The National Center For Science Education

The NCSE is the premier organization in this country promoting legitimate science in public schools and in the public forum. They are a 501 (c) (3) organization, deserving of your contributions. I give money to the NCSE. You should, too.

Following is a recent notice from the NCSE:

1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600 Oakland, CA 94612-2922

510.601.7203 • www.ncse.com

With the unprecedented 2016 election finally behind us, we can all turn our attention back to issues that haven’t been in the spotlight lately. Like science education. As you’ll read below, there’s plenty to be concerned about. But NCSE has not taken its eye off the ball, and our new programs are really starting to pay off. I hope that you’ll consider joining our effort to help teachers cover evolution and climate change confidently and completely.

When you consider the state of science education today, it’s easy to be disappointed, disturbed, and dismayed. Consider the following recent incidents.

  • In Alabama, the state board of education voted to continue to mandate a disclaimer about evolution in the state’s textbooks. Such disclaimers date back to 1996. But even after Alabama adopted a new set of state science standards in 2005, that described evolution as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence,” the board disappointingly voted to retain the scientifically unwarranted and pedagogically irresponsible message.
  • A national survey conducted by NCSE with researchers at Pennsylvania State University, which asked 1500 science teachers in public middle and high schools about their attitudes toward and practice in teaching climate change, found disturbing gaps in their knowledge. For example, less than half of the teachers realized that more than 80% of climate scientists agree that recent global warming is caused primarily by human activities.
  • In Kentucky, a young-earth creationist ministry opened a Noah’s-ark-themed amusement park. The truly  dismaying aspect of Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter was its invitation to local public schools to flout the principle of church/state separation by bringing students there on field trips, at a special discounted rate. Judging from reports received by NCSE over the years, public school excursions to creationist attractions are dismayingly common.

Dealing, and helping people to deal, with such assaults on science education is all in a day’s work for us at NCSE.

But as you know, that’s not all that we’re doing. A suite of innovative new programs is aimed at reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally:

  • NCSEteach (http://ncseteach.com/), NCSE’s network to support climate change and evolution educators, now includes nearly 6,000 teachers, each of whom receive regular advice and resources from NCSE aimed at improving their scientific knowledge and pedagogical confidence. And they now know that NCSE will have their backs when they encounter challenges to the teaching of evolution or climate change!
  • NCSEteach’s “Scientists in the Classroom” program is bringing eager and energetic early career research scientists into middle and high school classrooms across the country to enrich students’ climate change and evolution learning experiences. Over one hundred teacher—scientist partnerships have already been formed, to the great and continuing benefit of all involved. More are in the works.
  • NCSE’s Science Booster Club project, piloting in Iowa, has provided fun, hands-on, and accurate educational activities on evolution and climate change to over 50,000 participants at local events in the last year, and raised funds to purchase science equipment for the benefit of over 3,000 local students. In 2016, the project not only exhibited at county and state fairs but also hosted a free summer science camp to provide rural low-income students with evolution education.

Are these programs working? Judging from the heartfelt expressions of thanks from teachers who have participated in NCSEteach, from teacher/scientist partners who have participated in Scientists in the Classroom, and from thousands of Iowans involved with a Science Booster Club, yes!

But to science fans like you and me, what’s even more convincing than testimonials is data. The Science Booster Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, administered a twenty-four-question science literacy survey at its public events throughout the year. And voilà:

scienceliteracycedarrapids

That’s significant—literally (p = 0.03) and figuratively. Working with a low budget but a high degree of enthusiasm, the science boosters in Cedar Rapids—and elsewhere in Iowa—are making a measurable difference.

I’m excited about these efforts, and I hope that you are, too. We want to extend these programs to communities across the country. To do so, we need your support. Your gift to NCSE will help us help teachers to present science properly.

You can donate on-line at ncse.com/join. A gift of only $500 will allow us to provide a new booster club with all the materials needed to provide hands-on evolution or climate change activities to 10,000 participants! Or consider a recurring gift of $10 or $20 per month; such donations help make our budget more predictable so we can start new projects with confidence. A gift of any size will go directly to improving science education.

By reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally, NCSE is helping to ensure that science will be taught honestly, accurately, and confidently. Please help us to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Ann Reid

Executive Director, NCSE

 

Friday Funny

One of a series

It must have been about 25 years ago when I first came across TV preacher Kenneth Copeland. During that time a big interest of the North Texas Skeptics was the matter of faith healing, which the Dallas-Fort Worth area had its fill. Still does. We had (for a while) Robert Tilton, WV Grant, and Larry Lea. And what fun it was. One day at work I was discussing this cast of characters with a co-worker, and she agreed. “But Kenneth Copeland, he’s the real thing.” Now, that is funny:

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland has blamed the recent Louisiana floods on Republicans favorite scapegoat — President Barack Obama.

“I think the floods are an example of God’s wrath,” said Copeland on Trinity Broadcasting Network. “Things like gay marriage and transgender men being allowed to use women’s bathrooms make God angry. Also, Obama has the mark of Cain, so he will never have the Lord’s favor.”

The mark of Cain is a Biblical belief by certain Christians that states black people are cursed by God.

Yes, you did get it right! The great state of Louisiana was rocking along in 2016, scheduled to go through yet another dull year (dull by Louisiana standards), when BOOM! Two homosexuals decided to get married. Two homosexuals were doing what homosexuals always do when, out of the blue, one of them suggested, “I know what we should do today. Let’s go down to the courthouse and take out a marriage license.” That act, that thoughtless act, was the proximate cause of a $1.5 billion catastrophe.

Homosexuals out there, whatever you are doing, keep on doing it. But do it in private. People are drowning.

And that is funny.

44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults

Creationism-OriginOfLifeReality

This is amazing. I picked this link off my Facebook feed Friday and took a quick read. I am pasting it here:

The theory of evolution is false.  It is simply not true.  Actually, it is just a fairy tale for adults based on ancient pagan religious philosophy that hundreds of millions of people around the world choose to believe with blind faith.  When asked to produce evidence for the theory of evolution, most adults in the western world come up totally blank.  When pressed, most people will mumble something about how “most scientists believe it” and how that is good enough for them.  This kind of anti-intellectualism even runs rampant on our college campuses.  If you doubt this, just go to a college campus some time and start asking students why they believe in evolution.  Very few of them will actually be able to give you any real reasons why they believe it.  Most of them just have blind faith in the priest class in our society (“the scientists”).  But is what our priest class telling us actually true?  When Charles Darwin popularized the theory of evolution, he didn’t actually have any evidence that it was true.  And since then the missing evidence has still not materialized.  Most Americans would be absolutely shocked to learn that most of what is taught as “truth” about evolution is actually the product of the overactive imaginations of members of the scientific community.  They so badly want to believe that it is true that they will go to extraordinary lengths to defend their fairy tale.  They keep insisting that the theory of evolution has been “proven” and that it is beyond debate.  Meanwhile, most average people are intimidated into accepting the “truth” about evolution because they don’t want to appear to be “stupid” to everyone else.

In this day and age, it is imperative that we all learn to think for ourselves.  Don’t let me tell you what to think, and don’t let anyone else tell you what to think either.  Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.  The following are 44 reasons why evolution is just a fairy tale for adults…

All right. That’s the lead-off. Following are the famous 44. I’m not going to put the pasted text in quotes, but I will insert my response to each in bold to set it off from the original.

For the most part, these challenges do not appear to require serious responses, so I will respond in the same spirit. Here goes.

#1 If the theory of evolution was true, we should have discovered millions upon millions of transitional fossils that show the development of one species into another species. Instead, we have zero.

No, we should not. The “millions upon millions” is a figure thrown out with no basis in fact. Archaeologist have found notable fossils that can properly be characterized as “transitional.” Those would include sequences of fossils recording the development of the mammalian ear, which I have already discussed. The fact is, if a fossil is from an organism that left successors, it can be considered a transitional fossil.

#2 When Charles Darwin came up with his theory, he admitted that no transitional forms had been found at that time, but he believed that huge numbers certainly existed and would eventually be discovered

“Lastly, looking not to any one time, but to all time, if my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking closely together all the species of the same group, must assuredly have existed. But, as by this theory, innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?”

Unfortunately Charles Darwin has been dead for over a hundred years, and what he said about the theory of evolution has no bearing on current science. Science is based on what people can demonstrate and not on what people say. Speech is not evidence in science.

#3 Even some of the most famous evolutionists in the world acknowledge the complete absence of transitional fossils in the fossil record. For example, Dr. Colin Patterson, former senior paleontologist of the British Museum of Natural History and author of “Evolution” once wrote the following

“I fully agree with your comments about the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them …. I will lay it on the line – there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.”

Again, it’s interesting to note that Colin Patterson said this, but again speech is not scientific evidence.

#4 Stephen Jay Gould, Professor of Geology and Paleontology at Harvard University, once wrote the following about the lack of transitional forms…

“The absence of fossil evidence for intermediary stages between major transitions in organic design, indeed our inability, even in our imagination, to construct functional intermediates in many cases, has been a persistent and nagging problem for gradualistic accounts of evolution.”

Same old-same old. Speech is not evidence.

#5 Evolutionist Stephen M. Stanley of Johns Hopkins University has also commented on the stunning lack of transitional forms in the fossil record…

“In fact, the fossil record does not convincingly document a single transition from one species to another.”

How many of these “he said” challenges can I look forward to?

