Monday, March 03, 2014

Global Warming, Panda's Thumb, and My "Mann number" of ~2

I have said that I would try and avoid involvement in the "climate wars." It is not because I think that the issue is not significant- it is the greatest threat to civilization. I mean that unqualified. Nuclear war is grave, but is in fact more likely due to the impending climate crisis. It is just that I have a professional background related to evolution, and creationism that I lack in climate science.

None the less, last night I was reading Michael E. Mann's recent book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” (2013 Columbia University Press). And on page 142 (paperback ed.), he wrote about the inspiration for the climate change blog, RealClimate. It was The Panda's Thumb. PT is a science blog I helped start 10 years ago. The goal was to counter creationist fraud and lies.

It seems we helped with public education on global climate, if very indirectly.

Elsewhere, Mann joked about the "Mann number" similar to the Erdos, or "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." The idea comes about from an attack on climate science via a personal attack on Michael Mann. "Smoking" Joe" Barton (R-Tx) as the Chair of the House Energy and Technology Committee ordered an investigation of Michael Mann conducted by Edward Wegman. As part of Wegman's report was a "social network analysis" of Michael Mann's publication record with the intent of smearing Mann as having too wide a "personal network" to insure adequate peer review. This was also of particular interest to me as I had contributed quite a lot to personal social network analysis in my early career.

So, I recon' that I can get an approximate "Mann Number" of 2.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Noah Berlatsky in the Atlantic, 8, Feb. 2014

I was able to ignore the continuing disaster of my last computer crash by reading this essay on the recent debate by Bill Nye and Ken Ham.

Charles Darwin and the “Atlantic” have a long association. In fact, Darwin helped prepare a pamphlet from three of Asa Gray’s articles in the July, August, and October issues of the 1860 Atlantic Monthly supporting Darwin’s theory. Gray collected them as well in his book “Drawiniana” under the heading, "Natural Selection not inconsistent with Natural Theology." What Asa Gray argued for was an early version of Theistic Evolution. But, this essay by Noah Berlatsky strikes me as oddly motivated. The debate between Bill Nye, and Ken Ham was not informed by the apologetics of William Paley. It was a really a debate between the views of Darwin, and Lyle versus those of Bishop James Ussher.

Darwin commented in his Autobiography of the influence of Paley in his youth. When Darwin went aboard the HMS Beagle, by his account he was “quite orthodox.” However, he gradually came “… to see that the Old Testament was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos (sic).” It was only after this realization, and the consequent rejection of Paley’s Natural Selection, that Darwin was able to formulate his theory of natural selection. Again Darwin has commented on this in his “Autobiographical Notes,” "Although I did not think much about the existence of a personal God until a considerably later period of my life, I will here give the vague conclusions to which I have been driven. The old argument from design in Nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows.”

The subtitle of Paley’s book is revealing, 1802 Paley “Natural Theology: Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature.” Paley, as noted by Berlatsky, held a rather silly view of happy fish frolicking about were a real naturalist would see feeding behavior and the frantic effort to escape the jaws from below. We should also asked if the Intelligent Design creationists see themselves as in the same apologetic as Paley. ID creationist guru William Dembski was categorical in his dismissal of this idea in his essay, “Intelligent design is not a form of natural theology” (2001). Dembski’s principle claim is that the IDC movement explicitly denies that the “Designer” is the Christian God. He is of course lying. He has also stated with equal force (and sincerity) that "Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." (“Signs of Intelligence,” 1999, Touchstone magazine), and, "My thesis is that all disciplines find their completion in Christ and cannot be properly understood apart from Christ." ('Intelligent Design,' 1999, p 206).

The 2011 criticism of ID creationism by Ken Ham is typically derivative. His substantive argument was built on the unacknowledged essays in 1999, and 2006 by ur-Young Earther Henry Morris. He pointed out;

“Any discussion of a young earth, six-day creation, a worldwide flood and other Biblical records of early history will turn off scientists and other professionals, they say, so we should simply use the evidence of intelligent design as a "wedge" to pry them loose from their naturalistic premises. Then, later, we can follow up this opening by presenting the gospel, they hope.”
Henry Morris, (1999) Design Is Not Enough! Acts & Facts. 28 (7).

