Thursday, April 30, 2009

Evolution in a test tube

The Science Daily had an interesting report "Evolution In A Test Tube: Scientists Make Molecules That Evolve And Compete, Mimicking Behavior Of Darwin's Finches" It's pretty impressive, I can't wait to learn more. The bottom line is that these specific molecules, that can self-replicate, can also evolve to exploit distinct ecological niches. This is wild stuff and might offer a glimpse into Abiogenesis someday. Imagine, no cells, no designer, no intelligence, just two sets of molecules sharing an environment evolving in different directions under environmental pressure. You have to read it for yourself, I'm not sure I could do it justice.

I figure the DI will have a press release sooner suggesting that this has nothing at all with evolution, or claiming that since it happened in a lab it can't possibly be 'natural selection' at work. Which I do find it funny, on the one hand they claim that evolution has not been witnessed in a lab and yet when it is, they simply break out their creation-colored glasses and do their best to ignore it. As such happened when Tiktaalik roseae was announced and they posted an editorial claiming that "Latest Fossil Find "No Threat To Theory of Intelligent Design". Actually my favorite part of that article was the Dembski quote in which he admits Evolution happened.

"Intelligent design does not so much challenge whether evolution occurred but how it occurred"

Actually I agree with the headline, Tiktaalik is no threat to the 'Theory of Intelligent Design' because there is no theory of intelligent design, but that is neither here nor there to this particular post.

Or maybe Andy Schafly over at Conservapedia will say nasty things like he tried when the Lenski experiment results were made public. The bottom line here is that evolution is being experimented with and once again predictions of evolutionary theory are coming true. The future of evolutionary theory certainly looks interesting indeed.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Let's hold a contest

But before we do, we have to decide on the results before anyone can enter.

How would this play over in your neighborhood? Well apparently it goes over in Northern Kentucky . . . although how well remains to be seen. The news is that Little Kennie Ham is holding a 'Science Fair'. Now that by itself is pretty scary since Kennie's relationship with science is pretty limited, but it gets a bit worse. In order to enter this 'science' fair, you have to sign and subscribe to the AIG Statement of Faith. Yes, you have to already profess to share in Little Kennie's personal delusion . . . something the clear majority of Christians in the world do not do . . . or you cannot participate.

Anyone else see something wrong here? Doesn't it sorta screw up the whole idea of science if you have to already have your answers BEFORE you create your fair exhibit? The most creative exhibits I have ever seen try and take on something new and interesting.

Little Kennie's blog lists the 'Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Go to his fair" These are nearly as funny as his Statement of Faith. First of all it mentions that if you

"love science, you should start planning now."
I have to take a bit of an exception to that. In my opinion if you actually love science the last place in the world you would want to be in on the grounds of the Creation Museum. His number 10 reason is
"10. You probably don’t have anything else planned for February 27, 2010."
I am pretty sure there will be plenty of other things to do besides go to Northern Kentucky and visit the House that Kenny Built.Although when you think about it, this is hte type of reason you come up with when you run out of anything creative to say.

"9. It’s at the Creation Museum!"
This is a top reason to go? Not, this is a reason to stay away. Now I am sure he ran out of creative words when he has to resort to this!

"8. It’s open to homeschoolers, Christian school students, and public school students—as long as you agree with AiG’s Statement of Faith and will conduct a quality experiment, you can apply."
See what I mean! You have to already be a believer in order to participate. I do wonder why he is prejudicesd against other non-secular schools. I mean if they are willing to agree to his Statement, why can't they attend?

"7. Science is fun!"
All by itself, I agree with this statement. However it doesn't apply to anything going on at the Creation Museum now does it?

"6. It will be a fun day of learning with special programs just for you."
I would have fun there, but I doubt it would be the kind of fun Little Kennie has in mind.

"5. You can show off your scientific prowess."
No you can't, not with the restrictions placed upon you by his Statement.

"4. You can meet other creationist science-minded students."
Now here is an oxymoron if I have ever heard one. Someone please explain to Little Kennie what an 'oxymoron' is.

"3. You can conduct an experiment on a topic of your choice in the life or physical sciences (within certain guidelines)."
No you can't, the guidelines make it impossible.

"2. You can meet Answers in Genesis staff scientists."
Another oxymoron. Yes, you too can meet more people who share Little Kennie's view of the world. This again is not a positive reason for attending.

And finally…

"1. Many fabulous prizes will be awarded!"
So he has to bribe folks to participate. Finally this little note at the end:
"(Note: Because of limited space, each student will have to submit his or her hypothesis and methodology for acceptance [emphasis added] into the Science Fair. Submission forms will be available online by September.)"

So not only do you have to agree with his Statement of Faith, but he gets to pre-screen your entry on the pretext of limited space. Gee, didn't we recently see something very similar to this? Yes, now I remember, Summer Camp at the Discovery Institute. There you didn't have to sign a Statement of Faith, but you had to have a recommendation from an Intelligent Design friendly source. Another wonderful example of pre-screening to insure only the people who already believe can come in and participate.

So I guess after wasting a few days in the summer, you can waste further time in the winter. Either way, you lose! PZ Myers mentioned that he probably won't be asked to be a judge. I wish he would, I think he would make the perfect judge at a Creation Science Fair, although I wouldn't wish such a task on him. I can see the headlines now after PZ flunks each and every attempt to support Kennie Ham's limited world view. The spin would simply be that "Everyone Tied for First" or "There were No Losers", when the reality would be that their exhibits would fail to measure up to any form of scientific experimentation.

