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Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry

and

“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

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A Creationist Myth About Science And Evolution May 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Creationists often point to the fact that science can change.  Using evolutionary science as an example they are always bringing up items such as finding what was thought to be an extinct species still living or finding that land plants existed in the Cambrian period when it had been thought none did or finding that evolution may have occurred in starts and stops instead of a smooth progression as evidence against evolution.   

 Somehow they feel that changes such as these and others show that science cannot be trusted.  That science keeps having to correct itself.   They are blind to the reason why this occurs and why, far from being a sign of weakness, it is one of science’s towering strengths. 

 The reason for this is human knowledge is always incomplete.  We do not know everything and to pretend that we do is both arrogant and foolish.  

 Lets use a logic word puzzle for an example. 

 Suppose that you know that there were four horses in a race and each was wearing a different color.  The question is what horse was wearing which color and in what order did they finish. 

 Given only the information above you couldn’t even begin to guess.  However say that you did some research and found out that the four horses were named Dare Devil, Bitter Twist, After Dinner, and Catch Me. 

 You also found out in your research that the colors they were wearing were blue, red, green, and yellow. 

 We know more but not enough to answer the question with certainty.  We know the names of the horses and the colors that were worn.  We can now speculate on where each horse placed and what color they wore.  And then do the research to see if we were correct.

 Lets say that initially we thought that Catch Me was first and was wearing red.  Next was Bitter Twist wearing yellow, followed by Dare Devil wearing green and After Dinner wearing blue.  

 Now we do a bit more research, looking into newspaper articles, talking to people who were betting on the track that day, talking to jockeys, etc.  And we find out that Catch Me was last. 

 We were wrong on where Catch Me placed.  However does this negate that Catch Me was in the race? 

 No.

 Does this negate that the other three horses were in the race?

 No. 

 Does this negate that each was wearing one of the colors listed?

 No. 

 The basics are still true and are not affected by being wrong on the order.  In fact we are now closer to knowing for sure who place in which spot and what color they wore. 

 In fact our research did verify that Catch Me was indeed wearing red.  So that part was also correct.  We have increased out basic knowledge.  Our total knowledge of the race has increased, although we still do not know with certainty who won the first three spots nor what colors they wore. 

 Next we find a picture of the race taken on the home stretch.  It shows Bitter Twist and After Dinner going nose to nose with Bitter Twist having a very slight lead.  Right on their heels is Dare Devil. 

 Unfortunately the picture is a black and white one so we cannot really discern the colors they wore.  However we make our best guess based on how light and dark the colors were. 

 Based on this evidence we now believe that Bitter Twist won the race and was wearing Green.  Next was After Dinner who was wearing blue.  Third place was Dare Devil wearing yellow.  And of course we already know for sure that Catch Me wearing red came in last. 

 Now while we have some evidence for all of the above the evidence for the first three places is not as certain as that for last place.  And sure enough, after doing even more in depth research we find out that parts of our answer above is wrong. 

 We find out that Bitter Twist stumbled and as a result fell to third place.  We also find out that he was actually wearing blue instead of green. 

 We find out that Dare Devil surged at the very last minute and won the race.  We were correct though in that he wore yellow. 

 Finally we find out that After Dinner, wearing green, actually came in third. 

 Notice how finding out the truth about some of the more speculative parts (because of  current insufficiency of evidence) did not in any way negate those parts that had solid evidence. 

The fact that we were wrong initially on who won the race did not in any way negate the fact that a race occurred, that four horses were in it and that they were wearing different colors.

The fact that we were wrong on the first three places did not in any way negate the above nor did it negate the fact that we were correct on which horse came in last.  And we were correct on some of the colors worn by the horses.

 Science is just like this.  It has a bedrock of well established and amply evidenced theory and facts.  The fact that sometimes it is wrong on some of the speculations based on this bedrock does not negate the bedrock.  

The evidence for evolution occurring is still just as strong as it was before even though scientists believed at one time that there were no land plants during the Cambrian.  Just as being wrong on the order of who won the races did not negate the fact that a race had occurred run by four horses so too land plants in the Cambrian not negate the fact that evolution has and is occurring.

 Further this methodology does not pretend it knows everything and desperately ignore new evidence.  It accommodates it and uses it to increase the bedrock knowledge that science does posses. 

 That is why science keeps gaining in knowledge while those who are so arrogant and foolish as to believe that a book gives them all knowledge lose ground.

