Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Darwin's Demise" A partial review.

White, Joe, Nicholas Comninellis
2001 "Darwin's Demise: Why Evolution Can't Take the Heat" Green Forest AR: Master Books

From the rear cover, "Authors Joe White and Nicholas Comninellis have a passion for truth? " Sadly this passion is nowhere evident in their book. The falsehoods misrepresentations and plain old fashion lies start from the first page and continue on and on. I could not find a single page in the first two chapters without at least one significant error of fact, or reasoning. Most pages have many errors (I counted at least eight on several separate pages).

One thing the authors truly excel at is the use of "quote mines." The false, or out-of-context quote is a favorite tactic of professional young Earth creationists' efforts to undermine science and reason. This is so widely recognized among those who follow these efforts that it has come to be called "quote mining" and a compilation of many examples and their corrections has been published at "The Quote Mine Project." The Answers in Genesis Ministries, formerly the Creation Science Foundation of Brisbane, Australia, even produced a book of quotes called "The Revised Quote Book (copyright 1990)" that has been debunked at "Cretinism or Evilution? No. 3".

At the moment, I want to detail just one quote mining example from Darwin's Demise that stands as a classic of the practice, and characterizes the sort of "truth" the authors so passionately employ.

White and Comninellis wrote, "In stark contrast to his theological training, Darwin later demonstrated his enormous contempt for anything Christian. He wrote: "The Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the earth, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindus, or the beliefs of any barbarian. The New Testament is a damnable doctrine. [I can] hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true" (The Origin of Species, 1859). (From Darwin's Demise pg 8-9).

This a breathtaking misrepresentation. No, it is a lie because Darwin never showed contempt for "anything Christian." White and Comninellis with their "passion for truth" have torn apart sentences separated by pages, inverted their orders, added words and concepts, deleted clarifying material and all and all have lied to their readers. (James 3:1. Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment).

What Charles Darwin actually wrote in his Autobiography (published 1904) (Not in the Origin of Species published 1859) was a description of how over years his faith changed from a devout orthodox young theology student, to theist and eventually agnostic. His first realization was that the geological features of the earth did not correspond to those described in the Old Testament. There were no geological evidences for a global flood, no anthropological evidences for a Tower of Babel, and he came to reject the Old Testament theology of a violent "jealous God." Much later in his life (particularly following the early death of his daughter Anna at age 10), Darwin came to reject the doctrine of damnation and eternal torture for all unbelievers- a doctrine he called itself "damnable." At no time in his life did he express contempt for Christianity. Indeed, you will see below that he generally admired the New Testament moral code, inspite of his growing doubts about religion.

In the following quote from Darwin Online, I have bolded the sections that White and Comninellis have corrupted, and placed the words they used in italics. Readers will easily see they have also added words without indicating their alteration of the text.

"DURING THESE two years (October 1836 to January 1839 GH) I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian. The question then continually rose before my mind and would not be banished,?is it credible that if God were now to make a revelation to the Hindoos, would he permit it to be connected with the belief in Vishnu, Siva, &c., as Christianity is connected with the Old Testament. This appeared to me utterly incredible.

By further reflecting that the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported,?that the more we know of the fixed laws of nature the more incredible do miracles become,?that the men at that time were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible by us,?that the Gospels cannot be proved to have been written simultaneously with the events,?that they differ in many important details, far too important as it seemed to me to be admitted as the usual inaccuracies of eye-witnesses;?by such reflections as these, which I give not as having the least novelty or value, but as they influenced me, I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation. The fact that many false religions have spread over large portions of the earth like wild-fire had some weight with me. Beautiful as is the morality of the New Testament, it can hardly be denied that its perfection depends in part on the interpretation which we now put on metaphors and allegories.

But I was very unwilling to give up my belief;?I feel sure of this for I can well remember often and often inventing day-dreams of old letters between distinguished Romans and manuscripts being discovered at Pompeii or elsewhere which confirmed in the most striking manner all that was written in the Gospels. But I found it more and more difficult, with free scope given to my imagination, to invent evidence which would suffice to convince me. Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.

And this is a damnable doctrine.

Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws." (Autobiography, 85-87)

A few paragraphs later, Darwin wrote;

"Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist. And again later, "I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems (regarding the origin of moral thought, gh). The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."

Six months after her husband's death Mrs. Darwin annotated the passage above in her own handwriting. She writes:?"I should dislike the passage in brackets to be published (from "and have never since doubted"?. to "damnable doctrine" GH). It seems to me raw. Nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of everlasting punishment for disbelief?but very few now wd. call that 'Christianity, ?"

A few pages later she wrote in another note, "... and [it] would give an opening to say, however unjustly, that he [Charles Darwin] considered all spiritual beliefs no higher than hereditary aversions or likings, such as the fear of monkeys towards snakes." She finished, "I should wish if possible to avoid giving pain to your father's religious friends who are deeply attached to him, and I picture to myself the way that sentence would strike them, even those so liberal as Ellen Tollett and Laura, much more Admiral Sullivan, Aunt Caroline, &c., and even the old servants.

Yours, dear Frank,

E. D."

(Notes and text adapted from Darwin, C. R. 1958. The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882. With the original omissions restored. Edited and with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow. London: Collins.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Teaching Science

I have taught science for about 35 years now. I taught science first at middle schools (7th and 8th grade), with the added goal of trying to also teach English as a second language (ESL in the teaching lingo). Then I taught high school biology, and later at private "free schools" and Montessori schools. I have taught at universities, colleges, medical schools, and art institutes. I was the Director of Education Programs for a Natural History Museum with as many as one thousand student contacts per week. I have also been a mentor teacher, and a lecturer on teaching science for high school and elementry school science teachers at the University of California, Irvine Summer Science Institute.

I hope you all will take the minute to read the following from MASSIMO PIGLIUCCI, 2007 "THE EVOLUTION-CREATION WARS: WHY TEACHING MORE SCIENCE JUST IS NOT ENOUGH" MCGILL JOURNAL OF EDUCATION ? VOL. 42 NO 2 285-306;

Finally, there is also - unfortunately - the very real concern that many science teachers are creationists themselves. This seems to me to fall into the same category of teachers' training mentioned above. We must require that teachers know the subject matter they are to present, and that they intend to teach science according to currently accepted knowledge. This is not a matter of respecting individual teachers' religious beliefs: if you believe that the earth is 10,000 years old, then you really do not understand, at a deep level, geology, physics, and biology. Consequently, you simply should not be teaching science. It is up to university-level teaching programs, as well as to the people setting hiring procedures, to make sure that unqualified individuals are not responsible for teaching our children. (emphasis added)

My next post will be about why honestly teaching science matters to Christians.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mr. Sean Gray teaches high school science. We are doomed.

I read this morning some creationist nonsense and against my better judgement I wrote a reply. The original was in the link below. This link!

In my observation of the data, there is very little, to no, evidence to support evolution and an old Earth. But there is ample [I like that word], data to support Intelligent Design and a relatively young Earth.

-Evidence against evolution? No credible evidence of transitional fossils. No missing link has ever been found to match any of the organisms, big or small, that we see today.

There is a substrata of creationists who insist there are no transitional fossils. If you present them with clear examples at higher taxonomic levels they claim that there are no examples at lower. If you then show low level changes, they will demand high level ones. So to anticipate these dodges here are examples of both.

The series of fossils examined in the like above are the transitional sequence from reptiles to mammals. These are the subclass Synapsida. To quote paleontologist Clifford Cuffey, “This is well documented in the fossil record by a massive volume of incontrovertible data that cannot be explained away. Such large-scale, progressive, continuous, gradual, and geochronologically successive morphologic change (Sidor & Hopson, 1998) is descent with modification, and provides compelling evidence for evolution on a grand scale.”