#6 If “evolution” was happening right now, there would be millions of creatures out there with partially developed features and organs.  But instead there are none.

No. The first statement is not correct. It appears to be something made up by uneducated creationists.

#7 If the theory of evolution was true, we should not see a sudden explosion of fully formed complex life in the fossil record. Instead, that is precisely what we find.

Again, no. The writer of the above states this without providing any reasoning why it should be true.

#8 Paleontologist Mark Czarnecki, an evolutionist, once commented on the fact that complex life appears very suddenly in the fossil record…

“A major problem in proving the theory has been the fossil record; the imprints of vanished species preserved in the Earth’s geological formations. This record has never revealed traces of Darwin’s hypothetical intermediate variants –instead species appear and disappear abruptly, and this anomaly has fueled the creationist argument that each species was created by God.”

Again, it is enlightening to learn what some person said about some thing. In the final analysis, what is said has no weight.

#9 The sudden appearance of complex life in the fossil record is so undeniable that even Richard Dawkins has been forced to admit it…

“It is as though they [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists. Both schools of thought (Punctuationists and Gradualists) despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. The only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation and both reject this alternative.”

Again, something a famous authority said, with no tie into what is actually so.

#10 Nobody has ever observed macroevolution take place in the laboratory or in nature.  In other words, nobody has ever observed one kind of creature turn into another kind of creature.  The entire theory of evolution is based on blind faith.

This one is almost too ridiculous for response. Read at face value we would expect to be looking for an animal undergoing transmogrification into another species. Since this is something that never happens, no scientific theory exists to explain it. It is definitely not an aspect of modern theories of biological evolution.

#11 Evolutionist Jeffrey Schwartz, a professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, openly admits that “the formation of a new species, by any mechanism, has never been observed.

Again, a statement and not a piece of evidence. Even worse, the statement is not correct. The formation of a new species has been observed on several occasions.

#12 Even evolutionist Stephen J. Gould of Harvard University has admitted that the record shows that species do not change. The following is how he put it during a lecture at Hobart & William Smith College

“Every paleontologist knows that most species don’t change. That’s bothersome….brings terrible distress. ….They may get a little bigger or bumpier but they remain the same species and that’s not due to imperfection and gaps but stasis. And yet this remarkable stasis has generally been ignored as no data. If they don’t change, its not evolution so you don’t talk about it.”

Another statement by a famous authority.

#13 Anyone that believes that the theory of evolution has “scientific origins” is fooling themselves.  It is actually a deeply pagan religious philosophy that can be traced back for thousands of years.

The link is to a creationist page, thereby losing any possible credibility. The fact is that people long considered biological evolution as an explanation for observations from nature. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace were the first to propose natural selection as an explanatory mechanism.

#14 Anything that we dig up that is supposedly more than 250,000 years old should have absolutely no radiocarbon in it whatsoever.  But instead, we find it in everything that we dig up – even dinosaur bones.  This is clear evidence that the “millions of years” theory is simply a bunch of nonsense

It’s long been known that radiocarbon (which should disappear in only a few tens of thousands of years at the most) keeps popping up reliably in samples (like coal, oil, gas, etc.) which are supposed to be ‘millions of years’ old. For instance, CMI has over the years commissioned and funded the radiocarbon testing of a number of wood samples from ‘old’ sites (e.g. with Jurassic fossils, inside Triassic sandstone, burnt by Tertiary basalt) and these were published (by then staff geologist Dr Andrew Snelling) in Creation magazine and Journal of Creation. In each case, with contamination eliminated, the result has been in the thousands of years, i.e. C-14 was present when it ‘shouldn’t have been’. These results encouraged the rest of the RATE team to investigate C-14 further, building on the literature reviews of creationist M.D. Dr Paul Giem.

In another very important paper presented at this year’s ICC, scientists from the RATE group summarized the pertinent facts and presented further experimental data. The bottom line is that virtually all biological specimens, no matter how ‘old’ they are supposed to be, show measurable C-14 levels. This effectively limits the age of all buried biota to less than (at most) 250,000 years.

Again, no. Carbon 14 can appear in any fossil due to contamination. It is interesting to note that proponents of creationism and creationist sites are coming to this erroneous conclusion. The person who wrote the above item needs to provide evidence produced by real scientists and published in real scientific journals.

#15 The odds of even a single sell “assembling itself” by chance are so low that they aren’t even worth talking about.  The following is an excerpt from Jonathan Gray’s book entitled “The Forbidden Secret“…

Even the simplest cell you can conceive of would require no less than 100,000 DNA base pairs and a minimum of about 10,000 amino acids, to form the essential protein chain. Not to mention the other things that would also be necessary for the first cell.

Bear in mind that every single base pair in the DNA chain has to have the same molecular orientation (“left-hand” or “right hand”)? As well as that, virtually all the amino acids must have the opposite orientation. And every one must be without error.

“Now,” explained Larry, “to randomly obtain those correct orientations, do you know your chances? It would be 1 chance in 2110,000, or 1 chance in 1033,113!

“To put it another way, if you attempted a trillion, trillion, trillion combinations every second for 15 billion years, the odds you would achieve all the correct orientations would still only be one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion … and the trillions would continue 2755 times!

“It would be like winning more than 4700 state lotteries in a row with a single ticket purchased for each. In other words…impossible.”

This is an interesting presentation, but it has no bearing on reality. Biological evolution does not require the scenario depicted, so this is a non-starter.

#16 How did life learn to reproduce itself?  This is a question that evolutionists do not have an answer for.

Finally an interesting point. By “evolutionists” I presume is meant “scientists.” The inability to answer every question related to an issue does not imply certain conclusions are false.

#17 In 2007, fishermen caught a very rare creature known as a Coelacanth.  Evolutionists originally told us that this “living fossil” had gone extinct 70 million years ago.  It turns out that they were only off by 70 million years.

Actually, a living Coelecanth was found in 1938. “Evolutionists” (“scientists”) thought they were extinct up to that point, because they had found no live ones. The discovery of living members of this species reversed that thinking. This in no way offers comfort to creationists.

#18 According to evolutionists, the Ancient Greenling Damselfly last showed up in the fossil record about 300 million years ago.  But it still exists today.  So why hasn’t it evolved at all over the time frame?

This one appears to be wrong on a number of points. A learned explanation can be found on the NeuroLogica Blog. This site warrants further viewing. The writer seems to be addressing all the creationist’s 44 points.

#19 Darwinists believe that the human brain developed without the assistance of any designer.  This is so laughable it is amazing that there are any people out there that still believe this stuff.  The truth is that the human brain is amazingly complex.  The following is how a PBS documentary described the complexity of the human brain: “It contains over 100 billion cells, each with over 50,000 neuron connections to other brain cells.”

I am glad whoever wrote the above is impressed by the human brain. In truth, the human brain seems to be a more capable model of brains found in an array of other living species.

#20 The following is how one evolutionist pessimistically assessed the lack of evidence for the evolution of humanity…

“Even with DNA sequence data, we have no direct access to the processes of evolution, so objective reconstruction of the vanished past can be achieved only by creative imagination.”

Again, somebody is recounting what somebody else said rather than citing any number of useful facts or the results of pertinent scientific study.

#21 Perhaps the most famous fossil in the history of the theory of evolution, “Piltdown Man”, turned out to be a giant hoax.

Yes, the Piltdown Man was a hoax. This does not bear on the validity of modern biological science.

#22 If the neutron were not about 1.001 times the mass of the proton, all protons would have decayed into neutrons or all neutrons would have decayed into protons, and therefore life would not be possible. How can we account for this?

Biologists do not have to account for this. Biologists take the universe as a given and study life forms that exist in the realm of existing physical principles.

#23 If gravity was stronger or weaker by the slimmest of margins, then life sustaining stars like the sun could not exist. This would also make life impossible. How can we account for this?

Same response as immediately before.

#24 Why did evolutionist Dr. Lyall Watson make the following statement?…

“The fossils that decorate our family tree are so scarce that there are still more scientists than specimens. The remarkable fact is that all of the physical evidence we have for human evolution can still be placed, with room to spare, inside a single coffin!”

If Lyall Watson made this statement, he likely made it because he thought it to be true. And it may be true. The size of the objects found has little bearing on the facts these objects represent.

#25 Apes and humans are very different genetically.  As DarwinConspiracy.com explains, “the human Y chromosome has twice as many genes as the chimpanzee Y chromosome and the chromosome structures are not at all similar.”

The initial statement seems to have little basis in fact. Again see the useful explanation posted on the NeuroLogical Blog.

#26 How can we explain the creation of new information that is required for one animal to turn into another animal?  No evolutionary process has ever been shown to be able to create new biological information.  One scientist described the incredible amount of new information that would be required to transform microbes into men this way

“The key issue is the type of change required — to change microbes into men requires changes that increase the genetic information content, from over half a million DNA ‘letters’ of even the ‘simplest’ self-reproducing organism to three billion ‘letters’ (stored in each human cell nucleus).”

The foregoing (as before) begins by inserting a false premise into the question. Animals do not turn into other species. The fact is that “new information” comes from purely random processes. I have discussed this before.

