Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ken Ham Has Some Competition


Apparently Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis folks have been wrong about Genesis all along...

Some Observations On Dakota Voice And His God

For some strange, inexplicable reason, ever since the Blog Against Theocracy, I have occasionally dropped in on the blog of one of its most vociferous opponents, Dakota Voice. His latest incoherent rantings against evolutionary theory and almost perverse love affair with Ken Ham's Creationist Museum makes me think of...well, a puppy or kitten that has been mauled by a large dog and is, in its own significant way, seeking a higher power to help rescue it. This is clearly a man who has never read anything but Answers In's no wonder he feels a misplaced sense of power now that the Creation Museum has opened up to support him. As another blogger recently opined..."And on the 8th day God created a Creation Museum to back Him up"....

However, I really should point out that Dakota Voice is much more intuitive than he realizes. His concern over the state of Christianity today is pretty much on the mark. In spite of the surficial appearance of Christian domination of our society I suspect we are actually witnessing the beginnings of its decline. It will take some time, but it will come. Part of what will fuel it is that, ultimately, the "thinking" populace will have to reject Dakota Voice's version of Christianity because it requires casting off intellect in favor of blind obedience to positions like those represented in Ken Ham's Creation Museum. And there will be no "retribution" as Dakota Voice envisions...his Christ is impotent.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More On Ham's Creation Museum, Tyrannosaur Teeth And The Scientific Process

A reader, responding to my Creation Museum Carnival post on what Ken Ham’s Creation Museum won’t be telling kids about teeth, cautioned me that one argument in particular was weak and that Answers In Genesis views could not be so easily dispatched. The argument in question is that differential tooth form clearly reflects differential diet among animals today. We can use this to infer diets for extinct species by comparing their teeth with what we know of the dentition and diets in modern animals. This is contrary to the view held by Ken Ham and the AIG PhDs who maintain that all animals were vegetarian prior to the Fall of Adam, including tyrannosaurs. This aspect of natural history has to be true for Ham and fellow creationists in order for them to retain consistency with a specific verse in Genesis. So they argue that the dietary inferences paleontologists and other evolutionists make from teeth cannot be correct. As an example of this, Ham himself has pointed out that tyrannosaur teeth and bear teeth are both “sharp” and yet the bear’s diet is comprised of a significant portion of plant foods; hence there is no real reason to think tyrannosaurs couldn’t have also been vegetarians.

My response was that bear teeth and tyrannosaur teeth are not alike at all, as Ham suggests. (Of course Ham only indicated that both species possessed teeth that were “sharp”, not necessarily similar in morphology. But this is an example of deliberate subterfuge the AIG staff does best: gloss over the specifics and make the necessary generalization to prove your point. There is not doubt that in describing the teeth of tyrannosaurs and bears as “sharp” Ham is expecting that his audience will understand him to mean “the same”). If you are interested in the simple question of why bear teeth are different from tyrannosaur teeth, the observation still remains that tyrannosaurs have teeth much more in common with those of modern carnivores than plant eaters. Again, from this I would have to infer that tyrannosaurs were clearly carnivores. At this point, the only defense Ken Ham can come back with is a line from the bible[1].

However, my reader pointed out some additional issues to consider that at first glance would re-open the case for tooth morphology having anything to do with diet and at least force us to ask if AIG might have a viable alternative. He basically made three points (except for words in quotes I’m paraphrasing):
1) polar bears feed exclusively on other animals, yet their teeth are “hardly different” from other bears;
2) flat teeth are for grinding/chewing and the fact dinosaurs had gizzards would mean that scimitar-toothed species like Tyrannosaurus could have eaten plants, swallowed them whole and let their gizzards do the work;
3) “As for serrations” the pro-sauropod group of dinosaurs, thought to be herbivores, “…had them on their teeth like Tyrannosaurus”.

Certainly the responses to these observations are important, but that is not what prompted me to write this post. What really intrigued me was the process I engaged in while obtaining the information. It is the process of discovery that, as much as the answers, serves to radically distinguish science from creationism in all its forms. As I said, my reader raised several issues that, on face value, would be sufficient for most people to stop and wonder if Ham and AIG weren’t at least raising a legitimate issue. For Ham, AIG, and on a different level, the intelligent design advocates, inquiry would completely cease at this point. See, O’Brien is wrong: polar bear teeth are hardly different from other bear teeth and they exclusively eat meat…hence it is possible that tyrannosaurs ate vegetation at one time. Here, the entire goal is accomplished: raise reasonable doubt with the general populace at large.

But science follows a completely different process. Upon reading the phrase “polar bear teeth are hardly different from other bears” the first thing I did was ask myself, “is that true?” and reach for a book on mammalian anatomy; and I did it so sub-consciously and automatically that the significance of the act did not become apparent until a few hours later. Scientists constantly question whether their data (and others') are correct…it’s ingrained as part of the process. The same cannot be said for creationists.

Turns out, polar bear teeth are not “hardly different” – their back teeth are distinctly more carnassial (for ripping meat, not grinding) than those of their ursid (bear family) cousins. They are not completely like the back teeth of obligate carnivores like wolves, but it also turns out that mostly what they eat is seal fat and they are not entirely carnivorous (although clearly more so than brown or black bears). On the heels of an automatic question when being confronted with a new “observation” also came an automatic mental prediction (also an inherent part of science but not of creationism or intelligent design): IF tooth morphology is largely explained by diet, THEN another species of bear with a radically different diet should also exhibit radically different tooth morphology from other bears. Sure enough, the Panda, which subsists on bamboo, exhibits a much different tooth morphology than seen in other bears.

