An IDEA Whose Time Has Passed

It was 13 years ago we got to know the skinny on the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) clubs. In March 2004 Greg Aicklen and I attended a presentation by Robert Koons, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. The presentation was given at the University of Texas at Dallas under the auspices of the UTD IDEA chapter, headed by Wilston Nkangoh a senior at the University. We came at Wilston’s invitation, and it was worth the view.

What we got to see at this, and also at a separate chapter meeting, was this idea was not ready for prime time. For one, the chapter meeting was sparsely attended. There was maybe one other person in addition to Wilston. The talk by Professor Koons, held in an auditorium, we found to be devoid of scientific merit. Keeping in mind that Koons is a philosopher, not a scientist, what we observed was an absence of basic understanding of how science is done. For example:

For starters, Koons noted that the burden of proof in the creation/evolution controversy, particularly as it relates to ID, lies with the Darwinists. We thought this curious, because we tend to think “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” This is all the slack we cut for the psychics, the faith healers, and the astrologers. However, Professor Koons explained it for us, and he illustrated his point with quotes from ancient scholars, such as the author of the Book of Job, Socrates, and Aristotle. In particular, he quoted Thomas Reid:

 

In his Essays on The Intellectual Powers of Man, 18th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid counts among the basic equipment of the human mind the capacity to recognize the signs of intelligent agency.

Without such a basic capacity, it would be mysterious how we recognized one another as intelligent and purposeful – in fact, it would be mysterious how we recognize intelligence even in our own behavior.

When this basic faculty of intelligence-recognition is turned to the machinery of living things, the clear answer it delivers is Yes.

The title of Koons’ talk was The Future of Darwinism and Design: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives, and his goal was apparently a defense of Intelligent Design. Where he obtains the idea that the burden of proof lies with “Darwinist” (scientists) is anybody’s guess.

Anyhow, that got me rolling with the story of the IDEA clubs, and I did some research, just to see what this was all about. The concept is a brainchild of Casey Luskin, a lawyer at the time associated with the Discovery Institute, this country’s greatest mover behind Intelligent Design. Even the barest look gave me the idea these clubs had a bracket of purposes:

  • Reinforce any contention the Discovery Institute might have that Intelligent Design is a grass roots concept finding comfort within American academics.
  • Generate some otherwise unwarranted Intelligent Design presence within academic circles.
  • Serve as a recruiting base to coax the legitimacy of Intelligent Design on future scientists and intellectuals.

Wondering how this was working out, I later did some research. My finding was that it was an idea whose time had passed:

Certainly the outlook for IDEA on campus can’t be all that bleak. A recent check on the IDEA Club Web site showed the following for the United States:

24 university chapters
6 high school chapters
2 community chapters

http://www.ideacenter.org/clubs/locations.php

As of today that page is still up with a map showing locations of chapters and with links to them. The results I obtained were dismal. For example, continuing from the above:

The page also lists a chapter in Canada, one on the Philippines, one in Kenya and one in Ukraine.

Maybe there really is something to all this. Another chapter in Texas is at Midwestern State. Clicking on the link brings up this:

IDEA Club formed at Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas – April 13, 2004

As of April 12, 2004, an IDEA Club was founded at Midwestern State University in Wichita Fall, Texas. Founded by undergraduate Vincent (“Vinny”) McMullen, this IDEA Club marks the 15th founded to date, and the second IDEA Club at a public university in Texas.

There doesn’t seem to be any more about this chapter on the Web. Maybe it’s time to check out the remaining sites.

A search of the remaining links shows little or no activity. Generally these links point back to the main IDEA Center Web site-to varying pages.

Often these are archival pages carrying a press release from the time of the club’s creation. Several of the links are broken, indicating the club’s site has moved or has been taken down.

That was eight years ago,  and little thought was given to the fate of the IDEA concept until a few weeks ago. Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education, the polar opposite to the Discovery Institute in  all ways imaginable. He came out to Texas and gave a talk at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He talked about what has happened to the creationist movement in this country since the Kitzmiller trial of 2005. There was some discussion following Glenn’s talk, and I asked him if he had any additional information on the fate of the IDEA clubs. He followed up recently with an update. It’s a link to The Evolution List  blog. It’s a post by Allen MacNeill from  2008, and it illustrates that I was beating a dead horse in 2009 researching the fate of IDEA. Allen had the idea back then this was an IDEA whose time was past. He likened the movement to the extinct Dodo, as in dead as…

Dr. Dembski strongly implied in his press release that these IDEA Centers were essentially research centers, such as those commonly found at college and university campuses.

Well, they aren’t…or, rather, weren’t. They weren’t “research centers” or anything like it. They were clubs, similar to the kinds of student-centered special interest clubs that abound on most college and university campuses. Such clubs have several characteristics in common:

So nine years ago the IDEA concept was already milked of any legitimacy, being in reality what it appeared on the surface to be—a clumsy piece of Intelligent Design propaganda.

The Discovery Institute continues to hack away at its quest for legitimacy, its principal vehicle being a blog site titled Evolution News. I have recently slacked off on my coverage of this site, and it’s probably time for re-entry. Watch for more in the coming days.

Ray Comfort Reviewed

A review of a book by creationist Ray Comfort. Cross posted from Skeptical Analysis

First of all, we should all be careful to not take Ray Comfort much too seriously. Even seriously:

In 2006, Comfort recorded a segment for The Way of the Master‘s television show in which he argued that the banana was an “atheists’ nightmare”, arguing that it displayed many user-friendly features that were evidence of intelligent design. Comfort retracted the video upon learning that the banana is a result of artificial selection by humans, and that the wild banana is small and unpalatable.

An excerpt of this amazing video is captured on YouTube, if only to embarrass Ray Comfort.

All this did not prevent me from purchasing a copy of Comfort’s book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. In the previous post I promised a review, and here it is. It’s 160 pages in the hard copy, but I purchased the Kindle edition.

Comfort has published a basket full of titles, laudable in itself. One is Overcoming Panic Attacks, but the remainder seemed to be overtly religious. I’m thinking possibly the panic attack book may also be anchored in religion. He is an evangelical Christian, teaming up with actor Kirk Cameron to form and promote The Way of the Master.

A big thing with Comfort is creationism and its obverse, modern science, biological evolution, cosmology, and anything else that gets in the way of creationism. That’s the center of the first of seven chapters, and readers will forgive me if I bear down on that section and trip lightly through the remainder. Besides the chapters there are also a forward, a preface, an introduction, a conclusion, and an excellent section of notes, covering references made in the book.

The Introduction is by atheist Darrin Rasberry, who oddly cautions us to be kind and gentle. Rasberry derides modern and vocal atheists, and it’s no wonder that he later turns out to have converted to the faith. This isn’t mentioned in the book, giving the impression that even atheists don’t like atheists. Notably, the book came out in 2009, and the link to Rasberry’s conversion dates from  2011.

Early on Comfort portrays matching it up with atheists as a grand sport. In the Preface he gives a clue to what is to come:

Most who profess atheism aren’t really “atheists.” After a few moments chatting with them about the fact that every building is proof that there was a builder, and that creation therefore is proof that there is a Creator, many change their minds.

