NTS LogoSkeptical News for 14 June 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Monday, June 13, 2011

Glaring Bloopers Found in Proposed Texas Science Curricular Materials

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/06/glaring_bloopers_in_proposed_t047201.html

Evolution News & Views June 9, 2011 7:51 AM | Permalink

According to a study released today by the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, bogus embryo drawings, long-debunked claims about tonsils, and outdated information from a 1950s lab experiment highlight the glaring bloopers found in proposed science instructional materials currently being considered by the Texas State Board of Education.

"Retro-science must be in, because the proposed materials are filled with outdated scientific claims," said Casey Luskin, a policy and education analyst with Discovery Institute. "It's truly amazing how much discredited information keeps getting recycled year after year."

In order to satisfy state educational standards set in 2009 (TEKS), the Board of Education asked publishers to submit supplementary instructional materials that would enable students to "analyze and evaluate" core aspects of evolutionary theory, and to "examin[e] all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking." But according to the 70-page Discovery Institute study, only one set of instructional materials out of the 10 evaluated managed to comply with the TEKS as well as avoid glaring scientific errors.

Top science bloopers in the proposed instructional materials include:

"They're back!! Haeckel's bogus drawings were previously removed by the Texas State Board of Education during the 2003 biology textbook adoption process," said Dr. John West, a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute. "But like creatures in a zombie film, they keep returning."

"In addition to promoting outdated science, most of the proposed instructional materials completely fail to meet the TEKS critical thinking requirements," said Luskin. "The TEKS require instructional materials that will help students examine 'all sides of scientific evidence,' 'encourage critical thinking,' and 'analyze and evaluate' key claims of modern evolutionary theory. But out of the ten instructional materials we reviewed, only one made a serious effort to meet these requirements," said Luskin.

The full analysis of instructional materials prepared by Discovery Institute can be downloaded here, while the Executive Summary of the report is reprinted below.

* * * * * * *

An Evaluation of Supplementary Biology and Evolution Curricular Materials Submitted by Publishers for Adoption by the Texas State Board of Education

A Report from Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture

Executive Summary

In 2009, the Texas State Board of Education (TSBOE) adopted new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that require critical scientific evaluation of the core tenets of Darwinian evolution as well as other scientific theories. For example, they require students to "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Even more specifically, the new TEKS require students to "analyze and evaluate" core tenets of neo-Darwinian evolution, such as common ancestry, mutation, natural selection, and sudden appearance in the fossil record. They also require critical investigation of the chemical origin of life.

The purpose of this report is to evaluate whether supplementary curricula recently submitted for adoption for use in Texas comply with the 2009 TEKS pertaining to biological and chemical evolution. This report only evaluates the curricula as regards the evolution-related TEKS and does not evaluate the curricula for compliance with other TEKS.

Most Proposed Supplementary Curricula Fail to Follow 2009 TEKS and/or Contain Glaring Scientific Errors

Fifteen groups have now submitted online curricula for adoption by the TSBOE to comply with the new 2009 TEKS. Ten of those groups have posted sufficient curricula online to allow for analysis. Unfortunately, as regards the TEKS that pertain to biology and evolution, only one of the proposed curricula (International Databases, LLC) makes any serious attempt to fulfill the call for meaningful critical analysis of biological and chemical evolution. The remaining curricula that were accessible online make no meaningful effort to satisfy the TEKS' requirements that students "analyze and evaluate" neo-Darwinian evolution. Nor do they require that students critique Darwinian evolution or the chemical origin of life "by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." In short, the 2009 TEKS notwithstanding, most of the proposed supplements do not examine "all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Rather, the proposed curricula promote biological and chemical evolution in a one-sided manner, presenting only the evidence supporting evolution and failing to mention any scientific viewpoints or evidence that challenge evolution.

In addition, many of these curricula contain glaring scientific errors based on outdated science. For example, three of the proposed curricula (from Adaptive Curriculum, Holt McDougal, and Rice University) use Haeckel's inaccurate embryo drawings--called fraudulent by multiple evolutionary scientists--to claim that vertebrate embryos are similar in their earliest stages. Clearly inaccurate as well as outdated, Haeckel-derived embryo drawings were previously removed by the TBSOE from textbooks designed for use in Texas during the 2003 biology textbook adoption process; these bogus drawings should not be allowed to re-enter the curriculum.

A number of the curricula promote several other notoriously inaccurate "icons of evolution":

Both because they fail to fulfill the 2009 TEKS and/or because they contain glaring scientific errors, 9 of the 10 proposed curricula which posted enough material online to allow for analysis clearly require significant revisions.

One Curriculum Tries to Follow 2009 TEKS, But Inappropriately Covers Intelligent Design

A single curriculum, submitted by International Databases, LLC, attempts to follow the 2009 TEKS by encouraging critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation of Darwinian evolution and the chemical origin of life, using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence. However, this curriculum also includes intelligent design, which is not required by the TEKS, and which Discovery Institute (the leading intelligent design research organization) opposes requiring in public schools. As Discovery Institute's Science Education Policy page states:

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively.

Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned.

The TSBOE clearly did not intend to broach the issue of intelligent design in its 2009 TEKS revision. Therefore, the International Databases proposed curriculum as currently written goes beyond the curriculum standards established by the TSBOE.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Steven G. Gey dies

http://ncse.com/news/2011/06/steven-g-gey-dies-006718

June 11th, 2011

Steven G. GeySteven G. Gey, a nationally recognized scholar of constitutional law, died on June 9, 2011, at the age of 55, according to Florida Today (June 10, 2011). Born in Pensacola, Florida, on April 6, 1956, Gey earned a B.A. in philosophy from Eckerd College in 1978 before receiving his J.D. at Columbia University, where he was articles editor of the Columbia Law Review, in 1982. After a brief stint at the New York City law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, he became a professor of law at Florida State University in 1985; he became the David and Deborah Fonvielle and Donald and Janet Hinkle Professor of Law in 1999. A specialist in religious liberties and free speech, he compiled the casebook Religion and the State (2001, second edition 2006), coauthored The First Amendment: Cases and Theory (2008), and wrote dozens of articles on religious liberties, free speech, and constitutional interpretation. In a tribute to Gey published in the Florida State University Law Review in 2008, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, described his work on the Establishment Clause as "among the best scholarship in the area in recent years."

While at Paul, Weiss, Gey helped to litigate Edwards v. Aguillard, which ended in 1987 when the Supreme Court ruled that teaching creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional. His concern with the constitutional issues surrounding the teaching of evolution continued, culminating in the law review article "Is It Science Yet? Intelligent Design, Creationism, and the Constitution," coauthored with Matthew J. Brauer and Barbara Forrest, published (PDF) in the Washington University Law Quarterly in 2005. Citing "the absence of objective scientific support for intelligent design, evidence of strong links between intelligent design and religious doctrine, the use of intelligent design to limit the dissemination of scientific theories that are perceived as contradicting religious teachings, and the fact that the irreducible core of intelligent design theory is what the Court has called the 'manifestly religious' concept of a God or Supreme Being," the article concluded that "intelligent design theory cannot survive scrutiny under the constitutional framework used by the Court to invalidate earlier creationism mandates." A member of NCSE's legal advisory committee, Gey received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award in 2007.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Creationism vs. evolution

http://www.observertoday.com/page/content.detail/id/560117/Creationism-vs--evolution.html

June 8, 2011
By VICKI WESTLING , The OBSERVER

I recently saw a young man being praised for his determination and conviction and winning a battle to have any mention of creationism removed from his high school science curriculum. I wanted to cry.

As a young child I was taught to believe in God as the creator of heaven and earth; Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." My father was a Pentecostal Minister, and my mother was a woman of great faith. I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior at a very early age.

The debate of whether there is a God or not has gone on long before me and will continue for as long as the earth exists - we need to continue to ask questions, explore possibilities and develop our hypotheses. But, was Darwin right with his belief that we really evolved from primates? Could the earth's inhabitants, as we know them today evolved from molecular structures into so many different types and forms of life? And, if he was correct in his theory, then how did he account for the vast differences between animal, plant, fowl, fish and man?

It has been a while since I took high school or college science, but my memory is not totally gone. I believe that to prove a scientific fact one must be able to repeat, observe and measure the process and results. That being said, one would be hard pressed to prove either creationism (intelligent design) or evolution. Since more questions are left unanswered than answered, one could more readily accept intelligent design over evolution. Especially when they or someone they love is in pain, suffering or dying. I don't think too many emergency room patients and their families are looking to Darwin's theory for consolation when they see and/or feel life slipping away.

This of course begs the question about dinosaurs, fossils, and the many geological features and facts that we have studied in our history and science classes. I am not denying these things existed. I am not denying that man has evolved into a more intelligent and curious being. I am just saying that time changes many things; human beings are not exempt from evolving. Two hundred years from now the people who walk this earth will be brighter than those of us today. As more systems, communication devices, and information gathering resources become more readily available people will surely take advantage of them allowing for growth and understanding, thus becoming more capable and possibly more dangerous beings; we will have evolved. Evolution is a process, not a denial of intelligent design.

If, for whatever reason, one ceases to believe in God on what do they set their moral compass? If there is only a process of continuous evolution beginning with mere atoms and dust, where does one go for encouragement when they feel depressed or defeated; comfort when they have lost a loved one to cancer or accident; faith when they see their baby daughter lowered into the ground; or hope when the doctor shakes her head and says "I'm sorry?"

When I was 16 I thought I had the world on a string. I thought I knew as much as I would ever know and that the world had better look out because I was on my way. How wrong I was. I still make a bunch of mistakes - daily. I still don't say and do the right thing every time, and Lord knows I need all of the patience he can give me while I continue this journey of listening, learning and praying.

If I am wrong, and if the world is a result of a big bang that took place millions of light years away - don't tell me. I know in my heart, in my head and in my soul that there is a God. I know that scientific theories have saved many lives and will continue to do so. I know that there are doctors who scratch their heads daily and proclaim the patient to be well because of a "miracle" that they can't explain. I also know that some day in the future, when that young man who has been recognized and praised for his determination and conviction, looks into the face of a sick child, a dying spouse or parent suffering from an incurable illness, he won't be thinking about Darwin and his theory, he won't be thinking about whether or not the earth as he knows it came about because of intelligent design or evolution from atoms and dust. That young man will no longer be 16. He will be looking to the heavens and begging God to do something - anything to ease the pain of his loved ones.

As in many of my past commentaries I am certain that I will receive comments on this article as well, but I tell you now, that while evolutionists go about making their arguments and defending their positions against creationism, they will never win me over. In my mind there is a God. I believe as John stated in the Bible, John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

© Copyright 2011 The OBSERVER. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Journal Apologizes and Pays $10,000 After Censoring Article

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/06/journal_apologizes_and_pays_10047121.html

John G. West June 7, 2011 3:13 PM

In one of their favorite soundbytes, members of the Darwin lobby like to assert that intelligent design scientists do not publish peer-reviewed research. That claim is manifestly false. But the fact that intelligent design scholars do publish peer-reviewed articles is no thanks to Darwinists, many of whom do their best to ensure that peer-reviewed articles by intelligent design scientists never see the light of day.

