attend college, he said.

"A lot of Christians are afraid of science and they bury their heads in the sand," he said. "A lot of young Christians who are taught `young Earth" creationism go to college and (are taught something different) and abandon their faith."

It's that frequent experience that has many pastors explaining several interpretations of Genesis to their congregations rather than camping dogmatically on a `young Earth" view, as some have done in order to protect against charges of theological liberalism.

"I tell them to approach it from all angles," said Pastor Danny Carroll of Water of Life Community Church in Fontana. "There are several different points of view. I walk them through it and help them understand the differences and perspectives."

Carroll said many pastors get rattled when they read of discoveries scientists date back millions of years and that he was once one who felt he had to defend his faith.

But too often the discoveries are disproved by later findings, he said.

"If you find a dinosaur footprint or a bone, it's not going to impact my faith," Carroll said.

On the other hand, creationist theories don't impact the work of professors like Blauth. Students rarely bring up creationism in his class.

"Occasionally, the subject will come up," he said. "The debate is really sort of irrelevant or moot in most biologists' minds."

Expelled Expired:


The Creationists Are Not Winning
Gregory Paul—05/2008

The box office failure of Expelled, the 2008 pro-creationist documentary, is an indication, according to researcher Gregory Paul, of the erosion of creationism in the US by spreading Western secularism.

BEFORE IT WAS RELEASED, the mainstream scientific community feared that Ben Stein's pro-intelligent design documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed would be a transforming Michael Moore/Al Gore moment for the creationist cause, with a large portion of the American populace packing the theaters to see how Darwin's Dangerous Idea led to the Nazis gas chambers, along with a host of other evolution based lies and deceptions that reject the truth of a creator. It would be yet further evidence of the growing power and influence of creationism. Outside of Cleveland, for instance, the $30 million Answers in Genesis Museum is drawing in a couple hundred thousand evangelicals a year to teach them that humans rode dinosaurs before the flood. It is a popular idea, almost half of Americans tell pollsters that God created humans just a few thousand years before the pyramids were built.

Expelled was screened in over a thousand venues, the widest initial release for a documentary. Marketed by the same folks who handled The Passion of the Christ that many thought heralded a revival of theocon themed entertainment, they made sure that the conservative media, including Rush Limbaugh, enthusiastically promoted the production. Conservative churches were encouraged to organize audiences to see the breakthrough film as they helped make motion picture history. Schools were even offered rebates for sending students to see the "science" documentary. The movie was heavily advertised with the line that it would be the most controversial film of the year, in tune with its producers' prediction that it would match the Moore and Gore films in popular success. Everything was set up for yet another major victory for the right in the culture wars.

It did not work out that way. Box office receipts on the first weekend were just $3.2 million, placing it at number eight — behind Dr. Suess' Horton Hears a Who after its sixth week. Expelled further dropped to thirteen through fifteen the second and forth weeks as the number of theaters running it dropped sharply. It only made a few hundred thousand dollars the last two weekends for a cumulative take of 7 million. That's respectable for an ordinary documentary, and there are always DVD sales, but Expelled has been effectively exiled to the right wing media ghetto. In comparison Fahrenheit 4/11 did 24 mil its first week despite appearing in fewer theaters. While those of us on the side of modern science can celebrate what is probably the abortion of the creationist documentary genre upon its birth, those who created and backed the flick must be disappointed and a little embarrassed. The vision of a culturally defining moment that was dancing about in the heads turned out to be but a quickly forgotten whimper. It must be particularly perturbing that even the church groups did not turn out in a major way. So what went wrong?

"The real problem with Expelled is its audience, which is not all it is cracked up to be."

There will be a tendency to blame the film itself. The droning Stein is no Moore or even Gore, and the production and entertainment values were not the highest according to movie critics, but if the quality of the film were the key problem then it should have done well at the start and then faded. Creationists will blame the liberal media and scientific community for obstinately refusing to acknowledge the cutting edge scientific evidence that shows there must be a Lord Creator. That too is off the mark. The real problem with Expelled is its audience, which is not all it is cracked up to be.