But the scientific process didn’t stop there. It came along with me as I read through my reader’s list of observations. The gizzard idea was interesting, but do all dinosaurs have gizzards? No, they are suspected in only a few species because of the presence of “gastroliths” or gizzard stones. And again, IF tooth morphology is a good predictor of diet, then I was betting that the only dinosaurs found to have them so far are probably those with teeth expected to be good for chewing vegetation and probably limited to sauropods and not found in carnivorous dinosaurs – sure enough, that’s the case. Finally, I wondered if the “serrated” teeth of pro-sauropods were really like tyrannosaurs. Of course I hadn’t mentioned tyrannosaurs having serrated teeth in my original post, but that’s part of the overall morphology of a tooth and they do have a serrated edge. But “serration” is not equivalent to meat eating, and in fact iguanas, which are mostly vegetarian, also have serrated teeth. Turns out pro-sauropod teeth are also a lot like iguanas, and in addition are very small, unlike the very large carnivorous teeth of tyrannosaur – i.e. much more in line with eating vegetation than meat.

But science is also about “multiple lines of evidence”…so are there other observations about diet that are consistent with the hypothesis that tooth morophology is largely explained by diet? Yes. Many readers of the Creation Museum Carnival pointed out in the comments that tyrannosaur coprolites (fossil feces) don’t contain plant materials – another observation consistent with the hypothesis. Microscopic analysis of early hominid teeth show that Paranthropus, thought to subsist almost exclusively on hard seeds, nuts and roots because of the unique structure of its teeth and skull, actually shows pitting and gouging expected of that kind of diet. And Australopithecus, suspected of having a more omnivorous diet like humans (again, because of their tooth morphology)? Microscopic analysis shows a smooth surface on the tooth as in modern humans.

So where does that put us with regard to evidence consistent with the null hypothesis that tooth morphology is a very good indicator of diet?:

- bear teeth unlike tyrannosaur teeth
- bear teeth showing variation in tooth morphology with diet;
- gizzard stones highly correlated with dinosaur species whose teeth suggest plant eating
- tooth morphology in pro-sauropods consistent with largely vegetarian ignuanas
- microscopic analysis of tooth wear consistent with dietary differences between early hominids Paranthropus and Australopithecus

And evidence that is consistent with the AIG hypothesis that tooth form has nothing to do with diet?
- a line in the bible

I may be off here, but I'm guessing it's a bit early to reject the null hypothesis in favor of helping Ken Ham maintain his belief in a literal meaning of Genesis. There is no reason to think that the diet of tyrannosaurs was vegetarian at any stage of its evolution and Ken Ham’s personal interpretation of that line is clearly in error. I would suggest he look at some alternative explanations of his own…and he can start with those I outlined in my footnote...

[1] I have to digress here a moment: If you believe the bible to be authoritative from the start, then perhaps that’s enough evidence for you and you can dismiss any observational evidence of the real world. And that’s fine…but it isn’t science. However, those who accept creationism never consider other alternatives on this matter themselves (although they expect everyone else to consider theirs): 1) the bible is not divinely inspired at all, but merely a collection of different types of writing form Bronze and Iron Age people who were trying to explain the world around them without reference to the scientific knowledge we have today; 2) the bible is not divinely inspired, but has been rewritten multiple times, other texts of the time lost or purposefully destroyed, and certain texts available at the time specifically selected, all to give the appearance that the bible was divinely inspired; 3) the bible was divinely inspired but never meant to be anything more than allegorical, metaphorical and symbolic in its broader meaning; 4) the bible is divinely inspired but humans are too evolutionary primitive to understand the complex meaning that is really behind its passages; 5) there is a god and he was responsible for creating the world, but how it was done is best captured in one of the hundreds of other creation stories around the world and not in the bible. Of course, although some alternatives have historical and scientific angles to them and can be tested (for example, we know parts of the bible were re-written to appear more consistent with theological statements from historical documents and early biblical texts themselves; there is also good evidence to suggest the bible texts were purposely selected to convey specific theological arguments as if they were prophesized or demonstrated historically), the alternatives listed are largely theological and can be accepted or rejected pretty much solely on the basis of personal preference.

Virginia Christian Teachers Want Constitutional Protection Limited To Them

I caught this story on Richard Dawkins' website but Ed Brayton does his usual best at cutting through to the heart of the matter:

I love stories like this, when the religious right is up in arms over non-Christians exercising the same rights they went to court to demand for themselves...

In 2001, a Christian group tried to use a school's system to inform parents of one of their events and they were refused. They filed suit and the 4th Circuit ruled in their favor, saying that if a school is going to allow some community groups to use that system, they cannot engage in viewpoint discrimination in choosing which groups to allow in. This was not unexpected; it fits with a long line of rulings on limited public fora that say, in essence, "allow one, allow all."

But one could easily predict what would happen if a non-Christian group demanded the same access as Christian groups; all that talk of how unfair such viewpoint discrimination is would go right out the window. But we don't have to predict this, we can see it in action in this Worldnutdaily article about a school in Virginia where teachers are throwing a fit over flyers from a freethought group advertising their summer camp, and even refusing to hand them out as instructed...

Several thoughts come to mind regarding this issue. First, of course, it is a blatant case of sheer hypocrisy and something we've come to expect from the Christian Right: constitutional rights and public policy should be all about protecting their views, not those that anyone else might hold, particularly if they run counter to Christian perspectives. Further, if the "we'll protect constitutional rights so long as they are Christian" viewpoint isn't starting down the road toward theocracy, then I don't know what is.

Second, this is exactly the way you fight Christian viewpoints in public...not by petitioning or suing to limit their freedom of expression because you don't like it, but by forcing them to play by the same rules they expect everyone else to follow. Use your own First Amendment right to challenge their belief system in public and make them show their hand by doing what some of these Virginia teachers are doing: attempting to limit every one's free speech but their own. If you don't like the message on the t-shirt, wear your own with a counter message. Getting tired of the local high school promoting its Christian clubs all the time? Start a Darwin Club...(In fact, for those locally who are reading this: I offer to serve as an advisor to any Lassen High School student who wants to start one! I also think starting a "Freethinkers Camp" like this group in Virginia might not be such a bad idea - Eagle Lake would be a great place for such an event!).