But then there’s the staunch atheist. This one is a challenge. He is the marlin of deep-sea fishing, and he doesn’t give up easily. As a fisher of men, I have found that this type of atheist is always ready for debate. He will take the bait, the hook, and any line you give him, and give you a run for your money.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 55-60). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

But on to creationism. It is unfortunate that Comfort hangs so much of his argument for Jesus on the failure of evolution. His experience with the banana gives a clue to the level of intellect he brings to the discussion. He ties atheism to evolution, and he strikes close to home here. Modern theories of biological evolution completely undermine a basic premise of the Bible. Comfort and others of his ilk buy deeply into the literal truth of the Bible. To defend their faith, they must demolish evolution, along with geology, cosmology, and other facets of modern science. The first paragraph sets the stage:

Atheists’ beliefs vary as much as atheists themselves. Still, atheists hold a fundamental belief that unifies them. An “atheist” believes that there is no God and that man came into being without any intelligent design. If there was no designer, then an atheist owes his existence to random chance, over millions or billions of years, of course. While some believers in evolution deny that evolution is a random process, if it’s not unplanned, then it’s planned. And if it is planned, then there is Someone doing the planning.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 125-128). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Readers are going to come back at me and say, “Dude, there are loads of Christians who accept evolution as true.” Put those Christians aside, dear reader, Comfort has.

By the second paragraph he has launched into the kind of argument that brought him so much ridicule:

As a fly on the wall, we are there when Adam takes his first breath. It is fortunate that, when his lungs drew in the air that surrounded him, the air was there. If there had been no air, he wouldn’t have been able to breathe and he would have instantly died. But for some reason it was there, presumably at 14.7 pounds per square inch.

But it’s more miraculous than the air just being there. It was fortunate the air was made up of 78.09 percent nitrogen and 20.95 percent oxygen—the exact mixture that his lungs and blood needed to survive.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 130-134). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He goes on to point out additional, miraculous, coincidences to illustrate why there must be a God who caused all this to happen and with a plan in mind. Wasn’t it nice that Adam just happened to have  lungs to breathe the oxygen. Wasn’t it nice that Eve came along about the same time so the Clan of Adam could populate the Earth. And wasn’t is fortunate that Eve just happened to have lungs so she did not die before Adam could put the move on her. Do I  have to explain what’s wrong with this? I hope not.

The foregoing is a preamble. It is a view into Ray Comfort’s intellectual processes that should disturb you. It is possible that I was unfortunate in spending my working  life in the company of people who think for a living. That in mind, it’s jarring when I encounter somebody like Comfort. This is not the kind of person who should be allowed to handle sharp objects. Additional  examples illustrate:

It was also an amazing coincidence that gravity existed at the time of their evolution. Without it, the first man and his first mate would have spun off into the infinitude of space. But for some reason it evolved and matured at just the right time to keep their feet firmly planted on the earth, which also evolved.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 137-139). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

 

The banana pales.

Comfort strives mightily to convince us that there must be a God behind the universe and all creations. He employs two devices:

  • Ex nihilo
  • Creation-creator

The first is that the universe is here but it has not always been here. This is the ex nihilo argument. Something cannot come from nothing. We never see this happen:

In all of history, there has never been an instance of anything spontaneously appearing out of nowhere. Something being created from nothing is contrary to all known science.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 382-384). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Except that we do. Quantum physics includes a a corner for actions without a cause and objects without a predecessor. Lawrence Krauss has discussed A Universe from Nothing. Folks, it is not unknown, if I can be forgiven the double negative.

The creation-creator argument is more involved. There is something. That something must have been created. Chapter One has the title “Creation Must Have a Creator.” Comfort illustrates:

In short, the evolutionary view cannot offer a logical, scientific explanation for either the origin or the complexity of the universe. There are only two choices: Either no one created everything out of nothing, or Someone—an intelligent, omnipotent, eternal First Cause—created everything out of nothing. Which makes more sense?

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 384-386). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Comfort plays lightly with the meanings of words. Something was created. Waves created ripples in the sand. But there is a chair. It takes an intelligent being, something with a purpose, to create a chair. Comfort wants us to know that all things that exist were created in the sense of the chair. Somebody wanted the chair, and the chair was created for a purpose. It’s a different concept of creation for the ripples in the sand, but Comfort wants to impute purpose in all things.

Comfort is missing a major point, previously discussed. The creation Comfort has in mind comes from purpose, and purpose is a feature of living things, at diminishing levels. It is well considered that plants do not think. They put out leaves and roots solely on the basis of blind chemistry. People are considered on this planet to be the kings of purpose. They fashion instruments out of metal for serving up food, and they also construct elaborate craft for exploring other planets. Ultimately it all boils down to a matter of chemistry in action, and other animals, for example ants, have less of purpose than people.

Purpose, however, is a result of biological evolution—biological evolution that Comfort so much despises. Purpose is an inherited trait that promotes survival and procreation in a loop that feeds back to increasing the presence of that trait in a population. Darwin was right, after all.

Supposing God exists. What was God’s purpose in creating? What was God’s purpose in creating the universe, the sun and planets, and all living things on Earth? Are we a cosmological science project concocted by an ethereal middle school pupil? That hardly seems likely. If you are an ethereal fellow, then you have not experienced the forces of environment inflicted by existing on this planet, which supposedly you created. Arguing for creation must argue for purpose, for which we can find no excuse. It’s a philosophically devoid enterprise. It’s an enterprise Comfort pursues with an astounding blindness.

A significant blind spot that Comfort has missed is the core of his pitch. God wants us to be moral people (as part of his science project), and Jesus is his vehicle for imparting morality. The evidence of creation is the evidence of God. Missing is the connection. Suppose I were successful in proving there must have been a God behind the creation of the Universe. Nobody has ever connected this God with Jesus. The Bible provides this connection, but it is just words printed on paper (originally on parchment). There is nothing historically or philosophically sound to connect the creation of the Universe with Jesus, and thus morality.

I will leave the creation-creator chapter at this point. Comfort spends the remaining six chapters talking morality, religious orthodoxy, biblical inerrancy. But before that he reminds atheists what horrible people we are. He complains of his treatment at the hands of atheists:

In April of 2007, during an ABC Nightline atheist debate, Kirk Cameron and I produced imaginary pictures of what we imagined would be genuine species-to-species transitional forms. We called one a “Crocoduck,” and another was called a “birddog.” This was to show exactly what evolutionists believe, but can’t back up through the fossil record. We were ridiculed, called stupid, and told that we didn’t understand evolution. However, these books vindicate us (not that we needed it). They have done with the future what evolutionists have done with the past. They have made a mockery out of science.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 609-613). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Bad. Really bad. How bad? Glad you asked:

It is because of God’s love that I care about the fate of atheists. When an atheist says he sees no evidence that God exists, I take the time to reason with him about creation not being an accident, even though it is intellectually demeaning to have to do so (atheism is the epitome of stupidity). It’s an intellectual embarrassment. But I have done so thousands of times, and will do so until my last breath…thanks alone to the love of God that dwells in me.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 170-173). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Apparently there is a lot of that going around.

Comfort obviously sees morality as the cornerstone of his thesis. He talks to no end on morality. One aspect of comfort’s morality is something I find very strange, and that something is the matter of sexual lust. Sexual lust, he asserts (and he backs it up with biblical references) is the same as actual sexual coupling, and it is just as sinful. And that is what is so strange. Sexual coupling is sinful? Really/ Sexual coupling is how we make people. Without sexual coupling there would be no people, and without people there would be no Christianity.  He mentions the word lust 49 times in the book and adultery 30 times. Something has happened in Comfort’s life, having to do with sex, and it seems to have been devastating. And we are offered a peek into this world at the price of purchasing his book.

