Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Of Blogging, Turkeys and Power Outages

Ouch! Martin pointed out I haven't posted for, well a few least I was missed!

Actually, a couple of things kept me from blogging the last week or so. After my "blogosversary" post, I headed to Nashville for the National Wild Turkey Federation national convention. No, I'm not a turkey hunter (at least not yet - several guys at the convention are working on me, however!). I've been researching the "extinction" of the wild California turkey, Meleagris californica, as a combined project with the US Forest Service and the NWTF. Everyone assumes the wild turkey went extinct in California at the end of the Pleistocene and that its reintroduction here in California (beginning in the 1870s) actually constitutes introduction of a non-native, or pest species. Turns out the data don't show that. I was asked to give a presentation to the Technical Committee for the NWTF and spent most of the week in Nashville talking to biologist, turkey hunters and getting introduced to Wild Turkey Honey Bourbon (I'm a tequila drinker myself, but this bourbon was pretty damn smooth!). I was planning to post during the convention, but, well, the night events were even better than the day long seminars, so I kind of got a bit behind. I'll make it up by posting on the turkey research shortly.

I can tell you, however, that everything said about Southern hospitality is absolutely true! I consider myself a fairly friendly guy, but was feeling like an axe murderer compared to the friendliness of our southern brethren!

On top of that, I got home just under a severe Sierran storm that cut power to our town for more than 20 hours starting Monday night...I've only now been able to get back online! It's amazing the "techno withdrawals" one goes through without access to a computer and the internet.

More shortly....

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Birthday To Northstate Science (Better Late Than Never!)

Well, Northstate Science reached its first birthday about two weeks ago (officially February 6). I knew it was coming and had planned on a "reflections on a year of blogging" post, but well, got busy and never quite got around to it. I did want to comment on a couple of things, however:

- I have come to really enjoy the blogging. It is certainly very therapeutic and clearly allows me to "vent" from time to time, although I'm trying to make an effort at more reasoned responses (my wife always says, "You don't talk that way in public!"). It has also re-kindled my interest in all those areas of science that got me excited in the first my reading and researching have gone up dramatically since blogging (you have to understand, my "day job" is largely administrative, so the opportunities for active research don't come as often as I would like - most is done on my own time at a considerably reduced pace - it's much easier to have a beer at the end of the day than pick up a Binfordian treatise...). So if nothing else, blogging has forced me to get "back in the groove"...

- I clearly need to blog more regularly. In looking back over the year my posting average was well under one per day. Although I often bemoan not having the audience of a PZ, Ed or Afarensis, I clearly did not post often enough to merit the attention. I'm trying to change that this year and am shooting for a monthly average of more than one per day (so far I'm there). Let's see if I can do that and where it gets me in terms of attention in the blogosphere..

- I guess I did relatively well for the first year...I started with an average of about 60 hits per month and now I'm around 60 per day. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but the overall trend during the year has been an increase in the number of visits. It would certainly be nice to be linked at more locations, but I'm sure that will come. I had a couple of off-the-wall spikes when PZ linked to some posts of mine, but if I can contribute my increasing success to anyone, it has to be to my anthropology buddies, Afarensis, Carl, Kambiz, Duane...and probably a few others to whom I owe some gratitude. B&B and Coturnix were the first to ever link to me, so these guys kind of gave me my start. I know there are thanks to everyone!

If my large scale audience is only creeping up, I can definately say that my local audience is dramatically increasing. There are more people I see on the streets of Susanville who have begun to check out Northstate Science on a regular basis. That was one of my goals for starting this blog, as an "alternative" to other sources of information. Interestingly, I have done almost no advertising about the blog, either locally or via other websites - anyone who has discovered Northstate Science has done so either via word of mouth or through searches and links to my posts (hell, most of my relatives, including my mother, don't know I actually have a blog!). I might change that this year...

- Finally, I just want to say how appreciative I am of the broader community of bloggers out there, those I agree with and even those I don't agree with (yes, Kurt, that means you!). There are a number of people I would love to meet in person, buy a couple of drinks, sit around and talk "stuff" (Afarensis, Duane, Coturnix, Ed, Kambiz, RangerX, Jim West, to name just a few off the top of my head...oh, of course PZ!). I would also like to get to know some of my regular readers better, like Chuck who is only down the road about 30 miles...

So, here's to all of you...May this year bring the best to all of you and may I "meet" even more of you during the next 12 months!

