Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How about an Example of Creationist Obfuscation

One of my Google Alerts pointed me to this article on the Christian Today website: "No evolution? Ancient lizards preserved in amber support Creationism, say Christian scientists"  The article quotes a couple of Creationist mainstays, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and the Answers In Genesis (AiG). Here's a couple of quotes from the article, although you probably don't need them.

"Brian Thomas of the Institute for Creation Research said the discovery of these ancient lizards clearly debunks the theory of evolution, since they did not evolve at all for 99 million years."
"Supporting Thomas' assertions, Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell of Answers in Genesis pointed out that these newly discovered reptile species completely cannot be explained by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.  'There is no evidence for upward evolution through a transitional form in this lizard's amber tomb—just evidence for the sort of variation that ordinarily occurs within the created kinds of animals God made,' Mitchell said."

Of course, me being me wasn't going to take their word for it.  So I Googled "Lizards in Amber" and came across a Smithsonian article, "Pint-Sized Lizards Trapped in Amber Give Clues to Life 100 Million Years Ago".  Guess what?  The Smithsonian article says things quite a bit different than the Creationists.  Here is the best part:
"The set includes creatures similar to modern-day geckos and chameleons, as well as a range of species that sport a mash-up of features from both ancient and modern reptile relatives, according to the study published Friday in Science Advances. These animals help fill in the patchy evolutionary history of pint-sized lizards."
While the Creationists say that no evolution occurred, the Smithsonian article disagrees and points out several examples, particularly the . . . and I am going to use this term because I know how much it annoys Creationists . . . particular the Transitional Forms mentioned, although I am sure the Creationists simply neglected to mention the "species that sport a mash-up of features from both ancient and modern reptile relatives" in their article.  What AiG's Mitchell did say was:
"'There is no evidence for upward evolution through a transitional form in this lizard's amber tomb—just evidence for the sort of variation that ordinarily occurs within the created kinds of animals God made,' Mitchell said."
So, according to ICR there was no evolution, and according to AiG there was 'variation', just no transitional forms.  How did they come to those conclusions?  Oh wait . . . I keep forgetting.  They already have their conclusion.  They have to 'explain' as new evidence is uncovered how it absolutely has to fit into their already predetermined conclusion.  Here is a quote from AiG's Statement of Faith which demonstrates that point, in case you thought actual evidence might change their minds:
"By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record. "
I do have to wonder if they even bothered to read the actual study.  On last quote form the Smithsonian article:
"The fossils also help sort out when many of the modern reptile traits appeared. The tiny chameleon-like fossil shows early development of the lizards’ ballistic tongues—evidenced by the presence of a large bone that supports the modern chameleon’s sticky weapon, says Stanley. But the fossil did not have the specialized claw-like fused toes modern chameleons use to hang onto branches. Similarly, one of the gecko relatives has preserved toe pads with the modern designs already present."
Certainly contradicts the Creationist claims of no evolution and nothing but 'variation'.  Just in case you didn't catch it, the whole 'variation' argument is nothing more than a restatement of the whole micro-macro evolution nonsense that has yet to gain any actual traction with real scientists.  We've discussed it multiple times, including "Macro - Micro Evolution" and "Micro-Macro re-dux".  But you know it won't matter to most Creationists, especially hard-core ones like ICR and AiG.  They really need to stop looking at everything through their Biblically-colored glasses.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Kentucky, Why Do You Put Up with This?

Caught this one from over on The Panda's Thumb blog, "The Ark Park is hiring".  You probably know the story.  Little kennie ham formed a for-profit business to develop his version of a Noah's Ark, he called it "Ark Encounters", I call it the ark park.  Well, the reason he formed this for-profit company was to take advantage of the taxpayers of Kentucky and get some level of financial support from them to promote his ministry . . . which violates the US and Kentucky Constitution. If you doubt that it's going to be a ministry, here's a quote from kennie himself:

Here is an image from the site where kennie originally posted ark park job openings:
 The pertinent part is that first paragraph, which might be a bit hard to read, it says (I underlined the interesting phrase):
"Our work at Ark Encounter is not just a job, it is also a ministry. Our employees work together as a team to serve each other to produce the best solutions for our design requirements. Our purpose through the Ark Encounter is to serve and glorify the Lord with our God-given talents with the goal of edifying believers and evangelizing the lost."