Ultimately, however, teachers and school administrators should not be saddled with advertisement, period. Christian, non-Christian, doesn't matter. Our school systems should not be used as free advertisement for anything....if you can't call, walk the neighborhood, mail, put up posters or whatever on your own, you probably shouldn't be in the business of hosting an event.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Creation Museum Blog Carnival Now Up At Pharyngula

In honor of tomorrow's grand opening of Ken Ham's Creation Museum, PZ has just posted a lengthy list of responses from around the blogosphere at the Creation Museum Blog Carnival. Check out all the great scientific information you won't be getting from the Answers In Genesis staff....

(I grabbed the "modified" paper from This View Of Life....)

Discovery Institute's Luskin and Egnor Contradict Each Other On Archaeology's Role In Intelligent Design

While perusing the Rev. Big Dumb Chimp's blogsite I came across his post on an earlier exchange between Carl Zimmer and Casey Luskin over Zimmer's National Geographic article on the evolution of complex features. Part 3 of Luskin's response was very enlightening. He thinks he was showing that Zimmer and National Geographic were not conducting science so much as treading into an area of theology by questioning the capability of an "intelligent" designer. In other words, as Zimmer notes, Luskin (and other ID proponents) are saying that ID is only about detecting the presence of "specified complexity" (design) - move beyond that and begin to question the behavior of the designer, and you've moved beyond science and into the realm of theology, where everyone agrees science must not tread.

Well, with that discussion Luskin demonstrated precisely why ID's use of archaeology's "design detection" as an analogy with biology is misleading at best. Ironically, Luskin also completely castrates Egnor's fraudulent example of design detection using the Antikythera Mechanism, which I previously commented upon. I pointed out then that archaeological research is not about detecting design - in most cases in archaeology we already know items, including things like the Antikythera Mechanism, are made by humans. As Alun Salt expands upon in a similar post on Egnor's misplaced analogy, however, archaeology's "design detection" is understood only because of a body of background experience, observation, experimentation and general hypothesis testing has already informed us that an Acheulian handaxe, for example, was made by early Homo and is not the result of lightning bolts. But that was not always the case: the first encounters with stone tools described their origins as exactly that: formed from lightning - not the result of an intelligent designer! We recognize stone tools (and the Antikyther Mechanism) as designed only because we now know about fracture mechanics, have witnessed aboriginal people making stone tools, understand the development of bronze working and the history of wheels, gears and other already familiar mechanisms. Without that kind of referential knowledge (and a lot more) already in place, even the Antikythera Mechanism would appear as just another natural oddity to avoid stubbing your toe against while tracking that mammoth.

Archaeologists have already done a lot of the hard hypothesis testing behind design detection and have long since moved on to asking question about the designers themselves. But Luskin makes it clear that once design is detected, no more questions are needed - so very unlike archaeology. Archaeology follows the rules of science in its quest for understanding the behavior of the designers behind the arrowhead or the mechanism. It continues to question and accumulate data about the past. ID assumes design is present by comparing itself erroneously with archaeology and then stops. To paraphrase deGrasse Tyson in a previous post, ID is a philosophy of ignorance...archaeology is a philosophy of discovery.

While the "design detection analogy" with archaeology is frequently brought forth as "evidence" for ID it is nothing more than a cheap gimmick that works well with those unfamiliar with crtical thinking and accostumed to watching FOX every night, but has absolutely nothing at all to do with archaeological method and theory. And we can thank Luskin for helping to demonstrate that!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

DEFCON Stop Teaching Ignorance Petition

DefCon is sponsoring a petition focusing on the lack of scientific evidence being presented at Ken Ham's museum (and for that matter, other creationist museums around the country). If you are an educator, go to their website and sign the petition - there is one for non-educators as well. Here is the full petition:

As educators, we join together to express our opposition to the "Creation Museum," an institution built by Answers in Genesis (AiG) and designed to promote the falsehood that science supports the notion of a 6,000 year old Earth.

This institution is only the most recent example of the religious right's war on science education - whether in the form of anti-evolution stickers in textbooks or the promotion of intelligent design in the classroom.

In all of these cases the religious right has sought to create controversy where none exists, confusing our children and undermining our nation's commitment to scientific understanding.

As Americans, we support our fellow citizens' freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and as a private institution, AiG is free to deny the overwhelming evidence resulting from hundreds of years of scientific work.

We, however, oppose this nefarious campaign to institutionalize a lie. We urge AiG to cease their war on science and we call on educators, media, and citizens to exercise critical thinking and their own right and responsibility of free speech, and oppose AiG's false claims wherever they are promoted.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ham's Creation Museum - What Kids Won't Hear About Teeth

No doubt information found in the exhibits at Ken Ham's Creation Museum will be derived directly from the AnswersInGenesis web pages, particularly their "Get Answers" sections. As such, the expectation is that visitors will be treated to false information regarding the geological, paleontological and biological history of life on this planet. It is not difficult to find errors, misrepresentations, selective information and outright falsehoods on the AnswersInGenesis website - and these intellectual atrocities will be repeated throughout the museum.

Consider, for example, Ken Ham's "explanation" regarding the tyrannosaur's sharp teeth. He and his staff clearly believe that, as they interpret biblical passages, all creatures were originally plant eaters:

Were dinosaurs meat-eaters? According to the Bible, all animals were originally plant eaters (Gen. 1:30), not carnivores....Therefore, even the menacing T-Rex was meant to eat plants at the beginning. Although he had very sharp teeth, a lot of animals who have sharp teeth today are not carnivores, but use them to open fruit and eat vegetables. Having sharp teeth has nothing to do with an animal being a meat-eater or not.

Ken Ham has gotten somewhat more specific in interviews. When reporters comment that the tyrannosaur has very sharp teeth, he responds:

"So do bears", says Ken, "but they eat nuts and berries! Remember, before the sin of Adam, the world was perfect. All creatures were vegetarian."

