Sunday, March 27, 2016

Is Creationism Harmful to Children

I have said on a couple of occasions that I don't consider Creationism Child Abuse, an example is my post "Is Creationism a form of Child Abuse?"  I still stand by that, but an article about the Ark Park certainly made me think. Recently the Boston Globe paid a visit to little kennie ham's ark ministry, the article is "Noah’s Ark, dinosaurs, and a theme park".  It's loaded with the usual contrasts between what kennie and his 'Hamians' say and what the real world says.  I did enjoy a couple of small points, for example:

". . . the Ark Encounter will host between 1.4 million and 2.2 million visitors in its first year . . ." 
Why I find this enjoyable is simple.  Since the announcement of the ark park the visitor estimate has been bounced all over the place.  Now, logically, and this was true for kennie's Creation 'Museum', the first few years usually the highest attendance.  After that it tends to slowly, or in some cases not so slowly, reduce down.  In fact in recent years the Creation 'Museum' is said to be in financial difficulties due to low attendance. (Kentucky’s ‘Creation Museum’ in Financial Trouble Due to Declining Attendance (VIDEO)).  So since the most recent estimates from kennie say about 1.2 million annually, other estimates, from people without a vested interest in the ark park (Hunden Strategic Partners in Chicago), said:
"estimated in the first year the park would receive roughly 325,000, with a peak attendance in the third year around 425,000, declining to 275,000 after that." (Source)
Which is roughly in the neighborhood of the Creation 'Museum' which took one month shy of three years to reach 1 million visitors.  I wish I knew what kennie's original estimates for his 'museum' were, I wonder if those estimates were as inflated as his ones for the ark ministry seem to be.  Another interesting point is:
"Science educators likely see that low and steadily decreasing number [of Creationists who follow little kennie's line] as good news. Ham isn’t so happy with this trend, which he blames on “evolutionary indoctrination through the public education system, secular museums, and much of the media.”
Ham sees AiG’s role as stopping the downward spiral. He wants to show people that all of the seeming impossibilities of Scripture can be scientifically reconciled with a little creativity." 
"With a little creativity" is such a fascinating phrase.  On the one hand you have what kennie and his followers calls the ultimate authority, and yet he needs to use creativity to get people to accept his version.  Do those two seem diametrically opposed to you?  They do so to me.  Which is why I do not consider kennie to be a Biblical Literalist, but a Biblical Revisionist.  He cherry pics from the Bible stories he likes and then he embellishes them to the point of unrecognizability.  For example, here is a photo from my visit to the Creation 'Museum':
Little kennie, in a effort to justify his position that humans and dinosaurs co-existed had to explain what dinosaurs ate.  So this little gem, they were all vegetarians.  Of course there is no evidence to support any of this, but kennie can't leave a question unanswered.  A couple other favorites is his rationalization of where Cain's wife came from and how animals were geographically dispersed after the ark landed.  Here is the explanation why Cain was able to marry his sister:
 All the Bible says about Cain's wife is a mention of the Land of Nod, east of Eden.  Little kennie took it from there and concocted this explanation.  As for biological geodiversity, that is how similar organisms exist in many part of the world, he dreamed up log rafts:
Doesn't he have a great imagination?  See why I refer to him as a Biblical Revisionist more than a Literalist?  He's not interested in what the Bible says, he's much more interested in what he claims it says.

OK, back to the Globe article.  This is the part that had me thinking about whether or not Creationism is harmful to kids:
"But is creationism is harmful to children? Compared to the risk of anti-vaccination pseudoscience in causing physical harm, the answer is no. More worrisome is the harm to children’s intellectual growth. Everyone at AiG was incredibly kind and seemed well-meaning, and the same goes for many creationists — but even people with the best intentions can end up, well, harming children who are paying attention.
Pete Enns, biblical scholar and author of “The Evolution of Adam,” sees creationism as harmful because it sets children up either to experience a crisis of faith or to become unflinchingly rigid about their own faith and closed off to their own human development. Both are tragic, he says."
There are more ways to harm children than what is considered abuse.  I had discussed how Creationism is a poor basis for many careers.  I mean aside from places like little kennie's Answers in Genesis (AiG) or the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), how many places are willing to hire an astrophysicist who insists the speed of light is a variable so we really have no way of knowing how far something is from Earth.  The article mentioned that little kennie likes to bring up the fact he has hired some people who hold PhD's, but in reality, how much actual scientific knowledge have those PhD's managed to pass on?  Has anyone seen a single actual scientific paper referenced from places like AiG and ICR!  As the writer said:
"People at my evangelical church used to talk the same way [as kennie and his pet PhD's] about celebrities who became born again — as if people of such caliber somehow legitimized everything we believed."
I know there will always be some who get their education and then turn on the subject to support their religious beliefs, but they will never be in the majority or even mainstream within those fields. The fact they have a degree in no way legitimizes their belief set.

What I hadn't considered was the inevitable reaction once they start learning the reality of the world around them.  They might have some sort of crisis in faith, or they might become so rigid they become a caricature of a theist, like little kennie.  I'm not sure I agree with the article that the crisis in faith is a tragedy for most folks.  I think whether or not it is a tragedy depends on the person more than anything else.  As we mature we discover many things that were told to us by authority figures that were later found to be untrue.  From childish things like the truth about Santa or even how your life will go.  Think about what you were told as a child about how your life was going to go?  Even as a teenager in HS or an adult in college.  How has that all worked out?

If you are like most people, things haven't followed any pre-explained path.  I never expected to serve 20 years in the AF, get into IT, or end up living in Ohio.  What I am trying to say is that you LIVE your life, you deal with things as they change, no matter what they are.  What was it John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you are making other plans."  If a 'crisis' in your faith cripples you, then my only suggestion is don't subject any other child to the beliefs that hurt you!  But in all honesty, you have to get over it eventually.  I'm not sure you can consider discovering the faith you were raised in wasn't what you were taught it was as a reason for PTSD, but even that degree of a problem can be overcome.