#27 Evolutionists would have us believe that there are nice, neat fossil layers with older fossils being found in the deepest layers and newer fossils being found in the newest layers.  This simply is not true at all

The fossil layers are not found in the ground in the nice neat clean order that evolutionists illustrate them to be in their textbooks. There is not one place on the surface of the earth where you may dig straight down and pass through the fossil layers in the order shown in the textbooks. The neat order of one layer upon another does not exist in nature. The fossil bearing layers are actually found out of order, upside down (backwards according to evolutionary theory), missing (from where evolutionists would expect them to be) or interlaced (“younger” and “older” layers found in repeating sequences). “Out of place” fossils are the rule and not the exception throughout the fossil record.

I am sure, without going to sources, the statement “The fossil bearing layers are actually found out of order…” is true. There are places in the Earth’s crust where geological activity has scrambled the order of layers. This does not invalidate anything known about biological evolution.

#28 Evolutionists believe that the ancestors of birds developed hollow bones over thousands of generations so that they would eventually be light enough to fly.  This makes absolutely no sense and is beyond ridiculous.

I am glad whoever wrote the foregoing finds “This makes absolutely no sense and is beyond ridiculous.” That is not a valid argument.

#29 If dinosaurs really are tens of millions of years old, why have scientists found dinosaur bones with soft tissue still in them?  The following is from an NBC News report about one of these discoveries…

For more than a century, the study of dinosaurs has been limited to fossilized bones. Now, researchers have recovered 70 million-year-old soft tissue, including what may be blood vessels and cells, from a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The presence of well-preserved tissue may have some basis. None of these findings refute the perceived age of the fossils.

#30 Which evolved first: blood, the heart, or the blood vessels for the blood to travel through?

Wait, wait! This is supposed to be “44 Reasons.” Asking a question is not the same as providing a reason. I am unable to answer this question, and the reason I am unable to answer this question is because I am ignorant and not because theories of biological evolution are false.

#31 Which evolved first: the mouth, the stomach, the digestive fluids, or the ability to poop?

Again, a question instead of an argument.

#32 Which evolved first: the windpipe, the lungs, or the ability of the body to use oxygen?

Same as before.

#33 Which evolved first: the bones, ligaments, tendons, blood supply, or the muscles to move the bones?

Same as before.

#34 In order for blood to clot, more than 20 complex steps need to successfully be completed. How in the world did that process possibly evolve?

Same as before.

#35 DNA is so incredibly complex that it is absolutely absurd to suggest that such a language system could have “evolved” all by itself by accident…

When it comes to storing massive amounts of information, nothing comes close to the efficiency of DNA. A single strand of DNA is thousands of times thinner than a strand of human hair. One pinhead of DNA could hold enough information to fill a stack of books stretching from the earth to the moon 500 times.

Although DNA is wound into tight coils, your cells can quickly access, copy, and translate the information stored in DNA. DNA even has a built-in proofreader and spell-checker that ensure precise copying. Only about one mistake slips through for every 10 billion nucleotides that are copied.

Whoever wrote the above is arguing from disbelief. It is not a valid argument to make.

#36 Can you solve the following riddle by Perry Marshall?…

1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism.

2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information.

3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.

If you can provide an empirical example of a code or language that occurs naturally, you’ve toppled my proof. All you need is one.

The pattern of reasoning in the foregoing is invalid on a number of points. The writer calls DNA a code, using a figure of speech. Then the wording is used in a different context in an attempt to make an argument.

#37 Evolutionists simply cannot explain why our planet is so perfectly suited to support life.

By “evolutionists” I assume whoever wrote the foregoing means “biologists.” Since the science of biology does not encompass cosmology, I am going to conclude that the statement is irrelevant to the discussion.

#38 Shells from living snails have been “carbon dated” to be 27,000 years old.

They “have,” and this is through a mis-application of carbon dating. Snails do not acquire their carbon from atmospheric sources. Enough said.

#39 If humans have been around for so long, where are all of the bones and all of the graves?  The following is an excerpt from an article by Don Batten

Evolutionists also claim there was a ‘Stone Age’ of about 100,000 years when between one million and 10 million people lived on Earth. Fossil evidence shows that people buried their dead, often with artefacts—cremation was not practised until relatively recent times (in evolutionary thinking). If there were just one million people alive during that time, with an average generation time of 25 years, they should have buried 4 billion bodies, and many artefacts. If there were 10 million people, it would mean 40 billion bodies buried in the earth. If the evolutionary timescale were correct, then we would expect the skeletons of the buried bodies to be largely still present after 100,000 years, because many ordinary bones claimed to be much older have been found. However, even if the bodies had disintegrated, lots of artefacts should still be found.

I have seen this silly question before, and I have previously seen fit to add to it. Where are their credit card statements, as well?

#40 Evolutionists claim that just because it looks like we were designed that does not mean that we actually were.  They often speak of the “illusion of design”, but that is kind of like saying that it is an “illusion” that a 747 airplane or an Apple iPhone were designed.  And of course the human body is far more complex that a 747 or an iPhone.

Saying “we appear to have been designed” is a figure of speech and is not evidence.

#41 If you want to be part of the “scientific community” today, you must accept the theory of evolution no matter how absurd it may seem to you.  Richard Lewontin of Harvard once made the following comment regarding this harsh reality…

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, . . . in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated commitment to materialism. . . . we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

It is certainly enlightening to learn what Richard Lewontin said, but again what somebody said is not scientific evidence.

#42 Time Magazine once made the following statement about the lack of evidence for the theory of evolution…

“Yet despite more than a century of digging, the fossil record remains maddeningly sparse. With so few clues, even a single bone that doesn’t fit into the picture can upset everything. Virtually every major discovery has put deep cracks in the conventional wisdom and forced scientists to concoct new theories, amid furious debate.”

Good to learn what Time Magazine had to say. For what may hopefully be the last time, what people say does not constitute a scientific argument.

#43 Malcolm Muggeridge, the world famous journalist and philosopher, once made the following statement about the absurdity of the theory of evolution…

“I myself am convinced that the theory of evolution, especially the extent to which it’s been applied, will be one of the great jokes in the history books of the future. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious an hypothesis could be accepted with the incredible credulity that it has.”

Oops. I was hoping I had seen the last of these. Sadly not.

#44 In order to believe the theory of evolution, you must have enough blind faith to believe that life just popped into existence from nonlife, and that such life just happened to have the ability to take in the nourishment it needed, to expel waste, and to reproduce itself, all the while having everything it needed to survive in the environment in which it suddenly found itself. Do you have that much blind faith?

This is a statement of the person who posted these “44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults” and does not constitute a valid argument. So, I’m not going to address it. And that’s the end of my response to the “44 Reasons…” Here is a final quote from the author of the 44:

For years, I have been looking for someone that can explain to me the very best evidence for the theory of evolution in a systematic way.  My challenge has been for someone to lay out for me a basic outline of the facts that “prove” that evolution is true.

Perhaps you believe that you are up to the challenge.

Would that you had provided more of a challenge. I congratulate Michael Snyder, who is credited in the post I copied these from. He has dredged up what may be the most comprehensive collection of creationist nonsense I have come across in many years. This has been a refreshing tour and a reminder to me, and others as well, of the shallowness of the creationist argument. If there is any demonstration of the standing of modern science with respect to superstition and myth, these kinds of postings stand out. They are sorely appreciated.

While posting my responses I ran across Steven Novella’s much more enlightened and comprehensive response. Please link to his blog posts and read his responses. His responses are in four parts:

Bat Shit Crazy

Seventh of a series

MtBlancoWebSite-01

The North Texas Skeptics is a non-profit organization that takes on a number of issues. One is creationism and associated fallacies. I get mail, a lot of which is Bat Shit Crazy, and some of that is from the Mt. Blanco Museum, located in Crosbyton, Texas. The backbone of this organization seems to be creationist Joe Taylor. Besides the museum, Joe Taylor is interested in spreading the word against biological evolution. He’s of the class of creationists known as Young Earth Creationists. These people take Genesis literally and deny the Earth is billions, much less millions, of years old. His latest book is Giants Against Evolution, apparently not available in Kindle.

giants-book-cover

I’m guessing that’s Joe Taylor on the cover.

A few miles from where I was born there is a place on the Paluxy River (Texas) where Cretaceous dinosaur tracks are found in limestone estimated at 115 millions ago. A famous feature of these tracks is the so-called Taylor Trail. It’s not the same Taylor, but this feature is cited by creationists as evidence that dinosaurs co-existed with our human ancestors.

Joe Taylor and the Mt. Blanco Museum attract the attention of others of similar bent:

A Texas man says he found fossils from “Noah’s flood,” and the director of an anti-science museum that claims evolution is “an old-fashioned theory” is supporting him.

Wayne Propst was helping his aunt out, laying dirt near her home in the town of Tyler when he found snail fossils, he told local news station KYTX. He and his aunt believe the fossils happened during the fabled worldwide flood described in the biblical book of Genesis.

“From Noah’s flood to my front yard, how much better can it get?” Propst said.

This is simply amazing. Some would say Bat Shit Crazy. A man digs up snail fossils in East Texas, and this correlates with the flood story from Genesis. If this does back up the Genesis Flood story, then just about everything does, because I can assure you geologists and even people engaged in highway construction have been digging up snail fossils for hundreds of years.

With any fantastic story there is always somebody to throw cold water. In this case it’s a University of Texas paleontologist. Again, from the Huffington Post article:

However, James Sagebiel, the collections manager at the Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that Propst’s fossils are actually millions of years old.