Comfort’s reasoning for concluding the Catholic Church is not Christian is beyond the scope of this post, and I’m not going to dig deeper into his eschatological haranguing. Comfort and Cameron can be watched at length and for free on YouTube. Readers with a thirst for more can pursue at their leisure. With popcorn.

The Comfort Delusion

The North Texas Skeptics does not get involved in strictly religious matters. However, and this is crucial, when religious zealots, particularly creationists, make claims about scientific validity, they step into the purview of the NTS. That was the case ten years ago when creationists Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort elected to debate atheists on ABC Nightline:

Does God Exist? The Nightline Face-Off

“Proving the existence of God is actually a lot easier than you think,” said former child star Kirk Cameron, minutes before taking the stage for the “Nightline Face-Off.”

It was a warm Saturday night in New York City as a mixed crowd of atheists and Christians converged on Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan for the first “Nightline Face-Off.” And it wasn’t long before temperatures began to rise inside the auditorium.

The question for our debate was “Does God Exist?” and both sides went at the issue with a series of passionate declarations and critical attacks on the arguments of their opponents. It was a clean but unflinching contest.

Former child star Kirk Cameron and his evangelist colleague Ray Comfort had pledged to prove the existence of God, scientifically. Cameron and Comfort run an organization called the Way of the Master, which comprises a Web site and cable television show, all focused on preaching what they say is the truth of Christianity.

The atheists debating Cameron and Comfort were Brian Sapient and a woman identified only as “Kelly.” Kelly is Kelly O’Conner, and the two are members of The Rational Response Squad:

The Rational Response Squad, or RRS, is an atheist activist group that confronts what it considers to be irrational claims, made by theists, particularly Christians. The most visible member of RRS is co-founder Brian Sapient. The Rational Response Squad, along with the filmmaker Brian Flemming, made headlines in December 2006 with their Blasphemy Challenge.

Having been otherwise occupied ten years ago, I didn’t catch onto this until I came across a video on YouTube. There’s going to be a link at the end of this post.

So, Cameron made a short presentation, and then Comfort gave his spiel, and then Sapient gave a short critique and turned the argument over to O’Conner. She proceeded to counter Comfort’s points in turn, and there followed a session of questions and responses. That’s all I watched of the video, because it was the presentation by Comfort I found most astounding.  ABC News printed the text of Cameron’s introduction, which I’m reprinting here for your enjoyment:

Hi, I’m Kirk Cameron and my partner and I Ray Comfort come to you tonight not as molecular biologists or rocket scientists, but simply as an author and an actor, and we want to do two things that fly in the face of convention. One, we’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith. And secondly, as a former atheist myself — an evolutionist — I want to pull back the curtain and show that the number one reason that people don’t believe in God is not a lack in evidence, but because of a theory that many scientists today believe to be a fairytale for grownups.

That last bit about “a fairytale for grownups” should by now be familiar. It must be particularly noted that Cameron proposed, “We’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith.” I have highlighted the critical phrase.

Comfort than proceeded to demolish Cameron’s pledge. He started off with the typical argument from design. He held up a can of soda, Coca Cola. He gave what he considered the scientific argument for the creation of the can of soda. There was a big explosion and ultimately things fell into place, producing the can of soda. Voila! Ridiculous. The can of soda must have been created. Then he displayed a painting. If there is a painting, then scientist will all agree there must have been a painter. And so on. The logical conclusion, Comfort assures us, is if the Universe has been created, then there must have been a creator.

That seems to be Comfort’s critical flaw. We should not make the assumption the Universe was created. Just because it is here does not imply a physical act of creation. Readers might want to check out Lawrence Krauss’ book A Universe From Nothing, which I reviewed previously.

Unfortunately for Comfort, after he plays out the creation-creator argument, he veers sharply into a minefield. After arguing if you want something built you need to have faith in the builder, from the video:

The same applies with God. If I want God to do something for me, then I need to have faith in him.

Deep disappointment. Comfort has thrown away the promise to avoid introducing faith.

If you realize you need God’s forgiveness, and you seek his forgiveness through the Gospel, God, himself, will reveal himself…

The pro arguments concluded, Sapient addressed Comfort’s argument from design. If you want to see the creator of this church (Calvary Baptist Church in midtown Manhattan), then you can go see the builder. You can go to the city building records and see the documentation. When you want to see the creator of the Universe, who’re you gonna call? Besides, “If all creations need a creator, then who created God?”

O’Conner took the podium and reminded that we are all atheists, including Cameron and Comfort. Neither does Sapient nor O’Conner, nor Cameron, nor Comfort believe in Zeus, Apollo, Thor, and a host of other gods. Until the creationists can show us the Universe factory, then creationism exists only in the imagination and is not science. She further pointed out that postulation of evidence for a creator has no bearing on the existence of the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus. Any imaginary god could have created the Universe, if indeed it was created.

And that about concludes the meat of the debate. View the debate on YouTube, and look around at the associated videos. There is a shorthand version of the debate, and there are multiple videos of Cameron and Comfort. It’s good instruction for skeptics, besides being entertaining. Bring some popcorn.

See the video on YouTube.

Response from a Creationist

This is being reposted from Skeptical Analysis.

I post on a number of topics, and sometimes I obtain feedback in the form of comments posted by readers. Some of the responses are helpful—they fill in where I failed to provide adequate coverage, and sometimes a comment will set me straight on an error I have made.

Many of the comments I receive are from people who reject completely the point I am attempting to make, and on rare occasions these comments are thought out and well put. It’s the “rare” aspect that worries me. Too often the person so terribly offended is:

  • Completely fact-deprived and indicates no knowledge of the topic under discussion.
  • Knowledgeable, but nonetheless skilled in making his point.
  • Comes off as completely unhinged.

It is this last case I want to discuss. The example for today relates to a post from last July. The original post carries the title 44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults. My post does not provide 44 reasons evolution is a fairy tale. The title is from an item posted by Michael Snyder on a site called D.C. Clothesline and subtitled “Airing Out America’s Dirty Laundry.” How this site came to be a vehicle for a creationism-oriented rant is a guess for somebody else. I felt it worth a response.

Snyder did list 44 reasons, and I (read the original post) took each of the 44 and penned a short response. Many of my responses reduced to stating that Snyder had not provided any evidence to support his point. He had quoted somebody else, and following  which he went on to his next point. My response to such attempts was to point out this fact and to note that repeating what somebody said in the past does not count for evidence in science. An example is Snyder’s point number 3. My reply is the bold text following Snyder’s point:

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

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

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

Anyhow, that has been out there for several  months, receiving one helpful comment almost immediately, and finally another one today. Here it is, exactly as posted:

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.