As for the other reaction, the significant rigidity that can result.  I can't consider them tragic figures.  But I do feel a level of pity for the people they come into contact with or, God forbid :-), any children they might become responsible for.  But they do have to freedom to shut down the functioning parts of their brain.  My only objection is that they do not have the right to force me to belief as they do.  Which is why I object to pretty much everything little kennie does.  As I have said before, his idea of religious freedom is to let him believe as he wishes and let him force everyone else to believe as he does as well.  That's not religious freedom, that's more a form of religious tyranny. 

You really should consider how long various religions have had control over people's lives and how all that turned out.  Look at history . . . not the history kennie and any of his pet 'creation historians' try and sell you in the Creation 'Museum' Gift Shop, but actual history.  Religious tyranny is not some panacea that will solve all the world's problems! 

So there we have it, yes, creationism can be harmful to both adults and children, but how harmful is really up to the individual.  Without a doubt it damages potential career paths, at least until the individual overcomes their belief system, like the many theists who made incredible scientific advances.  Theists are capable of great things, but they simply have further to go because of that extra hurdle they have to overcome.  Little kennie sees that hurdle as an absolute limit, luckily most folks don't accept that.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Practical vs Impractical . . . or Evolution's utility vs Creationism!

One of the questions I have dived into several times discusses the impracticality of Creationism. More specifically the question I ask is what part of any scientific theory, or scientific advancement uses Creationism?  To date the answer to that question has been silence, and it continues to be silence.  No one has been able to point to anything that shows an actual use of Creationism in science.

The best some have tried to do is claim credit for some scientific advancement because the scientist who made the breakthrough was a theist of one form or another.  My response to that is usually "So what!"  Just because Newton believed in God, show me where God had a hand in Newton's theories? Show me the part of any theory where you identify and categorize the actions on any particular deity? No one has been able to, not once!

So since Creationism is pretty much useless, then Creationists must show that Evolution is also useless.  After all, isn't it logical to infer that if evolution is useless, then Creationism must be the only answer there is?  I know, not to me, and not to anyone with a working brain.  Even if you manage to convince someone that Evolution is useless, that doesn't automatically imply that Creationism suddenly has value.

But you know they have to try, and one of my favorite Creationists, the homophobic and Biblical-revisionist - little kennie ham - had one of his pet 'scientists' give it a go.  He's tried it before, remember just last year it was "A Renowned Creation Scientist, Inventor of MRI".  Of course this was nothing but an example of a theist who managed to develop some very cutting edge science regardless of his religious beliefs.  As usual, no one can point to any part of the theories behind magnetic imaging and say "and here is where God did such-and-such." But since he is a Creationists, little kennie uses him as a poster-boy for Creation Science.

I will repeat something I have said over and over again.  Being a Creationist doesn't mean you cannot think . . . it's just that being a Creationist, most tend not to think, particular when someone like little kennie is telling you that thinking certain things goes against his religious beliefs.  Well, this time kennie has a pet medical doctor who makes this claim: "Evolution Has "Absolutely No Effect" on Medical Practice".  To which I can only reply "Bullshit!"

Apparently Tommy Mitchell has forgotten much of what he learned in preparation for his medical career.  Many of the medicines and treatments he used were tested out on various animals.  Why is that?  It's because they react much in the same way humans do.  Why would that be?  Of course the Creationist would say that maybe they were placed on this Earth for the purpose of medical testing. But the evidence shows that such testing works because of the evolutionary relationship we have with those animals.  Here is a quote from little kennie that he says he got from Dr. Tommy:

"When Grandma’s in the ICU and her kidneys are not working, you’re not sitting there thinking, “Well, her kidney’s evolved.” No, you just care that Grandma’s kidneys don’t work, and you want them to work again. So, operationally, evolution had zero effect on anything I did as a physician"
So where did the treatment and medications Tommy must have used come from?  Let me guess a quick prayer and they just pop into existence on Grandma's nightstand?  Tommy might be disingenuous, but the majority of the medical field knows the impact of evolution on medicine!

How about pesticide/drug resistance?  Does Creationism have an answer why individuals and groups develop a resistance to certain pesticides/medications over time?  Evolution explains it quite handily and that is something medical research doctors take into account regularly.  But I guess Tommy wasn't one of those.

One of the most telling evidences that support evolutionary theory is genetics.  But maybe Tommy slept through that part of his education.  Phylogenetic analysis, ribotyping, and parasite virulence are a few other examples where Evolution has impacted medicine.  I have to thank Talk Origins for these examples, there are many more at "The Claim that the theory of evolution is useless, without practical application."

It seems Tommy has been operating a medical license without appreciating the underlying knowledge and information that supported everything he did as a medical doctor.  I really don't care that Tommy is a theist, but I don't appreciate it when he denigrates the science behind his own education.   Which is what he did when he said this:
"Actually, taking care of Grandma today in the hospital has nothing to do with accepting evolution"
Again, denying everything that went into the development of Grandma's medicines and treatments!  I did have to check and see if he got his medical education at Liberty University (Falwell's Lament), but no, he did go to one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country.  Just goes to show you that Creationists are capable of insane level of denial!  No wonder he and kennie get along so well.

So Tommy has his say, I wonder if he will now list all the times Creationism was used in the development of medicines and medical treatments?  But I think if he were capable of addressing that, he would have lead off with it instead of trying to backdoor evolution.  I almost wish Tommy had been one of my granddaughter's doctors during a recent medical issue.  I would have loved to see him blubber through a creationist explanation of her treatment.  While it might be humorous to consider, I wouldn't have wished her to receive treatments from someone who can so glibly deny the science behind such treatments.  Luckily for his career as a doctor, science works whether you 'accept' evolution or not.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

So There is Nothing Religious About Intelligent Design (Part X)

From my 'favorite' source of religious views, the Evolution 'News' and Views blog brought to you by those less-than-stalwart fellows at the Discovery Institute I give you ' "I Think We're Alone Now" ' authored by one of the usual toothless chihuahuas davey 'klingy' klinghoffer.  In it he quotes someone simply mentioned by name,  John Stonestreet.