All the best,
Chris at Northstate Science

Two Versions of Evolution In America

Via PZ this morning, I read a superb article by Edward Humes, author of Monkey Girl, on the two theories of evolution currently being taught in America. The article's thesis is quite simple:

There are really two theories of evolution. There is the genuine scientific theory, and there is the talk-radio pretend version, designed not to enlighten but to deceive and enrage.

We all know what the difference is:

The talk-radio version had a packed town hall up in arms at the “Why Evolution Is Stupid” lecture. In this version of the theory, scientists supposedly believe that all life is accidental, a random crash of molecules that magically produced flowers, horses and humans — a scenario as unlikely as a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747. Humans come from monkeys in this theory, just popping into existence one day. The evidence against Darwin is overwhelming, the purveyors of talk-radio evolution rail, yet scientists embrace his ideas because they want to promote atheism.

These are just a few highlights of the awful and pervasive straw-man image of evolution that pundits harp about in books and editorials and, yes, on talk radio, and this cartoon version really is stupid. No wonder most Americans reject evolution in poll after poll.

It is sometimes difficult to battle against the twin juggernauts of American culture these days: a well funded media that spews massive volumes of mind-numbing tripe daily from radio talk shows and newspapers; combined with the American intellectual penchant for uncritically accepting anything tied to personal economic gain, patriotism, weight loss, or religion...and uncritically rejecting everything else. Struggling against this tide of willingly accepted misinformation is the "real" theory of evolution:

But then there is the real theory of evolution...for which there is overwhelming evidence in labs, fossils, computer simulations and DNA studies. Most Americans have not heard of it. Teachers give it short shrift in schools because the subject upsets too many parents who only know the talk-radio version. But real evolution isn’t random; it doesn’t say man came from monkeys. Those claims are made up by critics to get people riled up — paving the way for pleasing alternatives such as intelligent design.

Real evolutionary theory explains how life forms change across generations by passing on helpful traits to their offspring, a process that, after millions of years, gradually transforms one species into another. This does not happen randomly but through nature’s tendency to reward the most successful organisms and kill the rest. This is why germs grow resistant to antibiotics and why some turtles are sea animals and others survive quite nicely in the desert, and why dinosaurs — and more than 99 percent of all other species that have ever lived on Earth — are extinct.

The environment changes. The recipe for survival changes with it. And life changes to keep up — or it dies. Darwin’s signature insight is both brilliant and elegantly, brutally simple.

The real theory of evolution does not try to explain how life originated — that remains a mystery. The truth is that many scientists accept evolution and believe in God — and in a natural world so complete that it strives toward perfection all on its own, without need of a supernatural designer to keep it going.

As PZ notes, this is why we evolutionists get so angry (sorry, "passionate") and dismiss creationism as the joke it is. Creationist proponents are dismally ignorant of the data for evolution, fraudulent in their presentation of "alternative" ideas and yet these "prophets of talk-radio evolution" Humes notes, have the loudest media megaphone.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Excuse Me...Who's Arrogant????

Rush Limbaugh is simply "passionate"...Bill O'Reilly is "passionate"....Pat Robertson is "passionate"...

Richard Dawkins, on the other hand, is "arrogant"...

Again, another entry too good to pass up. Read "Look up arrogant, you faith-filled gas bag!"

Following The Northstate Science Reader

I was reading Stephen Carr's blog after he left some superb comments on my previous post Caldwell Misses A Deeper Connection regarding the fact that Hitler did not accept evolution and in fact strongly believed humans were a product of the divine (so much for linking Darwin and Hitler as so many creationists are desperate to do!).

But you have to also read Stephen's great take on the Resurrection of Jesus...

Europeans More Advanced Than Americans

No surprises here. Europeans have a significantly better understanding of science and evolution than Americans. Of course the primary reason for this is Americans' uncritical acceptance of Bronze Age texts as absolute fact:

"The lowest-ranking country in terms of discounting evolution is Turkey. The United States is next," said Miller, who has analyzed surveys on belief in evolution from around the world. "The way we characterize religious fundamentalists in Turkey and in the U.S. is that they are both one-book religions".

"Fundamentalists in this country say everything you need to know is in the Bible, period. Islamists say everything you need to know is in the Koran, period," said Miller, a professor in political science.

So tell me again, how is Christianity fundamentally different from Islam?