The Creation Museum and Science February 27, 2010

Posted by Bill in Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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I was recently browsing through You Tube and came across a couple of videos about the Creation Museum.  While watching them I was struck by three items relating to evolution and science.

1)      Creationists have always had a hard time explaining how the different animals wound up where they did after the flood.  How did koalas and kangaroos wind up in Australia.  How did the Gila monster wind up in southwestern North America and Northern Mexico and so forth.  These animals are not good enough swimmers to get from Mt Ararat and there is no land bridge for them to walk all the way there (although in the case of the Gila monster you could postulate that it walked over the Bering Strait land bridge, but given that the Gila monster is a desert animal and that part of our globe is most definitely not a desert this does not seem to be a reasonable postulate).

 However I saw that the Creation Museum had an interesting idea.

 “RAFTING

When the flood destroyed the world’s forests it must have left billions of trees floating for centuries on the ocean.  These log mats served as ready–made rafts for animals to cross oceans.”

 Interesting.  Very interesting. 

 Now the start of good science is generating ideas on how the world came about.  The Creation Museum postulated one here.  However good science does not stop with just ideas about how things might have come about.  Good science goes on then to devise ways to test those ideas against the world to see if they are true. 

 For example, Darwin looked at the distribution of plants that he saw during his travels on the Beagle and began to look for ways such a distribution could have occurred.  Especially that of what at one time must have been newly created and barren volcanic islands.  He thought it might be possible that the seeds floated from the lands already populated with that plant to ones that were not.

 So far this is similar to the Creationist Museum’s efforts to explain the geographical distribution of the species after the flood.  However from this point on there is a huge difference.  Darwin went on to test his idea. 

 From  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126957.400-darwin-200-planting-the-seeds-of-an-idea.html

 “In March, the BBC TV series Jimmy Doherty in Darwin’s Garden will introduce British viewers to Darwin the experimentalist, as Doherty re-enacts a selection of Darwin’s investigations. Among them are the seawater experiments with which Darwin set out in 1855 to discover whether seawater kills seeds. He feared this question might “appear childish”, but instead it produced intriguing results and unexpectedly profound conclusions.

Darwin wanted to know if it was possible for seeds to survive at sea: if they could, ocean currents might carry them to new lands, thus accounting for the plant distribution he had seen during his Beagle days.

Doherty recreates one of these seed-salting experiments and finds seeds do survive salt. Darwin began with cress, radish, carrots, cabbages, lettuces, celery and onion, at first leaving seeds in salt water for a week before planting out. They all germinated, some more convincingly than others. Only after this success did Darwin try longer periods – such as the month in Doherty’s version. The conclusion is clear: plants that tolerate a month at sea, as many can, could travel the world.”

 Darwin tested his idea.  He went beyond the first step of good science – generating ideas to explain the world – and went to the absolutely necessary second step – testing that idea. 

I have not seen any creationist research on how long dead trees can float.

Do they have any experimental evidence that the global flood they postulate would uproot billions of trees from the ground?   

Do they have any experimental evidence for their idea that dead trees can float for centuries?  

 Do they have any experimental evidence that if they did float for this long that these logs would indeed float to all the contintents from the Mediterranean (I assume this is the starting point since this would be the closest large body of water to Mr Ararat)?

Do they have any evidence on how long it would take such log mats to reach the different parts of the globe?

Do they have any evidence that animals such as the gila monster and the koala and the kangaroo could survive on the logs and oceans for long enough to reach their final destination? 

From what I can tell the answer is no. 

Creationists are good at coming up with ideas (both plausible and, as this one is, implausible).  However they never seem to be able to finish the process off and turn these ideas into actual science.  Instead they seem to inevitably stop short. 

But then I guessed if they finished the process they would have to acknowledge that their ideas have failed.

2)      In another part of the video they showed a sign going over the problem of venom in animals. 

“Though nothing harmed animals before Adam’s sin, venom harms animals in the present.  We do not know exactly how venoms first entered the world. Possibilities include:

Changed use of chemicals (chemicals that once had non-harmful functions at the creation changed to venoms after the Curse).”

What struck me about this is how close this is to evolution.  New structures and features evolved from ones that served a different purpose at the time: the jawbones of  reptiles migrating and changing to become the middle ear of mammels being a good example. 

