Dino Trax

That Old Time Creationism

Some of us remember a few years back when creationism was the hottest thing going, and all the skeptics wanted to pile on—get out, meet the creationists, write a funny journal. Yeah, those creationists don’t get around locally so much anymore. But we still have our memories.

The above is from 1990—seems like yesterday. I heard there was this Metroplex Institution of Origin Science (MIOS) and I hauled myself over to their Tuesday night meetings, once a month at the time. About this time a guy at work gave me a pamphlet. He’s a creationist of  the first order. The pamphlet is Dino Trax, and I need to explain. That’s a cute way of spelling dino tracks, rather dinosaur tracks. The allusion is to the dinosaur tracks still visible in the Paluxy River, a few miles from where I was born.

Beginning maybe 40 years ago creationists started selling the idea there were human footprints in the limestone river bottom as well as dinosaur tracks. The implication was (is) that dinosaurs made some tracks, and people made some tracks, in the same soft limestone mud, about the same time.

The problem, of course, is that modern geology and modern paleontology inform us that dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago, and humans didn’t show up until something like three million years ago. Were that true, it could be demonstrated, that  the underpinnings of modern science are wrong, and the creationists have had it right all the time.

Anyhow, Dino Trax is intended to provide all the straight skinny you need to convince yourself the Bible, particularly Genesis, is true, and also much of what you were taught in school about geology and the age of the earth is false. During my visits i garnered several copies of these tracts, and have since recycled them, retaining scanned copies.

What is interesting about this edition is it introduces the Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon creationist school supplement titled “Of Pandas And People: the Central Question of Biological Origins,” which book came out the year before. The Intelligent Design controversy was just beginning to heat up in those days. They were heady times.

This edition of Dino Trax contains a section on “MIOS Books.” They are creationist books you can order through MIOS. Pandas is included, and it lists for $18.95, including a teacher’s guide, and it’s intended for use by high school students. Here’s what Dino Trax has to say about the Pandas book:

Designed as a supplement to High School Biology text books. Provides a scientific alternative to conventional evolutionary propaganda. Its academic integrity has earned it endorsements from a wide range of representative scientists and educators nation-wide.

I note use of the term “academic integrity.” Working with creationists provided my first encounter with purveyors of fake news.

As we all know, the Pandas drama swelled before collapsing 15 years later. A board member attempted to introduce the book into the science curriculum in Plano, Texas, and much push back from parents and teachers ensued. The North Texas Skeptics weighed in on the side of the citizens, and Ginny Vaughn had produced and distributed a passel of name badges for people to wear to the public discussion. Here’s what they look like:

There was perhaps more than one school board member pushing for the Pandas book that night, and I am told the view they received was a sea of No-Pandas badges. The steam went out of that road machine, and there was not much more said about it.

The issue came to a head ten years later, when two school officials attempted to crowd Pandas onto the study list in a Pennsylvania town. This time there was a law suit, and the ACLU took the case. Federal Judge John E. Jones III, in a 129-page scorching, concluded that Intelligent design is a religious movement with no basis in science. The school district ate the cost of the trial, and the official miscreants shucked off all responsibility.

And Dino Trax was there when it all began.

The few copies I was able to snag have been scanned to PDF for all interested in viewing a bit of history. I have the copies, and I am copying them to the NTS archives. Send an email if you want to read some ancient history.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Re-posted from Skeptical Analysis

Number 2 in a series

Hot damn! This is getting good. Yesterday I kicked off this series with a review of a post (by somebody) on Evolution News, the blog site hosted by the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. That’s the group doing the heavy lifting to promote the Intelligent Design version of creationism in this country. It so happens I picked up on three such postings, courtesy of a Facebook friend who linked them on his time line. Here’s another:

Submit Nominations for 2018 Censor of the Year Now!

We’re about a month away from Darwin Day, February 12. It’s the great man’s birthday, celebrated by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture as Academic Freedom Day. We prefer this alternative framing of the occasion because the freedom to debate Charles Darwin’s scientific legacy is continually endangered by intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science, and subtle and totally unsubtle forms of censorship.

All right! This is going to be good. The language of Evolution News is picking up the tone of rhetoric in today’s political world. I particularly enjoy seeing “intimidation, threats to careers and livelihoods, fake news and fake science.” Also “unsubtle forms of censorship.” This writer is prepared to lay it on thick. Who could ask for more?

