Abusing Science

Number 23 of a series

On Sunday, 19 May, Liam Feldman will host a reading/review of Why Intelligent Design Fails by Matt Young and Taner Edis. The meeting will be at Barnes & Noble 321 NW Loop 410 #104 in San Antonio, starting at 3 p.m. Feel free to come out and join the discussion.

With that in mind, the topic of this post is a book by the Discovery Institute, the leading promoter of Intelligent Design. It’s Science and Human Origins, compiled by Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin. They are all associated with the Discovery Institute. From Amazon:

Evidence for a purely Darwinian account of human origins is supposed to be overwhelming. But is it? In this provocative book, three scientists challenge the claim that undirected natural selection is capable of building a human being, critically assess fossil and genetic evidence that human beings share a common ancestor with apes, and debunk recent claims that the human race could not have started from an original couple.

This is an interesting stance for Intelligent Design, because the philosophy was resurrected 30 years ago to pull the creationist movement away from biblical  origins and to disguise it as a science-based endeavor. Intelligent Design and the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture were supposed to acknowledge inescapable science and get people to thinking an unknown creator is behind this science. UC Berkeley law professor (now  retired) Phillip E. Johnson is credited with giving Intelligent Design new life and is considered the godfather of the modern movement. Jon Buell is president of the Richardson, Texas, based Foundation for Thought and Ethics. FTE is publisher of the creationist book Of Pandas and People, made famous in the Kitzmiller court case. Both attended a symposium titled ” Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference?” at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, March 26-28, 1992.

It was an opportunity to ask the pivotal question, and I did. Did these two educated men agree the earth is billions of years old and that humans share a common ancestry with other life forms? Both agreed. The ground may have shifted since then, because outpourings from the DI seem to have dropped the facade of scientific literacy. The book that is today’s topic bears that out.

Reviewing books such as this and picking them apart on inconsistencies and obvious wrong facts is a bunch of fun, but I have no experience in the related science, so it’s best if I fall back on others who do. Someone who seems to have given this book a close look is Paul McBride. From a post by Richard P. Hoppe on the Panda’s Thumb site:

Fortunately for me, I’m spared the chore of reading and critiquing the book. Paul McBride, a Ph.D. candidate in vertebrate macroecology/evolution in New Zealand who writes Still Monkeys, bit the bullet and did a chapter by chapter (all five chapters) review of the book. The book doesn’t come out looking good (is anyone surprised?). I’m going to shamelessly piggyback on McBride’s review. I’ll link to his individual chapter reviews, adding some commentary, below the fold.

The book has five chapters, and the one I appear to have found most interesting is chapter 5, “The Science of Adam and Eve.” I am guessing by he title that all pretense of scientific rigor has been discarded. We are back to Genesis with a bang.

My copy of the book is a Kindle edition, and one thing you can do with these is highlight sections of text. I notice I highlighted entire paragraphs when I first went through the book. Here is one section.

Using population genetics, some scientists have argued that there is too much genetic diversity to have passed through a bottleneck of just two individuals. But that turns out not to be true.

Gauger, Ann. Science and Human Origins . Discovery Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Here is another.

Now, I am a scientist, and not a theologian, but I feel obligated to speak. The challenge being posed to two first parents is a scientific one, so it deserves a scientific response. My purpose in this chapter is not to engage in Biblical interpretation or to pass judgment on the various views Christians hold about Adam and Eve. Instead, I propose to focus on the scientific argument and its validity.

Gauger, Ann. Science and Human Origins . Discovery Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

And there it is. Genesis is true, and Adam and Eve were real people, and we all sprang from this single pair.

But wait! Real scientists hold a similar view. Richard Dawkins, no friend of the Bible, agrees that today’s human population sprang from one woman, exact identity unknown.

The second conclusion of the Berkeley group is less controversial. No matter where Mitochondrial Eve lived, they were able to estimate when. It is known how fast mitochondrial DNA evolves; you can therefore put an approximate date on each of the branch points on the tree of divergence of mitochondrial DNA. And the branch point that unites all womankind—the birth date of Mitochondrial Eve—is between a hundred fifty thousand and a quarter of a million years ago.

Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden (Science Masters Series) (pp. 52-53). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

The difference is Mitochondrial Eve was not the first woman. Some elementary mathematical analysis will demonstrate to you that, given the branching inherent in sexual reproduction, any two people alive today should be able to trace their lineage back to a point the paths intersect. Dawkins goes further. He uses the rate of mitochondrial mutation to compute an approximate date of our common ancestry, in the female line of descent.

On the matter of common descent, I first noticed a divergence in thinking among the new creationists at a conference in Dallas in November 2003. Ray Bohlin was there, along with creationist Ide Trotter. Bohlin holds a  Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, and he is also a key person at Probe Ministries in Richardson, Texas:.

Raymond G. Bohlin is Vice President of Vision Outreach with Probe Ministries.

A plenum session gave participants the opportunity to ask questions and to make statements. Ray Bohlin announced to those present he believed all life forms on this planets have a common ancestry. Except humans. People have a different line of descent.

Creationists Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin in 2003

I yield the remainder of your time to reading Paul McBride’s more thorough examination of this creationist book. Get a copy for yourself if you are interested. It’s a grand exemplar of the abuse of science.

Abusing Science

Number 22 of a series

The Acámbaro dinosaurs

This is being reposted from the North Texas Skeptics newsletter.

Dinosaurs went missing about 65 million year ago. Or did they?

What if they really didn’t. What if dinosaurs were still around as late as 6500 years ago. And if people and dinosaurs lived contemporaneously? That would shoot holes in a lot of modern science. Paleontology would be badly wounded. Evolution would be DOA. So the thinking goes.

If you could find a human fossil in the same stone with a dinosaur fossil you would have some nice ammunition to shoot down evolution. Even better if the fossil showed a dinosaur eating a human. If all you had were something that looked like human footprint alongside dinosaur footprints you might be inclined to shop further. Enter the Acámbaro dinosaurs.

A paper titled “Archeological cover-ups” by David Hatcher Childress describes the discovery of the Acámbaro dinosaur figurines.1

In 1944 an accidental discovery of an even more controversial nature was made by Waldemar Julsrud at Acámbaro, Mexico. Acámbaro is in the state of Guanajuato, 175 miles northwest of Mexico City. The strange archaeological site there yielded over 33,500 objects of ceramic, stone, including jade, and knives of obsidian (sharper than steel and still used today in heart surgery). Julsrud, a prominent local German merchant, also found statues ranging from less than an inch to six feet in length depicting great reptiles, some of them in ACTIVE ASSOCIATION with humans, generally eating them, but in some bizarre statuettes an erotic association was indicated. To observers, many of these creatures resembled dinosaurs.

Childress further mentions that radio-carbon dating in the laboratories of the University of Pennsylvania and additional tests using thermoluminescence indicated the objects were made 6500 years ago.

In “Atlantis Rising,” David Lewis has explained the implications for modern science.2

The Acámbaro figurines, discovered in the 1940s in Acámbaro, Mexico, depict fantastic creatures that resemble dinosaurs, as well as African and European men. If verified as authentic and dated to a time before modern science’s discovery of the dinosaurs, the existence of the figurines would dismantle the major presumptions of modern evolutionary theory, and, in fact, much of the scientific and academic establishment.

Young-Earth creationist Don Patton discussed the subject of the Acámbaro dinosaurs at September’s meeting of the Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS). He has journeyed to Acámbaro to view and photograph some of the artifacts, and he agrees with Lewis that this spells doom for evolution. Most of those attending the meeting concurred.

Don was gracious enough to provide me with copies of some of his photos, which we reproduce here. His printed brochure compares one of the figurines with a drawing from Robert Bakker’s book Dinosaur Heresies (1986). The figurine so resembles the dinosaurs in Bakker’s illustration that the ancient artist must have seen one in the flesh.

Figure 1.
Photo courtesy of Don Patton

Figure 2.
Dinosaur drawing from Robert Bakker’s book Dinosaur Heresies

Of course, modern science is not going to take this lying down, as both Patton and Childress have pointed out. Childress explains the situation in his report:3

A team of experts at another university, shown Julsrud’s half-dozen samples but unaware of their origin, ruled out the possibility that they could have been modern reproductions.

However, they fell silent when told of their controversial source. In 1952, in an effort to debunk this weird collection which was gaining a certain amount of fame, American archaeologist Charles C. DiPeso claimed to have minutely examined the then 32,000 pieces within not more than four hours spent at the home of Julsrud. In a forthcoming book, long delayed by continuing developments in his investigation, archaeological investigator John H. Tierney, who has lectured on the case for decades, points out that to have done that DiPeso would have had to have inspected 133 pieces per minute steadily for four hours, whereas in actuality, it would have required weeks merely to have separated the massive jumble of exhibits and arranged them properly for a valid evaluation.

Tierney, who collaborated with the later Professor Hapgood, the late William N. Russell, and others in the investigation, charges that the Smithsonian Institution and other archaeological authorities conducted a campaign of disinformation against the discoveries. The Smithsonian had, early in the controversy, dismissed the entire Acámbaro collection as an elaborate hoax. Also, utilising the freedom of Information Act, Tierney discovered that practically the entirety of the Smithsonian’s Julsrud case files are missing.

After two expeditions to the site in 1955 and 1968, Professor Charles Hapgood, a professor of history and anthropology at the University of New Hampshire, recorded the results of his 18-year investigation of Acámbaro in a privately printed book entitled MYSTERY IN ACÁMBARO. Hapgood was initially an open-minded skeptic concerning the collection but became a believer after his first visit in 1955, at which time he witnessed some of the figures being excavated and even dictated to the diggers where he wanted them to dig.

Adding to the mind-boggling aspects of this controversy is the fact that the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, through the late Director of PreHispanic Monuments, Dr. Eduardo Noguera, (who, as head of an official investigating team at the site, issued a report which Tierney will be publishing), admitted  “[T]he apparent scientific legality with which these objects were found.” Despite evidence of their own eyes, however, officials declared that because of the objects  “fantastic” nature, they had to have been a hoax played on Julsrud!

Whether Julsrud was hoaxed is something Patton intends to pursue, although he thinks not. He says he plans to excavate under the kitchen floor of the former Julsrud home in Acámbaro. This floor is original from before the time Julsrud move in, and finding similar figurines there will rule out their being recent forgeries.

Answering questions following his MIOS talk, Don explained that the figurines in question appeared to have been deliberately buried. They were found in collections of twenty to thirty and packed in sand, and they are made from local clay, which is decayed feldspar. Only ten percent of the figurines resemble dinosaurs.

So, what does all of this have to do with Albert Einstein, Perry Mason, and The Mysterious Origins of Man? Glad you asked.

Patton notes4

In the forward to the book, Earth’s Shifting Crust, Albert Einstein said Hapgood’s concept could be of a “great importance to everything that is related to the Earth’s surface.”

Earth’s Shifting Crust was the original title of Hapgood’s book, which is now The Path of the Pole. His idea was that all the ice at the poles represented a spinning mass that exerted a horizontal force on the Earth’s crust. In the mid 1950s, before the modern idea of plate tectonics was developed, but while Wegener’s ideas of continental drift were being floated around, Hapgood proposed that this off-center force occasionally shifted the crust, putting the poles at the equator and causing other nasty results. Hapgood corresponded with Einstein on this topic and received encouragement. Einstein recommended that Hapgood obtain “geological and paleontological facts.”

NBC first broadcast The Mysterious Origins of Man (MOM) in February 1996. Host Charlton Heston explained to the audience how a lot of standard science, such as evolution, paleontology, archaeology, and anthropology got it all wrong. Young-Earth creationist Carl Baugh helped out by explaining the Paluxy River “man tracks.”

Hapgood was there to explain the evidence of sudden Earth crustal displacement. The “fact” that thousands of animals were frozen in short order (in geologic time) and that ancient maps showed an ice-free Antarctica (which was then frozen over very quickly) was given as evidence for this crustal shift. Paul Heinrich has posted a review of these claims at

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mom/atlantis.html.

The creator of MOM, Bill Cote, has since produced a third program along similar lines. This latest is Jurassic Art, which deals with two topics, the Acámbaro figurines and the Ica stones.

So now we are back to where we started, as James Burke would say. A great fan of the Ica stones is Don Patton, who has presented talks on them at MIOS meetings. The deal about the Ica (not Inca) stones is that they are black stones with serpentine figures carved into them. Don Patton contends these are depictions of real dinosaurs done from life. David Lewis had this to say about them:5

The Ica stones are a collection of thousands of inscribed stones found near the mysterious Nasca Lines in Peru. Many of the stones depict Pterodactyls, T-Rexes, and humans cavorting with Stegosaurs. Who carved these mysterious stones? Some ancient artist who somehow knew about dinosaurs, or a modern prankster? The answer to those questions remains a mystery. Except to you, of course. Dating both the Acámbaro figurines and Ica stones has proved inconclusive. Unfortunately, both the stones and figurines have been removed from their original settings, making reliable dating difficult, if not impossible. In the Peruvian case, the curator and discoverer of the artifacts, Javier Cabrera, a medical doctor, refuses to reveal the location of a cave where he allegedly found the stones, leading archeologist Neil Steede, who investigates both cases on Cote’s Jurassic Art, to question the doctor’s story.

So, we come to the end of the tale, and we still don’t know what’s behind the Acámbaro dinosaurs.