Actually I have the perfect team of judges, PZ Myers, Phil Plait, and John Lynch, what could be fairer than these three? The owners of three Blogs (Pharyngula, Bad Astronomy, and Stranger Fruit) that probably mention Little Kennie even more than his own self-aggrandizing one does.

So to paraphrase an old sentiment that I hope Little Kennie discovers next winter, "What if we hold a contest, and nobody came."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Science Works, or maybe a better title is "Why" Science works!

Over on Phil Plait's Blog "Bad Astronomy" is an interesting post "New burst vaporizes cosmic distance record". The new Swift satellite has detected a Gamma Ray Burst (GRB090423A) that has traveled over 13 billion years to reach us . . . 13 BILLION! Amazing!
Now I don't discuss the Big Bang too much, mainly because as an Astrophysicist I am a great computer programmer. But more so because while there is a relationship between the start of the Universe and the start of life on Earth, when Creationists use the Big Bang to try and contradict the Theory of Evolution, all I can do is laugh at their grasping of straws. But this GRB is interesting to me, and one that might demonstrate some basic scientific methodology.

Current thinking places the age of the Universe at 14 billion years. Which means the star that exploded to create this GRB exploded only a few hundred million years after the birth of the Universe. Wow! Now the methodology I want to discuss is scientific methodology and theory modification. Here is my thinking . . . and please weigh in if I am emulating the 'night soil of a well-fed oxen'.

According to current theories we should never discover light that has been traveling for over 14 billion years, or even let's give ourselves a bumper, say 15 billion years. This would be a prediction that so far has been held to be true, since we haven't discovered anything that has traveled that long. So far so good, science predicts and experimentation supports it.

However, the theory modification comes in . . . what if we do? Suppose we do discover a GBR that has been red-shifted so far that it is older than the age of the Universe? What would happen? The whole edifice of scientific thought would come crashing down, right? Of course not! But it certainly would be shaken around a bit.

You see this is how I see science working. We learn, we hypothesis, we test, we experiment, and we keep on going! As we learn more, we change the theories, making them better and better, more inclusive and better explanations. This is how the process works! we never stop learning! So if we did discover a GBR older than our current thinking predicts, we will keep on working on it until we understand it better! We will formulate new ideas, have new theories to test, and keep on going!

This is why science is fun! This is why it drives people so hard! And this is also why when some Creationistic claims that 'science is so locked into one viewpoint they will never admit to something contradicting it' is so wrong! This is the moment scientists live for! The point where the testing and experimenting reach the limit of human knowledge and understanding and they truly live for expanding those limits. That is science!

My granddaughter was watching an animated movie the other day, "Meet the Robinsons" and there was a theme used several times in the movie, "Keep Moving Foward", an excerpt of a quote from Walt Disney:
"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
Sounds pretty scientific to me!

Friday, April 24, 2009

My thoughts on a few books

I was asked, on Topix:
Can you recommend a good book that does a fair job of presenting both sides of the argument? Perhaps one that contains excerpts and articles of both sides?
If no such book exists, perhaps one should be written
My reply [slightly edited] here:
I'm not sure such a book exists, because in my mind there is no 'fair and balanced' way to compare apples and oranges. There are a number of books that present parts of the Creationism/ID argument, but I have found no one book that explains all the pieces and parts. Johnson's "Darwin on Trial", and Denton's "Evolution: Theory in Crisis" do a good job of presenting part of the case for ID. But neither book explains the supposed science behind ID. Behe's "Darwin's Black Box" tries, but all he offers are philisophical arguments. These books tantalize us with scientific claims that none of them seem to bother supporting. I don't recommend anything by William Dembski, he doesn't seem to realize that pulling numbers out of the sky is not mathematics. Wells and West do nothing but parrot other peoples philosophies and add little to the discussion. And anything by Luskin is nothing but pablum to the people that already support ID. He adds absolutely nothing and understands even less. Of all these people only Behe is actually a scientist, a biochemist who teaches at Lehigh University. Johnson and Luskin are lawyers, Dembski a supposed historian of science, and the rest have assorted degrees, but have never worked in science or biology.

Ken Miller and Jerry Coyne offer a lot on the scientific side. Millers "Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul" and Finding Darwin's God" are great books, as is Coyne's recent "Why Evolution is True" is a near perfect read. Both are biologists, which adds a level of credence to their work that the Discovery Institute wants and has yet to achieve.

If you want to get into the debate itself, Eugenie Scott, especially her "Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction" is a great book for getting into this debate on many levels. If you are after something quicker, the white paper "Understanding The Intelligent Design Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals" written by Barbara Forrest is a solid start. Dr. Forrest was a witness for the prosecution during the Dover Trial, and one the defense tried their hardest to have excused. Her testimony did almost as much damage as Behe's own to the defense position.

My favorite book on the Dover Trial is Lauri Lebo's "The Devil in Dover". This is a terrific work that digs into more than just the argument, but how if affected the people involved. Edward Humes "Monkey Girl" is better on the details of the trial, but the personal nature of the characterizations Ms. Lebo describes really brought the trial up close and personal.

One thing I have noticed, and I am sure someone like marksman [a Topix frequent poster supporting Creationism/ID] will disagree, is that the pro-science side presents the Creationist arguments much fairer than the Creationist side presents pro-science arguments. The pro-science side makes much more of an effort to understand the Creationist arguments, whereas the Creationist side usually seems to slant the pro-science position into something they start trying to refute even before they are done presenting it. I see it as a form of intellectual dishonesty that seems to permeate their work -- Quote-mining is a wonderful example of this. Johnson, Wells, and Luskin seem to be pretty prone to quote-mining.
Talk.Origins contains some more info on quote-mining in their "Quote-Mine Project". Well hope you check out some of the books, even the ones on the Creationist/ID side can be interesting. It does make it harder for Creationist/ID Proponents to move the goal posts if you can give them their own words back at them! I do recommend going to a library rather than spending money and supporting the Discovery Institute.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

'THE' Missing Link

Here is another frequently heard anti-evolution argument. It usually falls into one of two tracks. The first claims something along the lines "Science hasn't yet found THE missing link" or "There are no transitional fossils." I do chuckle a bit when one person says both comments.

