Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Young Earth Creationism = Darwinism?

Posted in SkepticBlog by Skepdude on December 8, 2009

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“News flash: skeptics hack the Answers in Genesis website!” Or, at least, that was the joke  Skeptic co-publisher Pat Linse made when I read her some pro-natural selection material from the young Earth creationist organization’s slick online portal.

For years, I’ve been surprised how rarely this is mentioned: young Earth creationists need Darwin to be right — and when you press them on it, they often agree that he was.

Doesn’t sound like the creationism you know? It’s not a hacker’s prank, and it’s not a radical re-thinking of creationism. It is, however, a nuance as important as it is surprising: creationist leaders share Darwin’s belief that species routinely change (and even originate) through mutation and natural selection.

Indeed, according to Answers In Genesis’ (AiG) current web feature “Top 10 Myths About Creation,” it’s a straw-man to suppose creationists think otherwise:

A popular caricature of creationists is that we teach the fixity of species (i.e., species don’t change). And since species obviously do change, evolutionists enjoy setting up this straw-man argument to win a debate that was never really there in the first place.

Lest we have doubt about what they mean when they insist that “species obviously do change,” the same AiG article clarifies,

Species changing via natural selection and mutations is perfectly in accord with what the Bible teaches.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT SKEPTICBLOG

PZ must apologize to Ham-says God

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 12, 2009

God has commanded PZ Meyers to apologize to Ken Ham for all the shenanigans Meyers and his atheist heathen followers committed during and after their recent visit to the evidence-heavy creation museum. A call to PZ’s representatives went unanswered.  A close contact of PZ, speaking in anonymity for fear of reprisals said the following:

The trip to the creation museum was indeed sponsored with dirty money funneled through to PZ from Satan worshiping, blood drinking cults. Dark magic rituals were performed in and around the premises of god’s museum, much of which included dirty group sex, virgin sacrifices and satanic eucharist desecrations. Please don’t leak my name….please they’ll kill me.

No worries Jeff, I won’t!

Texas: careening toward doom

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on July 7, 2009

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So Texas had its brief shining moment of light when the state Senate rejected creationist goofball Don McLeroy’s bid to once again head up the Board of Education. McLeroy was the guy who famously said, “Someone has to stand up to experts!” when talking about the science advisors contacted by the BoE to advise them on, y’know, science.

And even in that very post I said that this win was at best temporary, since the same Governor Rick Perry who picked McLeroy in the first place would pick his replacement.

And guess what? I hate being right all the time. It looks like Perry may pick über-far right religious zealot Cynthia Dunbar to replace McLeroy.

READ THE FULL ENTRY AT BAD ASTRONOMY BLOG

One more reason why I drink Pepsi

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 10, 2009

Because Coke is a corporate partner with the Creation Museum. I hope Pepsi doesn’t sponsor some equally stupid movement. What am I supposed to drink if they do, **gasps**  Doctor Pepper?

Melanie Phillips Wrong Again

Posted in Skeptico by Skepdude on April 30, 2009

One of the most consistently stupid “journalists” writing on the subject of science and intelligent design has to be Melanie Phillips. I commented two years ago on another horrendous anti-science piece of hers: Idiot Journalist is the new enemy of reason.  Now she’s back again writing in the Spectator, with a piece entitled Creating An Insult To Intelligence – actually a highly accurate headline considering what she wrote under it.

Listening to the Today programme this morning, I was irritated once again by yet another misrepresentation of Intelligent Design as a form of Creationism. In an item on the growing popularity of Intelligent Design, John Humphrys interviewed Professor Ken Miller of Brown University in the US who spoke on the subject last evening at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. Humphrys suggested that Intelligent Design might be considered a kind of middle ground between Darwinism and Creationism. Miller agreed but went further, saying that Intelligent Design was

nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.

But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.

The court was”simply wrong”? What, because you say so? And why was Miller’s testimony “muddled”? Because you didn’t like it? Or because you didn’t understand it? In any case, the court was not “wrong”, simply or otherwise. The court was shown evidence (actually, virtual proof) of the link between creationism and ID. The transitional version – cdesign proponentsists – was discovered.

Put simply, the ID book Of Pandas and People that was discussed at the Dover trial was originally a unashamed creation book called Creation Biology. (You know it’s a creation book because it has the word “Creation” in the title. You’re welcome.) Just after the Supreme Court ruling against creation science in Edwards v. Aguillard, the Disco Tute decided to remake the book as an ID book, rewriting large parts of it to make it all “sciencey” and not creationism at all.  No, really. But unfortunately for them, they were in such a hurry to do so that in changing the wording in one place from “creationists” to (presumably) “intelligent design proponents”, they morphed the two phrases and the book actually included the words “cdesign proponentsists”. Apparently they believe in a designer but not in a spell checker. Hilarious. Click the NCSE’s Missing Link discovered! for a detailed explanation of what they did. Also, The Panda’s Thumb’s Missing link: “cdesign proponentsists”.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “SKEPTICO”

Pinniped Evolution

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on April 24, 2009

The joke is getting so overused now it is becoming a cliche in skeptical circles – what happens when a paleontologist fills in a gap in the fossil record? They create two gaps, one on each side. But it is often used because it pithily exposes the intellectual buffoonery of those evolution deniers (aka creationists) who deny common descent. What is a “gap;” how big does it have to be to call into question common decent; or rather how small do the gaps have to shrink before creationists will accept common descent?