“Some of the leaders of the ID movement have been frankly calling it a "wedge" with which they hope to open up the atheistic science establishment, so that teachers can at least acknowledge intelligent creation of life as a possibility.”
Henry Morris, Ph.D. 2006. Intelligent Design and/or Scientific Creationism. Acts & Facts. 35 (4).

The theme that ID creationist writing was a transparent sham to insert creationism into US public schools has been acknowledged by none other than the Godfather of IDC, Phillip Johnson. He admitted, "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools." American Family Radio (10 January 2003). This has been thoroughly documented, and debunked by Barbara Carroll Forrest, and Paul R. Gross (2004) "Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design" Oxford University Press.
Noah Berlatsky exaggerates the scientific basis of Intelligent Design creationism. The false claim that their approach is “scientific” rather than theological opens the IDC movement to scientific review. It fails as argued in the references below.

Mark Perakh
2003 “Unintelligent Design” New York: Prometheus Press

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

Laurie R. Godfrey (Editor), Andrew J. Petto (Editor)
2008 “Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond” W. W. Norton & Company

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mt. Saint Helens and Noah

A "Little Grand Canyon?"

For years, creationists have promoted the lie that erosion features following the Mt. Saint Helens volcanic eruption both "proved" that the Grand Canyon was deposited and carved out in the year of Noah's flood, and of course that Noah's Flood even occurred.

Chief in their "proof" is this photo attributed to Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research. For 27 years it has been copied to dozens of creationist websites, blogs, and on-line discussions:

I added the red lines demarking three major deposition features. Austin described it this way, "The little "Grand Canyon of the Toutle River" is a one-fortieth scale model of the real Grand Canyon."(Austin, S. A. 1986. Mt. St. Helens and Catastrophism. Acts & Facts. 15 (7)). The original caption reads,
Figure 4. Twenty-five foot thickness of stratified
pyroclastic flow deposit which accumulated in less than
one day on June 12, 1980. The stratified flow deposit
forms the floor of the pit in Figure 1 which was later
eroded by mudflows to make the cliff exposure here.

("Mount St. Helens and Catastrophism" Steven A. Austin, Presented at the First International Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 4–9, 1986. Published in: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Creationism, R. S. Crowell, editor), pp. 3–9, 1986).

The errors are many, and vary between just plain not true, and subtly not true.

A sequence of events

The first gross error of the "just pain" variety is that this geology is analogous or related to the Grand Canyon. There are actually three reasons it is not, first is that the there is no competent geologist that would think the pictured Mt. Saint Helens deposit was formed by long process. Second, the evolution of this deposit is still very active and the pictured features are merely temporary. Third, to call this a 1/40th scale model of the Grand Canyon is just stupid.

We see in the photo below that the initial (bottom) component in the creationist's photo was produced by landslides. This will produce a well mixed combination of older volcanic deposits, and a smaller amount of fresh material introduced by the eruption. What this deposit will not be is well sorted by size, nor will the larger fraction be at all rounded.

The landslides removed millions of pounds of rock which had held back the eruption. Once that was gone, the next massive event was the explosive eruption of mostly new material that had been under tremendous heat and pressure. The next photo shows us the volume and energy of that eruptive material.

The material we have seen so far is what formed the lower "strata" that creationists claim models the Grand Canyon. It is from landslides augmented with a small portion of volcanic ash.

With the capping material totally removed, the next phase of the eruption began. This was the release of volcanic "ash."

This is not at all like a wood ash. It is composed of tiny particles of volcanic silica, plus remelted and cooled rock fragments. The ash fell over 12 hours, and covered an area of over one hundred square kilometers. The chemistry, geology, and distribution of the ash is available from the United States Geological Survey article,"Properties of volcanic ash."

From the photos above we see that this ash has a mix of lighter, and darker particles indicating slightly different composition. These randomly sort out as the ash falls and settles on the ground. This forms the middle section of the creationist's photo. The small particles drifted down under the main influences of particle size, particle density, and prevailing wind speed. So, layers formed as the ash fall continued for over 12 hours. These layers were quite different from the water carried sediments most people are familiar with, and creationists like to attribute to "the Noah's flood."

The top section of the creationists "little grand canyon" is a well mixed dark colored sediment that is a combination of all the erupted materials, weathered soils, and a strong plant material fraction. The source is what is called a "lahar flow." The next two photos are of the Mt. Saint Helens lahar flows. The first is an aerial shot showing the extent of a late lahar flow.