The demographic truth is that the creationist movement, although it has long been and remains a lot more popular than it should be, is not doing all that well these days. We can tell because Gallup has been asking a consistent set of questions on the subject for decades that allow opinion on the subject to be tracked over time. They report that those who think Adam and Eve were created a few thousand years ago has held fairly steady since the early 1980s at 43-47%. But the 43% low first occurred in 2007. Here's something that's more interesting. Those who agree with the scientific consensus that evolution occurred without a god involved in the process were 9-11% prior to the turn of the century, rose to 12-14% afterwards, and first reached the 14% high in 2007. Those who believe in human evolution either with or without the assistance of God have edged into majority status twice in the last few years. Although these statistics do not record strong trends, the Gallup surveys show that creationism is not gaining, and if anything is losing some ground to modern science. It must be all the more galling to advocates that this erosion is occurring despite their strenuous efforts to promote the pseudoscience.

Pro-Darwinian evolution is the group who think that humans evolved without the involvement of a God. The pro-human evolution cohort think that humans evolved from animals whether a God was involved or not. Young earth creationists think that humans were created by God less than 10,000 years ago by God in broad accord with the Genesis story.

Further Gallup results show some unambiguous trends, trends that have been ignored despite their astonishing sociological implications (neither Gallup or the media has done much to spread the word). In the 1970s Americans who took the Bible literally were about four in ten, nearly matching those who favor its Genesis story. Those who thought the Bible is a mixture of history and fiction were just a tenth of the general population, and only a fourth the Bible literalists. Since then the literalists have steadily sunk to between a third and a quarter, while the skeptics have risen to about one fifth of the population, nearly closing the once fourfold gap. The highest level of skepticism, 21%, occurred in 2007. At this pace Bible disbelievers should match and then outnumber literalists in the next few decades.

Let's mull this over for a moment. The religious right is supposed to have been on the rise the last few decades, and hard core creationism is supposed to stem from a literal reading of the Biblical creation story in Genesis. Yet many who tell pollsters they believe in the Adam and Eve story no longer think the Bible is absolutely true. This peculiar and growing gap is a looming disaster for creationism. Tens of millions are not deeply committed to their proclaimed belief that humans really first dwelled in the Garden of Eden circa 4000 BC — even they may sense its become rather a stretch imagining that humans were riding dinosaurs like The Flintstones. Instead creationism is for many a superficial protest against modernity. Because it is shallowly held by tens of millions, popular creationism is vulnerable to rapid collapse.

That creationist opinion can implode too much lower levels to the benefit of pro-evolution sentiment is shown by the parts of the United States where the latter is already markedly more popular than the former, such as the northeast and west coast, as well as all other advanced democracies where human evolution from animals is always supported by solid majorities. Basically, the creationists have already lost most of the western world, the only major regions they still have a strong grip on are the American Bible Belt, as well as part of western Canada. They are desperately trying to hold on to what they have left.

"The core reason western creationism is in trouble is the rise of nontheism."

The core reason western creationism is in trouble is the rise of nontheism. In 1st world nations higher levels of nonreligion are logically correlated with lesser levels of creationism. Although the US remains the western nation with the highest levels of creator belief, the data indicates that this is changing as America undergoes a delayed version of the process of western secularization. What survey data is available suggests that in the 1950s atheists and agnostics numbered a couple of million. Two recent Harris polls designed to overcome American's reluctance to tell pollsters they are not godly found that 60 million, a fifth of the population, now reject or doubt the existence of a supreme being. The nonreligious doubled in the last dozen years. The enormous growth of the nontheistic component explains why millions of books denouncing the hypothesis of a supernatural creator have flown off the bookshelves in the last few years. Of course, people who do not believe in a creator do not creationists make.