Along the way he promised that the Ark Park would be complying with all State and Federal laws for hiring, which include no discrimination based on religion.  How many actually believed him?  Anyone? . . .Bueller . . .Bueller?  Here is a quote from his own blog:
"The Ark Encounter has confirmed over and over to the state and media that it will carefully adhere to all applicable federal and state laws in hiring"
That fiction didn't last long.  Back in 2011 I blogged "Kentuckians, kennie ham is making a mockery of you!" describing the blatant religious discrimination that kennie was requiring of his Ark Park employees.  The State of Kentucky tried to do something about it, but just recently a judge sided with kennie.  I don't think Kentucky has given up, they are delaying the improvements for a nearby Interstate exit that would have made it easier for people to flock to the park.  But I don't think any politician is going to really take action, I think they are too afraid of the religious communities in their State -- which I find funny because most Christian Denominations do not agree with little kennie's narrow viewpoint.  But then politicians don't really care as long as they can pander for votes.

Do I sound cynical?  You bet!  You can read more about it at Panda's Thumb and you can also read this article, "Noah's Ark job float your boat? Then you must be Christian".  I really enjoyed this comment:
"Ham said the statement signed by future ark employees won't distinguish between Christian denominations."
So let's re-cap.  In order to get access to taxpayer funds, little kennie stated he would comply with non-discriminatory hiring practices.  He reneged on that!  Now, it sounds like he's softening the blow by saying his discriminatory practices will only target non-Christians, that his practices won't distinguish between the multitude of Christian Denominations.

A simple question, does anyone actually believe that?  Check out the first paragraph of Ham's Statement of Faith.
"In order to preserve the function and integrity of the ministry in its mission to proclaim the absolute truth and authority of Scripture and to provide a biblical role model to our employees, and to the Church, the community, and society at large, it is imperative that all persons employed by the ministry in any capacity, or who serve as volunteers, should abide by and agree to our Statement of Faith, to include the statement on marriage and sexuality, and conduct themselves accordingly."
Does this really looking like it can encompass all of Christianity?  Let's not forget that most Christians denominations disagree with Ham and his narrow version of Christianity.  Here is another interesting quote from an AiG article "So You’re a Christian—Really?"
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
You know, that describes every gay Christian I know!  Somehow, I can't picture them getting accepted for a job at hammie's ark park.  Nope, just can't picture it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Quote-mining Revisited, AKA the Discovery Institute is At It Again

The Sensuous Curmudgeon, whose Blog I read on a regular basis pointed out a little quote-mining, a topic I haven't mentioned on here in a while. To refresh, Quote-Mining is a disreputable tactic of taking the words someone said and using them in context different from the intention of the source. We've talked about it many times, "DI Mouthpiece and Quote-mining", "Expelled: and Quote Mining", and "More on Quote Mining" are a few examples.

Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, quote mine is this one:
Ben Stein quoted Charles Darwin:
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
Old Bennie made it sound like Darwin was supporting and even encouraging Eugenics, but when you look at the actual quote, not just the parts Bennie quote-mined, you get an entirely different context.  To make it easy, I bolded the parts Bennie used: 

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.
As you can see, the appropriate context, including the entire quote and not just the pieces you can string together to change the meaning, shows something very different than what Bennie claimed Darwin said.

Well, this next example, from SC, isn't quite as bad, or nearly as lengthy, but it does show you a good example of how Creationists like to twist things around.  In this post from SC, "Discoveroids Adopt a Ken Ham Doctrine" you can read the details for yourself.  But the bottom line is DI pseudo-historian Richard Weikart takes part of a quote from Richard Dawkins and completely misrepresents what Dawkins said!  Weikart claims that Dawkins said:
"What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question."
 Dawkins did say those words, the quote-mining comes in because Weikart failed to place Dawkins words within the context of the actual discussion.  It wasn't a discussion about Hitler's atrocities, but a discussion on the shifting of moralities.  Here is Dawkins comment in context:
“What defines your morality?” [The question put to Dawkins]
There was an extended pause as Dawkins considered the question carefully. “Moral philosophic reasoning and a shifting zeitgeist.” He looked off and then continued. “We live in a society in which, nowadays, slavery is abominated, women are respected, children can’t be abused — all of which is different from previous centuries.”

[Follow-up question]“As we speak of this shifting zeitgeist, how are we to determine who’s right? If we do not acknowledge some sort of external [standard], what is to prevent us from saying that the Muslim [extremists] aren’t right?”