The only difference, and it is a major one, is the evolution sees this as a result of a natural process occuring over a great deal of time.  Creationists see it as the result of a one time outbreak of God’s anger. 

Perhaps Micheal Behe should consider this sign while thinking about how the flagellum evolved. 

 3)      The final thing that caught my attention was a sign about Noah’s ark and its construction. 

“Building a large door that seals properly is challenging.  Noah could have designed it to seal with a wedge – like fit, but God himself may have solved any waterproofing problems when He shut the Ark door.”

This says volumes about the creationist mind set and why it is not science.  If you come across a difficult problem then use the God did it option instead of keeping on working at it. 

Can you imagine if science had followed that same mindset.  We can’t figure out how disease comes about therefor God did it.  Pray for healing as that is all that can be done. 

Does anyone really want to live without modern medicine. 

In summary I found the my video tour of the Creation Museum a lesson on why Creationism is not science, despite what its all too many believers believe.

–         It does not test its ideas against reality to see if they are true.

–         Even if it did and they failed they could and would use the God did it explanation. 

 Of course I think that most people knew that Creationism is not science.  However it is good to have this idea tested and verified by reality.

Addendum:

As I kept on watching other videos about the Creation Museum I saw a couple of other items that I just could not leave out of this blog. 

Near the entrance of the museum they have a diorama that contrasts the two views of the world – science and religion. It has a dig with two people in it. One of the people is a biologist measuring items, doing calculations, and examining the evidence. The other person is a creationist who is reading the Bible. The clear message is that you do not need evidence, only the Bible to know anything and everything. Any evidence you find must be made to fit the Bible no matter how much you must twist, tear, and distort that evidence.

This fits in well with the second part I noticed. A sign that said “SCIENCE IS HARD, GOD IS EASY”

Finally I loved the one that had WWSD. What Would Satan Do.

The answer. Ask questions.

The more you look at the Creationist Museum the more you see that it is not science. In fact it is the very anti-thesis of science. Which makes the creationists effort to inject their nonscience into schools even more scary.

Turning Science Into NonScience February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Currently a hot tactic for creationists to use is to attack the assumption of naturalism that scientists have to make.  In fact that is the basis of the whole Intelligent Design movement, especially as popularized by the lawyer Phillip Johnson. 

Their argument goes that science assumes that there must be a natural explanation for how the world works.  Because of that science is blinding itself to the possibility that God is working directly in the world. 

 However is this assumption of naturalism really a self-perpetuated blindness on the part of scientists or is it a clear-sighted necessity for science to work? 

 Naturalism is basically the idea that there is a non-supernatural explanation for natural phenomena.  In other words any questions we ask about the world has to have a natural explanation.  Saying God did it is forbidden in scientific research.

 Before going further let me just say that just because a scientist assumes naturalism in his work (known as methodological naturalism) as a scientist does not mean that he or she assumes it in their total lives (naturalism).  They can be religious and still be a scientist. 

In fact a group of thousands of clergy from various religions such as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and many others got together and did up a statement in support of evolution.   There are also thousands of scientists doing good research in evolution – paleontologists, archeologists, geologists, biologists – who are also Christian.  Two good books written about evolution from a Christian perspective are Paradigms on Pilgrimage by Stephen J. Godrey and Christopher R. Smith and Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller.  Both are good books by Christian believers explaining why they support and do research into evolution and why they do not find it a conflict with their faith.

Going back to the main subject now, why is it that this naturalistic assumption is necessary for science to work?  The short answer as to why this is so is that “God did it” is a showstopper.  It stops us from looking further and deeper.

There is a Sydney Harris cartoon with two scientists watching a third writing a complicated mathematical formula on a blackboard. Between the two halves of the formula on the blackboard though are the words “And a Miracle Occurred”.    One on the watching scientist says to the other “I think he needs to be a little more explicit on that second step”

The Creationists(and this includes the Intelligent Design people since ID is nothing but a subset of creationism)  are like that scientist writing on the blackboard. 

When asked about how something occurs in the world there is a natural tendency to say that this is so complicated and we currently have no clue to how it occurred that therefore God must have done it.  However ignorance is proof of nothing but ignorance.  To be able to really make that argument work you would have to show how we can distinguish between these four possibilities when faced with a difficult question:

1)There is a natural explanation but we have not come up with the evidence needed to show us how to answer it or come up with the right way to look at the problem to solve it.  Some examples would be Plate Tectonics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

2) There is a natural explanation but we do not have the tools needed to solve it.  Examples are the Germ Theory of Disease (microscope) and most of Astronomy (telescope).