Exposing Students to Evolutionary Theory

Another news story caught my eye this morning and further reminded me of anecdotal experiences with college and high school students here in Lassen County. A great article by Eric Scott, Curator of Paleontology at the San Bernardino County Museums reports that there is always more to learn from the fossil record. Some quotes from the article:

On the paleontological regard for "missing links":

In the early days of paleontology, many scientists sought "missing links" and interpreted evolution to be progressive, from "lower" forms to more advanced (and therefore "better") species. These views, still promoted by the media and widely held in the general view, are considered outdated by paleontologists today.

On the nature of "perfection" in the design of living organisms:

Living horses and their relatives are marvelous biological machines, seemingly perfected by millions of years of evolution. But "perfected" is actually the wrong word. Living horses are the current outcome of horse evolution, but they were never the goal of evolution. Evolution is progression, not progress. It is not directed at improving earlier models with some ultimate über-species in view as an eventual end-product.

My Anthropology class just watched an episode in the PBS Evolution series, Great Tansformations, which discusses major adaptive changes in the fossil record and directly links them to current understanding of genetics. You could see that many students found it intriguing and had never been exposed to this kind of information before. Several wanted to know where they could get the entire series...

Teaching Anti-Evolution Promotes Greater Acceptance of Evolutionary Theory

An interesting post at Telic Thoughts reports on a study in which teaching both evolution and anti-evolution (ID/Creationism) in class leads to students' greater acceptance of evolution:

At the end of the course, the students were invited to take a voluntary, anonymous survey about possible changes in their outlooks. The results, published in the November 2005 issue of the journal BioScience, found that 61 percent of students exposed to both creationism and evolution changed their outlooks, while only 21 percent of students exposed only to evolution did so — and nearly all of the changes were from the creationist to the evolutionist direction.

The post is followed by the usual ID hand-wringing (led by Sal Cordova) about how the study must be "flawed" because, logically, students would always choose ID over evolution when confronted with both (Cordova reports that Dembski gets 100% turnover from evolution to ID when he teaches!).

While the study may have some methodological issues, the overall result is interesting and backs up some anectodal information from my own college classes here in Susanvlle. When the significant flaws in Intellilgent Design are pointed out to students and the disinformation ID activists hand out about evolution is corrected, my experience is that a large proportion of students, if not becoming strict adherents to evolutionary theory, at least realilze they've been fed a line of BS from Behe, Dembski, Wells and the pastors, teachers and other adults in their lives who regurgitate ID propaganda back to them. Certainly greater numbers of students walk away thinking there is something more susbstantial to evolutionary theory than what they have been lead to believe by local creationists.

Friday, February 16, 2007

This Hurts, But...

I am probably going to take some flak for this locally, but Kurt Bonham is correct on this issue. He and I disagree on most things (at least thus far), but open access to information and opinion, via blogs, newspaper stories, or a sheet of paper tacked to a telephone pole, is the bedrock of free speech. I'm also not keen on the idea that those of us who work for the government, be it local, state or federal should have to adhere to a more restricted freedom of speech. I would agree that there are basic rules we should probably follow: some information should be restricted (if good reasons are offered) and we probably should not claim to speak FOR the organizations at which we work. But outside of that, the sky should pretty much be the limit. The idea that a local paper should have exclusive access to reporting local issues is ridiculous.

Caldwell Misses A Deeper Connection

Larry Caldwell, the north state's king of frivolous lawsuits and Evolution News and Views contributor extraordinaire, has a new post berating the Sacramento Bee for being "...strong and uncritical proponent of Darwin's theory of evolution" and for missing the connection between Darwin and eugenics. Once again, Larry dredges up the "Let's-Tie-Darwin-To-Hitler" creationist propaganda and demonstrates his adeptness at spinning historically weak links into conspiracy faster than Heinrich Himmler. Of course eugenics is based on genetic principles not aligned with evolutionary theory. And regardless of what theoretical perspective eugenics is most closely aligned with, most evolutionary biologists recognized it was simply bad biology.

Two comments about Caldwell's piece. First he is of course blaming the development of Darwinian evolution for its perverse application in the context of eugenics. Following that logic I wonder if Larry would also blame detonation of a nuclear "dirty bomb" by Islamic extremists on U.S. soil on Oppenheimer and the American atomic program?

Second, Caldwell is upset that the Sacramento Bee is being hypocritical by promoting Darwinian theory (apparently only because they reported on some local Darwin Day events) while failing to report on the proposed connection between Darwin, eugenics and local philanthropist Charles M. Goethe:

Unfortunately, Goethe was also a very enthusiastic and public supporter of eugenics programs. Goethe's ugly legacy as a eugenicist recently inspired the CSUS to remove his name from a public arboretum and community members to demand that a local school district remove Goethe's name from a public middle school.