OK, the missing link . . . or I should say 'THE' missing link. Can we simply say that the whole concept of a single link between any two species is more a side-show concept than a scientific concept? There is no such thing as a single link between any two species. The progression from one species to another is chain of changes, many very small, that accumulate over time. The evidence, both fossil and even the genetic relationships clearly show the progression. In my opinion the discovery of THE missing link would probably support Creationism more than Evolution since such a single organism the is some sort of 50-50 amalgamation between two distinct species would probably not support evolution particularly well. So while many creationists whine over THE missing link, the slightly more rational people of the world recognize this is just another in a line of straw man arguments.

What has been found are hundreds of 'missing links', better known as transitional, or intermediate forms. Just recently another was found, "Walking Seal called Missing Link in Evolution". I really don't like the way the term 'missing link' was used here, because it seems almost to imply 'THE' missing link. In reality, as I said above, there are many, many intermediate steps between species, and many of those steps have yet to be discovered. We know this, and each new find fills in part of the puzzle biologists have facing them. So while this is certainly 'A' missing link explaining how the animal group moved from land-dwellers with legs to the semi-aquatic, flippered swimmers around today, it is the the mythical missing link.

I can't wait for the Discovery Institute to try and spin this, like they did with Tiktaalik in "Latest Fossil Find "No Threat" To Theory of Intelligent Design" when they stated:

"They are not intermediates in the sense that have half-fish/half-tetrapod characteristics. Rather, they have a combination of tetrapod-like features and fish-like features"
Of course they are simply living in a state of denial, because that is exactly what a transitional, or intermediate form is, one that exhibits a combination of features. But since they live in such a state, I am sure Casey, or one of the other less-than-brilliant members of the DI will have some half-baked response how the Puijila darwini isn't really transitional either since it doesn't meet their supposed 50-50 requirement that only seems to apply when the DI is looking at a transitional form.

There are many transitional forms and, as I have said before, ALL existing forms are transitional. We are not what we were in the past, and we more than likely will not be what we will become in the future. We are in fact a transitional form ourselves, and that just irritates the hell out of the DI. They just keep arguing against it because then they can continue to claim "We haven't found THE missing link" and "There are no transitional forms" for no apparently reason, nor understanding of what they are claiming.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hasn't Texas had enough?

Let's forget for a moment the unethical firing of Susan Comer. Let's forget for the moment the whole Evolution vs Creationism debate Don McElroy dragged you through. Let's discuss the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). Last year you denied them permission to award Masters of Science degrees. I salute you for that. But now is not the time to let down your guard. Because the ICR has not been sitting around.

They took their case to the court of public appeal, but that wasn't good enough. They co-opted a conservative legislative member and helped him sponsor a bill that would exempt organizations like the ICR from the rules. But even that wasn't good enough. Now they are suing, yes SUING, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board(THECB). Isn't that so special! The THECB is the agency that unanimously voted to deny the ICR's request for a state certificate of authority to offer the MS in Science degree. The THECB is the organization that their pet State Senator is trying to make them exempt from.

So Texas, you face yet another challenge. Do you roll over and let organizations like the ICR offers degrees in Science, something they apparently only have a passing acquaintance with? Or do you let them certify at least some of the next generation of Texas science teachers? In other words do you want your kids to not learn science or scientific methodology? Because if House Bill 2800 passes or the ICR wins this lawsuit, that is what you have to look forward to.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Freshman saga continues

The Thomas Freshwater case is still an on-going concern in Mount Vernon OH. If you aren't familiar, i have blogged a little about it (Mt Vernon OH and a Teacher named Freshman). In a nutshell this high school science teacher has been teaching Creationism and casting aspersions on the actual science he was hired to teach. He also liked to use an electro-static device to etch a cross into students arms. Well he finally got busted, fired, and he is appealing his firing. The school system has been holding a number of hearings on the matter.

Not to belabor the whole thing again, but today there was an interesting article on the status of the hearings and the main thrust of the article was simply put, parental involvement in your kids education. "Steve Goble's It's Debatable: Ultimately, parents are in charge of their child's education"

It offered several things to do to get more involved.

  • Attend a school board meeting, and ask about the science curriculum.
  • Ask the district for a list of science textbooks, and see what's being taught. Meet with your child's science teacher, and ask about the lesson plan.
  • Read the textbooks and other classroom materials your child uses.
  • Talk to your child, and ask about teachers.
  • Volunteer at your child's school. I do this, and I get to know the teachers and administrators and see what goes on in the classrooms. Thanks to that close-up look, I feel pretty good about the education my daughter is receiving. And I won't be a stranger if, down the road, I need to have a serious talk with the administration. I'll know them, and they'll know me.
  • Use the Internet. Talk about classroom stuff online with others in your community. Raise questions, share experiences.
  • If you do find a teacher preaching in the classroom, let someone know. The National Center for Science Education ( would be interested. So would the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio ( Such groups have the resources to help you.
  • If you do find such instances of preaching instead of teaching, don't be quiet. Go to the school board meeting and speak up. Go to the press. Go online. Be loud.
  • Know where school board members stand on these issues before you cast your votes. Those who would like to turn science classes into congregations aren't shy about finding school board candidates who feel the same way. They're pretty good at turning out the vote, too. Science-minded people, and fans of church-state separation, need to be more proactive.
  • Have you ever considered running for the school board yourself? If you're scientifically literate and constitutionally aware, your district could use you.
  • Read some current science and history on your own. Try the "New Books" shelf at your library, and brush up. It'll be easier to spot bogus science or history in your kids' textbooks if you're up on such things yourself.
  • Attend parent-teacher organization meetings, and talk to other parents. Network, ask questions.
  • Did I mention talking to your kids? Let them know your values, and what you expect them to learn, and ask them plenty of questions while you're at it.
  • Very few parents are going to be able to do all of these, but they should certainly do some of them! It might have prevented Mr. Freshmen from physically hurting the kids we put in his care. It certainly should have prevented the need from re-teaching science as later grades, a complaint noted by the investigation report.