3)  There is a natural explanation but we will never be able to solve it because we just do not have the intelligence to do so.  For example imagine one of our early ancestors – possibly Homo Erectus – sitting on the shores of the ocean.  She notices the tides and wonders what causes them.  However her intelligence is too limited for her to ever understand how the gravitational effects of the moon and sun cause the tides.  Because of this she might conclude a god caused the tides when taking baths even though there is a natural explanation.

4)  God did it.

Until we come with a way to reliable way distinguish between these four possible hypotheses then assuming that God did it stops our questioning too soon.  If we had stopped with God causes disease to strike as punishment we would never have developed modern medicine.  If we had stopped with God causes the lightning we would never have learned about electricity and developed lightning rods among many other useful benefits.

 For people of faith, using an unknown as evidence that God did it not only stops us from looking for answers too soon but also puts the idea of God at risk.  What will the effect be on a person’s belief in God if part of that belief rested on ignorance and then we found a natural explanation?  Does it put his faith at risk then?  Ignorance is shaky ground to base a belief in God on.  Or any other belief for that matter. 

 I have gone on at probably too great a length because creationists love to use this naturalistic assumption as proof that scientists are atheists and that evolution is a theory driven by atheists.  Neither is correct. 

One of the interesting things about this is that the evidence for evolution and the stage was set for evolution by the creationist scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Their discoveries in biology and geology led to questions and answers that eventually resulted in evolution.  For a detailed look at that history Peter J. Bower’s Evolution The History of an Idea.  For a quicker but still good look at this try Edward J. Larson’s Evolution The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory.

Since these arguments are being used most often in the context of evolution I have continued with that emphasis.  However make no mistake, were creationists to be successful in eliminating naturalism from science not only would evolution be destroyed but so too would all of science – from physics through chemistry, from Plate Tectonics to Relativity.   This can be very clearly seen in the other scientific theories and findings that creationist attack – age of the earth, radio-metric dating, Big Bang theory, etc. 

To sum up then, scientists have to assume that there are natural explanations for whatever questions about the natural world they are studying.  To do otherwise leaves them at great risk of missing out on a new discovery that will change the world – such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  To do otherwise would destroy science.

Declaring Darwin Day – The Why Not January 31, 2010

Posted by Bill in barack obama, Church and State, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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Just recently I found out about a petition circulating to have President Obama declare February 12 Darwin Day. It is an attempt to gain recognition among the general public of the great scientific accomplishments of Charles Darwin and the fundamental place his thoughts, ideas, and theories have in biology today.

 http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/318/t/10503/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=2221

I did not sign it and in fact am arguing against the whole idea.

Let me first state that I am a firm supporter of evolution. I have looked at the evidence and read numerous articles and books from both sides – evolution wins hands down. The fact that organisms have changed and evolved over time is as firm a fact in science as any.

Further Charles Darwin’s theory on how evolutionary change occurs – natural selection – still holds as either the sole or one of the primary mechanisms of evolutionary change.   I also think that Charles Darwin completed the scientific revolution which consisted of changing explanations about how nature works from God did it to natural processes. This had with scientists such as Galileo and Newton in the physical sciences, but finally finished with Darwin taking this view into the life sciences.

There is no doubt that Charles Darwin was one of the greatest and most influential scientists in history.

So why am I not signing the petition and urging others not to sign?

Not because I disagree with what it says but because I believe that this is the wrong way to go about showing the public that evolution is not only good science but a fundemental part of biology. Not only is it the wrong way but I feel it can actually be counter productive.

Currently the only reason creationism is a threat to science is because so many believe and support it. The leaders of the creationist movement (and I am including Intelligent Design which is just a subset of creationism) have managed to organize those numbers into a very effective political machine. It is their mix of religion and politics that is posing a threat to effective teaching of science.

A part of their arguments is that evolution is supported by an atheistic establishment, one that does not want to acknowledge the new “evidences” that show evolution wrong and creationism right (remember the movie Expelled?).

Given that,  imagine how well having the President proclaim Darwin’s Day will play. The creationists, good public realtions swills that they are, will use this as evidence that since evolution could not cut the mustard as a science that the establishment is once again resorting to politics. This petition would only  provide more fuel for their arguments.