Meanwhile, the religious right that is the home of creationism is showing evidence that it has peaked and is waning. The largest pro-creationist church, the Southern Baptists, report that "evangelistically, the denomination is on a path of slow but discernable deterioration." This makes sense in view of the sharp and swift decline of the Bible literalism that is the core of fundamentalist thinking. Some leaders of the pro-creator right sense that they are not winning the war for the last great bastion of western creationism. Philip Johnson, the law professor who devised the "wedge strategy" intended to make creationism a powerful force in academe and in society has lamented that he no longer expects the campaign to succeed in his lifetime.

Many have tried to explain the seeming mystery of American creationism — why do so many educated folks believe in such nonsense? Actually, this is not so surprising. Gallup finds that three quarters of American's believe in something paranormal like ghosts and haunted houses, speaking to the dead, psychic powers, alien visitors and so on. The fact is that most do not care all that much about the scientific method. Never have, probably never will.

The lackadaisical attitude most Americans have towards science belies the common assumption that the culture war between creationism versus evolution is a great ideological struggle, or at least an intense public relations contest. There is a lot of hand wringing in the scientific community, for instance, that so many Americans believe in creationism because the nation's scientists are less PR savvy than creationists who are more skilled at talking to the masses. But European scientists are no better than ours at communicating with the public at large, yet in some nations across the pond up to and over 80% of the population are proevolution. What people really care about is not what those egg head scientists think. What most influences majority opinion on the existence and nature of supernatural powers is the mundane grind of people getting through their daily lives.

The causes of US creationism and its decline in the west are not mysterious. As I and other researchers are showing, the level of popular religiosity, and it follows creationism, are largely determined by long term social and economic trends and circumstances. For one thing, the materialistic corporate-consumer culture is eroding religious devotion here in the states (http://energygrid.com/society/2008/01gp-religiousright.html; http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/03/buckleys-big-mistake). Even more detrimental to popular faith is the secure middle class prosperity that has been achieved in all of the politically progressive western nations (Pitzer sociologist and myself discuss this at www.edge.org/3rd_culture/paul07/paul07_ index.html). Much more vulnerable to financial disaster due to overwhelming medical bills or loss of a job, many Americans subscribe to the Prosperity Christianity whose Bible based world-view promotes creationist thinking. The effect is statistically measurable. Lower levels of income disparity are associated with the progressive socio-economic policies that increase middle class security. It follows that lower levels of income disparity are also associated with lower levels of creationist opinion. Check out the plot. It shows that the uniquely creationist US has the highest income disparity, while the most financially equitable western nations are the most in tune with modern science.

Australia, Austria, Canada, England, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, SwitzerLand, United States.

The level of American creationism is not permanently fixed at a high level, it is subjective to radical change. Surveys by PEW and other pollsters indicate that Americans increasingly support progressive policies such as universal health coverage and job security that favor secularization over creationism. If Bible literalism continues its downwards slide as nontheism rises, then belief in an intelligent designer cannot avoid going into a strong decline. A core reality is that whatever happens socio-economics will do more than anything to determine the future level of popular creationism versus acceptance of Darwinian science, so the latter is largely beyond the control of the activities and propaganda of partisans on both sides of the culture war. And efforts like Expelled cannot change that.

Gregory Paul is an independent researcher interested in informing the public about little known yet important aspects of the complex interactions between religion, secularism, culture, economics, politicas and societal conditions. His work has appeared in the Journal of Religion and Society and in Edge.


G. Paul "Creationism in Decline New Scientist," New Scientist 4/5/08, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19826501.000-creationism-in-decline.html.

G. Paul, "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look," Journal of Religion and Society (2005), 5, http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html. Also see Michael Shermer "Bowling for God," Scientific American (2006) 12: 44, http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=D27BB754-E7F2-99DF-3E2F8A28942743F5.

Gallup Brain, "American Beliefs: Evolution vs. Bible's Explanation of Human Origins" (2006), "Twenty-Eight Percent Believe Bible is Actual Word of God" (2006), "One-Third of Americans Believe the Bible is Literally True" (2007), "Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution" (2007), plus the latest polls, show the decline of Bible literalism in favor of popular support for evolution.

A seminal volume that statistically documents the forces behind secularism is P. Norris and R. Inghelart Sacred and Secular (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004).