The writer is identified, something often missing. He’s David Klinghoffer, somebody I enjoy reading. Here’s his Wikipedia entry:

David Klinghoffer is an Orthodox Jewish author and essayist, and a proponent of intelligent design. He is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute, the organization that is the driving force behind the intelligent design movement. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review, and a former columnist for the Jewish weekly newspaper The Forward, to which he still contributes occasional essays.

And there’s more:

Klinghoffer has published a series of articles, editorial columns, and letters to the editor in both Jewish and non-Jewish conservative publications seeking to promote opposition to Darwinian views of evolution, stating that science can include a support for an underlying intelligent design in the development of living things and the universe as a whole, and, indeed, that some scientists hold to such views. Larry Yudelson has responded, in a piece directed at Klinghoffer, that rabbinical Judaism has accepted evolutionary theory for more than a century, and that Judaism has never rejected science. Yudelson also argues that Klinghoffer’s employer, the Discovery Institute, is a Christian think tank that is funded by organizations that seek to promote a “Christian-friendly world view”

Surprise, surprise! Yes, people, Jews do support creationism. Don’t forget, Jews invented this fantasy to begin with. Christians and Muslims since picked up the torch, and especially Christians are now the big promoters. Anyhow, David Klinghoffer has more to say from his Evolution News post. He is asking  readers to submit nominations for Censor of the Year (COTY). Here’s what he has to say about the great injustice being perpetrated:

Darwinists do not go so far as to burn books by proponents of intelligent design. However, their actual tactics in suppressing open debate are far more effective because, for the most part, they are practiced behind a veil of secrecy.

Remember, as Sarah Chaffee pointed out last week, most Darwinist censorship works via self-censorship. In academic and other contexts, the intimidation need not be explicit. It is practiced quietly, without drawing attention to itself. The victims, the censored, understandably don’t want to imperil their work, their income, or their reputation. So they keep quiet both about their doubts on Darwinian evolution and about the power structure in their institutions that maintains the informal speech code.

Yes, that’s it. Darwinists (scientists) intimidate the opposition by subtle and nefarious means, such means not being elaborated here, but perhaps in the Sarah Chaffee post that is linked above. I invite you to follow the link and read the sordid details. She tells of professors who give private talks promoting Intelligent Design, who must disclaim up front they do not speak for their academic institutions. Additionally she writes:

Or just take a look at our pictures on Evolution News of the Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. You may see the very tops of students’ heads, no more. Not their faces, not an inch of their profile. Those we carefully crop out. This is to keep participants’ identities a secret. It’s so their career prospects will not be harmed by an association with intelligent design.

Anyhow, the issue is that people in the know who want to criticize Darwinian evolution and more so, promote Intelligent Design, find themselves ridiculed by colleagues and others. Yes ridiculed. Coerced into keeping quiet. To be sure, I have my own characterization of what’s happening:

Typically a candidate for tenure at a college or university must pass review by his peers. Tenure is almost a lifetime assurance of employment and can be denied if your peers do not look forward to working with you. I have stated elsewhere that there are only so many times you can show up for the party with your fly unzipped before you are no longer invited.

Sadly it is true. If you say stuff that is foolish enough for long enough, people around you will start to conclude there is something wrong with your thinking process. And therein lies the problem with Klinghoffer’s premise and that of the rest of the Intelligent Design  crowd. This is undue criticism, undue intimidation, only if Intelligent Design has a basis in fact. The problem for Klinghoffer et al is that Intelligent Design really is creationism dressed up to look like science. And thinking people recognize this. And they act appropriately, if unkindly, in response.

There are more of these. Keep reading.

The Years of Living Stupidly

Re-posted from Skeptical Analysis

Time to start a new series.

A fellow skeptic keeps posting stuff from Evolution News, and my Facebook feed picks it up. Evolution News is the blog of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, an enterprise started up by creationist Stephen C. Meyer in 1996, and he is currently the director. I’ve spent a lot of time the past two years trying to  ignore output from the Discovery Institute, but something about this post brought me back. Here’s what it’s about:

Adam and the Genome and Human-Ape Genetic Similarity

Evolution News @DiscoveryCSC January 18, 2018, 7:54 AM

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, it appears Evolution News is having a go at biologist Dennis Venema’s new book (2017) Adam and the Genome. What the Discovery Institute wants to convince us is that life forms and all we see about us could not have come about by natural processes. A creator, an intelligent entity of some sort, must be behind it. That’s what’s going on here. Here Evolution News is digging at Venema’s evolutionary explanation for the similarity between the human genome and that of some of our close relations. Venema is using the origin of languages to make a comparison. I have the Kindle edition of the book, which allows me to provide the context of the above:

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.