Are the figurines really 6500 years old? Don Patton, who appears to finally accept radio-carbon dating, would only give the “dinosaurs” 1500 years in his talk. A human figure he allowed 4000 years.

Are they even authentic? If they are 1500 years old and more, then it’s likely they are. That was way before people found sport in fooling archaeologists.

If they are authentic, do they represent dinosaurs? Some of the ones exhibited are dead ringers for dinosaurs, but they were culled from a reported cache of over 30,000 items. Many of the figurines presented as dinosaurs required a bit of a stretch to make the resemblance. It’s possible we are just seeing some selective sampling. Given the amount of variation apparent in the collection there was bound to be a dinosaur in there somewhere.

Figure 3.
While there were many figurines that resembled four-legged dinosaurs, a number of them resembled dinosaurs no better than this.
Photo courtesy of Don Patton

Research into the mystery of the figurines since the MIOS lecture has not provided further explanation, so for the time being we will have to leave it at that. Some stories just don’t have neat endings.

Oh wait. I forgot to tell about Perry Mason, although it has absolutely no significance to the story. Accompanying Hapgood in his 1955 investigation of the figurines was prolific detective fiction writer Earl Stanley Gardner. The Acámbaro dinosaurs, it would seem, had something for everybody.

Refrences

  1. Childress, David Hatcher. “Archeological Coverups” Posted by the World Explorers Club at http://www.keelynet.com/unclass/canyon.txt. In the quoted excerpt I have fixed some of the inconsistencies in spelling and punctuation. The capitalization has been left intact.
  2. Lewis, David. “Jurassic Art” At http://atlantisrising.com/issue11/ar11jurassic.html
  3. Childress
  4. From Don Patton’s untitled brochure on the Acámbaro figurines.
  5. Lewis

Abusing Science

Number 10 of a series

It never lets up, and for this I am thankful. Nothing exposes the shallowness of the Intelligent Design argument so much as the continued efforts of its people to discredit legitimate science. Let’s recapitulate:

The Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture (CSC) is the leading organization promoting Intelligent Design in this country, perhaps in the world. On Monday they posted this on Evolution News, a site sponsored by the CSC.

Skepticism About Darwinian Evolution Grows as 1,000+ Scientists Share Their Doubts

Over 1,000 doctoral scientists from around the world have signed a statement publicly expressing their skepticism about the contemporary theory of Darwinian evolution. The statement, located online at dissentfromdarwin.orgreads: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

“Because no scientist can show how Darwin’s mechanism can produce the complexity of life, every scientist should be skeptical,” said biologist Douglas Axe, director of Biologic Institute. “The fact that most won’t admit to this exposes the unhealthy effect of peer pressure on scientific discourse.”

On the surface that would appear to be devastating to any science suffering some kind of weakness. This kind of argument has a lot of appeal to people who don’t dig too deeply, especially when confirmation bias weighs in. The story goes back to 2002 and maybe before. When I debated creationist Don Patton in April that year, the creationists who showed up were crowing over The 100. Time has passed, and the list has grown to 1000 (and more). It would be fun to peruse that list and write up details on each of the scientists, most I am sure are serious, who have signed up as dissenting from Darwin. It turns out I can save myself the trouble this morning, this morning after the day I was supposed to have posted this entry. That’s because years ago I went down this rabbit hole on the shorter list, so I am going to recapitulate what I wrote back then. First, here is an excerpt of the new, expanded list:

Charles Edward Norman Ph.D. Electrical Engineering                                                     Carleton University (Canada)

Dewey Hodges          Professor, Aerospace Engineering                                                Georgia Institute of Technology

James P. Russum      Ph.D. Chemical Engineering                                                        Georgia Institute of Technology

Marko Horb               Ph.D. Cell & Developmental Biology                                             State University of New York

Here is what I had to say, from the August 2005 issue of The North Texas Skeptic:

The Christian Post mentioned that the DI CSC has compiled a list “of over 350 scientists” who have signed onto their “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.” I did a quick check on DI’s Web site and noticed the list is now “[m]ore than 400.” The list doesn’t seem to include any of the luminaries of biological science, and I didn’t notice any Nobel winners, although there have been Nobel laureates in the past who oppose evolutionary theory.

Taking a sample of one from DI’s list, I checked out “Marko Horb,” who is listed as a Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology at the State University of New York. An Internet check turned up numerous references to Dr. Horb, of SUNY at Stony Brook. Looking further, I was unable to locate Dr. Horb through SUNY Stony Brook’s Web site.

In the past we have noticed that a creationist’s link to a famous university has lingered long past its shelf life. In critiquing the DI-sponsored video “Unlocking the Mystery of Life,” Andrea Bottaro, Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center noted the peculiar circumstances of Jed Macosko. In the video Macosko is listed as one of these scientists who oppose Darwinism and, presumably, someone who supports Intelligent Design. However, as we reported in our February issue of this scandal sheet last year, Macosko’s credentials were considerably laundered. See the link above to the newsletter item:

Macosko is described in UML as “Molecular Biologist, UC Berkeley,” but his association with Berkeley seems to be limited to his UC Berkeley degree and his work there as a postdoctoral trainee. He has never been listed on the UC Berkeley faculty and is not currently at the University. Some ID Web sites show him teaching chemistry at the religious La Sierra University in California, though at the time Dr. Bottaro wrote to WNYE Macosko was not listed on that university’s faculty.

We don’t claim this is the case with Dr. Horb or any of the other 400 dissenters listed by DI. Except for Dr. Jed Macosko. On DI’s list of “[m]ore than 400” Dr. Macosko is still listed as “Ph.D. Chemistry University of California (Berkeley).” DI is probably still working to bring the list up to date.

DI’s list provides skeptics a marvelous opportunity to practice their investigative skills. Go to DI’s Web site, navigate down to the section on the Center for Science and Culture. Get the list of 400 and have a go at it. If the file has moved or is no longer available, send me an e-mail, and I will forward a copy to you.

In the meantime, the Berkeley, California, based National Center for Science Education has compiled a similar list. Similar in the sense that NCSE’s list is of scientists who support evolutionary theory. Dissimilar in the sense that their list is larger, and NCSE has tried to keep it small enough to fit on most people’s computer hard drive. They kept the list small by restricted the list to scientists named Steve. Supporters of Evolution named Steve, Stephen, Steven, even Stephanie are listed, but all the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys are excluded. Maybe later when computer drives get larger. In the mean time, you can get the condensed list from NCSE’s Web site. See the link above.

And, yes, Jed Macosko is still on the list, and I assume his status has not since improved. That said, I am pleased the CSC and all the other creationists out there have not improved on their methods after being at it these past decades. Keep at it, people. We love to watch you work.

Abusing Science

Number 9 of a series

Creationist David Shormann testifies at the textbook hearings, Austin 17 September 2018

This has some history. Years ago, before Facebook, I was having a discussion on an Internet group. The matter of John Templeton came up, and I responded that he was a creationist. Why did I say that, I was asked. Because his foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, contributed money to the Discovery Institute (DI), the primary group supporting creationism, particularly Intelligent Design (ID), in this country. And that was that.

Except Templeton has since died, but his foundation continues to fund efforts to reconcile science with religion. Another regression: I am auditing a college course on philosophy of atheism, and some of the assigned reading is related:

As the Templeton-prize-winning physicist Paul Davies points out at the end of his book The Goldilocks Enigma, even putting aside all the other difficulties:

The other main problem with intelligent design is that identity of the designer need bear no relation at all to the God of traditional monotheism. The ‘designing agency’ can be a committee of gods, for example. The designer can be a natural being or beings, such as an evolved super-mind or super-civilization existing in a previous universe, or in another section of our universe, which made our universe using super-technology. The designer can also be some sort of superdupercomputer simulating this universe. So invoking a super-intellect… is fraught with problems.

Law, Stephen. Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (p. 47). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

Yeah, Templeton continues to haunt me from the grave. What the Templeton Foundation does, in part, is to fund research into whether religious faith can be reconciled with modern science.

On that we pause again:

Is the Government Buying Science or Support? A Framework Analysis of Federal Funding-induced Biases

The purpose of this report is to provide a framework for doing research on the problem of bias in science, especially bias induced by Federal funding of research. In recent years the issue of bias in science has come under increasing scrutiny, including within the scientific community. Much of this scrutiny is focused on the potential for bias induced by the commercial funding of research. However, relatively little attention has been given to the potential role of Federal funding in fostering bias. The research question is clear: does biased funding skew research in a preferred direction, one that supports an agency mission, policy or paradigm?

That’s from the Cato Institute, a libertarian entity that opposed to scientific findings that would lead to the need for corrective government action. Libertarians want less government, but biological science is not one of their prime targets.

So, there is this accusation that scientists do research and produce fundings that favor their sponsors—particularly government sponsors. Take another look. If you want to see publication bias, consider funding that asks researchers to search for (confirm?) a religious-based interpretation of evolution, particularly human evolution. Anything that leaves room for a biblical narrative.

Re-enter the Discovery Institute. From their Evolution News site:

Intelligent Design Aside, from Templeton Foundation to the Royal Society, Darwinism Is Under Siege

Don’t let anyone tell you the evolutionary paradigm isn’t in serious turmoil. Science Magazine announces an $8.7 million project by the Templeton Foundation seeking an “evolution rethink.” I’m trying to think of the last time I heard Science reporting on support for a “gravity rethink,” or a “heliocentrism rethink.” The gist of it:

For many evolutionary biologists, nothing gets their dander up faster than proposing that evolution is anything other than the process of natural selection, acting on random mutations. Suggestions that something is missing from that picture — for example, that evolution is somehow directed or that genetic changes can’t fully explain it — play into the hands of creationists, who leap on them as evidence against evolution itself.

It took some searching. The email from Discovery Institute showed up on my Facebook feed a day or two ago, but the link is to an item published on Evolution News 22 April 2016. Full disclosure: I belong to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, (AAAS), which publishes Science Magazine, and I dug into their on-line back issues to find the referenced article. It’s on pages 394-395 of the 22 April 2016 issue. Obviously David Klinghoffer was quick off the mark to post his response. Here is somebody who doesn’t allow grass to grow under his feet.

I blinked hard a few times, but I was never able to figure out why Klinghoffer did not provide a complete citation to the Science article, but I consider the possibility he wanted to give me a workout to keep me occupied during my retirement. Anyhow, I snapshotted the article and saved the text, which I am posting along with a link. Read for yourself to get the complete story.

Significant in the Science article are references to research into ways traits are acquired by organisms. The lead photo above shows creationist David Shormann testifying at the school book hearings in Austin six years ago. Shormann markets a line of educational materials for home-schooling, and he operates a religious school in the Houston area. The desire to protect children from secular influences is a prime motivator for home-schooling in this country.

Anyhow, in his testimony before the board, Shormann emphasized the matter of epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the study of heritable phenotype changes that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. The Greek prefix epi- (ἐπι- “over, outside of, around”) in epigenetics implies features that are “on top of” or “in addition to” the traditional genetic basis for inheritance. Epigenetics most often denotes changes that affect gene activity and expression, but can also be used to describe any heritable phenotypic change. Such effects on cellular and physiological phenotypic traits may result from external or environmental factors, or be part of normal developmental program. The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable, either in the progeny of cells or of organisms.

He contended that his school curriculum includes epigenetics, while the text books being proposed for adoption at the time did not. For this reason he recommended that none of the proposed biology books be adopted. From the Science article:

Advocates stress that animals, plants, and even microbes modify their environments, exhibit plasticity in their physical traits, and behave differently depending on the conditions they face. Chemical modifications of the DNA that affect gene activity—so-called epigenetic changes—seem to explain some of this flexibility. These and other factors suggest to some biologists that an organism’s development is not simply programmed by the genetic sequences it inherits. For them, such plasticity implies that parents can influence offspring not just through their DNA but by passing on the microorganisms they host or by transmitting epigenetic marks to subsequent generations. “Innovation may be a developmental response that becomes stabilized through genetic changes;’ explains Armin Moczek, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Indiana University, Bloomington. [emphasis added]

Obviously Charles Darwin knew nothing about epigenetics, nor even genetics, but creationists of all stripes continue to attack the Darwinian construct with the idea that bringing down modern science will leave the religiously-inclined gazing more toward the God of Abraham. It’s classic abuse of science. Please read the entire Klinghoffer post. I will allow him to have the last word, since it reinforces my view of what is going on here:

ID, obviously, is one source of the current challenge to Darwinism, but it’s only one source. You could erase ID advocates entirely from the battle map, and Darwinian theory would still be under siege. Evolution’s smug cultists are in denial about that, but it’s true.

Abusing Science

Number 6 of a series

This series catalogs the abuse of science throughout recent times. Particularly, creationists have turned to misinterpretations of peer-reviewed science to bolster their attacks on modern biology and geology. These sciences contradict the core of creationists’ belief that the God of Abraham created the universe within the past few thousand years and further that a world-wide flood subsequently eradicated most of life on this planet. Beginning about 1989 I attended meetings of a group called the Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) in the Dallas area. These meetings typically featured creationist Don Patton, a self-professed Ph.D. A business card he gave me indicated he has a degree in Geology, but there is no evidence he ever obtained so much as a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institute of higher learning. In a conversation he told me he skipped that phase of his education and went straight for the Ph.D.