Now one of my constant themes is for an organization that keeps trying to distant themselves from their religious underpinnings, why do they quote Stonesteet?  He is the President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, how much more religious can you get?  According to the Colson Center's About page, Stonestreet's "passion is to illuminate a biblical worldview for today's culture".  So we have a religious commentator saying something that agrees with klingy and the DI's philosphy so . . . of course . . . he [klingy] has to say something and  . . . of course  . . . klingy forgets to mention the religious connections.  Connections that might well present the reader with a specific context . . . religious . . . that the DI likes to try and forget.  Anyone not really surprised?

As for the rest of the post, it's the usual stuff trying to claim that humans are somehow a privileged species living on a privileged planet in a privileged solar system within a privileged universe.  You can read the rest of it, but I do have one small problem.  I recall reading about Drake's equation a long time ago and one of the things I recall was that it wasn't so much a prediction as a something raising points to consider.

If you recall Drake's Equation was a statistical idea of how many alien civilizations there might be in the universe.  He voiced it back in the early 60's.  What he was trying to do was not give us some sort of absolute carved-in-stone number, but express possibilities that would drive conversation and even guide the search for such alien life.  I had to refresh my memory and found this on Wikipedia:

"The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to arrive at an estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy . . . The equation was written in 1961 by Frank Drake, not for purposes of quantifying the number of civilizations, but as a way to stimulate scientific dialogue at a meeting on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The equation summarizes the main concepts which scientists must contemplate when considering the question of other radio-communicative life." (Wikipedia:  Drake Equation)
Of course since we have been looking for a time and while we have found a number of planets that are within the realm of possibility for life, we have yet to find any evidence of intelligent life.  So to Creationists, ever fearful of the possibility of finding life and even more fearful of finding intelligent life, want to keep selling the idea that we are 'privileged'.  Stonestreet treats the Drake Equation as if it predicted some number that means we should have seen many, many signs of intelligent life . . . even though that wasn't the purpose of the equation.

So do you feel 'privileged'?  Funny, for being so 'privileged', why would the majority of our planet kill us off in a matter of minutes?  That is to say nothing of the rest of the solar system, let alone the universe?  I wonder how long klingy and his new friend Stonestreet can tread water on 70% of the Earth's surface, survive at the top of Everest or the depths of the Marianas, or hold their breath in the vacuum of space?  Privileged is not the word that comes to mind.

Someday we may find life, even intelligent life.  But Creationists like Stonestreet and klingy don't even think we should be looking.  I wonder what they would like us to do instead?  Sit cross-legged  and contemplate our navel?  Oh, I know!  The DI probably wants all the funding changed over to them!  That makes more sense, I can see their pitch.  Instead of wasting money looking for signs of intelligence out there, we can spend the money failing to find signs of intelligence at the DI.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Abiogenesis and Evolution

A poster over on Topix has gotten his head stuck on Abiogenesis and keeps using it to try and bash Science in general, and Evolution in particular.  Funny how the same arguments keep coming around, it's just new people making them as the old posters fade away.  Or maybe it's the same posters simply using different handles.  Makes little difference, their arguments do show a lack of originality.  The most amusing thing to me is how Creationists keep making the same arguments and then coming into places like Topix pretending that it's something new.  You have no idea how often I have heard the breaking news of Darwin recanting on his deathbed, how Pasteur's Biogenesis makes evolution impossible, or that thermodynamics disproves Evolution.  Fun, but pretty foolish!  Fifth-grade science pretty well settled those arguments for me, and that was with a priest and a lay-person as science teachers!

This particular Topix poster called himself 'Blitzkrieg' and usually refers to Abiogenesis as 'Mud to Man', which as anyone who understands what Abiogenesis is knows how foolish a comment that is to make.  He further brags about his misunderstanding by comparing Abiogenesis to other scientific theories, which again anyone familiar with the subjects knows that Abiogenesis is not a scientific theory, but an area of study containing a number of hypotheses.

Like most creationists, he fails to understand what that means.  He refuses to allow anyone to have a dissenting opinion from his own and he constantly refuses to be educated, even to the smallest degree, on the subject.  I will endeavor to express most of his misunderstandings here.

First of all, some terms.  I've written about them before (Arguments XIX -- Hypothesis, Theory, and Law and Words have meanings):

  • Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true”. Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.
  • Hypothesis: A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested. If the deductions are verified, the hypothesis is provisionally corroborated. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis is proved false and must be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.
  • Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.
  • Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.
At its heart Abiogenesis is an idea, a concept, and a process.  What it is not is a scientific theory or even a hypothesis.  Look at the terms, do any of them fit?  No, and at this point in time, they shouldn't.  We can't use any of those labels at this point in time.  One day we might have a Theory of Abiogenesis, in other words a well-established explanation of how life began.  We aren't even close yet.  But to offer religious explanations is ridiculous because religion is not science.  It can't be tested, measured, falsified, or predicted.  Religion is a belief without evidence while science is all about the evidence.

Evidence starts with something we observe.  It doesn't have to be absolute, but a known, repeatable observation.  For example gravity started with the observation that things fall down.  Nice piece of evidence.  The questions start with 'Why do things fall down?'  The study of gravity has have a number of hypotheses over time and we formed a theory, complete with some laws (how gravity behaviors under very specific criteria).  

