Friday, July 29, 2011

Why Americans will become more ignorant

Why Americans will become more ignorant

This was in today’s Times and Democrat (Orangeburg, South Carolina);

Seminary plans creation lecture at Summer Institute (Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Taylors”

Dr. Jonathan D. Sarfati will speak on "Design, Deluge, and Dilemma."

The institute will include lectures titled "Real Science Supports the Bible," "Creation and Bioethics," "Exegetical Defense of Creationism," "Incredible Design in Nature," "Are Miracles Scientific?" and more.

What keeps Americans ignorant?

(Note added 7, Oct. 2011; After considerable delay, the Abilene Reporter did post the comments below).

Americans get more of their "news" from family and friends than from study, and broadly, the public news media is their only outside source for information. Americans rarely read scientific journals, or specialist books about science.

News papers are coming to realize that they must have Internet versions of themselves, and the advertisers pay by the page views. I have for several years made the effort to find and reply to these on-line news paper editorials when they broach on evolution v. creationism. There are various frustrations associated with this; separate registration forms, wildly varying user interface software, and typically limited opportunity to make outside links, or use any graphics.

But by far the most irritating thing I have encountered is simple censorship. There are news papers which block views that are informed, and critical of creationism and biblical literalism. They might at the same time allow weakly presented counter arguments. Of course, this blog post is motivated by just such an instance. The Abilene Reporter-News (Tx), just ran a Letter to the Editor by Clyde Berkeley, Letter: On debating the origin of life which I tried to respond to on three occasions.

None were allowed through the censorship queue.

So here they are;

I read this letter earlier today, and would have replied earlier, but I had an afternoon fishing trip planned. Over all, Clyde’s letter is rather amusing. First, I checked on his claim to be a scientist. Sorry Clyde, you have zero scientific publications. However, you do have one citation for an article about planning missionary trips to somewhere. Your profession, from information provided by yourself, is Missionary. You have also claimed to have worked for the National Reconnaissance Agency/Office. I have had some field work experiences with NRA people, and found them very competent. So, I wonder what your job there really was.

As to the origin of life; The theory of evolution is not at all dependent on any particular origin of life on earth. It is irrelevant to the truth of evolution, or as expressed by C. Darwin in his famous 1871 letter to botanist Joseph Hooker, "It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter." There are indeed several large remaining gaps in our precise understanding of the origin of life on earth, but the broad outline is available. In fact, I wrote a “Short Outline of the Origin of Life” which summarized what we knew as of 4 years ago. It is in sore need of updating, particularly in the origin, and chemistry of nucleotides.

Why “intelligent design” creationism is utterly useless is described in considerable detail in the 2004 book, “Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism.” My chapter in that book was used in the cross examination testimony of creationist Mike Behe during the Dover “Pandas Trial,” where ID creationism was found to be unconstitutional.

But, your most grotesque error is the long rebuked “appearance pf age” argument. This is theologically as bad as it is scientifically bad. For example, Psalm 19:1 reads, "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork." Further, Psalm 85:11 reads, “Truth springs from the earth; and righteousness looks down from heaven.” The Hebrew word translated here as “truth,” emet, basically means “certainty and dependability.”

A faked ancient earth and universe, with faked fossils and geological structures that clearly point to an ancient earth and evolutionary transitions of life could never be honest, or described as giving “certainty and dependability.” The God of such a faked universe would be a perverse, and false god. This is also denied by Scripture. Consider James 1:13. “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”

wbarloww#247077 writes:
I have a question for those that hold with evolution. Lets just use the four major groups: African, Mediterranean, Caucasian, and Asian. Did they develop simultaneously, or in a linear fashion.

The evolution of humans, and the relationship of that to “race,” is too large a subject to fully explore in 3,000 character snippets. First, regarding the notion that there are “four major groups” of humans- this is not true. As Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (John Murray, London, 1871), "It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant." This was at the time many Christians argued that non-Europeans were not even human! The American slave owners had been assured by the "preAdamites" that God had created the Negro with the "beasts of the field" and that the sons of Adam (Whites) were only exercising their God ordained right to dominate sub-humans. Even “liberal” pro-slavery ministers such as the famous Rev. John Bachman (1790 – 1874), while acknowledging that Africans were human, argued that they were “too poorly developed” to rule themselves and that slavery was a “necessary institution.”