Witness the brazen censorship earlier this year of an article by University of Texas, El Paso mathematics professor Granville Sewell, author of the book In the Beginning and Other Essays on Intelligent Design. Sewell's article critical of Neo-Darwinism ("A Second Look at the Second Law") was both peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the journal Applied Mathematics Letters. That is, the article was accepted for publication until a Darwinist blogger who describes himself as an "opinionated computer science geek" wrote the journal editor to denounce the article, and the editor decided to pull Sewell's article in violation of his journal's own professional standards.

The publisher of Applied Mathematics Letters (Elsevier, the international science publisher) has now agreed to issue a public statement apologizing to Dr. Sewell as well as to pay $10,000 in attorney's fees.

"It's hard to imagine a more blatant assault on intellectual freedom and the free exchange of ideas," says attorney Pete Lepiscopo with the California firm of Lepiscopo and Morrow, which represented Sewell.

Lepiscopo points out that in retracting Sewell's article, Applied Mathematics Letters "effectively accepted the unsubstantiated word and unsupported opinion of an inconsequential blogger, with little or unknown academic background beyond a self-professed public acknowledgment that he was a 'computer science grad' and whose only known writings are self-posted blogs about movies, comics, and fantasy computer games." This blogger's unsupported opinion "trumped the views of an author who is a well respected mathematician with a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Purdue University; a fully-tenured Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas--El Paso; an author of three books on numerical analysis and 40 articles published in respected journals; and a highly sought-after and frequent lecturer world-wide on mathematics and science."

After Dr. Sewell's article was pulled, Darwinian zealots crowed about their achievement and maliciously speculated that the article was withdrawn because it wasn't really peer-reviewed or because it was somehow substandard. The journal, meanwhile, left Dr. Sewell to twist in the wind, seemingly endorsing the Darwinists' smears. The journal editor Dr. Rodin wrote a groveling letter to the Darwinist blogger who complained to him in which he agreed that publishing Sewell's article would involve "impropriety." Rodin further apologized "for our erroneous judgement in even considering this paper for publication."

Dr. Rodin and his journal now have to issue a public statement providing "their sincere and heartfelt apologies to Dr. Sewell... and welcom[ing] Dr. Sewell's submission of future articles for possible publication." More important than the apology, the journal has to set the record straight by reiterating that "Dr. Sewell's article was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication" and by making clear that his article was not withdrawn because of "any errors or technical problems found by the reviewers or editors."

By issuing this statement, Applied Mathematics Letters is essentially admitting that it trashed its own professional standards by what it did. According to the journal's editorial policies, acceptance of an article cannot be rescinded once an author has been notified of its acceptance, and accepted articles are supposed to be withdrawn only "under exceptional circumstances" such as fraud, errors, ethics violations, and the like.

"None of these circumstances even remotely occurred with respect to the withdrawal of Dr. Sewell's paper," said Mr. Lepiscopo.

Moreover, whenever a complaint is lodged against an author, "the general rule" is supposed to be "that the journal editor should contact the author about whom a complaint has been made, and the author given the opportunity to respond/comment." But Sewell was provided no opportunity to respond before his article was pulled.

"The journal's actions were shameful," says Lepiscopo. "An author with the superior academic credentials of Dr. Sewell deserved far better when faced with such spurious claims."

Unfortunately, Applied Mathematics Letters did not agree to reinstate Sewell's article, although it did grant Dr. Sewell the right to continue to post online the digital pre-print version prepared by the journal. The explanation for not reinstating Sewell's article is hard to credit. The journal insists that the editor "concluded that the content was more philosophical than mathematical and, as such, not appropriate for a technical mathematics journal." That's right, weeks after Sewell's article had been peer-reviewed, accepted for publication, and published online, the journal editor suddenly had an epiphany that the article he had accepted was outside the subject area of his journal.

In reality, it's more likely his epiphany was due to fear for his professional life when the Darwinian zealots came knocking at his door.

One can sympathize with the editor's situation. Perhaps he heard about what happened to evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian after he allowed a peer-reviewed article favorable to intelligent design to be published in the biology journal he edited.

If there is a "war on science" today, it's not being waged by the critics of Darwinism or supporters of intelligent design. It's being waged by Darwinian fundamentalists who are attempting to prevent any voices except their own from being heard in the scientific community. They seem willing to do virtually anything to silence their critics--from denying them tenure, to preventing them from being hired, to engaging in cyber attacks, to censoring peer-reviewed articles by scholars with whom they disagree. Italan geneticist Guiseppe Sermonti has remarked that "Darwinism... is the 'politically correct' of science." How right he is.

Texas police probe psychic's mass grave hoax

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110608/ts_alt_afp/uscrimechildren

– Tue Jun 7, 10:36 pm ET

HARDIN, Texas (AFP) – Texas police were investigating whether a tip-off from a psychic about a mass grave containing dozens of dismembered bodies was in fact a hoax after an intense search found no bodies.

State, local and federal agents combed the area around a rural home after a woman who claimed to be psychic called police twice to report the mass grave at in Hardin, Texas about 50 miles (31 kilometers) northeast of Houston.

She provided a very good description of both the outside and interior of the one-storey brown brick home and blood was found on the porch, which prompted police to get a search warrant and call in reinforcements.

Soon, local media were reporting that as many as 25 to 30 bodies -- including children -- were found on the rural property. But those reports turned out to be false.

"We searched the premises there is no indication there are any bodies at this residence, property or shed," Rex Evans, a captain with the Liberty County sheriff department, told reporters.

"There is no indication that a homicide occurred here."

Craig McNair, head of the county commissioners, expressed frustration with the "havoc" created by the false tip which led dozens of journalists to descend upon the quiet Texas town.

"Whoever this person was who gave this tip we'll be in touch with her and we could hold her responsible for giving a false tip and creating this havoc," he said.

The people who live there are long-haul truck drivers who are currently on the road and are baffled by the report, Evans said.

"Finding out that the police are in my yard for dead bodies? That's kinda panicking me," Joe Bankson, 44, told the Houston Chronicle.

"I haven't killed anybody," he said. "And I have a lot of friends, but I haven't helped anybody bury any bodies."

Bankson told the KHOU-TV that his daughter's ex-boyfriend got drunk and cut his wrists a couple weeks ago and is now in a psychiatric hospital.

"It took me all day to clean the inside of the house. I'm not sure I got it (the blood) all."


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Judge: Tip about bodies in Texas came from psychic

http://www.freep.com/article/20110607/NEWS07/110607058/Judge-Tip-about-bodies-Texas-came-from-psychic-

5:56 PM, Jun. 7, 2011
JUAN A. LOZANO

ASSOCIATED PRESS Filed Under
Local News
Nation/World

HARDIN, Texas — A county judge says an anonymous tip saying multiple bodies are buried at a southeast Texas farmhouse came from a person claiming to be a psychic.

Liberty County Judge Craig McNair said the sheriff's office received a Monday night call from a person who said many bodies were at the house about 70 miles northeast of Houston. McNair says the caller claimed some of the bodies were dismembered and some children.

McNair says deputies who visited the property Monday found nothing amiss during a quick search. The tipster called back Tuesday morning and said deputies looked in the wrong place.

McNair says deputies who returned later today, found blood on a back door and detected a foul odor coming from the house.

Investigators are waiting for a search warrant and haven't yet gone inside.


Monday, June 06, 2011

I guess that saga is now done

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/06/i_guess_that_saga_is_now_done.php

Category: Creationism

Posted on: June 6, 2011 9:14 PM, by PZ Myers

It's a fitting end to the movie that got me expelled, and whose PR I rudely interrupted. The company is no more.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed — the 2008 creationist propaganda movie fronted by Ben Stein — is scheduled to be auctioned, lock, stock, and barrel, pursuant to the bankruptcy proceeding of Premise Media Holdings LP.

I suspect no one is surprised.


Sunday, June 05, 2011

Avalos: Faith versus faith

http://www.amestrib.com/articles/2011/06/04/ames_tribune/opinion/columnists/doc4dead486e6c27332013609.txt

By Hector Avalos
Published: Saturday, June 4, 2011 11:29 PM CDT

After failing to convince the scientific community, creationists have embarked on a new strategy. The new strategy claims that science requires just as much faith as religion, and so both should be given an equal standing in public education, especially when they make claims about the origin and nature of life on earth.

Mr. Bohlen Thye's letter (May 1) exemplifies this strategy when he states, "Avalos labels intelligent design as a religious concept and says Intelligent Design masquerades as science, implying his religion does no masquerading and only wants 'pure' science."

For Thye, atheism is also a religion.

Thye seems unaware that the scientific method is not solely the province of atheists. And it is for that reason that many Christian scientists do not regard biblical creationism or Intelligent Design as a scientific enterprise.

Despite his philosophical inconsistencies, Francis S. Collins, a self-described evangelical Christian and former head of the Human Genome Project, stated: "Intelligent Design fails in a fundamental way to qualify as a scientific theory" ("The Language of God: A Scientist Provides Evidence for Belief," New York: Free Press, 2007, p. 187).

John E. Jones, the federal judge who, in the famous Dover trial of 2005, declared that Intelligent Design was religion, and not science, is not an atheist. He is a self-described Lutheran Republican appointed by George W. Bush.

John Haught, a renowned Catholic theologian, was also a witness against Intelligent Design at the Dover trial. In fact, most of the witnesses against Intelligent Design were self-described Christians, not atheists.

Michael Behe, a biochemist, who did argue that Intelligent Design qualified as science at the Dover trial, also argued that astrology qualified as science. That position did not seem to be very compelling to anyone else but astrologers.

So why can an atheist biblical scholar, a Lutheran judge, a Catholic theologian and an evangelical geneticist agree on this issue?

For one, Mr. Thye never defines what he means by "faith," "religion" or "science," which results in his confused conflation of science, faith and religion.

Despite the varied use of the term "faith," there exists a consistent Christian tradition defining faith as belief not based on empirical-logical evidence.

A variant of this definition can be found in Jesus' own statement to doubting Thomas in John 20:29 (RSV): "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

Augustus H. Strong, the renowned Baptist theologian, remarked that faith "may be defined as certitude with respect to matters in which verification is unattainable" ("Systematic Theology, 1907, p. 3).

That means that belief in creation by a supernatural being would qualify as faith, while evolutionary theory would not qualify as faith because we already posses ample verification of the basic biochemical processes that can cause physical and biochemical changes across generations.

But, for Thye, the scientific prediction that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow in our latitude presumably is no less based on faith than the prediction that the Rapture would be on May 21.