“The rocks there are about 35-40 million years old, and these little turret snails are commonly found in marine rocks of that age,” Sagebiel said. “ “It’s not unusual.”

Millions of years ago, the place where Tyler, Texas, now stands would have been coastline, he added.

Darn it! Just when the world is starting to go Bat Shit Crazy, somebody lets the air out of the balloon. Doesn’t science just drive you up the wall?

Signature in the Stone

Part of a continuing series

Geological Survey of Canada Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear 'spines'

Geological Survey of Canada
Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear ‘spines’

This is a continuation of my review of creationist Steven C. Meyer’s latest book, Darwin’s Doubt. As with the previous installment, this is going to be drawn from reviews by others with the required expertise. Let’s take a look at Meyer’s use of phylogeny.

The fossil record of the Cambrian period, a time when many multi-cell animal types first appeared, presents a problem. That problem is determining the phylogeny of the various phyla first observed here in the fossil record. We would like to know which animal type, represented in the fossil record, had the most recent common ancestor with which. Biologists (and paleontologists) attempt to deduce the phylogeny of Cambrian life by comparing genotypes of extant life. It works like this. See the diagrams from Meyer’s book:

Figure21-1

Figure 21-1

Species #1 has trait A. Species 2 has trait AB. And so on. One logical conclusion is that originally there was a species with trait A. Species 2 derived from species 1 with the additional trait B, retaining trait A. That is not the only possibility. See the following diagrams.

This is the inferred sequence of acquired traits, and this is the inferred order of branching. Trait B was acquired after the initial branch. And so on.

Figure21-2

Figure 21-2

Meyer now begins his argument against the validity of cladistics derived in this manner.

Yet, as systematists include more characters in their analysis, the potential increases for generating inconsistent pictures of the history of life. So too does the need to apply subjective, post hoc, or theory-laden judgments about which characters to include or how to weight the different characters— at least, that is, if the algorithms are to produce reasonably coherent trees that conform to theoretical expectations about the nature of evolutionary change. An analysis of a group of species based upon one small set of characters may produce a clear, unambiguous cladogram. An analysis of the same group emphasizing a different set of characters can render an equally unambiguous branching tree pattern that is inconsistent with the first tree. An analysis including all the characters present in both datasets, however, can generate a complicated picture of evolutionary history in which some characters emerge or disappear on different branches independently. These patterns of character distribution are typically attributed to convergent evolution or loss of characters. (Alternatively, the algorithm may identify many conflicting phylogenetic trees that are equally parsimonious.)

For example, imagine that in addition to characters A, B, C, D, and E in the figures above, a systematist also analyzes characters F and G. Imagine further that when characters F and G are included in the analysis, F occurs on branches 1, 3, and 5 (but not on 2 or 4), and G appears on branches 2, 4, and 5 (but not on 1 or 3), as shown in Figure 21.3. Explaining this pattern requires invoking multiple separate origins of the same characters (convergent evolution) and/ or instances of character loss.

Since cladistics presupposes universal common descent and evolutionary biologists generally think the likelihood is low of characters appearing multiple times on separate lines of descent, this type of analysis strives to minimize the number of unexpected evolutionary events (especially separate origins of the same characters) necessary to explain the observed distribution. This attempt to generate a tree depicting the least number of steps is called maximizing parsimony. However, maximizing parsimony (and minimizing the number of events involving convergence or loss) frequently becomes difficult as systematists include more characters in their analysis.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 7739-7755). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Parsimony is the brass ring in much of science. The conclusion requiring the least supposition is considered superior. Meyer displays his take on what happens when researchers incorporate additional traits.

Figure21-3

Figure 21-3

An excerpt from the book summarizes Meyer’s objection:

The New Scientist article cited a study by Michael Syvanen, a biologist at the University of California at Davis, who studied the relationships among several phyla that first arose in the Cambrian.15  Syvanen’s study compared two thousand genes in six animals spanning phyla as diverse as chordates, echinoderms, arthropods, and nematodes. His analysis yielded no consistent tree-like pattern. As the New Scientist reported, “In theory, he should have been able to use the gene sequences to construct an evolutionary tree showing the relationships between the six animals. He failed. The problem was that different genes told contradictory evolutionary stories.” Syvanen himself summarized the results in the bluntest of terms: “We’ve just annihilated the tree of life. It’s not a tree anymore, it’s a different topology [pattern of history] entirely. What would Darwin have made of that?”16

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 2284-2292). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

It’s obvious to Nick Matzke, who has written scathing reviews of the book, that Meyer is way over his head attempting to argue this topic. Meyer, who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Science from Cambridge, has not made a formal study of either biology or paleontology. His review of supposed problems with naturalistic explanations of the Cambrian Explosion follows a course of picking through published science and finding quotes and even published research that reinforce his views. Matzke points this out.

Matzke takes up the issue of Consistency Index with respect to cladistic analysis:

Meyer discusses – for the first time ever – the Consistency Index (CI), which is a measure of the congruence of characters on a tree, and a standard statistic calculated in cladistic analysis to assess the treelike nature of the data. Meyer cites two CI values from cladistic analyses of Cambrian groups – 0.565 (Legg et al. 2012) and 0.384 (Briggs and Fortey 1989) and declares them “low”. In the case of Briggs and Fortey (1989), Meyer quotes the authors, who call 0.384 “rather low.” Meyer doesn’t mention that this was just about the very first preliminary attempt at cladistics of Cambrian arthropods, but that’s not the most important problem.

I will not dive deeply into this topic, since it is above my job grade. However, when weighing the level of trust of Matzke versus Meyer, the balance tips heavily in favor of Matzke:

He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis. He received Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley in 2013.

He has choice words regarding Meyer’s methods:

What is the expected CI value if there is no phylogenetic signal in the data? This is what creationists are claiming when they claim the data doesn’t support a phylogenetic tree. This null expectation is easy to calculate (as I mentioned in my original review, but which Meyer, incredibly, missed) by reshuffling each character’s data by randomly assigning the character states to species without regard to phylogeny. The resulting dataset will have the exact same percentages of each character state, the same number of states per character, etc., but will have no phylogenetic signal. Parsimony inference of cladograms can be performed, and CI statistics calculated, for these reshuffled datasets.

The result is a null distribution of CI values. The 95% confidence interval of this null distribution is displayed on the plot. As you can see, the null expectation changes somewhat depending on the number of species in the analysis. So, a CI of 0.5 is low if you have only 10 taxa, but it’s high if you have 30. What is key is that if your dataset’s CI is higher than the null, you can statistically reject the hypothesis of no tree structure in the data. With a little more work you could calculate how many standard deviations you are above the mean of the null distribution.

Briggs & Fortey (1989) had 28 taxa in their analysis. Legg et al. 2012 had 173. Now, consult the figure. I would want to do the randomization myself on the original datasets to be really sure, since conceivably the detailed results could depend e.g. on the number of characters with more than two states, but most morphology datasets are substantially binary characters anyway. As you can see, 28 taxa and a CI of 0.384 is a highly significant rejection of the hypothesis of no cladistic structure, and a CI 0.565 with 173 taxa is an incredibly, mind-bogglingly strong rejection of the null hypothesis. It’s probably hundreds of standard deviations above the random expectation.

Even worse, Meyer should have known about this. Not only has this finding about CI been in the literature since 1991, it’s been prominently available in Theobald’s common ancestry FAQ for 10 years! Meyer himself even cited the FAQ in Darwin’s Doubt, dismissing the entire thing in barely a sentence with “In reality, however, the technical literature tells a different story” (Meyer 2013, p. 122).

The only place where I’ve seen the argument “my gut says that’s a low CI value, therefore cladistics doesn’t support common ancestry” before is from Casey Luskin, Meyer’s “research” assistant for Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer, get a new research assistant! Luskin, get educated before blabbing about technical topics you know nothing about!

The Casey Luskin cited by Matzke is this Casey Luskin:

Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law. In his role at Discovery Institute, Mr. Luskin works as Research Coordinator for the Center for Science and Culture, assisting and defending scientists, educators, and students who seek to freely study, research, and teach about the scientific debate over Darwinian evolution and intelligent design. He formerly conducted geological research at Scripps Institution for Oceanography (1997-2002).

Luskin is co-founder of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center, a non-profit helping students to investigate evolution by starting “IDEA Clubs” on college and high school campuses across the country.

We have previously discussed Casey Luskin in relation to the story of the IDEA Clubs:

What the creationists did in response to the Kitzmiller decision was typical of their game plan. Lacking any productive research in Intelligent Design, the CSC operates solely as a propaganda mill for creationism. Judge Jones, who had previously been quite respectable, was now an activist judge, and incompetent, besides. He had been duped by the claimants’ lawyers and had used large portions of their briefs in his 139-page decision. When Judge Jones received death threats, most likely not from evolutionists, he was given Secret Service protection.