Don Patton gave a talk in February 1992, and I attended with a co-worker. We listened in amazement as Patton garbled published science toward his goal of refuting scientific findings for the age of the Earth. Particularly what we found, when we checked his citations, is that he selectively pulled quotes from published works, even re-arranging the order of sections of material to create a story of his own. Following is a reprint of the story that was published in the newsletter of the North Texas Skeptics in April 1992. A copy of the presentation from the meeting is available on-line, as well as a copy of some source material (see below).

An Ageless Story

By John Blanton and Jeff Umbarger

Part I

The flier from the Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) advertised “The Scientific Evidence for the Age of the Earth.” Since this is a subject of concern to anyone interested in modern science and cosmology, we decided to give it a look. Besides, neither of us had been to a meeting of MIOS since they moved their monthly lecture series to the Ridgewood Recreation Center in northeast Dallas, and we were anxious to see how they were doing in their new home. Just fine, it turns out.

We had concluded from the title that MIOS Chairman Don Patton would be presenting scientific evidence that our favorite planet was less than 10,000 years old. Our mistake. This is not to say that MIOS is one of those proponents of old Earth creationism. Far from it. Don’s group is among those creationists who still maintain that the earth (and the universe of Carl Sagan, as well) was created just a day or two before the first humans appeared on the scene. In MIOS lectures previously Don has also been known to espouse periods of extremely rapid evolution, if you have not already guessed.

Hoping to see just how good the scientific evidence for the age of the earth is, we were told, instead, just how bad it is. Furthermore, the evidence presented was not from creationists but from honest-to-goodness, card-carrying scientists of the first kind. Really, folks. After taking in Don’s complete lecture, we began to wonder why scientists even bother with the issue of the age of the earth. None of their methods ever seem to work for them. Radiometric dating methods, says Don Patton for example, are just about worthless, even according to anti-creationist scientists such as William D. Stansfield, author of Science of Evolution, which Don quoted often during his lecture.

Don’s talk consisted to a large part of a discussion of citations from legitimate journals of science, these citations being mainly critical of modern geological dating methods. Following the lecture, MIOS was gracious enough to supply handouts of most of these citations, and that along with notes we made from the slide presentation enabled us to follow up on the evidence. One of us (Jeff) spent an evening at the UNT library making copies of the citations that could be located. The citations, as presented by Don, turned out to be even more interesting when compared with the complete text from the journals.

Here, from the MIOS lecture, is what appears to be a highly derogatory critique of radiometric dating practice. Under the heading “SHIFTY URANIUM” it reads:

“The fourth assumption presupposes that the concentration of uranium in any specimen has remained constant over the specimen’s life. …ground-water percolation can leach away a proportion of the uranium present in the rock crystals. The mobility of the uranium is such that as one part of a rock formation is being improvised another part can become abnormally enriched. Such changes can also take place at relatively low temperatures.”

I note here that the text from the handout is reprinted exactly. The cited text was from an article in Scientific American by J.D. MacDougall entitled “Fission Track Dating” (see Note 1).

Although I had gotten the impression from Don’s presentation (wrongly, it now seems) that this statement pertained to the uranium-lead dating method, a review of the complete text reveals that the process being discussed is, as the title indicates, dating of mineral samples by counting the tracks of nuclear fission products within crystals. Far from being critical of the method, the author promotes it highly in the complete copy. The “fourth assumption” being described by the author is the fourth, and the weakest of the required assumptions, the first three being 1) radioactive decay rates are constant [they are], 2) “fission tracks are produced with 100 percent efficiency” [laboratory experiments indicate they are], 3) the tracks are perfectly retained by the crystal [they are generally, but, for example, heat can anneal the material and shorten or eliminate the tracks]. The complete text concerning the fourth assumption, quoted directly from the Scientific American article follows:

“The fourth assumption presupposes that the concentration of uranium in any specimen has remained constant over the specimen’s lifetime. This assumption is usually valid, but there can be exceptions. A combination of elevated temperatures and ground-water percolation can leach away a proportion of the uranium present in rock crystals. The mobility of the uranium is such that as one part of a rock formation is being impoverished another part can become abnormally enriched. Such changes can also take place at relatively low temperatures. Andrew J. W. Gleadow and John F. Lovering of the University of Melbourne have compared heavily weathered grains of apatite, a common mineral in rocks with unweathered grains still embedded in the parent rock. The weathered grains contained approximately 25 percent less uranium than those in the parent rock and yielded anomalous age determinations.”

I am sure that the editor who prepared this material for the MIOS lecture had the comfort of the audience in mind when he eliminated the words “This assumption is usually valid, but there can be exceptions. A combination of elevated temperatures and …” from the lecture materials. This part is particularly wordy, and it does break up the train of thought being developed. Nothing lost, however. Interested readers can stop by the library and read the complete article by J.D. Macdougall. This fascinating account outlines the theory and application of the fission track dating method which appears to be both robust and broadly applicable. For example, as described by the author, the technique has been used to provide a reliable date (2.0 +/- 0.3 million years) for a sedimentary stratum in the Olduvai Gorge, and it has also been used to determine that a supposed 18th-century Chinese glass ring was really a 70-year-old forgery.

In the second part of this story, we’ll look at some claims MIOS makes for moon rock dating, and the dubious and deceptive schemes used to support their claims.

Notes:

1) J.D. Macdougall, Scientific American 235 (6), 118

Editor’s note: The page from Scientific American has been marked up to show the text that was lifted for Patton’s presentation. The picking of selected text and the exclusion of selected text is intended to mislead readers and is a typical example of the abuse of science practiced by Creationists of the First Kind.

 

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 12 in a series

Which brings us to the matter of David Rives Ministries.

The Creator left a pattern of His fingerprints across each corner of the universe, found in every crevice on earth, and imprinted in every cell of our bodies. A pattern that David Rives has devoted his life to researching, revealing, and sharing… while declaring the glory of God through scientific study.

David’s world travels and research has made him an in-demand speaker with an abundance of knowledge and his powerful and inspirational delivery makes learning about Bible history and science fun and easy for audiences of all ages. His weekly TV show “Creation in the 21st Century” airs to millions globally on TBN. He is a weekly news columnist on science and the Bible, and author of the books “Wonders Without Number” and “Bible Knows Best.” Featured on the History Channel, DirecTV’s NRB Network, WND, TBN, James Dobson’s FamilyTalk , and heard on radio, David’s exciting life and world travels are documented on his ministries’ active Facebook page with over 115,000 active followers.

Yes, this is real, people. There is a David Rives, and he does promote this stuff, and there is additional that is much worse. There are multitudes who buy into this. Those who are sure this planet and everything else came into being a few thousand years ago, directed by an omnipotent, omniscient being, would fill a major American city, yea, one of the larger of the 50 states. Call me a reactionary freethinker if you want, but I consider this to be a bit of overindulgence. A joke can be carried only so far.

It’s not my intent for you to think this is the only show in town. From my estimation there are more David Rives types than there are members of Congress. However, that should not dissuade you from examining his pitch to gain insight into the world behind the curtain.

It would appear that Rives doesn’t write a bunch of stuff. What you’re going to see on his site is an outlay of video presentations, and if you are not acquainted with creationism of the worst kind, then it might be worth your while to view one or more of these. For additional narrative that I can cut and paste, here is something from the site’s ABOUT page:

One of his favorite activities is to awe audiences with the incredible accounts of discovery, Biblical accuracy, and creation-based science, and show that each person is “wonderfully made” with purpose – a biological miracle from our Designer, not a product of random chance. David appeals to some of the largest Christian church audiences in the country, but also enjoys interacting and sharing the Gospel with those who might be skeptical. He leads discovery tours, keynotes at conferences, and has a rigid filming schedule for his TV show, video series, and more.

The emphasis is in the original. This says that Rives “appeals to some of the largest Christian church audiences in the country.” If that gives you pause to be concerned, then I have accomplished what I set out to.

Abusing Science

Number 5 of a series

The go-to place for abuse of science is the Evolution News blog site, maintained by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. The site is wall-to-wall creationism, attempting to be oblique, often blunt to the core. I pull items from them when I need an illustration. This is from one posted last June:

New Paper in Evolution Journal: Humans and Animals Are (Mostly) the Same Age?

Could it be that animals were designed together with humans and instantiated at the same time too? Or did they get off the same spaceship? Or off the same boat?

An exciting new paper in the journal Human Evolution has been published which you can read here. Popular science reports such as this have incautiously claimed, “They found out that 9 out of 10 animal species on the planet came to being at the same time as humans did some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.”

But to be more precise, what they actually found is that the most recent common ancestor of those species seems to have lived during that time period.

The above link regarding “such as this” has apparently gone stale, but it most likely pointed to this paper, available from the journal Human Evolution:. It’s a PDF file, so you can download it and read it, which I encourage readers to do.

That aside, what are we to make of the post? The opening sentence conveys the point unequivocally. “Could it be that animals were designed together with humans?” The operative word is “designed.” The CSC is about Intelligent Design above all else, and these people are willing to push their argument beyond what is ethical or even believable.

Somebody who is more up on the subject can wade in on this, but what appears to be going on is the writer is encouraging readers to look at last common ancestors (LCA), note how many line up and are recent, and then conclude this is evidence of a common design event.

This is not the same as the Young Earth Creationists pointing to out-of-order geological formations to rebuke basic principles of geology, but it does highlight the modern creationist ploy of abusing science to promote religion.

Abusing Science

Number 3 of a series

This series is inspired by Philip Kitcher’s book of the same name.

Your grandfather’s creationist was a Bible-thumping absolutist: everything in the Bible was as true as the sun coming up in the morning. The universe and this planet plus everything on it were created by a supernatural being over the span of six days.

That didn’t sell after a while. Modern science came aboard like a hammer, demonstrating that accommodation for creationism in public schools was an extra-legal imposition of religious dogma. Enter the new creationists about 30 years ago. Unlike Carl Baugh and preacher Don Patton, both from Texas, these creationists sport real college degrees, Ph.D. degrees even, and some work at real institutes of higher learning and do basic research. And they do not publicly profess biblical inerrancy. However, their abuse of science is no less egregious.

The Discovery Institute (DI) is the center for promoting the new creationism in the United States. Their Center for Science and Culture (CSC) hosts a blog site titled Evolution News, where can be found daily Intelligent Design propaganda and exhibitions of the abuse of science. Here is a recent posting:

Gecko, Fairyfly, Manta Ray: Animals Push the Limits of the Possible

December 14, 2018, 4:12 AM
I’m going to pass by the fairyfly and the rest and concentrate on the Gecko, which is enough of a story. Here’s a sample:

But adhesion is not the only trick for these lizards popularized in car insurance commercials. Geckos can also walk on water! Believe it or not, geckos are among the few animals (including basilisk lizards and grebes) that can skitter across the surface of water without sinking. Scientists at the University of Oxford filmed them in slow motion to see how they do it.

That is for starters. The author (not identified) works toward the argument that something has endeavored to give geckos this remarkable ability, and there may be an intelligent cause in the background.

Watch the video from The Conversation, where Jasmine Nirody from the Rockefeller University in New York describes how her team figured out the unique way geckos solve this problem.

Yes, read the posting and watch the video. Here comes the message:

The two-minute clip shows several “superpowers” of the gecko beyond climbing walls and walking on water. Geckos are shown gliding through the air, landing upright like a cat, and inverting under objects while running at full speed. Show this video to your kids — that is, if you are prepared to have to buy a gecko for the holidays to satisfy their pleadings afterward. Indulge their curiosity about animals with superpowers while you can, because it might inspire them to become design scientists.

This Evolution News posting takes the reader through some basic background and into a glimpse at cutting-edge science before dropping in a conclusion unworthy of consideration. Fostered by the new creationists, abuse of science continues without letup.

Abusing Science

Number 2 of a series

This series is inspired by Philip Kitcher’s book of the same name.

Back when Kitcher published this book, creationists were of the worst kind. They wanted to convince people that the story of Genesis was true, the universe and all life forms were created by the God of Abraham in the course of six days about 6000 years ago. Furthermore, the story of Noah and a worldwide flood was for them a part of world history. It was tough sledding.

Modern science, starting around 200 years ago, began to undercut these fables. The science of geology pointed to an ancient Earth. Darwin’s explanation of biological evolution abolished the human species’ special place among living things, and studies of radioactive elements in the earth’s crust pointed to a planet over four billion years old. Finally modern cosmology accounted for the formation of the universe over 13 billion years ago—and by natural causes.

In a landmark court case, Federal Judge William Overton ruled in an Arkansas case in 1982 that “creation science,” as creationists then called their theories, is not science. Rather, it is religious-based conjecture. Subsequent attempts to get around this finding terminated in a subsequent loss in Louisiana in a case termed Edwards v. Aguilard. A proposal to require teaching alternatives to the theory of evolution was found to be religiously motivated and in violation of the Constitution.

The response from the fundamentalist religious community was to usurp the Young Earth Creationists with a new breed of ecclesiastical scientists and a fresh approach. These creationists were, and still are, real scientists with valid Ph.D. degrees in related fields, and they largely avoided mention of biblical stories about the age of the earth and the God of Abraham. They revived William Paley‘s concept of Intelligent Design. They insist that the complexity of modern life forms is evidence of a higher intellect behind the world we see today. In future installments I will touch on the activities and the writings of the various individuals involved, but to get things going I will delve into something recent.

The organization in this country that most prominently advocates for Intelligent Design is the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle. More specifically, the DI’s Center for Science and Culture is the focus for ID, and they host a blog site titled Evolution News.