Now that we understand the redundancy of the codon code, we can see that for genes this rabbit hole goes even deeper. Many of the amino acids in insulin can be coded for by alternate codons. For example, “Leu” in the diagram indicates the amino acid leucine, for which there are six possible codons. This short snippet of the insulin gene codes for nine leucines, and eight of them use exactly the same codon in dogs and humans (and the ninth differs by only one letter). For these nine codons, there are 96 (= 531,441) possible combinations that will correctly code for just these nine leucines, to say nothing of the other 101 amino acids found in insulin, most of which can be encoded for by multiple codons. Is it merely by chance that what we observe in these two species is only one letter different for these nine codons? A simpler, more reasonable explanation (or what a scientist would call a more “parsimonious” explanation) is that these sequences come from a common ancestral population and have been slightly modified along the way.

Of course, scientists have sequenced the genomes of many other species, so we can test this hypothesis by looking at a larger data set. Humans are not thought to have shared a common ancestral population with dogs for a very long time; other species are thought to be our much closer relatives due to other shared features, such as anatomy. When the pre-Darwin biologist Carl Linnaeus (1707– 78) drew up his taxonomy of animal life (i.e., a system that organized life into categories), he famously placed humans and great apes in a category he called “primate,” from the Latin indicating “prime” or “first.” While he was certainly not thinking about common ancestry, he naturally recognized that these species (such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) have a closer anatomical affinity to humans than other animals. In light of such an affinity, evolutionary theory predicts that these species share a more recent common ancestral population with humans than nonprimate species, such as dogs, do. Therefore, their gene sequences should be a closer match to human sequences than what we observe in dogs. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what we observe. Let’s return to our example of the insulin gene and extend our comparison of the same short stretch to include three great apes (fig. 2.6).

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.

McKnight, Scot; Venema, Dennis R.. Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture after Genetic Science (p. 30-31). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the portions the author reprinted from the original. Use of this partial excerpt is legitimate, since it does not change Venema’s original meaning and intent. What is to be found in the complete text is a fuller explanation, plus a tie-in to Venema’s language analogy.

The history of languages makes for an interesting study, and for English readers there is particular significance. The book The Story of English, by Robert MacNeilRobert McCrum, and William Cran is a companion book to the PBS television series of the same name. I have a similar book, The Stories of English, by David Crystal. It rehashes the history of English in much the same way:

We can note both of these processes happening for the Germanic group of languages during the period. In the late second century, the Goths moved into Europe from southern Scandinavia, eventually arriving in the Mediterranean region. During the fourth century, Bishop Wulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic. The language had changed so much during this short time that scholars now consider it to be a distinct, eastern branch of the Germanic family. On the other hand, the westward movement of peoples along the north European coast and into England resulted in a group of languages which had much greater similarities. English and Frisian, indeed, were so close that they would probably have been mutually intelligible for many centuries, especially in Kent. Even today, though mutual intelligibility has long since gone, English people listening to modern Frisian sense a familiarity with its expression which is not present in the case of Dutch or German. Genetic anthropologists have discovered a significant Y-chromosome identity, too (p. 31). 3

Crystal, David. The Stories of English (pp. 20-21). The Overlook Press. Kindle Edition.

I once visited the northwest coast of the European continent and was struck by the similarity. At a company cafeteria I picked up a coupon good for two desserts and had no trouble reading it, even though it was written in the local  language.

Anyhow, the background is fascinating, but the intent of Evolution News is to demonstrate that Venema is wrong—genetic similarity does not indicate common descent. Evolution News sometime ago quit identifying authors, but whoever posted this item failed to get the message. Traditionally, Intelligent Design, a concoction of the Discovery Institute, does not rule out common ancestry. These people tend to allow for that, but they also want us to know that natural, and especially random, process are not at work. The whole line of descent process was managed by an intelligent entity, yet unnamed. With some exceptions:

If the Associated Press writer confused a challenge to common descent with “Intelligent Design,” it could be because Intelligent Design proponents with the CSC on occasion do challenge common descent. For example, Ray Bohlin is a CSC fellow and supposedly a spokesman for Intelligent Design. At the Texas Faith Network conference in Dallas on 3 November 2003 Bohlin addressed a large room full of people and stated that common descent was true for all life forms, except humans. You can imagine the confusion of all in attendance.