The connection between Darwin's theory of evolution and eugenics is a well-documented dark side of the history of Darwinism. So how can the Sacramento Bee's editorial board square its admirable condemnation of eugenics with the Bee's unwavering support for Darwin and his theory of evolution? The Bee, like all too many in the mainstream media, simply appears to a turn a blind eye to some of the uglier ramifications of Darwin's theory of evolution for society.

In some follow-up reading on Goethe's eugenics advocacy, I couldn't help but notice the underlying references to Christianity as the driving force behind Goethe's admiration for the Nazi eugenics program. Of note was Goethe's correspondence with Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin, who fiercely resisted integration during the 1950s, insisting "...the white races are the only people able to perpetuate the Christian religion". Goethe himself was highly critical of labor unions in the United States, noting that allowing those without any talent to maintain jobs was "...the opposite of scripture". It seems likely to me that Goethe's eugenics views were underwritten not by Darwinian evolution, but by biblical teaching. We certainly know that, contrary to creationist claims, Hitler, Himmler and most of the Nazis used the guise of Christian religion to justify their behavior. Eugenics might be a theoretical derivative of evolution...but its application is driven by religious worldviews. In his zeal to tag evolution with the mark of human atrocity, Caldwell misses the more fundamental connection.

It is not biological theory that leads to human atrocity, it is the politicization of religious faith, absent reason and logic and disdainful of proper science, that promotes and then justifies human atrocities committed in the name of whatever god happens to be convenient.

Sam Harris is right...

Four Stone Hearth 2 for 1

Looks like there was some confusion in posting this week's edition of Four Stone Hearth, although I see it as plus. Instead of one edition, we get the special edition of Four Stone Hearth being hosted at Hot Cup of Joe and the 9th Edition being hosted at Boas Blog.

It's a "two-for-one" that's hard to beat...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Just A Question...

Forgive me in advance, but I seem to have lost track...

Are there more people currently running for president....

...or more claiming to have fathered Anna Nicole Smith's baby?

Additional Thoughts on Syro-Palestinian Archaeology

For someone who was too tired from carting books back and forth from the garage all day, Duane can really string a bunch of sentences together in the most insightful way. He hit the ball out of the park with this it...he captures some significant issues in Syro-Palestinian archaeology.

I'll only add his post script:

PS One subject that needs to be discussed more than it is, is how archaeological research of all kinds is funded. There are dragons and monsters in these waters.

Been thinking about that myself...

I hope he writes more on the topic.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Apologetics Archaeology? Round Two

As many of you read in the comments section on my post, Apologetics Archaeology?, the discussion drew a number of comments that I felt needed a response. I also received a couple of emails on the issue. The topic of Syro-Palestinian archaeology necessarily brings strong opinions to the table, largely (perhaps exclusively?) because it directly involved the origins of sacred texts so many around the world believe to be the embodiment of TRUTH (however one might choose to define that term). I also have strong opinions about the nature of Syro-Palestinian archaeology, although I have never worked there in the field, nor have I worked on assemblages from that area. I would suggest that my interest in the region’s archaeology certainly stems from an academic interest in the human history and prehistory of the region. I find the work being conducted there fascinating from an archaeological standpoint. But my interest is also driven by concern over the nature of archaeological work that is so clearly tied to belief systems and the potential biases introduced by those belief systems. This is not simple idle curiosity on my part. It is itself driven by first hand experience with the public outreach “aftermath” of Syro-Palestinian archaeological projects here in North America. Because of its theological connections, the reach of Syro-Palestinian archaeology is long and the manner in which it is conducted reflects on issues of archaeology and science here in the United States certainly, but also in other areas of the world. I sincerely believe that Syro-Palestinian archaeology is exporting a growing problem that professional archaeologists elsewhere have to confront.

Before attempting to demonstrate this connection, let me dispense with some personal issues. First, I will try to follow Abnormal Interests lead and limit my discussion to those topics of archaeological relevance and not side-step into issues of a more personal nature. Duane has shown much professional decorum in discussions of so-called “biblical archaeology” and his example is one we should emulate. I would further note another calm voice in the discussions that I greatly admire: Christopher Heard at Higgaion (read this post for one of the most lucid discussions of interpretive issues in archaeology that I have read). Second, several individuals communicating to me through email requested that I not quote their emails directly. I will honor this and try to refer to the general issue and not specific arguments made by an individual. I will, however, quote directly from the comments left on the original post. Finally, I was taken to task for calling into question the professional “credentials” of some individuals, specifically Dr. Joe Cathey. Fair enough. It is clear that Dr. Cathey has a Ph.D. from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. We’ll leave it at that.