This sort of racism, originated in the defense of slavery, has shaped American perceptions of race for two centuries. It is long over due to be rejected. For the definitive scientific statement on human races, you will need to read “Biological Aspects of Race” adopted as the official statement on race of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists;

I also recommend the American Anthropological Association
Statement on "Race" available at:

The short form is that it is not scientifically supported to classify humans into geographical units such as suggested by wbarloww#247077.

wbarloww#247077 goes on to question where modern humans first appeared (or so it seems). They also wondered about the proposition, “that all four groups developed at the same time in one location from one pair of Apes?”

I’ll take the latter first, remembering that there is no validity to the notion of “four groups (of people), it is equally mistaken that humans descended from “one pair of Apes.” The conceptual breakthrough that merged genetics with evolutionary theory was called the “new synthesis,” or “neo-Darwinism.” This took place in the 1930s, and the critical insight was that evolution happens in populations, and not in individuals. The second realization was that, even in mammals, cross-species fertility was not a simple on/off situation. For example, the male Y chromosome is far more prone to mutation than the female’s X chromosome. And, the X chromosome can compensate many defective genes on the Y chromosome. So what you can see is that a male of species “A” could be able to successfully cross-breed a female of species “B,” even if a male from “B” is infertile when paired to a species “A” female. This is also how mutations can accumulate within populations across generations creating the potential for new species emerging.

For a clearer understanding of how humans have evolved, I suggest looking at, “Becoming Human,”

And, the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution;

The short form is that most of human evolution has occurred in Africa, but that this is the result of population level change rather than single individuals, or single mate pairs.

(The original comments were cut into ~ 3000 character chunks).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Satan made me do it

I was going to save this for last, and I suppose that I have in spite of having 6 more of Rev. Miller’s headline reasons “Why Won't Creationists Just Give Up?” that I could take to the trash heap.

But here is the definitive reason against discussing reality with Miller, or his ilk;

“Because Satan has provided people with a way of looking at the world that doesn't need God (evolutionary theory), and we need to expose the weaknesses in that proposition rather than compromise with it.”

Rev. Adrian Miller seeks to avoid any critical thinking about his extreme claims for revelatory perfection by preemptively blaming Satan for any counter evidence, or objections. This makes it impossible for Miller to discuss anything at all in good faith. Anything he doesn’t like is because “Satan did it.” Anything that shows Miller to be a hypocrite, “Satan did it.” Anything that shows Miller to be an ignorant twit, “Satan did it.”

Is there any reason to finish Miller's objections to reality?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Do not miss this!

This is big news!

Researchers Identify Seventh and Eighth Bases of DNA Hat tip to Lou Shackelton for posting this before I saw it. There are also variations in the genetic triplet code found particularly in marine bacteria. The over-all results show that the DNA code evolved with variations. This raises an interesting problem for Carl Woese's notion that indicriminant lateral gene transfer has erased any chance to rediscover the genetics of the Last Universal Common Ancestor, which he reviews in “The universal ancestor” PNAS Vol. 95, Issue 12, 6854-6859, 1998 June 9.

(I might go fishing Friday and give Rev. Adrian Miller another day to catch his breath. Then I'll post Part 4).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Adrian Miller, Part 3: What Wiser Christians Have Said

To recap, an Anglican Priest the Reverend Adrian Miller, claimed his biblical gloss known as YECism was supported,
”Because we recognise the importance of revelation in our approach to knowing.”

And he knows this because, "In the past God spoke through prophets and now He speaks to us through Jesus." with textural support from the opening lines of The Epistle to the Hebrews.

The first revelation of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible, demands that the physical universe is co-equal with the textural revelation. The second revelation, the New Testiment, generally affirms the old revelation regarding the revelation of nature (eg. Romans 1:20) with the added bit that “Jewish fables and genealogies” are expressly to be ignored as they are “unprofitable and worthless,” (Titus 3: 9). That pretty much finished the YEC cult “revelation” right there.