Retired law professor Phillip Johnson is considered the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design  movement. At a symposium titled “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference,” held on the campus of Southern Methodist University in March 199, .I had a chance to talk with Johnson and get his views firsthand. He expressed some surprising points for an opponent of evolution:

n 1992 Johnson attended the conference on “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University (SMU). The conference was inspired by Jon Buell, a local creationist. Buell’s Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) published the book Pandas and People, an early work pushing Intelligent Design. At the conference the departure from young-Earth creationism was stark. Johnson and Buell were standing together when I asked them the question. Their answer was significant. Yes, the Earth and the universe really are billions of years old, and yes, present life forms share a common ancestry. These were not your grandfather’s creationists.

Here is a copy of the proceedings.

Anyhow, Evolution News is now having none of that. Continuing from the post:

The obvious answer to this argument is common design — that humans, gorillas, and orangutans were designed based upon a common blueprint. This would explain genetic similarity between humans and other species quite well.

Then the author presents an additional excerpt and promptly goes off the rails with this:

There he goes again, telling God what he can and cannot do. It’s a bit of chutzpah, don’t you think? He’s also telling God what God must intend when he does certain things. In particular, Venema is telling God that if he designs two species to be similar then God must thereby intend to tell us that those species are related through common ancestry. And if those species aren’t really related, then Venema tells God that he is being deceitful.

But what if Venema is putting thoughts into God’s head that aren’t there? What if God could have entirely different purposes for designing two species as similar — purposes that have nothing to do with trying to communicate some message to humans about relatedness or unrelatedness?

Oh, Jesus! You gave away the store. Intelligent Design is not supposed to be about God. It’s supposed to be science, real science, well-researched science, science that reveals there is a Designer, not identified and definitely not identified as G*d. G*d is the word that keeps Intelligent Design out of public classrooms, which is where its proponents, despite much public posturing, in their heart of hearts want it to be. Possibly we are now seeing the offshoot of all those years of living stupidly.

That covered, there is more of interest. The post dips into  a discussion of The Language of God, a book by Francis Collins:

Francis Sellers Collins (born April 14, 1950) is an American physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project. He is director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, United States.

Before being appointed director of the NIH, Collins led the Human Genome Project and other genomics research initiatives as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. Before joining NHGRI, he earned a reputation as a gene hunter at the University of Michigan. He has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science.

In order to continue following the discussion I obtained a Kindle edition and will be covering that in future posts. Also, and free on Amazon, is Intelligent Design the Final Proof of God. Go for it. Kindle readers are free for tablets and computers.

The Quintessence of Dumbshitia

Reposted from Skeptical Analysis

Number 4 in a continuing thread

As a refresher, Dumbshitia is an imaginary world or state of mind. It’s where you go when you take on a load of dumb shit so malodorous you need to live apart from thinking people.

This came to mind a few days ago when I was cleaning out boxes stacked in my closet. Some stuff was too valuable to be relegated to the recycle bin, so I scanned it in, converting pounds of paper to milligrams of flash memory. Included were a number of news clippings from (apparently) 1994. I’m guessing that year, because these meetings were held 29 September through 2 October, and recollections are the series culminated on a Sunday.

Anyhow, we were treated to the wisdom of Thomas Warren, who I did not know at the time would come to have his own Wikipedia entry:

Thomas Bratton Warren (August 1, 1920 – August 8, 2000) was a professor of philosophy of religion and apologetics at the Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, and was an important philosopher and theologian in the Churches of Christ during the latter half of the twentieth century.

There is more. Had I known this I would have been prepared to be impressed. However, I was presented only a surface view, and came immediately to conclude Thomas B. Warren was the Quintessence of Dumbshitia. Witness the image at the top. This appeared in the local newspaper, I’m guessing The Dallas Morning News, and it promised a grand unveiling of wisdom to whomever would partake. How could I resist? I went, possibly twice, and had my preconceptions confirmed. Dr. Warren, in person, revealed to be as fact-deprived as his promotionals promised, and sanctimonious besides.

First take in, please, the implied argument put forth in the above sketch. There is a mother (human) and a baby. Dr. Warren wants to challenge biological evolution. He (cartoon and the headline) proposes a dichotomy. Either evolution is false, or there was a human baby born to a non-human mother. My observation, viewing the people who crowded the sanctuary at the Seagoville Church of Christ, was this was a dichotomy that most accepted. Little understanding and even less acceptance of modern science was everywhere evident. A few quotes from the ad will be beneficial:

It seems clear that atheistic evolutionists (who deny that creation ever occurred) have had considerable success in bringing about the situation in our public schools in which atheistic evolution is to be taught but creationism cannot be presented as a viable alternative. They have also had some success in persuading people to accept, in a docile manner, their view that human beings who are now living on the earth owe their ultimate origin (as human beings) to evolution (by purely naturalistic, non-miraculous, non-purposive, non-intelligent, non-living materialistic forces) from non-living matter.It also seems that the atheistic evolutionists have succeeded in persuading most of the creationists (people who believe that God created the first man and the first woman and that all other human beings are descendants of that first human pair) to no longer oppose with much vigor the dictums of the atheistic evolutionists.