It is difficult to know where to begin pointing out the errors of logic so completely that so completely dominate Ham's thinking on any subject of evolutionary consequence. There are not only a number of specific fallacies inherent in Ham's conclusions regarding teeth, but by these statements it is also apparent that Ham and his staff reject some of the most basic methods of science and fundamental procedures for making inquiries about the world around us.

On the specific errors, Ham draws a false similarity in tooth structure between bears and tyrannosaurs. To Ham, the gross generality is sufficient: both bears and tyrannosaurs have "sharp teeth", but different diets - the conclusion, therefore, is that this observation is consistent with the Genesis account that all creatures ate plants initially, but later diverged into different diets. Of course a very simple inspection (I have a bear jaw and skull in front of me now) shows quite clearly to anyone without pre-conceived ideas of what these animals should be eating that bear teeth are not like tyrannosaur teeth at all. Tyrannosaurs have multiple, generally cone-shaped teeth. The only remotely cone-shaped teeth on the bear are the canines: the remaining teeth are largely low, with rounded cusps. When you look at the teeth of to days carnivores (crocodiles, porpoises, sea lions, tigers, coyotes, foxes, etc.) their teeth are cone or triangular (a flattened cone) in design, much like the tyrannosaurs. Bear teeth on the other hand, show a mixture of cone-like and low, flattened teeth similar to those seen in raccoons, badgers, monkeys and, to a lesser extent, humans. All of these animals eat a variety of foods including meat, insects, fruit and other plant materials.

Anyone who has spent a lifetime looking at the specifics of teeth (as I have) knows that they are highly distinctive of both diet and species. I can often identify a particular species in the archaeological record on nothing more than a fragment of tooth. Not all teeth look alike and animals have widely varied combinations of them. Most of this variation occurs as a result of diet, but teeth are often designed and used for other purposes: for social grooming, defense, stirring up sediments, "rooting" in the soil for grubs, etc. As Simon Hillson has pointed out in his seminal work on teeth: "Teeth are highly variable structures. They are very closely adapted to the jobs for which they have to do" (Hillson 1986:14). For Ham to suggest that tyrannosaur teeth and bear teeth are similar is simply bypass volumes of data to the contrary. But bypassing data that doesn't fit Ham's model of biblical origins is what the staff at AnswersInGenesis do best.

The often repeated mantra among the AnswersInGenesis crowd is that they use the same evidence "evolutionists" do but simply start with a different premise (biblical literalism) and reach a different conclusion. This is simply not the case. Actually, it is only Ham who starts with a premise and then proceeds to find the evidence to fit it; and his expectation is that evolutionists are doing the same thing with their data: starting with an assumption of evolution and then fitting the data to it. But contrary to Ham's assertions, evolutionary biologists do not start with an evolutionary premise. He and other creationists fail to understand that the data are better explained by the evolutionary model when considered cumulatively. In contrast, AnswersInGenesis incorporates only those data that fit the model of biblical origins - anything else is considered either faulty or ignored. Ham cannot recognize that bear teeth and tyrannosaur teeth are different because his model cannot account for that difference. Moreover, if star with Ham's assumption that all creatures started as vegetarians, then why the current distinctions among animals now? What was it about "The Fall" that caused tyrannosaurs and lions to start eating meat? Why do deer browse and zebra graze? (For that matter, why does the black rhino browse and the white rhino graze?). Why do colobus monkeys only eat leaves but vervet monkeys eat a varied diet of fruit and insects? Why do bears and humans eat a broad variety of things. And ultimately, why does each of these species exhibit a quite different set of teeth? Ham's model cannot account for the facts of the geological, paleontological and biological records unless selected examples are used. In contrast, evolutionary theory "explains" most of what we see in each of these records, to a far greater extent than biblical models ever could. This is why the biblical model started to be abandoned several centuries ago: it failed to adequately explain the mounting evidence we see all around us. AnswersInGenesis wants to return us to a biblical model of origins, but it can support it with nothing more advanced than 14th century data.

Finally, Ham's model and his explanation of how bear and tyrannosaur teeth fit into it outright rejects basic principles of comparative anatomy. Basically any observational data must be rejected if it does not meet his interpretation of scripture. I regular take skulls of North American and African mammals to elementary schools in Lassen County and talk about the different skull types, including differences in teeth. Kids are fascinated by this and quickly grasp the connection between different diets and different tooth types. Ken Ham would have these kids believe that none of their powers of observation have anything to do with reality - and it is here that Ham and the Creation Museum pose the greatest threat to society. Ham and his museum pose no threat to those of us who are educated and have seen this stuff first hand. We know Ham and his staff are lying about the evidence. But the kids that see the Creation Museum will walk away carrying no inquisitiveness about the world; they will think that they have seen it all and that bear teeth and tyrannosaur teeth are really the same.

And America will take one step closer to a new Dark Age because of Ken Ham.

Hillson, S. (1986) Teeth. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Are There Dinosaurs In The Bible?

For those of you who have always felt that the creationists' constant reference to "dinosaurs" in the Bible was, at best, a bit of an interpretational stretch, Abnormal Interests has a fantastic post on the real etymology behind the Hebrew words Ken Ham and others think refer to Mesozoic beasts. You need to read it for yourself, but here's part of the punchline:

I must say at the top of this post that one needs to have a very strong prior belief that the Hebrew Bible might mention dinosaurs to see them anywhere. And that includes Leviathan, Behemoth and any other of the words or phrases that has been suggested. There is absolutely no reason, based on internal evidence to associate dinosaurs with any word or entity mentioned the Bible. Nothing in the larger corpus of Near Eastern literature would lead one to such a conclusion either. [emphasis added]

Read Duane's post...and then the next time you hear a creationist say the Bible refers to dinosaurs, just shake your head and laugh at the wishful thinking....

deGrasse Tyson And The History Of Intelligent Design

I never thought that I'd really "get into" astronomy, but thanks to Neil deGrasse Tyson I've become a consistent reader of his regular column in Natural History. So I had to watch when Red State Rabble posted a video of deGrasse Tyson talking about the role of intelligent design in history. It's something you have to see.