What do we really know that would contribute toward Abiogenesis?  We know that life exists. There's a fact, one even Blitzkrieg cannot dispute.  We can make an assumption that at some point in the past life had a start.  Is it an assumption, certainly.  But since everything else that has occurred had a start, it's a pretty good assumption.  I'm sure Blitzkrieg will disagree, but even he cannot name something that did not have a beginning!  He might offer opinion, but the only things he can name are things that we don't know how it started.  There is nothing to say we won't know how it started someday.  Go back a few decades, centuries, or millenia and you will be able to name many things that the beginning wasn't known at that time . . . but we know much more today -- and not a single one them didn't have a natural process.  What we want to do is figure out how it started.  That's the term 'Abiogenesis' means, that area of study within Science.  Here's the definition from Wikipedia: 
"Abiogenesis or biopoiesis or OoL (Origins of Life), is the natural process of life arising from non-living matter, such as simple organic compounds. It is thought to have occurred on Earth between 3.8 and 4.1 billion years ago, and is studied through a combination of laboratory experiments and extrapolation from the genetic information of modern organisms in order to make reasonable conjectures about what pre-life chemical reactions may have given rise to a living system."(Wikipedia: Abiogenesis)
What Abiogenesis does have is a number of potential explanations.  Yes, the matter is certainly not settled, but there are a number of possible answers, here are a few:
  • Chemical Origins
  • Clay Hypothesis
  • Deep-hot biosphere
  • Panspermia
  • Extraterrestrial organic molecules
  • PAH world hypothesis
Unlike Blitzkrieg, you can do your own homework and check them out for yourself. But the bottom line comes down to as of yet, we do not know how life started on Earth. It is within the realm of possibility we may never know to 100% certainty. But if the history of science has taught us anything it's that tomorrow we will know more than we do today. In one year, in 10 years, even in 100 years we will know considerably more than we do today.

Now what Blitz is doing is trying to use his strawman of 'mud to man' as a way to bash evolutionary theory.  He doesn't do a good job of it.  For one reason his mud-to-man is a strawman and not particularly applicable.  The other reason is while there is a relationship between Evolution and Abiogenesis, the theories are not dependent on each other.  For example I listed 6 potential Abiogenesis explanations above, none of them would have much impact on evolutionary theory.  For when it comes to evolution, it really wouldn't matter which one of them -- or a completely different explanation -- turned out to be true.  So basically Blitz is firing blanks.

In closing, please remember that Science closes no doors, not even the religious ones.  But we also don't spend much in the way of resources addressing religious ideas.  History has once again shown us that they tend not to pan out.  Just ask any honest intelligent design 'theorist'.  What scientific advances have been made using Intelligent Design 'Theory' . . . the silence will say more than I ever could.  I've asked the question before and while there were a lot of words said in their responses, they named absolutely nothing!  Oh they love to cite examples of humans using intelligence to design things -- but that's not what Intelligent Design 'Theory' is all about.

I also asked a number of Creationists what scientific advances have been made using Creationism and their responses like to list scientists in history who also believed in God, but at no time have they ever specified what scientific theories, or what parts of scientific theories, show an application of 'Creationism'. Funny, isn't it?  Well to me, anyway.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

I Think the Spin is Finally Getting to the Discovery Institute

You know if you get on a fast spinning ride, it can upset your equilibrium.  The faster the ride, the larger the impact.  It can be enough to make some people sick.  I think the spin is finally getting to the Discovery Institute, at least that can be about the only explanation for this little ditty: "Refer Questions of Scientific Controversy to the FBI?".  It's by that less-than-thoughtful davey 'klingy' klinghoffer.  Does he really think that's what's going on here?  Probably, it's not like he puts a lot of thought into his posts.  He says this:

"Questions about global warming turn upon clashes of legitimate scientific opinion. The climate controversy is not a focus for us here, but preserving the freedom to debate unsettled science very much is."
Sure, that's what the DI is all about, preserving the freedom to debate unsettled science.  Are they sure about that?  Evolution is settled science and people are still free to debate about it . . . although when you do what the DI does and drag religion into the discussion, no one takes you seriously.  Climate Change is also settled science, just like the dangers of lead and tobacco.  In each case there are deniers, but that's not illegal, not matter how much klingy wants you to think the government is about to make it so.  That's simply not true . . . but when the truth isn't enough, the DI applies more spin until even they start getting dizzy.

OK, so what is going on?  It's simple, and we discussed it once before in "Hey Discovery Institute, there is a difference between Criminal and Unethical".  The actions of SOME climate-change deniers are coming under the heading illegal actions, like fraud, . . . but unlike klingy, I am capable of reading for comprehension.  It's not the fact they are climate change deniers that is being investigated, it's the fact they are denying climate change for the purpose of making money and is doing so may be committing illegal acts!  Much like the tobacco companies suppressed their own research and denied the dangers of tobacco for decades.  What these select deniers are doing may well cross the line into illegal activities and if so, they should be prosecuted!

Klingy. and the DI, are of course trying to spin this as to letting the legal system decide what is science and what is not.  And . . . of course . . . have to try and bring up Judge Jones and the Dover decision into it.  So, let's recap for a second.  The defense during the Dover Trial claimed that Intelligent Design is science and therefore they were well-within their rights to do the things they did.  The Judge ruled that it wasn't science and therefore they were not within their rights.  In all honesty, with the defense they put forth, the Judge had little choice but to rule on the issue.  But since it was contrary to what the DI wanted and even predicted the result of the trial would be, they have been very unhappy since.

On the one hand the DI claims the ruling had little impact, but their actions show the decision hurt them greatly and have done everything they can to vilify the Judge and misrepresent his opinion.  Later in klingy's article he says
"Referring huge questions of science to a federal judge for adjudication is bad enough."
Now, if you read even the things klingy quotes, it's easy to see that the investigation is not addressing whether or not Climate Change is science, but  . . . here, let me re-quote part of what klingy quoted:
"The similarities between the mischief of the tobacco industry pretending that the science of tobacco's dangers was unsettled and the fossil fuel industry pretending that the science of carbon emissions' dangers is unsettled has been remarked on widely, particularly by those who study the climate denial apparatus that the fossil fuel industry has erected, . . ."
The Tobacco Industry was not indicted for claiming the science behind the dangers of tobacco was controversial, but because of the FRAUD they committed in fighting against changes in the regulation of tobacco products.  The question at hand is not whether climate change is science, but whether or not climate change deniers, like the companies that profit from fossil fuel industry, are committing and abetting fraud.