A principal talking point used to support ID is the source of novel information. The contention is that for novel life forms to develop, some additional information must be supplied. For illustration purposes, imagine an animal like a fish. It is generally agreed that the ancestors of present day land animals, lizards, for example, were fish. The proponents of ID will point out that fish have no legs, and for land animals to walk around, given that lizards evolved from fish, then new information about legs had to be supplied from somewhere. Or from somebody. Novel information cannot come out of thin air. There must be a supreme intellect behind the development of land animals with legs.

Novel information, and information in general, is a large part of ongoing arguments for Intelligent Design. The CSC person charged with developing and supporting this connection between is mathematician William Dembski. To illustrate how far the modern creationists buy into the relevance of Dembski’s work, he has been dubbed to be the “Isaac Newton of information theory.”

William Dembski is the Isaac Newton of information theory, and since this is the Age of Information, that makes Dembski one of the most important thinkers of our time. His “law of conservation of information” represents a revolutionary breakthrough. In Intelligent Design Dembski explains the meaning and the significance of his discoveries with such clarity that the general public can readily grasp them.He convincingly diagnoses our present confusions about the relationship between science and theology and offers a promising alternative.

[Robert C. Koons, Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin—from the dust jacket of Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, InterVarsity Press, 1999.]

Being compared to Isaac Newton is a dab of adulation that Dembski has never disavowed.

So we have it. Information theory continues to crop up in items aimed at supporting Intelligent Design, and that brings us to this:

Bacteriophages, Budding Yeast, and Behe’s Vindication

Ann Gauger is a senior research scientist at Biologic Institute. Her work uses molecular genetics and genomic engineering to study the origin, organization and operation of metabolic pathways. She received a BS in biology from MIT, and a PhD in developmental biology from the University of Washington, where she studied cell adhesion molecules involved in Drosophila embryogenesis. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in NatureDevelopment, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry.”

Specified complexity is an argument proposed by Dembski and used by him in his works promoting intelligent design. According to Dembski, the concept is intended to formalize a property that singles out patterns that are both specified and complex. Dembski states that specified complexity is a reliable marker of design by an intelligent agent, a central tenet to intelligent design and which Dembski argues for in opposition to modern evolutionary theory. The concept of specified complexity is widely regarded as mathematically unsound and has not been the basis for further independent work in information theory, complexity theory, or biology. Specified complexity is one of the two main arguments used by intelligent design proponents, the other being irreducible complexity.
Abuse of science did not end with demise of the Young Earth Creationists. This series will continue to turn over such cases until I run out of ink.

Abusing Science

First of a series

Philip Kitcher published the book in 1982, and a friend at work recommended I get a copy. I will do a review later, but for now it’s going to serve as the title for a series related to the abuse of science. I will get started with the matter of a sponsored posting that keeps showing up on my Facebook timeline. It’s from the Center for Science and Culture, a division of the Discovery Institute, headquartered in Seattle. The pertinent text goes as follows:

An artificial and oppressive wall separates the realms of faith and science, a wall that needs to be demolished.

That’s the provocative thesis of the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith, to be held just two months from now, January 18-19, 2019. Join philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, radio host and bestselling author Eric Metaxas, theologian and Privileged Planet author Jay Richards, and Rice University synthetic organic chemist James Tour as we breach the fabled wall.

[Links added]

The Facebook posting includes a link to a video, and you should take some time to view it. Here is the link:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWdihTt3tLM

Pertinent screen shots give an idea as to the message. Some disturbing findings are revealed.

Fifty-five percent of American adults believe science and religion are in conflict. (Surprise, surprise!)

Nearly a quarter of young adults from a Christian background think Christianity is anti-science.

Among college freshmen, a significant percentage believe the universe arose by chance.

Let’s take a deep look at these findings.

First, science and religion are in conflict. Science is a way of knowing that involves looking at what’s going on in the natural world and coming up with explanations that fit the findings. Religion answers questions by making stuff up. It cannot be put more straightforward than that.

Second, Christianity is anti-science to the extent that many Christians support their beliefs by denying established science.

Third, good for those freshmen. The universe did not arise by means of an intelligent being intent on performing an experiment with natural law. In that sense, the universe did arise by chance.

So what’s the point of this Science and Faith conference in Dallas?

The CSC has a history, going back more than 20 years, of failed attempts at undermining scientific explanations for the existence of life and even the universe. The obvious intent is to replace religious explanations, their own, for explanations based on fact. Phillip Johnson, a significant catalyst for the revival of the Intelligent Design argument, is the principle author of the Wedge Strategy:

The Wedge Strategy is a creationist political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Institute, the hub of the pseudoscientific intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document. Its goal is to change American culture by shaping public policy to reflect politically conservative fundamentalist evangelical Protestant values. The wedge metaphor is attributed to Phillip E. Johnson and depicts a metal wedge splitting a log.

That the CSC has not been successful in its goals after more than 20 years speaks not so much for the skepticism of the American public as for the creationists’ delusional nature. They keep putting forward arguments that are demonstrably wrong. Thirteen years ago the push to promote Intelligent Design failed spectacularly when the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district attempted to insert the creationist text Of Pandas and People into the science curriculum.

Come forward to 2019, and the CSC people will be having another go at it. The effort appears to be headed up by Stephen C. Meyer, a founder of the CSC. Here is what he has to say (from the video):

Are science and faith incompatible? No! Just the opposite. Science is providing support for faith.

That has to be about the most profoundly stupid statement to ever show up on my view screen. Scientific finds provide no support for the existence of the supernatural, let alone supernatural explanations for life and the creation of the universe. The fact of the matter is that science has worked 500 years at undermining the basic tenets of religious supposition. That would be starting with the age of the earth right on through the supposed miracle of the Shroud of Turin. Additional examples on request.

The CSC posting announces others who will be presenting at the conference. Will I attend and do a review? Only if I can get a pass from Barbara Jean. May Jesus have mercy on my soul.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 11 in a series

The title pretty much explains it all. Some people go for years, their entire lives sometimes, in a continuous state of false belief. That would include a bunch of folks at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Vis their Conference on Science and Faith, scheduled for Dallas in January:

Dallas Conference on Science & Faith, January 18-19: “Tear Down This Wall!”

What If?

Whether science can cast light on the eternally urgent questions has been a subject of debate by philosophers going back to the Middle Ages and beyond. It’s also, obviously, very much of the moment today. From the announcement of the event by Discovery Institute:

According to a nationwide survey, more than two-thirds of atheists and one-third of agnostics believe that “the findings of science make the existence of God less probable,” while nearly half of self-identified theists believe “the findings of science are neutral with regard to the existence of God.”

But what if there is another option? What if the discoveries of science actually lend support to belief in God?

The Return of the God Hypothesis

At the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith, we’ll tackle subjects including “The Return of the God Hypothesis,” “The Miracle of the Universe,” “The Privileged Planet,” “The Mystery of the Origin of Life,” and “Darwin’s Doubt.” There will be plenty of opportunities for the audience to participate — questioning, challenging, and learning from a group of stellar scholars.

Yes, this is a lot to unload. Start with “Whether science can cast light on the eternally urgent questions has been a subject of debate by philosophers going back to the Middle Ages and beyond.” The implication is that faith, and religion in particular, can be invoked in places where science, otherwise known as formalized common sense, is unable to winkle out answers. People, if you study a matter earnestly, turning it this way and that, and you still can’t come up with a worthy answer, the solution is not to just close your eyes and make something up. Made up answers are generally worth the amount of energy it takes to have a bad dream. That is to say, they are not worth sharing with your worst enemy.

The piece posted to Evolution News goes on to cite that agnostics and atheists generally think the application of scientific approaches tend to make belief in God (the God of Abraham in particular) unnecessary to accommodate.

“But what if there is another option? What if the discoveries of science actually lend support to belief in God?” Now this is something worth considering. It is right up there with “What if analysis of elephant’s tusks lead to the conclusion that penguins do not possess a liver?” Both make a lot of sense.

If you are among the many who think this conference is not going to offer anything worth carrying home, then you might want to save yourself the $15 registration fee and also a trip to Dallas.

The Quintessence of Dumbshitia

Number 6 in a continuing thread

Lest people, in relation to “Dumbshitia,” conjure up visions of people purchasing insurance coverage from door-to-door salesmen, I hasten to ensure there is a deeper definition reserved. “Dumbshitia” is a special place set aside for those who think, speak, even act, in the face of all that is contrary. Such people would include creationists.

Apologists might insist that creationists have an out. Their insistence that everything was created by a higher intelligence—and that much of basic science contradicting creationism is false, even malicious—is an example of unloading blame from one false premise onto another, and I denounce this argument. Creationists are compellingly dumb, and there is ample evidence. For example…

Two years ago I posted an item titled “44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults.” The wording is not mine. It’s the title of an item posted by a creationist, the link to which showed up on my Facebook feed. I responded by authoring a lengthy piece to address each of the deadly 44, beginning with:

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.

And there it sat, since July two years ago. And some have submitted comments. WordPress, which hosts this site, reports that ten have commented. And some have been positive. Others less so, with a vengeance. What prompts me to bring this up today is a comment, from last week. Read it in its entirety:

You are deluional. There are no transitional fossils and one cannot prove animals are related genetically by how their bones look. The dating methods do not work due to how geometrical progressions work. If you have a big half time you cannot test it empirically if you can test it then is too small to help date something milions of years old. There are no vestigial organs and having something destroyed is not the same as creating something. The term dinosaur was created to replace the term dragon and hide humans coexisted. We have living index fossils that are still used. No mechanism has been discovered to generate more information in the DNA code. Evolution is a fairytale born from the desire to believe man can become immortal without God . They want to believe they can become as God. But they are deceived. The biggest lie is the one that a person desperately wants to believe.

Put aside the failures of language, they are all too familiar and expected in responses from creationists. Note the absence of substance in Cyp’s argument, and note the vitriol in his(?) language. Finally note his central reliance on God to drive home his point. The baseless pulled in to shore up the baseless.

Don’t think I am piling on Cyp. His is the most recent of several:

idiot..i have one thing ti say…al the hearsay and lack of evidence you attack the writers of the article you were going after, you did as well. i can quote several times you didn’t explain..give examples…evidence…but guess what..just spoken or “written” words in your case. you did nothing and achieved nothing for most of this long article. also..you use circle reasoning thru-out, of which im sure you will use again to rebuttal this. asking some one to use evolution based world view foundation to disprove evolution or else anything said is wrong by inherent basis is like me requiring you to use creation based world view ” as the science is the same, just different world views direction how evidence is interpreted or rationalized”, to completely disprove creation. neither theory can be proven or disproved via the scientific method of observable and repeatable”,and neither are fact. where we get pissed of is your blind faith and enforcement of your theory as fact…when only reason you do so is cause the only other option besides everything made it self is some one else made everything.

It funny that very evidence your looking for from your statement is right there every-time you look in the mirror, breathe, eat or poop, your quoted “The entire theory of evolution is based on blind faith.” Yes! All of it! Luckily, creationism requires no act of blind faith… All it asks of you is to accept the existence of an omnipotent creator” if you or anything on this earth were not perfect first time nothing not bacteria would exist ……… Not once did the did you respond to anything with factual information or try to disprove it all you had was condescending childish retorts and sarcasm, your a fool and made yourself look foolish while trying to dismiss the article, that presented fact while showing error as opposed to your troll attack ….. smh in the end you’ll find out but then it will be too late

I support the notion that the shortcomings of your antagonists cannot be used to support your own position. That said, there is great comfort in knowing these may be the best your opponent has to put forward. They are the quintessence of Dumbshitia.

Darwin Day

A continuation

Back in February the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas (FACT) contributed an op-ed piece to the San Antonio Express-News in celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday—Darwin Day. You can follow the link at the top of this page and read a reprint.

Subsequently there was a response from creationist Matthew Cserhati. I am reprinting his editorial here so you will have the opportunity to read it and also to allow me to link to it in something else I’m writing. Here it is:


Creationism is, in fact, science

By Matthew Cserhati, Correspondent
Published 12:00 am CDT, Sunday, July 22, 2018

Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species,” published about 100 years ago, expounded the theory of evolution. Creationists continue to insist it isn’t proven, final science.

Re: “As logic, science come under attack, push back with facts,” Another View by John Blanton, Feb. 11:

John Blanton, a member of the Freethinkers Association of Central Texas, paints what he calls religious people as opponents of reason and free thought. Specifically, he cites creationists on a wide spectrum challenging established science.

First of all, it is a well-known fact that science did not begin with Darwin, whose 209th birthday was being celebrated by FACT. Rather, science has its origin within the Christian church, with the command from God to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In order to subdue nature, one must understand it — hence the biblical injunction to pursue science.

Second of all, because it cannot be directly observed or verified, macro-level evolution cannot be considered to be a fact, however strong FACT would insist that it is. Explanations are offered only as to how species could have evolved. Lacking is the exact, precise demonstration that organisms did evolve. Thus evolution is only a theory.

Furthermore, it should never be a crime to question the authority of a well-nigh monolithic theory, which thousands of Ph.D.-level scientists such as I call into question based on scientific evidence. Blanton should remember that in 1925 the American Civil Liberties Union argued for equal representation of evolutionary theory during the Scopes trial, to which he referred. One voice openly questioning evolutionary theory should become millions, since half the population of the United States doesn’t accept evolution. An open public debate between creationism and evolution leads to more healthy science. Offering always only one side of the story leads to bad science and bad explanations.