Although I discussed a number of issues in my blog post, apparently the most bothersome to folks was that I called into question the methodological integrity of evangelical Christians conducting archaeological research in the Middle East. That particular post was prompted primarily by my reading of several recent news accounts regarding the current director of the Gezer excavations, Dr. Steven Ortiz and his statements about the nature of archaeology. In his comments, Dr. Cathey seemed to think I had somehow derived my thoughts on the matter solely from Duane at Abnormal Interests and through discussions with Jim West. Dr. West and I have never communicated on this issue and while I was vaguely familiar with one of Duane’s blog posts on the issue, I was not aware of Dr. West’s apparent concerns with the Gezer excavations except as they are alluded to on another of Duane's posts (both West's and Cathey's links from here don't come up anymore). There was some concern expressed, however, that my questioning the integrity of archaeological work conducted at “biblical” sites originates solely with a few blog statements, news articles, or specific conversations with a few individuals. This is most definitely not the case, although each of these collectively adds to my growing apprehension about the reliability of archaeological work in the region, at least as far as it involves sites of biblical importance and is conducted by those with a theological stake in the outcome. Nor is this the first time I have suggested that "biblical" archaeology has a negative impact on the public's perception of archaeology in general or that Evangelical Christian "archaeologists" maybe shouldn't be trusted with archaeology. My issues with Syro-Palestinian archeological integrity have a history that began not only before the “Apologetics Archaeology?” post, but even before I started the Northstate Science blog.

Joe Cathey asked whether I had consulted any Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) staff in making my comments about the Gezer excavations. Let me tell you a little story about my experiences with the IAA and other Syro-Palestinian archaeologists. When several residents from my home town here in Susanville accompanied Carl Baugh and members from the Creation Evidence Museum to excavate at the Pool of Siloam in 2004, the local paper practically wet itself over the opportunity to extol the virtues of Baugh as an archaeologist who was “proving the Bible correct” by his important archaeological work in Jerusalem. But Baugh is not an archaeologist; he has no legitimate degree; he has never written a peer-reviewed article on any of his so-called “field research”; he has faked evidence and been accused of sloppy, if not incompetent, field methodology. However, the paper locally led the rest of us to believe that “Dr.” Baugh was actually directing the excavations at the Pool of Siloam (no mention was made of Dr. Ronnie Reich or Dr. Eli Shukron of the IAA, the actual directors of the Pool of Siloam excavations). The paper also went out of its way to indicate that the IAA “commissioned” Baugh’s group to work at the site. When I questioned this in the paper, I was told that the IAA’s Eli Shukron not only invited Baugh to come excavate, but also “blessed” the group for its participation. I did email an archaeologist in Jerusalem asking for further information, who forwarded my email to an IAA archaeologist (not Shukron). The short story is that although they were both helpful and provided some clarification, neither could confirm or deny the relationship between Baugh and the IAA. My email inquiries to Ronnie Reich on the matter went unanswered. In 2005 I even wrote Hershel Shanks at Biblical Archaeology Review:

Dear Dr. Shanks,

The recent Biblical Archaeology Review on the Siloam Pool was fascinating. Dr. Ronnie Reich and Dr. Eli Shukron certainly have a major discovery on their hands. However, why was credit for the excavation at the Pool not shared with Dr. Carl Baugh and his team from the Creation Evidences Museum in Glen Rose, Texas? According to articles in my local newspaper and recent radio broadcasts by the Southwest Radio Church Ministries in Bethany, Oklahoma Baugh and his team were invited to participate in the excavations and partner with the Israel Antiquities Authority to excavate at the Pool in November 2004 and on some occasions since. Two implications from these reports are clear: 1. that Baugh’s “team” comprises himself and others as professional archaeologists with the credentials necessary to excavate important archaeological sites, and 2. that the Israel Antiquities Authority not only invited, but officially sanctioned them as such.