One cog of the CSC’s propaganda mill is the IDEA club web. IDEA stands for Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness, and the clubs are the inspiration of CSC propagandist Casey Luskin. The clubs are student organizations on college campuses and at some minor schools. We have previously covered the state of the IDEA clubs. In April I noted the following activity:10

24 university chapters
6 high school chapters
2 community chapters

We first encountered the IDEA clubs when fellow skeptic Greg Aicklen and I attended a talk by creationist Robert Koons at the University of Texas at Dallas:

Wilston Nkangoh is a senior studying computer science at UT Dallas and his Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club at the University has been in operation for over a year. If you guessed its purpose is to discuss (favorably) the concept of “intelligent design” (ID) creationism you might be in line to win the NTS psychic challenge. From the IDEA Club Web site:

The IDEA Club at UTD is an official chapter of the [Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Center] in San Diego. This club was founded on October 17th, 2002 with the intention of being a forum where faculty, staff, and students can discuss the scientific controversy over human origins, which has surfaced across academia since the early nineties.Even though the IDEA Club is intended to be an organization for members to discuss origins, the club founder, Wilston, decided to expand its discussion topics. Such topics will include the philosophy of science, the advancement of science, and other interesting issues within the realm of human thought, such as, metaphysics, morality, religion, spirituality, sociology, theology, the theory of knowledge (epistemology), et cetera. See [Faq 7]. Ultimately, IDEA Club members will discuss various ideas pertaining to “origins science” and other “life issues,” throughout the school year.1

We learned about the group through an e-mail notifying us of an upcoming lecture by Robert C. Koons, an noted supporter of ID creationism and professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin). Since Greg Aicklen and I are both UT Dallas graduates, we decided to drop in on Professor Koons’ Friday afternoon lecture.

Past all of that, Meyer’s goal is to cast doubt on the capability of natural processes to account for the Cambrian fossils. His instruments are manifold:

  • Argue there is not enough time—the Cambrian Explosion is too short—for natural processes to work.
  • Fossils that would explain the evolutionary development of the varied organism are missing.
  • The methods employed by mainstream biologists are flawed.

Reading the book one gets the impression that Meyer is telling us the evolutionary development depicted by the Cambrian fossils could not have happened. There were many times during my reading I wanted to ask Meyer, “You say this could not happen, yet here are the fossils in the Cambrian record. You are saying these animals could not have developed by biological evolution, yet here they are.”

We become ever more sure that Meyer is going to wind up giving us an alternative explanation. Eventually he does, and at various points he drops hints. On the final pages of the book Meyer gets down to what this book is all about, and it turns out to be exactly what we expected.

In a future installment of this series I will explore the point Meyer labors so diligently throughout the book to develop. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Signature in the Stone

Part of a continuing series

Geological Survey of Canada Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear 'spines'

Geological Survey of Canada
Photograph of fossil worm, showing clear ‘spines’

A few days ago I posted a short comment on creationist Steven C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, which came out in 2013. Previously (2009) I reviewed his Signature in the Cell. This series of posts is going to be a continuation of my comments on the more recent book.

The first 56%  comprises the main book, what the book is about. The remainder is Meyer’s response to critiques of the initial edition followed by acknowledgements, references to cited sources, and such. My immediate concern will be with the main text.

Reading through the first 250+ pages I came to realize I have insufficient knowledge of biology and paleontology to appreciate Meyer’s arguments, so for the most part my critique is going to reflect the findings of experts. Certain comments and claims made by Meyer fall within my range of knowledge, and I will offer a personal response to those.

Here’s an overview: Meyer’s previous book deals with supposed outside intelligence and its influence on biological evolution and biogenesis. Darwin’s Doubt is about the Cambrian explosion and how Darwinian evolution (natural causes) cannot account for it.

Nick Matzke posted a lengthy (9000+ words) critique of the book the day after it was offered for sale. Meyer wonders at this prodigious feat, and I would as well. Except, skeptic that I am, I suspect Matzke obtained an early copy, although this is never openly discussed. Here is an excerpt from Meyer’s response:

According to Matzke, cladistic analysis has established the existence of “transitional” and “intermediate” forms between the animals that first arose in the Cambrian. In his view, cladistics has solved the problem of the missing ancestral fossils discussed in Part 1 (Chapters 1– 7) of the book. As he asserts, “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” Matzke argues that my failure to inform readers of this disqualifies the book from serious consideration as an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

Of course, in making this argument, Matzke scarcely addresses the central argument of the book: the problem of the origin of biological information.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 7631-7638). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This I find to be so very quaint. The problem of the origin of biological information was supposed to have been the subject of Signature in the Cell. Matzke aside, my reading of Darwin’s Doubt gave me the impression the book was supposed to be an analysis of the Cambrian explosion.

I will start by analyzing the dispute outlined above. Meyer says that Matzke asserts “phylogenetic methods can establish, and have established, the existence of Cambrian intermediate forms, which are collateral ancestors of various prominent living phyla.” This actual quote appears in a subsequent post by Matzke titled “Luskin’s Hopeless Monster,” and is the one cited in the book. I find this in Matzke’s original post, and I have highlighted the relevant text:

Yet another confusion that Meyer exhibits relates to the idea of “ancestor”. As with all creationists, Meyer exhibits no understanding of the fact that phylogenetic methods as they exist now can only rigorously detect sister-group relationships, not direct ancestry, and, crucially, that this is neither a significant flaw, nor any sort of challenge to common ancestry, nor any sort of evidence against evolution. Distinguishing between a close sister-group relationship and an exact ancestor is just a level of precision that we cannot expect in most cases. It’s just a by-product of the method and the data available. (This is not quite the end of the discussion on this topic – eventually, we will have Bayesian methods that will assign probabilities to hypotheses of direct ancestry, although this will require formal definition and then data-informed estimation of what “ancestral lineage” means in terms of morphological variability within a lineage, the biogeographic and stratigraphic range of “morphospecies” through times, etc. End nerdy sidetrack.) But phylogenetic methods can and do regularly and rigorously identify collateral ancestry – sister group relationships, and ancestral grades and clades. We can say that birds descend from dinosaurs with essentially 100% statistical confidence, without knowing which if any currently-described fossils are exact direct ancestors rather than closely-related sister groups.

For all of the above reasons, almost every page of Meyer’s discussion of Cambrian organisms contains howlers of the first order. For example, in chapter 2:

First, the great profusion of completely novel forms of life in the Burgess assemblage (feature 3) demanded that even more transitional forms than had previously been thought missing. Each new and exotic Cambrian creature – the anomalocarids (see Fig. 2.10), Marrella, Opabinia, and the bizarre and appropriately named Hallucigenia– for which there were again no obvious ancestral forms in the lower strata, required its own series of transitional ancestors. But where were they?

Casey Luskin is a lawyer working for the Discovery Institute, the premier advocate of Intelligent Design in this country.

Meyer’s response to Matzke is notably weak. He does not attempt to refute any of the critique, but only complains that Matzke is missing the point of the book. One has to wonder, if this topic does not contribute to the point of the book, when why is Meyer discussing it? Meyer’s only defense seems to be an attempt to deflect attention away from this and other noted flaws.

At this point I need to illustrate what is meant by phylogenetic methods. Here is a simple diagram:

Phylogeny

Misconceptions about evolution (evolution.berkeley.edu)

Such a diagram can be constructed by a number of ways, but all methods employ extant organisms. Comparing similar body features (homology) one can determine the order of branching illustrated above. At one point in the past the line of descent of sharks branched from that of other fishes, never to merge again. Ultimately mammals, including us, derived from the right-hand branch and not from the shark branch.

Homology is a coarse-handed way to compare organisms. A finer-grained way is to use protein sequencing and even DNA sequencing. This is because similar forms can disguise true ancestry, which ancestry is more accurately revealed by comparing molecules.

Matzke continues his argument:

Again, it is only by refusing to depict and specifically discuss of the inter-relationships of these sorts of taxa, and the data that supports them, and to mention the statistical support for the resulting relationships, that Meyer manages to pretend to his readers that these questions are not even partially answered, are unanswerable, and that “poof, God did it” is a better explanation. Here’s the cladogram from Legg et al. (2012) again:

phylogenydiagram

From Nick Matzke post

Matzke drives home his point with some force:

What goes into diagrams like this? They represent summaries of the morphological character data, which in this case you can see right here. Many readers, and virtually all creationists/IDists, will have little idea of the scale of effort that goes into constructing a dataset like this. These researchers, and the previous researchers that they are building upon, identified 580 individual, variable characters, each of which has to be identified, defined, divided up into discrete character states, and encoded. This laborious process had to be repeated for (in this case) 173 fossil taxa (correction – some are living, e.g. Drosophila). A lot of fossils are missing a lot of characters – typical and expected in paleontological analyses – but it is still a lot of work. After this, one runs a cladistic or other phylogenetic analysis (whole textbooks and courses are devoted just to this step of the process, and articles devoted to testing the reliability of phylogenetic methods, and improving the methods, are continually being published) and calculates support statistics. The support statistics are important since they tell you whether or not your data have any phylogenetic tree structure. Usually this doesn’t get major emphasis in scientific publications, because almost any biological dataset typically has extremely statistically significant tree signal, and this is true whether or not it agrees precisely with other analyses, and whether or not all relationships of interest to the researcher are precisely resolved with high support.

To anyone familiar with this work, it is simply laughable and pretty much insulting to see Stephen Meyer proclaim throughout his book that fossils with transitional morphology don’t exist, that the Cambrian body plans look like they originated all-at-once in one big sudden step. These statements don’t respect scientific process, they don’t respect the peer reviewed literature, they don’t respect the intelligence and knowledge of people who actually do know what they are talking about, they don’t respect the hard work of all the scientists that went out in the field and found these fossils, and then spent countless hours preparing them, describing them, inspecting them in microscopic detail, coding them in a morphology database, and analyzing them, all with care and effort and detail never taken by any creationist/IDist writer in any effort of comparative biology. And most importantly, Meyer’s statements don’t respect the data. They don’t follow the evidence wherever it leads, mostly because Meyer is ignoring most of the evidence.