Perhaps the biggest outright lie in the creationist camp, still frequently parroted, is that there is a lack of transitional fossils in the fossil record. That is why it is important to showcase to the public the steady stream of beautiful transitional fossils that are being added to our already copious fossil record.

In the most recent issue of Nature, scientist present yet another pesky gap filled in with a transitional fossil, this one an early pinniped – which includes seals, sealions, and walruses.

The fossil is between 20-24 million years old and is dubbed Puijila darwini. Here is the technical description from the Nature article.

The new taxon retains a long tail and the proportions of its fore- and hindlimbs are more similar to those of modern terrestrial carnivores than to modern pinnipeds. Morphological traits indicative of semi-aquatic adaptation include a forelimb with a prominent deltopectoral ridge on the humerus, a posterodorsally expanded scapula, a pelvis with relatively short ilium, a shortened femur and flattened phalanges, suggestive of webbing.

What this means is that the creature was able to walk on land, was likely a carnivore, but had some early adaptations to the water, such as webbed feat. Think of an otter (it was 110 cm long) with a long tale and the teeth of a dog.  The earliest pinniped fossils come from 20-28 million years ago, about the same time as this fossil, and already have fully developed flippers.

This fossil suggests answers to several unknowns – what evolutionary path did pinnipeds take, what are their closest relatives, and where greographically did their evolution take place? This fossil suggests they evolved in the fresh waters of the arctic, as opposed to the the northwestern US, where the earliest pinniped fossils were found. This one fossil does not settle this last question, but does suggest the arctic as a viable alternative.

I can anticipate the standard creationist denial. They will argue that this fossil cannot be a direct ancestor to pinnipeds because it is as old, and not older, than the earliest pinniped fossils with fully formed flippers.  This is true, as the authors of the Nature article readily state. Most fossils will not be direct ancestors to living descendants. This is because evolutionary relationships are bushy – they are not a ladder of linear progression. A randomly discovered fossil is therefore likely to be on a side branch, not one that lead directly to species that happen to be extant.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “NEUROLOGICA”

Why is Censorship of Scrutiny so Much a Part of Intelligent Design?

Posted in Freespace by Skepdude on April 17, 2009

While Michael Egnor is accusing the scientific community of censorship, the Institut Discotheque is advertising a summer seminar on Intelligent Design, and there’s something very interesting about the advertisement. Applicants for the seminar are required to provide various information about their grades and their interests, as well as “a letter of recommendation from a professor who knows your work and is friendly toward ID, or a phone interview with Dr. Bruce Gordon, CSC Research Director.” Now that’s interesting—a letter from someone who is “friendly toward ID”? What is this if not a litmus test—a gatekeeper device to prevent critics or doubters from attending their seminar?

Can you imagine if an organization devoted to evolutionary science required applicants to provide such bona fides? If the AAAS required applicants to provide them with a letter from someone “friendly” toward evolution, before you could attend one of their seminars? Real scientific seminars are open to anyone who is respectful and willing to listen to the evidence and weigh ideas, even if they don’t actually believe in those ideas. Anyone can attend U.C. Berkeley’s seminar on evolution tomorrow without providing any evidence about your beliefs; even creationists are welcome. Some years ago, Professor Michael Dini at Texas Tech got in a lot of trouble because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students unless they attested that they believed in evolution. But the DI requires that you fly the right colors before they’ll let you in—while they have the gall to accuse the scientific community of censorship and closed-mindedness!

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “FREESPACE”

Michael Egnor tries again

Posted in Freespace by Skepdude on April 14, 2009

“Listen to the fool’s reproach! It is a kingly title!”—William Blake

Dr. Egnor has posted a response to <=”to<”>my comments about his blog posts. He basically makes three points: first, he accuses me of misrepresenting him by calling him a creationist; second, he claims that it is constitutional for creationists to teach religion in government schools; third, he claims I am part of a conspiracy to preach atheism to schoolkids…or something. Let’s see how much of this holds up.

He begins by ensuring us that although he believes in magic and mysticism, he isn’t exactly a young earth creationist. No, he’s an old earth creationist instead. He “respect[s] young earth creationists” and “strongly support[s] their right to participate fully in public discourse, but [he] do[es] not share some of their scientific viewpoints.” I believe that’s exactly what I said to begin with….  But obviously this is irrelevant. The point is, Egnor believes that government-funded, government-operated schools should teach other people’s children that God created life.