Thye also misunderstands the basics of atheism. Most atheists I know argue that the lack of evidence for the biblical God justifies unbelief in that God.

And I would be willing to bet that Thye would not always hold that unbelief in a god constitutes a religion. For example, I presume that Thye and I would agree that we don't believe in Zeus because there is no evidence for the existence of Zeus.

But would Thye also argue that lack of belief in Zeus constitutes a "faith" or a "religion"? Is there such a thing as the religion of "A-Zeusianism"?

In fact, A-Zeusianism probably would be one of the largest religions on the planet because maybe 99.9 percent of human beings are A-Zeusians. Atheists would argue that there is no more evidence for the existence of the biblical God(s) than there is for Zeus, or for any other god.

So if Mr. Thye and other creationists are still grieving the fact that biblical creationism or Intelligent Design are treated as religious statements of faith, while evolution is treated as a scientific fact, then they should first try to convince more Christian scientists rather than just atheists and A-Zeusians.

Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, writes monthly for The Tribune. His columns appear the first Sunday of the month.

Muslim creationists, same as the old creationists

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/06/muslim_creationists_same_as_th.php

Posted on: June 5, 2011 6:37 AM, by PZ Myers

There were Muslims lurking about here at the Dublin conference, and I spent a few minutes talking to them and grabbing some of their literature. I can tell you this: don't bother. They were boring and utterly unoriginal — everything they said was the same old crap, patently cribbed from the Christian creationists, with the new stuff (what little there was) being incoherent and inane.

Here's an example. I picked up a pamphlet titled "The Man in the Red Underpants", and the only novelty in it was the title annd the weird metaphor that was briefly mentioned and then dropped. The titular man is part of a story: you are awakened at 2am by a knock at the door, and when you get there, it's a man wearing nothing but red underpants who says he's there to read your gas meter. You'd send him away, right, because "you'd use reason, logic, and common sense to make sense of the man in the re underpants, just as we do for most things that happen in our lives."

Now that the booklet has convinced you that you are obviously a reasonable human being who values evidence and reason, it asks you to use those virtues to determine that Islam is the one true religion and that God, not evolution, created life on earth.

Wait, you might have been thinking, the man in the red underpants isn't a metaphor for crazy religious people with ridiculous claims? Nope. It's apparently a metaphor for science. And the rest of the book is a chattily-written, sloppy rehash of tired old arguments for creationism.

Tell me if you've heard this one before. "What if I told you that I was walking along in the desert of Arabia (where there is lots of oil and sand) and picked up a mobile phone which I found just lying there…" yeah, seriously: watches and heaths are so 19th century, let's update it to cell phones and deserts.

There's more. They trot out fine-tuning, the Big Bang, the first cause argument, la de da, the same old stuff we've heard a thousand times from Christian ignoramuses. It's nice to know we don't face any real challenge here, but dismaying that we're going to be stuck hammering away at the same stupid arguments for the next 20 years. These people are impenetrably dense.

Then there is a longish section that "proves" Islam is the one true religion, because by defining god as the being with the properties asserted by the Quran, they can show that the Quran precisely predicts and describes God. They also explain that — again, stop me if you've heard this before — we have a choice whether Mohammed was a liar, deluded, or the one true prophet of Allah, and since the first two are obviously false, you must agree that he really was the Messenger of God.

One mildly interesting bit: it freely admits that the Quran says men can beat their wives, that women's testimony is worth half of men's, that men can marry multiple wives, and that there are apparently barbaric laws with "hand chopping for thieves, and death for apostates and adulterers...and homosexuals", but that you can't use that to argue against its divine origin. "Does the fact that the Quran teaches certain things the customs and norms that we are used to, mean that it is not from the Creator?"

That's quite right, it doesn't. The author suggests that "perhaps the Creator doesn't like modernity or any other man-made ideology." That's also quite true.

So what they're arguing is that their One True Faith involves worshipping a medieval tyrant who doesn't like women and does love mutilation and murder. At this point, I don't even care whether their god is true or not; I'm not going to worship their barbarian despot.

I'm impressed, though, that Islam seems to be yet another religion where the more I learn about it, the more I despise it.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

Creationists have gotten clever, but there's still no debate over evolution

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/creationists-have-gotten-clever-theres-still-no-debate-over-evolution

Steven Newton | The Christian Science Monitor | May 16, 2011

As 2011 gets under way, those who care about the integrity of science education are bracing for the latest round of state legislation aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Every year, a host of these bills are filed across the country. In 2008, one was passed in Louisiana, despite protests from scientists and educators. In Oklahoma, State Senator Josh Brecheen (R) has vowed to introduce a bill in the coming legislative session that requires schools to teach "all the facts" on the so-called fallacies of evolution.

The tactics of creationists have evolved since 1925, when Tennessee's Butler Act forbade the teaching of evolution, and high school biology teacher John Scopes was put on trial for doing so. (Creationists believe that God created the physical universe and all organisms according to the account in Genesis, denying the evolution of species.)

But creationists' tactics have also evolved since 2005, when a federal court in Pennsylvania established that teaching intelligent design (ID) in public schools is unconstitutional. The judge in the case ruled, "ID is not science" and derives instead from "religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism." (Intelligent design holds that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.")

The favored strategy of intelligent design proponents and creationists now is to try to undermine the teaching of evolution by arguing that "evidence against evolution" should be taught, in order to foster a spirit of critical inquiry among students. Arguing that students ought to be exposed to an alleged scientific debate over evolution, intelligent design proponents call for a radical rewriting of textbooks and curricula.

ANOTHER VIEW: Religion doesn't belong in public schools, but debate over Darwinian evolution does

The new strategy is craftier – but just as bogus.

No debate on evolution

Despite the constant claims of creationists to the contrary, there simply is no debate among scientists about the validity of evolution. If you search research journals and attend scientific conferences, it becomes readily apparent that while there are controversies over the details of evolution, there is no controversy about the basic fact that living things have descended with modification from a common ancestry. Scientists argue how evolution happened, not whether evolution happened.

This doesn't stop creationists from imagining they can conjure a debate by repeating the claim that there is evidence against evolution. Intelligent design advocates claim they aren't asking public schools to teach creationism, just the "scientific debate over Darwinian evolution." The problem, again, is that there is no debate to teach. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, emphasizes, "There is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution."

Creationism and Evolution are Competing 'Myths'

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/4071/creationism_and_evolution_are_competing_%E2%80%98myths%E2%80%99

Creation Science as Mythic Discourse
By Kelly E. Hayes

Kelly E. Hayes is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Her most recent book is Holy Harlots: Femininity, Sexuality, and Black Magic in Brazil (UC Press, 2011).

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously to grant the tax incentives for [Ark Encounter], the $172.5 million project. Answers in Genesis, which built Kentucky's Creation Museum, is behind the theme park. Gov. Steve Beshear defended the tax incentives because plans say it will create 600 to 700 jobs, almost assuredly just for Christians, and contribute $250 million to the region's economy in the first year. Americans United for Separation of Church and State blasted the decision. —Lauri Lebo, RD, May 20, 2011

Against the backdrop of nearly a century of pitched battles for the minds of American schoolchildren between proponents of creationism and defenders of evolution, the announcement of a plan to build Ark Encounter, the latest venture connected to Answers in Genesis (AiG), was guaranteed to generate media buzz. Featuring a full-scale replica of Noah's Ark (among other Bible-based attractions), the proposed theme park fits neatly into AiG's larger mission to show that their brand of biblical literalism, far from being antagonistic to science, is actually supported by it.

As AiG's president Ken Ham put it at the 2007 opening of the Creation Museum, AiG's monument to young earth creationism, "belief in every word of the Bible can be defended by modern science." The concerted efforts of national science organizations to refute such claims seem to have had little effect on many middle Americans—not surprisingly the exact demographic targeted by AiG. The Ark Encounter's planned home in northern Kentucky will situate it, like the Creation Museum, within a day's drive of two-thirds of all Americans, some 40% of whom, according to the latest Gallup poll, affirm the creationist view that God created humans sometime in the past 10,000 years.

Opponents have framed their dissent largely on legal grounds, arguing that Kentucky's provision of generous tax breaks for the project violates the separation of church and state and that the statement of faith required of all AiG employees constitutes discriminatory hiring. While serious, these concerns are often raised in a tone of bemused derision and thinly-veiled scorn among commentators unable to resist the project's comedic potential, from Jay Leno and Rachel Maddow to the myriad pundits of the blogosphere.

Admittedly, it is hard to resist poking fun at statements like the one issued by AiG's senior vice president Mike Zovath, explaining to a reporter that the live menagerie planned for the Ark will not include fully grown animals, since "God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren't fully grown yet, so there would be plenty of room." But cynicism can easily slide into contemptuousness, feeding into conservative stereotypes about elite liberals who, smugly assured of their own superiority, disdain the values of "real" Americans.

Rather than ridicule or dismiss the Ark Encounter and its theme park sibling the Creation Museum, it's useful to see them as examples of mythic discourse, using the definition that historian of religions Bruce Lincoln proposed in his book Discourse and the Construction of Society. Myth, Lincoln contends, is most productively understood not as a false story, but as a narrative that has both authority and credibility for a particular audience, for whom it functions as a paradigmatic truth. A particular type of discourse, myth constructs and naturalizes its authority by appealing to some sacred or transcendent realm that is ostensibly beyond the petty interests of individuals. Unlike most other types of discourse, myth is able to engender shared feelings of belonging and purpose among its audience, making it an effective sociopolitical instrument. Hence we ought to assess myth not only in terms of its particular content but also in terms of its ability to successfully evoke feelings of affiliation (or estrangement) among its audience—the root sentiments from which social groups are constructed and through which they can be mobilized.

Such an approach helps address why AiG and its sympathizers continue to insist that their literalist interpretation of the biblical creation account is scientifically accurate, despite the fact that any claim about supernatural agency, by definition, can be neither proved nor disproved by science. Indeed, part of the reason that scientists (and other supporters of evolution) have been loath to publicly challenge such assertions is that creationist claims so clearly lie beyond the purview of science that to respond to any suggestion otherwise would dignify an absurdity. So, then, why do Ken Ham and his colleagues persist in advocating the seemingly untenable position that the Genesis story of creation is science and not theology? This is precisely where Lincoln's notion of myth is helpful in understanding how narratives function, not only as explanatory frameworks but as ideological mechanisms that construct certain kinds of social relations by eliciting powerful sentiments of affiliation or estrangement.