My proposal?

 Have President Obama proclaim a Science Day.

A day in which we recognize the achievements and accomplishments of science and scientists such as Newton, Galileo, Einstein, Bohr, and others are recognized and their achievements and influence on our society and world listed and enumerated. And in the company of these giants have Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution. Put him in his proper place on a par with Einstein and Newton.

That would be a far better and more effective way to defend evolution than this well intentioned but not well thought out petition.

You Can Have Any Result you Want as long as It’s Right January 9, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Evolution, Religious Right, Right wing, Science, Uncategorized.
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With their teachings about “curing” homosexuals largely discredited in the US,  three  Christian missionaries went to Uganda. One month after their visit, a largely unknown Ugandan politician introduced a bill to impose a death sentence for homosexual behavior- the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009. The three American missionaries are now trying to distance themselves from the bill.

Such is the problem when science crosses with ideology– if the results don’t support the ideology, the ideology wins. One big issue that scientists have with Intelligent Design and Creationism is the statement of belief that members and associated researchers are required to sign. Below is the statement from the Creation Research Society.

CRS Statement of Belief

All members must subscribe to the following statement of belief:

1. The Bible is the written Word of God, and because it is inspired throughout, all its assertions are historically and scientifically true in the original autographs. To the student of nature this means that the account of origins in Genesis is a factual presentation of simple historical truths.

2. All basic types of living things, including man, were made by direct creative acts of God during the Creation Week described in Genesis. Whatever biological changes have occurred since Creation Week have accomplished only changes within the original created kinds.

3. The great flood described in Genesis, commonly referred to as the Noachian Flood, was an historic event worldwide in its extent and effect.

4. We are an organization of Christian men and women of science who accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. The account of the special creation of Adam and Eve as one man and one woman and their subsequent fall into sin is the basis for our belief in the necessity of a Savior for all mankind. Therefore, salvation can come only through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.

This violates one of the basic tenets of scientific research, which is that when the results don’t validate the hypothesis, the hypothesis needs to change.

While religious idealogues are often guilty of this, they are not the only ones. Witness the anti-vaccination groups who refuse to accept the numerous studies that show absolutely no link between autism and vaccines, or the anti-electrical wires groups who refuse to accept the numerous studies showing absolutely no link between cancer and electrical lines.

Sometimes this ideology simply results in bad science. Other times it results in much, much more. In the case of Uganda, the results are ominous, indeed.

New American Export or Truth vs. Lies: Evolution and Creationism October 25, 2009

Posted by Bill in atheism, Church and State, Current Events, Evolution, Religion, Science, Uncategorized.
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Apparently America has found something new to export to Europe – creationism.  While not the problem there that it is in the US – yet – it is growing and making inroads.  In Germany a state education minister briefly allowed creationism to be taught as science and in Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ordered the teaching of evolution halted.  In England creationists are making more and more inroads into the public schools.  Serbia’s education minister ordered the teaching of evolution stopped and has said that in the future creationism should be taught alongside evolution. 

 Fortunately scientists and others are pushing back and the European Union has endorsed a statement of support for Evolution and against Creationism.   Those who value rationality and truth, – whether Christian, atheist, Muslim Hindu, whatever – all need to push back on this whether here or in Europe.   While everyone is entitled to believe as they will they are not entitled to change what science is and what it has discovered  to suit their beliefs.  We do not allow those who dispute the Holocaust to change our history books.  We do not allow astrologers to change our astronomy texts.  We do not allow flat earth theory to be taught in our geology and geography classes. 

 The same holds true for biology.   

 The problem is that evolution hits at who we are as a species and people more directly than the flat earth or astrology – it hits at people’s religious view of the world in a way that other issues do not.  And it has, unfortunately been framed as a religious issue, a Christian versus Atheist issue when it is not. 

Partly this is due to history – moving away from the religious and church inspired view that dominated academia until the 19th century of how the biological and physical world worked to a more secular understanding of the world.   Partly it was due to the enthusiasm that many atheists and agnostics took up evolution because it helped explain so much that had once seemed inexplicable.  An enthusiasm that sometimes led to evolution becoming a cornerstone of a religion instead of a science.  Partly it was due to the strong reaction of many Christians to something that seemed to make their beliefs a lie.  