Smooth change between species is easily demonstrated when looking at small to very small marine or aquatic series. This is because they are in favorable conditions to become fossils, and their fossils accumulate into massive sedimentary blocks hundreds of feet thick across millions of years. Don Lindsay has assembled documentation on six smooth transition sequences, and gives references for one hundred.

-Evidence against an old Earth? Comets. Comets burn out quickly. Scientists know they can only burn for a short period of time and cannot be part of the nebular hypothesis or the '4.5 billion year-old' solar system.

It is bizarre that a science teacher would say that comets “burn,” slowly or quickly. Comets are “dirty snowballs” a mass of different ices and minerals- none of which burn during the life of a comet. The durability of a comet will depend on its orbit and exact composition. Quite obviously some comets are the result of orbit perturbations of large massive bodies in the outer solar system. Some very simple presentations suitable for high school students can be found in the online Wikipedia.


Mr. Gray, you should also learn about the other sub-planetary objects in solar orbits. For example, meteorites which are very important in determining the age of the solar system. Some helpful links are;



And I also recommend reading;

Dalrymple, G. Brent

1991 The Age of the Earth Stanford University Press

-Evidence for Intelligent Design? Irreducible Complexity. It's the idea that if any part of the whole is taken out [reduced] then the whole cannot function, the mouse trap is the classic example. Take one part out of the mouse trap and it will not work. All the parts must be together all at once for the mouse trap to actually trap a mouse. It couldn't slowly develop into a trap, even if 90% of the trap were already in place. Evolutionist say far more complex mechanisms, like the human cell, evolved... even though 0% were in place.

The notion of IC was introduced to creationism by Mike Behe in his 1996 book, “Darwin’s Black Box.” The concept was however older having been noted as an argument for evolution much earlier (see for example Muller, Hermann J. (1918) "Genetic variability, twin hybrids and constant hybrids, in a case of balanced lethal factors." Genetics 3: 422-499). What is at issue is not if biological systems might appear, or even be irreducibly complex, but whether Behe’s claim that these systems could not have evolved. There are clear demonstrations that Behe’s favorite, the bacterial flagella is the product of evolution. Evolution in (Brownian) space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum” by N. J. Matzke can be downloaded from

But more impressive are the arguments that IC is inherently evolvable. Two good reviews are; “Beyond Suboptimality: Why irreducible complexity does not imply intelligent design” by Mark Perakh,

And, “Irreducible Complexity Demystified” by Pete Dunkelberg,

The massive factual and logical problems with Intelligent Design Creationism would take several books to fully expose. Fortunately these have been written. A short list would include;

Mark Perakh
2003 Unintelligent Design New York: Prometheus Press

Niall Shanks and Richard Dawkins
2004 God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory Oxford University Press

Robert T. Pennock (Editor)
2001 Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives MIT Press

Matt Young, Taner Edis (Editors),
2004 Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism Rutgers University Press

Barbara Carroll Forrest, Paul R. Gross
2004 Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design Oxford University Press

Evidence for a young Earth? Population growth. Population growth calcuations, using the current population of 6 billion people, show that people have probably have been around between 6 and 10 thousand years, closely matching the geneology of the Bible.

The sort of arguments made by creationists regarding population growth curves are hopelessly naïve. If Mr. Gray’s other sciences are as poor as his math skills he really should not be teaching. Mr. Gray has made invalid assumptions regarding population growth. The most striking is to assume it to have always been constant. We know historically that this is not true, as famines, wars and plagues have made variable impacts over the millinia. Also, unless Mr. Gray has abandoned the biblical flood of Noah, he has far less than 6 to 10 thousands years to play around with anyway. He needs to start the whole game over about 4400 years ago to stay biblical. Finally, we know that there were huge changes in population growth directly related to the discovery and spread of farming in the Neolithic. Prior to that, human population growth was a very slow process more dependent on the retreat of the world’s ice fields than anything else. Finally, a colleague of mine wants Mr. Gray to tell us how many people did it take to build the Egyptian pyramids, and how that fits his population “calculation.” Conventional dating places the Genesis flood well in the ~600 years of Egyptian pyramid construction. Either there were just a few Egyptians hauling rocks, or there should be trillions of people alive today.

There is a myriad of evidence to share but I thought I'd throw a few out there.

Mr. Gray, so far you have merely embarassed yourself. All of the "myriad evidence" you have presented are what we call "PRATTS" - points refuted thousands of times.

Another piece of evidence against evolution is the fact that there are diverse life forms at sea-floor vents. Bring that one up with an evolutionist and he'll change the subject faster than John Kerry changes his mind.

This is one of Mr. Gray’s stranger comments, standing out as an absurdity coupled with a pointless political dig. Evolution predicts that any source of energy will be exploited by life, and that specialized organisms will evolve in response to extreme environments. What could marine hydrothermal vent communities do except give further evidence for the evolution of life?

If people leave the room when Mr. Gray begins one of his soliloquies, it is probably because they don’t like talking to him.

Another room clearer? Ask an evolutionist: What role does homosexuality play in evolution? He knows that homosexuality couldn't have come via natural selection because any genetic predisposition to the behavior would necessarily wipe out the gene in the first generation.

Again, Mr. Gray exposes gross ignorance, and seems proud of it. First, most complex behaviors are the result of multiple genes, and are strongly responsive to environmental conditions. That is the nice way to say that Mr. Gray’s fantasy of a “gay gene” that would be rapidly be eliminated is gross ignorance.

Mr. Gray’s knowledge of behavior both human and non-human is as lacking as his basic science. This is not surprising to me when I checked and found his graduate degree was in “Biblical Counseling” from Colorado Christian University. I was a professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia back when Mr. Gray was struggling to escape from High School. We actually established a monthly program on religion and psychiatry. We were strongly motivated by the need to provide some amount of professional support to so-called “pastoral counselors” being churned out in bible schools by the hundreds without the first idea of human behavior or therapies.

I asked a public high school biology teacher that question and he said he didn't know and, not only that, he refused to even think about it. It made for an awkward lunch break in the teacher's lounge.

I predict that Mr. Gray provokes many awkward moments in the teacher’s lounge and elsewhere.

The only honest answer I've ever gotten from an evolutionist [who was also a liberal] re: that question was also highly offensive to homosexuals. He said homosexuality is evolutions way of thinning out the population so we don't get over-populated.

I have no idea what Mr. Gray’s criteria for “honest answer” are. His question might be very offensive to homosexuals- I wouldn’t know. I do know that being offensive is not likely to slow Mr. Gray down, else he would not delight so much in how few colleagues like to talk with him. The answer he reports having been given by a liberal evolutionist regarding “population control” is in fact incorrect. Lets first begin with the obvious- sexual behavior is not a trivial on/off, heterosexual/homosexual proposition. Particularly if we try to find it within an evolutionary perspective. For the first observation, in biology the very notion of gender can be very complicated. There are millions of organisms in thousands of species which are functioning hermaphrodites. These are very common in invertebrates such as the mollusks. At the same time, there are strict sexually differentiated crustaceans such as the ostracods. Even among cordates, there are species that are quite fluid in their sexual function and do in fact respond to population pressure by changing gender, typically from female to male. Perhaps the most surprising to Mr. Gray would be the all female parthenogenic species which reproduce without any males at all.

Next we should consider non-reproductive sexual behavior in nature. Geir Soeli, the project leader of the exhibition entitled "Against Nature" at the Oslo Natural History Museum, told Reuters: "Homosexuality has been observed for more than 1500 animal species, and is well documented for 500 of them." One of the animals closest to humans in their sexual behavior, the Bonobo Chimpanzee (Pan paniscus) engages in same-sex behaviors nearly 60 percent of their sexual activity. Human homosexual behavior cannot be viewed as particularly different in kind, or frequency than that found in other species. In bonobos, frequent sexual acts between many group partners seems to have advantages. One obvious one is the reduced amount of inter group violence that is a common source of injury of the less sexually active Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.