I was certainly struck by his analysis of intelligent design as a common theme throughout the history of science, but always being raised at the point at which the particular scientist (and science itself) did not possess the information to advance further in explanation. It is a consistent conclusion to problems for which we have insufficient information: "We can now explain A, B, C and D...but E God must have done...". As deGrasse Tyson explains, this is why Newton did not come up with perturbation theory and history had to wait a century before LaPlace did "the math" that Newton, although intellectually capable of conducting the calculations, could not conclude. Why? Because Newton was hamstrung by his "religiosity" - he could go no further because his "intelligent design" prevented him from asking questions that could be solved through simple observation. DeGrasse Tyson concludes:

Intelligent Design, while real in the history of nonetheless a philosophy of ignorance...And is a philosophy of discovery, intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance. That's all.

However, I was additionally struck by his assessment of the ascendancy (and supremacy) of Arab science during the first millennium A.D. and its collapse approximately 1100 A.D. During the period of 800 to 1100 A.D., Bagdad, not the Vatican, was the center of intellectual advancment. With the advent of the 13th century, the Islamic world was overtaken by a fundamentalist religious dogma, codified in its government institutions (church and state merged) that resulted in a collapse of Arab society from which they have never recovered. The end result of a slow takeover of Islamic religious fundamentalism is guys strapping explosives around their waste and flying planes into buildings.

The rise of Christian fundamentalism in the United States in the 21st century is nothing if not history repeating itself. And creationism, whether Ken Ham's creation museum or Dembski's Intelligent Design, is a mirror of the events of the 12th century Arab world. Our continued advancement as an enlightened society, capable of meeting new challenges, particularly economic ones, is dependent upon having people capable of making discoveries running our science classrooms. In this context DeGrasse Tyson has a particularly interesting twist on why he was not concerned about the outcome of the Dover trial, which concluded that Intelligent Design was nothing more than a religious effort to get creationism in the classroom:

Republicans, above else, do not want to die poor. So there's a limit to how far this will go. And I bet most poeple in this room...were highly concerned about the Dover trial, wondering how that would turn....I looked at that and I said "I'm not worried"...because it's a Republican judge. In the end, if you put people who are not making discoveries in the science classroom, that is the end of the foundation of your future economy.

Republicans might be blinded to social responsibility by the accumulation of personal wealth....but they're not stupid....

The Antikythera Mechanism And Intelligent Design: A Response To Egnor

As the late Stephen J. Gould once commented on reading the “scientific” arguments creationists put forth, he didn’t know “whether to laugh or to cry”. I found myself reacting similarly upon reading Michael Egnor’s latest attempt to use archaeological science in support of Intelligent Design. And once again, like every attempt at the “archaeologists seek design” analogy, Egnor’s fails because A) he gets his facts wrong; B) he completely misrepresents archaeological method and theory; and C) fails to understand the implications of ID’s real analogy with archaeology.

Egnor uses the Antikythera Mechanism as an example of detecting “intelligent” design. The Antikythera Mechanism, when recovered in 1901 from the submerged wreckage of a Roman merchant ship dated to approximately 65 BCE, appeared as little more than a series of bronze wheels and other fragments, all badly corroded. It remained largely unstudied until the 1950s through 1970s, when Derek De Solla Price studied the fragments extensively, particularly as more advanced radiography techniques became available. It was clear to Price that the bronze gear fragments were part of a machine apparatus, the purpose of which was not well established although Price’s reconstruction suggested it was used as an astronomical calculator. Egnor of course wants his audience to see the “detecting design” part of the story: here is a case of archaeologists detecting intelligent design and making no illusions about it. Egnor then wonders why biologists can’t accept (like their archaeologist brethren) that design exists in the natural world and move on. However, like all intelligent design arguments, Egnor’s requires that knowledge be incomplete in order to pull the story together:

Archeologists believe that the technology to produce such a device didn’t emerge until at least the 14th century A.D. They have no evidence as to who designed it, and no evidence even of who could have designed it. Yet the inference to design is obvious, and no archeologist doubts that it is a designed artifact. Design can be inferred from an artifact alone, regardless of the obscurity or the implausibility of a designer. [emphasis in the original].

First, we can assume that what is not reported in an Evolution News &Views story is usually far more intriguing than what actually makes it to website and Egnor has once again proven that assumption correct. Egnor pulled the 14th century A.D. date largely out of his ID hat of unsubstantiated facts. Current thoughts on the Mechanism’s dating suggests a manufacturing date of 100-150 BCE, with statements that nothing with its complexity occurs until almost a millennium later. By my calculation, that means closer to the 9th century A.D. (and if you are about to argue that an error of five hundred years is not a big deal, then we’ll need to have a serious discussion on the implications of 9th versus 10th century dates in the Holy Land).

Egnor then goes on to report that archaeologists “…have no evidence as to who designed it, and no evidence of who could have designed it”. Completely false. Convenient for an ID argument that relies on lack of knowledge, but a purely fabricated statement on Egnor’s part. At the most basic level we of course know it was humans who manufactured the mechanisms parts – because archaeologists know all about bronze and metal working during the first few centuries BCE (and for some time before and after that period!). But in the case of the Mechanism we can get even more specific. Evidence points to it being quite clearly Greek in origin, and probably from the island of Rhodes. We can even state with some confidence that it may have been designed by someone of the Hipparchos school during that time; Hipparchos being the great Greek astronomer from the very period when the Mechnism was constructed who probably died and was buried on Rhodes. In fact, such ideas regarding its origin have been bantered around for more than a decade. If you read some of the original Nature articles on the Mechanism (sorry, no direct link) especially Charette (2006), it is highly probable it was connected with Hipparchos in some way, in particular because it is in part a “mechanical realization” of a lunar geometrical model originally developed by the great astronomer himself. And how do we know this? Because archaeologists and historians have not ended their search with “it’s designed”. A number of hypotheses have been generated regarding its origins and its function. Price’s was not the only reconstruction – there have been several, including a more recent reconstruction by a combined British, Greek and American team. All are hypotheses built upon each other, using the most current data and observations and tested to reach the best explanation to account for the evidence. That process is unheard of in intelligent design. Egnor is creating illusions: there’s no revelation here that serves as an analogy to ID’s “unnamed Designer”…