The following photo has several interesting features. First note that the flow was much higher than the residual deposit. Next, look at the amount of surface vegetation, tree bark and branches that were ground-up and added to the flow. Finally, looking at the exposed bank we see that a lot of weathered dark organic rich soil was added to the ash and volcanic rock mix. This is the source of the dark "cap" from the creationist's "strata" photo.

The creationist photos included this following image. It is striking in that it totally exposes their fraud. The image that Steven Austin described as "Twenty-five foot thickness of stratified pyroclastic flow deposit which accumulated in less than one day on June 12, 1980" is just a small, and untypical segment of the total mass of the 1980 Mt. Saint Helens eruption. Exposed in an actively eroding river bank, it obviously is a small segment that will not survive for very long either.

One last error of the "just plain not true" sort is that not a single one of these features from the Mt. Saint Helens volcano could possibly have formed underwater in the midst of a global flood.

It also forms a sad example of how creationists cannot bring themselves to tell the truth. Steve Austin and his followers hope to make others believe that real geologists would look at the apparent strata from the eruption so far as something that had taken a long time to have formed. They know that geologists don't think this.

PS: I wanted to add a link to a good Mt. St. Helens blog by Lance Wilson.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


I killed the CPU on my main desktop machine.

My hard drive is fine, so I'll only need a new box. I might even do a little upgrade.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Back in the Quote Mine

I was confronted by a creationist with several "quotes" from famous scientists that "proved" that evolution was a fraud. Most were already in the TalkOrigns Quote Mine Project." One that was not was,

W. HOWELLS, Harvard, "A great legend has grown up to plague both paleontologists and anthropologists. It is that one of; men can take a tooth or a small and broken piece of bone, gaze at it, and pass his hand over his forehead once or twice, and then take a sheet of paper and draw a picture of what the whole animal looked like as it tramped the Terriary terrain. If this were quite true, the anthropologists would make the F.B.I. look like a troop of Boy Scouts.", MANKIND SO FAR, p. l38
Published creationist sources;Creation Wiki: Paleoanthropology quotes

Sean Pittman, MD: Thoughts on Evolution From Scientists and Other Intellectuals

The quote was from a 1944 book, "Mankind So Far." I bought a copy which arrived today, 12, Nov. 2013. The "quote" was on page 128, not 138. From personal forensic work, nearly all police agencies are "boy scouts" compared to professional physical anthropologists. The rest of the quote was totally different from the creationist's presentation. A physical anthropologist, Prof. Howells was critical of paleoanthropologists who named a new species nearly every time they discovered a new skull. Howells was a "lumper" who saw great variation in single species as the common fact, and no need for elaborate classifications of species. This was particularly evident in his research on modern human origins. He was a strong advocate of the "out-of-Africa" hypothesis of human origins, and the biological unity of human races.

I agree that most police agencies do look like boy scouts compared to professional physical anthropologists. But of course, creationists have totally mangled the "quote" to change Prof. Howells' meaning. They have cut off the end of Howells sentence, and deleted the rest of his thought to totally alter the meaning of this passage. Here is the actual section, following "boy scouts"

"If this were quite true, the anthropologists would make the F.B.I. look like a troop of Boy Scouts ... and it has led to a certain amount of skepticism in the lay mind regarding the restorations of early man which have been made. But it is not quite true.

The restorations of fossil skulls do not really go beyond what is reasonable; in fact there are one or two cases in which the restoration has been made on a small part of a skull only to have another specimen turn up to give the true form; and in these cases the resemblance has been quite good."

The rest of the page follows in a similar vein, that fossil reconstructions are generally reasonable and based on the comparative analysis of multiple specimens of many species. He concluded with the entirely competent observation that soft tissue reconstructions in the 1940s were entirely speculative. Modern forensic studies, 50 years later, are considered much more accurate.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jeannie Chatman, Special Blogger

Young Earth Creationist Jeannie Chatman, Special Blogger to the Daily Guide, provided some motive and amusement when she regurgitated a load of YEC nonsense. I rebuked her here several times. In fact, her overall public record helped me to start Big Daddy is Dead.

I have checked periodically for the last 9 months, and her public output has stopped at the Daily Guide. At the same time I have not seen an obituary notice. Hopefully she is reconsidering her support for a young earth.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Utterly Dispensable ID Creationism.