In the past I have refuted people’s arguments and have been accused, in turn, of using condescending language. Here is an excerpt from a previous post. I had previously obtained a copy of Ben Shapiro’s small book How to Debate Leftist and to Destroy Them. Shapiro considers the science behind anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to be a leftist (his term) agenda, and he frets that leftists attack by calling their opponents stupid, mean, corrupt, and maybe all of the preceding. Here’s how the discussion unfolded earlier this year:

Shapiro’s response to fiery criticisms of his stance on AGW and also his stance on a number of other issues is to note the quality of his attackers. Continuing the section quoted from the book above:

This is a more useful question, and it also avoids the left’s preferred line of argument on global warming, which is a variation on their preferred line on gun control: “Global warming is man-made. Don’t agree? That’s because you’re stupid and hateful.” As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt. Sarah Palin is supposedly stupid; Mitt Romney is supposedly mean; Dick Cheney is supposedly corrupt. Take away those lines of attack and watch the discomfort set in.

[Page 24]

Yes, it really is bad form to start calling names and making wild accusations in response to a philosophical affront. In a debate, in a dispute over a point of fact, the person who throws an insult is revealing he has no facts. However…

Shapiro says, “As a general matter, the left’s favorite three lines of attack are (1) you’re stupid; (2) you’re mean; (3) you’re corrupt.” The last two are way out of line, but number 1 is a valid argument. If you are arguing with a person who says the Earth is flat, then, “You’re stupid” might be an appropriate response. I run into into this at times:

Daniel G. Kuttner You have no idea of my qualifications. You throw your ample supply of tomatoes at me, rather than my assertions, which are backed BY science (e.g. that engineering reference link). Thus, you were replying ad hominem, literally.
I could be a bum on the street and still report correct – or incorrect – science. My lack of a white lab coat has no import.
If you are so full of science, where is your scientific refutation of my numbers? All I see from you is condescension and sarcasm.
Saying something is “clearly wrong” is not refutation, it’s disagreement; an opinion. You are, of course free to have those.

I have highlighted the operative text. Because Dan’s information was ridiculously false, and I pointed this out, I was being condescending and sarcastic. Bad form? When is being honest and forthright being condescending and sarcastic?

It’s that latter part that is critical. I found Dan taking the same stance Shapiro does. In point, Dan makes a completely ludicrous statement, one that galls the intellect. Then when somebody responds by pointing out the obvious, Dan comes back by chiding the other party for being condescending. And other terms. That’s what we are about to have here.

Snyder, in responding to my argument, appears to  have gone completely off the rails, beginning with a typographical monstrosity before settling down to a face-deficient rant. It’s usually at this point that I begin to become condescending.

I am not going to call Snyder a creationist nut case, partly because the phrase contains an obvious redundancy. My object is to approve his comment as posted and then allow it to hang out there as evidence of whatever anybody wants to conclude about Snyder.

After approving Snyder’s comment I sent him an email asking him if he would care to elaborate, hopefully to improve, on his comment. If ever I hear back from Snyder I will revisit the matter in another post.

There may be more to come. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on my soul.

The National Center For Science Education

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

Following is a recent notice from the NCSE:

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

510.601.7203 • www.ncse.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely yours,

Ann Reid

Executive Director, NCSE

The Age Of Embarrassment

Cross posted from Skeptical Analysis

GlobalWarmingHickMentality

We haven’t had one of these in a while. So, what’s new?

A Real Climate Scientist Demolishes Bill Nye’s Global Warming Alarmism

All right, this one is a bit old—from last year even. That aside, I want to thank whoever posted this on Facebook for me to pick up. The truth be known, Facebook is a prime source of story ideas for this blog.

And this is refreshing. For once I’m not having to explain some fact-deprived meme from The Comical Conservative. This time we have Dr. Roy Spencer, an actual climate researcher, weighing in. And he has much to say about the evidence. Actually, he doesn’t. At least in the YouTube clip he doesn’t. Additionally, the item posted by Austin Peterson on The Libertarian Republic presents little in the way of evidence, either for or against the case for anthropogenic global warming (AGW). But Spencer is a real scientists working in the field, and it is worth knowing what he had to say in the interview.

Global warming alarmist talking heads like Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Al Gore are constantly paraded around as experts on climate.

I hope not. Because none of the three do research related to climate, and nobody would seriously refer to them as experts. What they happen to be are public defenders of the science behind AGW—speakers, if you like. In fact, you can discount Vice President Al Gore right off the bat, because his expertise is politics, and his training in serious science is close to vacant.

On the other hand, Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson have taken some college courses—Tyson more so—in physics, and the science of physics lies at the base of the study of AGW. In full disclosure, I have had college courses in physics, including four in the critical field of thermodynamics, and it is from this background that I come to agree with the argument for AGW.

To be sure, Dr. Roy Spencer has had these courses, and beyond that he has degrees in atmospheric science, including a Ph.D. in  meteorology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The Wikipedia entry for Roy Spencer lists a number of peer-reviewed papers critical of AGW, such as this one:

In 2007, Spencer and others published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters regarding negative cloud feedback in the tropics that potentially supports Richard Lindzen‘s Iris hypothesis, which proposes that as the tropical atmosphere warms, cirrus clouds decrease, allowing infrared heat to escape from the atmosphere to outer space. Spencer stated, “To give an idea of how strong this enhanced cooling mechanism is, if it was operating on global warming, it would reduce estimates of future warming by over 75 percent. […] Right now, all climate models predict that clouds will amplify warming. I’m betting that if the climate models’ ‘clouds’ were made to behave the way we see these clouds behave in nature, it would substantially reduce the amount of climate change the models predict for the coming decades.

This paper is available on-line from the American Geophysical Union, and I have retained a copy for your viewing:

https://skeptic78240.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/climatescience-spencer-01.pdf

Spencer’s objections to AGW, based on publication topics, appear to be related to the effects of clouds on solar energy loss. Some of his publications have received major push-back from other scientists. Of note is a recent work published in 2011 with William Braswell:

In 2011, Spencer and Braswell published a paper in Remote Sensing concluding that more energy is radiated back to space and released earlier than previously thought. Spencer stated, “The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show. There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”

The paper was criticized by numerous climate scientists. Kerry Emanuel of MIT, said this work was cautious and limited mostly to pointing out problems with forecasting heat feedback.

The editor-in-chief of Remote Sensing, Wolfgang Wagner, later resigned over publication of Spencer and Braswell (2011), stating, “From a purely formal point of view, there were no errors with the review process. […] the problem I see with the paper by Spencer and Braswell is not that it declared a minority view …but that it essentially ignored the scientific arguments of its opponents. This latter point was missed in the review process, explaining why I perceive this paper to be fundamentally flawed and therefore wrongly accepted by the journal.” Wagner added he, “would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions in public statements”.

Spencer responded that Wagner’s assertion was wholly inaccurate, “But the paper WAS precisely addressing the scientific arguments made by our opponents, and showing why they are wrong! That was the paper’s starting point! We dealt with specifics, numbers, calculations…while our critics only use generalities and talking points. There is no contest, as far as I can see, in this debate. If you have some physics or radiative transfer background, read the evidence we present, the paper we were responding to, and decide for yourself.”

Andrew Dessler later published a paper opposing the claims of Spencer and Braswell (2011) inGeophysical Research Letters. He stated, among other things:

First, [they] analyzed 14 models, but they plotted only six models and the particular observational data set that provided maximum support for their hypothesis. Plotting all of the models and all of the data provide a much different conclusion.