Finally, let’s get something straight: archaeology is about understanding past human behavior, not artifact collecting. Egnor would probably make a great pot-hunter because all he understands is that ancient people made things that we can pick up today. That is the extent of Egnor’s inquisitiveness in the matter. But archaeologists don’t excavate things …we excavate information – information used to test ideas about the ultimate archaeological goal: how did the artifact “designers” behave and why did their behavior change through time. And more importantly we continue to test the designers’ behaviors and motivation. And archaeology is not in the business of detecting “design”… we know all about design, but for one reason only: we’ve observed, documented and tested the designer over and over again, from two and a half million years ago, when the ape-like designer first started making simple stone tools, to watching modern hunter-gatherer designers develop their own archaeological patterns today. And guess what?: those archaeological “designers” that Egnor and other ID advocates want to incorporate into their arguments? They were constrained and molded by the same evolutionary forces of contingency ID advocates so despise as an explanation for the world around us.

Archaeology doesn’t detect design;
Archaeologists gather data and test hypotheses:
Archaeology’s goal is to test hypotheses about the designers;
Archaeology shows that the designers are constrained by evolutionary contingency, just like squid, tigers and mammoths;

Doesn’t sound like intelligent design to me.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Kind of Atheist Am I?

You scored as Spiritual Atheist, Ah! Some of the coolest people in the world are Spiritual Atheists. Most of them weren't brought up in an organized religion and have very little baggage. They concentrate on making the world a better place and know that death is just another part of life. What comes after, comes after.

Spiritual Atheist


Scientific Atheist


Apathetic Atheist


Angry Atheist




Militant Atheist




What kind of atheist are you?
created with

So, I scored as a "spiritual atheist" - I can live with this as an fairly adequate assessment of my belief system. I did cheat a bit, however - at the end I was asked to choose the most "true" of two questions: the first choice actually ended up labeling me a "Scientific Atheist", but I went back and made a different choice (both were a wash for me anyway). I suppose both the fact that my first choice labeled me a "scientific" atheist fact that I went back and changed an answer but kept the "spiritual" atheist result also says something about me...

I also disagree with the characterization that most of us "...weren't brought up in an organized religion" - I certainly was, in some sense strictly, but ultimately found the experience too intellectually myopic. I would suggest that a lot of us who have left organized religion probably retain a certain sense of spirituality but just don't see modern religions as a viable mechanism for fulfillment.

Interesting, however: I scored 0% theistic...even PZ scored 17%....hmmmm....

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Results of the 2007 Alliance For Science High School Essay Contest

Here are the winners of the 2007 Alliance for Science High School Essay contest. The essay topic was: "Why would I want my doctor to have studied evolution?". These students (9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades) get the concept of science, evolutionary theory and what both mean in the context of our everyday lives. I am grateful that there are students more interested in an honest understanding of science than in divining biblical goat guts to solve today's problems.


I wonder if any Lassen High School students participated...or if they would have known anything about evolutionary theory?

Red Bluff Calvary Chapel To Host Fraudulent ICR Creationist This Weekend

When it rains it pours...
Not only is neighboring Shasta Bible College playing host to creationist Duane Gish's deceit regarding evolutionary theory, but now nearby Red Bluff will host Institute for Creation Research's "Dr." Mace Baker at Calvary Chapel this coming Sunday. " Once again, good people will be fleeced with inaccurate information and absolute lies regarding the evidence for evolution, although I suspect most of those who will hear Baker speak are more concerned with verifying their belief system than critically thinking about the bogus information they'll be receiving. "Dr." Mace Bake received his "doctorate" from Pacific International University, which means he doesn't actually have one...He also claims to have done "creation research" for the last 20 years, and "excavations" in Texas and "field research" on dinosaur tracks in Utah. Of course, none of the extensive work he has carried out has been published and I suspect his "field research" is nothing more than interesting photography.

Baker, like Carl Baugh, is nothing more than a fraud. The information he will pass on to the audience in Red Bluff will be faulty and fraudulent, but that won't matter to the sheep who will attend his "seminar". They'll just be overjoyed that someone has verified that their primitive notion of science is everything they've come to expect about the world....

Thinking Blogger Awards

Abnormal Interests has tagged me with my first internet award since starting the Northstate Science blog: the Thinking Blogger Award! I am particularly grateful because I visit Duane's site frequently and have always found his posts stimulating and thought-provoking. Duane tagged me in part for my posts on Syro-Palestinian archaeology, but I have to admit that anything I write on that subject is always done with a look over my "intellectual shoulder" to see if Abnormal Interests thinks I'm offbase...I admire his calm approach toward various issues and so getting tagged with an award from Duane is an honor for me...

Now, according to the rules of the Thinking Blogger Award, I am to tag five blogs that "make me think", thereby passing the award on to them as well. Following Duane's lead, I am additionally considering how particular blogs contribute to my thinking. This is somewhat difficult as there are a number of great blogs out there, all of which make me think about those issues of greatest interest to me. So, here goes with the top five that come to mind (none of whom as far as I can tell have received the Thinking Blogger Award yet):

1. Aardvarchaeology. Martin's posts on Scandinavian archaeology are always thought-provoking, but his views on all other aspects of things archaeological frequently force me to stop and think about my own biases. They also push me to stay current on the sometimes obscure facets of archaeological literature;

2. Blue Gal. I believe I described her as my "spiritual conscience": she has one of those irreverent attitudes and yet clearly has a great deal of personal faith - I find the combination of the two quite invigorating, even if I've somewhat strayed from the latter. I enjoy her approach to life and her philosophy regarding the separation of church and state (and I don't just mean constitutionally...) always makes me stop and think;

3. Red State Rabble. There are few writers who can devastate an intelligent design creationism argument as eloquently as Red State Rabble. But more importantly he frequently prompts his readers to think beyond the superficial aspects of a story and find the deeper meaning (and motivation) behind it;

4. Skeptico. Clearly the byline says it all: "Critical thinking for an irrational world". Even if you are already a skeptic as I am, you cannot escape considering the reasoned thought of Skeptico. Even if you accept a mystical world beyond the explanations of science, you need to think about what Skeptico has to say....;

5. Jim West. Always provocative, but also always forcing you to think about new ways to consider the Bible, its interpretation and sometimes the archaeology behind it. Jim has a clearly realistic view on who's being honest about evidence for biblical interpretation and who's playing fast and loose with the data. Like Blue Gal, he is one of the few who makes me think twice about the atheistic road I tend to be travelling...