The Instrumentality of Myth: Genesis and Evolution

There are two contrasting accounts of the cosmos and its multitudinous life forms that are widely disseminated in American culture today: the "creationist" narrative and the "evolutionist" narrative. Each of these accounts makes distinct epistemological claims, authorizing a radically different vision of the world, the place of human beings within it, the relationships between humans and other life forms, and the nature of time and history. Despite their differences, however, both accounts function as authoritative narratives that have the power to mobilize communities—that is, both are examples of Lincoln's mythic discourse.1

Each of these narratives offers a different paradigmatic model: a prototype of and for reality. Central to the creationist version is a divine power whose creative acts have transcendent purpose and meaning. At the pinnacle of the created order are human beings whose subsequent disobedience estranges them from an imperial God and results in the subordination of women to men. Nevertheless, this God maintains a personal relationship with humankind who, according to Genesis 1:27 are made "in the image of God." By contrast, the evolutionist narrative posits a universe governed by impersonal processes. Its model of the world does not encode the kinds of hierarchies between and among species that are central to the creationist narrative. Each narrative offers a divergent conception of time and human history and the forces that shape them. And each privileges a different method for obtaining knowledge about the world: either revelation or empiricism, and, by implication, a different set of specialists who claim mastery of that knowledge.

Since myth is more than just a coding device through which important information is conveyed but is also an act by which social groupings are constituted, at stake in the debates among defenders of each narrative are not only these structural conflicts but the different social arrangements that each narrative invokes and authorizes. The fact that most people align themselves with one or the other for reasons that they often cannot articulate beyond the vague assertion that "it makes sense" to them suggests myth's ability to produce strong feelings of affiliation or estrangement. Here "making sense" does not mean that the individual has subjected each account to a rigorous intellectual process, but that he or she finds it consistent with their basic values and experience of the world. The ability of these narratives to elicit a visceral response is especially evident in battles about curricula in the public schools and in equally polarized, albeit less dramatic, conflicts such as those waged on the bumper stickers of automobiles.

Consider two examples much in evidence on American roads today: the schematic outline of a fish, known as the ichthys symbol or "Jesus fish," favored by proponents of the creationist account (and evangelical Christians in general), and its nearly identical twin inscribed with the word "Darwin" and two tiny legs.2 The latter, of course, is meaningful only in reference to the former. What is being communicated through these symbols is more than just a worldview, but the owner's public affirmation of membership in a community that sees itself as battling the proverbial barbarians at the gate. In the war between faith and science, those who invoke one or another of these mythological narratives position themselves as guardians of certain fundamental values. Among other things, at issue is the character of the American nation-state itself: are we primarily a secular and religiously diverse nation where faith is a private concern and ought play a limited role in civil society, or are we primarily a Christian nation where faith has been excluded unjustly from statecraft and the public realm?

Contesting Myth: The Creation Museum

AiG's Creation Museum offers an instructive example of the sociopolitical dimensions of this mythic discourse. Inside the $27 million monument to young earth creationism, sophisticated and often visually arresting exhibits not only assert that the Genesis account of creation is factually true, historically accurate, and scientifically valid, but that other viewpoints lead to chaos, hopelessness, and human suffering. To this end, the museum maintains that the world and all its life forms were created over a six-day period approximately six thousand years ago, although the earth itself only assumed its present geological form after the global flood described in Genesis 7-8, the story of Noah's ark. For the present discussion, one of the most interesting aspects of the museum is its efforts to discredit evolution as a false story while promoting the creation account in Genesis as both authoritative and scientifically credible.

According to Lincoln, there are several ways that mythic discourse can be deployed in movements to alter existing beliefs. Young earth creationists, including those behind AiG and its affiliates, have focused their collective efforts on two of them: the struggle to deprive an established myth of its credibility or authority and attempts to elevate a lesser narrative to the status of myth. They seek to deprive evolution of its authority by casting aspersions on its scientific merits, suggesting that there is considerable disagreement among scientists, and insisting that it is "just a theory" rather than a well-substantiated principle confirmed through observation and experiment—all while simultaneously blaming evolution for various social problems.

At the same time, they also try to elevate the status of their preferred model by presenting its claims as compatible with science, a discourse that currently enjoys a level of authority, credibility, and prestige that was formerly the exclusive prerogative of religion. Simply put, the evolutionist narrative functions as an established myth while the creationist version holds a lesser status—although it may be authoritative for some, it is not generally accepted as a credible account of past events. AiG's goal is to reverse this relationship in order to reconstruct American society along the lines that its members find more congenial.

The tension between these two strategies produces some of the Creation Museum's more baffling moments. In certain galleries, creationist assertions are presented as legitimate equivalents to scientific explanations of biological, geological, or cosmological phenomena. In others, the creationist worldview is not only inimical to one based on "human reason" but morally superior. Still other exhibits appeal to human reason, appropriating the language of science to argue that the creationist narrative is a scientifically credible account of origins. As the visitor progresses through the museum—and unlike most museums, there is only one way to proceed through the exhibits—they are led inexorably along this unidirectional flow of assertions.

The first part of the museum is dedicated to the project of presenting creationism and science as equally legitimate "starting points" for understanding the world and human history. A diorama of two paleontologists hard at work unearthing the skeleton of an ancient raptor is the setting for an exhibit comparing "human reason" and "God's word." On a nearby video screen, the older paleontologist, an affable fellow possessed of a reassuringly avuncular manner, informs us that while he and his colleague both have similar credentials and work with the same empirical facts (namely the skeleton at their feet), "that doesn't mean we agree on what happened here." He goes on to explain that where his colleague relies on human reason and thinks that the skeleton is millions of years old, he himself puts his faith in the Bible, which leads him to believe that the skeleton is 4,300 years old and was deposited in its final resting place by the Great Flood. "Same facts," he cheerfully concludes, "different starting points."

This theme of same facts/different starting points continues in the adjacent room, where several large posters compare various phenomena (the galactic universe, plants, animals, human knowledge itself) as seen from the perspective of "human reason" and "God's word." Lest one conclude that both perspectives are equally valid, however, the next part of the museum contends that they are not equally beneficial for human flourishing. In a room inhabited by several animatronic Biblical characters, placards labeled "Attempts to Question," "Attempts to Criticize," "Attempts to Discredit," "Attempts to Replace," and "Attempts to Destroy" chart the continuous efforts (inspired, it's implied, by the forces of Satan) to compromise the literal truth of God's word.

Here human reason, especially as embodied in Enlightenment philosophy, is clearly at odds with Biblical truth. The "latest attack," according to the room's final placard, is to question the time frame of Genesis: "The philosophers and scientists of the Enlightenment suggested that the universe was not created in six days about six thousand years ago. Christian leaders, not wanting to appear foolish and unscientific, tried to reinterpret the Bible to add millions of years into history." The very attempt to reconcile science and scripture is here tantamount to a second fall—only this time, science has replaced the serpent as the adversary of God.

According to the historical trajectory proffered by the museum, the heresies of the Enlightenment led directly to another pivotal moment: the Scopes Trial of 1925. While creationists may have won that particular battle, they lost the larger war: at the hands of Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken, creationism was humiliated before the American public and eventually displaced by evolution as the authoritative explanation of human origins. The consequences of the Scopes Trial are depicted in a wall-size mural of four tombstones inscribed "God is Dead," "Truth," "God's Word," and "Genesis," which segues directly into a menacing alleyway lit from the pulsing strobe of a red XXX sign.

Plastered with articles torn from Time and Newsweek about the Columbine massacre, gay rights, the battle over Terri Schiavo, and stem cell research, among other contemporary controversies, the passageway depicts America's ensuing state of moral decay as an urban badlands. A graffitied sign underscores the message: "Scripture abandoned in the culture leads to relative morality, hopelessness, and meaninglessness." Exiting the alley, one confronts a series of video tableaux illustrating the results for American youths: an adolescent male rolling a joint while trolling for internet porn, an unmarried teenager seeking an abortion. On the opposite side of the room a giant wrecking ball labeled "Millions of Years" has shattered the foundation of a church and the resulting cracks undulate across the uneven floor to the video screens.

Where the museum's first few galleries depict human reason as a credible alternative to God's will, implying a superficial equivalence between them, the strategy of argumentation abruptly shifts as the visitor progresses. The Scopes Trial marks a decisive turning point, vividly symbolized by the wrecking ball: the evolutionist narrative (and its time frame) has profoundly compromised the authority of the Bible. The result of humanity's preference for reason (i.e., science) over God's will (i.e., a literal reading of Genesis) is moral dissolution and the destruction of the church. In its efforts to deprive the evolutionist narrative of its authority, the museum blames it for a variety of social ills, from pornography to pre-marital sex and abortion. The heavy-handed symbolism and moral hectoring are intended not to persuade the uncommitted but to rally the faithful and generate the shared sentiments of recognition and group cohesion necessary for social action. And since a primary goal is to elicit this emotional response, the various discrepancies of logic and specious claims make little impact: although the museum's narrative frame may not be intellectually or historically persuasive, it nonetheless provides an explanatory framework for its intended audience's frustrations and concerns about contemporary American life.

Beginning with the brightly lit "Wonders Room," the museum shifts its strategy yet again. By selectively appropriating the rhetoric of science, it attempts to bolster creationism's credibility using, for example, television screens mounted around the room's perimeter showing loops of "Amazing Science Videos" intended to prove that the Genesis account of creation is both literally true and scientifically credible. Some of the museum's more questionable contentions are featured in an adjacent walk-through diorama of Eden: a plaque proclaiming that all animals were peaceable herbivores before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, for example, cites as evidence a line from Genesis where God gives to all the beasts of the field and air "every green herb" for food (Genesis 1:30). Likewise, because God said creation was very good (Genesis 1:31) there were no venomous animals or poisonous plants before Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden. According to the museum, the fossil record supports all of this.

Such assertions, along with charts, timelines, and graphs help foster the illusion that this is actually science—despite the fact that the scientific method relies on naturalism, empiricism, and the principle of falsifiability, none of which can be used to prove supernatural authorship. Instead, by selectively invoking the language of science through references to the fossil record and other ostensibly empirical "facts" while ignoring the actual method of science, the museum attempts to legitimize its own claims even as it seeks to discredit and replace science as authoritative narrative and paradigmatic model. As noted earlier, its efforts have provided rich material for commentators and denunciations of its supporters as "Christo-fascists" bent on establishing a totalitarian state.

Rather than dismiss the museum's efforts as ridiculous or condemning it as a fascist threat, we could also see it as an example of a strategy whose goal is not only to persuade its core audience but to elicit among them a compelling sense of collective identity and shared purpose. By exploiting a salient divide among the American people, the museum, as those critics who accuse it of fascism have rightly perceived, attempts to mobilize a social grouping that longs for the material power and cultural influence that they believe Christians have progressively lost since the Scopes Trial. And yet in attempting to present the creationist narrative as both authoritative and credible, the museum is forced to adopt the awkward strategy of rejecting science's authority while simultaneously appropriating its language, effectively alienating (and alarming) a significant faction of the American populace.