My point was that the phrase “participate fully in public discourse” can mean a lot of different things. It can mean the individual right of creationists like Egnor to state their beliefs in public—a right guaranteed to all individuals by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Or it can mean the purported “right” of elected officials to abuse their authority by using the government to endorse their religious views as true and to put that message into government-run schools, funded with taxpayer dollars—something that is absolutely prohibited by the Constitution of the United States. It is the latter that Dr. Egnor endorsed, and endorses again in his most recent post.

The Constitution (which Dr. Egnor can read here for free) forbids the government from anything like an establishment of religion. What that means is, it is illegal for the government to set forth a religious viewpoint as being true. To say that life was created and designed by a divine Designer is a religious belief. It is therefore unconstitutional to teach it in a government run classroom on the taxpayer’s dime to other people’s children.

The Constitution does not bar the government from making other kinds of statements—that is, it does not bar the government from making statements of fact that are supported by science. (It doesn’t even bar the government from teaching untrue facts; Egnor claims that evolution can “only” be taught “in a constitutional manner” if its “weaknesses” are taught—but in fact, the Constitution places very few limits on what government may teach in schools, and that is not one of them.) If those facts turn out to be inconsistent with Dr. Egnor’s religious views—well, that’s just too bad.

As I explained in my article, Reason And Common Ground, the government is perfectly free to teach children that the seasons are caused by the tilt of the earth’s axis, even though that conflicts with the views of Greek polytheists who think the seasons are caused by Persephone’s annual visits to her husband Hades. What the government may not do is say that the myth of Persephone is true or that it is false. It certainly can say that there is no evidence to support it, or that all the evidence points in the direction of the theory of the earth’s tilt on its axis. In exactly the same way, the state may teach students evolution, even though it conflicts with some people’s religious views.

Think what it would mean if the opposite were true: if every person claiming a mystical revelation or an insight into magical processes could wield a heckler’s veto over every expressive act by government. Government could not set up a fire department, because people would complain that fires are caused by Thor’s lightning. Government could not promote sanitation, because it might offend those who believe diseases are God’s punishment for sin. Government could not try to educate the public about violence against women, because it might offend fundamentalist Muslims. There is good reason that the Constitution allows—indeed, expects—the government to teach non-religious concepts and even concepts that are contrary to some people’s religious views, while forbidding it from making religious statements.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “FREESPACE”

Is Canada’s Science Minister a creationist?

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on March 17, 2009

The Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail is reporting that Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology in Canada, may not believe in evolution.

The situation is somewhat confusing. The article starts off with this:

Canada’s science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won’t say if he believes in evolution.

“I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Wait, what? Religion? The reporter says he was asked about evolution! This makes the issue a little muddy.

If Goodyear was asked specifically about evolution, then it’s not directly a question about religion, and the quotation doesn’t make sense. Either the reporter got it wrong, or the Canadian Minister of Science thinks evolution is religion. Or that being asked about evolution is akin to being asked about religion.

Egads.

Let me get this clear: science is not faith-based. Evolution is science, and science is not religion. Therefore, being asked about evolution is not the same as being asked about religion.

However, if he was asked about his religion, and the context was whether his religious beliefs are in conflict with evolution, then the question is very appropriate. In fact, the situation would demand it. He’s the Minister of Science! If he thinks evolution is not true because he’s a creationist, then every scientist in Canada should be demanding Goodyear be fired.

Goodyear, apparently, disagrees.

READ THE REST OF THIS ENTRY AT “BAD ASTRONOMY”

Creationists in denial

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on March 11, 2009

t’s the obligatory annual newspaper article on creationists confronted with evidence. In this case, young ignoramuses from Liberty University are filed through the Smithsonian Institution to practice closing their minds, while a newspaper reporter echoes their rationalizations. I hate these exercises in bad journalism: there is absolutely no critical thinking going on here, either among the creationists or the reporter writing it up. An example:

“I love it here,” said Ross, who has a doctorate in geosciences from the University of Rhode Island. “There’s something romantic about seeing the real thing.”

Modern creationists don’t deny the existence of dinosaurs but believe that God made them, and all animals, on the same sixth day that he created man. In fact, Ross’s only real beef in the fossil hall is with the 30-foot lighted column that is a timeline marking 630 million years of geology. As a young-Earth creationist, he asserts that the vast majority of the rocks and fossils were formed during Noah’s flood about 4,000 years ago. Most paleontologists date the T-Rex to 65 million years ago.

You know, it is possible to be a Christian and still have a rational respect for the evidence. Take, for example, the Reverend Adam Sedgwick, an opponent of evolution in the 19th century, but also someone who worked out details of the geological column and determined that the idea that there was a single, defining world-wide flood was untenable. Or Charles Lyell, who struggled with the idea of evolution because it conflicted with his religious beliefs, but who was a major force in bringing about the understanding of geology as a product of continually acting forces. Or the Reverend William Buckland, who believed in a global flood, but regarded it as insufficient to account for the wealth of geological complexity — he would not have looked at the timeline and tried to compress it into the product of a single biblical event.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “PHARYNGULA”

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