"Religious Views and Beliefs Vary Greatly by Country, According to the Latest Financial Times/Harris Poll," www.harrisinteractive.com/NEWS/allnewsbydate.asp?NewsID=1130 and H. Taylor "While most Americans believe in God, only 36% attend a religious service once a month or more," http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=408 show that a fifth of Americans are nonbelievers.

PEW Trends in Political Values and Core Attitudes: 1987-2007, people-press.org/reports/display.php3?Report ID=312 documents the increasing liberalization and secularization of Americans.

Adelle Banks "Southern Baptists address drop in baptism numbers," The Washington Post 6/18 (2005).

P. Marler & C. Hadaway. "Testing the Attendance Gap in a Conservative Church," Sociology of Religion (1999) 60:175 and S. Presser "Data collection mode and social desirability bias in self-reported religious attendance," American Sociological Review. (1998) 63: 137 show that actual church attendance is only 25% or less.

Copyright © 2008 Gregory Paul

Bringing Creationism to Heel Requires Making America Less Socially Darwinistic


December 6, 2009 at 08:12:45

By Gregory Paul

Until the mid 1800s science had seemed to verify the existence of a creator by revealing his work through the intricate wonder of nature – Paley's natural theology with the proverbial watch on the beach. After Darwin's research went public the great majority of the scientific community abandoned the concept of an intelligent designer in favor of natural causes. As well documented as atomic theory and germ theory, evolutionary science has long been a core component of sophisticated biological research and application, and in most first world democracies, up to eight in ten, accept human descent from animals. But Europeans, Canadians, Australians and Japanese and not consistently better educated than are Americans, nor is their general knowledge of science always better. Creationists -- from the likes of fundamentalist Ken Ham whose Creation Museum shows humans riding dinosaurs Flintstones style, to the intelligent design Discovery Institute whose researchers argue that only God could contrive diseases sophisticated enough to kill humans -- are better skilled at communicating with their theocon base than are scientists, but there is no evidence that European scientists are more PR savvy than their American counterparts.

In their effort to convince the masses that evolution is an ungodly deception creationists have resorted not only to Biblical theology and their version of science. They have also made the socioeconomic argument that societies that fail to believe in a moral creator are doomed to suffer societal chaos. This is the theme of leading creationist proponents such as Ann Coulter's Godless: The Church of Liberalism that blames just about everything that has gone wrong on the evolutionists, and Ben Stein's film Expelled that does the same thing. The creationists happen to be right in that the social and especially economic conditions found within a country certainly do play the critical role in how popular or not is creationism. Where the creationists could not be more wrong is in their delusion that creationism helps improve the national condition.

This is where advanced demographic science comes in. In recent years I and other researchers have used sociological analysis to discover the real reason why levels of creationist belief vary so much in the advanced democracies. The investigation starts with the fact that in first world countries the level of proevolution sentiment tracks closely with the level of religiosity as measured by rates of belief and practice versus atheism. This makes sense -- in nations where only a minority thinks there is a God even fewer are going to believe in some form of creationism. It follows that the next question is what determines the degree of religious opinion, and that brings us to the fact that lower levels of religiosity and creationism are associated with lower levels of income disparity and poverty in the first world. The primary role played by socioeconomics in determining popular opinion on the existence of a creator is becoming a key paradigm of 21st century sociological research. It is the thesis of the now classic Sacred and Secular by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart of a few years ago, Phil Zuckerman's A Society Without God describes the success of the European secular way, and I have brought the collective body of research together in a comprehensive synthesis detailing and documenting the inability of creator worship to thrive in well run nations in Evolutionary Psychology. The latter includes the Successful Societies Scale, the first comprehensive comparison of societal conditions in the advanced democracies (based on two dozen indicators, see http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf, also moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2009/2009-17.html and http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/paul07/paul07_index.html).