Stories about the past, as Lincoln showed, can be powerful sociopolitical instruments when deployed for the purposes of the present. The battle over human origins and the age of the Earth is about much more than the past—it is, of course, also about the shape of American society in the present. The forthcoming Ark Encounter and the presence of other creationist museums in Arkansas, Texas, California and Florida suggests that the war is far from over. It remains to be seen whether the leaders of the creationist movement will be able to effectively mobilize enough American voters to bring about the kinds of sociopolitical changes for which their paradigmatic model provides a superhuman charter. It is clear, however, that supporters of evolution would do well to implement a new strategy if they wish to counter these challenges to their preferred narrative's authoritative status.

***

1 One could legitimately object that by treating evolution as a myth I effectively concede one of the major claims of the creationist movement: that evolution and creationism are equally persuasive and thus are equally valid understandings of the natural world. To this I would argue that insofar as science itself does not mystify its claims by appeal to a superhuman realm it is not a mythic discourse in the same way as creationism. However, the popular understanding of evolution and the kinds of claims that proponents make about it invest evolution (and by extension the scientific method) with a set of transcendent moral values that, strictly speaking, lie outside of science proper. For example, some argue that because science, as a discipline of logic, empirical investigation, and rigorous testing, is superior to blind faith, evolution teaches the moral imperative to think and question rather than simply accept the claims of received tradition. This claim invests evolution with a set of values that have sociopolitical implications and that mobilize sentiments of affiliation (among proponents of evolution) and estrangement (from proponents of the creationist narrative). In what follows, I hope to show how treating what I am calling the "evolutionist narrative" and the "creationist narrative" as examples of myth (as Lincoln defined it) is useful for thinking about the ways that specific groups appeal to these narratives in practice.

2 I recognize that not all evangelical Christians support the creationist narrative that I have described, but the two factions overlap significantly. While initially the ichthys symbol may have simply conveyed the owner's identity as a Christian, the popular circulation of the Darwin variant seems to have narrowed the original's semantic range in such a way that it now signifies a commitment to the creationist narrative over and against the evolutionist narrative. Thus one finds the ichthys symbol inscribed with the word "truth," as well as other modifications, including designs that show the Darwin fish eating the Jesus fish and vice versa.

The Search for the Historical Adam

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/historicaladam.html

The center of the evolution debate has shifted from asking whether we came from earlier animals to whether we could have come from one man and one woman.

Richard N. Ostling | posted 6/03/2011 12:00AM

Secularist brows furrowed in 2009 when President Obama chose prominent atheist-turned-Christian Francis S. Collins to be the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Under the Los Angeles Times headline "Fit to Head the NIH?," Skeptic magazine's Michael Shermer fretted that Collins's beliefs might somehow corrupt America's biggest biomedical research agency. In a New York Times piece, atheist Sam Harris was similarly "uncomfortable," fearing in particular that a Collins administration might "seriously undercut" fields like neuroscience. Jerry Coyne, a University of Chicago expert on evolution, carped that the nominee's "scary," "bizarre," "inane," and "snake oil" ideas "pollute his science with his faith."

Nonetheless, Collins won unanimous U.S. Senate confirmation, thanks to sterling achievements in biomedical research and leadership of NIH's human genome research. Under Collins, this historic effort in 2003 finished mapping the complete sequence of several billion DNA subunits ("bases") and all of the genes that determine human heredity.

Collins, one of the most eminent scientists ever to identify as an evangelical Christian, staunchly defends Darwinian evolution even as he insists on God as the Creator. And he now stands at the epicenter of a dispute that increasingly agitates fellow believers. At issue: the traditional tenet (as summarized in Wheaton College's mandatory credo) that "God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race."

Collins's 2006 bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief—which so vexed those secularist critics—reported scientific indications that anatomically modern humans emerged from primate ancestors perhaps 100,000 years ago—long before the apparent Genesis time frame—and originated with a population that numbered something like 10,000, not two individuals. Instead of the traditional belief in the specially created man and woman of Eden who were biologically different from all other creatures, Collins mused, might Genesis be presenting "a poetic and powerful allegory" about God endowing humanity with a spiritual and moral nature? "Both options are intellectually tenable," he concluded.

In a recent pro-evolution book from InterVarsity Press, The Language of Science and Faith, Collins and co-author Karl W. Giberson escalate matters, announcing that "unfortunately" the concepts of Adam and Eve as the literal first couple and the ancestors of all humans simply "do not fit the evidence."

The Adam account in Genesis has long been subjected to scientific challenges, but "there was a lot of wiggle room in the past. The human genome sequencing took that wiggle room away" during the past decade, said Randall Isaac, executive director of the American Scientific Affiliation (asa), which has been discussing Adam issues for decades. The organization's 1,600 members, Collins among them, affirm the Bible's "divine inspiration, trustworthiness, and authority" on "faith and conduct," though not on scientific concepts.

The unnerving new genetic science was assessed with considerable detail in last September's issue of the ASA journal Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith. The articles were elaborated versions of papers delivered at the ASA's 2009 annual meeting at Baylor University, the organization's first major discussion of the Adam question that included religion scholars as well as scientists.

Two of the Perspectives writers, biblical exegete Daniel C. Harlow and theologian John R. Schneider, teach at Calvin College. As a result of their writings, a personnel panel has been investigating whether they violated the doctrinal standards that the college's sponsoring Christian Reformed Church requires of faculty. (The investigation follows procedures that were established when Calvin astrophysicist Howard J. Van Till stirred an earlier ruckus over creation—though not Adam and Eve—with his 1986 tome The Fourth Day.) Harlow and Schneider could face discipline from the board of trustees, and revived denominational debate about evolution seems inevitable. Meanwhile, Calvin scheduled 18 lectures on human origins this past academic year.

In the wake of the repeal effort

http://ncse.com/news/2011/06/wake-repeal-effort-006694

June 3rd, 2011 Louisianaanti-evolution 2011

The attempt to repeal Louisiana's antievolution law was discussed by the Christian Science Monitor (June 2, 2011), which explained, "The Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows teaching contrary to science on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, is increasingly serving as an inspiration to religious conservatives in other states." Antievolution bills were introduced in Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas so far in 2011, all dying except in Tennessee, where a bill was passed by the House of Representatives; its counterpart is on hold in the Senate until 2012.

Meanwhile, Louisiana's Senate Bill 70, which would have repealed the state's antievolution law, was shelved on a 5-1 vote by the Senate Education Committee on May 26, 2011, despite the wide support for it from the scientific and educational communities — including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, and forty-three Nobel laureate scientists. Harold Kroto, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996, was quoted as comparing a vote against the repeal to "requiring Louisiana school texts to include the claim that the Sun goes round the Earth."

Thus the law — Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008 — remains on the books. The bill ostensibly promotes "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." It also allows teachers to use "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner" if so permitted by their local school boards.

Critics of the antievolution law worry that it promises to "embolden those who may feel tempted to voluntarily introduce theories that conflict with scientific teachings," the Monitor reported, quoting NCSE's Joshua Rosenau as explaining, "For a teacher who wants to teach creationism, it doesn't stop them from doing it." While defenders of the law claimed that there is no evidence that teachers are doing so, Barbara Forrest of the Louisiana Coalition for Science responded, "it might go on for years before we ever found out. It would take a very gutsy kid who was alert enough to go home and tell mom and dad."

There is evidence that Louisiana's antievolution law emboldened creationists in Livingston Parish. As NCSE previously reported, in July 2010, the director of curriculum told the Livingston Parish School Board that the law allowed the presentation of creationism in science classes. The response was enthusiastic, with members of the board asking, "Why can't we get someone with religious beliefs to teach creationism?" and saying, "Teachers should have the freedom to look at creationism and find a way to get into into the classroom" and subsequently declaiming, "We don't want litigation, but why not take a stand for Jesus and risk litigation."


Friday, June 03, 2011

1 in 20 don't give a monkey's about Darwin

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6079694

News | Published in TESS on 29 April, 2011 | By: Julia Belgutay

Many first-year biology students reject evolution, survey finds

One in 20 first-year biology students at Glasgow University don't believe in the theory of evolution, according to new research.

Two thirds of the "evolution rejecters" were unable to identify the correct definition of theories, including Darwinian evolution and old and new earth creationism, the study found.

The findings come a year after the Scottish Qualifications Authority faced criticism from biology teachers for not including evolution and ecology in the new Higher biology syllabus.

The study, presented at last week's Edinburgh International Science Festival, at a "Creeping Creationism" seminar run by the Humanist Society, found that 85 per cent of students who reject evolution and 85 per cent of students who accept it were able to identify the definition most closely describing intelligent design (the most recent alternative to Darwinism).

This particular finding by Ronan Southcott, a voluntary researcher at the university, working in co-operation with Roger Downie, professor for zoological education, may suggest a growing awareness of the intelligent design movement among secondary pupils.

When asked why they rejected evolution, 41 per cent said they believed there was an alternative explanation for the diversity of life, while a third said they simply had insufficient knowledge of evolution.

The concept that humans descended from ancient species of apes, one of the theories creationists most rigorously reject, was accepted by over one third of evolution rejecters, and two thirds of them agreed that natural selection acted within species to adapt to environmental change.

"There is a move away from the traditional," said Mr Southcott. "Instead of using the bible to say you shouldn't accept evolution, it seems they are trying to use science as a way forward."

Clare Marsh, education spokesperson for the Humanist Society, described the findings as "remarkable".

"Their rejection of evolution is as strange as freshers in physics rejecting Newton's laws of motion," she said.

Alastair Noble, director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, said if the message of the research was that students should have more opportunity to assess the scientific evidence for the various positions around origins, no one would disagree with that.

He said the study's definition of intelligent design was inaccurate and over-simplistic, although he was not surprised by the high levels of awareness of intelligent design - unlike evolution, it was intuitive and "a non-dogmatic, non-religious position which attempts to account for the sophistication we find in natural and living systems in terms of mind, as well as matter and energy".

julia.belgutay@tes.co.uk.

Evolution education update: June 3, 2011

Texas's "intelligent design" bill dies in committee, while The New York Times worries that Kentucky's ark park "pushes the constitutional envelope" and the Arkansas Science Teachers Association adds its voice for evolution.

TEXAS "INTELLIGENT DESIGN" BILL DIES

When the Texas legislature adjourned sine die on May 30, 2011, House Bill 2454 died in the House Committee on Higher Education without receiving a hearing. If enacted, HB 2454 would have provided, "An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member's or student's conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms." The sponsors of HB 2454 were Bill Zedler (R-District 96) and James White (R-District 12).

In a March 9, 2011, post on its blog, the Texas Freedom Network commented, "Disingenuous efforts by creationists to portray themselves as persecuted in mainstream academia for their anti-evolution beliefs are getting a boost from a Texas lawmaker" and described the bill as emulating "the strategy by creationist/'intelligent design' proponents to portray themselves as martyrs." TFN added, "Zedler's bill would ... require our colleges and universities to aid and protect academic fraud. But with the State Board of Education promoting anti-science propaganda in public schools, we shouldn't be surprised that higher education is increasingly a target as well.