“Dr.” Carl Baugh has no professional credibility as an archaeologist specifically, nor as a scientist in general. His Ph.D. is not from an accredited university, nor is it quantitative, nor is it in archaeology. He and his museum organization are known to have falsified data, botched excavation of legitimate paleontological resources and misrepresented their credentials. Further, neither he nor any person in his group have published a single research report, article or even short communiqué discussing methods and results, let alone submitting anything for peer-review. As far as I can tell, neither does any member of his group possess any formal training, experience or degrees in archaeology. Yet the local conservative Christian communities here are awe-struck by the idea that their members are granted special access to Holy Land sites, that they are invited to participate in archaeological excavations and scientific research, and more importantly, that they share the same professional stage (and hence earn the same professional respect) with experienced and published archaeologists.

Is the Israeli Antiquities Authority in the habit of legitimizing individuals with no valid archaeological credentials as professional archaeologists? Perhaps more to the point, are they aware this is occurring?...

…That they participated in these excavations is not doubted. However, I suspect that Baugh and others functioned as volunteers rather than esteemed colleagues as they portray. I understand the important use of volunteers for archaeological excavations. We use them frequently for excavating archaeological sites on federal lands. The USDA Forest Service Passport In Time program is wildly successful and the volunteers provide a significant contribution. But I have never had a volunteer return to his or her home town and portray themselves as a co-director of the project!

I understand the emotional attachment people have with Biblical archaeology in particular. However, many of these American conservative Christian groups seem to be participating in order to gain a measure of professional authenticity that they then parade in front of home audiences. Baugh’s group is not the only one. This is a growing issue that needs to be addressed in some official venue. Nor are these simply sour grapes on the part of a Darwinian archaeologist concerned with the broader issues of whether evolution or the Bible is true. As a Forest Service Heritage Program Manager, I am tasked with the same mission as the IAA: to oversee the preservation of archaeological sites on public lands and to ensure professional research is undertaken, by legitimate archaeologists with valid credentials. I would no sooner grant a research permit to Baugh and the Creation Evidences Museum than to a group of kindergarten children. But how am I to respond to “But we were allowed to excavate in Israel, why can’t we do it here?”

I would appreciate your comments on this issue, particularly any additional light you might shed on Baugh’s relationship with the Pool of Siloam excavations.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

To which Shanks replied (indirectly, via a staff member’s email) something to the effect that he didn’t have time for my concerns. Neither the IAA nor any archaeologist directly associated with these issues has ever responded to my inquiries. Perhaps I’ve contacted the wrong people. Perhaps they are too busy to respond. That may be the case, but it does not put me in a position to offer too much “benefit of the doubt”. In the case of my inquiries regarding Baugh’s relationship with the IAA, there are only two conclusions I can draw:

One, Carl Baugh is being typically less than honest in describing the actual relationship between himself and members of the IAA – which is what I actually suspect. However, the very fact that groups like Baugh’s are using IAA connections to gain some kind of professional legitimacy (at least in the eyes of local communities back home) should be of serious concern for the IAA, particularly as it relates to their mission of insuring the integrity of archaeological research and protection of antiquities. They should publicly condemn groups that inappropriately claim their activities are sanctioned by the IAA. At minimum, the IAA should be actively educating the public worldwide that their excavations are directed by those with professional credentials and a professional concern for the integrity of archaeological research…


Two, Carl Baugh is not exaggerating (or downright lying) and the IAA does actually recognize him as a professional archaeologist with professional credentials. If so, then as a professional archaeologist I have serious reservations about the integrity of the IAA and perhaps some of the others conducting archaeological research in that region.

Were this just an isolated case from a small town in northern California I could understand being ignored. But it is a growing issue. As a professional archaeologist I increasingly encounter people who go to the Middle East, participate in an excavation, then come home and wax eloquent on the nature of archeology, how archeology “proves” the bible, and sometimes how they themselves should be considered “archaeologists”. This is an issue I and others have to constantly confront…and correct. It is further an issue for which the IAA and Syro-Palestinian archaeologists need to take some responsibility. Dr. Ortiz and Dr. Cathey are not Carl Baugh or Willie Dye, but their comments regarding the nature of archaeology cause me some concern…and they need to understand that the activities of Baugh and others who would falsely claim a profession in archaeology derived from their experiences in the Middle East, adversely affects their own research: I did not derive my concern for the integrity of archaeological work at Gezer in a vacuum.