Here's how socioeconomic security helps set the level of creator belief. In pro-evolution democracies the combination of universal medical coverage, other government assistance, and job security make it hard and rare for a member of the middle class majority to suffer economic ruin – no one goes bankrupt due to medical bills in France or Australia. Upward mobility from the lower to middle class is high, and low income disparity reduces the rat race competition between citizens. As a consequence many first worlders feel secure enough in the context of the daily lives that drives majority opinion that they no longer seek the aid and protection of a supernatural creator, and have abandoned the churches in droves since the world wars. Because government support is so extensive citizens are not under pressure to belong to religious organizations to garner social support. And so many people are nonreligious that nontheists are not the victims of the discrimination that discourages nonreligiosity. All this means that too few believers are left over – strong majorities are atheists and agnostics in some advanced democracies -- for there to be many creationists. For all their problems – no nation is close to being a utopia – the secularized prosperous democracies expose the conceit that it is the creator free societies that are destined to fail as a classic Big Lie.

In America middle class citizens are at serious risk of rapid financial ruin following loss of a job or health insurance – hundreds of thousands of bankruptcies each year involved overwhelming medical bills – and upward mobility form the lower the middle class is low, forcing a high stress struggle for survival based on wealth-based security that encourages most citizens to petition a mystical God for worldly help. The most extreme expression of the American Way of faith is evangelical Prosperity Christianity whose Biblical literalism further boosts creationist thinking. The result has been a culture war in which the right promotes Bible based morality, abstinence only sex education, gun rights, limited government assistance and high rates of faith-based and promoting charitable giving that have proven unable to reduce the nation's often shockingly high rates of homicide, incarceration, juvenile and adult mortality, STD infections, abortion, teen pregnancy, drug use, mental illness, divorce, and other social ills down to the lower levels typical of less creationist democracies. Claims that procreator Americans are better off than are nonbelievers are hypocritical since the latter are the targets of considerable bigotry, and are contradicted by the truth that social problems tend to be most elevated in the more creationist regions -- lifespans are actually decreasing in parts of the Bible belt. And scientists are an example of a skeptical lot who are doing quite well, thank you.

It is one of the great ironies of American history that the main source of opposition to Darwinian science, the religious right, has become a major supporter of the socioeconomic Darwinism that produces the dysfunctional environment most conducive to creator belief. Making this all the more incongruous is that the Bible often warns against the earthly temptations of wealth to the extent that it describes the ideal Christian community as so communistic that God strikes dead a married couple that fails to turn over their property to the early church, and early creationists like William Jennings Bryan was a progressive Democrat who regularly railed against corporate capitalism. The "Great Commoner" recognized the danger to traditional spirituality posed by modern mass materialism (see http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2008/03/buckleys-big-mistake). Conversely, Marx missed the mark when he thought that communism rather than free markets would suppress mass religiosity. Even as capitalistic competition produces the high anxiety society that chronic fear and anxiety that has helped creationism avoid collapse in the short term, the long term need of capital is to transform the population from pious traditionalists into hedonistic, materialistic, sex and violence obsessed consumers that spend their Sundays shopping and going to the game rather than in honoring the Sabbath. This project has enjoyed such success that the creationist religious right that used to own the mainstream popular culture until the early 1900s has been driven into a minority parallel culture that for all its power continues to lose ground. Among the conservative denominations in lasting decline is the largest creationist church, the Southern Baptists that not long ago dreamed of being part of the moral majority in tune with Karl Roves defunct permanent Republican majority. As belief in a creator declines nontheism has least tripled since the 1960s, becoming a major minority that at least matches Jews, Mormons and Muslims combined, and according to some of the most sophisticated surveys may rival Catholics or evangelicals in numbers (http://www.secularhumanism.org/reply-to-rodney-stark.pdf). The minority that accepts evolution without the aid of God is correspondingly edging upwards. The north east is already as proevolution and irreligious as parts of Europe.