Of the nine antievolution bills introduced in seven states in 2011 so far, seven -- Florida's SB 1854, Kentucky's HB 169, New Mexico's HB 302, Oklahoma's SB 554 and HB 1551, and Texas's HB 2454 -- are dead. Tennessee's HB 368 -- nicknamed "the monkey bill" by House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh -- passed in the House of Representatives, but its Senate counterpart SB 893 is on hold until 2012. In the meantime, Louisiana's Senate Bill 70, which if enacted would repeal the state's antievolution bill enacted in 2008, was shelved in the Senate Education Committee on a 5-1 vote on May 26, 2011, and is not expected to be heard again by the committee.

For the text of Texas's HB 2454, visit:
http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/82R/billtext/html/HB02454I.htm

For the TFN's blog post, visit:
http://tfninsider.org/2011/03/09/bad-science-and-persecution-complexes/

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/texas

THE NEW YORK TIMES ON THE ARK PARK

The New York Times offered its view on Kentucky's decision to grant tax incentives to Ark Encounter, the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky. In its May 31, 2011, editorial, the Times wrote, "A project just approved in Kentucky pushes the constitutional envelope," arguing that although the incentives are likely to withstand a possible legal challenge, "granting tax incentives to the explicitly Christian enterprise clearly clashes with the First Amendment's prohibition on government establishment of religion. Public money is not supposed to pay to advance religion. Kentucky's citizens should certainly ask themselves if this is really the best use of taxpayer dollars."

Kentucky's own newspapers have been concerned about the state's involvement with Ark Encounter -- as well as the message it sends about the state's commitment to science. For example, the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 2, 2010) editorially complained, "in a state that already suffers from low educational attainment in science, one of the last things Kentucky officials should encourage, even if only implicitly, is for students and young people to regard creationism as scientifically valid," and the Lexington Herald-Leader (December 3, 2010) editorially observed, "Hostility to science, knowledge and education does little to attract the kind of employers that will provide good-paying jobs with a future."

For the editorial in The New York Times, visit:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/opinion/31tue4.html

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kentucky, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/kentucky

ARKANSAS SCIENCE TEACHERS ADD THEIR VOICE FOR EVOLUTION

The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the Arkansas Science Teachers Association, issued in 2008, updating its previous statement from 2006.

In its statement, the ASTA expresses its strong support for "the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included and maintained in the state K-12 science education frameworks and curricula," adding, "Evolution is not taught in many Arkansas school districts. These students in these districts will not achieve the level of scientific literacy they needed in an increasingly technological and scientific society."

The statement discusses the scientific invalidity of "creation science" and "intelligent design" as well as the constitutional barriers to teaching them as scientifically credible in the public schools, recommending that "[s]chool boards, district administrators[,] and teacher[s] need to understand that science and not religious ideas should be taught in science classrooms in our public schools" and warning of the legal and administrative consequences of not doing so.

The ASTA's statement is now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the ASTA's statement (document), visit:
http://www.arkscience.org/ASTAPositionSt2008.doc

For Voices for Evolution, visit:
http://ncse.com/voices

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 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
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Teaching creationism: Louisiana law that skirts US ban survives challenge

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2011/0602/Teaching-creationism-Louisiana-law-that-skirts-US-ban-survives-challenge

The Louisiana law allows teaching contrary to evolution on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, a proposition ridiculed by scientists. Similar legislation is being debated in other states.

By Mark Guarino, Staff writer / June 2, 2011

Chicago

The successful defense last week of a three-year-old Louisiana law is casting a spotlight on how conservative groups are seeking to circumvent a federal ban on the teaching of creationism in public schools.

The Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows teaching contrary to science on the grounds it promotes critical thinking, is increasingly serving as an inspiration to religious conservatives in other states. Its defenders decry the "censorship" of nonscientific ideas and advocate allowing teachers to teach "both sides" on certain scientific theories.

So far in 2011, similarly worded legislation was introduced in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma and New Mexico, but all failed at the committee stage. However, a bill in Tennessee passed the state House in early April and is awaiting a Senate vote in the 2012 session.

Education reform: eight school chiefs to watch in 2011

In Louisiana, the challenge to the Science Education Act was defeated last Thursday in the Senate Education Committee by a 5-to-1 vote. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D), who authored the bill to repeal the 2008 law, said she received letters of support from more than 40 Nobel Prize-winning scientists.

Senator Peterson told the Associated Press on Tuesday it was "fundamentally embarrassing" for her state to have the law remain on the books, adding that it would further damage Louisiana's ability to attract top talent in the sciences.

The 2008 law gives elementary and secondary school teachers the right to bring materials into science classrooms as supplements to textbooks on matters "including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning."

Intellectually destructive

The scientific community has long advocated that allowing anything but science in the teaching of evolution will be intellectually harmful. In an e-mail sent to the Associated Press, Harold Kroto, a Nobel Prize winner for chemistry in 1996, said voting against the repeal creates a situation that "should be likened to requiring Louisiana school texts to include the claim that the Sun goes round the Earth."

While evolutionary biology is based in the work of Charles Darwin, which shows how humans evolved through natural selection, creationism is rooted in a fundamental reading of Biblical texts that say mankind is the product of a divine maker.

With the law intact, Louisiana is the state that has gone the furthest in approving legislation that opens the door to allowing alternatives to science taught in its schools.

The law's supporters deny it was written to push religion in the classroom and that its language is very specific about prohibiting doctrine. Instead, they say the law is meant to provide teachers the opportunity "to teach both sides of the equation" regarding certain scientific theories that may need a broader context than what the scientific community insists is fact, says Gene Mills, president of Louisiana Family Forum in Baton Rouge, a conservative non-profit organization that lobbied to keep the law intact.

Schools should 'quit choosing sides'

"We assert you should be able to critically present that evidence and quit choosing sides when it comes to teaching students this controversial subject matter," Mr. Mills says. "I don't understand, when it comes to the teaching of critical thinking in an academic environment, why censorship would ever be encouraged."

Critics say reframing teaching contrary to science as a censorship issue is intended to create a loophole for religious groups to get their agenda before students. Central to their concern is that the law does not require anything of teachers but it is written to embolden those who may feel tempted to voluntarily introduce theories that conflict with scientific teachings.

"It's a tricky situation because the law is written in a way that it's really hard to see a good path to a legal challenge. For a teacher who wants to teach creationism, it doesn't stop them from doing it," says Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education, a not-for-profit group in Oakland, Calif., that is active in preserve the teaching of evolution in public school classrooms.

In its three years on the books, the law has never been challenged in court nor has it been the subject of public complaint, according to René Greer, communications director with the Louisiana Department of Education, a result that Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum says affirms its credibility. "There is no evidence this is a problem," he says.

Ms. Greer says any supplemental material introduced in science classrooms must "meet the standards and policies of city and parish school boards."

However, it is unclear what, if any, procedures are in place for local administrators to approve the material a teacher may want to introduce to the official curriculum. Which creates the possibility that teachers could restructure the curriculum in any way they see fit and never get caught.

"If a teacher did it on their own, it might go on for years before we ever found out. It would take a very gutsy kid who was alert enough to go home and tell mom and dad," says Barbara Forrest, a spokeswoman with the Louisiana Coalition for Science, a citizens group mobilized three years ago to fight the law.

Ms. Forrest, who believes "the law was passed to give cover to school boards and teachers who want to teach creationism," says whistleblowers may find it more onerous to challenge a certain teacher in smaller or more conservative communities where they could face criticism or even a loss of business revenue.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

In which creationists make me giddily, joyfully gleeful!

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/05/in_which_creationists_make_me.php

Category: Creationism
Posted on: May 30, 2011 11:02 PM, by PZ Myers

Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy. This is wonderful news, happy happy joy joy, gosha'mighty, I'm wiggling in my chair like a tickled puppy. What has made me so happy, you might ask?

A week from today I'm going to be speaking at the Crystal Palace in Glasgow, Scotland. I'll be talking about the developmental evidence for evolution, and it should be great fun.

But that's not the exciting news.

Glasgow has its very own Centre for Intelligent Design, and a fine collection of know-nothings it is. And they are being encouraged to attend my talk! So maybe there will be a contingent of critics present — and they can't be as dumb as Rabbi Moshe Averick, can they? Yeah, they probably can be.

But that's not the thrilling news, either.

The fun part is that the nitwits at Uncommon Descent have posted 10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers, and are urging the Scottish creationists to show up and confront me with their stumpers.

And they're SCREAMINGLY STUPID!

I read them with increasing disbelief: every single one of them was trivial and inane, and do nothing but reveal the ignorance and arrogance of the questioner. Every single one. Every one is built around some bizarre creationist misconception, too.

Please please please please please please, O Creationists, show up and ask me these questions. Pick any of them. Pick the one you are absolutely certain will make me squirt hot tears of frustration and despair right there on the stage. I'm begging you. Give me the opportunity to give you a public spanking. Oh, happy monkey, I will be delirious with joy if you try to make me suffer with these questions. They're like a gift, a gift of idiocy.

Now I'm not going to answer them here just yet — I want to give the creationists a chance to slam me with 'em first. But I'll post the answers next week, after they've taken their shot. If they do. I'm afraid they'll be too cowardly to announce themselves in public like that.

Just so you can see them without going to that cloaca of creationism, Uncommon Descent, I've also posted the full set of questions below the fold. Go ahead and try to answer them if you'd like, but really, all of the answers to everyone of them was already tripping off my brain as I read them.

Hey, and show up in Glasgow. I can tell already it's going to be a blast.

When Michael Behe visited the UK, back in November, the Humanist Society of Scotland and the British Center for Science Education wrote up a list of "10 + 1 Questions For Professor Behe" which they subsequently distributed to their ranks of faithful followers. I responded, at the time, fairly thoroughly to the arguments made therein here (to which the BCSE retaliated fairly viciously here).

Since PZ Myers has been invited to visit Glasgow next week (one week from today to be specific), to lecture on the embryological evidence for Darwinism, I took it upon myself to draw up this list of "10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers". If you happen to be in the area, and are anticipating attending this event next Monday (which will take place in the Crystal Palace, 36 Jamaica Street, from 7pm), feel free to use the following questions as inspiration for the Q&A session which will follow the talk.

10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers

1) In light of the Darwinian evolutionary paradigm, can you account for the observation that the eggs of the five classes of vertebrate (i.e. fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) begin markedly different from each other? While the cleavage patterns in four of the five classes show some general similarities, the pattern in mammals is very different. Furthermore, in the gastrulation stage, a fish is very different from an amphibian,while both are starkly different from reptiles, birds and mammals, which are somewhat similar to each other. Doesn't Darwinism predict a pattern wherein the earliest stages are the most similar and the later stages are the most different?