    Now and then I keep hearing people say things like "What possible harm can there be in believing in God?" John Freshman is a perfect example! He believes so strongly that he will willing to violate his contract with the school, harm children, and then lie about it all to investigators. All in the name of God?

  • Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Casey [Luskin] at the Bat

    In my opinion that is exactly what it looks like. Oh I am sure that Casey will spin a different story. Here is the story I caught off of PZ Myers Pharyngula blog. A Molecular Immunologist from Ireland, named Rhiggs, engaged in an email exchange with the DI's own 'lawyer-playing-at-scientist' Casey Luskin. "Casey Luskin Email Debate"

    Well to his credit Casey volunteered to enter this debate, that is he stepped up to the plate when Mr. Rhiggs asked:

    "I am aware of the multitude of publications on ID and related topics. However, on reading these I haven't found any direct research which has provided positive evidence of ID. It seems to be more philosophy-based. Surely someone has done some actual experiments to verify the claims of the ID community as opposed to simply casting doubt on other theories. I would be interested in reading about them. Could you please direct me to the appropriate sources?"
    Well needless to say, Casey did what the Di does and produced a diatribe long on claims and poor on detail, style over substance. I guess he's not used to actually having people question him in great detail on his claims. Well Casey offers 4 main areas:
    (1) An explanation of the "positive case for design"
    (2) An explanation of how ID uses the scientific method, a positive method of making scientific claims
    (3) A listing of much peer-reviewed research supporting ID, presenting much data that represents research done by ID proponents supporting ID's claims
    (4) Some of the pro-ID experimental research is specifically discussed . . .
    He followed each of his ideas with links to source material, most of it on the DI's own websites or the IDEA Center, a site that pretty much parrots the DI, and if you look at the IDEA center's Advisory board you might recognize a few names:
    We are pleased to announce that our Advisory Board includes: John Baumgardner, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Mark Hartwig, Phillip Johnson, Jay Wesley Richards, Dennis Wagner, and Jonathan Wells. (
    However, Mr. Rhiggs took exception to his claims and his links.
    "I have gone to the links you sent me and despite your claim that "there is much positive, research-based evidence for ID", I have failed to find any. The link you sent me to "peer-reviewed research supporting ID, presenting much data that represents research done by ID proponents supporting ID's claims" DOES NOT present much data. It predominantly presents essays from ID proponents in which they 'argue' for a central ID idea, although they never seem to 'show' that this idea is correct, thus they cannot and should not 'conclude' that ID is the best explanation."
    So what does Casey do, he 'interprets' and changes the subject.
    "I am puzzled by your reply. You stated "I have failed to find any" research supporting ID. But then you stated that the pages "DOES NOT present much data," and it seemed like you were saying that there is some, but not "much." I just wanted to clarify and allow you to explain what you are trying to say: are you saying there is "not any" research, or potentially "some" research supporting ID?"
    See what I mean? Instead of dealing with Mr. Rhiggs criticisms of the data presented, he attempts to change the subject and locks onto just a couple of words and tries to get Rhiggs to agree that there is some evidence. He then does what he does best and repeat mantras with little to no understanding of the topic. However Mr. Rhiggs doesn't fall for it. He quotes chapter and verse back at Casey.

    "Let me first clear up the confusion over whether I think there is NO or SOME evidence for ID. Having read the link you sent me in your original email that you described as containing…

    “…peer-reviewed research supporting ID, presenting much data that represents research done by ID proponents supporting ID's claims”

    …I did not find any data that provides positive evidence for ID, thus I worded my response that this link ‘DOES NOT present much data’ because this is what YOU claimed (see the bold letters in your original sentence). My position is that there is definitely NO evidence. You may disagree, but in my opinion, review-type articles which discuss others work and make new arguments are NOT evidence of the arguments in their own right. These arguments need to be validated by experimentation . . ."

    His reply goes much further and once again takes Casey's comments apart piece by piece. Then a month goes by and he doesn't hear from Casey again. So he sends him a reminder and Casey takes once last wimpy little swing:
    Hi again—thanks for your kind reply. I assure you that I don’t ignore arguments. You don’t know me and I am not that kind of person. In fact, I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately, but in the last week over the course of 2 long plane flights I’ve managed to find time to work on replying to you. I’m nearly done with the reply and I hope to finish it on another flight I have later this week. FYI, my reply is already over 5000 words, and it begins by saying, “Greetings after an undesired delay on my part. I appreciate the time you took in your extensive reply. Because you put in so much time, you deserve a reply. I apologize that it took a while to reply--I've been busy a lot over the past couple weeks, including much traveling, and in fact I'm finally getting some free time now that I'm on a flight.” Thanks again—I hope you will hear from me soon.
    The fun part are the dates, Casey's last reply was over 13 months ago . . . and then NOTHING!

    Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
    The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
    And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
    But there is no joy in Mudville--great Casey has struck out.
    (Casey at the Bat 1888)

    While I hate using the word 'great' when discussing Casey Luskin, but I do like the fact he took three swings, and missed on each one. Then he apparently tucked his pride between his legs and ran away.

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    Summer camp at the Discovery institute

    The Discovery institute is offering seminars on Intelligent Design, yes, believe it or not. "Deadline Nears for Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design"

    There are a few things I do find a bit strange, here, let me point them out. The first one isn't the most glaring, but it was the first one to catch my eye:

    "The program is an incredible opportunity for students to spend 9 days learning about intelligent design from top ID thinkers such as Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells, Richard Sternberg, Jay Richards, Doug Axe, John West, and many others"
    Nine days? They are going to subject college students to 9 days of Intelligent Deign? What in the world are they going to talk about for 9 days? There isn't enough material to spend 9 hours on it! What I think is going to happen is they have one day planned they are just going to put up a different talking head and repeat it 8 other times.

    I do have to have issue with two other phrases that in my opinion tell me how little the DI understands the definitions of the words "incredible opportunity" and "ID thinkers". I do understand this is more a marketing announcement than anything serious, so it deserves all the attention of a used car ad . . . but 'incredible'? They have certainly misused a perfectly good word here. As for the ID 'thinkers' part, I was glad to see folks like Casey Luskin being relegated to the 'and many others' list. But I do think they are stretching the use of the word 'thinker' here a great deal. I fully expect it will be nothing but more repetition of the normal ID apologetics material, especially with Richard Sternberg in attendance.

    The next thing that caught my eye was
    "deadline has been extended to April 30"
    Now why does an 'event', especially the third annual time this particular side-show has apparently gone on, have to extend the deadline for registration? I'll give you a hint, there are two common reasons for extending a deadline. the first is the event was short notice and the second is because no one is breaking down the doors to get in. Since this is the third annual such event, I cannot believe it's a scheduling issue. Which leaves . . . yup, low attendance looks bad, so extending the deadline is the only answer and hope more victims, I mean participants, sign up.

    Now here is another thing the ID is really good at, rather than make any effort to show people how incredible ID is, they only want people who already support ID. Take a look at the attendee criteria:
    1. A copy of your resume;
    2. A letter of recommendation from an ID-friendly source;
    3. A copy of your academic transcript;
    4. A short (one page) statement of your interest in ID within your field of study.
    The even numbers ones are the telling point. You have to be recommended from an ID-friendly source? I guess that might also explain the lack of participation. Plus you already have to be able to give them cannon fodder on how ID can be used in your area of study? No wonder they have to extend the deadline, this part of the application would be pretty blank since ID doesn't pertain to any actual scientific disciplines. I wonder if a marketing student could attend?

    The last line that really did tickle my funny bone was
    "carefully screens applicants to ensure both high quality and high confidentiality for those who participate."
    First of all this is also a marketing gimmick to make people think attending this thing will make them somehow smarter and more in the know than other folks. But I believe, and this is my very incredulous nature about anything the DI does coming out, that the reason they want people who can keep a secret is because they know the impact of attending such an event would have on a CV or resume.

    OK, so let's sum this up. If you already know about and understand ID, and have a recommendation from an ID-friendly source, you can spend 9 glorious days at the feet of such 'notables' as John West and Stephen Meyer learning absolutely nothing at all. Plus you don't get to brag to other people that you met the DI's 'high' standards because of the confidentiality clause.

    Oh yea, and I bet you get to pay for the privilege. Doesn't this sound like a fun summer camp?

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    What is Theistic Evolution?

    For a while now a number of folks have been making comments along the lines of "God started life on Earth and Evolution took over from there." In all honesty I have no trouble with the statement itself, but this form of 'Theistic Evolution' is not a scientific theory, as some are claiming it to be.

    As a sort of middle-ground, it's fine. It offers a way for people of faith to not use that faith to misunderstand or distort science. It also offers one way for people to alleviate any fears that science will reduce or diminish their faith. Again, along those lines I am fine. It falls under the 'believe what you want to believe', something I support myself. If you want you can even call it a form of religious freedom!

    What doesn't work for me is trying to push God into even the 'pre-life on Earth' side of the equation. Theistic Evolution is still a philosophy and not a science. It's a way of looking at things that allow people of faith to come to terms more easily. The simple fact of leaving the Scientific Theory of Evolution intact and just prefixing it with divine intervention is certainly a better philosophy than trying to inert God into the areas of evolutionary theory we don't fully understand yet. That God-of-the-Gaps argument really is a pretty poor way of looking at things. Simply put, what happens when you learn something new and the gap is no longer a gap?

    This Theistic view has been accepted by the majority of the world religions. In fact where you don't have a strict literalistic viewpoint, like Evangelical Christianity, it seems pretty much the norm. But please remember that it is not a scientific theory, it simply accepts the validity of the scientific theory and places a prefix that makes it easier to accept.

    Personally I worry a little about it because it might come across as being a form of the God-of-the-Gaps argument as the science supporting Abiogenesis advances. But that is a topic for a time when that science goes beyond the hypothetical. I am pretty sure we will be having some of these same arguments then.

    Monday, April 13, 2009

    Two Drivers of the Evolution Debate

    Here is an article of a talk given by Ken Miller, "Brown University professor breaks down evolution debate". If you aren't familiar with Dr. Miller, I would be surprised. Not only has he been publishing books, maintains a very interesting website (Ken Miller's Evolution Page), and testified at the Dover trial, but he's been taking on ID proponents for years. One of the things Dr. Miller is known for is that he is a Christian and accepts a more theistic answer to the whole 'why we are here' question. He does not attribute specific actions to a deity when it comes to biology, but seems to have no trouble with God in the mix, so to speak.