What should strike demographic fear into the creationists is that the portion of the population that adheres to the Bible literalism that is the core of fundamentalist creationism has been steadily and rapidly declining since sampling on the question began a few decades ago (energygrid.com/society/2008/05gp-creationists.html). This indicates that creationist opinion is increasingly a protest movement in reaction to the secularization of the culture rather than an ardently held belief, leaving creationist opinion increasing vulnerable to a rapid collapse. What should give them further reason to fear is that they lack viable options. If the religious right abandons its alliance with their putative corporate friends under the aegis of the Republican Party then the former loses what political power they still enjoy, but continuing the collaboration does little to keep the cynical capitalists from building the money based corporate-consumer popular culture that is doing more than anything else to erode faith in a creator in America. Whatever they do, theocon churches lack the vast resources they need to match the secularization impact of the corporations.

That the real cause of our troubles are not creationism per se, but the defective societal and financial policies that facilitate the peculiar world view, and that modern economic forces are eating away at the religiosity that creationism cannot exist without, means that partisans on either side of the culture war have much less ability to influence the course of events with arguments specific to the issue than they realize. Promoting better education on and understanding of modern science is intrinsically important, but doing what is necessary to actually defeat creationism is a much greater venture to transform the American Way in which the primary intent is to make the country a safer, more secure, and compassionate land. As University of Chicago researcher Jerry Coyne has said, "the real way to increase the" acceptance of evolution in our country" is by building a more harmonious, just and caring society. That's not only a nobler goal than [merely] making people accept Darwin, it's also a goal that all of us whether we are scientists or not can help achieve" (minutes 41-48, 54-57 in richarddawkins.net/article,4561,Why-Evolution-Is-True,Jerry-Coyne-AAI-2009-RDFRS-Josh-Timonen).

(This is an expanded version of newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/11/defending_darwins_science_by_taming_social_darwinism.html)

(Also see http://www.newsweek.com/id/211746; click here; http://www.gspaulscienceofreligion.com)

Gregory Paul is an independent researcher interested in informing the public about little known yet important aspects of the complex interactions between religion, secularism, culture, economics, politics and societal conditions. His scholarly work has appeared in the Journal of Religion and Society, The Journal of Medical Ethics and Edge.

Creationist org. distributes literature at Dartmouth


By Joy Chen
Published on Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hoping to promote creationist ideology and refute Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, volunteers for the evangelist organization Living Waters distributed copies of Darwin's "The Origin of Species" — featuring an added creationist introduction — at Dartmouth on Nov. 18. The College was one of 100 universities nationwide that the group targeted for distribution of the books.

The 54-page introduction attempts to refute the scientific evidence of evolution and links Darwin's theory with the Holocaust and sexism.

The organization gave out 107,000 copies of the book nationwide, Ray Comfort, the founder of Living Waters, said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

"Our goal is to give college students both sides of the argument, because that's what America's all about," Comfort, who was not at the Dartmouth event, said.

Tony Miano, who took part in overseeing Living Waters' activities at the College, added that the ultimate goal of the movement was to "present the gospel and hope to get more people to have faith in Jesus Christ."

Elisabeth Hansen '13, a student who received the creationist edition of "The Origin of Species" on Nov. 18, said that some students were "furious" about Living Waters' activities, but that she doubted the organization would generate much controversy on campus.

"When we brought it up in my Writing 5 class, the professor was appalled," Hansen said.

Hansen said she doubted the book's influence on Dartmouth students.

"It was odd," Hansen said. "I didn't find it persuasive at all. I picked up the book just not to be rude."

Marian Guetierrez '13, however, said she believed some students would be persuaded.

"Many students probably have not read the original version of the book," Guetierrez said. "When you are given something to read and you haven't read the other side of the argument first, you can be more easily persuaded."

Biology professor Roger Sloboda said he believed that the distribution of such books would not make a difference on campus one way or another as most students would likely hold onto their original views on the subject.

"I just think they wasted their money on this, and I'm glad they wasted it on something like this and not something else," Sloboda told The Dartmouth.

Mark Farmer, a cellular biology professor at the University of Georgia, which was also targeted by Living Waters, said in an interview that Comfort's organization might have had an influence at his university.

"I think [many students] were taught the creationist theory since they were born through parents and pastors," Farmer said. "I'd say 50 to 60 percent of the students in my introductory biology classroom come to class with a deeply held creationist belief in mind."