At the very least, Spencer’s methods indicate a lack of scientific rigor. I went into this with the possibility of finding an additional factor, that factor being denial of AGW is strongly linked with political alignment and to a lesser degree with religiosity. Spencer’s Wikipedia contains two notes pointing toward religious influence:

Spencer is a signatory to An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which states that “We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.”. He believes that most climate change is natural in origin, the result of long-term changes in the Earth’s albedo and that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have caused some warming, but that its warming influence is small compared to natural, internal, chaotic fluctuations in global average cloud cover. This view contradicts the scientific consensus that “most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities”.

And:

In TCS Daily, Spencer wrote, “Twenty years ago, as a PhD scientist, I intensely studied theevolution versus intelligent design controversy for about two years. And finally, despite my previous acceptance of evolutionary theory as ‘fact,’ I came to the realization that intelligent design, as a theory of origins, is no more religious, and no less scientific, than evolutionism. In the scientific community, I am not alone. There are many fine books out there on the subject. Curiously, most of the books are written by scientists who lost faith in evolution as adults, after they learned how to apply the analytical tools they were taught in college.” In the book The Evolution Crisis, Spencer wrote, “I finally became convinced that the theory of creation actually had a much better scientific basis than the theory of evolution, for the creation model was actually better able to explain the physical and biological complexity in the world. […] Science has startled us with its many discoveries and advances, but it has hit a brick wall in its attempt to rid itself of the need for a creator and designer.”

Climatologist Patrick Michaels has defended Spencer, arguing that his religious beliefs have nothing to do with his climate change research.

Dr. Michaels holds a “Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison” and is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank whose agenda includes opposition to AGW. He is correct in arguing that Spencer’s religious beliefs have nothing to do with whether he is correct in his conclusions. Most likely, there are many researchers supporting AGW who are also deeply religious.

What bears on religion and science is the matter of demonstrable science as opposed to personal opinion. Spencer has published his research, some of it valid, some not so much. Base on his research and that of others he voices the opinion that AGW is without merit. It’s here the value of his opinion comes into play.

When a person says in one breath that AGW is invalid science, and in the next breath he expresses belief in a mythical person who created the universe in six days and has power over our daily lives, then you can begin to doubt his conclusions regarding AGW. My observation from many years is that if a person’s thinking is horribly screwed up in one part of his brain, it’s time to closely examine everything else he says.

The Age of Embarrassment is still upon us, and there will be more on this. Keep reading

 

Skeptical Honesty

NeildeGrasseTysonScienceTrue

An Editorial

First, I want to express my gratitude to fellow skeptics for allowing me to post to the NTS site. At this point I will take advantage of that privilege to express some personal thoughts. These are mine and do not necessarily represent those of the NTS Board of Directors.

The North Texas Skeptics is organized as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit educational and public service corporation. We do not get involved in politics, and officially we do not engage in religious disputes. That philosophy is not, however, a surrender flag on our intellect. Skeptics have always been and should always be able to call out religious stupidity.

While skeptics may step around religious statements of faith, there are still issues painted over by religion that we can and must dispute. If somebody tells us his faith in Jesus is a comfort to his life, then we nod, not necessarily approvingly, but knowingly. However, when statements about the creation of the universe, the age of the Earth, the origin of the human race conflict with known facts, skeptics must step up to the challenge. We have done that before.

Thirteen years ago James Cunliffe presented a talk on biblical historicity. The sum of it was that the Bible lacks any amount of factual content. This should not be seen as an attack on religious faith. Faith does not rest on fact. That’s why it’s called faith. We will continue to confront areas where faith conflicts with reality. Notable topics are:

  • Creationism
  • Faith healing
  • Biblical historicity

All the while, skeptics must take care to understand that people of faith are not the natural enemies of truth. Science, and rational skepticism, have many friends in the world of faith. One of the staunchest defenders of modern theories of biology is Professor Kenneth Miller, author of biology text books and a reliable defender of biological evolution. His testimony against creationist arguments has been invaluable.

All that said, the notable defenders of science in the face of religious objections have been prominent atheists. To name a few:

  • Richard Feynman
  • Carl Sagan
  • Richard Dawkins
  • Lawrence Krauss
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Bill Nye

Yes, Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Bill Nye, who turned 60 last month, graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His popular show Bill Nye the Science Guy ran from 1993 to 1998 and went a long way toward popularizing science for young people. More recently he has taken his honed TV personality on the road, giving lectures, delighting audiences, and at the same time continuing to educate the public on science.

Which brings us to today’s topic:

Waco Tribune did *not” pull its Bill Nye the Science Guy story

A Washington Post journalist sends this email:

I saw this posting today on Facebook — that the incident happened isn’t very surprising, but is it true that the Waco Tribune took down its story about it (mentioned at the bottom of this post)? I’d be interesting in knowing what really happened.

The emailer links to a ThinkAtheist.com piece from 2009 that’s apparently making the rounds on Facebook. It reports that Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) “managed to offend” a Waco audience “when he suggested that the moon does not emit light, but instead reflects the light of the sun.”

The post adds that “this story originally appeared in the Waco Tribune, but the newspaper has mysteriously pulled its story from the online version, presumably to avoid further embarrassment.”

Wrong! says Waco Tribune editor Donnis Baggett. He tells Romenesko readers:

The story was published on April 6, 2006, and is still posted on our paid subscription website. Therefore, it’s available only to readers who pay for access.

Additionally, for arcane reasons connected to a change in site hosting two years ago, sometimes the story is erroneously labeled as having been removed. This has apparently led some to believe we pulled it because of
pressure, when in fact we have not.

I’ve copied the story from our site and am attaching it below for your reference.

Here is an excerpt from the Tribune-Herald article by Tim Woods:

The Science Guy is entertaining and provocative at MCC lecture

Author: Tim Woods Tribune-Herald staff writer

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on April 6, 2006

Audience members who expected to see Bill Nye “The Science Guy” conduct experiments and wow their children received quite a surprise Wednesday when Nye spoke at McLennan Community College.

Nye instead addressed such topics as Mars exploration, global warming and energy consumption, particularly oil and gas. He even ruffled a few religious feathers along the way.

The problem came when Bill disputed the Genesis story of the creation of the sun and the moon as two great lights, one to do during the day time and the other to serve at night. Bill observed that the moon is not a light unto itself but serves only to reflect light from the sun. He could also have pointed out the moon shines during the day when its light is not needed, but that would have been superfluous.

Anyhow, some people objected to this as anti-religious and walked out. And the Tribune-Herald did not subsequently delete the story from their Web site. Like all their news, it eventually went behind their pay wall, as seen above.

And the Tribune-Herald did not pull the story in deference to the Science Guy. They could possibly have pulled it in deference to the fools who objected and walked out, but reputable news sources do not do this.

I have a separate blog that treats religious and political areas where the North Texas Skeptics must not venture. I do this so the NTS won’t have to. In the mean time there is no area of religious irrelevancy I will not avoid on behalf of the North Texas Skeptics, and these observations will continue to be posted here.

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

Your drive could get shorter.

We ran this story five years ago:

How come we did not see this one coming?  How clueless can you get?

It took a headline from The New York Times:1

HOUSTON — A Texas higher education panel has recommended allowing a Bible-based group called the Institute for Creation Research to offer online master’s degrees in science education.

The action comes weeks after the Texas Education Agency’s director of science, Christine Castillo Comer, lost her job after superiors accused her of displaying bias against creationism and failing to be “neutral” over the teaching of evolution.

That was news.  The last we heard the ICR was out in Santee, California.  Did we miss something?