“Yes, absolutely fascinating.” His response was immediate. “What’s to prevent us from saying Hitler wasn’t right? I mean, that is a genuinely difficult question. But whatever [defines morality], it’s not the Bible. If it was, we’d be stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.”
SC's comment here shows why this is nothing more than another quote-mine: 
"That’s all there is on the subject. Did Dawkins say that he, personally, had difficulty deciding that Hitler was wrong? No, he obviously didn’t, but that’s what Weikart wants us to believe."
One last current example, something I read today, it's also from the Discovery Institute, 'Now It's Bill Nye the "Jailing Science Skeptics as War Criminals" Guy'.  Since the conversation is about quote-mining, I bet you are guessing that the DI is misrepresenting what Bill Nye actually said.  You would be correct.

What Bill was talking about was not all climate change deniers, but those who are denying climate change for the purposes of making a profit.  The DI forgot to mention another analogy Bill said:
"Was it appropriate to jail people from the cigarette industry who insisted that this addictive product was not addictive and so on? And you think about in these cases — for me as a taxpayer and voter — the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen. So I can see where people are very concerned about this and are pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussion like this.”

[They] are leaving the world worse than they found it because they are keeping us from getting to work. They are holding us back.” (Source)
 You see what I mean.  Bill Nye isn't considering jail time for all climate change deniers, he is thinking that the possibilities exists for people who are denying climate change in order to profit by it!  At the same time, these deniers are preventing us from moving ahead and dealing with the problem! If it was criminal for the tobacco industry to deny the dangers of tobacco for decades . . . and earning millions at the same time . . . shouldn't people who are denying climate change AND profiting from it to the tune of millions and billions be held responsible?

I will repeat this again.  You cannot trust anything that comes out of the DI because while you know they are putting their own spin on everything, you cannot be sure that haven't also 'adjusted' any quotes or references in order to make other people's words mean something totally different than what was actually intended.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Another Cartoon, Another Shot to the Heart of the Discovery Institute

What a week for Cartoons!  First there was Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and then Non-Sequitur.  Today I caught a new Jesus and Mo that had me thinking about the Discovery Institute.  Here it is, for your enjoyment:

As soon as I read it, I was reminded about a post from several years back, "So there is nothing religious about ID? Part V". It's part of a common theme about catching the Discovery Institute doing something purely religious while constantly trying to sell us on the idea that their pet version of Creationism, Intelligent Design, is not religious.  This particular post concerned a conference that was announced on their own site . . . yea, you know the one, Evolution 'News' and Views.  The title of the post was "Darwin v. Design Conference Coming to Oklahoma to Address Debate Over Science and God"

The reason this cartoon reminded me so much of that meeting was the list of speakers.  The article was written by Dr. John G. West, who calls the speakers "four national experts ": Michael Behe, Jay Richards, Casey Luskin, and West himself. These are not 4 national experts on the subject of Science and God, they are 4 fellows from the Discovery Institute.  Now do you see the parallels to the cartoon?  The deck is certainly stacked!

Note to Jesus and Mo:  I did copy your comic image for inclusion here in case the image link doesn't work in the future.  I've had that problem on a couple of other sites.  If you object, please let me know and I will change it to a link.

Monday, April 11, 2016

This Certainly Would Explain a lot!

So shortly after posting the SMBC post (Why Teaching Biology may be Harder than it Needs to be!), I added it to my comics list and after dinner I open up my comics list and read this gem from Non-Sequitur:

What a day for comic strips!  I've posted from Non-Sequitur before.  They seem to drive right to the heart of an issue, as they certainly did here.  I do wonder if someone won't renounce their religious beliefs, would they be let in?  Imagine little kennie ham showing up and seeing that sign!  I would have to think he would go sulk somewhere and then try and start his own Heaven, one where he can exclude just about everyone else and declare himself as a deity.  After all, he's pretty much established his own religion there in Kentucky, hasn't he? 

It does remind me of an old joke.  "A man dies and goes to Heaven.  After gaining entrance he's being shown around and everywhere he sees Jews working with Muslims, Pentecostals playing with Lutherans, Buddhists, and Methodists.  He was amazed until he gets to one area where he find a tall brick wall.  He asks his guide, "What's with the wall?"  His guide says, "Shhhhh!  That's where the Evangelicals are, they like to think they are the only ones here."

Note to Non-Sequitur:  I did copy your comic image for inclusion here in case the image link doesn't work in the future.  I've had that problem on a couple of other sites.  If you object, please let me know and I will change it to a link.

Why Teaching Biology may be Harder than it Needs to be!

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is an online comic strip that I think I don't look at nearly often enough.  To the right is an old one that was recently passed to me.  It was too good not to pass on.  Have you run into someone so entrenched in their position, nothing in the way of logic or evidence can possibly dissuade them?  I know I have!