    Two particular statements in this talk stood out to me, one I know I have spoken about here in my blog on numerous occasions, the other I'm not sure how well I've talked on it. Dr. Miller describes two things that are used to drive people away from science and evolution. The first is the one I have talked on ad infinitum, "intentional distortion of the facts".

    How many times have folks pointed out to others that they are mischaracterizing evolutionary theory. That the things they are saying simply aren't true. Everything from mis-stating the second law of thermodynamics, quoting out of context about a supposed dearth of transitional fossils, and over-emphasizing the role of randomness in Random Mutation. These things either show a lack of education on the part of the person who uttered them, or a deliberate distortion of the truth. When it comes from folks like William Dembski, Michael Behe, Casey Luskin, and others form the Discovery institute, I have to put it in the 'deliberate' column. These are not uneducated people, yet they say things specifically designed to distort other's understanding of evolution. When they come from people like Ann Coulter and Ken Ham, I do put it down as a very poor education and understanding of evolutionary theory -- although I think there is a lot of deliberate misleading there as well.

    The second driver of this debate is one used over and over again by the Discovery Institute and others, simply put 'fear'.

    "The "fear of evolution itself," or the argument that evolution takes away all significance for humans because they become just a product of chance, is the second weapon, he [Ken Miller] said."
    This is an emotional argument that causes some religious people to campaign against evolution, and science, not because they think it is in error, but they think that supporting such an idea is against their religious beliefs. This is an incredible manipulation of people! Creating and maintaining this artificial dichotomy, taking advantage of someone religious beliefs in such a way should be criminal!

    Looking at both of these two drivers, a deliberate campaign of mis-information and using the fear of something demonstrates to me that anyone listening to these arguments needs to get the facts! Don't be mislead and don't fear something you don't truly understand. If you want to disagree with Evolution, first learn what evolution is really about. It will also go a long way in combating any fear over science and how it impacts your belief. If people did this, i think we would see a drop in the number of so-called academic freedom legislation, a significant drop in donations to the Discovery Institute, and a nice drop in attendance at Ken Ham's Folly (The Creation Museum of Kentucky). I can't see anything wrong with any of that!

    The article had one other quote from Dr. Miller, some very good words:
    "A material science devoted to the study of nature need not be hostile to religious faith, nor must such faith be hostile to science,"

    Someone is threatening the Discovery Institute

    Apparently someone at the DI, identified only as an 'employee' received a threatening series of emails including the phrase 'shut up the fu** or die!". The issue is under the investigation by the police. When I first heard about this, I didn't really pay it much mind. I myself have been threatened a number of times on Topix by Creationists full of righteous indignation. I've also been called a number of very unflattering things by self-identified Christians. Others have remarked that they get such threatening letters on a regular basis, including PZ Myers of the Pharyngula blog. Usually the letters are pretty much illiterate rants. But after reading PZ's response a couple of things occurred to me.

    The emails were dated the 4th of April, yet the DI waited three days before calling the cops. SO what caused the delay? Did they hold a staff meeting on them? Did they have to spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not the emails were a credible threat? This might sound a a bit callous, but it is one of the thoughts that did occur to me. I have frequently commented on the DI and their spin doctoring. So what I think happened in those three days is that they were looking to see how they could spin this to their advantage. I really didn't see this as a possibility until I read what has been released. The emails were directed toward a specific employee, yet one of the DI's many vice presidents thinks the threat is against the DI as a whole? I sense some spin doctoring going on here.

    The other thing that occurred to me was is this a PR stunt by the DI? I really can't see it, but the possibility is there. They haven't exactly been using a moral compass on the tactics they have employed so far, so this wouldn't be a real stretch of the imagination. I hope they are not this monumentally stupid, but that might be wishful thinking on my part. I hope the investigation continues and the source of the email is discovered. In the meantime I expect to laugh at the spin doctoring to come.

    In all honestly, I think I agree with PZ and wish no one would utter such threats toward the DI. Their work is best ridiculed and taken apart piece by piece. They are doing more damage to their own position every time Casey Luskin or John G. West open their mouths that I don't want them to shut up. I'm having so much fun and learning so many new things that if they suddenly went quiet, it might mean they were actually trying to do the science they claim to have already accomplished -- no real danger of that!

    I am looking forward to how they do respond. I can picture it now one crackpot being held up as the role model for how 'darwinism' turns people toward hate and violence. It will be pure unmitigated 'night soil of a well fed cow', but why would that stop the DI anyway?

    Friday, April 10, 2009

    Arguments XXV - Weaknesses and Flaws

    One of the arguments being heard around the country, most recently in the voting on the new Texas science standards, concerns the strengths and weaknesses arguments against evolution -- and other scientific theories. I have addressed them, but I want to hit on the 'weaknesses' one more time, this time examining more terminology differences starting with a simple question, what s a flaw?

    A 'flaw' in anything is a point of failure, a point where whatever it is can, and someday will, stop doing whatever it does. A flaw in a baseball bat will result in a broken bat. A flaw in a bridge will result in a fallen bridge. It may happen quickly, it may happen slowly, but over time it will happen. Look at the recent bridge failure in Minnesota. That bridge stood for decades until one, or several, flaws reached a certain point and the bridge fell.