We have followed the doings of the ICR for over 20 years, and it’s been a fun ride.  If you want to see creationism in its purest form, here it is.  You want to embrace the golden calf?  Ankle, and thigh, and upper half?  Here it is – I mean here it is. 2

Creationist Henry M. Morris, Ph.D., formed the ICR as an offshoot from the Creation Science Research Center in 1972.  Their principal entity previously was the Museum of Creation and Earth History in Santee.  The museum featured dioramas recreating the story of Genesis and especially the flood of Noah.  An upper level school was in the same building, and here students of a creationist bent were expected to achieve college-level training in science that conformed to Biblical teachings.

The ability of the ICR school to offer college-level degrees was initially approved by California, but subsequently there was a back and forth tussle that resulted in a lawsuit, in which the ICR prevailed and was awarded monetary damages. Ultimately the ICR was given a religious exemption from California’s post-secondary school requirements. 3

Founder Henry Morris died in 2006, and in 2007 the decision was made to relocate to Dallas because of its more central location and because Dallas offered logistical and demographic benefits.  Ironically, Dr. Morris was a native of Dallas.

The move to Texas has meant starting the accreditation process over, meeting stiffer resistance in Texas (surprise).  So far, Texas education officials have denied the ICR recognition of its degree program by a slim vote margin.  The tussle continues.

ICRDallas2010

Our cup does overflow. For you this holiday season come great tidings:

Creationists expanding institute to include the ‘Dallas Museum of Science and Earth History’

The Institute for Creation Research, which teaches there’s scientific proof that God created the earth in six days, is ready to expand its headquarters in Northwest Dallas, adding a museum and “3D planetarium” to its existing facility at Royal Lane and Luna Road. But first the proposed Dallas Museum of Science and Earth History needs to stop at Dallas City Hall.

The item from The Dallas Morning News comes with a video clip:

ICRMuseumVideo-01

There are a few road bumps on the ICR’s path to museumship. The land at Luna and Royal is zoned for industrial research, meaning a variance will be needed from city zoning. Skeptics, will you join me in wishing the ICR the best of success. We can hardly wait to see this icon of human stupidity coming a short drive away. It’s the kind of thing what gets us going in the morning.

No Blade of Grass

I’m reposting this from the Skeptical Analysis blog.

I was trying to remember how I got to this topic, and then I recalled we were having crackers with our salad, and crackers are made of wheat, which is a grass. So we were eating grass. And I got to wondering how long people have been eating grass, and I recalled that grass has not been around all that long. The earliest grass fossils (as I recalled) were only 30 or so million years old. Being the skeptic that I am I decided to look it up. I entered something like “origins of grass” in Google, and this is one of the thingsthat came up:

The origin of grass pushed well back into the ‘Mesozoic’

Michael J. Oard

Creationists are often challenged on the fossil record. Evolutionists commonly confront us with such questions as: if practically all fossils are the remains from a pre-Flood environment, where was such and such an organism at a particular time within the geological column? One of those challenges has been the first appearance of grass, which supposedly evolved in the Cenozoic. ‘Why aren’t grasses found in pre-Cenozoic rocks?’ evolutionists charge.

Whoa! Where is this coming from? And just who is Michael J. Oard, and why is he speaking in nonsensical terms?

And now we are back to the creationists. Michael Oard is associated with Answers in Genesisand has published several creation “science” articles in their in-house journalAnswers. Together with Peter Klevberg he has contributed “Green River Formation Very Likely Did Not Form in a Postdiluvian Lake”. Indeed. For the junk rag Creation he has written, among other things, “Do Rivers Erode Through Mountains”. His answer is that a global flood must be assumed. The geological evidence is … absent. He has also written the book “Flood by Design”. You see where this is going.

All right. That explains a lot. I should have suspected. The tip off should have been the language—in particular the way certain words are used.

  • creationists: not used in a disparaging context
  • evolutionist: used in place of the term “scientists”
  • Flood: capitalized as though the reader already knows which flood and of which fame

Of course, I should have glanced to the bottom of the page:

JOURNAL OF CREATION 21(1) 2007

That’s it. This is from a “creation science” journal. We started seeing this kind of thing 50 years ago:

Creation science (dubbed “scientific creationism” at the time) emerged as an organized movement during the 1960s. It was strongly influenced by the earlier work of armchair geologist George McCready Price who wrote works such as The New Geology (1923) to advance what he termed “new catastrophism” and dispute the current geological time frames and explanations of geologic history. Price’s work was cited at theScopes Trial of 1925, yet although he frequently solicited feedback from geologists and other scientists, they consistently disparaged his work. Price’s “new catastrophism” also went largely unnoticed by other creationists until its revival with the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomband Henry M. Morris, a work which quickly became an important text on the issue to fundamentalist Christians and expanded the field of creation science beyond critiques of geology into biology and cosmology as well. Soon after its publication, a movement was underway to have the subject taught in United States’ public schools.

[Some links deleted]

A subsequent book is Scientific Creationism by Henry Morris.

Additionally court rulings, beginning, several decades ago, have prohibited teaching biblical statements regarding the creation of the universe, the special creation of the human race and Bible-based history in public schools. The courts have correctly ruled there is no factual basis for these stories and, further, that teaching them amounted to religious proselytizing through government authority and at public expense. Religious fundamentalists, particularly Christians in the United States, sought a way around these legal constraints by seeking to establish biblical stories as scientifically grounded, and thereby allowable under the law. “Creation science” was given birth in this manner.

What so impresses me about finding this item is that such things still exist. A Supreme Court decision in the case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education in 1982 affirmed that “creation science” is religion and not science. The Court further ruled in 1987 in the case  Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 that a Louisiana law mandating equal treatment of “creation science” with the principles of biological evolution was in violation of the Constitution, because the law was religiously motivated and served no secular purpose.

Creationists reacted to this ruling almost immediately, and religious proponents with legitimate scientific credentials began work on resurrecting the concept of Intelligent Design, most notably outlined over 200 years ago by William Paley. Paley’s idea was that living forms are so complex and so uniquely constructed that they cannot be the consequence of materialistic processes. They must have been designed by a higher intelligence.

I was living in Dallas, Texas, at the time, and a local religious organization under the direction of Jon Buell was in the process of developing a book directed toward science education at the high school level. The organization still exists. It’s the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, and the book is Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. The book came out in 1989, and the FTE followed up with a second edition, which corrected some errors from the first. A follow up book, The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems by Jonathan Wells and William Dembski came out in 2007. Wells and Dembski are fellows with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture, the leading organization promoting Intelligent Design.

The Pandas book did not fare much better with the courts than traditional “creation science” had before it. A plan to introduce the book into the science curriculum of the Plano, Texas, public schools was forced to back track under pressure from local citizens. A subsequent attempt by a school board in Pennsylvania led to the court case Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. In that case Federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Intelligent Design rests on religious concepts and has no demonstrated scientific merits.

I have previously reviewed the Pandas book in a disjoint series of posts.

Anyhow, seeing this item from the Journal of Creation brought back old times. These were times when the argument against creationism involved simply laying out a few facts and then enjoying a good belly laugh. It’s good to see the fun has not gone out of the game. Where to start?