And people say creationists lack the ability to think! The liberal/ evolutionist above thought he was a genius and that I should be fired as a high school science teacher for not believing as he.

I don’t know about Mr. Gray’s colleague's other opinions, but I can certainly agree that Mr. Gray is incompetent to teach science merely by his own expression of willful ignorance.

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Photo

I spent three days last week helping a grad student in marine biology with her masters degree project. Kim is studying the ecology of oil rigs in the Santa Barbara channel off the coast from Ventura, Ca. For the final effort, she wanted to tag five lingcod from a depth of about 750 feet. It took three days but we did it. Each day I reeled in over a mile of line, about 800 feet at a time, as we dropped and retrieved 3 to 4 pound weights up to nine times a day. Here is a photo of one of the beauties (and my own self).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Owen Perry- Pig Ignorant and Proud Of It

Mr. Owen Perry has written two short articles concerning what he calls “evolution”and “humanism.” There are an impressive number of errors of fact and logic. So many that it would be a major undertaking to correct each and every one. Rather than devote a major part of my day (or week) to the task, I’ll point out a few of the more glaring stupidities.

Perry claimed on the 24th of September to have read “with an open mind” “various theories of evolution” and then staggered into an incoherent discussion of cosmology. Cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe- it is not part of biology nor particularly relevant to evolution. Interested readers should visit the excellent websites Foundations of Big Bang Cosmology by NASA, and Professor Ned Wright’s Cosmology Tutorial which are hopefully accessible to most high school graduates and Mr. Perry. And in passing, we should point out to Perry that there are not “various theories of evolution.” The various sciences Perry actually referred to - cosmology, abiogenesis, and geology- are not evolutionary biology.

Following more nonsense, Perry makes up a quote from thin air regarding an imaginary “foremost proponent of evolution.” This mystery man was supposed to have said, “If there was ever a cataclysmic event, worldwide, then all our theories are "out of the window.” The sciences are well acquainted with several worldwide cataclysmic events, the best known popularly is probably the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary impact event that precipitated the end of the great dinosaurs. There were others and this does nothing to invalidate the theory of evolution.

There have been several scientific discoveries that have radically changed how believers understand the Bible. This is not a new problem for the faithful. Over eight hundred years ago, Thomas Aquinas wrote regarding science and the Bible,
"In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing." - Thomas Aquinas, c.a. 1225 - 1274, Summa Theological (1273).

Aquinas refers to the Christian father, Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) who advised Christians trying to interpret Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim). The following translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. {Augustine here has refered to 1 Timothy 1.7}

The active promotion of ignorance by Mr. Perry is not merely a threat to America’s security, but brings shame to the larger Christian community as well.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

JHJ Peet, Liar for Jeezus

It is very strange to me that creationists are so sanctimonious about their "cosmic and moral truths" but are so sloppy with simple facts. J. H. John Peet proves no different than the average creationist in this regard telling his first lie in his very first sentence. "Charles Darwin recognised (British spelling) that a basic problem of his theory of evolution was to produce life itself."

Here is all that Darwin had to say about the origin of life in his Origin of Species.

“ I believe that animals are descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lessor number.

Analogy would lead me one step farther, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants are descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide. Nevertheless all living things have much in common, in their chemical composition, their cellular structure, their laws of growth, and their liability to injurious influences. ... Therefore, on the principle of natural selection with the divergence of character, it does not seem incredible that, from some such low and intermediate form, both animals and plants may have been developed; and, if we admit this, we must likewise admit that all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth may be descended from some one primordial form. But this inference is chiefly grounded on analogy, and it is immaterial whether or not it be accepted. No doubt it is possible, as Mr. G. H. Lewes has urged, that at the first commencement of life many different forms were evolved; but if so, we may conclude that only a very few have left modified descendants.”

And, from the book’s last sentence;

"There is grander in this point of view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one ; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved. " From the 6th edition,
So I note that Darwin was consistent in his opinion that there were few first life forms, and merely a possibly that there could have been only one. Also, note that Darwin is little interested in the issue using well under one page of text from a 450 page book.

It is always a concern to carefully check any time a creationist quotes any scientist, particularly because they edit quotes to distort their original meaning. JHJ Peet again proved no exception when he quoted Charles R. Darwin from a letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker (1871). Let us read what Darwin wrote, "It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed."

Darwin is clearly and correctly addressing the question that if the conditions at the origin of life existed still, why do we not observe the spontaneous origin of new life forms. Peet by deleting the words above in bold, used a little snippet to falsely imply Darwin was worried that he did not know the origin of life or that this was a "problem" to the validity of evolutionary theory. In fact, Darwin later in the same letter observed, "It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter." The origin of life is of no consequence to the theory of evolution.

Over one hundred and thirty years after Darwin wrote to Hooker we do actively study the origin of the universe and the origin of life. Peet has not limited himself to lying about Darwin, but has expounded on purported flaws in the Miller experiment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bishop Robert Vasa, Not a Historian.

Bishop Vasa in his 06/14/2007 editorial "Evolution — thoughts on scientific, faith-filled positions" in the "Catholic Sentinel" attacked what he calls the "doctrine of evolution" after having spent a day long outing with unidentified "scientists." These "scientists" who ever they were, seem to have given the Bishop some very bad instruction. These fall into several general categories of error; historical, conceptual, scientific and out-right frauds.

The historical errors began with his incorrect understanding of what was called "uniformitarianism" back in the late 1700s and the timing of these scientific developments. Surveyors, and civil engineers who were laying out and constructing the canals and roadways which as much as anything else created the industrial age, learned that there were obvious differences in the rock they worked with and that when seen across large distances these rocks formed sequences. This was the direct parent of modern geology. It discovered that some of these rocks contained objects that were similar to bones and shells of living organisms. These were fossils, and years of study established that fossils were the remains of creatures that had once lived, but were now extinct. This idea that species could have died out and disappeared from the earth was objected to by two main arguments; the religious tradition from Genesis that all animals created had been saved by Noah, and the then current rationalist argument regarding the "nature of nature." This later point was expressed by none-other than Thomas Jefferson following his discovery a fossil giant sloth, "Such is the economy of Nature that no instance can be produced of her having permitted any one race of her animals to become extinct." But, by the time 12 year old Mary Anning discovered the first fossil ichthyosaur in the year 1811, it had become impossible to still argue that no species had become extinct. This discovery was the origin of the science of paleontology.

Two types of proposals, theological and scientific, were offered to account for the apparently obvious vast ages of these fossils and sedimentary formations which towered over the world, and reached to the deep seas. The tallest mountains on earth contain fossils, as do some of the deepest ocean basin floors. The first theological response was that all of the earth's geology was created in just one year by the great biblical catastrophe of Noah's Flood. This soon had to be dumped, because the fossils showed that there had been many successions of marine, and dry land organisms, wetlands and deserts were isolated from one another. Neither forty days of rain, nor a year of soaking could produce these deposits. Further, this was repeated through-out what became known as the geological column. The new theological arguments were that the geological and paleontological facts were to be harmonized biblically by two new theological positions; the thousands of geological strata represented past creations and Genesis was restricted to the most recent, or that the first book of Genesis "days" had actually been vast ages themselves, and the second book was a nearer "creation." These are known as the "Gap" and the "Day Age" theories of biblical creation.

The nineteenth century scientific response was the work of genius, and it was quite simple; the modern earth was the product of the same sorts of events that are active today. "The present was the key to the past" became the core idea of all of geology. The geological history of earth became then a series of small catastrophes, regional rather than global, and occurred over millennia rather than a single year. Glaciers moved constantly, but their total movement was measured in years- not minutes. Lava could rush down the sides of volcanoes at hundreds of miles per hour, but eruptions were hundreds or thousands of years apart. The built-up mountains these volcanoes produced wore down slowly as it was written in the Bible: Job 14:18- But as a mountain falls at last and its rock is moved from its place, 19- As waters wear away the stones and floods wash away the soil of the land, so you destroy the hope of man" (USCCB).