But, this was not my original insight. (Well, I learned later that it was not my original insight). There is a strong recent effort to salvage Christian theology from the YEC cult in the Christian Clergy Letter Project, which states,
“Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

Over 12,746 Christian clergy in America have affirmed this statement as of 6/24/11. But of course, THE PERFECT HOLY PREIST ADRIAN is far more pious, Christ-like, and educated than any of these thousands of clergy. But these are not new efforts to save Christianity from derision and irrelevance. For example, consider the following:
"If sound science appears to contradict the Bible, we may be sure that it is our interpretation of the Bible that is at fault." (Christian Observer, 1832, pg. 437).

That was a fairly recent admission occasioned by the scientific discoveries, not of Darwin, but of geology. It was in turn anticipated by,
“Tis a dangerous thing to engage the authority of scripture in disputes about the natural world in opposition to reason; lest time, which brings all things to light, should discover that to be evidently false which we had made scripture assert.” Telluris theoria sacra (1684 English edition, “The Sacred Theory of the Earth” Preface, pg. 10), Reverend Thomas Burnett (1635?-1715)

But that is recent still as we have the testimony of Cardinal Baronius (1598) for the statement, "The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." This was cited by Galileo, not that it did him any good.

Still earlier we have John Calvin (1509 – 1564) writing on Genesis,
"For to my mind this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and the other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.” And later he stated, “It must be remembered, that Moses does not speak with philosophical acuteness on occult mysteries, but states those things which are everywhere observed, even by the uncultivated, and which are in common use. (Genesis, I, 79 & 84 (1554).”

Why can’t Mr. Miller follow the logic of Calvin when he observed,
“ Lastly since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all. If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage.” Calvin J., Genesis, Vol. I, Part 3 (1554).

I should hope that all YEC cultists give serious attention to Thomas Aquinas on science and faith, who wrote,
"In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing." Thomas Aquinas, c.a. 1225 - 1274, Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, Q68. Art 1. (1273).

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

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

Here we enter back into the Revelation that Mr. Adrian Miller wants to vouchsafe over the work of science. But, as before we find that this revelation rejects Mr. Miller and his YEC cult. Why did Aquinas, and Augustine warn against making “obstacles be placed to their believing?” They were warning any Christian who would try to enforce a denial of the physical revelation to support a false biblical interpretation. They were making a direct reference to Luke 17:1. (Jesus) said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2. "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Also, Matthew 18:7. "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote, "determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way" (Romans 14:13).

I hope you, Mr. Miller, will read these Scriptures in their broader meaning and then give full consideration of my current favorite Scripture;

James 3:1. Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Personally I feel fine about this. If I were you Mr. Miller, I would shit my pants with terror because you are preaching lies. But, I don’t think you really believe any of this at all. Preaching is just easier than a real job.

(Edited 18 July to tone down what I think of Mr. Miller.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Flood Geology and the Geological Society of America

Earth magazine is published by the American Geological Institute. Geologist Steven Newton, programs and policy director for the National Center for Science Education, wrote this months cover story, “Creationism creeps into mainstream geology.” Steve discussed the presentations made by young earth creationists at the last annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA).

My compatriot Joe Meert was also at the meetings, and has recorded his observations and reactions on his personal blog, Science, AntiScience and Geology.

So, I think that I can go ahead and relate part of my involvement. Starting in Spring of 2009, the Calvary Chapel creationists wanted to have a “debate” on the Grand Canyon and the age of the earth. I agreed to present the scientific point of view. The Calvary Chapel people kept changing the scope of the topic, the dates, and even who I was supposed to debate with at their church. Ultimately, I was scheduled to debate with Steve Austin of the Institute for Creation Research. Austin was the editor, and principle contributor to “The Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe,” a YEC piece of work that attributes the Grand Canyon to the Noah’s Flood in Genesis 6-9.

I was already familiar with Austin, and his book. I had in fact predicted that if not Austin himself, the arguments he wrote would be the actual “debate” material from the creationists. When things seemed somewhat settled, I started an internet search to find any recent critiques of Austin’s work, and to see what he had been up to lately. That is when I saw that he was presenting field trips at the GSA meetings along with a bunch of other YEC “geologists.” I pulled together quick biographies of the YEC presenters, including their claims that the GSA had endorsed their “flood science,” and sent emails off to the meeting organizers, the GSA executive board, Joe Meert, and one that wound its way to Steve Newton at the NCSE.