2) Kalinka et al. (2010) have documented that the developmental hourglass model (which describes the observation that embryogenesis within a phylum diverges most extensively during early and late development, while converging in the middle) holds true even with respect to patterns of gene expression, which has a central role in elaboration of different animal forms. Given that mutations affecting the earliest stages of development are the least likely to be evolutionarily tolerated, would you please explain how you would account for this observation in terms of evolutionary rationale?

3) Could you please explain the sheer lack of congruence between anatomical homology and developmental pathways / precursors? Since such congruence is a prediction of neo-Darwinism,why isn't it observed? Moreover, not only are there different embryological (i.e. non-homologous) processes and different genetic mechanisms to apparently homologous organs. But there is also the conundrum of homologous genetic mechanisms for analogous (i.e. non-homologous) organs. And then there is also the problem of homologous structures arising from different embryological sources, utterly undermining the evolutionary explanation. Isn't the most straightforward reading of these facts that the adult organs have not been derived from a common ancestor? Why is it that you are happy to use those instances where embryological development and adult similarities are consistent as evidence of common descent, but set aside those instances where they are not consistent?

4) Could you please explain the near-total absence of evidence for evolutionarily relevant (i.e. stably heritable) large-scale variations in animal form, as required by common descent? "Near-total", that is, because losses of structure are often possible. But common descent requires the generation of anatomical novelty. Why is it the case that all observed developmental mutations that might lead to macroevolution (besides the loss of an unused structure) are harmful or fatal?

5) Would you please explain why the purported embryological evidence for evolution is not subject to careful cherry picking of data, given that instances can be identified in which, for example, tissues arise during development in the opposite order from which they are presumed to have evolved (e.g. the formation of teeth after the tongue whereas it is thought that the teeth evolved first; and various vertebrate organs such as liver and lung develop embryologically in quite different ways from how it is thought they evolved)?

6) Would you please explain instances of species which possess similar adult forms but different immature forms, which could conform with recapitulation only if the species evolved convergently? Related to this is the observation that similar phylotypic stages and/or adult morphologies may be attained by very different developmental routes. Don't such observations demonstrate that the view of development being an exclusively divergent process of increased specialisation is false?

7) Would you please elaborate on how a reproductively-capable embryo can evolve by virtue of successive but slight modification while retaining selectable utility at every stage? Paul Nelson discussed the concept of ontogenetic depth in some detail here and here. He also responded to your criticisms of his article, and the somewhat ironic charge of quote-mining, here.

8 ) On your blog, you have defended the central dogmatist (gene-centric) view that an organism's DNA sequence contains both the necessary and sufficient information needed to actualise an embryo's final morphology. If your position is so well supported and the position espoused by Jonathan Wells (and others) is so easily refuted, then why do you perpetually misrepresent his views? For example, you state "These experiments emphatically do not demonstrate that DNA does not matter … [Wells'] claim is complete bunk." Where has Jonathan Wells stated that DNA "does not matter"? Moreover, contrary to your assertions, the phenomenon of genomic equivalence is a substantial challenge to the simplistic "DNA-is-the-whole-show" view espoused by the majority of neo-Darwinists. Cells in the prospective head region of an organism contain the same DNA as cells in the prospective tail region. Yet head cells must turn on different genes from tail cells, and they "know" which genes to turn on because they receive information about their spatial location from outside themselves — and thus, obviously, from outside their DNA. So an essential part of the ontogenetic program cannot be in the organism's DNA, a fact that conflicts with the DNA-centrism of neo-Darwinism. Some attempts to salvage DNA programs (e.g. Rinn et al.) rely on "target sequences" — molecular zipcodes, if you will — of amino acids that direct proteins to particular locations in the cell. But such "molecular zipcodes" do not create a spatial co-ordinate system, they presuppose it.

9) If, as is often claimed by Darwinists, the pharyngeal pouches and ridges are indeed accurately thought of as vestigial gill slits (thus demonstrating our shared ancestry with fish), then why is it that the 'gill-slit' region in humans does not contain even partly developing slits or gills, and has no respiratory function? In fish, these structures are, quite literally, slits that form openings to allow water in and out of the internal gills that remove oxygen from the water. In human embryos, however, the pharyngeal pouches do not appear to be 'old structures' which have been reworked into 'new structures' (they do not develop into homologous structures such as lungs). Instead, the developmental fate of these locations includes a wide variety of structures which become part of the face, bones associated with the ear, facial expression muscles, the thymus, thyroid, and parathyroid glands (e.g. Manley and Capecchi, 1998).

10) Why do Darwinists continue to use the supposed circuitous route taken by the vas deferens from the testes as an argument for common descent when, in fact, the route is not circuitous at all? The testes develop from a structure called the genital ridge (the same structure from which the ovaries develop in females, which is in close proximity to where the kidneys develop). The gubernaculum testis serves as a cord which connects the testes to the scrotum. As the fetus grows, the gubernaculum testis does not, and so the testis is pulled downward, eventually through the body wall and into the scrotum. The lengthening vas deferens simply follows. And, moreover, before the vas deferens joins the urethra, there needs to be a place where the seminal vesicle can add its contents.

And finally, the extra credit:

11) How many peer-reviewed papers have you published since setting up your blog, Pharyngula? We think the number's zero, but it would be nice to get confirmation of this.

10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers

http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/10-1-questions-for-professor-myers/

30 May 2011 Jonathan M

When Michael Behe visited the UK, back in November, the Humanist Society of Scotland and the British Center for Science Education wrote up a list of "10 + 1 Questions For Professor Behe" which they subsequently distributed to their ranks of faithful followers. I responded, at the time, fairly thoroughly to the arguments made therein here (to which the BCSE retaliated fairly viciously here).

Since PZ Myers has been invited to visit Glasgow next week (one week from today to be specific), to lecture on the embryological evidence for Darwinism, I took it upon myself to draw up this list of "10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers". If you happen to be in the area, and are anticipating attending this event next Monday (which will take place in the Crystal Palace, 36 Jamaica Street, from 7pm), feel free to use the following questions as inspiration for the Q&A session which will follow the talk.

10 + 1 Questions For Professor Myers

1) In light of the Darwinian evolutionary paradigm, can you account for the observation that the eggs of the five classes of vertebrate (i.e. fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) begin markedly different from each other? While the cleavage patterns in four of the five classes show some general similarities, the pattern in mammals is very different. Furthermore, in the gastrulation stage, a fish is very different from an amphibian,while both are starkly different from reptiles, birds and mammals, which are somewhat similar to each other. Doesn't Darwinism predict a pattern wherein the earliest stages are the most similar and the later stages are the most different?

2) Kalinka et al. (2010) have documented that the developmental hourglass model (which describes the observation that embryogenesis within a phylum diverges most extensively during early and late development, while converging in the middle) holds true even with respect to patterns of gene expression, which has a central role in elaboration of different animal forms. Given that mutations affecting the earliest stages of development are the least likely to be evolutionarily tolerated, would you please explain how you would account for this observation in terms of evolutionary rationale?

3) Could you please explain the sheer lack of congruence between anatomical homology and developmental pathways / precursors? Since such congruence is a prediction of neo-Darwinism,why isn't it observed? Moreover, not only are there different embryological (i.e. non-homologous) processes and different genetic mechanisms to apparently homologous organs. But there is also the conundrum of homologous genetic mechanisms for analogous (i.e. non-homologous) organs. And then there is also the problem of homologous structures arising from different embryological sources, utterly undermining the evolutionary explanation. Isn't the most straightforward reading of these facts that the adult organs have not been derived from a common ancestor? Why is it that you are happy to use those instances where embryological development and adult similarities are consistent as evidence of common descent, but set aside those instances where they are not consistent?

4) Could you please explain the near-total absence of evidence for evolutionarily relevant (i.e. stably heritable) large-scale variations in animal form, as required by common descent? "Near-total", that is, because losses of structure are often possible. But common descent requires the generation of anatomical novelty. Why is it the case that all observed developmental mutations that might lead to macroevolution (besides the loss of an unused structure) are harmful or fatal?

5) Would you please explain why the purported embryological evidence for evolution is not subject to careful cherry picking of data, given that instances can be identified in which, for example, tissues arise during development in the opposite order from which they are presumed to have evolved (e.g. the formation of teeth after the tongue whereas it is thought that the teeth evolved first; and various vertebrate organs such as liver and lung develop embryologically in quite different ways from how it is thought they evolved)?

6) Would you please explain instances of species which possess similar adult forms but different immature forms, which could conform with recapitulation only if the species evolved convergently? Related to this is the observation that similar phylotypic stages and/or adult morphologies may be attained by very different developmental routes. Don't such observations demonstrate that the view of development being an exclusively divergent process of increased specialisation is false?

7) Would you please elaborate on how a reproductively-capable embryo can evolve by virtue of successive but slight modification while retaining selectable utility at every stage? Paul Nelson discussed the concept of ontogenetic depth in some detail here and here. He also responded to your criticisms of his article, and the somewhat ironic charge of quote-mining, here.

8 ) On your blog, you have defended the central dogmatist (gene-centric) view that an organism's DNA sequence contains both the necessary and sufficient information needed to actualise an embryo's final morphology. If your position is so well supported and the position espoused by Jonathan Wells (and others) is so easily refuted, then why do you perpetually misrepresent his views? For example, you state "These experiments emphatically do not demonstrate that DNA does not matter … [Wells'] claim is complete bunk." Where has Jonathan Wells stated that DNA "does not matter"? Moreover, contrary to your assertions, the phenomenon of genomic equivalence is a substantial challenge to the simplistic "DNA-is-the-whole-show" view espoused by the majority of neo-Darwinists. Cells in the prospective head region of an organism contain the same DNA as cells in the prospective tail region. Yet head cells must turn on different genes from tail cells, and they "know" which genes to turn on because they receive information about their spatial location from outside themselves — and thus, obviously, from outside their DNA. So an essential part of the ontogenetic program cannot be in the organism's DNA, a fact that conflicts with the DNA-centrism of neo-Darwinism. Some attempts to salvage DNA programs (e.g. Rinn et al.) rely on "target sequences" — molecular zipcodes, if you will — of amino acids that direct proteins to particular locations in the cell. But such "molecular zipcodes" do not create a spatial co-ordinate system, they presuppose it.

9) If, as is often claimed by Darwinists, the pharyngeal pouches and ridges are indeed accurately thought of as vestigial gill slits (thus demonstrating our shared ancestry with fish), then why is it that the 'gill-slit' region in humans does not contain even partly developing slits or gills, and has no respiratory function? In fish, these structures are, quite literally, slits that form openings to allow water in and out of the internal gills that remove oxygen from the water. In human embryos, however, the pharyngeal pouches do not appear to be 'old structures' which have been reworked into 'new structures' (they do not develop into analogous structures such as lungs). Instead, the developmental fate of these locations includes a wide variety of structures which become part of the face, bones associated with the ear, facial expression muscles, the thymus, thyroid, and parathyroid glands (e.g. Manley and Capecchi, 1998).