I am mollified somewhat by Dr. Sam Wolff’s comments that the Gezer excavations are being conducted within the full neutrality of archaeological methods. I would also point out that he is the first member of the IAA to specifically address a concern and point-blank answer a question. I am grateful to him for that. However, in all honesty, and considering the totality of my experience with the issue thus far, I remain skeptical. I think it is a fair question to ask if religious conviction has a place in scientific research. Is it possible for Christian Syro-Palestinian archaeologists to maintain “methodological naturalism”, at a time when so many of their counterparts in the United States are demanding that scientists abandon that philosophical approach in favor of non-scientific alternatives sympathetic to existing religious expectations?

Dr. Wolff also insists that Dr. Ortiz’s comments regarding “apologetics” archaeology were made in the context of a specific audience. Again, fair enough and I’ll be happy for the moment to take him at his word. Nonetheless, the field is sufficiently charged ideologically and there are enough charlatans floating around that some of us are more inherently suspicious of some motives for engaging in Syro-Palestinian archaeology than we are of archaeological work in other areas. And I believe those concerns to be well grounded. That is all the more reason for Ortiz and others to devote time to establishing their work as legitimate archaeology and distance themselves from “apologetics” archaeology.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lassen County Times In Review: Jan 30 Edition (Late)

I was busy last week and let the LCT Review slide until some friends reminded me about it on Superbowl Sunday. They took issue with the same article I had a problem with: Tony Larsen's taken on why the human species is incapable of affecting the environment. I forced myself not to read this week's edition until finishing a comment on last week, so here we go....

In “An Environmental Blind Spot in Human Perception” Staff writer Tony Larsen takes issue with the news about human influence on the global environment. The main thrust of Larsen’s argument is that humans are too insignificant a species to present any kind of an environmental threat. Humans are dwarfed by the huge scale of our planet and the vastness of the known universe. He writes:

Like our earth’s relationship to its sun in both size and distance, we are only a miniscule part of a massive ecosystem, which is, in reality, globally impervious to our influence. We hardly come up on nature’s radar.

This would be a true statement except for a couple of things. It ignores data from biology on species extinctions; it ignores data from ecology on habitat loss; it ignores data from climatology on global warming; it ignores data from fisheries on the loss of major economic fish stocks; it ignores data from conservation biology on poaching and over-hunting; it ignores zoological data on the rising number of threatened and endangered species worldwide; it ignores oceanic data on levels of toxic waste accumulating in the earth’s oceans; it ignores health, potable water and food shortage data from developing countries who are clearly outstripping their resources through overpopulation; it ignores the increasing threat of humans releasing chemical, nuclear or biological weapons; it ignores substantially more…

Finally, it ignores data from history, archaeology, and paleoenvironmental research, which demonstrates humans’ unfailing and increasing ability to modify the environment around them, often to the detriment of their own existence. The historical and archaeological records are strewn with the debris of cultures that collapsed from their accumulated effects to the environment.

For Larsen, data do not seem to matter. It’s all just about perception:

The way we see environmental issues in today’s charged political climate is due to a classic blind spot in human perception, causing us to commit egregious and costly errors. If we do not soon improve our vision with the corrected lenses of reason, logic and common sense, our present course could be disastrous to future generations.

In making this argument, Larsen himself appears to fall victim to another “perceptual blind spot” that is also endemic to humans: that of allowing our capacity for self-reflection to delude us into believing that humans are somehow special and created apart from the rest of the universe. Such mythology is reinforced in countless religious texts and ceremonies, but is it not an illusion of our own making? After all, it has been wisely stated that man made god in his own image, and not the other way around.

I do not know Larsen’s personal religious convictions (although the fact that he works as staff for the Lassen County Times would lead me to a particular conclusion). Regardless, his argument further appears to follow the spirit, if not the substance, of a biblical literalist worldview which claims that such “natural” phenomena such as life origins, species evolution, geologic processes, and of course, environmental change follow the will of a divine intelligence and are by definition beyond the influence of humans. While not specifically the “The-Rapture-Is-Coming-So-There-Is-Nothing-We-Can-Do-Anyway” argument, I suspect Larsen’s thesis hides more than his written word admits. If so, then Larsen’s basis for claiming human insignificance lacks the historic and scientific validation necessary to view the world through the “…corrected lenses of reason, logic and common sense” as he suggests we humans should do. If his view is not tainted with religious conviction, then it is just an ignorant statement about the nature of science and our real understanding of the universe that we humbly occupy.