Farmer, who self-identified as a scientist of faith, strongly disagreed with Living Waters' arguments in the added introduction to the book.

"To see a group that's opposed to an issue is one thing, but when you start to create a mindset that the Nazi's Holocaust was somehow a result of Darwinist work or that Darwinism was somehow the result of Darwin's racism or hatred toward women, then it is a libel, and it is a libel against a man who has been dead 100 years and cannot defend himself," Farmer said. "It is really a great disservice to Darwin in particular, and I think, scientists in general."

Farmer said that many faculty members at the University of Georgia vehemently oppose the Living Waters' techniques.

"It was never my intention to get these people off campus, or to silence them by any means," Farmer said. "But at the same time, I was not prepared to just sit there and let them put things out there that they know to be false."

Comfort said most of the students nationwide were friendly to the group distributing books. "They were thrilled to get a free book," Comfort said, "If they don't like it, they can throw it in the trash, but most of them were appreciative."

Comfort said that a minority of students, who he labeled as "atheists," were not receptive. He added that he has received several angry e-mails and ultimately aims to distribute one million books to students and to make distribution "regular."

Between 1,200 and 2,000 volunteers have helped to distribute the books so far, Comfort said.

"There were a lot of people who volunteered," Comfort said. "There's a small vocal minority who want to get rid of God, but there are a lot of Americans who believe in God and country."

Youth View: Claims against evolution misleading


Timothy Howard • December 5, 2009

Glenn Hultgren starts his Nov. 19 Soapbox with a quote from a conversation between Darwin and God. In this conversation, Darwin tells God he has found a way to create "life, man and the entire universe" without him. But there is one fatal flaw with this whole conversation. Darwin never hypothesized how "life, man and the entire universe" were created.

Hultgren proceeds to describe Darwin mixing mud and slime together and striking it with lightning to create life. This is (albeit a rough description) known as the Primordial Soup Model, the experiment of which was conducted in 1953 by Dr. Stanley Miller. Darwin was born Feb. 12, 1809, so he would have to have been 144 years old to have collaborated with Miller.

Also, Hultgren states he learned in his 1950 college biology class that the universe began 2 billion years ago, but today we are told it began 14 billion years ago. From this, he concludes that he was a freshman in college 12 billion years ago. But we are not searching for the distance between 1950 and today - we know that it's been 59 years. Scientists are trying to discover how long ago the beginning of the universe was relative to today. The current widely accepted value is 14 billion years, but as technology improves, this number might also be subject to improvement.

Hultgren's next attack on the validity of science is nothing more than a gross misunderstanding of how radioisotopes work. Hultgren brings up the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, saying the radioisotopes from the ash say it has been 12.5 million years since the eruption. Radioisotopes measure when the minerals are formed. The minerals are contained in the ash, which was formed deep inside of the Earth. Therefore, the ash was not created on the slopes of the mountain at the time of eruption but, rather, moved from inside the volcano to outside the volcano.

There have been several recent articles published in the Coloradoan arguing there is no evidence to support evolution. Patsy Muir-Ray's Nov. 21 Soapbox states that because humans cannot live for billions of years, evolution cannot be observed. However, current technology using carbon dating of fossils allows observation of a progressive timeline in the evolution of humans and other species.

Evolution doesn't have to take billions of years, though; natural selection, or survival of the fittest, can be shown in a relatively small amount of time. In England, there is a species of moth called the peppered moth; the peppered moth has two forms, either primarily white in color or black. Before the Industrial Revolution, the majority of moths were white, but following the revolution, the majority of moths were black. The soot from the newly built factories darkened the surrounding landscape, making the white moths easier for birds to prey upon while the black moths were hidden. Recently, emission standards have reduced the amount of soot, making the landscape return to its normal color, exposing the black moths to predators and therefore reducing their population. As Muir-Ray so plainly states in her soapbox, "evidence is evidence."

Timothy Howard is a Fossil Ridge High School student.