Blanton cannot see the forest because of the trees. Blanton’s religion is materialistic naturalism, stemming from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s idea that nature is everything that was, is and ever shall be, purposefully excluding God and the divine from the grand picture a priori. How can you be open-minded if you’re willing to consider only one line of explanation? Taken to the logical extreme, skeptics must doubt everything. Thus, truly, like Descartes they know next nothing. But God knows everything.

Creationism is scientific. Atheists acknowledge the fact that why the universe came into existence is a metaphysical question. Thus whether the universe came about either through natural or supernatural means is an open question. Therefore, since the origin of the universe has not been observed by a human eye, it is certainly possible that God created it. And, in such a supernaturally created world, it is possible to pursue origins science. Creationism doesn’t claim to be privy to the supernatural process of divine creation. Rather, creation science studies the handiwork of God’s creative acts. God created, therefore, let us examine the created world.

It is a well-known fact that thousands of so-called living fossils exist all over the world, resisting change over long periods of time. Taxonomists have discovered and studied millions of species, which all cluster into disjunct kinds that are spoken of in Genesis 1:21. Missing links are still missing. The scientific literature is chock-full of examples of genetic structures being “evolutionarily conserved,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. Genome reduction in organisms is so pervasive that researchers Yuri Wolf and Eugene Koonin in 2013 devised the biphasic model of genomic evolution whereby the genomes of organisms undergo initial rapid (miraculous) complexification, followed by gradual genome reduction, which is itself contrary to evolution.

Thus instead of trying to extinguish other opinions and points of view, so-called freethinkers should allow them to flourish.

Matthew Cserhati is a bioinformatics programmer living in San Antonio. He has a doctorate in biology and a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He has been active in the creation/evolution debate for 17 years and has presented on this subject numerous times.

Heart of Dimness

Here is number 13

At the bottom of this page there is a section for comment, and there is a box for readers who want to leave a comment. I moderate these comments with the intent to approve all.  Ones I do not approve are those obviously spam or otherwise not related to  the topic of the original post.

As a result I receive comments expressing opposing views, and you might think I approve these out of an exalted sense of fairness, and that is partly true. Another reason I try to approve opposing comments is that they often reinforce the theme of this blog, ,that theme being that Skeptical Analysis can bring light to controversial issues. In so many cases it turns out that those who think they are giving weight to their wrong-headed notions are, in effect, doing the opposite. People pushing back against what I purport to be my voice of reason often reveal, in their comments, their lack of understanding, effectively reinforcing my original post. At other times the person posting a comment inadvertently reveals something else about where he/she is coming from.

Without much elaboration, what (eventually) follows is a comment to something I posted two years ago. The title of the original is “44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults,” and it reflects the title of an item posted on a site called D.C. Clothesline, and here is what I had to say at the time:

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…

My post from two years ago involved language that addressed each of the author’s 44 points. As of yesterday I count four responses to my original post, and here I submit the most recent.

It funny that very evidence your looking for from your statement is right there every-time you look in the mirror, breathe, eat or poop, your quoted “The entire theory of evolution is based on blind faith.” Yes! All of it! Luckily, creationism requires no act of blind faith… All it asks of you is to accept the existence of an omnipotent creator” if you or anything on this earth were not perfect first time nothing not bacteria would exist ……… Not once did the did you respond to anything with factual information or try to disprove it all you had was condescending childish retorts and sarcasm, your a fool and made yourself look foolish while trying to dismiss the article, that presented fact while showing error as opposed to your troll attack ….. smh in the end you’ll find out but then it will be too late

As I typically do, I copied and pasted the writer’s original text, making no attempt at correcting the language, which says something about the person posting the response. This is possibly reason number 12 I created and maintain the Skeptical Analysis blog.

Inner Santorum

Number 2 in a series

So, this morning I was playing catch up with the news streaming over my Internet feed, and this popped up. And I got to wondering why I never voted for Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in his multiple bids for the presidency? Then I slapped my forehead and thought, “Oh, yeah!”

The discussion on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday morning was about Saturday’s country-wide marches demanding action on gun violence. Senator Santorum is now a CNN commentator, and I heartedly agree his comments are worth experiencing. For example, yesterday morning he spoke out on the students participating in these marches. Here is what he had to say:

How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that.

Such a kernel of wisdom I do not often experience, and my mind attempted to expand on it. DPRK Dictator for Life Kim Jong-un is making threats to lon a hydrogen bomb on the United states, so instead of wasting their time urging the government to put the kibosh on Kim’s ambitions, citizens should practice using a shovel to bury the dead.

Yes, people, do not, I  repeat, do not work to prevent students from getting shot. Instead, take some personal responsibility and learn how to save the life of your best friend who has been shot through the head with a 5.56 mm round. That’s real leadership.

Speaking of leadership, this is not Rick Santorum’s first trip to the salad bar. He is known best for the “Santorum Amendment.” It was not really an amendment, but rather it was a proposal for an amendment to an education bill:

The Santorum Amendment was a failed proposed amendment to the 2001 education funding bill (which became known as the No Child Left Behind Act), proposed by Republican Rick Santorum (then a United States Senator for Pennsylvania), which promoted the teaching of intelligent design while questioning the academic standing of evolution in US public schools. In response, a coalition of 96 scientific and educational organizations wrote a letter to the conference committee, urging that the amendment be stricken from the final bill, arguing that evolution is, in the scientific fields, regarded as fact and that the amendment creates the misperception that evolution is not fully accepted in the scientific community, and thus weakens science curricula. The words of the amendment survive in modified form in the Bill’s Conference Report and do not carry the weight of law. As one of the Discovery Institute intelligent design campaigns it became a cornerstone in the intelligent design movement’s “Teach the Controversy” campaign.

Yes, former Senator Rick Santorum is a creationist, and whatever he eventually makes of his life, he will always be known for his skewed views on science and the world in general. He is our very own, the inner Santorum.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 6 in a series

Цифровая репродукция находится в интернет-музее Gallerix.ru

A Facebook friend from time to time posts links to the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News blog. Much thanks. I need to keep up.

Evolution News has a number of authors, mostly notable creationists. These would include Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Behe, John West, and Jonathan Wells. This item was posted by Ann Gauger:

Ann Gauger is a zoologist with a BS in biology from MIT and a 1989 PhD from the University of Washington. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She also has a number of years of experience as a homeschool teacher.

From Evolution News:

Is There a First Human Couple in Our Past? New Evidence and Arguments

Ann Gauger March 5, 2018, 3:51 PM

Dennis Venema is associate professor at Trinity Western University. His book Adam and the Genome is under active discussion here and over at BioLogos. The central question implied in the title of that book is: does our genome rule out Adam? Could humanity have had its origin in a first pair, or did it have to come from a population of at least several thousand?

This question has been addressed by numerous scientists in the past, ever since human genetic data began to roll in. And all of them, as far as I know, have said that yes, our genome rules out Adam. We are the product of common descent. We are descended from an ape-like population of at least several thousand. This we have heard before.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. There has been a debate going on over at BioLogos for a number of months that was triggered by Venema’s book. The debate is about whether there could have been a bottleneck of two at some time in the human past. This discussion was started when Richard Buggs, Senior Research Leader (Plant Health) at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary, University of London, challenged Dennis Venema about what Venema wrote in Adam and the Genome. Venema had argued:

As our methodology becomes more sophisticated and more data are examined, we will likely further refine our estimates [of human population size] in the future. That said, we can be confident that finding evidence that we were created independently of other animals or that we descend from only two people just isn’t going to happen. Some ideas in science are so well supported that it is highly unlikely new evidence will substantially modify them, and these are among them. The sun is at the center of our solar system, humans evolved, and we evolved as a population.

Put most simply, DNA evidence indicates that humans descend from a large population because we, as a species, are so genetically diverse in the present day that a large ancestral population is needed to transmit that diversity to us. To date, every genetic analysis estimating ancestral population sizes has agreed that we descend from a population of thousands, not a single ancestral couple. Even though many of these methods are independent of each other, all methods employed to date agree that the human lineage has not dipped below several thousand individuals for the last three million years or more — long before our lineage was even remotely close to what we would call “human.” Thus the hypothesis that humans descend solely from one ancestral couple has not yet found any experimental support — and it is therefore not one that geneticists view as viable. [Emphasis added.]

The image above appears at the head of Gauger’s Evolution News posting. It’s a painting from centuries ago titled “Adam and Eve” or something close to that.

I have previously reviewed the book Adam and the Genome by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight. The summary of the book is that the creationists have it all wrong, the human species did not descend from a single pair of humans, but is the most recent of a lineage stretching back billions of years. However, God does exist, and God is responsible for all this.

Update: I am adding some material of interest.

Gauger mentions she has previously discussed this point.

So TSP is not validated for these highly polymorphic genes, HLA-DRB1 in particular, and convergent evolution (or original diversity) is validated. I addressed, by the way, the question of HLA-DRB1’s polymorphism and TSP, and a first human pair, in the book Science and Human Origins (2012). That book was written after I discovered that Francisco Ayala’s argument against the possibility of a first pair based on HLA-DRB1 did not stand up.  My hypothesis about a first pair was based on what I saw in papers about HLA-DRB1, most notably this and this, but the hypothesis was more suggested than demonstrated. I am glad to see that some of what I wrote has been substantiated.

See below for an expansion of TSP. The book in question has five parts, written separately by Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin. Gauger contributed chapters 1 and 5. Chapter 5 relates to the topic of her posting:

5

THE SCIENCE OF ADAM AND EVE

Ann Gauger

Using population genetics, some scientists have argued that there is too much genetic diversity to have passed through a bottleneck of just two individuals. But that turns out not to be true.

IN CHAPTER 1, I ARGUED THAT OUR SIMILAR ANATOMY AND DNA sequences are not sufficient to demonstrate that we share a common ancestor with chimps. Using peer-reviewed scientific literature about transitional fossils, and what is known about current chimp and human anatomy, I concluded that there are too many anatomical changes and too little time for neo-Darwinian processes to have accomplished the supposed transition from our last common ancestor with chimps to us.

But the current challenge concerning our origins involves more than fossils, anatomy, and improbable Darwinian scenarios. Now that DNA sequencing has become relatively simple and cheap, researchers are gathering vast amounts of human sequence data. They use the genetic variation they find to reconstruct past events in our genetic history. They derive evolutionary trees, estimate ancestral population sizes, and even calculate when and where our ancestors migrated out of Africa. Based on this kind of work, some have argued that we cannot have come from just two first parents.

[Location 2102 in the Kindle edition]

Gauger wants to take exception to the first part. Evidence that points to human origins from a collection of a few thousand individuals is not conclusive. The original pair of humans is not ruled out by modern research. The sum total of the piece is a glaring heap of wishful thinking, as would be evident to people knowledgeable of the subject and taking time to run down all Gauger’s arguments. And that I will leave to others, since it is beyond the scope of my expertise to critically evaluate the opposing arguments. I will just get to Gauger’s concluding statement:

So let me restate: the best explanation for the similarity among alleles is convergent evolution (or possibly original diversity), and not TSP. Finally, this analysis is strong evidence that TSP does not rule out a bottleneck of two.

To sum up, it’s very simple.

  • A bottleneck of two that is older than 500,000 years ago cannot be ruled out. That does not mean such a bottleneck ever existed, but rather that the possibility cannot be excluded. Future models may change that number of 500,000 years, up or down.
  • This is based on an analysis of the genetic data run by Drs. Schaffner and Swamidass, themselves evolutionary biologists and not ID supporters.
  • In addition, the bottleneck hypothesis stood up to a test using TSP (trans-species polymorphism). The test showed TSP was due to convergent evolution. This was a surprise to Dr. Swamidass.
  • A bottleneck of two, or a first pair at our origin older than 500,000 years, is possible.
  • Evolutionary biologists, including Dennis Venema, can no longer say we had to come from a population of 10,000 at any time over the last 3 million years.

Obviously, there is no rigorous science being argued here. This amounts to a special pleading for religious belief, particularly for biblical truth. Along that line, Gauger is not attempting to sell the full load. The Bible recounts the origin of the human race from two people. Gauger stops there. She lets slide the remainder of the story—that all this happened little more than 6000 years ago. Lady, if you’re in for a penny, you need to be in for a pound.

It’s an interesting twist we are observing. In days gone by—actually, in decades gone by—those people at the Discovery Institute sought to sell Intelligent Design as legitimate science, devoid of religious indoctrination. They seem to have thrown that notion over and have now gone full Monty pushing for the Abrahamic religions, particularly Christianity. At times the openness can be refreshing.

Deeper and Deeper

A Reading Of High Delusion—Part 2

I previously reviewed The Language of God, by Francis Collins. This is Adam and the Genome, by Dennis R. Venema and Scot McKnight. I obtained the Kindle editions of both after a short dive into a posting to Evolution News, the blog site of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. No author is listed for that post, but it centered on this book and the one by Collins:

In Adam and the Genome, Trinity Western University biologist Dennis Venema covers many other subjects besides what you might expect from the book’s title. We have been reviewing this material by the prominent theistic evolutionist and BioLogos author; find the series so far here.

Thus, Venema cites the high degree of genetic similarities between insulin genes in humans and other mammals as evidence for our common ancestry. He writes:

[W]e can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past … What we observe for this short segment is that the gorilla sequence is identical to that of the human except for one letter; the chimpanzee is identical except for three; and the orangutan is identical except for five. As before, this level of identity far exceeds what is needed for functional insulin, and strongly supports the hypothesis that humans share a common ancestral population with great apes. Indeed, the similarities between these sequences make English and West Frisian look like very distant relatives by comparison.