And that is the opening paragraph. There is more. Dr. Warren posits that evolutionists (scientists) will be unable to answer a number of questions at the heart of the matter. Here are the 13:

  1. True false. A woman was on earth before any human baby was.
  2. True false. A human baby was on earth before any woman was.
  3. True false. The first woman and the first human baby came into existence at the exact same instant.
  4. True false. A man was on earth before any human baby was.
  5. True false. A human baby was on earth before any man was.
  6. True false. The first man and the first human baby came into existence at the exact same instant.
  7. True false. At least one human being now living on earth was formerly an ape (or some other non-human being), and that ape was transformed  (its very nature was changed) from an ape into a human being.
  8. True false. At least one human being who lived on the earth in the past (but is now dead) was at one time an ape (or some other non-human thing), and that ape was transformed from an ape into  a human being.
  9. True false. At least one human being who lived in the past (but who is now dead) was begotten by a male ape (or some other non-human thing) and was born of a female ape (or some other non-human female) as a human being.
  10. True false. There is absolutely nothing that has occurred in the past or anything which could occur in the future which could convince me (1) God does exist, (2) God created the first man and the first woman, and (3) that all of the rest of the human beings who have ever lived (and ever will live) on the earth are (or will be) descendants of that first man and that first woman.
  11. True false. The complete list of my own ancestry would include either (1) a male ape and a female ape or (2) some other non-human male and some other non-human female.
  12. True false. The complete list of my own ancestry would begin with (and, of course, include ) the first man and the first woman (who came into existence by the creative action  of God).
  13. True false. The various states of this nation have the constitutional right to compel the children who attend their state schools to be taught atheistic evolution as the only acceptable position while they forbid even the presentation of creationism as a sensible solution to the problem of the origins of human being on the earth.

While the author’s extensive use of italics and underlining is puzzling, the intent is more clear. Evolution (in the author’s mind) poses a dilemma regarding the origin of the human species as descended from ape-like beings. Also, states are wrong to impose the teaching of evolution, while at the same time denying students the benefits of reaffirmation of their religious belief. Lest the author think these questions are a challenge, I will submit here my answers.

  1. False
  2. False
  3. False
  4. False
  5. False
  6. False
  7. False
  8. False
  9. False
  10. False
  11. True
  12. False
  13. True

Readers having questions should contact me.

What seems to be happening here is that an educated man, such as Thomas Warren, has slipped a cog at a point in his development. His argument either ignores a large body of established fact or else misapplies any ability at rational thought. Continuing from his Wikipedia entry:

Warren’s earliest published work in philosophy was modified from the final chapter of his Vanderbilt University dissertation and was published in 1972. In Have Atheists Proved There is No God?Warren develops a version of a soul-making theodicy to answer J. L. Mackie’s argument from evil against theism. Warren’s chief claim to fame outside the Churches of Christ are his debates with Antony Flew and Wallace Matson on the existence of God, and his debate with Joe E. Barnhart on the adequacy of utilitarian ethics. The debate with Flew, a major proponent of atheism famous for his argument that theism is not falsifiable, was held at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in Denton, Texas, USA from September 20–23, 1976. This was an exceptionally well attended debate, and Flew describes it as the best attended of his many debates with theists on the existence of God, with audiences each night ranging from 5,000-7,000 people. The Warren-Matson Debate took place in Tampa, Florida, USA from September 11–14, 1978. Matson, a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley was, like Flew, a long-time proponent of atheism. The Warren-Barnhart Debate took place at North Texas State University on November 3–6, 1980. Barnhart has retired as Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Texas.

Readers will recall Joe Barnhart as a long-time advisor to The North Texas Skeptics. Interesting events transpired following Joe’s retirement and move to Tennessee.

Without elaborating on the foolish nature of Dr. Warren’s dip into anti-science, I will observe it should be apparent to all, this is the Quintessence of Dumbshitia.

I may have more on this. It was a lot of fun. Keep reading.