    What is a flaw in a scientific theory? It would be a point where the theory fails! Now I have frequently asked what are the flaws in the scientific theory of evolution? I have asked here in the blog, I have asked over on Topix, I have asked on the numerous posts I have made on a number of articles across multiple on-line publications. I get lots of responses, but no flaws.

    For example the one that people immediate see as a flaw is that the current Theory of Evolution (TOE) doesn't explain life's origins on Earth. The is not a flaw, since the TOE does not address the origin of life on Earth. I have also heard that the TOE doesn't account for Noah's Flood. Again, that is not a flaw in the TOE since evolution doesn't address flood or flood geology. Another common 'flaw' is how random chance cannot adequately explain the diversity of life. This supposed 'flaw' is based on a poor understanding of the TOE, because the TOE is not a random chance process.

    So what we have are a bunch of perceptual flaws, but not actual flaws. None of the ones told to me, nor claimed in places like Answers in Genesis or Discovery Institute press releases, describe anything resembling a point where the TOE fails. There is a pretty simple reason for it. Before an idea/hypothesis becomes a scientific theory it is tested, beat-up, abused by literally an army of scientists over decades of time. Anything that is an actual flaw is discovered and it the hypothesis cannot adequately explain it, then the hypothesis NEVER becomes a scientific theory. What is not addressed are the things OUTSIDE of the theory. If the theory does not explain things like life's origins, flood geology, or a random process, then these are not and cannot be considered flaws in the theory!

    So once again I ask anyone who reads this blog, send me a list, or post it here in the comments, of flaws in the TOE! Actual ones, not perceptual flaws, not wishful thinking flaws, but actual flaws that address one or more parts of the actual TOE. Then we might have a discussion on them.

    I have used the term 'weaknesses' before and how I separate the terms is simple. There are things that we do not know. In other words there are areas of theories that may someday need to change, usually based on new knowledge. I certainly don't think Newton's theories about gravity are 'flawed' simple because we have access to technology that he didn't have. We ave discovered areas where his theories are not applicable. That still doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them, just that they need new work. Einstein added that new work and while he didn't replace Newton's theories, he certainly expanded the over all Theory of Gravity. This is an example of how science works and should not be considered an actual weakness, or a flaw by any stretch of the imagination. Weaknesses are not weaknesses in the theories, but more weaknesses in our knowledge and understanding. Again, if they were actual weaknesses, a hypothesis would never become a scientific theory.

    One last little note about the idea of flaws/weaknesses in scientific theories. It amazes me how someone like Ken Ham or Casey Luskin can make claims about the absolute inerrancy of the Bible and yet claim that there are flaws in any scientific theory based either on things we don't know, or things completely outside the theory. So in other words with no evidence at all he accepts one concept blindly, yet demands a level of perfection before he will even consider the other. Hmmm, anyone else see the FLAWS in those arguments?

    Roger Ebert on Bill O'Reilly

    Bill O'Reilly is not one of my favorite people. I know, he's not losing any sleep over it, but then neither am I. His position on Intelligent Design shows that he either is not well educated, seriously un-intelligent, or pandering for a specific audience. In my opinion he's usually pandering!

    Back a couple of years ago he did a talking points that equated 'not teaching intelligent design' equated to 'fascism'. (God Vs. Science). He is equating a scientific theory as being a form of belief and that other 'beliefs' have just as much a right to be taught. He did say something he apparently doesn't believe:

    "Public schools have an obligation to present all subjects in perspective"
    because if he did believe this to be true he would realize that Intelligent Design is perfectly within perspective, that perspective being 'not in science class'. If he is serious about not teaching intelligent design as being equal to fascism, then why isn't he out campaigning for Astrology or Numerology? That's why I think Bill is doing nothing but pandering to an audience and he will say anything he thinks his audience wants to hear -- regardless of facts. You can watch him sucking up to Ben Stein in this YouTube clip.

    One of his latest targets is the Chicago Sun-Times. Apparently the S-T had the audacity to drop his column, a move that met with . . . well apparently not much noise.

    Roger Ebert is one of my favorite people. Not because I agree with his review of many movies, in fact Roger, '12 Monkeys", did you and I see the same movie? Aside from that Roger did review the Ben Stein mockumentary and his review is incredible! I mentioned it "The final word on Expelled: The Mockumentary".

    I guess Roger has posted a little column addressed to Bill that you should read. It's hilarious, especially the ending. It hasn't changed my opinion of Bill, I have frequently thought of Bill as nothing more than a Ann Coulter for people who don't read. But the mental image of him as Squeaky the Chicago Mouse is perfection! Read it for yourself over at "Thoughts on Bill O'Reilly and Squeaky the Chicago Mouse".

    Thursday, April 2, 2009

    Candidates discuss views on Creationism in Lincoln

    OK, I am a little more than concerned about an answer given by someone running for a Nebraska school board on whether or not they support teaching Creationism in school.

    Here is my dilemma, a candidate for the Lincoln Board of Education, Kevin Keller, was asked about his thoughts on evolution -- something apparently not addressed in a little handout the candidate was distributing. Keller replied that he wished creationism was taught in place of evolution, but should at least be taught alongside evolution.

    That in itself doesn't bother me. I prefer a candidate state where they stand rather than try and 'stealth' in as we saw a number of times in recent years. It was later that I saw need for concern. AFTER the fact, I guess during the interview that led to this article, Keller tap danced and said he didn’t get time to further explain his thoughts before Edwards closed his door. He would have said creationism is his personal, faith-based belief. But if elected, he would not propose adding creationism to Lincoln Public Schools’ science curriculum.