Of course that makes klingy nervous, after all he's paid for doing something very similar . . . science denial.  However, the difference is the DI depends on donations for their livelihood.  That's different than the fossil fuel or tobacco industries.  If it comes to pass that their science denial starts actually hurting people . . . then they might become a target themselves.  But to date their denial has been much less effective and more entertaining than anything else.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Need Science Explained? Check out Stated Clearly

Phil Plait, Astronomer Extraordinaire, posted a link on his Bad Astronomy blog (Stated Clearly: Mutations) over to site Stated Clearly.  Before talking about them, I wanted to quote Phil.  His opening paragraph is a thing of beauty:

"A common characteristic of people who attack science is that they mischaracterize it. In one sense they have to; another common characteristic is that they have some sort of belief system that goes against the overwhelming scientific evidence, therefore (mistakenly) trying to kick the legs out from under science is one of their only available tactics."
I find it timely because just last night I made this exact observation about little kennie ham and how he likes to mischaracterize evolutionary theory for the express purpose of attacking it.  If you haven't read Phil's blog, or his excellent book "Death from the Skies", you might give them both a shot!  I like not only his writing, but he's a MythBusters fan as well.

OK, on to Stated Clearly.  They specialize in explaining complicated scientific concept in terms in ways anyone can understand.  I doubt many Creationists would enjoy them, but anyone who feels some of the ins-and-outs of evolutionary theory are a bit on the complex-side will!  The one Phil pointed out is "How Does New Genetic Information Evolve? Part 1: Point Mutations" is terrific and well worth viewing even if you already have a good understanding.  What the site can also do is help equip scientists with more down-to-earth examples to use when explaining challenging scientific concepts.

I intend to perusing the rest of the site and watching probably more videos than I have time for.  I also intend on making a contribution to support their work.

Some of you might find it surprising that I am willing to donate to Stated Clearly and yet I make fun of the Discovery Institute (DI) for asking for donations.  Unlike the DI, which was started with funding, and continues to be funded, from wealthy conservatives and whose senior folks earn in excess of 6 figures a year, (as discussed in My Prediction Sort of Came True!)  Stated Clearly was started by one person on a very small scale and has slowly grown.  It's much more a grassroots than the DI ever could dream of being and it's built on people's understanding and acceptance of Stated Clearly's mission:
"To promote the art of critical thinking by exposing people from all walks of life, to the simple beauty of science.  We do this by taking complicated scientific topics such as "What is DNA and how does it work" and creating short, information rich animations that explain the topic in clear language."
This is a method for improving critical thinking, unlike how often the DI and their so-called academic freedom bills misuse the same term.  How can you think critically about a subject if you do not understand it?  Obviously, when discussing science with creationists you see my point.  They rarely understand it and those that do . . . or at least those that should . . . will never characterize it correctly.  Little kennie ham is a perfect example . . . evolution does not state that humans are "just animals", that's nothing more than a mischaracterization designed to demonize evolution!  They prefer such demonizing to actual understanding.  Stated Clearly has a mission I am proud to support!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Who in the World let Ken Ham Teach?

A while back I addressed a comment comparing creationism to child abuse.  The post was "Is Creationism a form of Child Abuse?"  At the time I disagreed that Creationism is a form of child abuse.  I did say that it fails to adequately prepare children for future education and potentially affect their career options.  While that might be unfair to the children, it's not abuse.

Apparently little kennie ham, of AiG, Creation 'Museum', and Ark Park infamy was speaking to a group of about 1000 elementary school kids in Alabama.  First question, were these kids public or private school kids?  To me it does make a difference.  If they are private school kids, then they are hearing nothing more than a much more strait-jacketed version of the typical religious creationism myths that they have heard before.  If they are public school kids, then letting him preach to them might actually be illegal, not that something like the law would stop kennie.  He's a charter member of the 'Liars for Jesus' club.  He only uses the law to get something he wants.  His own post says he 'taught' the kids, so this wasn't a presentation of a viewpoint, but a class of sorts.  So, if these were public school kids, then he did exactly what the Dover Trial discussed about sowing confusion rather than education.  While I still wouldn't call it child abuse, I bet it felt that way to some of the kids.

Second question, who was the person who let kennie ham in front of school students?  Even if they were private school kids, is a close-minded homophobic biblical revisionist someone you want to talk to children? 

What I do disagree with is little kennie's characterization of evolution.  Here is a quote from kennie's Facebook post:
"Intellectual Child Abuse: when kids are taught they're just animals in the evolutionary process."
Before dealing with his child abuse comment, I wanted to look at the rest of it.  Is this what evolution teaches?  Of course not!  But then kennie never will present evolution from an honest perspective.  He prefers a straw-man that he can attack much more easily that actual science.  Does science teach us that human are animals?  Yes it does.

But two things stand out for me from kennie's comment.  Does science in any way teach us that being animals is in some way a negative thing?   No it does not!  When biology talks about animals, the focus is on things being mammals, how the body functions, and where those functions came from (evolved).  Science stresses the relationship with other animals as a fact.  But little kennie doesn't like those facts.  When he says 'animals' he is talking about animal-istic behavior. He wants us to equate being animals to 'acting' like animals in all the worst possible images that come to mind.

That's a large part of my issue.  The clue for me was his use of the word 'just'.  That's the second point that bothered me.  When do you often hear the word 'just', usually when someone is placing some sort of limit, right?  It's also often used in a very negative connotation.  Ever hear someone say 'just a woman'?  How about 'just a child'?  I once heard a yuppie refer to someone as 'just a janitor', not realizing the janitor was also the president of the school employees local union and six months later was sitting across from him at a bargaining table.  I was pretty sure the yuppie saw him in a different light at that point.  But do you see what I mean.  When you hear it phrased like this, someone is putting limits on it and framing it in such a way to try and make you accept these artificial limits.

So what are the limits on being an animal anyway?  What exactly does 'just an animal' mean? Since humans are animals, animals can be pretty damn productive, can't they.  We build amazing edifices, fly across the sky faster than sound, gone to the Moon . . . the list is endless.  And each and every one of them was accomplished by one of more 'just animals'.  Little kennie's idea of limits seems to be pretty ridiculous, but then aren't all of kennie's ideas?