I would like to share the emails, but I don't have permission. Basiclly it was CYA from the organizers. The whole situation really pissed me off- GSA was allowing these liars and frauds to use the meetings to sell the public the idea that their “flood science” was given peer support.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Adrian Miller, Part 2

In Part 1, I provided some references from the Tanakh, or “Old Testament” that taught that the physical creation is a ‘revelation’ of God’s nature. For example, it was taught that the revelation of the Earth was “emet” or “certain and dependable” (Psalm 85). The Book of Job assures us that; the animals, the birds of the air, the earth, and the fish of the sea, can all inform us of God’s creative acts, and nature (Job 12:7-8).

But for Part 2, I want to focus on Part 2 of the Bible. And the first question is does the New Testament also regard the physical universe as a revelation of God’s nature? The obvious text is from Paul;
Romans 1:
20. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22. Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23. and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Obviously, verse 20 demands that Christians acknowledge the physical revelation; the same stones and bones, birds and fishes commended by Job, and the Psalms. Of particular note in the context of the anti-science program of creationism is verse 22. This fragment of the whole thought is very popular with creationists celebrating their abject ignorance of science and congratulating themselves for being unwise, but not fools. I have had exchanges with followers of YEC preachers like Ken Ham, or Kent Hovind who insisted that the “wise” who became “fools” was a prophetic text referring to ‘evilutionists.’ The "wise" in verse 22 referred to astrologers in particular, and verse 23 is reference to the deification of Roman emperors, and worship of Egyptian gods; e.g. Anubis with his jackal head, Horus with a hawk’s head, Sobek the crocodile, or Tawaret an amalgam of the head of a hippopotamus, arms and legs of a lion, the back and tail of a crocodile, and the breasts and stomach of a pregnant woman.

Here is a partial list of scriptures which assert the dual revelations of nature and scripture; Job 10:8-14, Job 12:7-8, Job 34:14-15, Job 38-41, Psalm 8, Psalm 19:1-6, Psalm 50:6, Psalm 97:6, Psalm 98:2-3, Psalm 104, Psalm 139, Ecclesiastes 3:11, Habakkuk 3:3, Proverbs 8:22-31, Acts 17:24-31, Romans 1:20-23, Romans 2:14-15, Colossians 1:23.

But, the New Testament, particularly in the writing of Paul (or his followers), goes well beyond merely attesting to the physical revelation. Regarding the ancient, and perhaps confused biblical traditions, Paul advised Titus, "But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Torah, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3: 9).”

The young earth creation sect is wholly reliant on the tolodot or “generations” listed in various locations throughout the biblical texts for their "age of the Earth" computations. You cannot even get past Genesis 11 without some serious confusions, and textural contradictions. The Apostle Paul is entirely correct to advise against giving them any attention; they are “unprofitable and worthless." Paul’s advice is not limited to Titus, as this is a common refrain in his writing (or those of his followers). For example, Romans 7:6 “But now we are delivered from the Torah, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” And, even stronger, 2 Corinthans 3:6 "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter (Torah) but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." The YEC cult instead demands we deny the obvious truth (emet) of astronomy, geology, paleontology, anthropology and biology in favor of “fables and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4).”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Adrian Miller, and a comment about comments.

Spammers a fond of making comments on blogs, particularly to old posts, and they seem to avoid moderation queues. It is much effort to go digging through the comment sections of old posts to delete spam. So, I altered the settings to the comments for “Stones and Bones” to allow unmoderated comments for 4 days following a post, and then all later comments are referred to a moderation queue.

I never made a point to explain this in the past, and it has now tangled two recent comments. One was a request for information/opinion prompted to a newspaper’s on-line discussion of creationism and evolution in schools.

The second was from Rev. Adrian Miller, a vicar in Norwich Diocese, GB. Miller is a Young Earth Creationist, and I have written 2 posts regarding his article "Why Won't Creationists Just Give Up?”. These were the Saturday, May 28, 2011 post, “When the crazy goes mainstream,” and Rev. Adrian Miller, Part 1.” Miller’s reply followed the latter.

So that I don’t need to mess around with moderation, I’ll pull Rev. Miller’s comment to the front, extend the open comment period, and request that the conversation continues in this thread. At the same time, I have “Part 2” about ready. This will extend my argument that the Bible is not supportive of science denying YECism.

Rev. Miller’s comment:
Thanks again for reading my article and taking the time to respond to it.