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) published his landmark "Principles of Geology" in three volumes, 1830-33. During the young Charles Darwin's five year journey around the world on the HMS Beagle, he was accompanied by the first of these volumes that established the ancient creation of the earth when setting off from England, (the second of which he received after arriving in South America for the first time). This first volume, Darwin wrote allowed him, "to see through Lyell's eyes" when he landed on St Jago off the west coast of Africa.

This leads us to the second gross error foisted onto the Bishop Vasa by his "scientists." The Bishop was apparently told that, " ... a major reason for speculating about uniformitarianism is that evolution requires tens of millions of years, and so once the theory of evolution is accepted then eons of relative geological tranquility are likewise required in order to provide a suitable environment for the long and excruciatingly slow evolutionary processes." Lyell's books on geology were the first conclusive combination of facts and concepts that established the uniformitarian geology still universally accepted today by professional geologists. These books built on nearly a century of accumulated geological data. Charles Darwin did not publish his books on evolution until after 1859, nearly 30 years after the ancient earth was established as a scientific fact. Perhaps some defender of this gross error would like to present the evolutionary ideas that had preceded Darwin's. This is also invalid because these earlier concepts had no use for long periods of time, as they had been largely invented to accommodate religious teachings of their era.

Bishop Robert Vasa, RC YEC

Bishop Robert Vasa recently expressed a "certain reluctance" before essentially rejecting the scientific understanding of geology which has prevailed for over two hundred years. I should have hoped that this reluctance stemmed from a nonscientist's awareness that he lacked the background knowledge to have an informed opinion while speaking from the forceful position of trust he holds. Sadly this did not dissuade him.

Writing in the Catholic Sentinel, Bishop Vasa argues that there are materialistically valid data that support a recent creation for the earth, and even for Noah's Flood. To use the creationist's parlance, those "evidences," that he did report are simply false. They were both errors of fact and inference which I'll address momentarily. But first, I want to eliminate the notion that God is biblically represented so as to "fake" the universe. Imagine my reluctance as a scientist and agnostic to seek to instruct a Bishop on both science and biblical interpretation! In fact, I will leave biblical instruction to two Church Fathers, Aquinas and Augustine, and the Bible. Only later will I make some observations about sciences where my professional qualifications are clear.

Thomas Aquinas, c.a. 1225 - 1274, was very concerned with the ways that the expansion of human knowledge could challenge traditional patterns of belief and practice. Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theological (1273), "In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing."

Aquinas refers to the Christian Father, Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) who advised Christians trying to interpret Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim). The following translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41. "Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?

Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion." {Augustine here has referred to 1 Timothy 1.7}

I could easily see myself in Augustine's writing as one who opposes "mischievous false opinions" and "not bound by the authority of our sacred books." So, in honor of Augustine's perception I have inquired whether there is biblical support for ignoring science, particularly the "historical sciences" astronomy, geology, and biology. These sciences unequivocally demonstrate that the Universe is ancient, the Solar System is ancient, and that life on Earth is ancient. Young Earth Creationists (YEC) make two sorts of materialist arguments; the sciences are entirely wrong or there are some sort of material evidence that the Earth is merely a few thousands years old. They also commonly make a theological argument that the Earth and Universe were created recently with an apparent age that is ancient, and that the natural sciences are therefore incapable of representing truth. This later is asserted because the Calvinist, and savagely anti-Catholic, Bishop James Usser, determined that adding the "ages" of generations found various places in the Bible gave an age of the creation of some 6000 years. So the first question is whether the Bible states the universe is untrustworthy? In other words, should the sciences be ignored? I find there is no such biblical support. In fact the opposite should be obvious to any believer in the biblical texts. Consider the following verses (translations The New American Bible, USCCB unless noted) :

Psalm 19:
2 The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft.
3 One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge.

Psalm 85:12 reads, "Truth will spring from the earth; justice will look down from heaven. The Hebrew word translated here as "truth," emet, also is used to mean “certainty and dependability.”

Addressing his three friends, Job challenges them: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; The birds of the sky, they will tell you; or speak to the earth, it will teach you; The fish of the sea, they will inform you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” — Job 12:7-9. (Jewish Publication Society. Compare with, "7 But now ask the beasts to teach you, and the birds of the air to tell you; 8 Or the reptiles on earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you. " USCCB).

Job later demonstrates his geological knowledge saying, 14:18-19, "Mountains collapse and crumble; Rocks are dislodged from their place. Water wears away stone; Torrents wash away earth; So you destroy man's hope. (Jewish Publication Society. Compare with "18- But as a mountain falls at last and its rock is moved from its place, 19- As waters wear away the stones and floods wash away the soil of the land, so you destroy the hope of man" USCCB). In these verses from the ancient Hebrews, the Heavens, the Earth, and all life are presented as truthful witnesses to the Creator. In Job 14 we even see that long geological processes of erosion, and the contrasting suddenness of floods are known and used to enlighten. The sciences are how humans have discovered the facts of the creation, and the study of the creation is commended by the Bible.

What of later biblical authors? They too assert that the creation is a true testament; Romans 1:18-23 (USCCB)
18 The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
19 For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them.
20 Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse;
21 for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.
22 While claiming to be wise, they became fools
23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.

The "wise" in verse 22 referred to astrologers in particular, and verse 23 is reference to the worship of Roman, and Egyptian gods. Astrology linked with the nascent science of astronomy is particularly relevant to the thoughts of Augustine observed earlier. Some creationists like to claim these verses in Romans refer to "Darwinists," but of course there were no evolutionary scientists 1,900 years ago. If the creation was deceitful, or impossible to discern, then verse 20 would be especially violated. That is, unless God were a Loki-like "prankster" attempting to fool humanity. Psalm 119:160, Isaiah 45:18-19, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18 and 11:6, and I John 5:6. all assert that God is trustworthy. Returning to Psalm 19, verse 8 says, "The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple." These verses are entirely blocking the Young Earth Creationist "appearance of age" avenue.

So the "appearance of age" is antiscriptural- not merely unattested, but contrary to scripture. The Universe and the Earth appear billions of years old because that is how they really are.

Some YEC proponents will next try the argument that the universe had to be created old or else it could not function properly. The oceans needed salt, mountains had to be worn down etc... in order for the universe to properly function as a home for humanity. and so God recently created an aged universe. This is easily countered as well because there is no "need" for the billions of fossils to exist- they make no critical contribution to geochemistry or to biochemistry which could not be generated directly by some mineral or other. Nor is there any need for the fossil remains of ancient life to clearly show sequential change over hundreds of millions of years, whether changing gradually or abruptly. So, since the Bible categorically asserts that God can be trusted, and that the creation is testament to the Creator, honest believers must reject both the "appearance of age" and the "created old" arguments.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Another University Student

Re: Evolution Doesn’t Make Much Sense

The recent creationist editorial by Mr. Jesse Nickles has provoked a discussion over his actual motivation. Some readers feel that his essay was an obvious satire and argue that no university student could be so badly misinformed. Others viewed his effort as a more elaborate hoax which attempts to make creationists appear stupid by presenting such easily refuted claims. While the later suggestion has attraction- we could feel assured that educated people associated with the university would not be so absurd- I regretfully concluded that Mr. Nickels must be assumed to be sincere. In the observations to follow I will give a number of references to easily available scientific literature, all of which is freely available to every UCI student and over the Internet to nearly anyone. I have not attempted to be exhaustive lacking both time and patience for such an amount of work.