This past weekend I watched the final episode of MythBusters.  It's one of the few shows on TV I have on my DVR.  Aside from the fact I am going to miss it, over the weekend the Science Channel was playing many of the older episodes and watched Adam and Jamie accelerate a ping pong ball to 1100 miles per hour, 1.4 times the speed of sound!  I saw them prove how many of the common expressions we hear are in fact not true, like a car getting hot enough inside set off ammunition or explode cans of spray paint.  Along they way they also demonstrated how foolish things like crystals and pyramids are as power sources.  During the 14 year journey they also built some pretty incredible stuff.  Not to shabby for being a couple of 'just animals'!

The last thing about little kennie's Facebook post was how he characterized evolution as "Intellectual Child Abuse".  Teaching children the truth about the world around them is not child abuse.  It prepares them for higher levels of education and it prepares for jobs on the forefront of technology.  Who knows, one of those kids in kennie's audience might grow up to cure cancer or be the first human on Mars.  However, to do so that child will have to shake off the shackles of kennie's 'teachings'.  Cancer isn't going to be cured by belief in ham's revised version of the Bible.  It's going to be cured by science and a great deal of hard work by many people!  Many of whom will be theists of one tradition or another, after all, being a theist doesn't stop you from thinking.  Many of the greatest scientific achievements throughout history were accomplished by theists.  But if you look, at no point in any of those achievements is reference to some action by one deity or another.

I doubt any new scientific achievements will be done by any one of kennie's 'Hamians'.  Those folks are all too busy denying science, potentially the very science that may one day save their lives!  Being a theist doesn't mean you don't think, but being one of ham's sort means you pretty much refuse to think.  After all, since reality doesn't align with those narrow religious beliefs, do you think those folks change their beliefs?  No, their history says they will deny the science.  Not a very good way to achieve scientific breakthroughs.

You think I kid?  Listen to kennie some day, visit his little pseudo-museum, or hear one of his pet creation 'scientists' tell you about how the speed of light isn't real or the Earth is only 6,000 years old.  Do you think one of the folks who buy into that foolishness will be on the forefront of scientific knowledge in the future?  They certainly weren't in the past, were they?  If we could ask Nicolaus Copernicus, Giordano Bruno or Galileo Galilei, they might offer interesting opinions on the ability of Evangelical believers to actually formulate real science, especially when any of it appears to conflict with their religious beliefs.

MythBusters Ends!

On a sad note, this weekend was the final episode of MythBusters!  It was one of the few TV shows on my DVR.

(Image Credit: DonFeria/AP Images For Discovery Communications)
Along the 14 year run, they did something quite amazing, they made science cool.  I wish any of them had been one of my science teachers in HS.  If I were a science teacher I would have been watching each and every week and taking some of their small scale experiments to actually do in the classroom.  No, not the big explosions, but imagine how cool it would be to accelerate a ping pong ball to 1100 mph or testing the old legend of pop-rocks exploding and killing Mikey from the Life cereal commercials.  I am sure many of the small scale test would have made some of my chemistry, biology, and physics classes much more interesting.  You could have teamed them up with Shop classes for fabrication!

My two favorite images of the team come from the same episode, the final visit to the JATO car:
If they had been walking into the sunset it might have been more poignant, at least for this past weekend's episodes.  It is nice to know they will continue to be airing all the shows on the Science Channel, but it won't be the same without new episodes to enjoy.

Unwillingly, I guess it's time to say goodbye to the MythBusters.  They had their final episode and even a reunion show, which brought back Kari, Grant, and Tory for a bit of a round-table discussion.  Both shows are well worth watching and the final scene of the reunion show is absolutely hilarious.  I am willing to bet MythBusters' audience will get the reference instantly!

So farewell to Adam, Jamie, Kari, Grant, and Tory after nearly a decade and a half of science and silliness!  Good luck in all that you do and know you had a profound effect on a great many people, especially this computer geek. Thank you all so very much!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Making Mountains out of Molehills, Discovery Institute Style

You are probably familiar with the idea of making mountains out of molehills.  If not, it's simply taking something relatively minor and turning it into something much larger.  You see it quite often when raising teenagers -- where every little thing is the end of the world!

I don't know if you are familiar with this story, but bear with me, there is a modern aspect to this story.  Way back in 1631 a printer was making reprints of the King James Bible.  Now if you are even slightly familiar with the technology of the day, the printing press.  It used something called 'movable type' to create the templates use for printing.  

What this means is that each line in the Bible had to be typeset into constructs like the above image.  Consider the intricacy and level of effort required.  Well, in 1631, the printer messed up and left out a word.  The word was 'not' and the place it was left out was on one of the Commandments, specifically the one that said thou shalt not commit adultery.  Yes, the Bible printed actually said "Thou shalt commit adultery".  About a year later, the publishers of this 'Wicked Bible' were called to the Star Chamber and fined £300 (£44,614 or $63,377, as of 2016) and deprived of their printing license.  Basically they missed one word and it cost them their livelihood.

Don't mistakes happen sometimes?  Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury was apparently pretty angry about it.  But as I said, mistakes happen.  Did they over react?  I don't know, but I do know that half of the issue in learning from your mistakes is how you and the people affected handle errors.

Today when books contain errors we have it much easier.  If the details are important to us, we can create and distribute an errata sheet.  In fact here is the errata sheet to something not particularly important to me, but I know it was important to the Discovery Institute.  It's the errata sheet for Stephen Meyers' Darwin's Doubt:

Yes, even the DI makes mistakes.  In fact Meyers' book was so loaded with them, they even published a sequel book called 'Debating Darwin's Doubt' supposedly to address the many errors pointed out in the original book.  There was quite a lot of criticism of the first book, as there should be when errors happen.  However rather than learn from them, the DI simply repeated many of them in the second book, especially the lack of involvement of anyone with a paleontology background to address a book primarily about . . . paleontology..