Let’s take the “journal” article itself. If I had picked up this piece of paper early in the morning before having my cup of coffee I might possibly have mistaken it for something published in a scientific journal. Unfortunately I do not drink coffee, but I do read some scientific journals, and this item attempts mightily to impersonate one. For your reading pleasure, and in case creation.com ever goes out of business,  I have posted a copy of this item. It has:

  • A title
  • An author’s name
  • No abstract, unfortunately
  • The journal name, volume number and page number at the bottom of the page
  • A list of references

Let’s look at the references:

1. Oard, M.J., The geological column is a general Flood order with many exceptions; in: Reed, J.K. and Oard, M.J. (Eds.), The Geological Column: Perspectives within Diluvial Geology, Creation Research Society Books, Chino Valley, AR, pp. 99–121, 2006.
2. P r a s a d , V. , S t r ömb e r g , C .A. E . , Alimohammadian, H. and Sahni, A., Dinosaur coprolites and the early evolution of grasses and grazers, Science 310:1177–1180, 2005.
3. Piperno, D.R. and Sues, H.-D., Dinosaurs dined on grass, Science 310:1126–1128, 2005.
4. Anonymous, Dung grasses up dinosaurs, Nature 438:399, 2005.
5. Piperno and Sues, ref. 2, p. 1126.
6. Prasad et al., ref. 1, p. 1,179.
7. Piperno and Sues, ref. 2, p. 1127.
8. Barrick, W.D. and Sigler, R., Hebrew and geologic analyses of the chronology and parallelism of the Flood: implications for interpretation of the geologic record; in: Ivey, Jr., R.L. (ed.), Proceedings of the Fifth International
Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, PA, pp. 397–408, 2003.
9. Note: see also Catchpoole, D., Grass-eating dinos: A ‘time-travel’ problem for evolution, Creation 29(2):22–23, 2007.

This is so good. The references are numbered and cite original sources of the pertinent content. Some citations are to legitimate scientific research. Others, not so much.

The first reference cites Michael J. Oard, the author of this paper. Of course, what better authority to cite for this material than the person writing it. I don’t have a copy of the referenced book, The Geological Column: Perspectives within Diluvial Geology, but Earth’s Surface Shaped by the Genesis Flood, also by Oard, is on-line. The following illustrates the level of science practiced by these old-style creationists:

Figure 3.2. Tas Walker’s biblical geological model for biblical earth history (courtesy of Tas Walker, http://biblicalgeology.net/).

In Oard’s paper on the origin of grass, he seems to argue that the mythical flood of Noah in the Bible explains the fossil record for the origin of grass. That’s likely not Oard’s exact intent, because the story of creation in Genesis has that grass of all varieties came into being during the week of creation, about 6000 years ago.

In telling his story, Oard unfortunately finds it necessary to fall back on terminology used by real scientists. In their arguments for biblical inerrancy creationists often must use traditional scientific language. this is because the creationists have never gone through the process of creating a complete scientific framework for their suppositions. Left without a complete and coherent framework, they often find themselves posing their arguments in language that contradicts their argument. For example, “Mesozoic” and “Cenozoic” describe periods in Earth’s history millions of years in the past, which past is supposed to have begun only 6000 years ago in the creationists’ arguments.

Oard compounds his difficulties by having to rely on actual scientific research, research that contradicts his premise. He cites two articles from the journal Science, articles which also argue that dinosaurs ate grass. In making these references, he ignores the findings of the cited research. The following diagram is from Piperno, D.R. and Sues, H.-D., Dinosaurs dined on grass, Science 310:1126–1128, 2005:

Phylogeny for grasses from GPWG (11)

This figure is a cladogram showing the phylogeny of Poaceae:

The Poaceae (also called Gramineae or true grasses) are a large and nearly ubiquitousfamily of monocotyledonous flowering plants. With more than 10,000 domesticated and wild species, the Poaceae represent the fifth-largest plant family, following the Asteraceae,Orchidaceae, Fabaceae, and Rubiaceae. Though commonly called “grasses”,seagrasses, rushes, and sedges fall outside this family. The rushes and sedges are related to the Poaceae, being members of the orderPoales, but the seagrasses are members of order Alismatales.

Grasslands are estimated to compose 20% of the vegetation cover of the Earth. Poaceae live in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests, and tundra.

Domestication of poaceous cereal crops such as maize (corn), wheat, rice, barley, and millet lies at the foundation of sedentary living and civilization around the world, and the Poaceae still constitute the most economically important plant family in modern times, providing forage, building materials (bamboo, thatch) and fuel (ethanol), as well as food.

[Some links deleted]

What this cladogram illustrates is something that is not supposed to exists in Michael Oard’s world. This lays out the biological evolution of different species of grasses. This evolution, according to Oard, was not supposed to have happened. Oard believes, and he wants others to believe, that all species were created at one time by a mythical person only a few thousand years ago. Yet, he is unable to tell his story, he is unable to make his argument, without falling back on the very science he denies.

What Oard seeks to demonstrate in his paper is that the geological record is produced not by successive layers of fossils laid down in chronological order by natural sedimentation processes, but are the result of a cataclysmic flood (the “Flood of Noah”) a few thousand years ago. What real scientists consider to be a chronological record is interpreted by religious fundamentalists as the result of “hydrological sorting” that occurred when almost all life on Earth was extinguished by the supposed flood. Creationists go to great lengths to fabricate this case.

The following is also from Oard’s on-line book:

Figure 3.3. Graph of the timing of the Flooding and Retreating Stages with Walker’s five phases (drawn by John Reed).

This is a graphical representation of the biblical account:

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then theLord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.[g][h] 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind.22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

Oard takes the biblical story a step further as he starts to form the argument for hydrological sorting:

Figure 3.4. Walker’s two stages of the Flood (left) with the two phases of the Retreating Stage (right). (Stages and phases renamed and drawn by Mrs. Melanie Richard).

The Science papers describe research that incorporates not actual grass fossils, but fossilphytoliths recovered from dinosaur coprolites, fossilized dung. The phytoliths are typically silica formations in plants, and they tend to remain after the soft components decay. Since different plants produce different phytolith forms, scientist study phytolith fossils to trace the existence of the related plants. Finding phytolith fossils characteristic of Poaceae in fossil dinosaur dung has led the researchers to conclude that grass existed as far back as into the Mesozoic:

Grasses (family Poaceae or Gramineae), with about 10,000 extant species, are among the largest and most ecologically dominant families of flowering plants, and today provide staple foods for much of humankind. Dinosaurs, the dominant megaherbivores during most of the Mesozoic Era (65 to 251 million years ago), are similarly one of the largest and best known groups of organisms. However, the possible coevolution
of grasses and dinosaurs has never been studied. Now, Prasad et al. (1) report on page 1177 of this issue their analysis of phytoliths—microscopic pieces of silica formed in plant cells—in coprolites that the authors attribute to titanosaurid sauropods that lived in central India about 65 to 71 million years ago. Their data indicate that those
dinosaurs ate grasses.

[Dinosaurs Dined on Grass, Dolores R. Piperno and Hans-Dieter Sues. Science 310, 1126 (2005); DOI: 10.1126/Science. 1121020]

Oard takes this bit of serious research and runs with it, some may conclude further than is justified:

From a creationist point of view, this study pushes back another taxon in the continued extension of
fossil ranges with further research.1 Moreover, we can ask, why hadn’t grass been well documented from
earlier than the mid Cenozoic? Could it be that the Flood was too catastrophic for its preservation? We also wonder what other fossils will be found in much earlier and much later strata, according to the uniformitarian geological column.