His first paragraph presents several errors starting with the claim that the concept of "common descent" was ancient. More obviously wrong is his notion that evolution was intended as an alternative to God(s). Thomas Huxley, popularly referred to as "Darwin's pit bull," coined the term "agnostic" to characterize evolutionary theory's relationship to religion. Acts of "self creation," desperate or not, are more in tune with mythology and self-help books than either history or science.

Nickels next proposed a test. The logical failings can be swept aside by rephrasing his proposal as, "If any biological species can be shown to have 'qualities' that could not be the result of sequential evolution, the theory fails." This is actual rather close to something Darwin proposed, and we can then accept Nickels's use of humans as the test organism.

"Reason: There are no “less-developed” versions of human reason in other species."

Yes there are. For a lesson in reasoning ability I suggest Nickels starts with:

Thomas Suddendorf
2006 "Foresight and Evolution of the Human Mind" Science 19 May 2006 312: 1006-1007 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1129217] (in Perspectives)

Even the birds do it:

N. J. Emery and N. S. Clayton
"Effects of experience and social context on prospective caching strategies by scrub jays"
Nature 414, 443-446 (22 November 2001) | doi:10.1038/35106560; Received 23 July 2001; Accepted 20 September 2001

Virginia Morell
"NICOLA CLAYTON PROFILE: Nicky and the Jays" Science 23 February 2007 315: 1074-1075 [DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5815.1074] (in News Focus)

"Morality: Mankind has a universal sense of right and wrong, unique among the species."

I have been a professional anthropologist for over 30 years now and I would have to say that Nickels is sadly unprepared to participate in international relations. I know this because he has so many silly ideas about humans and their "universal morality." His most ridiculous idea is that we have one. "Thou shall not Kill" is preached by the same people who preach "Justified War" and the acceptability of "Collateral Damage." The rest of the more common lists can similarly be dismissed. But, we do in fact share with other primates certain behaviors, and apparently have some evolutionarily hard-wired" in our brains.

Dominique J.-F. de Quervain, et al
"The Neural Basis of Altruistic Punishment" Science 27 August 2004 305: 1254-1258 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1100735]

Gretchen Vogel
"The Evolution of the Golden Rule" Science 20 February 2004 303: 1128-1131 [DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5661.1128]

Even Monkeys do it;

Sarah F. Brosnan, Frans B. M. de Waal
"Monkeys reject unequal pay." Nature 425, 297-299 (18 September 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature01963;

Nickles's assertions regarding music and art are merely that, assertions without any evidence.

Language: The literature on language and non-humans is far too large for Nickles to have missed. Maybe his essay really was a parody.

Females: Mr. Nickles's infatuation with Stephen Colbert aside, female warthogs are the ultimate in seductiveness- to male warthogs. This is why we have baby warthogs. This is another point for the satire theory.

Domination: Nickles is very confused here. Is human welfare "evil?" Is human welfare enhanced by environmental destruction? The simple answer is no. A world in "perfect harmony" has never existed other than in soda pop commercials.

Ideology: This is merely a word to describe a justification for shared beliefs and behaviors. We use these 'norms' to identify members of our group from nonmembers. There are clear economic and even reproductive advantages to group cooperation.

Samuel Bowles
"Group Competition, Reproductive Leveling, and the Evolution of Human Altruism"
(8 December 2006) Science 314 (5805), 1569. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1134829]

Sex: Nickels has clearly never had a course in primatology, nor heard of the Bonobos (Pan paniscus). (Nor been to many spring break parties, one must suppose). Brian Hare, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has noted that Bonobos are very tolerant of strangers; when they meet they often have sex, whereas chimps (Pan troglodytes) often attack. Humans might do either. Bonobos have more frequent sex in captivity that in the wild, but even then frequently they have homosexual and heterosexual encounters and even oral and, well let's say we have nothing to teach Bonobos about sex.

Nickels finished by firing off a scatter of false statements regarding mutations, human material culture, the age of the universe, the origin of life and some standard misrepresentations of thermodynamics. This is called the "Gish Gallop" in honor of arch creationist Duane Gish. The TalkOrigins website addresses most of these at

Gary Hurd, Ph. D. (UCI 1976)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ken Ham on the News

When one of the AiG gang claims that science undermines Christian morality, my response is that using lies to promote Christian morality is not only hypocritical, but worse is counter effective. This was recognized by Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine) as well as Thomas Aquinas. When young people are lied to (the Earth is 6000 years old, there were humans and dinosaurs together on the Ark, even that there was a Noah's Ark) they are more likely reject the entire Christian message.

Further, there are millions of Christians who see no conflict between evolution or any science and their faith. Ham and his gang are insisting scientists resolve this theological debate by suppressing science. Rather than a scientist and a fundamentalist debating this, the argument is between competing branches of co-religionists.

Finally, creationism does violate scripture in several ways.

Young Earth Creationism implies that the universe is an untrustworthy witness because the universe testifies without any reservation that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, and that the solar system is 4.55 billion years old, that dinosaurs and humans never lived together, and that there was no global flood in historic times or any other times.

Scripture insists that the creation is trustworthy, and is in fact a true witness to God. For example;

Psalm 19:
1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge. (New American Standard Bible)

Psalm 85:11 reads, “Truth springs from the earth; and righteousness looks down from heaven” (NASB). The Hebrew word for truth, emet, basically means “certainty and dependability.”

Addressing his three friends, Job challenges them: “Ask the animals, they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.” — Job 12:7-8.

The New Testament also reiterates this;

Mr. Ham and his ilk had better consider Romans 1:18-20 with more care;

18. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19. because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Ham and the other YECs refuse the evidence of the creation, and even of scripture to preserve their interpretation of the first few pages of the Genesis. If the creation does not fit their failed interpretation of these few pages they insist that the rest of the Bible must be rejected.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Berlinski's ignorance captured on film.

Creationists have attacked the concept of homology and the support it gives to evolutionary theory in two ways; they lie about what homology is, and they promolgate false examples and equally false counter-examples. Anatomical homology is not mere "similarity" of superfical appearance, it is deeper strcutural, genetic and development matching.

A recent example by intelligent design creationsts sponsored by the Discovery Institute has been posted on YouTube.

Discovery Institute produced video is based on the fictional account of evolution, "Icons of Evolution" written by the Reverend Dr. Dr. Jon Wells. David Berlinski's comments about homology, like all professional creationists I have ever encountered, are simply wrong, and probably lies. His main example of the marsupial carnivore the "Tasmanian wolf" (Marsupialia, Thylacinidae) are particularly wrong and misleading. He says, "Take the Australian (sic) wolf that except of the reproductive system, features a wide variety of organ systems that are absolutely homological to the North American Timber Wolf. But there is no evidence that these homological structures arose because some wolf at some time in the past - some proto wolf- decided to first migrate to Australia and then to migrate to North America. The evolutionary lines are completely distinct and yet we see a profound degree of homology. We see this throughout the animal kingdom."

Derlinski misleads viewers by implying homologies should not be apparent between marsupial mammals and placental mammals. Of course there should be- they are all mammals. But, he then makes the utterly false assertion that the marsupial "Tasmanian wolf" is more like the placental timber wolf. By any honest analysis, the opposum is more like, and more closely related to this Tasmanian carnivor than any placental mammal. Finally, Berlinski's remarks about a "proto wolf" migrating about the world are absurd and bear no relation to any science. He is presenting a strawman merely to distract. His biggest false hood he saved for the end, "... we see a profound degree of homology." Clearly Berlinski either does not know what a homology is, or he is utterly ignorant about marsupial thylacine, and and placental canid anatomy, or he is a liar.