(Adam and the Genome, p. 30)

Yes, Venema does dig deeply into revelations from the human genome, and Evolution News does make a big deal about that. But Venema goes far deeper, a depth not plumbed by the posting. All this you can marvel at by plugging through the remainder of the book—which I did.

From the back cover of the book:

Dennis R. Venema (Ph.D., University of British Colombia) is professor of biology at Trinity Western University and Fellow of Biology for the BioLogos Foundation. He writes and speaks regularly about the biological evidence for evolution.

In the book Venema does lay out the evidence for evolution in grand detail, and it is this part that has caught the attention of the Intelligent Design pitch men. Some excerpts from the book elaborate:

Like many evangelicals, I (Dennis) grew up in an environment that was suspicious of science in general, and openly hostile to evolution in particular. Yet I had a deep longing to be a scientist, even as a child. For a long time, I reconciled my two worlds by rejecting evolution— after all, evolution was “just a theory” pushed by atheists and supported by “evidence” so flimsy that even a child could see through it. Moreover, Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life, and “what the Bible said about creation” was good enough for me.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science . Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to say that conflicts with his faith almost kept him from pursuing his dream of becoming a scientist. Fortunately for science and for his students at Trinity Western, reason won out.

My family explored the possibility of my attending a Christian university, but it was more than we could afford. So a secular university it was, and I braced myself for what would surely be a trial for my faith.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 2). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Interestingly, I would remain an antievolutionist through the course of my PhD and on into my career as a professor, now teaching at the very same Christian university I was unable to afford as a student. What would come as something of a shock to me as a young professor is that, contrary to the claims of my Christian grade-school workbooks, evolution is a theory in the scientific sense.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 11). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What those creationists of the second kind found worth challenging is Venema’s erudite exposition of the evidence for common descent. For example:

In looking at the sequences above, we can see that there is good evidence to support the hypothesis that these two present-day genes come from a common ancestral population in the distant past, just as “butter, bread, and green cheese” and “bûter, brea, en griene tsiis” do. The principle is the same: they are far more similar to each other than they are functionally required to be. In principle, any words could stand for these concepts in either English or West Frisian; similarly, any matched pair of hormone and receptor could function to regulate blood sugar levels in humans or dogs. Yet what we observe strongly suggests, in both cases, that the present-day sequences are the modified descendants of what was once a common sequence.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 30). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Besides giving the creationists something to chew on, Venema does a great job of taking them down.

In the late 1990s I was a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, studying genetics and development. I had weathered my bachelor’s degree with my faith and antievolutionary views intact, and my area of study did not require me to think about evolution much at all. 3 Evolution was not completely avoidable, however: one very proevolution professor down the hall from my lab maintained a bulletin board called “Crackpot’s Corner,” where antievolutionary views were held up as objects of ridicule. It was here, on this bulletin board, that I first became aware of biochemist Michael Behe, a leader in the intelligent-design (ID) movement. 4 A little digging indicated that he had recently published a book, Darwin’s Black Box. In that book, which I eagerly devoured, Behe makes the case for what he calls “irreducible complexity”:

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (pp. 67-68). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Venema explores Behe’s irreducible complexity conjecture and finds it bare of support.

Behe argues, we can infer when we see protein complexes composed of several proteins that bind to one another that they are the product not of evolution but rather of design.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 69). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The irreducible complexity argument goes like this:

  • A living organism, even the simplest cell, is a complex assembly. Darwinian evolution stipulates that life forms were not always that complex.
  • Evolution from less complex to more complex life forms has taken place.
  • We now know that evolution proceeds by random mutation of genes, coupled with selective pressure that produces organisms more likely to predominate in the gene pool.
  • Random mutation of genes must occur in small steps, slight changes in a DNA chain—the genome.
  • Each slight change in the genome must be beneficial to the organism, else that change will not be preserved.
  • Existing organisms cannot operate competitively with the loss of a single function coded in the genome.
  • Modern organisms are irreducibly complex. There is no way to proceed from one viable organism to a new and more viable form by means of single mutations.

Behe stakes his argument against Darwinian evolution on his contention that many biological functions are irreducibly complex. What Venema does, and what others do, is to expose Behe’s supposed irreducibly, showing how current forms can be obtained by means of Darwinian evolution.

Interestingly, the virus did evolve to use a second host protein, one called OmpF. Not only did this happen once, but it happened repeatedly in the experiment. Sequencing the DNA of the viruses able to use OmpF instead of LamB revealed that one of the virus proteins— the one that normally binds to LamB, called “protein J”— had accumulated four amino acid changes. By looking at the preserved samples, the researchers showed that the new binding requires all four mutations to be present. They also showed that these mutations did not happen simultaneously, but rather sequentially. As it turns out, these single mutations allowed the protein J to bind more tightly to LamB, which was a significant advantage since hosts with LamB were so scarce in the experiment. Once three single mutations were in place, the virus was only one mutation away from the ability to bind and use OmpF. Interestingly, viruses capable of using OmpF retained  their ability to bind LamB— the virus could now use either host protein.

Two key aspects of this experiment are problematic for Behe’s thesis. First and foremost, this experiment documents the addition of a protein to an irreducibly complex system. The original system was composed of virus protein J binding to LamB, plus numerous other protein-binding events. The modified system lacks LamB and has a modified virus protein J that binds to OmpF instead. The intermediate system has the modified virus protein J and LamB, as well as OmpF, but now only one of LamB or OmpF is required. The transition from one irreducibly complex system to another has an intermediate state between them that acts as a scaffold, or to use Behe’s term, a stepping-stone.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (pp. 79-80). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Is it any wonder those creationists of the second kind, writing for Evolution News, feel the need to take Dennis Venema down.

Venema is beginning to look like a secular camp hero of the first kind. Where this discourse starts to come apart is the latter half contributed by Scot McKnight.

Scot McKnight (born November 9, 1953) is an American New Testament scholar, historian of early Christianity, theologian, and author who has written widely on the historical Jesusearly Christianity and Christian living. He is currently Professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, IL. McKnight is an ordained Anglican with anabaptist leanings, and has also written frequently on issues in modern anabaptism.

From Chapter 5 through Chapter 8, McKnight lays out a devilishly detailed analysis, some would say apologetic, on the place of Adam, both as a character in Genesis and as an ideal in Judeo-Christian faith. I apologize for having little comprehension of what he is attempting to get across, but I will have a go at my interpretation.

What happens when the church or, in my case, a Bible professor, encounters the kind of science found in the first part of this book? What happens, not to put too fine a point on it, when evolutionary theory and the Human Genome Project encounter the Bible’s creation narratives? What happens then when we are told that the best of science today teaches that the DNA characteristic of modern humans could not have come from less than approximately 10,000 hominins? What happens when we are told there were pre-Adamite humans? What about those two humans in Genesis 1– 3? And what about the eight that survived Noah’s flood? Which are we to believe, some ask: the Bible or science?

That last question leads some of us to dig in our heels while others shift with the latest conclusions of science. Some relish the countercultural stance of digging in their heels, and, to switch imagery, the second group at times refers to their counterparts as hiding their heads in the sand of the past or even of religious superstition. What the first thinks is faithfulness to the Bible, the second thinks is intellectual compromise. The accusations go both ways. You’ve probably heard them as often as I have. To illustrate I pose the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther, who dug in against scientists, with Galileo from the generation following Luther, who permitted science to reshape his thinking. Luther said this of the facts in the Bible that seem to conflict with the external realities: “The more it seems to conflict with all experience and reason, the more carefully it must be noted and the more surely believed.” When Luther turns to Eve being formed from a rib, he says, “This is extravagant fiction and the silliest kind of nonsense if you set aside the authority of Scripture and follow the judgment of reason.” But perhaps this illustrates his heel digging the most: “Although it sounds like a fairy tale to reason, it is the most certain truth.” Here Luther contrasts “reason” (or scientific thinking) and faith or Scripture. One might call Luther’s approach the dominating approach to science and faith because he chooses— against reason, he admits— for the Bible to dominate the evidence. Galileo mirrors Luther with another kind of domination: “A natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sense experience or proved by necessary demonstration should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.” The choice to let either the Bible or science dominate the other is common enough, but there is a better way, one that permits each of the disciplines to speak its own language but also requires each of the voices to speak to one another. Science, after all, can help the interpreter of the Bible just as the Bible can provide horizons and vistas for the scientist. Three Old Testament scholars are modeling how this dialogue between the Bible and science can be fruitful— John Walton, Tremper Longman, and Peter Enns. They don’t agree with one another always, nor do I always agree with them in the pages that follow, but they have opened up new pathways for this kind of dialogue to occur.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 93-94). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

That’s a massive chunk of text carved out of a book for review, but it’s worth doing on two counts:

  • McKnight has a knack for the longest trains of thought I have encountered in writing, making it difficult to find a good point to insert a break.
  • This piece pretty much summarizes my impression of where McKnight is going with the last four chapters.

He seems to accept that Adam and his faithful companion Eve are not the origin of the human race. Then he spends the remainder of his alloted space attempting to justify the story of Adam (and Eve) by invoking context.

I have to admit that the encounter with science made me wonder at times about what I had been taught, about what the Bible said, about whether or not the Bible was wrong, and— this was for me a defining intellectual moment— about whether traditional interpretations of Genesis 1– 2 were perhaps well intended but misguided and in need of rethinking. In other words, my encounters with trustworthy scientists and their works taught me to go back to the Bible with other questions and other possible interpretations and to ask what Genesis meant in its world. In this I believe I was motivated by a quest to know the truth. I went back to the Bible to read Genesis in context and to ask if what many thought the Bible was saying (that is, its interpreted meaning) was not in fact what the Bible was actually saying (its original meaning). But there’s more: my encounter with science that prompted renewed study of Genesis also led me to challenge science about some of its assumptions. Modernity, expressed in extreme form in the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, presses into our minds that the only reality is the empirical. If only what studies the empirical world (science) ascertains reality, then only science tells us the truth about reality. However, this common assumption in modernity is a case of concluding what one already assumes. How so? This approach restricts discoveries to empirically testable realities. Nothing else is real. But what if there is more? What if some kind of nonempirical reality exists? This is the sort of question the Bible presses on the scientist. I am convinced that there is more than the empirical, or perhaps I should say the more is hyperreality or suprareality. If so, there is a reality not knowable exclusively by the empirical methods of science. Theology, which is designed to investigate that nonempirical reality in some ways, can provide a map onto which we can locate science and which can challenge science.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Use of “context” occurs four times prior to this point, including once in an introduction and once in the Table of Contents. It appears an additional 85 times from this point forward. My take: context is everything.

Where have I seen this before? It was in the matter of tattoos. A Facebook friend, a devout Christian and one who from time to time posts pronouncements of faith, called attention to her tattoos. Gentleman that I am, I reminded her that the Bible forbids tattoos, much as it forbids homosexuality. A relative chimed in with the reassurance that it is a matter of “context.”

My take (again): “context” is a cop-out. When context is invoked to justify the Bible, then what you are getting from the Bible is the interpretation being pushed by the speaker. You are not getting the word of God. You are getting the word of the interpreter. You are not placing you faith in a 3000-year-old set of laws. You are placing your faith in whoever happens to be professing faith, an extreme case being the sordid collapse of Jim Jones’ People’s Temple.

Previously mentioned, McKnight’s parsing of theological history largely passes over my head. Therefore I will post a few excerpts that caught my attention, and  I will let the reader get back to me. Advice requested.

I went back to the Bible to read Genesis in context and to ask if what many thought the Bible was saying (that is, its interpreted meaning) was not in fact what the Bible was actually saying (its original meaning).

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Every statement about Adam and Eve in the Old Testament, in Jewish literature, and in the New Testament is made from a context and into a context. Furthermore, some of the statements about Adam and Eve in all this literature are designed to speak against that context. That is, those statements are polemics and apologetics. Learning about those contexts and polemics often brings fresh understanding of the intention of the Bible and hence of what God wants his people to hear. In addition, this contextual approach to Adam and Eve provides a model for how Christians today can think about Adam and Eve in the context of the faith-and-science debate. If the Human Genome Project provides brilliant discoveries about the origin of life and the development of humans into who we are today, we will all gain clarity if Christians learn how to speak about Adam and Eve in a context that both affirms conclusions about the genome and challenges some conclusions drawn from the Human Genome Project. Contexts, both ancient and modern, shape what we see, what we hear, and how we respond.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 97). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Winding down with:

Interpreting the Bible is not easy. As Scot demonstrates, taking into account the languages, contexts, and presumed intents from centuries ago is a lot like, well, paleontology. Again, when explaining the challenges science presents to Christian faith, I stress the important distinction between scientific findings (e.g., DNA in a Siberian cave) and the philosophical or theological interpretations of those findings (Homo sapiens therefore emerged by sheer luck of the genome, or God operates on a circuitous route not unlike wandering in the wilderness to get to the promised land).

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 197). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Summarizing the book, we have two obviously intelligent people still clinging to the notion there is a magical person who created us and the universe and who cares for us personally. That this can be so is not an indication that there is no problem at hand. It is an indication that the problem is both wide and deep-seated.

May Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Darwin Day

The following appeared in essential the same form in Sunday’s edition of the San Antonio Express-News opinion section.