    “My personal view on (creationism), quite frankly, has no role in my serving as a school board member,” said Keller, who received a much-coveted endorsement by the Lincoln Education Association’s political action committee."
    So my question is did he lie to the constituent, or would he have lied giving a little more time to think things through? My issue is that there is a world of difference between 'wishing Creationism would replace evolution' and 'his beliefs having no role in him fulfilling his office'! There is a gulf between those two positions that you can drive an oil tanker through.

    He might not see it as lying, but I certainly do. He uttered something that caused the constituent to close his door on him and write a letter to the local paper about it. In my opinion the only thing Keller did right was not trying to deny his original statement. But his tap dancing raised plenty of questions. If, nothing else, it brought this issue out and many of the other candidates were asked the same question. I believe some are obviously pandering for votes and trying to sound middle of the road, but a few candidates are very specific in their position.

    I remember a report I read a number of years ago on how Christian Groups 'teaching' members how to run for school boards and recommending their religious affiliation remain hidden because that message may not appeal to some voters. Just did a Google and hit on "Christian Group Coaches School Board Candidates" from 1995. It refers to a mode,l used in San Diego specifically, used successfully to get more Christian Right members on the school Board.

    Lenny Flack, at the Creation 'Science' Debunked website had this to say:
    "Most often, fundamentalist and creationist candidates for local office try to hide their religious agendas while they are running for office (since few of the items on the fundamentalist agenda have much popular support). Instead, they will run a campaign around such traditional conservative issues as local taxes, cutting waste, etc. Only once they are elected and in office will the real agenda be shown (a strategy which has earned such candidates the moniker "stealth candidates")."
    This issue has gotten a lot of press over the past 10 years, so hopefully candidates who are trying to fly under the Radar find it much harder to do. However communities need to keep an eye on the school boards and make sure they didn't elect a 'stealth' candidate. I see echoes of that here. Kevin Keller would have changed his response to the point that it might have allowed him to stealth in. I bet the next time that question comes up he will give a very different answer and leave a very different opinion of himself with a constituent, one that will not reflect his 'wish that Creationism replace evolution. That, folks, worries me and it should worry everyone.

    I recall an interview with Don McLeroy who also said his position as the head of the Texas State School Board would be in no way be impacted by his personal beliefs. Anyone who followed the recent Texas voting can see that it was just plain untrue! McLeroy was certainly influenced by his beliefs and tried to use those beliefs to determine what would be taught in Texas! He said it himself in the Austin American-Statesman:
    "When I became a Christian, it was whole-hearted," he said. "I was totally convinced the biblical principles were right, and I was totally convinced that it could be accurate scientifically."
    While he wasn't as blatant as one of the Dover PA School Board members, or I should say previous Dover PA School Board member who said something to the effect of "Jesus died for our sins, isn't anyone going to stand up for him!" when discussing the teaching of Creationism in science class -- something he later denied under oath, but was confirmed independently. Is Kevin Keller heading down that same road?

    Should God be kept out of Science?

    An article interviewing Prof Steve Fuller, a controversial apologist for intelligent design theory who also testified during the Dover Trial. "Should God be kept out of Science?" I know Prof Fuller gets lots of attention because he is apparently not particular religious. But I think he misses the point of one of the key reasons Intelligent Design (ID) doesn't belong in the science classroom, especially in HS science class. One of the contentions is that if ID proponents are unwilling, or unable, to do the scientific work that would gain them acceptance, then why are we even having this discussion?

    So in answer to the question "Should God be kept out of science?" I have to say that God does not belong in science because we cannot use God as an answer to any inquiry. However in my opinion when Fuller tries himself to take God out of ID, but that still doesn't make ID scientific. Even without God in the mix, ID is bad science and we should do as much to keep bad science out of the science classroom as we should to keep pseudo-science out of it.

    Yes, the religious connections between the ID movement and Creationism will always cause issues of any type of secular acceptance. But there is an easy way to deal with it, and that is to DO THE SCIENCE. Until Behe, West, Fuller, and the other ID apologetics do that, there is very little reason to even think that ID belongs in science class. Right now, because of the lack of science work being done in support of ID, it is not science! I know that many ID apologetics raise all kinds of reasons why they can't get the work done, everything from conspiracy theories to a general mean bulling attitude from the science community, but that sure didn't stop scientists in the past from reaching their goals. It's that very lack of science will keep ID relegated to the same pseudo-science as tea-leaf readers and feng shui consultants.

    For grins here is my response to the article:

    “As Fuller sees it, ID theorists seek to embark on an evidence-based inquiry.”

    Fine, then let them embark on this journey AND THEN approach the science community with the results. At that point they may have a reason to be included in the teaching of science. The main problem right now, regardless of the religious underpinnings of ID, is that they are asking for a seat at the table WITHOUT having done the science to support their being there.

    Claiming to be science is not the same thing as having done the legwork to be accepted as science. Right now, today, Intelligent Design is not a scientific endeavor but a political movement. If Fuller, and the other ID proponents want to change that, they need to get off their collective butts and do the experimentation, do the investigation, publish their work and methodology in peer-reviewed journals so others can confirm and support their work.

    But they are either unable or unwilling to do so. Instead they publish in popular press, where there is no requirement for support. They open their own publishing company (Discovery institute Press) where the requirements of evidence and support are even less. They also open their own lab (Biologics Institute) which has not offered a single scientific support in over 5 years.

    And after all that, we are supposed to just invite them into the science class when they have yet to offer anything approaching science? I don’t think so! If we do, then I think it’s only fair to bring in Astrology into the Astronomy curriculum, Numerology in Mathematics, Alchemy in Chemistry, and Phrenology for psychology — after all they have the same scientific pedigree as Intelligent Design.