I recommend this overview of thylacine natural history.
The scientific facts are in direct opposition to Berlinski's wolf comments, but he is in total agreement with the notorious creationist highschool text book, "Of Panda's and People." There (pg 1116-118, see also fig. 5-2, 1993 edition), the spurious similarity of the Tasmanian "wolf" and the North American grey wolf is used to dispute the fact that homology is a powerful piece of supporting evidence for common descent. In figure 5-2 of the 1993 edition of "Pandas" the caption reads,
"The skulls of a dog (A), a North American wolf (B), and a Tasmanian wolf (C). Notice that the skull of the North American wolf is somewhat similar to the dog's, which is said to be related to it, but nearly identical to the Tasmanian wolf, which is allegegly only distantly related to it."

Reading that tripe is submitting to brain pollution. First, let's dispose of the implication that dog and wolf skulls are only "somewhat similar." The truth is that every single bone and tooth of the wolf and domestic dog are identical except for scaling. The truth is that these species (or subspecies) are able to cross-breed although with reduced interfertiality. The domestic dog was introduced to the home range of the Tasmanian "wolf" as much as 20,000 years ago, and there is no evidence what so ever that they ever cross-bred, and there is nothing but scientific evidence that they could not. The fraud of "Of Pandas and People" is further exposed when the authors falsely claim that the Tasmanian "wolf" is "nearly identical" to the North American grey wolf. This is a lie. For a direct photographic comparison between the Tasmainian "wolf" and the North American grey wolf, take a look at this photo series on the Tasmanian "wolf" and the Grey wolf dental anatomy.

You can read another perspective of the gross errors of fact and interpretation regarding homology and evolution found in "Of Pandas and People," and parroted by Berlinski at the National Center for Science Education.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The American Enteprise (soft neo-facist) Institute

The AEI held a recent circle-jerk on the topic of "Darwinism and Conservatism: Friends or Foes? My partial responcse follows:

As I listened along,

Hayward missed the obvious- evolutionary theory is the nearest thing we have to a “proven” theory. There are no competing propositions which can simultaneously account for the mass of data from all of the historical sciences; astronomy/cosmology, geology, paleontology, biology, anthropology. “Darwinism” has been proclaimed as the source for both “left” and “right” extreme social policies with equal (that is none) validity. (I gave up listening to his BS after about 3 minutes).

Arnhart is particularly absurd: conservatism is “liberty and order, freedom and virtue”

“the left assumes human nature is so malleable, so perfectable that it can be shaped in almost any direction. In responce to that conservatives object that in fact social order arrises not from rational planning but from the spontanious order of instincts and habit.”

“Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought by showing how spontanious order arrises from social instincts and a moral sense shaped by genetic evolution and
expresed by cultural evolution.”

West's argument reduces to Darwinism=leftist thought=utpoianism=eugenics=racism=Nazi Holocaust

“conservatives see humans as naturally imperfect in their knowledge and their virtue.” ORIGINAL SIN ANYONE? But Intelligent Design isn't creationism- oh no, never that!

“conervatives really do believe that human beings do have a natural moral sense that supports ordered liberty as secured by the social order of family life, the economic order of private property, and the political order of limited government.”

“There really is a universal human nature constituted by at least 20 natural desires that manifest themselves in every human society throughout history because those desires belong to the evolved nature of the human species”

Arnhart claims that “Darwinianism” holds that; “Men and women will marry and form families, mothers will care for their children, young males will compete for mates and status, societies will organize themselves into male dominance hierarchies, competing societies will go to war, and humans will use language and symbols to try to figure out what it all means.” He then argues that these “darwinian desires” plus the remainder of the unstated “at least 20” equate to “conservatism.”

By the time I got to the second of his “Five Propositions” I was too revolted to keep
taking notes.

John West is even worse than Arnhart. I liked reading Kurt Vonnegut but I certainly
know of no reason to care about his rejection (according to West) of human evolution.

Marx and Freud have been “debunked?” About like the majority of Tyco Brahe’s astronomy has been debunked. That is, the parts of Marx’s economic theory that were irrefutable are now core ideas of modern economics. Freud’s concept of psychosocial development, and innate biological drives is still the foundation for modern psychology, and his “talking therapy” is still the standard of non-chemical psychotherapy. These are facts regardless of whether or not one agrees only a little, or not at all with Marxist or Freudians.

West next bloviates that among the secular elite, Darwin is “a secular saint.” He states that Dawinists have, “clothed themselves in the mantel of modern science successfully stigmatizing those who criticize then as bigoted Bible thumpers who are antiscience. The greatest critics of “Darwin” are what creationists like West call Darwinsts. The weak ass criticisms promoted by creationists are merely echoes- typically decades out of date- to criticisms first posed by real scientists. The difference being that scientists correct the errors of current theory they discover while creationists merely sit back and cackle about how “gawddidit.”

About 3 minutes of West and I am in need of a rest- and beer.

West rejects the concepts of theistic evolution, probably the most common concept held by a Christian or Jew, and equates this with "atheism." Then he states that it is perhaps possible that a form of "modest Darwinism" could be rephrased so as not to be "harmful," but, "then it no longer would be Darwinian." West objects to conservatives offering "idiosyncratic deffinitions" of Darwinism and then has nothing to offer but his hideously obsessive formulation of as "science as evil" opposed to moral universals which he extends to the defence of capitalism.

According to West, Darwinism inevitably promotes "relativism and utopian social reforms such as eugenics" West objects that if behavior is subject to selective pressure, Darwinists find "it is hard to see an objectve ground to condemning any particular behavior found in nature." West next links "Darwinism" to infanticide. He claims that "monogamy is natural, but then so are polygamy, adultry and even rape." (insert biblical examples here)!

Biological desires, in support of conservatism, must be "normnative." "If one believes that natural desires have been implanted in human beings by intelligent design or even that the represent irreducible and unchanging truths inherant in the universe (somehthing ala sort of a modern Platoism) it would certainly be rational to accept those desires as a grounding for a universal code of morality."

West waxed wroth that under a Darwinian framework when conditions of survival change human behaviors change (35:32). TURNBULL The Mountain People, the Donner party, the ultimate rebuke of West's absolutist moralizing is the greater propensity for religious fanatics to promote murder and even suicide. The Jones Town massacre had a goodly number of associated homicides, the Heaven's Gate episode show how easily religious mania leads to death. We read every single day about the suicide bombins in Iraq prompted by the religious ferver of the conservative movement's millennialists electing George W. Bush, and the murderus religious mania they unleashed.

I need another break.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Mr. Chapman and "40 Days and 40 Nights"

A new book out on the Dover "Pandas" trial is "40 Days and 40 Nights" by Matthew Chapman. In addition to many other attributes, Mr. Chapman is also a great-great- grandson of Charles Darwin. Chapman insisted that this was not all that relevant to his life, and I would be willing to believe him if he hadn't made such a fuss.

I did enjoy reading Chapman's book. It brought a number of chuckles and a few out-right laughs. The strongest feature of the book was his apparent concern and even fondness for nearly all involved. His quick character sketches humanized the participants in ways that I had not perceived from reading, and even meeting some of the principals.

That said, there were some features that I found odd. My biggest surprise was that Chapman made no mention at all of the famous "Of Pandas and People" "cdesign_proponentsists" gaff exposed in Barbara Forrest's testimony. I had been anticipating that his reaction to such a blatant con-job would be particularly amusing. But there was no mention- none. I reread the chapter to see if I had missed it, and then I even checked the page numbers to be sure nothing mechanical had failed. But there was no "cdesign proponentsists" to be found.

Michael Behe's cross examination by Eric Rothschild had similar omissions where I wished Chapman's talent for observation had been given play. For example, Chapman spends some time on Rothschild and Behe going back and forth over the question of the evolution of the adaptive immune system (190-193). A portion of this was a bit of "theater" where Rothschild stacks piles and piles of published research on the evolution of the immune system in front of Behe, who has claimed in testimony that no such research exists. Chapman seemed to have missed that while doing so Rothschild handed Behe several massive textbooks relevant to just this question, and after a time, Behe asked, "Mr. Rothschild, would you like your books back? They're heavy."