A lot of Meyer’s book has to do with disputing the lineage of Cambrian animal life. In future installments of this series I will mine additional instances and also comment on some of his absurd claims related to information and intelligence.

Keep reading.

L’Affaire Sternberg

DarwinsDoubt

Three years ago I concluded the my discussion of the Coppedge controversy—l’affaire Coppedge.

Judge: NASA firing of JPL employee wasn’t due to intelligent design advocacy

Employee’s firing was due to job performance, not religion.
by John Timmer – Nov 2 2012

Earlier today, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s staff were busy recounting their latest successes on the surface of Mars. At the same time, news broke that JPL’s lawyers were succeeding in the courtroom. In 2010, JPL was sued by an employee for religious discrimination after it asked him to (among other things) stop aggressively promoting intelligent design at work. A wrongful termination charge was added less than a year later after the employee, David Coppedge, was let go. But the judge overseeing that case has accepted the JPL’s arguments that Coppedge was let go for performance reasons as part of a larger cutback of staff.

That quote was from ARS Technica. I had my own concluding remarks:

The end of an affair? Only if you are optimistic. Creationist like to milk cases like this to portray themselves as martyrs for the true religion, all the while claiming that Intelligent Design is not religion. We may hear more from them about this business. In the Coppedge affair it would appear the creationists sought to demonstrate that, although Coppedge considered Intelligent Design to be real science, his supervisors thought it was religion, so the creationists really could have it both ways. Perhaps beside the point of the whole affair is that nobody has ever demonstrated any scientific merit for Intelligent Design or any other flavor of creationism, while about seven years ago a district judge in Pennsylvania ruled that the school board defendants in the case had been unable to make the case that Intelligent Design has a scientific basis. And, yes, the judge in the Dover case also agreed that Intelligent Design is solely a matter of religion.

C’est finis.

For another case it appears not to be finished. I call this case l’affaire Sternberg. I have touched on this previously. A particular instance was my review of the video starring economist, movie actor and television personality Ben Stein and titled Expelled:

In 2008 the word began to circulate, and there was a lot of excitement. I eagerly awaited the release of the video and purchased my copy through Amazon. It’s Expelled, starring movie and television personality Ben Stein.

As you can see, the subtitle is No Intelligence Allowed. If by now you are getting the idea this is going to be about Intelligent Design, then you can come up to the head of the class.

A personality featured in the video is evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg. The story in Expelled is that Sternberg suffered undue criticism and retribution for publishing a paper by creationist Steven C. Meyer in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington a scientific journal for which Sternberg was editor at the time. That was in 2004, and the story lingers. Here is an excerpt from the Expelled review:

Sternberg met with Steven C. Meyer, the author of a paper that Sternberg published in the journal of which he was editor. Apparently the two arranged to have the paper published in order to give Intelligent Design the prestige of having a paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Sternberg did not consult with others on the editorial board of the journal, but he selected the four reviewers, including himself. He has never revealed the identities of the other three reviewers, which I presume were fans of Intelligent Design.

At any level of reading the paper has no scientific merit. I have read it and found it to be at the level of an op-ed piece that might be printed in the opinions section of a newspaper. You can read it for yourself.

The editorial board was highly outraged, which outrage provided much of the fuel for the fire storm fanned in the video.

Sternberg did not lose his job. He was not employed at the Smithsonian. He was employed at the National Institutes of Health, and in his free time he was doing unpaid research at the Smithsonian. His job as editor for the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington was a voluntary, unpaid position. He announced his resignation as editor even before the paper in question was published.

A post by Jonathan Coddington on the Panda’s Thumb blog provides additional detail:

Posted by JAC on February 3, 2005 9:36 AM (e)

Although I do not wish to debate the merits of intelligent design, this forum seems an apt place to correct several factual inaccuracies in the Wall Street Journal’s Op Ed article by David Klinghoffer, “The Branding of a Heretic” (Jan. 28, 2005). Because Dr. von Sternberg has filed an official complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, I cannot comment as fully as I would wish.
1. Dr. von Sternberg is still a Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and continues to have the usual rights and privileges, including space, keys, and 24/7 access. At no time did anyone deny him space, keys or access.
2. He is not an employee of the Smithsonian Institution. His title, “Research Associate,” means that for a three year, potentially renewable period he has permission to visit the Museum for the purpose of studying and working with our collections without the staff oversight visitors usually receive.
3. I am, and continue to be, his only “supervisor,” although we use the term “sponsor” for Research Associates to avoid personnel/employee connotations. He has had no other since Feb. 1, 2004, nor was he ever “assigned to” or under the “oversight of” anyone else.
4. Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed.
5. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.
6. As for prejudice on the basis of beliefs or opinions, I repeatedly and consistently emphasized to staff (and to Dr. von Sternberg personally), verbally or in writing, that private beliefs and/or controversial editorial decisions were irrelevant in the workplace, that we would continue to provide full Research Associate benefits to Dr. von Sternberg, that he was an established and respected scientist, and that he would at all times be treated as such.
On behalf of all National Museum of Natural History staff, I would like to assert that we hold the freedoms of religion and belief as dearly as any one. The right to heterodox opinion is particularly important to scientists. Why Dr. von Sternberg chose to represent his interactions with me as he did is mystifying. I can’t speak to his interactions with anyone else.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Coddington

The matter of Sternberg having to surrender his keys to the Smithsonian lab is even more bizarre:

THE CLAIM

“In October, as the OSC complaint recounts, [Sternberg’s supervisor] Mr. Coddington told Mr. Sternberg to give up his office and turn in his keys to the departmental floor, thus denying him access to the specimen collections he needs.” (Wall Street Journal editorial, linked from Expelled website)

THE FACTS

According to Coddington in a January 2005 communication, “Well prior to the publication of the Meyer article and my awareness of it, I asked him and another Research Associate to move as part of a larger and unavoidable reorganization of space involving 17 people and 20 offices. He agreed. I offered both individuals new, identical, standard Research Associate work spaces. The other accepted, but Dr. von Sternberg declined and instead requested space in an entirely different part of the Museum, which I provided, and which he currently occupies.”

The Smithsonian wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal, observing, “Dr. Sternberg’s characterization of his work conditions and treatment at the Smithsonian is incorrect. He was never denied office space, keys or access to the collections.”

In a January 30, 2006, letter responding to Sternberg’s concerns, Smithsonian Deputy Secretary & Chief Operating Officer Sheila Burke explained:

“As you know, as part of an effort to enhance security at the Museum, all researchers were asked to return their keys in 2004, and were issued coded identification badges to provide access to non-public areas. The badge you were issued, which provides general access to doors and elevators, is still operative. If you have any problems gaining access to conduct your research, however please contact the Security office at NMNH. In accordance with NMNH policy, please return your old keys as soon as possible to your sponsor, Dr. Vari.”

In short, Sternberg has turned two bits of bureaucratic minutiae affecting an entire division of the museum – a switch from keys to ID badges and a routine shuffling of office space – into a conspiracy to undermine him personally.

And that was supposed to be that.

Not quite. Amazingly the topic was resurrected five years later with the publication of a new book by Steven C. Meyer, the author of the piece at the center of L’affaire Sternberg. Reviewing the book I received a tantalizing surprise:

Attention immediately turned to Sternberg, an obvious creationism sympathizer. More followed, and this is what Meyer has to say about the affair:

… The editor, Richard Sternberg, lost his office and his access to scientific samples and was later transferred to a hostile supervisor. After Sternberg’s case was investigated by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog organization and by the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, a congressional committee, other questionable actions came to light. …5

Meyer notes that senior administrators at the Smithsonian Institution questioned Sternberg’s colleagues about his religion and politics and instigated a campaign to damage his professional reputation and to get him to resign. Sternberg did not resign, but he was demoted.

Meyer gets some of that right, and that’s the unfortunate part-for Meyer. The problem is this pronouncement by Meyer reveals that Meyer’s infatuation with the truth is a sometime thing.

And that was supposed to be that.

Au contraire. Two years ago Steven C. Meyer came out with yet another book promoting creationism (Intelligent Design). That book is Darwin’s Doubt, of which I have a copy and have finished reading. Actually, I have finished reading up to location 7606, after which Meyer launches into a review of various critiques of the book. I will review the main part first, and then I will review Meyer’s critiques of the critiques. Here’s what Meyer has to say in his latest book:

The same year, I published a peer-reviewed scientific article about the Cambrian explosion and the problem of the origin of the biological information needed to explain it. 1 In the paper, I cited Axe’s results and explained why the rarity of functional proteins in sequence space posed such a severe challenge to the adequacy of the neo-Darwinian mechanism. The article appeared in a biology journal, Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, published out of the Smithsonian Institution by scientists working for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). Because the article also argued that the theory of intelligent design could help explain the origin of biological information (see Chapter 18), its publication created a firestorm of controversy.