Is Darwinian Evolution "Indispensable" to Biology? by the Disco'tute MD, Michael Egnor takes a poke at Larry Moran's blog post, ASBMB Core Concepts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Evolution. (ASBMB=American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology). The ASBMB offered the following as their nominees for core concepts:
matter and energy transformation
biological information
macromolecular structure and function

Egnor's core observation was:
"If you have to periodically proclaim to the world the indispensability of your scientific discipline, then your scientific discipline isn't indispensable."

If you need to beg, whine and mew that your Intelligent Design creationism is really, really sciencey, and that mean ol' Darwinists should stop calling you "creationists," then you are utterly dispensable.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

After you eat them, all that is left is a picture

I had a good day aboard the Fury out of Dana Warf.

Photo by Lisa Ray

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

"Christofascists, and Satan," or "Why don't Fundies Read the Bible?"

The gang of sadistic bastards at Trinity Western 'university' had several additional stupidities in their "Statement of Faith" (Link to a PDF) that I thought were worth mentioning on their own without overlap with their ironically delightful Expulsion of chronic liar Kevie Miller. The first is very simple to expose as stupid:

2. God’s gospel is authoritatively revealed in the Scriptures.
We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, (etc.)

I'll agree to stipulate this as soon as you show me these "original writings." And while you are looking for some of those, explain why Christian apologists insist that the gross variations, and contradictions within the Bible are due to variations in the oral tradition preceding any written text. The obvious theological significance of this is that the Bible is a mere transcription of what somebody might have remembered about some event, filtered through the lens of their cultural and political expedience. That was before anyone even started editing, adding, and redacting.

3. God’s gospel alone addresses our deepest need.
We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan.

This of course refers to;

Genesis 3 (KJV)

1 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

Not once in this "verbally inspired Word of God" (according to Statement #2), is the serpent called anything other than the serpent. Nor is there any indication that this serpent is "Satan." Nor is that any indication anywhere in the Bible that "Satan" crawled on his belly. Since snakes cannot stand, Psalm 109: 6. "Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand," should indicate that the "serpent" in Geneiss is not Satan at all. In fact, many times the Bible presents Satan as a loyal, if sarcastic, servant of the Hebrew God, El. Even the New Testament Satan was not a reptile, and clearly exercised considerable abilities of movement and speech (e.g. Matthew 4, and Luke 4).

But the best evidence that this "Statement of Faith" is anti-scriptural is the prologue from the Book of Job 1: 6 - 12. El the paramount god of the Hebrew pantheon holds court in the Council of Gods, Hebrew "bene elohim." The paramount god holding court is El, also called "el elohim" or "El, God of the gods." Elsewhere we find this god is called “el elohim Yahweh” or “Yahweh, the God of the gods,” used to assimilate the Northern Israel tradition of El as the paramount god with the Southern Yahweh tradition of Juda. Also give attention to the fact that “the Satan,” in biblical Hebrew "il’shatan," literally translated is "God El’s Satan." Satan is appearing at the command, and under the direction of the God El.

The late Babylonian Empire employed secret agents empowered to act as both judge and executioner. They were ‘agents provocateur’ with the nickname of the “Emperor’s wanderers,” or, "Emperor's roaming eyes." (Akkadean verb “shu-ut” = to wander). The Akkadean "roamer" or "wanderer" is "shatar." Later consonant shifts, and a reinterpretation yielded a secondary meaning “shatan”= to accuse. This leads directly to biblical Hebrew "il’shatan," God’s Satan (God's Wanderer) having the role of the “the Adversary” which is another of the biblical Satan's nicknames. It also provides a rather amusing world play in Job 1:7 since the Satan says he was “wandering about” and the name Satan is derived from the Akkadean verb “shu-ut” = to wander. So an actually literal translation would be "El asked, Where "My Wanderer" have you been? I have been wandering, my Lord God, wandering (and/or accusing) on the Earth, said God's Wanderer."

I recommend reading;

Friedman, Richard Elliott
1987 Who Wrote the Bible? New York:Harper and Row (Paperback Edition)

Pope, Marvin H.
1965 “Job: A new translation with Introduction and Commentary” Anchor Bible Society Vol. 15, New York: ABRL/Doubleday

Smith, Mark
2003 “The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts” Oxford University Press.

And be sure to keep a copy of Brown, Driver, and Briggs to hand.