Chapman incorrectly called the immune system exchange "Rothschild's last attack on Behe" (190). This lead to the glaring omission of Rothschild's cross examination of the analogy of "intelligent design detection al la the ID creationists, and the real science of archaeology. This followed the lunch break on Day 12 of the trial, and perhaps Chapman never made it back into the courtroom that afternoon. Few would blame him, and fewer notice but me! This is because his omission also stepped all over my 2.5 seconds of Dover fame. Rothschild used as a portion of his challenge my chapter on archaeology and forensics from "Why Intelligent Design Fails" (Young and Edis 2004). The end of Behe's cross examination was Rothschild's observation that, "Science fiction movies are not science, are they, Professor Behe?" Behe's answer was irrelevant and this exchange found its way into the Judge's decision.

The real quality of Chapman's writing, observation, and humanity is in a last scene set at the end of the trial (250-251). On one side of the street the plaintiffs, their lawyers, their families, the support crew (including Nick Matzke), and others meet in celebration and good cheer. On the other side of the street, the defence attorneys sat alone.

I could almost feel sorry for the bastards.

OPPS, I was corrected this afternoon re: “cdesign proponentists.” For those not close followers of the creationists and their program, the book "Of Pandas and People" was the original "intelligent design" textbook. It was targeted on highschools in the USA. The work on the book began in the early 1980s and it was solidly a "special creationism" text. Following the US Supreme Court decision in Edwards v Aguillard (1987) outlawing "special creationism" or "creation science," the book's authors simply used a word processor to delete "creationists" and replace with "design proponents." In one preserved draft copy, there was the telltale error where an incomplete deletion resulted in “cdesign proponentists.”

This was not actually used in the Dover trial by Barbara Forrest as I had incorrectly recalled because, as explained to me today by expert Nick Matzke, “It was like pouring salt in the wound, when the wound was decapitation.”

Since this was posted at Panda's Thumb, and as a review at, I have left the original of my comments and added the corection.

My appologies to Mr. Chapman.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Creationst Say the Darndest Things about Dinosaurs

Here are just a few of the most obvious errors in the creationist tract "Radiocarbon dating dinosaurs."

The opening paragraph claims to present some published C14 data from 1970 and inferred that these were current problems for radiocarbon dating. So the first falsehood is that a paper in 1970 on the issues regarding calibration and sample preparation has current relevance. Data from 40 years ago pretty much is useless. But let's look at them.

The creationists claim that a date of 28,000 years (28 Ka) was reported for "Sabre-toothed tiger: 28,000 years (evolution: a few million)." First, all radiocarbon dates must be reported as "radiocarbon years before present (RCYBP)" or "calibrated YBP" with reference to the calibration standard. Secondly, the age range for sabertooth "tigers," (Smilodon) extends to the early Holocene, or about 10,000 years ago. So a date of 28 Ka is entirely possible. I strongly doubt that these 40 year old data are valid, but the errors these creationists made in just one line are impressive; 1) the data are incorrectly presented, 2) the age range for Smilodon given by the creationists, "a few million," was incorrect, 3) the reported age of 28 Ka is well within the known dates for Smilodon.

The biggest con job of the opening paragraph is the implication that the improperly cited paper in Radiocarbon even presented these data as valid.

The reported "data" on unspecified "dinosaur bone" are useless as presented. What are we told about them? We are first told of bone fragments from a " Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur." There is no usable information about where or how these materials were collected, or treated nor is there any referenced accession numbers or publications that could lead to such information. Without this information the data are meaningless. We are next told about four more samples, three supposedly from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh PA. The remaining bone is a total mystery. Even though there is a noted vertebrate paleontology museum in Pittsburgh, without giving the deaccession numbers from the museum it is impossible to know what these bones really were. There was no table giving a data summary as promised, "The table below lists these dates and those of four other samples ..." There is no table, there are no data, there is no point to this creationist gem.

Two AMS analyses were supposedly run, one at U of Arizona and one at a mystery "overseas AMS lab." One other beta decay laboratory is left a total mystery and no laboratory accession numbers of any kind are given. The beta decay samples were apparently augmented with a "coprolite" sample. All the errors and omissions related to the bones are repeated for the coprolite.

The authors of this article expose ignorance in every paragraph. One of my favorite is their incorrect use of the word "appetite."
The dating procedure used on the bones was a bio-apatite method, which was our only option at the time because of the lack of large amounts of bone protein or more reliable material. Bones were washed with dilute acetic acid, and crushed to less than 1 mm in size. The bone powder is then digested in cold dilute acetic acid with constant agitation for 24 hours to remove normal carbonates. The sample is then hydrolyzed under vacuum with HCL to dissolve bone appetite and evolve its carbon dioxide for analysis.

The word they were groping for was "apatite" which is a common bone mineral, chemicaly it is calcium phosphate. Even though they have copied some of a laboratory proceedure which used the correct term, they obviously failed to understand what it refered to or what it was.

As there are no meaningful data given, there is no point to this tract.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hinckley again

Once again Mr. Hickley opines

My response

Re: The age of reason

Mr. Jim Hinckley has written that his goals are to merely provide "material for water cooler conversation, to spark discussion on controversial topics and, perhaps, encourage people to question, to think." I guess that means he need not attend to facts or even truth with a small "t." Hinckley has had about a month that he might have used to learn about evolution, or about what is a theory- any scientific theory. Instead he still incorrectly refers to evolution as a "concept" that is "stuck in the realm of theory."

Hinckley asks, what happens to lay persons who question science? The obvious thing is they are published in newspapers without malicious editing. We have a long history telling us what happened to "heretics" and religious minorities, as well as scientists when religion gains political power; they get killed.

Hinkley includes the Nazi Holocaust as light "water cooler" fare and falsely claimed it was inspired by Darwin. This has become a popular creationist lie. And it is a more dangerous lie than anyother because as it is said, "He who is ignorant of history is doomed to repeat it."

Racism and bigotry are far older than Darwin, and older than the sciences. They have been justified by every religious and nationalistic sort of argument. The man most responsible for Germany's "racial hygiene" or "Rassenhygiene," prgrams and author of its founding articles and books was Alfred Ploetz. His 1895 work particularly argued aginst medical care for the "weak" as this would alow them to reproduce more than the "fit."

He and many of his American followers opposed welfare and medical care for the poor as "unfair advantages" for the unfit that harmed the chances of hard working, moral sorts of people. His ideal of "fitness" was of course the wealthy. Ploetz established the Society for Racial Hygiene, {Gesellshaft für Rassenhygiene}, in 1905 which grew to 1,300 members by 1930. Curiously, the Racial Hygiene movement opposed birthcontrol, and in the words of Max von Gruber (1914) "the so-called women's liberation movement."

This latter point was echoed by American eugenicists who objected to birthcontrol as part of an "antibaby strike" by "liberated women." Today's US religious right-wing as represented by Hinckley fits hand and glove with the anti-minority, anti-feminist, and anti-poor philosophy that was the true wellspring of Nazism.

The targeting of Jews by the Nazis is directly exposed in the 1938 Nazi "Office of Racial Policy" publication {Inromationsdienst} where Martin Luther’s advice on the “proper” treatment of Jews was given prominent display:

" ... to put their synagogues and schools to fire, and what will not burn, to cover with earth and rubble so that no-one will ever again see anything there but cinders ... Second, one should tear down and destroy their houses, for they do also in there what they do in their schools and synagogues ... And third, one should confiscate their prayer books and Talmud, in which idolatry and lies, slander and blasphemy is taught” From Proctor 1988:88.

The founder of Protestant Christianity was a far greater inspiration to the Nazis than any scientist.