Museum scientists and evolutionary biologists from around the country were furious with the journal and its editor, Richard Sternberg, for allowing the article to be peer-reviewed and then published. Recriminations followed. Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys, his office, and his access to scientific samples. He was transferred from a friendly to a hostile supervisor. A congressional subcommittee staff later investigated and found that museum officials initiated an intentional disinformation campaign against Sternberg in an attempt to get him to resign. His detractors circulated false rumors: “Sternberg has no degrees in biology” (actually he has two Ph.D.’ s, one in evolutionary biology and one in systems biology); “He is a priest, not a scientist” (Sternberg is not a priest, but a research scientist); “He is a Republican operative working for the Bush campaign” (he was far too busy doing scientific research to be involved in political campaigns, Republican or otherwise); “He’s taken money to publish the article” (not true); and so on. Eventually, despite the demonstrable falsehood of the charges, he was demoted.

Meyer, Stephen C. (2013-06-18). Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (Kindle Locations 3830-3845). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

This is particularly galling. Imagine I purchased a book, a recent edition, about the history of World War Two. It’s by a famous author, but a couple of chapters in the author makes the claim that Poland attacked Germany, kicking off the hostilities on 1 September 1939. It’s a claim the author has made before, one which is thoroughly rebutted by multiple sources. Yet, the same author is making the same claim, ignoring the basic facts without any attempt to defend his variance with known history.

It’s not as though Meyer hasn’t had the opportunity to rebut the rebuttal. His own organization, the Discovery Institute, has put up a Web site just for the purpose of rebutting criticism of Expelled. Here is what Expelled Exposed Exposed has to say about l’affaire Sternberg:

Richard Sternberg:
Many of the false claims at “Expelled Exposed” about Richard Sternberg also seem to parrot the arguments of Michael Shermer, and thus the aforementioned response to Shermer provides rebuttals to many of the website’s claims: see “Michael Shermer’s Fact-Free Attack on Expelled Exposes Intolerance of Darwinists towards Pro-Intelligent Design Scientists.” “Expelled Exposed” makes the unbelievable assertion that “the worst that happened to Sternberg is that people said some unkind things about him in private email to one another.“ The rebuttal to Shermer documents the precise e-mails and evidence which show that, contrary to the claims of “Expelled Exposed,” Sternberg did experience harassment and persecution, including pressure to resign, investigations into his outside activities regarding evolution, and inappropriate restrictions on his research.

More facts about Richard Sternberg’s unfortunate story can be found on his home page at RichardSternberg.org as well as at the following links:

 

 

Unless the details are tucked away inside one of the sources linked—none of the link titles point that way—then the Discovery Institute and Meyer by implication are willing to let the facts lie as they fell.

You have to wonder at a story like l’affaire Sternberg. “Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys.” No additional detail. A more credible story would have some detail. A more credible story would go like this: “Mr. Coddington approached me in the corridor near my lab at the Smithsonian on 12 December and told me to immediately hand over the key to my lab. I asked why, and he just told me to give him the key. He took the key and walked away. No explanation was given. Since that time I have been unable to access my lab space.” No such narrative has been forthcoming.

What has been forthcoming was “Museum officials took away Sternberg’s keys.” Repeated. The beauty of this statement is it is true on its face. Museum officials did take away Sternberg’s keys. This gives Sternberg, Meyer, and the Discovery Institute the cover of bare truth. Something like this gives certain people, Ben Stein included, the ability to stand before a video camera and make the statement with a straight face. The lie is what is left hanging in the room after the speaker has departed.

And I wonder why. Why give cover to this tiny lie, when the more massive hoax sits exposed for all to see. That hoax is that Intelligent Design is all about science and has nothing to do with creationism, nothing to do with promotion of a religious agenda.

My own review of Meyer’s latest book is forthcoming. His previous book, Signature in the Cell, was an easy task. It centered on intelligence and information, a topic about which I consider myself considerably more expert than Meyer. Darwin’s Doubt dives deeply into biology,,particularly phylogeny and other biologically obtuse topics, about which I am mostly clueless. In reviewing Meyer’s latest book I will rely completely on expert sources, sources that have from all appearances already stripped the veneer off Meyer’s most recent golden calf.

Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

 

Darwin’s Doubt

One of a continuing series

DarwinsDoubt

I have acquired a copy of Stephen C. Meyer’s most recent book, Darwin’s Doubt. Meyer is Program Director for the Center for Science Culture, the Intelligent Design arm of Seattle-based Discovery Institute. I previously reviewed Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell, and I will be reviewing his new book shortly. In the mean time there is a lot of discussion going on related to the book on the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News. Here’s an excerpt, also posted on the North Texas Skeptics site:

Denying the Signature: Functional Information Is the Fact to Be Explained

Stephen C. Meyer November 19, 2015 3:53 AM | Permalink

Editor’s note: Readers of Evolution News likely know the central thesis of Stephen Meyer’s bestseller, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Meyer argues that the functional biological information necessary to build the Cambrian animals is best explained by the activity of a designing intelligence, rather than an undirected, materialistic evolutionary process. Most reviews of Darwin’s Doubt curiously omitted to address or even to accurately report this central claim. However, a review by philosophers Robert Bishop and Robert O’Connor in Books & Culture was a welcome exception. In this series, adapted from Debating Darwin’s Doubt, edited by ENV‘s David Klinghoffer, Dr. Meyer responds to their critiques. This is Part 2 of the series. Look here for Part 1.

Philosophers of science analyzing scientific arguments make a clear distinction between what needs to be explained (the relevant facts in question) and the competing explanations of those facts. They call the former the explanandum and the latter theexplanans. Bishop and O’Connor do not offer a competing explanation (another explanans) for the origin of biological information. Instead, they dispute my characterization of what needs to be explained (theexplanandum). They do so in several ways, which I will discuss in the next two articles in this series.

First, they question my characterization of DNA and RNA as molecules rich in functional digital information and my characterization of the gene expression system as an “information processing system” — in so doing, presumably raising questions about the need to explain the origin of these features of living systems. Specifically, Bishop and O’Connor assert that “talk of ‘genetic codes’ and ‘information processing’ with respect to the origin of life… can be very limited if not misleading.”

They argue that “abstracted notions of programs and processing seem inadequate to capture the exquisite precision and reliability of these processes.” In order to describe the process of protein synthesis more accurately, they argue that I should abandon an “information processing metaphor.”

Bishop and O’Connor are correct that, if not carefully defined, the term information can be misleading and lead to equivocation. But in both of my books I not only acknowledge this, but take great pains to avoid such confusion. I carefully define the type of information that reliably indicates the activity of an intelligent agent (functional or specified information, also known asspecified complexity) and distinguish it from a type of information that does not, namely, Shannon information (or mere complexity) — in the latter case, information that may not perform a function. I also distinguish functional information generally from a special type of functional information (semantic information) in which meaning is conveyed to, and perceived by, conscious agents. (See Signature in the Cell, Chapter 4, and Darwin’s Doubt, Chapter 8, for definitions.)

In so doing, I make clear that DNA contains functional information but definitely not semantic information. Bishop and O’Connor completely ignore this crucial discussion in their review and, consequently, express unfounded worries about the use of the term information as a “metaphor” in biology. Indeed, had I implied that the information in DNA conveyed semantic meaning, my description would have been inaccurate — and, at best, metaphorical. Nevertheless, both books clearly state that DNA contains functional or specified information and argue (based upon our uniform and repeated experience) that such information, as opposed to Shannon information, reliably indicates the activity of a designing intelligence.

As my colleague Casey Luskin has established, no serious biologist post-Watson and Crick has denied that DNA and RNA contain functional information expressed in a digital form — information that directs the construction of functional proteins (and editing of RNA molecules). Thus, contra Bishop and O’Connor, my characterization of DNA and RNA as molecules that store functional or specified information is not even remotely controversial within mainstream biology.

Nor is my judgment controversial that the gene expression system (the system by which proteins are synthesized in accord with the information stored on the DNA molecule) constitutes an information processing system. That is what the network of proteins and RNA molecules involved in the gene-expression system do: They process (that is copy, translate, and express) the information stored within the DNA molecule. The information processing systems present in the cell may well be much more precise than those that human computer engineers have designed, but that does not mean that describing the gene expression system as an information processing system is inaccurate. Describing the gene expression system as an information processing system is not to employ a metaphor. It is to describe what the system does — again, to process (or express) genetic information.

As I mentioned in the Skeptical News post:

I’m not going to quote the remainder of Meyer’s argument, but I will summarize the substance. Creationist Stephen C. Meyer is Program Director of the Center for Science and Culture, the arm of the Discovery Institute that manages Intelligent Design. I have previously reviewed his book, Signature in the Cell. His most recent book is Darwin’s Doubt, with the subtitle The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. That’s what this Evolution News post is all about.

Read it. Comments, please. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

NCSE Updates

NCSEReports

This is one of a continuing series. I receive Reports of the National Center for Science Education regularly and always go to the Updates section to see what’s going on with the anti-science crowd. When I find something of interest I like to pass it on to readers. This is an item about proposed legislation in Alabama from the July-August 2015 edition.

Full disclosure: I contribute money to the NCSE, and you should, as well. The NCSE is the primary organization in this country working to combat anti-science encroachments into our public schools. Log onto their site at http://ncse.com and contribute. Subscribe, and you will receive your own issues of Reports. Read on:

Alabama: House Bill 592, introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives on April 30, 2015, and referred to the House Committee on Education Policy, would if enacted undermine the integrity of science education in the state by encouraging science teachers with idiosyncratic opinions to teach whatever they pleased while preventing responsible educational authorities from intervening. Topics identified in the bill as likely to “cause debate and disputation” are “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.”