The coprolites also bring up an interesting question in relation to the Flood paradigm. Where did the dinosaurs obtain grass and other vegetation during the Flood? The coprolites certainly mean that the dinosaurs died soon after eating. I suggest that these dinosaurs were not overwhelmed at the very beginning of the Flood but later, allowing for a time of terrestrial habitation (including eating) as the waters rose. The dinosaurs could have already inhabited relatively higher areas before the Flood, or else had fled to higher ground at the start of the Flood. But, then when these dinosaurs were overwhelmed by the Floodwaters, their demise and deposition within the strata was quick. Such an idea would favour the creationist hypothesis of ecological zonation and possibly the fleeing of the animals to higher ground as the Floodwaters continued to rise on the earth. Furthermore, this could offer support for the idea that the Ark did not start floating until Day 40 because it was built on higher ground.8,9

I can say little beyond what Oard has already stated. If ever there was fantasy on display, this is it. If ever ignorance were enshrined, this would be its temple. For this gift the civilized world thanks Michael Oard.

 

 

 

Creating Information

Two summers ago I volunteered to review physics texts for the Texas Education Agency. The reviews were held in a large hall in a hotel in Austin, and other teams were reviewing other books. In particular I ran into a creationist I had met twenty years previous. He is Walter Bradley, and he was reviewing biology texts for the State of Texas. What I found odd about this was:

  • Dr. Bradley has no academic standing in the subject of biology. He is former chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University.
  • Bradley is an acknowledge creationist, a position he has taken in opposition to basic principles of biology.

Here is Dr. Bradley with fellow creationist Ide Trotter at the text book review:

Wikipedia has this to say:

Bradley was one of the pioneers of the concept of intelligent design, attempting to explain topics not yet understood by science as the activity of God. Bradley’s writings on the subject anticipated some of the concepts later articulated by William Dembski and Michael Behe, and he was a participant in early meetings regarding the wedge strategy, a religious public relations campaign with a goal of reshaping American culture to adopt evangelical Protestant values.

I struck up a conversation with Dr. Bradley, and the topic naturally turned to Intelligent Design. What is pertinent to this is that Bradley posed this question to me: As new organisms develop by biological evolution, where does the new information come from?

I knew the answer to the question, but I did not press Dr. Bradley on it. I will give the answer now, and it is counter-intuitive. New information comes from completely random processes. I have highlighted that statement. Carry this forward to the discussion of observed evolution by random mutation and natural selection—Darwinian evolution.

Prior to the development of Nylon, there was no bacterium that could eat the substance. You have a fabric made of wool or cotton, and it is subject to attack by any number of bacterial agents. Not so with Nylon. Eventually a bacterium was discovered that could “eat” Nylon:

In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium, living in ponds containing waste water from a nylon factory, that was capable of digesting certain byproducts of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate. These substances are not known to have existed before the invention of nylon in 1935.

Further study revealed that the three enzymes the bacteria were using to digest the byproducts were significantly different from any other enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium strains (or, for that matter, any other bacteria), and not effective on any material other than the manmade nylon byproducts.

A random mutation had produced a bacterium that could eat Nylon. This was a new organism that filled a newly-created niche (Nylon) in the environment. This was Darwinian evolution in action. What do the creationist say in response?

Many supporters of evolutionary theory have claimed that nylon-eating bacteria strongly demonstrate the kind of evolution that can create new cellular structures, new cells, and new organisms.1 However, examining only the apparent, visible beneficial trait can be misleading. Recent research into the genes behind these traits indicates that no evolution has taken place.2In fact, the genes of nylon-eating bacteria show that they have been degraded through mutation.

The gene that mutated to enable bacteria to metabolize nylon is on a small loop of exchangeable DNA.3 This gene, prior to its mutation, coded for a protein called EII with a special ability to break down small, circularized proteins. Though synthetic, nylon is very protein-like because inventor Wallace Carothers modeled the original fiber based on known protein chemistry. Thus, after the mutation, the new EII protein was able to interact with both circular and straightened-out nylon. This is a clear example of a loss of specification of the original enzyme. It is like damaging the interior of a lock so that more and different keys can now unlock it.

This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

The three references cited are listed below:

  1. Thwaites, W.M. 1985. New Proteins Without God’s Help. Creation/Evolution. 5 (2): 1-3.
  2. Anderson, K.L, and G. Purdom. 2008. A Creationist Perspective of Beneficial Mutations in Bacteria.Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. Pittsburgh PA: Creation Science Fellowship and Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 73-86.
  3. Yasuhira, K. et al, 2007. 6-Aminohexanoate Oligomer Hydrolases from the Alkalophilic Bacteria Agromyes sp. Strain KY5R and Kocuria sp. Strain KY2. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 73 (21): 7099-7102.

The author of this is “Brian Thomas, M.S.

Brian Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in biology in 1993 and a master’s in biotechnology in 1999 from Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas. He taught junior high and high school at Christian schools in Texas, as well as biology, chemistry, and anatomy as an adjunct and assistant professor at Dallas-area universities. Since 2008 Mr. Thomas has been a science writer and editor at ICR, where he contributes news and magazine articles, speaks on creation issues, and researches original tissue fossils. He is the author ofDinosaurs and the Bibleand a contributor to Guide to Creation Basics,Creation Basics & Beyond, and Guide to Dinosaurs.

Interesting points of his argument are:

  1. This degeneration of a protein-eating protein required both the specially-shaped protein and the pre-existence of its gene.
  2. The degeneration of a gene, even when it provides a new benefit to the bacteria, does not explain the origin of that gene.
  3. One cannot build a lock by damaging pre-existing locks.
  4. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  5. Nylon-eating bacteria actually exemplify microevolution (adaptation), not macroevolution.
  6. Science continues to reveal, though, how benevolent is our Creator God, who permits bacteria to benefit from degradation, and man also to benefit from bacteria that can recycle synthetic waste back into the environment.

1. Regarding the prerequisite of a specially-shaped protein, another prerequisite is the existence of the bacterium. I hate to be picky, but still another prerequisite is the existence of the planet Earth. This is not a well-based point to argue from.

2. The origin of the original gene is not explained. The origin of the original gene is not at issue here. Darwinian evolution is classically step-wise. Every novel feature is derived from or is built upon an existing one.

3. The “lock” mentioned here is an analogy. A mechanical lock is a device that is used by people, and Thomas is reminding us that a lock that is damaged, such as by putting a .357 Magnum slug through it, does not produce a useful mechanism. The problem with this argument is this is not a lock mechanism built by people. This is a gene that expresses the production of a protein (or an RNA sequence), and it has been altered, and the altered form produces a result that allows the bacterium to digest Nylon.

4. Yes, this is micro evolution. What did Thomas think this was all about? Just about all gene mutations produce micro changes in the offspring. Darwinian evolution, including the the formation of new species, is the accumulation of micro-changes.

5. I am going to let Brian Thomas have this point. I mean, if it’s God doing all of this, then who am I to dispute it?

Back to Walter Bradley’s challenge. New information does come from random processes. People who employ genetic algorithms to develop improved systems (e.g., Diesel engines) use random processes to inject variation into trial designs. It works in modern industry. It works in nature.