But Hinckley wants, no he demands, "absolute truth." Without this truth with a capital "T" he sees only destruction. Absolute truth is one that clearly must be uniformly imposed on all people, otherwise how is it absolute? What did one of our nation's founders see coming from absolutism? Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children since the introduction of Christianity have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity." — : Notes on Virginia, 1782. Absolute rulers demand that we acknolwedge their absolute truth. In September 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, "And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and libraries of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them."

Note well that Jefferson linked science and libraries with "light and liberty." He was not worried that they might lose their churches and cathedrals. I am with the author of the Declaration of Independence. Is two hundred years too long to remember why America exists?

Hinckley ends his latest screed hoping that infliction of his "absolute truth" will introduce "a new age of reason."

Some good advice Mr. Hinckley is that when you fall in a hole- stop digging.

Gary Hurd, Ph. D.
Dana Point, California

(Thanks to John "Catshark" at Thoughts in a Haystack Tap Dancing in California for the "heads up")

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Some Creationists Can't Evolve

I have been drawn into an exchange on the "Kingman Daily Miner" which prides itself as "Kingmans only Daily Newpaper."

*Edited to add Mar, 18: It has been 4 days since I submitted a partial response to the bullshit by Silas Stillwater, and there is no post on the paper's website. I doubt that there will be. My initial response was weirdly edited by the newpaper removing all of my original paragraphing. I suspect that the editorial policy at the paper is creationist through and through.

Following my response to Jim Hickley's creationist screed, someone using the name of Silas Stillwater posted a response.

My response follows

A common short definition of evolution is "change over time." The recent, rather long comment by someone perhaps named Silas Stillwater showed a remarkable lack of evolution. I'll try to be more brief. The objections to science he makes are all what we call PRATTs, or Points Refuted Thousands of Times. Most have webpages and even books refuting them, for example the "Index to Creationist Claims" ( ). But the dedicated creationist is oblivious. Stillwater shows that he is disingenuous at best when he excused Hinkley's falshoods because Hinckley "... writes for the casual reader." Who else should we try our best to be honest and clearly spoken with, Mr. Stillwater? Why do you feel it is acceptable to lie to general readers? Is it merely because it is easier than with a scientific audience?

Stillwater followed with an equally false note that he was not an advocate of a particular position even after his years of "research" and even publishing on the topic. Why then are all of his objections directed at science and his "get out of jail" cards wasted on Hinckley's creationism? On a personal basis, I earned a doctorate in anthropology over 30 years ago, and count in my professional experience being a statistical data analyst/computer programer, an analytical chemist, a professor of medicine, and a forensic scientist. But it was nearly 17 years ago when I was Curator and then Director of Education at a natural history museum that I was reluctantly drawn into the creationist attack on science and reason. Since that time I have contributed to several publications, print and electronic, on this topic.

Among the electronic media, I have been published by the which Stillwater despises as an "evolutionist haven." More of that dubious neutrality by Stillwather. I co-founded the Panda's Thumb website in 2004 which currently has recorded over 4.5 million visits, 18 times Stillwater's 0.25 million. Even accepting Stillwater's unsupported claims regarding his website (What was it called?), he is no comparison with Panda's Thumb, or TalkOrigins. T.O. publishes dozens of scientific experts, including leaders in their fields, on how their research and studies directly refute the sorts of creationist falsehoods presented in Hinckley and Stillwater's recent comments. Further, T.O. receives thousands of hits daily; even single articles out of hundreds published have far over twice the hit count claimed by Stillwater as evidence of his experience.

But, Stillwater draws on this minor experience to observe that mathematicians, or "mathy" types genearlly, are dismissive of evolutionary biology compared with actual biologists. Weirdly, Stillwater ignored the obvious conclusion that people who actually know about biology understand evolution, while those who lack the
needful training do not. Instead, he imagines some sort of "probability theory" problem for evolution. I have doubt if Stillwater, or Hinckley for that matter, has any idea what probability theory is, or how it is applied in population genetics, or evolution. Since nothing that Stillwater claims on this is supported by any document or evidence beyond his bald assertions, we can only guess at what this might mean regarding the popular understanding of evolution. One obvious conclusion is that people who know some math, but are ignorant about biology are just as biologically uniformed as people who don't know either math or biology. What we can be certain of is that this is not relevant to the either the significance or validity of evolution. It is pure smoke screen, like Hinckley's meaningless "probabilities" of amino acids randomly aligning into proteins which if Stillwater had even a modicum of the expertise he claims would have known.

For those following along point by point, I want to move to why Stillwater excused Hinckley's gross errors regarding Darwin and biology professor Kenyon. Stillwater wants you to skip these because they are gross errors! Stillwater is not unbiased, he wants us all to forget that Hinckley is incompetently repeating creationist frauds while pretending to be independent, informed and honest.

Stillwater made an accusation out of my pointing out that Hinckley followed in a long Creationist tradition of making false quotations. In fact, there are published volumes of these used by creationists. One example, that just happened to contain the Patterson "quote" Hickley and Stillwater so revere was published in the "Revised Quote Book," published by the Creation Science Foundation in 1990. The first "Quote Book" had to become "Revised" because the first publication was so filled with out-right fabrications and lies that even the creationists had to reissue it. I personally find it strange that the bulk of Stillwater's comment is related to this blatent misrepresentation of Professor Patterson. Since we are happily at the start of spring training, let me say that when a batter is leaning out over the plate, a high inside pitch is not totally out of the question. But, the creationist lies regarding Patterson's remarks and intended meaning are intentionally throwing at the batter! It is not about "footnotes" it is about lying.

The context that neither Hinckley nor Stillwater seem aware of was the heated debate within the sciences some 20 to 30 years ago regarding the place of fossils and molecular genetics in evolutionary theory, and how fossils could be orgainized into nested groups related to living species. Even more exactly, Collin Patterson was one of the leaders in a effort to replace the old classifications with more modern, more mathematical classification. He shared this position with Niels Ethridge, and Steven Jay Gould, all of whom provided much creationist fodder in their polemics against 19th century gradualism. Hinckley and Stillwater, by repeating the lies of creationist "quote mines" are apparently ignorant of this argument, since they have promoted the secondary falsehood that evolution is a monolithic dogma. Since Stillwather claimed to be a highly proficient expert, we must reject either his honesty or is claim to be an expert. Oh. That also means he is not honest.

Here is what Patterson had to say about the misrepresented fragment of his long ago talk, "That brush with Sunderland (I had never heard of him before) was my first experience of creationists. The famous "keynote address" at the American Museum of Natural History in 1981 was nothing of the sort. It was a talk to the "Systematics Discussion Group" in the Museum, an (extremely) informal group. I had been asked to talk to them on "Evolutionism and creationism"; fired up by a paper by Ernst Mayr published in Science just the week before. I gave a fairly rumbustious talk, arguing that the theory of evolution had done more harm than good to biological systematics (classification).

Unknown to me, there was a creationist in the audience with a hidden tape recorder. So much the worse for me. But my talk was addressed to professional systematists, and
concerned systematics, nothing else," Colin Patterson to Lionel Theunissen (1993).

Stillwater concluded that "Patterson had a problem with the theory of evolution."
Stillwater would be so totally wrong as to be reduced to a joke in the sciences, we have little patience for those who fail as badly as he at simple concepts. For readers interested in a full discussion of Patterson and creationists, I recommend the following (or go to TalkOrigins and search for "Patterson").

Stillwater acknowledges there are "problems" with Hinckley in spite of making every effort to deny or excuse them. He committed a major hypocrisy arguing that I should be careful with the po' lil' general public, when not minutes before his forgives Hinckley's frauds because they are written for the same po' general public. I am called to the Bible verse, 1 John 4: 1. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The real difference is that I have not lied.

Gary Hurd, Ph.D.