Monday is the birthday of British scientist Charles Darwin. He was born on this day in 1809, the same day as Abraham Lincoln. Science fans now celebrate it as “Darwin Day,” and for a reason.

Charles Darwin is recognized as one of the pre-eminent scientists of the 19th century, and his remains rest in Westminster Abbey, near those of Isaac Newton. The thing that earned Darwin this distinction was his work earlier in the century—establishment of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Biological evolution was not a novel concept at the time. Anaximander of Miletus (610-546 B.C.) was an early thinker who proposed that one species could descend from another. Medieval Islamic science also included the concept. But by the early 19th century scientists still had no mechanism to drive the process.  Darwin’s contribution was the idea that random variation, coupled with natural selection, provides this capability. Destined as a young man for the clergy, his life was changed by a voyage around the world, a scientific expedition underwritten by his government. His observations on the trip started him to thinking about what could drive evolution, but he did not publish until 1858, when Alfred Russel Wallace hit upon the same idea. The two published concurrently, and the following year Darwin’s seminal book, “The Origin of Species,” set the world on fire.

What Darwin had done was to demolish the remaining link between religion and the natural world. Previous scientists had demonstrated our planet is not the center of the universe, and the earth is millions (later billions) of years old—in direct contradiction to the Genesis story that was the foundation for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Darwin removed any need for supernatural processes, especially anything resembling the God of Abraham, to explain human existence. To many people this undercut the very basis for human morality, and it cast their lives adrift in a purposeless world. The tension extends to this day.

Well into the 21st century rational-thinking people continue to find it necessary to defend truth and reason against attack. It is now barely seven years prior to the Scopes Trial centennial, and scientists and scholars daily endure challenges by creationists of a wide spectrum, all pushing some challenge to established science. The governor of Texas appoints a known creationist to head the State Board of Education, and three prominent creationists are observed reviewing biology text books for the Texas Education Agency. A known fan of Intelligent Design is appointed Secretary of Education. And biology is not the only science under attack.

An Oklahoma senator displays a snowball as evidence against human-caused global warming. Worse, applause comes from a like-minded base of American voters. A disgraced physician publishes a fraudulent paper linking vaccines to autism. Millions of parents withhold vaccines from their children, with tragic results.

Disregard for verifiable fact now permeates the American political landscape. An outlandish rumor takes life about the time of the presidential election and quickly engulfs a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. Accurate reporting puts the lie to the story, but, against all reason, a person caught up in the frenzy goes so far as to barge into the restaurant, brandishing a firearm and discharging it. The story retains life to this day, due to people’s willingness to believe in the face of contrary evidence. A participant in an Arizona rally in January is heard saying this story requires further investigation.

An American presidential candidate lays a carpet of false statements, continuing into his tenure as the country’s leader. News outlets print the truth, which is then proclaimed to be fake news. Millions of voters pick up the chant.

This lack of respect for the verifiable fact is a malaise that threatens the health of a great industrial nation. The solution will not come from the top. A well-informed citizenry needs to push back against attacks on logic and reason. Clear-thinking people need to come forward when they see or hear something that is obviously not right. A lone voice of resistance should become a million. And the voice should be loud, clear, and firm. There must be no backing down in defense of what is demonstrably true.

The freethinker movement has a history in Central Texas. Immigrants from Germany settled here in the mid 19th century, and their legacy of resistance to absolutism in religion and government has seeped into our society. The Freethinkers Association of Central Texas (FACT) continues this tradition, championing open discussion and insisting on respect for rational thinking. More than an anti-religious gathering, it serves as a channel for many who hold compassion and respect for human dignity above the exigencies of political power. On Darwin Day we resolve to continue Darwin’s legacy of championing fact before fable.

The Freethinkers Association of Central Texas meets informally for lunch the first and second Tuesday each month, and for breakfast at Denny’s on Fredericksburg Road the last Saturday each month. The next meeting is Tuesday, 13 February, at Hacienda Vallarta on Bandera Road at 1:00 p.m. Public welcome.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 5 in a series

Did I mention I previously attended meetings of a creationist group in Dallas? I’m sure I did. Here’s more of the same.

There’s a group called the Metroplex Institute of Origin Science, MIOS, and they had program meetings on a Tuesday night most every month. Often times there were presentations on why creation is true and evolution is wrong, not only wrong but usually evil. These were what I call creationists of the first type. They hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, which is the origin of the creation story. So they need to continually confirm the truth of biblical stories, including the famous flood of Noah. Also other stories. Including the story of Joshua.

A presentation one night was a bizarre explanation of how the story of Joshua at the Battle of Jericho has been proved true. I have a copy of the handouts from the meeting, and here it is, as verbatim as my ability allows:

THE SUN DID STAND STILL

Did you know that the space program is busy proving that what has been called “myth” in the Bible is true? Mr. Harold Hill, President of the Curtis Engine Co. in Baltimore, Maryland, and a consultant in the space program, relates the following development:

“I think one of the most amazing things that God has for us today happened recently to our astronauts and space scientists at Green Belt, Maryland. They were checking the position of the sun, moon, and planets out in space where they would be 100 years and 1,000 years from now. We have to know this so we don’t send a satellite up and have it bump into something later on in its orbits. We have to lay out the orbits in terms of the life of the satellite, and where the planets will be so the whole thing will not bog down! They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into it or with the results as compared to the standards. They called in the service department to check it out and they said, “It’s perfect.” The head of operations said, “What’s wrong?” “Well, they have found there is a day missing in space in elapsed time.” They scratched their heads and tore their hair. There was no answer!

One religious fellow on the team said, “You know, one time I was in Sunday School and they talked about the sun standing still.” They didn’t believe him; but they didn’t have any other answer so they said, “Show us.” He got a Bible and went back to the Book of Joshua where they found a pretty ridiculous statement for anybody who has ‘common sense’. There they found the Lord saying to Joshua, “Fear them not; for I have delivered them into thine hand; there shall not a man of them stand before thee.” Joshua was concerned because he was surrounded by the enemy and if darkness fell they would overpower them. So Joshua asked the Lord to make the sun stand still! That’s right — “The sun stood still, and the moon stayed . . . and pasted not to go down about a whole day.” Joshua 10:8,12,13. The space men said, “There is the missing day!” They checked the computers going back into the time it was written and found it was close but not close enough. The elapsed time that was missing back in Joshua’s day was 23 hours and 20 minutes — not a whole day. They read the Bible and there it was -­”about (approximately) a day.”

These little words in the Bible are important. But they were still in trouble because if you cannot account for 40 minutes you’ll be in trouble 1,000 years from now. Forty minutes had to be found because it can be multiplied many times over in orbits. This religious fellow also remembered somwhere in the Bible where it said the sun went BACKWARDS. The space men told him he was out of his mind. But they got the Book and read these words in II Kings: Hezakiah, on his death-bed, was visited by the Prophet Isaiah who told him that he was not going to die. Hezekiah asked for a sign as proof. Isaiah said, “Do you want the sun to go ahead ten degrees?” Hezekiah said, “It’s nothing for the sun to go ahead ten degrees, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees.” II Kings 20: 9-11. Isaiah spoke to the Lord and the Lord brought the shadow ten degrees BACKWARDS! Ten degrees is exactly 40 minutes! Twenty-three hours and 20 minutes in Joshua, plus 40 minutes in II Kings make the missing 24 hours the space travelers had to log in the logbook as being the missing day in the universe! Isn’t that amazing? Our God is rubbing their noses in His Truth!”

The above article was copied from “The Evening Star”, Spencer, Indiana. It is verified by Mr. Harold Hill, who gave permission for reprinting, February 22, 1970.

References Cited for “The Missing Day in Time”

Did the Sun Stand Still? Tract No. 1211. North Syracuse, N.Y.: Book Fellowship [n.d., 7 pp.] *Mentions Irwin H. Linton, A Lawyer Examines the Bible.

Apologetics. By Harry Conn. Minneapolis: Men for Missions [tract, n.d., 9 pp.]

The Missing Day /Behind the Missing Day. Minneapolis: Osterhus Pub. House [tract, n.d., 4 pp.]

Harold Hill, as told to Irene Burk Harrell. How to Live Like a King’s Kid. Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1974. Ch. 13, “How to Find the Missing Day,” pp. 65-75. On pp. 75-77: “Book Report ‘Long Day of Joshua’ C. A. L. Totten,” by V. L. Westberg, August 1970, Sonoma, Cal.

Joshua’s Long Day. In Five Minutes with the Bible & Science. Daily Reading Magazine. Supplement to Bible-Science Newsletter. Vol. VIII: No. 5 (May, 1978). Caldwell, Id. [2 pp.] *Mentions Robert L. Odem, “The Lost Day of Joshua,” Ministry (November/December, 1970), and J. B. Dimbleby, All Past Time.

Harry Rimmer. The Harmony of Science and Scripture. [1927] 4th edn., Berne, Ind.: Berne Witness Company, 1937.

Charles A. L. Totten. Joshua’s Long Day and the Dial of Ahaz. A Scientific Vindication. [1890] Study No. 2 of “The Our Race Series—The Voice of History.” Merrimac, Mass.: Destiny Publishers, 1968 edn. with a foreword by Howard B. Rand.

Dan A. Oren. Joining the Club: A History of Jews and Yale.New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

“A Clergyman Insane. He is a Graduate of Yale and one of Lieut. Toten’s [sic] Disciples.” The New York Times. 26 June 1891. p.l.

“No Rest for Totten.” The New York Times. 13 March 1892. p. 4. “Lieut. Totten’s Vagaries.” The New York Times. 30 March 1892. p. 1

*I have not yet located these three publications, mentioned in works consulted. I would be grateful for information about them, and for copies of “Missing Day” fliers or tracts.

Jan Harold Brunvand Department of English University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT 84112

All right. You’ve read it. So, maybe you didn’t read it. Maybe you read part of it. Let’s take it from there. I was in the room when this presentation was handed out. There were fully functional adults in the room. And nobody laughed. Nobody. I must have held my breath. How about some Skeptical Analysis. Where to start? Let’s start with this bit of unreason:

They ran the computer measurement back and forth over the centuries and it came to a halt. The computer stopped and put up a red signal, which meant that there was something wrong either with the information fed into it or with the results as compared to the standards.

The computer stopped? Really? Why? Computers don’t just stop. They get finished, and they pause, waiting for something new to come along. The computer put up a red signal? This is massively intriguing. I am, most of us are, accustomed to error messages on computers. They tend to be in the order of:

  • Unexpected “{” in line 32.
  • File not found.
  • Segmentation fault—core dumped.
  • Blue screen of death.

Some forgiveness may be due. Permission for reprinting was given in 1970, so the events preceded Windows 3.2. Maybe a red light (flashing or not) was all that was available.

Anyhow, the explanation for the computer’s stopping comes off the rails quickly. There was a missing day? Really? How does a day turn up missing? What information could the computer possibly have been chewing on to make it conclude there was a missing day? Yeah, that’s curious. Fortunately I have done some of this stuff. I took celestial mechanics and interplanetary navigation in college, and I also did a term project much like the one described above. It goes like this.

You provide the data for the simulation. There are celestial bodies with these masses in these positions and traveling at these velocities. You press the start key, and the simulation launches, predicting where the bodies will be in one-minute (or whatever) intervals. One of the inputs includes a condition that signals the simulation to stop. A condition such as “Simulate 500 hours.” You can easily run the simulation backwards in time. Just reverse the velocities of all the bodies and hit the start key. The simulation will tell you where the bodies were in the past. That is what the NASA simulation must have been doing. And NASA and astronomers and curious amateurs like me do this sort of thing. For one thing, you might want to know where the moon’s shadow crossed the Earth’s surface. Here’s one:

12 June 2000 BC 03:14:51 5 Total 1.0733 06m 37s 6.0°N 33.3°W 247 km (153 mi)

I don’t know if anybody was around to see that, but we can all be sure it happened. Celestial mechanics is a well-developed science.

And no, there is no missing day.

The remainder of the story requires scrutiny. I will scrutinize partially.

The above article was copied from “The Evening Star”, Spencer, Indiana. It is verified by Mr. Harold Hill, who gave permission for reprinting, February 22, 1970.

Permission was given in February 22, 1970. Compare that with this:

Harold Hill, as told to Irene Burk Harrell. How to Live Like a King’s Kid. Plainfield, N.J.: Logos International, 1974. Ch. 13, “How to Find the Missing Day,” pp. 65-75. On pp. 75-77: “Book Report ‘Long Day of Joshua’ C. A. L. Totten,” by V. L. Westberg, August 1970, Sonoma, Cal.

Permission was given to reprint prior to when Harold Hill told the story to Irene Burk Harrell. I will not belabor. Feel free to spot the additional discrepancies.

I was able to verify the “Totten” references appearing in the New York Times back in the 19th century. Apparently there was a C.A.L. Totten back then, and he caught the attention of the Times often. This is from Wikipedia:

Charles Adelle Lewis Totten (February 3, 1851 – April 12, 1908) was an American military officer, a professor of military tactics, a prolific writer, and an influential early advocate of British Israelism.

Finally, there is this item’s signatory:

Jan Harold Brunvand Department of English University of Utah Salt Lake City, UT 84112

We know Jan Brunvand. He’s the person who created the concept of the urban legend. Is it possible “The Sun Did Stand Still” is a sample from his studies blown up into something to impress fellow creationists? I shudder to think.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Number 4 in a series

I’m trying to remember how this caught my attention. Most likely somebody alerted me by posting a link on their Facebook time line. No matter, here it is. It’s a nine-minute clip promoting creationism, and it compresses the Intelligent Design argument admirably. I will do a bit of analysis.