Well, there you have it. Others I would have picked have already received the award and plenty more abound who would also be deserving. Thanks again, to Abnormal Interests for thinking about me (and more on Syro-Palestinian archaeology to come)....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lassen County Illuminati Responsible For Denying Gonzalez Tenure

I don't know if my fellow LACIS member (Lassen County Illuminati Society) are aware of this, but apparently we, along with Freemasons and Scientific American are part of a global conspiracy to deny tenure and other things to university professors who advocate intelligent design. Wow...only meeting secretly for month and already we've had a major impact....Ok, granted they didn't cite us by name, but how many Illuminati societies can there be?

Of course all of this is about the recent denial of tenure to Iowa State University professor and pro-ID astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. Ever in a state of perpetual victimhood, the pro-ID websites are crying foul at one of their own being denied tenure and naturally, like euthanasia, eugenics, the European Union and eucher, it's all the Darwinists' fault. As Ed Brayton points out, lots of university professors with stronger track records than Gonzalez have been denied tenure...that's been my experience with friends in academia as well. Most people just pull up their bootstraps and find a different job...usually a better one. ID advocates seem to prefer wallowing in self-pity and conspiracy theories - I guess that's all you have when your ideas lack any evidence and are dependent on maintaining good PR with intellectual midgets.

The whining by Dembski, O'Leary, DaveScot, Casey Luskin and Robert Crowther is having an effect, however: it's getting really annoying. Ed points out the psychological problem IDist's have:

But ID advocates seem to have the same problem with the concept of discrimination that they do with the concept of evidence. Arguments are not evidence (especially old, bad taken directly from long-discredited creationist material) and criticism is not discrimination.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Join The National Center For Science Education

I received my renewal notice today for membership in the National Center for Science Education. This is one of the few organizations to which I have remained loyal, even in times of financial hardship - fortunately, I am passed the days of poor grad student (although I wouldn't trade them for the world!) and tend to both renew and give a donation. This is an outstanding organization and clearly the "guardian angel" of those who stay ever vigilant keeping science education about science - especially in small towns like those here in northeastern California where there are both subtle and not-so-subtle efforts to deny proper science education to students.

If you are concerned about the state of science education in your local area, the state or the nation in general, you should be a member of NCSE...

If you are a professional scientist working in academia, the private sector, or local, state or federal government, you should be a member of NCSE...

If you are a student, concerned that you are getting a proper science education or simply seeking support when you challenge fellow students spouting non-science idiocy, you should be a member of NCSE...

If you a community college or university library, county or city library or any other reading lending institution, you should be getting the NCSE journal for your constituents by becoming a member of the NCSE...

If you are a high school biology or community college biology department, you should be a member of the NCSE...

If you care about the integrity of science at all, you NEED TO JOIN THE NCSE!

So what are you waiting for?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Shasta Bible College Offers Non-Science Course On Life Origins

Northern California blogger Tim Hearden is reporting that Shasta Bible College is holding a class on scientific origins of life taught by creationists Duane Gish and Ken Cummings for the next two weeks. Neither has ever been able to produce an accurate statement about evolutionary biology let alone offer anything but faulty evidence in favor of creationism. Once again, the students at Shasta Bible College will walk away confident of their pre-conceived worldview regarding the origins of life but have absolutely no comprehension of real scientific data on the subject. At Hearden's site, commenter Precopius sums it up most clearly:

How do you hold a two week science class with no science in it?

How indeed....

Sunday, May 06, 2007

More On Ministry Owning A Dead Sea Scroll Fragment

In response to my recent comments on a Ministry in Arizona acquiring a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, I received an email from the "antiquities broker" regarding the origin of the fragment. Since I voiced my significant concern over the possible origins of the piece, I thought I should share his response. In brief, he assures me that 1) he deals in antiquities only if they have traces of writing (his interest is specifically in writing, not general archaeology); 2) everything he has bought, sold, displayed or appraised has been acquired legally; 3) all pieces have been looked at by scholars in Israel and/or the United States; 4) all pieces are destined to be legitimately published by scholars; 5) all material has, at his expense, been reconserved by experts, mostly in Europe.

I sincerely appreciate the response and clarification (I would also point out that if you read the comments, Abnormal Interests always suspected the piece had some kind of legitimate origin). I am particularly gratified that any piece acquired is properly cared for, provenienced, examined and copied by scholars, and destined for publication.


I still have serious reservations about the private ownership of antiquities; more to the point, I have serious concern with antiquities attaining any kind of market value. I can understand personal collection because of an interest in history (I don't condone it...I usually try to reason and educate people first about the need to protect archaeological sites, but protection comes first: although ultimately I will try to catch and jail anyone who illegally excavates or collects). Most of the "interested" however, tend to be casual collectors whose interests can be channeled in more effective ways (through volunteer programs, etc.). But once you attach a price to something, then it opens the door for all kinds of illegal activity and creates a monumental threat to our ability to reconstruct the past (most creationists would probably welcome the destruction of anything older than 6000 years!). As any good archaeologist will tell you, provenience (location, context, etc.) is often far more valuable a source of information than the piece itself. I often tell volunteers that archaeologists don't excavate objects, we excavate information. Antiquities are valuable for scientific purposes only in their original context. Adding a dollar value to objects significantly raises the probability that they will be looted and all scientific value lost.