 However the truth is that evolution is as well supported by the evidence as any theory in science – bar none.  It is supported by findings in genetics, field studies of species, embryology, paleontology, archeology, geology and other areas.  The process of natural selection has been taken up by engineers and other scientists as a way to solve problems and come up with new and novel solutions.  Evolution has impacted medicine and agriculture. 

 Creationism has failed on all of these fronts.  But because it is tied so closely to people’s religious beliefs, beliefs that are of supreme importance to many, it is nonetheless still going strong.

 What many Christians who support creationism do not fully realize is that people of all religious beliefs support evolution.   There are scientists who are also evangelical Christians such as Francis Collins, Mary Schweitzer, Stephen Godfrey, and literally thousands of others.

 Major religious organizations support evolution over creationism.  Millions of Christians support evolution and still believe in an omnipotent personal God, in Jesus his son who died for their sins and was resurrected.  Christianity and religion can be reconciled with the findings of science without damaging reason, ignoring evidence, and debasing truth. 

 This debate is not a religious vs. non-religious issue.  Instead it is an issue of truth vs. lie. The evidence is there for evolution.  It is well supported by facts and by reason and supported by all areas of biology, paleontology, geology, and anthropology.  It is why almost 99% of scientists support evolution. To counter that creationists – whether the Young Earth version or the more sophisticated Intelligent Design version – ignore evidence and propagate inaccuracies and sometimes promote outright lies to make up for their lack of evidence.     

 It is unfortunate that most people do not know enough about science and evolution to realize that they are being misled on what evolution is.  I hear it on the Christian talk shows that I listen to on the radio and the amount of inaccurate information given out as true is astounding.   It would be funny if it weren’t  for the fact that they are trying to get this misinformation taught in the schools as science, as biology.   As true.

 If they do, then we all lose – science, atheist, Christian, all.  No one wins when lies triumph.

Lousiana Is At It Again October 6, 2009

Posted by Dindy in Church and State, Evolution, Religion, Schools, Science.
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The State of Louisiana is not exactly known for its excellent public schools and with its latest volley against evolution, that trend will continue. Under the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), teachers can use supplemental material to help students “understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” In January 2009, the Lousiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) adopted a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will and will not be allowable under LSEA. A provision that “materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science class” was deleted.

Left unresolved was the question of how to handle complaints about whether or not supplemental materials were or were not appropriate. The Department of Education recommended that any complaints undergo an initial review by a three-member panel named by the agency, then go to the state board for a final decision. However, the BESE evidently didn’t want people who know anything about science reviewing such materials because it revised the procedure so that when there is a challenge to materials, they will be reviewed by a panel of five, two of which will be selected by the DOE, one reviewer will be named by the challenger, one by the school and one by the publisher of the challenged materials.

Excuse me? One of the persons responsible for reviewing challenged materials to determine whether or not they violate the BESE policy will be selected by the publisher of the challenged materials? Gee, let me think. What kind of recommendation do you think THAT person will make?

BESE: Hey, you, Publisher’s Representative! Do you think these materials violate the Board Policy against promoting a religious doctrine?

Publisher’s Representative: No. Absolutely not. The materials promote Creation Science which everyone knows is not at all biblical in nature but is definitely scientifically based.

My guess is that Louisiana enjoys having schools that rank in the bottom five in the nation. Maybe with this new policy, they can actually come in last on the list!

The Cambrian Explosion that Wasn’t September 7, 2009

Posted by Dindy in Evolution, Science.
Tags: , , , , ,
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Bill and I spend a lot of time hanging out on the Creation Evolution Debate Forum. I also moderate on the Evolution versus Creation Forum. That means we spend a lot of our time debating with Creationists. One argument that comes up frequently is the myth of the Cambrian Explosion. Creationists claim that it is evidence against evolution. They say that the sudden appearance of new types of life is proof of a creator. In the course of researching a response to someone on the forum, a guy who says he is actually more of an ID-er than a creationist, I put the following together about the Cambrian Explosion. One of the other members of the forum liked it so much, I decided to post it here. So here it is, with some slight modifications:

Creationists/ID-ers claim that scientists are unable to explain the [apparent] sudden diversification of life in the Cambrian. First we have to look at whether there is actually anything that needs to be explained. The Cambrian Explosion has a kicky sort of name but it is not as unique as is commonly thought. It is commonly termed as being the sudden appearance or rapid diversification of life in the Cambrian period. Yet we know it isn’t the sudden appearance of fossils because of the Ediacaran fossils. Nor is the rate of diversification greater than that of other eras.