The bill’s lead sponsor is Mack Butler (R-District 30), who, discussing a different bill of his with al.com (2015 Jan 21), commented, “It takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution.” Except for a failed bill to establish a credit-for-creationism scheme in 2012, HB 592 is the first antiscience bill in the Alabama legislature since 2009, when HB 300, the last in a long string of “academic freedom” bills in Alabama, failed to win passage.

Explaining his motivation, Butler revealingly told the Anniston Star (2015 May 7), “There is animosity to anything Christian. … I’m just trying to bring back a little balance.” Raw Story (2015 May 7) noted that Butler explained on his Facebook page that his bill would “encourage debate if a student has a problem learning he came from a monkey rather than an intelligent design!”

Susan Watson, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told al.com (2015 May 7), “This is a thinly-veiled attempt to open the door to religious fanatics who don’t believe in evolution, climate change or other scientifically-based teaching in our schools.” She added, “It also opens Alabama to costly litigation that it just cannot afford.”

NCSE’s Josh Rosenau told the Anniston Star, “Evolution is recognized as the foundation of modern biology. To single it out as if it’s scientifically controversial is misleading and encourages teachers to skip out on this concept that students need if they want to be doctors or even patients in the 21st century.”

Rosenau also observed that, with no credible evidence that Alabama teachers are prevented from teaching science effectively, the bill seemed to be “a solution in search of a problem.” Similarly, he told al.com that the bill would make it harder for teachers and administrators “to stand up for the standards and what they know the best science to be.”

Subsequently, al.com (2015 May 8) editorialized, “The point is, what is the point of this bill? … Can we just give Butler an “I love God” badge and let that be it? … Let’s focus on the real problems facing our state, rather than meddling in the classroom, where I’m sure there’s been no groundswell from teachers complaining that they aren’t free to discredit evolution,”

Similarly, a columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser (2015 May 8) argued, “The goal of Butler’s bill .. , was to make it OK for some two-bit religious zealot posing as a biology teacher to fill kids’ heads with debunked and ridiculous ideas, That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that this bill, should it pass, will open the door to giving religious ideas the same standing in a classroom as scientific theory,”

Some of this calls for Skeptical Analysis.

Let’s start with the bill’s topics of interest: “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.” Particularly, consider human cloning. It’s been a long time since I took high school biology, but I am sure the topic of human cloning never came up. A second question would be, “Do any high school biology classes advocate for human cloning?” Could be that Representative Butler wants it covered in the law in case some errant teacher decides to show students how to do it.

This item highlights a recurring theme of these state bills. They drill down on a handful of topics, principal being biological evolution, origin of life, and (besides cloning) modern cosmology. Discussion of the age of the Earth is another topic that has been singled out. And the question has to be, “Why?” What is it about these topics that gets a target painted on them? Representative Butler provides a clue:

“There is animosity to anything Christian. … I’m just trying to bring back a little balance.”

All right! There possibly could be “animosity to anything Christian” somewhere. Some people don’t think highly of Christians. Some of these are Jews. Some are Muslims. Some are atheists. Some may even be Christians. And this is the exact place to “bring back a little balance.” Here in a high school science class, where religion supposedly never comes up.

Butler wants his bill to “encourage debate if a student has a problem learning he came from a monkey rather than an intelligent design!” On a particular point Representative Butler and I are in agreement. If students are being taught that the human race derived from monkeys they are being sorely abused. This matter additionally points out a problem with Mr. Butler’s own education. A smattering of learning about biological evolution would have advised better on the topic. The best science regarding origins of the human species holds that we are not descended from monkeys. Mr. Butler, get thee to a high school biology class.

Alabama is not the only state or region featured in the Updates section. Also getting scrutiny are the states of California, Massachusetts, Missouri, South Dakota, and West Virginia. The United States may be rare among nations of the world in having a religious independence clause in its constitution. That clause, almost alone, protects our schools from some forms of anti-science. Reports also details problems in the UK and Australia with creationism in publicly-funded institutions. In these places protections are not cemented into the foundation document, but must be guaranteed by legislation.

Keep reading. Something new from the NCSE is always coming up, and if you don’t have your own subscription you can always come here for the highlights.

Creationist Fun For Everyone

SantorumSkyMan

Old stuff again. My apologies:

A new Public Policy Polling (PPP) poll finds that a majority of Georgians believe in creationism over evolution.

Entitled “Georgia Miscellany,” the Thursday item surveyed a pool of 520 voters on 32 questions. On the issue of creationism vs. evolution, 53 percent believe more in the former, compared to 29 percent choosing the latter, and 18 percent voting not sure.

That was so long ago, and such a small sample was involved (520 voters). Surely this conclusion cannot represent the mindset of an entire state. Then there could be something to it. There could something to it if 70% of Georgian voters took Professor Emerson McMullen’s history course at Georgia Southern University, a publicly funded institution:

Richard Dawkins calls out Georgia Southern history professor for pushing creationism

 03 NOV 2014 AT 09:29 ET
Yikes! That’s hot stuff. A history professor at a real college promoting creationism. This has got to be some kind of misunderstanding. Writer Scott Kaufman elaborates:

According to press release, GSU history professor Emerson McMullen is teaching classes at the public school that explicitly endorse creationist beliefs.

In a letter detailing the problems with McMullen’s suggested answers to essay questions about the history of evolutionary theory, Coyne noted that all of the ostensibly “correct” assertions given by McMullen are scientifically suspect.

Contents of the letter linked above are enlightening:

First, student reviews of McMullen’s performance include testimonials about his inability to keep his religion to himself:1

  • “…he tried to push his outdated views onto the class … He is very conservative and doesn’t believe in climate change or evolution…”
  • “Do the extra credit whether or not you are Christian though (most of it is trying to convert you… but hey, free points!)…” (emphasis added)
  • “He spends A LOT of time talking about Darwinism, he’s a huge religious nut. Extra credit is to write a paper summing [up] his views on religion.”

Second, McMullen grants extra credit to students who are receptive to his preaching and/or willing to undergo further attempts to convert them. As the reviews indicate McMullen’s sermons are extensive enough that he grants extra credit to students who write about his personal religious beliefs. McMullen uses enough class time to discuss his personal religion that students can write full essays about it.

We understand that last semester he offered extra credit to go see the movie God’s Not Dead—an argument for converting to Christianity and loathing atheists in movie form.2

Third, in his history class, McMullen hawks religious misinformation about evolution. Our complainant reports that he lectured for more than a week about “how evolution could not have happened.” During these sermons, McMullen contradicted what students learn in their actual science classes. For instance, last semester, McMullen gave his students exam study guides that list potential essay questions and the answers he expects. The model answers illustrate McMullen’s religious bias:

Essay Question #9: What is Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) known for? 1) Louis Pasteur, in his old age, was one of the most famous men of his time, and rightfully so. …. 7) Coupled with skillful experiment, he showed as conclusively as possible that life did not come from non-life. 8) Thus, there is no such thing as spontaneous generation. 9) Although some “scientists” today claim that life originated from non-life, this does not explain the origin of our genetic information. Science shows that earth, air, water and other materials have no genetic information.3 10) Pasteur correctly stated that the great principle of biology is that life comes from life. (Emphasis added).

For the uninitiated, the Louis Pasteur reference relates to Pasteur’s (and others before him) test and refutation of a long-held assumption that wholly-formed organism can come from non-living matter. Since maggots seemed to appear from nowhere on meat left to spoil, it was assumed the maggots (and subsequently the flies) sprang spontaneously from the dead meat. Likewise, mice and other seasonal animals were thought to come from mud along the Nile.

Creationists take this further than warranted. The best explanation for life on Earth is that once this planet was completely lifeless, and primordial life forms were generated by natural processes. But not fully formed insects and mammals. McMullen is using an outworn creationist argument from absurdity.

Religious proselytizing at public expense? Outmoded creationist arguments against science? Using his classroom to promote religious entertainment? Who would put up with such? The Discovery Institute, for one:

Historian of science Emerson “Tom” McMullen at Georgia Southern University (GSU) is in hot water for criticizing Darwinian evolution in class, which critics have equated with “us[ing] class time to proselytize students and advance his personal religion, Christianity.” The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), Richard Dawkins, and Jerry Coyne — in other words, the usual anti-academic freedom bullies — are demanding that GSU investigate and censor Professor McMullen.

Creationist John G. West, writing last December for Evolution News, a creationist blog, concedes he may not yet have all the facts in the case, but he suspects there is religious persecution going on here [my interpretation]. He has more to say:

A couple of months ago in the New York Times, University of Washington evolutionary psychologist David Barash boasted of giving what he called “The Talk” to students in his classes each year. According to Barash, the purpose of “The Talk” is to persuade students that “The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.” In other words, Barash actually boasts of pushing atheism in the classroom in the name of science. I have yet to see any letters or press releases from FFRF demanding an investigation of Barash. Why not?

Professor David Barash is promoting atheism? Persuading students that the study of natural science has failed to reveal the existence of a “benevolent, controlling creator?” This is promoting atheism? It is promoting atheism if being theistic demands you adhere to the supernatural creation of living organisms. If your religion does not require this absurdity, then Professor Barash is not promoting atheism. If your religion insists on a bunch of supernatural stuff, then the problem is with your religion and not with atheism. You need to get another religion.

And stay the hell out of Georgia.