But I believe there is also a moral aspect to pricing history. The desire to trade history for dollars bespeaks of loss of moral fabric equally as insidious as any drug addiction. Ranchers, farmers and other landowners whose first question upon finding a tyrannosaur skull is "How much can I get for it?" have lost the ethical and moral integrity so many conservatives claim this country needs.

I also still believe we risk information integrity if we allow religious institutions to own pieces of history - history that they can easily subvert into apologetics propoganda. It's one of the main reasons why I am concerned with the amount of evangelical Christian money being funneled into the mideast to do "biblical" archaeology. But that's a topic for another post...

Intelligent Design Proponent Anika Smith Maintains Separation From The Real World

My wife and I attended a picnic yesterday and ran into a devout Catholic couple we know. After talking with their eldest daughter about which college she would be attending this fall, the expected answer materialized: a Catholic college in southern California. I commented later that this young woman would have get slapped in the face with reality sooner or later, to which my wife, in her frequently sage manner, replied, "Some people are pretty successful at remaining sheltered from the rest of the world".

I could not help but be reminded of that comment upon reading Anika Smith's current post on Evolution News and Views this morning. Some people just never move beyond their own contrived fantasy world of cherry-picked data, misinformation and post-hoc accommodating argument. I suppose it is sufficient to demonstrate Smith's lack of intellectual command over the relevant issues of the public evolution "debate" to point out that John Wise, biology professor at SMU easily corrected Smith and co-author Sarah Levy's recent assertion that "intelligent design" is something new; something scientific; something not related to creationism. In addition to showing how Smith and Levy are incorrect, Wise also eloquently explained something neither understands: why it matters.

Few people would dispute that our present scientific understanding of the physical world has led to a tremendously long list of advances in medicine, technology, engineering, the structure of the universe and the atom, and on and on. The list is nearly endless, but it does not include everything. Science can tell us only what is governed by natural forces....

The usefulness of science stems from the predictable action of the laws of nature and the strict rules regarding testable hypotheses. If you modify the definition of science to include unpredictable supernatural forces, magic and miracles, the utility of science will be lost because we won't be able to form reasonable predictions from what we observe in the natural world. No reverent believer would presume to know what goes on in the mind of God, so how can the actions of God be predicted? For science to progress and maintain its usefulness, it needs to be limited to the laws of nature... [emphasis mine].

Wise further shows that proposed creationist texts were republished with "creationism" switched for "intelligent design" immediately after creationism was ruled as a religious view in the Edwards v. Aguillard decision.

If that were not enough, Smith pulls the blinders on tighter in the Evolution News and Views article by uncritically accepting David Limbaugh's discussion of Richard Sternberg's so-called academic "persecution" at the Smithsonian. The real story behind Sternberg's "persecution" can be found easily: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for starters...

But the real window into Smith's utter separation from anything remotely resembling a tangible argument is how eagerly she cites someone (Limbaugh) who relies on Tom Bethell as a good source of alternative information! Talk about someone who has completely aborted the Catholic tradition of scholarly achievement! Asking Bethell for a coherent discussion of evolution is like asking Britney Spears for advice on maintaining a stable relationship.

Smith wants us all to believe in intelligent design and the best she can come up with is a very poor understanding of science, the incoherent rantings from the brother of a drug addict, a highly propogandized persecution of a lab tech, and writings from the intellectual equivalent of Britney, I'm convinced!

Friday, May 04, 2007

More On Intelligent Design And Medicine

I have often advised people, when listening to creationists promote their worldview, that the first thing to consider is what they are NOT telling you. Uncommon Descent contributor Sal Cordovas's fraudulent assessment of Catriona MacCallum's editorial "Does Medicine Without Evolution Make Sense?" serves as a prime example of the lack of information quality and integrity being dished out by intelligent design creationists every day. (No wonder they lost in Dover!).

Ed Brayton provides more on what Sal Cordova is NOT telling us in his assessment; Respectful Insolence provides an additional assessment of Cordova's "rank dishonesty"; and Evolution Blog adds more evidence to the only interpretation one can draw from intelligent design activists: they prefer to feed propaganda to the masses rather than conduct actually science in the laboratory. Read these posts for the full assessment of what is being said and not said, but briefly here's the point.

An intelligent design proponent reads MacCallum's article and draws this assessment:

Darwinists claim how important Darwinism is to science, but MacCallum's editorial makes an embarrassing admission of Darwinism's irrelevance to medicine.

Darwinists (whoever they are...) and those with intellectual capacity and curiosity, knowing that when a creationist says the sun is shining the most appropriate response to take is to look out the window, bother to read the article and point out the conclusions actually being made by the author are clearly opposite what Sal and other IDists would have a general audience believe:

The most obvious examples of evolutionary biology's importance to medical understanding are related to infectious disease...

But evolution can also tell us that the origin of HIV was precipitated by a jump across the primate species barrier [10] and enables us to predict the imminent arrival of avian flu and the mutations most likely to be responsible for that evolutionary leap from birds to humans...

The relevance of evolution to medicine is, however, much broader....

The time has clearly come for medicine to explicitly integrate evolutionary biology into its theoretical and practical underpinnings The medical students of Charles Darwin's day did not have the advantage of such a powerful framework to inform their thinking; we shouldn't deprive today's budding medical talent of the potential insights to be gained at the intersection of these two great disciplines.

It is clear that preservation of a religious ideology is the primary factor driving the IDist and creationist contentions that modern medicine has no ties to evolutionary theory. So if your doctor does not "believe" in evolutionary theory because it contradicts his or her religious ideology, you have to ask yourself the following question:

Has my doctor chosen to follow the path of providing the best medical care possible, based on the best science available, and regardless of its potential impact on personal religious views?...or...Has my doctor chosen to follow the path of providing the best medical care possible only so long as it doesn't collide with religious beliefs?