THE MYTH OF SUDDEN APPEARANCE

Part of the reason the Cambrian Explosion was termed as such was because of the sheer number of fossils found where there were supposedly few found from prior time periods. This is no longer true with the discovery of all the Ediacaran fossils (fossils of the earliest known multi-cellular life dating from the Pre-Cambrian).

From Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:

“There is another … difficulty, which is much more serious. I allude to the manner in which species belonging to several of the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known [Cambrian-age] fossiliferous rocks … If the theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian stratum was deposited, long periods elapsed … and that during these vast periods, the world swarmed with living creatures… [But] to the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods before the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer. The case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained”

It was this that focused attention on two things: the huge number of fossils in the Cambrian and the seeming lack of fossils from the Pre-Cambrian. Now, however, we have a vast wealth of fossils from the Pre-Cambrian- the Ediacaran fossils. So that part of the so-called “Cambrian Explosion” is simply no longer a factor. The other part, the seemingly rapid diversification is also a fallacy for many reasons.

THE MYTH OF RAPID DIVERSIFICATION

Despite claims to the contrary, only 12 out of 35-37 animal phyla (or body plans) appear in the Cambrian, nowhere near the common Creationist claim that “almost all body plans” are present in the Cambrian. Cambrian life was largely unlike anything alive today. Most of the phylum-level body plans appear in the fossil record MUCH later. In fact, if we define the number of cell types as a measure of the complexity of a life form, the increase in complexity has been constant since the beginning of the Cambrian.

In fact, statistical analysis shows that the diversification of the Cambrian Explosion was no faster than any other radiations. Whereas the popular idea once was that diversification was high in the Cambrian and decreased afterwards, we now know that diversification  started at a relatively low level throughout the Cambrian and has been increasing since.

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118531927/abstract

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118531930/abstract

http://tinyurl.com/nbpazk

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118531929/abstract

So what is the Cambrian Explosion actually?

It is a rise in diversity of hard-bodied marine animals. There are actually two phases of it—the first phase in which animals spread into niches on the sea floor (which actually occurred Pre-Cambrian) and then a second expansion in the early Cambrian as they filled the niches on the sea floor and moved into the water column.

It is true that the rate of diversification in the Cambrian is unique among MARINE animals, but it in no way is true for ALL animals.

So what caused this Rapid Diversification of Marine Animals?

We don’t know for sure. I would say there is no one answer but a combination of factors. First let’s look at the progression of the diversification of life. In the Pre-Cambrian you have life spreading out into the ecological niches on the sea floor. As those became filled, the animals had to go somewhere else so they moved upward, into the sea column. As the sea column became occupied, there was little room for animals to go because the incumbent in an ecological niche has a huge advantage. As empty niches become available, the animals continue diversifying. As the new niches are filled, the animals that fill those niches have little opportunity (or need) to modify their life style or form UNLESS the environmental conditions of the niche change.

MORE OXYGEN!

Evolution occurs because of changes in the environment. If the environment never changes, evolution is going to be extremely slow. The more rapidly the environment changes, the faster the rate of evolution. So what was going on in the environment at the time of the Cambrian? For one thing, the oxygen levels were increasing. Earth’s earliest atmosphere contained no free oxygen. The oxygen we breathe today is the result of billions of years of photosynthesis. As a general trend, the concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere has risen gradually over about the last 2.6 billion years. As more oxygen became available for animals, the animals would increase in size (hence we see increased size of animals in the Ediacaran.) In addition, as more oxygen became available, metabolic pathways would be able to construct more complex structures such as a hard exoskeleton, which are extremely oxygen expensive.

http://www.pnas.org/content/65/4/781.abstract

http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ast.2005.5.415


INCREASED PREDATION!

The development of hard-shelled animals alone then creates a huge change in the environment because a hard-shelled animal is going to have a huge advantage over a soft-bodied animal. An effective predator is going to create a lot of opportunity for evolutionary change. Prey MUST adapt or die.