It does illustrate that it can be hard to get some points across, particularly when the person you are talking with has been indoctrinated in their view that evidence gets summarily dismissed.  I do enjoy, as odd as it might sound, driving believers to the point where they have to invoke their deity to keep their belief set in play.  Check out panel 4: "Put here by Satan to fool non-believers".

Funny, I have heard two versions of that.  On the one hand it was placed by Satan to fool folks, however more often I have heard the evidence was placed by God to test people's faith.  The end result is the same, the believer denies the evidence.  But sometimes I want to put two of them in the same room and let them duke it out to determine who 'planted' the evidence.  It always amazes me the lengths people will go to to maintain their delusions!

It's not just theists, but people who believe in other supernatural foolishness, homeopathy, climate-change deniers, and -- of course -- the whole anti-vaccination movement.  Evidence is only meaningful if it can be twisted to support their entrenched position!

Hopefully there isn't an actual 'Creation History Foundation', but you never know.  How often have we spoken about the Discovery Institute re-writing history? Think about how their pseudo-historian Michael Flannery, for example, has been telling us how Darwin is responsible for racism and Hitler -- regardless of the fact . . . and I do mean fact . . . because Hitler claimed to have been given a divine inspiration!

While many Christians hear that and get upset, claiming that Hitler wasn’t a Christian that he just used the Bible as an excuse to justify and rationalize his actions. I agree! But then why does the DI insist that Darwin’s work caused the Nazi atrocities? Sounds a little self-serving and more than a little dishonest. Here is a something from Main Kampf just to prove my point:
" . . . [Jews] very existence is an incarnate denial of the beauty of God's image in His creation." (
History re-writes abound, things like the whole 'The US was established as a Christian Nation' to the DI re-baptizing people who are safely dead as 'Intelligent Design' supporters.  I commented on that a few years back in "Social Studies next on the firing line?" and Laurie Lebo had an article in 2011: "Fundamentalist-led Texas History Standards get 'D' from Conservative Think Tank."  There she reports that:
"Texas’ new standards are evangelical-led revisionist history"
So while there may not (yet) be a 'Creation History Foundation', one may come to pass.  I will be pretty confident that it will have as much to do with history as the DI has to do with science and it will probably be based in Texas . . . sorry Texas!

I hope that you enjoy SMBC as much as I do, and as much as I plan to do on a more regular basis.  I do have a link to a short list of comics I do read daily.  That list includes XKCD, Dilbert, and Jesus and Mo.  I will be adding SMBC to that list.

Note to SMBC:  I did copy your comic image for inclusion here in case the image link doesn't work in the future.  I've had that problem on a couple of other sites.  If you object, please let me know and I will change it to a link.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Another Discovery Institute Poll, how did we ever live without them!

Recently the Discovery Institute (DI) has been playing with a new way to make their pronouncements to the world, polling. We discussed this in "A New 'Poll' conducted by the DI says what the DI says, what a surprise!" and "Another poll from the Discovery Institute, oh boy, oh boy!"  If you recall the bottom line of polling like this is to ask questions in a 'certain' way and then slant your various announcements to try and justify your positions based on these polls.

Well, they are doing it again only this time things look even fuzzier.  "New Poll Reveals Evolution's Corrosive Impact on Beliefs about Human Uniqueness"  They don't release the actual poll data, just their own spin on the poll.  Now since I, and anyone with a functioning brain, do not trust anything the DI says, that does make it a little hard to respond.   Apparently only three questions were asked:
  • "Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other."
  • "Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals."
  • "Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places."
I'm not terribly concerned with the results, since the DI would only release things that, they contend, support their ideas.  But take a look at the statements.  Talk about misleading!

First a brief discussion on 'human uniqueness', or as it is also known Anthropocentrism, homocentricism, human exceptionalism, or human supremacism.  We like to think ourselves to be special, in some fashion.  This is usually a cultural 'ism' rather than factual.  In many ways humans are unique, but when you examine any other species on this planet you can find things unique about them as well.  I've said before humans like to think we are somehow the pinnacle of development, but put one of us in the room with a hungry tiger and somehow telling the tiger that we are special isn't going to be much help.