Currently we have another error to talk about.  It certainly falls under the heading of 'mistakes happen'.  You might have heard something about it.  Yes, there has been a lot of press about it.    Nature is reporting that an online science journal, PLOS ONE messed up.  Yes, they messed up, and they even admit it.  PLOS ONE is an online journal that is:
"PLOS ONE gives researchers a faster path to publishing in a high-quality peer-reviewed journal. All work that reaches rigorous technical and ethical standards is published and freely and immediately available to everyone."
Apparently, in a paper "Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living" by "Cai-Hua Xiong of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, and co-authors", contained:
"Hand coordination should indicate the mystery of the Creator’s invention"
When contacted Cai-Hua Xiong stated:
When contacted by Nature, Xiong said that he was discussing the issues raised with his co-authors and would respond as soon as possible. He added, “Indeed, we are not native speakers of English, and entirely lost the connotations of some words such as ‘Creator’. I am so sorry for that.”
So what this looks like is a translation problem.  The that, in all honesty, should have been caught before the paper was published by PLOS ONE.  But it wasn't.  It will certainly make people look askew at PLOS ONE for a while.  PLOS ONE has decided to retract the paper and review the policies that let it slip through the cracks, as should happen when such errors occur.  So far all other comments about the paper have been very positive and nothing identified supports Creationism in any way . . . except for the mis-translation. 

That's the molehill!  And now for the mountain!

Do you think it would be possible for the Discovery Institute not to say something about this?  Of course not!  They are trying to get plenty of mileage about this, claiming censorship, among other things.  Here are a few:
Mob with Pitchforks Forms as Science Journal PLOS ONE Acknowledges "Proper Design by the Creator"
The paper did not acknowledge 'proper design', it was a translation error.  But of course they can never agree to that.  The fact this paper was in an actual scientific journal is something they will be feasting on for a while.  
Censorship in Real Time -- PLOS ONE Retracts "Proper Design by the Creator" Paper
Does davey 'klingy' klinghoffer even own a dictionary?  Is their errata sheet for Darwin's Doubt censorship?  Since when is correcting a translation error censorship?  It's not, but remember . . . molehills aren't something to write much about . . . so hence the creation of this artificial mountain.  You can read klingy's posts if you want.  You won't actually learn anything other than the lengths the DI will go to inflate minor things into imaginary issues.  How many posts did they have about the United Methodist Church?  Way more than it deserved.  I wonder how many they will stop at before finding a new mountain to work on.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Politics, Politicians, WTF!

I try and avoid getting into the world of politics, but for some reason this election season seems to be one of the worst I can remember . . . and I lived in Louisiana for part of the political disaster named Edwin Edwards and also in DC during part of the Marion Barry debacle.  I mean re-elected a man after he served time for drug abuse while he was in office?  Granted he needs help, but re-electing him Mayor is well beyond the usual 12 step program!  As you can tell episodes like that give me a very particular view of politics and politicians.

For many years now I have considered the quadrennial election of our President not as selecting the best person for the job, but selecting the lesser of two evils.  It's a shame that we always seem to nominate people we would not trust to babysit our children.  Give that some thought, if Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton showed up to babysit, would you dare leave your house?  Does this election year seem worse than usual to you?

As a registered Republican, I look over the field on potential candidates and can only shake my head.  I really hadn't planned on saying even this much, but then I was watching one of my favorite shows and thoroughly enjoyed it.

If you haven't seen "Last Week on Tonight with John Oliver", you should really give it a try.  He's taken on some surprising issues, some you would expect, like Abortion and Hollywood Whitewashing, but then others surprised me like FIFA, Televangelists, and also how professional sport stadiums are financed.  This past week he took on Donald Trump . . . and when he was done he tore the donald into minuscule shreds.  Here is a link to the video:

I understand people's anger at professional politicians and this deadlock our elected officials seems to think is how it should be.  But looking over our choices for President . . . are any of them worth electing?  Not just Trump, but the whole field?

In my opinion, this part of Last Week on Tonight one of the very few examples of must-see TV in existence, regardless of what NBC likes to claim in their marketing.  I think the last time I felt this way about anything on TV was the opening scene from The Newsroom:
If you have seen that scene, and liked it.  You might be slightly interested in the one scene that made The Newsroom must-see TV for me.  It was sort of a follow-up on opener:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Discovery Institute is begging again

Panda's Thumb is reporting that the Discovery Institute is fund raising again, although this time with a slightly off-kilter message. (Does the DI’s latest Fund Raising Appeal Cross the Line?) Here is the text from the reported fund raising letter:
Dear {Insert name of email recipient here}: 
Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, originator of modern quantum theories and 1918 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, was quoted as saying, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” 
Here in Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (CSC), we are living proof that no matter how powerful an idea is–and the idea of intelligent design (ID) is truly a powerful one–there is some truth to Planck’s statement. It is not just about convincing opponents about the merits of ID. While books such as Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt have been met with critical acclaim, there is still a long way to go.
Thanks to your generosity, we aren’t simply waiting for our opponents to die.
Since its inception almost 10 years ago, visionary CSC donors have enabled us to focus on educating young people through our Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design and C.S. Lewis Fellows Program– programs designed to raise up a new generation of scientists and scholars who are not afraid to follow the evidence wherever it leads. These programs are made possible by those who recognize that science needs an infusion of new minds and ideas. 
We need your support to continue and expand these programs. Our summer programs attract students from the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Central and South America, and the Middle East; more than we can admit. Most of these students cannot attend unless we pay their expenses.You can help with your gift of any amount.
  • $75 will pay for the cost of ground transportation for one student.
  • $200 will provide books and other curricular materials to one student.
  • $800 will pay to house and feed one student for the entire program.
  • $2,500 will cover the full cost for admitting an additional student into the program.
Donate now to the Summer Seminar campaign and be a part of the transformation of science and culture, one student’s life at a time!

Note the sentence in bold -- and to be clear -- I am not sure the original letter from the DI had that line in bold or the folks at Panda's Thumb did it.  For some reason I guess I'm not on the DI's mailing list for donation requests so I didn't get my own letter.  I think they are one of the few organizations that doesn't have me on their list based on the amount of junk mail I get.