10) Why do Darwinists continue to use the supposed circuitous route taken by the vas deferens from the testes as an argument for common descent when, in fact, the route is not circuitous at all? The testes develop from a structure called the genital ridge (the same structure from which the ovaries develop in females, which is in close proximity to where the kidneys develop). The gubernaculum testis serves as a cord which connects the testes to the scrotum. As the fetus grows, the gubernaculum testis does not, and so the testis is pulled downward, eventually through the body wall and into the scrotum. The lengthening vas deferens simply follows. And, moreover, before the vas deferens joins the urethra, there needs to be a place where the seminal vesicle can add its contents.

And finally, the extra credit:

11) How many peer-reviewed papers have you published since setting up your blog, Pharyngula? We think the number's zero, but it would be nice to get confirmation of this.

In France, a Muslim Offensive Against Evolution

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2075011,00.html

By Stéphanie Le Bars / Le Monde / Worldcrunch Thursday, June 02, 2011

This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Le Monde.

ÉVRY — On a recent Friday evening, Maroua Gousa is standing behind the latticed wooden partition in the section of an Évry mosque reserved for women, watching a presentation projected onto a screen below in the large prayer hall for men. Fond of exploring religious ideas and practices, the 19-year-old student is taking part in a debate with 200 other participants in this city just south of Paris.

The gathering is actually the most recent installment of a new attack aimed at the science of evolution led by Harun Yahya, an outspoken Turkish-born Muslim advocate of creationism who is considered widely controversial within the Islamic world.

Harun Yahya, the pseudonym of Adnan Oktar, never presents himself in person, speaking either by video or through zealous representatives armed with grandiloquent tracts distributed for free. In France, he made himself known in 2007 when he attempted to introduce thousands of copies of his Atlas of Creation into French schools. His work purports to scientifically demonstrate "the frauds and dictatorship" of the evolution-of-species theory.

But since January, the 55-year-old with a well-trimmed beard has launched a new campaign that is clearly targeting the Muslim faithful. Gousa, dressed in a traditional black robe decorated with rhinestones and a white veil that she wears only when she comes to the mosque, admits she has always wondered about "the dinosaurs and the origin of man ... but at school, it cannot be refuted: we're taught that man descended from monkeys. At home and in the Koran, [we're taught] that we descended from Adam and Eve, and that God created all living beings."

Ali Sadun Engin, Yahya's representative in the current tour of French mosques, seems to have convinced the young girl. "I find his explanations logical," she says. The proof for creationism is demonstrated with some perfunctory presentations of fossils, including bear, crocodile and tortoise skulls, and can be summarized in a few brief sentences: "If fish left the water to walk, if dinosaurs were transformed into birds, then we should discover fossils of these beings in transition. However this is not the case. Science thus shows one sole truth: creation as we know it from the Koran."

Based on this fact, Engin jokes about "frogs transformed into princes." He insists that a "Muslim cannot be a Darwinist." Yahya himself has promised $7 million to anyone who brings him a fossil from one of the transitional species.

The scientific content of these works by someone who has studied only art and philosophy in Istanbul was judged to be of "pathetically poor quality" by French academics appointed in 2007 by the Education Ministry to evaluate Atlas of Creation. Yahya's methods are nevertheless known to be as effective as those used by American Evangelicals, and he isn't afraid to shock participants. Engin invoked Hitler and 9/11 in order to declare that "all Darwinists are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Darwinists."

The discussion on the origins of life appears to hit its target in the audience, a mixture of "mainline" believers and devout fundamentalists. Amadou Bah, a 26-year-old student of finance, is happy to have these "clarifications." "Like all Muslims, I am a believer in the theory of creation, but I didn't have arguments to defend it," she says.

"At school, we believed the teachers, but here their theses are disproved," adds Yanina Gelassi, a 19-year-old student veiled in black. "They don't have the truth." Nouri Hamid, 28, a doctoral student in genetics, is not "totally in agreement that there is a complete lack [of evidence] for the evolution of species," but he also says that "science has never demonstrated the connection between Homo sapiens and man."

Similarly, the "concordist" approach to the Koran, defended by the conference speakers, is popular among young Muslims. This concept states that the recent scientific discoveries only confirm the scientific content of the sacred book. "This proves to us that, despite all of the research, God said and wrote everything down in the Koran nearly 1,400 years ago," says Najoua Oubaya, a 21-year-old saleswoman.

"These discussions are good for the people because they prove that the West has discovered nothing and that Islam is superior, even scientifically," wrote Nidhal Guessoum, a Muslim astrophysicist, in Le Monde in 2009. The author of Réconcilier l'Islam et la science moderne: l'esprit d'Averroès (Reconciling Islam and Modern Science: The Spirit of Averroes), he describes Yahya's methods as "do it yourself," and defends the search for connections between science and faith as the same as what has been done in Christianity. In 1996, Pope John Paul II confirmed that the theory of evolution was "more than a hypothesis," but the Catholic Church maintains that science is not the sole contributor to the explanation of the origin of life, as Pope Benedict XVI recalled in 2007.

"The scientific manipulations of Harun Yahya are alarming for the Muslim community," says Saïd Branine, who runs the site Oumma.com and organized a training program on the topic.

Branine said he is worried by the lack of reflection among Muslims about the relationship between science and religion. "Creation is subject to faith, and many fear that by questioning this belief, they question the cause of their faith as well," he said. "This demonstrates the need to train Muslim intellectuals. All the more so because Yahya has abundant resources." The source of the funds that support Yahya's Science Research Foundation remains a well-kept secret.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2075011,00.html#ixzz1OAGY3yHB

Letters: Mountains of evidence support creationism

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/jun/01/letters-mountains-evidence-support-creationism/

Posted June 1, 2011 at 3:40 p.m.

In response to the May 1 letter to the editor "Evolved snakes take on talking snakes." This bill protects science teachers. It allows teachers simply to answer a question if a student asks about creation. They can answer without fear of retribution.

This new bill does not put creation into our curriculum or require teachers to address it in any way. Unfortunately, previous lawmakers have made it illegal for a teacher even to speak of creation. As passed, this law gives freedom to our teachers simply to answer questions.

I stood up on the House floor to defend this bill, and have been misquoted by the letter writer from Oak Ridge. I want readers to know exactly what I said. (You can verify this at the General Assembly website: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us. Search for HB 368 video and fast forward to 3:10:42.) I said, "Evolution between one species to another has never been proven."

But I know evolution within species happens daily. Nobody disputes that. It seems the writer was playing "word games" by sneaking in different meanings to how I used the word evolution. Personally, I whole-heartedly embrace the Genesis 1 account. Evolution from one species to another is a theory — one that, for me, requires blind faith to believe in. Contrary to the writer's statements, the battle of evolution versus creation is still very much alive today.

I represent East Tennessee. Most of us believe in God. Most of us believe in creation. Most of us stand behind teachers who want to give honest answers to honest questions.

The gentleman from Oak Ridge purposefully misconstrued my words while choosing to ignore mountains of evidence that scream intelligent design.

State Rep. Jeremy Faison

Cosby

© 2011 Knoxville News Sentinel.

The Myth … of the Myth of Junk DNA

http://blogs.forbes.com/johnfarrell/2011/05/20/the-myth-of-the-myth-of-junk-dna/

May. 20 2011 - 11:21 am
By JOHN FARRELL

Some interesting items this week in the science blogosphere related to Junk DNA. As University of Toronto biochemist Larry Moran points out, ID proponents are gearing up to tout a new book claiming Junk DNA is a myth–and that the human genome is filled with intelligently designed genes with functions scientists are only now beginning to understand.

Key to the "myth" talking points of creationists is the notion that when biologists back in the 1970s first began realizing how large a percentage of the human genome was non-coding, they simply asserted it was functionless 'junk' in line with their innate Darwinian bias. And now, suddenly, to their utter surprise and chagrin, various functions are in fact being discovered for the junk.

From which we are to conclude, the creationist argument goes, that most scientists are knee-jerk ideological Darwinists, and isn't this another good reason to get a better theory like intelligent design into the public school science classrooms.

T. Ryan Gregory at Genomicron has tirelessly pointed out the problems with the myth argument over the past few years. He cites a number of articles from the journals of the time to show that scientists never dismissed junk DNA in the literature. His blog is a great resource on the subject in general.

But also of interest, this week, are two posts (part one, part two) by botanist Stan Rice, author of Life of Earth: Portrait of a Beautiful, Middle-Aged, Stressed Out World reviewing John C. Avise's book on just how not-so-intelligently designed the human genome actually is.

Many mutations are neutral, or can be easily overcome by technology. And some of them cause a great deal of psychological suffering, such as the mutation that causes trimethylaminuria, which is physically harmless but causes the victims to smell like rotten fish no matter how clean they are. But many other mutations are deadly or, worse yet, can cause a person to have a lifetime of suffering. Perhaps the most disturbing mutation is the one that causes Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. This one mutation, of a single amino acid in a protein, causes the victim to have an uncontrollable compulsion for self-mutilation: they chew their own lips and fingers, and find sharp objects to stab their faces and eyes. The victims are fully able to feel their pain and they know what they are doing, but cannot control it.

Obviously to argue such mutations are the product of intentional design is to suggest the deity or intelligence responsible, is something of a monster. But it's even more problematic, Rice argues: the very structure of the genome itself –not just the mutations–is inconsistent with the idea that the genome, or the human body, or the world was directly designed by an external agent.

The human genome is full of stuff that interferes with the use of genetic information to produce healthy and functional enzymes and bodies. First, consider the fact that only about 1 percent of human DNA codes for those enzymes. About 68 percent of the DNA consists of non-coding DNA that is between the genes, and about 31 percent of the DNA consists of non-coding DNA that is inside of the genes. This is, at best, a clumsy system, because whenever a cell divides, all of this DNA is copied, not just the DNA that the cell will use. In addition, since each gene is broken into little "exon" fragments by a large amount of internal "intron" DNA, the genetic information must be spliced together in order to be put to use. That is, to get a functional enzyme, the genetic information from lots of exon fragments has to be cobbled together. If it works, there is no problem, but the whole system is so cumbersomely complex that it often fails. Not only are many genetic diseases caused by mutations in the genes themselves, but many genetic diseases are caused by (or also caused by) failures of the cell to deal properly with the non-coding DNA and the splicing.

Avise's book is excellent, although other scientists have not found it free of its own problems when it comes to the topic of theodicy.

UPDATE: 5.24.11 At the Discovery Institute's site, Casey Luskin is apparently claiming this post was a review of their new book. "John Farrell has written a critique of Jonathan Wells' new book The Myth of Junk DNA. The only problem is that many of the arguments Farrell critiques aren't ones that Jonathan Wells makes in the book."

The only problem is, the post is about other science bloggers discussing the topic in light of the book's release. In the comments, I invited Casey to send me a copy of the book to review, but as yet he has not responded.