Starting off, Douglas Axe is here to explain that life is too complicated to have evolved by natural processes:

Douglas Axe is the director of the Discovery Institute-run Biologic Institute. Co-author of Science and Human Origins, Axe is also a signatory to the Discovery Institute petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.

Axe’s work has been hailed by the Discovery Institute as evidence supporting their views. Interestingly, even Axe himself has admitted that this is not the case.

He gives the example of today’s smart phones. They are immensely involved constructions of the most sophisticated components produced by modern industry.

However, Axe brings up the comparison to a lowly insect. The firefly is orders of magnitude more intricate and complex than a smart phone, and there is no way such a remarkable combination of parts could come together by accident. He also stresses that a firefly derives from a single cell, developing without additional assistance into an adult insect. Smart phones do not do that. They have to be constructed by people in factories.

That brings Axe around to talking about the Bible:

26 Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?

27 Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?

28 She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.

29 From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.

30 Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.

40 Moreover the Lord answered Job, and said,

Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.

And that seems to answer it for Axe. We don’t understand something, but God does, and we should not question God’s omniscience and God’s omnipotence.

So this is an odd thing to me, because I have been hearing from the creationists of the second kind for years that Intelligent Design is sound science and is not meant to promote religion, especially the religion  of the Abrahamic God. So much for that.

Wayne Grudem turns the conversation toward theistic evolution:

Wayne A. Grudem is a prominent evangelical theologian, seminary professor, and author.[2] He co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and served as the general editor of the ESV Study Bible.

Theistic evolution, he explains, is the idea that God got everything going and now sits back and watches idly how the universe progresses, never touching the controls.

J.P. Moreland expands on the idea:

James Porter Moreland (born March 9, 1948), better known as J. P. Moreland, is an American philosophertheologian, and Christian apologist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

He says (quoting roughly):

The idea that God set up the processes in the beginning and then just let it run, that’s sort of like deism. Or, he was involved in the process of evolution, as long as there can be no way to tell that he was involved.

Stephen C. Meyer continues the thread:

Stephen C. Meyer (born 1958) is an advocate of the pseudoscientific principle of intelligent design. He helped found the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute (DI), which is the main organization behind the intelligent design movementBefore joining the DI, Meyer was a professor at Whitworth College. Meyer is currently a Senior Fellow of the DI and Director of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC).

Meyer notes the danger of theistic evolution. At a time when neo-Darwinism is losing favor, he states that religious scientists are urging their compatriots to embrace neo-Darwinism, else they will find themselves outcasts in the scientific community.

John G. West is another of the speakers associated with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture:

John G. West is a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute (DI), and Associate Director and Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs of its Center for Science and Culture (CSC), which serves as the main hub of the Intelligent design movement.

He cites the sad circumstance that Christians feel the need to “get on the bandwagon” with neo-Darwinism, because “the science is overwhelming.” However, he goes on to state the science is not overwhelming, because a body of the scientific community is coming to realize neo-Darwinism, random mutation coupled with natural selection, cannot explain all evolutionary development. He says “we know what evolution can do in the lab,” and he says it doesn’t work.

West, obviously no fan of evolution, states a straw man case. The hard fact is that laboratory experiments in a lab in a building are not the world in which evolution works. Evolution works on a global scale, even on the scale of a small island or a mountain region. In nature the evidence for evolution working is manifest, and there is no evidence for an intelligent agent working.

Meyer chimes in with the argument for which he is famous. Natural selection, he tells us, works only for survival of novel features. They do not account for the “arrival” of new features. Meyer has made this argument multiple times through the years, all the while failing to recognize his faulty thinking along these lines.

Along with Axe, Ann K. Gauger is associated with the Biologic Institute:

Axe received a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1990. In addition, the Biologic Institute has at least two other researchers. Ann Gauger is a zoologist with a BS in biology from MIT and a 1989 PhD from the University of Washington. As a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard she cloned and characterized the Drosophila kinesin light chain. Her research has been published in Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. She also has a number of years of experience as a homeschool teacher. Brendan Dixon is a software developer and worked for Microsoft previously.

Axe, Gauger and Dixon were not among those who signed the original version of the Discovery Institute petition, “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism“, in 2001. However, Gauger appears on the March 2004 and January 2005 versions of the list. The August 25, 2007 version of the “Darwin Dissent” petition includes the names of both Axe and Gauger. Gauger’s affiliation on the August 25, 2007 version of the petition is not the Biologic Institute, but Gauger’s alma mater, the University of Washington.

She contends Darwinism is a circular argument in this way. Roughly translating, “To get the first cell you need DNA, and you also need RNA, and you need proteins, and you need DNA to make RNA to make proteins. This is a famously stale argument of the creationists, and it exhibits a simple-mindedness of astounding proportions. It ignores a body of research in the field and passes over any number of proposed approaches for the path to the first cells. She concludes that random processes coupled with natural selection cannot account for the development of primordial life.

Arguments against Darwinism (modern theories of biological evolution) continue, and  they become increasingly silly. We see Moreland arguing against the validity of the scientific approach. More specifically, he speaks against the supposed superior authority of science in providing answers. He compares it to theology especially. And that is an interesting, if dismal, approach.

Theology is comparable to science, even superior, in providing answers to matters of the real world. Really? I find that to be a remarkably naive statement. Let me break it down.

  • With science we study what’s going on and develop theories to explain. We fit the theories, the explanations, to supposed consequences and see how well they match up.
  • With theology we just make stuff up. The Earth was created about 6000 years ago over a period of six days. That sounds cool. Don’t bother to test it. Any evidence to the contrary must be wrong.

Meyer launches into running down “methodological naturalism.” Methodological naturalism holds the approach that only natural processes will be considered. The supernatural is shunned by the scientific community in favor of methodological naturalism.

That sounds miserably unfair to the supernatural until you realize that the supernatural does not exist. In the entire history of the human race there has never been  a demonstrated case of the supernatural. Four of my friends and I posted an award of $12,000 to anybody who can demonstrate the supernatural. This award has been up for over 25 years, and during this time nobody has ever come close to demonstrating the supernatural. If Meyer wants us to consider the supernatural, he is going to be required to first show us a sample so we will know what it looks like.

West rejoins and cites C.S. Lewis in noting that scientists pose questions they want answered, thereby obtaining only the kinds of answers they are looking for. West goes on to state that if we want other kinds of answers (I’m assuming supernatural answers), then we are going to have to ask other kinds of questions. Grudem continues, seeming to plead that we need to be willing to accept other (supernatural?) causes if we want supernatural answers. Meyer continues the argument that scientists should be willing to accept non-materialistic hypotheses. Gauger comes clean with the matter of theistic evolution:

The thing that’s at stake with theistic evolution, the debate about it is understanding of scripture.

And that’s it. If Gauger’s take is the new line on Intelligent Design, then the wraps really have come off. Intelligent Design is a mechanism concocted to protect the holy scripture against assaults by fact and reason. Moreland:

And it’s sad to say, but theistic evolution actually undermines Christians’ confidence in the authority of scripture. The doctrine of creation and the general way that creation took place is at the very foundation of Christianity—that God created all life and that there was at least a discernible way he did it. Theistic evolution puts all that up for grabs. And as a result it takes the core of theology and severs it from history. And so theology becomes a place in what Francis Schaeffer used to call “the upper story.” In an area where theology isn’t really about facts. It certainly isn’t about things we can test or know. It’s more about beliefs and feelings. But science does the hard work. It’s really about evidence and fact. If we keep revising the Bible when science tells us we “have to” [Here Moreland holds up two fingers on each hand to make quotation marks in the air.], then at some point we are going to end up believing that the Bible may not really be a factual book in the first place.

It would appear Moreland has reached the correct conclusion. The hard truth is that science does do the heavy lifting, science does come through with verifiable results, the Bible does need constant revision as each new finding contradicts the scriptures, and the Bible is almost devoid of factual content.

Grudem:

The question is whether Christians will reject God’s authority in whole areas of human knowledge—talking about where we came from and how we got here.

Axe:

Do we take the latest scientific ideas with the textbook orthodoxy to be our ultimate authority? And if so, then we have to make it be to conform to that, including not only our reading of Genesis, but our entire reading of the scripture. Whereas if we take scripture to occupy a higher position of authority than the opinion of the scientific community, then we view things differently. Not that we’re rejecting science, it’s that we recognize that science is not the ultimate authority.

And that is some kind of statement. Readers should take note of Axe’s reference to science as the ultimate authority. This is the bugaboo with religious creationists and others who distrust science. They like to present science as some kind of authoritarian entity that weighs down on our lives, suppressing contrary views and stifling innovative thinking and fresh approaches. A reality check is in order:

  • Science is a human endeavor, carried out by people. It is not a secret society working toward nefarious ends.
  • Science is not the only agency seeking to differentiate fact from fiction.
  • Law enforcement agencies investigate anti-social activity and work to determine the facts, whether a crime has been committed and who is responsible.
  • News reporters question people close to a story and sort out fact from fiction in order to provide a true account of what went on.
  • In everyday life we work to winkle out fact from contradicting information. Is the new employee really trustworthy, a question we might answer by checking whether he has a criminal record. Did the child skip school and then lie about it? Check with the school and get the facts.

If there is an orthodoxy of fact, the it is we. Science takes the methods that have demonstrated to produce reliable results, and science applies these methods to differentiate between truth and fiction. Science is not “textbook orthodoxy,” as Axe wants to characterize it. Scientists do not get their authority from textbooks. As a practicing scientist, Axe should know better, yet he is conflating scientists with people who do receive their orthodoxy from a book, people such as those speaking in this video.

Meyer complains that he has been immersed in the issue of science versus religion (not in those words) for 30 years, and he is troubled by theologians who are coming around to accepting scientific authority over the scriptures. He bemoans there is now no consensus view except the acknowledgement that neo-Darwinism is failing. He cites:

Last November in London at the Royal Society … There was a conference that was assessing the status of neo-Darwinian theory that was called by many evolutionary biologists who have become disenchanted with the theory. We have leading people in evolutionary biology today saying that the modern form of Darwinian theory has now failed to account for the most important things that any evolutionary biologist must account for, which is: where does the new form, the new biological structure come from? The answer essentially is we don’t know, so it seems to me a very odd time for Christians who are concerned about the science-faith dialogue to be saying, “Well we need to embrace the modern form of Darwinian theory. Otherwise we’re going to be out of date.” It’s just the opposite, in fact.

I am going to assume the Royal Society conference of which Meyer speaks is this one:

The Biologists Who Want to Overhaul Evolution

A half-century’s worth of scientific discoveries since the last major update to evolutionary theory has some researchers pushing for a paradigm shift.

CARL ZIMMER 

Kevin Laland looked out across the meeting room at a couple hundred people gathered for a conference on the future of evolutionary biology. A colleague sidled up next to him and asked how he thought things were going.

Zimmer goes on to report:

Laland is an evolutionary biologist who works at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. On a chilly gray November day, he came down to London to co-host a meeting at the Royal Society called “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology.” A motley crew of biologists, anthropologists, doctors, computer scientists, and self-appointed visionaries packed the room. The Royal Society is housed in a stately building overlooking St. James’s Park. Today the only thing for Laland to see out of the tall meeting-room windows was scaffolding and gauzy tarps set up for renovation work. Inside, Laland hoped, another kind of renovation would be taking place.

We remember Carl Zimmer as the author of At the Water’s Edge, a book that traces the transition of water-living fishes to land-dwelling animals,  particularly mammals. Continuing, the book traces a mammal with hoofs to creatures living in the sea and ultimately to modern whales. Meyer may think a conference such as this, where the notion of scientific authoritarianism evaporates like a snowball in Tahiti, as a justification for his rejection of Darwinism (evolution) and for his rejection of science in general. However, a close look at the proceedings reveals no comfort for Meyer’s dreams of the supernatural:

Some studies indicate that—under certain circumstances—an epigenetic change in a parent may get passed down to its offspring. And those children may pass down this altered epigenetic profile to their children. This would be kind of heredity that’s beyond genes.

The evidence for this effect is strongest in plants. In one study, researchers were able to trace down altered methylation patterns for 31 generations in a plant called Arabidopsis. And this sort of inheritance can make a meaningful difference in how an organism works. In another study, researchers found that inherited methylation patterns could change the flowering time of Arabidopsis, as well as the size of its roots. The variation that these patterns created was even bigger than what ordinary mutations caused.

Meyer is not the only creationist finding comfort in the emerging interest in epigenetics. Creationist David Shormann operates a religious school in the Houston suburbs, and at the textbook hearings before the Texas State Board of Education in 2013 he used the study of epigenetics to attack the biology texts under consideration. His schools, he claimed, dealt with the matter, whereas the books under consideration did not. On that basis he proposed rejecting all the proposed books. It’s a curious bit of logic, and it did not pan out for Shormann, as the books he opposed were approved by the board. A video of Shormann’s presentation is available on YouTube:

Few could be happier than I am that creationists such as Meyer have decided to quit playing charades with their argument that Intelligent Design is not about religion. The speakers in the theistic evolution video go full monty in support of the Christian faith. For me, watching this video was hard to distinguish from attending a holly roller tent revival.