But that line does tie into the Max Planck quote (which I provided the underlining), but does the DI think that is the reality of how science works?  Do they believe people think that way, or is it an excuse for their lack of any actual progress? Just how many of their 5 and 20 year goals have they hit since formation?  In case you aren't familiar with their goals, here is a list:
Five-Year Goals: 
  • To see Intelligent Design as an accepted alternative and actual scientific research being done from the perspective on 'design' theory
  • To see design theory influencing other spheres other than natural sciences
  • To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal, and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda
Twenty-Year Goals:
  • To see Intelligent Design as the dominant perspective in science
  • To see design theory being applied in any specific fields, in and outside of the natural sciences
  • To see design theory permeating our religious, cultural, moral, and political life
Pretty poor showing, 20+ years and haven't even reached any of their 5-year goals.  I would seriously re-consider any donation if I were you.  Their track record makes them look more like a money sink than any form of investment.

Do new ideas only gain acceptance as the adherents in old ideas finally pass away?  That would imply that new ideas ONLY get accepted at least one generation away from their inception.  While I am sure there are instances of that, but are there also more instances of new ideas being much more rapidly accepted.  There are also instances of being accepted multiple generations later.  What tends to lead to acceptance anyway?

As we have stated many times, what leads to acceptance in science is not the passing of the 'old guard', but the discovery of evidence supporting new ideas.  Regardless of how much or how little time has passed between inception and acceptance -- the key is the evidence that supports new ideas. For example Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift did have approximately two generations between the idea and the acceptance within scientific circles, but that wasn't because of the passing of any particular group, but because the technology needed to confirm it hadn't been invented yet.  We didn't have satellites capable of incredibly precise measurements in the 1920's.  Yet approximately two generations later we did and what was once dismissed became the preeminent theory!

The DI's agreement with Max Planck quote, in  that scientific concepts change based on the adherents passing doesn't appear to be valid.  Evolution has certainly survived multiple generations, as do many of the theories we use regularly today.  How many generations have we been using thermodynamics in multiple forms, even well before we even understood much of the science behind it.  Other theories gain rapid acceptance -- again based on evidenciary support.  No deaths required.  Now, how many discredited ideas have fallen by the wayside and completely disappeared once their promoter passed away?  I would think that list would be considerably longer.  How long will the modern Intelligent Design Movement last once the DI closes its doors?  I would say not very long.  I mean look how often people use the phrase 'Creation Science' today, and it was a popular one right up to the point where it got shredded because it wasn't actual science.  Any modern proponents?  I haven't heard of anyone trying to pass any laws regarding it since the 1980's.

Now . . . religion . . . does seem much more impacted on generational changes. Recently reported by NPR ("More Young People Are Moving Away From Religion, But Why?"):
"One-fifth of Americans are religiously unaffiliated — higher than at any time in recent U.S. history — and those younger than 30 especially seem to be drifting from organized religion. A third of young Americans say they don't belong to any religion."
We discusses this in "Ken Ham goes of the deep end . . . again" where he blamed everyone but his own closed-mind as reasons for young people leaving his straight-jacketed version of a religion. Personally I think his behavior, and similar behaviors from Evangelicals, drive people away precisely as predicted by St. Augustine:
"Augustine took the view that, if a literal interpretation contradicts science and our God-given reason, the Biblical text should be interpreted metaphorically. While each passage of Scripture has a literal sense, this "literal sense" does not always mean that the Scriptures are mere history; at times they are rather an extended metaphor" (Wikipedia:  Augustine of Hippo)
How many churches are closing down as their parishioners basically die off.  I have heard that the church I attended as a child . . . yes, I did go to a parochial school as well . . . has closed and the parish merged with another because the population of supporters slowly dwindled -- however the population of the local area actually increased from when I lived there as a child.  Max Planck's quote seems to be more applicable to religious organizations than scientific theories.  If you go back in history you can see that it is littered with the ghosts of one deity or another as their adherents died out. The DI might have to watch out, as a ministry, this might hit pretty close to home -- especially if their fund-raising is as successful as their science.

I do want to address a few more lines from their letter begging for financial help.
"It is not just about convincing opponents about the merits of ID. While books such as Stephen C. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt have been met with critical acclaim, there is still a long way to go."
Since they have not been able to convince anyone of the merits of ID, it comes as no surprise that instead of trying to develop actual merits, they simple try and look like they are changing tactics and aiming at something other than selling ID.  Plus I would say Meyer's books have not met with critical acclaim, that has a very positive connotation.  More accurately his books have met with harsh criticism, so much so they wrote a second book (Debating Darwin's Doubt) to address these criticisms, which they seem to have forgotten to actually address.

Here is another line and to go with it, a description of the enrollment criteria for the DI's summer program:
"educating young people" (From the above letter)
"You must be currently enrolled in a college or university as a junior, senior, or graduate student. Required application materials include (1) a resume/cv, (2) a copy of your academic transcript, (3) a short statement of your interest in intelligent design and its perceived relationship to your career plans and field of study, and (4) either a letter of recommendation from a professor who knows your work and is friendly toward ID, or a phone interview with the seminar director." (Summer Seminar on Intelligent Design in the Natural Sciences)
One more time with feeling, if the DI is not advocating the teaching of ID in schools, why do they have these programs aimed at students to generate support for ID?
These programs are made possible by those who recognize that science needs an infusion of new minds and ideas.
But according to the DI, isn't ID an old idea?  They keep moving the goal posts.  Are they disavowinAnaxagoras, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher already?  They only drafted him as an ID proponent just a few weeks ago.  

OK, I think that's enough for now.  Actually maybe the best course of action for the DI is to wait a generation or two and see if evolution has suffered major set-backs as the preeminent theory of biology.   Certainly all the efforts of the DI to damage science and scientific education has had little impact.  Maybe Max's quote is the only possible chance for Intelligent Design to gain more notice than a passing footnote in the history of biological thought -- that is if the DI survive themselves.