So, as a cultural thing, it's nothing more than a belief that we like to see ourselves as somehow above the rest of the organisms on this planet.  Is that true?  Maybe!  In many ways we have certainly had more of an impact on Earth than any other single species.  We harness and use other organisms in ways few others can emulate.  But when it all boils down, we are talking a philosophy rather than a scientific viewpoint.  We even create religions to help us justify our perceived superiority.  Science can tell us what makes us different from other species, but does that automatically mean superior? Here is a conclusion about it that makes the most sense to me (I added the underlining)
"The 2012 documentary The Superior Human? systematically analyzes anthropocentrism and concludes that value is fundamentally an opinion, and since life forms naturally value their own traits, most humans are misled to believe that they are actually more valuable than other species. This natural bias, according to the film, combined with a received sense of comfort and an excuse for exploitation of non-humans cause anthropocentrism to remain in society."(Wikipedia: Anthropocentrism)
So, now back to the polls statements.  The first one: "Evolution shows that no living thing is more important than any other."  Before taking exception, look at the wording: "Evolution shows . . .".  If you understand evolutionary theory you know that this is not quite a true statement.  There is nothing in evolutionary theory that supports human uniqueness. . . because evolutionary theory doesn't address the issue!  Evolution doesn't show anything concerning importance.  It matters not where humans, or any organism, reside on some sort of metaphysical hierarchy, evolution still happens whether you think you are at the top or bottom.  Organisms still continue to evolve. Evolutionary theory doesn't address many things, but Creationists constantly blame many things on Evolution that are not addressed in the theory, such as Abiogenesis and Racism.

How about the second statement "Evolution shows that human beings are not fundamentally different from other animals."  This one is slightly truer!  But it's not Evolution that shows us this, but a host of sciences that show the similarities of humans to other organisms.  Evolution explains why we are so similar, but it's things like comparative anatomy and genetics that demonstrate the differences and similarities.  Whether you want to admit it or not, we are not very different from other animals.  We all have hearts, lungs, nervous systems, circulatory systems, brains . . . the list of similarities is tremendous.  However the DI wants this to be a negative for some reason as you can see from a partial quote from their press release about the 'survey':
" . . . leading scientists and other thinkers have insisted that human beings are just another animal . . ."
Note how they insert the word 'just'.  Is this true?  No!  Leading scientists have said that humans beings are animals, mammals to be more specific.  Does the DI refute this?  No because they know they cannot.  They don't like it, so they use the term 'just'.  I've said this is nothing more than taking a piece of information and turning it into a pejorative.

Think about the phrase 'Catherine is a woman'.  Nice simple and factual.  What you can gain from this sentence is that Catherine . . . a name I picked out of thin air . . . is female and one past the age where you might typically refer to her as a 'girl'.  Now, let's add in the word 'just', as in 'Catherine is just a woman'.  Do you get a very different meaning now?  Of course you do!  Now it's being said to present a woman in a negative light, usually revealing the speaker's prejudices.  That's what the DI did here.  In the survey they say one thing, but in the comments, they twist it to cast it negatively. Humans are animals in every sense of the word, scientists do not say 'just' animals -- that's just (pun intended) the DI's spin.

Now for the third comment: "Evolution shows that moral beliefs evolve over time based on their survival value in various times and places."  Like the others, this is a mix of truth and lies.  Have moral beliefs evolved?  Most certainly!    If you care to, read the Christian Bible and compare the morality of that time to modern times.  Morality has evolved, changed, and not just over time, but have also changed from one place to another.  Look at the moral beliefs in Saudi Arabia as compared to Japan or the United States.  Morality has changed, certainly.  But the real question is why did morals change?  Is it survival or something else?  We could spend decades debating this question, but look what the DI does to it.  They try and tie it to survival of the fittest . . . which is not even how biologists describe evolution.  Here is the partial quote:
" . . .morality evolves based on survival of the fittest . . ."
'Survival of the Fittest' is an archaic way of describing Evolution and one long disused by biologists because it doesn't fit Natural Selection well.  Evolution is not about individual survival but differentiating reproductive success rates.  Here, let me explain it a little better.  Suppose a trait offered an organism a reproductive or survival advantage.  All that means in evolution is that in subsequent generations that trait will become more prevalent in the population.  It doesn't mean organisms without that trait will die off, just that those organisms without that trait will become less numerous within the population.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia about how Creationists . . . and yes the DI are Creationists . . . like to use the phrase 'survival of the fittest':
"Critics of theories of evolution have argued that "survival of the fittest" provides a justification for behavior that undermines moral standards by letting the strong set standards of justice to the detriment of the weak.  However, any use of evolutionary descriptions to set moral standards would be a naturalistic fallacy (or more specifically the is–ought problem), as prescriptive moral statements cannot be derived from purely descriptive premises. " (Wikipedia: Survival of the Fittest)
 As you can see this whole poll is nothing more than the Discovery Institute trying to use some measure of opinion to support their religious ideas.  But then when you can't support it with science, you need something to convince your backers to keep funding you.