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/205/1161/489

In addition, as the size of animals increased due to increased oxygen levels, this created more ecological niches as the size of plankton increased. Before the start of the Cambrian, the plankton was too small to fall rapidly toward the sea bed, and so they were destroyed by chemical processes or by larger plankton before they reached the ocean floor. As plankton grew larger, its corpses would fall more quickly and more of it would reach the sea bed. Ditto with its droppings. This changes the environment of both the sea bed and the sea column—whoo hoo! New Prey! New Prey means adaptation in predators and adaptation in predators means adaptation in prey which means more adaptation in predators and so on and so forth. Keep in mind the effect of co-evolution ( a trait in one organism causes another to evolve in response. A number of responses are possible and a different species can potentially emerge for each response.)

http://paleobiol.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/23/2/247

http://dinosaurs.ifrance.com/sixthecambrianexplosion.htm

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/129392/community-ecology

http://sci.tech-archive.net/Archive/sci.bio.evolution/2008-05/msg00016.html

http://tinyurl.com/mjbvny

MASS EXTINCTION OF PRE-CAMBRIAN ANIMALS OPENS NICHES!

Another thing going on at the end of the Cambrian was a mass extinction event: the Ediacaran animals and small shelly fossils disappear from the fossil record, indicating some type of extinction event. The niche previously occupied by the Ediacaran animals (the sea floor) was suddenly available for the Cambrian animals.

http://www.answers.com/topic/end-ediacaran-extinction

http://www.answers.com/topic/c-82141046

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN ANATOMY!

So we have animals moving into the niches previously occupied by the Ediacaran animals and we have animals developing hard-shelled bodies. What else is going on at this time that contributes to the increased diversification? Well, for one thing this was about the time that animals developed eyes. Consider the huge advantage an eye confers upon both the predator and the prey. Before eyes, animals had to be close to each other to hunt prey and to evade predators. The development of the eye may, in turn, be responsible for the development of body features such as armor and spines.

http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/korthof60.htm

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ss/stories/s1375551.htm

SUMMATION!

So in answer to the question about what caused the so-called Cambrian Explosion (which we have shown was not actually an explosion), I would say a combination of factors all contributing to the increased availability of ecological niches. These factors include the mass extinction of the Ediacaran animals, the increased level of oxygen, increase in food supply, increase in predator-prey relationships. As animals evolved in response to these changes, the adaptations in turn created a need for more adaptations resulting in bigger and better adaptations.

Information for this post was taken from the following:

http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC300.html

http://www.pnas.org/content/97/13/6947.full

http://www.answers.com/topic/cambrian-explosion

Shirts to Beat the Band August 30, 2009

Posted by Dindy in Evolution.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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It seems fitting that my first post on our new blog is about Band shirts and about Evolution. I was in band once. I played trombone when growing up and was in my Junior High School Band. And I’m very active on the creation_evolution_debate forum and I am a moderator on the evolutionversuscreation forum. So one of the members of the CED Forum group posted a link to an article from Sedalia, Missouri. Seems their High School band t-shirts created some controversy. They were intended to promote the band and its Fall Program, “Brass Evolutions.” The picture on the shirt portrayed the famous Ascent of Man picture portraying the stages of evolution and the captions “Smith-Cotton High School Tiger Pride Marching Band” and “Brass Evolutions 2009.”

Some parents got upset, however, and the band is looking for a new design. After band members wore the shirts in the Missouri State Fair Parade, Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt said people complained. “I made the decision to have the band members turn the shirts in after several concerned parents brought the shirts to my attention,” he said, adding that the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned. Um, newsflash to Mr. Pollitt, evolution is not a religion, it is a science. Last time I checked, schools were in the business of teaching things like science. A band parent, Sherry Melby, who is also a teacher in the district, said she supported Pollitt’s decision. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school,” she said. Hmmm. I hope she doesn’t teach science. Maybe someone ought to check her credentials.

So here’s a pic of the shirt that got these parents all hot and bothered.

T-Shirt Beats the Band

T-Shirt Beats the Band

I’d buy one!

Later: There are several people blogging about this and several who have started petitions or organized letter campaigns against the school district. I am hesitant to take part in any of these because when it comes to t-shirts for the band, I kind of think the local folks should get to make that decision, however stupid that decision might be. However, Dr. Kiki Sandford has come up with a very positive way of dealing with the school district while at the same time showing support for the shirts. She has written a letter to the school district suggesting that they sell the t-shirts to people who are not upset by the design.

So there you have it folks. What a great way of turning a positive into a negative while at the same time showing support for the t-shirt design! Contact the school district and ask if you can buy one or more of the t-shirts. I’ll be contacting them later tonight!

Mr. Brad Pollitt’s email address can be found here: Pollitt