Larsen’s view also misses the point. I would agree that at least on a certain level and in the larger scheme of things, humans lack the capacity to seriously impact the planet. But environmentalism has never really been about the fate of the planetary environment, although it is often discussed in those terms. It is ultimately about the fate of the human species. The planet, life, the universe…these are not dependent upon conditions here on the Earth’s surface. The human species is. Pollute the air and the water, set off a nuclear holocaust, kill most of the species on the planet, double the rate of atmospheric warming…the processes of cosmic and organic evolution will simply continue, replacing current life with something else. Humans have no ability to thwart natural selection…a process more powerful than the perceived capabilities of any Designer invented by human culture. Nature will simply yawn at our passing and fill the void with something new and perhaps less arrogant about the purpose behind its existence.

It further reminds me of a poem by Sarah Teasdale, the last verses I provide for you here:

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Gay and Lesbian "Certificates of Inequality" Issued By County Clerk

I love rebellion....

In a slap at California's ban on gay marriage, the elected official who oversees civil marriages in Yolo County will distribute "certificates of inequality" to same-sex couples on Valentine's Day.
Freddie Oakley, Yolo's clerk-recorder, said she designed the certificates herself as a way to ease her soul over having to deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians...

...Oakley's "certificate of inequality" claims that California wrongly deprives gays and lesbians of the right to marry.
"I issue this Certificate of Inequality to you because your choice of marriage partner displeases some people whose displeasure is, apparently, more important than principles of equality," it reads.

Of course you can guess the reaction:

"The people pay government officials to implement the law and to faithfully execute the law ... not to ridicule the law and perform stunts that advocate the overthrow of marriage," said Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families, which lobbies on social issues.
Thomasson accused the Yolo clerk of violating her oath of office to "well and faithfully discharge the duties" of a county clerk.

Of course, Thomasson probably doesn't think his expectations that an employee will "discharge the duties" applies to "conscientious Christians" working in the medical and pharmaceutical fields who refuse hand out contraceptives, morning after pills, vaccinations, etc. I would further suggest that Oakley's action is quite different from the Christian medical people we have been hearing so much about - Oakely is not actually refusing to deny a same-sex marriage license as the law dictates - unlike the Christian pharmacist who actually refuses to perform legal duties in his/her job description.

Oakley further places the issue in its appropriate context:

Turning same-sex couples away without marriage licenses, Oakley said, makes her feel "like a good German, in the Third Reich, who enforced bad laws."

The certificate ends with Oakley's name, title and words of encouragement to same-sex couples: "May the God of your choice bless you."

You go girl!

Evolution Sunday

Remember that Evolution Sunday is coming up a week from today, on February 11. If you're not familiar with Evolution Sunday, see the Clergy Letter Project. Here's some information from the website:

On 11 February 2007 hundreds of congregations from all portions of the country and a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science. For far too long, strident voices, in the name of Christianity, have been claiming that people must choose between religion and modern science. More than 10,000 Christian clergy have already signed The Clergy Letter demonstrating that this is a false dichotomy. Now, on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, many of these leaders will bring this message to their congregations through sermons and/or discussion groups. Together, participating religious leaders will be making the statement that religion and science are not adversaries. And, together, they will be elevating the quality of the national debate on this topic.

Red State Rabble is reporting that the number of congregations participating in Evolution Sunday has increased over 20% since last year.

Does anyone think we have even the most remote chance of getting one of Lassen County's churches to participate in this event?

Revisiting Apologetics Archaeology

Since writing Apologetics Archaeology? I have received a number of emails and have of course read the comments left on the post. Most notably, Dr. Joseph Cathey has been in touch with me regarding some important questions and comments. A couple of additional people seem anxious to read my response. I am working on this and will be posting on the topic again shortly...

Thanks Everyone!

Thanks to everyone who left such wonderful comments on the Four Stone Hearth edition! But most importantly, thanks to everyone who contributed such great posts! I had a lot of fun pulling the last one together and look forward to doing it again!

I would also like to point out that Duane at Abnormal Interests mentioned Four Stone Hearth on his blog. Duane has a variety of "abnormal" interests, including ancient languages, and as such he brings a different audience in touch with Four Stone Hearth. And while he doesn't claim to be an archaeologist, his posts on archaeological issues, especially those in the Middle East are informative. And when "bible" archaeology disputes erupt as they often do, Duane is one of the cooler heads, sticking to the issues and not getting off on tangents. I hope we can get Duane to post at upcoming Four Stone Hearth editions.

Remember, the next edition of Four Stone Hearth is coming up at Boas Blog on February 14...don't miss it!