There was a time I was intimidated by evolutionist dogma, but after I studied evolution as part of my first degree, I realised how much philosophy is involved and how the evidence lends itself to widely different conclusions. I've simply sought to be open and honest in my search for truth.

What you've written doesn't cause me to doubt that I have good ground for my views on origins. You seem to have taken my headlines, written your own articles under them in my voice and then argued against yourself. I don't recognise my thinking in what you've said.

For example, I don't hate Darwin - in fact I admire him in many ways. I think his theology was faulty and I disagree with him on some points, but that's not the same thing.

When I mention revelation in knowing, I am not talking crazy - I am standing firmly in mainstream orthodox Christian tradition. A fully formed Christian epistemology accepts that we know some things through data coming via physical senses (empirical epistemology), we know some things through the use of our reason (rationalist epistemology), but there are also certain things we can only know through God revealing them (revelational epistemology). A key text would be Hebrews 1:1-2 - In the past God spoke through prophets and now He speaks to us through Jesus.

In fact, to adopt a view that accepts a Christian epistemology and yet is uncritical of science founded on a non-Christian epistemology is inconsistent - I would feel crazier doing that than adopting the consistent worldview that I am working with. The point of my article was to call Christian thinkers to engage deeper in conversation where there are disagreements, so that we might all be thinking consistently.

If you really want to rid the world of creationists, the way I see it, you have 2 choices. You can shout as loudly and intimidatingly as you can, which will cause a lot of those who are undecided about the issues to avoid creationism because they don't want to be victim to that. Or you can take us seriously, understand the philosophical issues that we're dealing with and give us sound reasons why our philosophical foundations are shaky. The latter is a more challenging route but would be more effective. No need to call us crazy.
3:41 AM PDT

My reply;

First, I have labeled these as clearly as I can to avoid the confusion you, Rev. Miller seem to have had. Earlier I had merely (and I thought clearly) quoted you and one of your “headline reasons” to reject science followed by my counter argument. That “headline” was that you reject science,
”Because we recognise the importance of revelation in our approach to knowing.”

The first part of my reply was largely devoted to the Tanakh sections that taught that in the biblical revelation you claim as True™ (or at least the parts you acknowledge) the physical creation is a “revelation” co-equal with textural accounts. I am arguing within your claims of truth here, Rev. Miller. For the moment we are accepting the biblical revelation as true and it is you who is ignoring it. My position might be more clear if I point out that it is easy for priests to edit, change, or delete a text, and currently impossible for anyone to edit stars, oceans or mountains. In that respect, I fully agree with the Bible stating that “Truth (emet, or “certainty and dependability”) springs from the earth …” Psalm 85:11.

If you are so confused on how to parse my use of English, how did you manage biblical Hebrew?

Next, I have no idea what you might have been taught about biology, geology, or any other science. Even had you been one of my undergraduates, I would not know what it was you thought you had learned. Otherwise, all my students would have received ‘outstanding,” and graduated Summa etc… (A few did, but only a few). At the moment, I am only discussing your fragmented acceptance of some of the Bible as revelation, but not all. So, if you want to provide some of these ‘evidences’ we can address them. I cannot be expected to know them implicitly.

The “talking crazy” is a significant issue that we ought to clear up. I was a professor of psychiatry for a number of years. Around 1982, I helped found a professional seminar on Religion and Psychiatry. It was attended monthly by students and faculty of the Medical College of Georgia where I was a professor. It was also attended by a number of clergy, with a surprising range of faiths and sects. Our students included Hindus, Jews, various Protestants, Catholics, Agnostics and Atheists. We had clergy participants from the Southern Baptists (of course), but also rabbis, Catholic, and Russian Orthodox priests, Unitarians, and unaffiliated evangelical ministers as well. We had two primary goals; to teach the medical residents that merely being religious was not de facto insane, and to try to teach the clergy some basics about psychiatry. If I could summarize this in a single sentence, “It is not insane to believe ghosts exist; it is insane if they often visit you.” You might be amused that a few students actually rediscovered their religious faith participating in our seminar.

So, Mr. Miller, I have been taking religions quite seriously (even yours) perhaps longer than you have. I don't know if you personally are crazy, the alternatives are in some ways worse.

EDIT 15 July: I corrected a few typos, and tried to clarify some sentence structure.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Smooth change in the fossil record

While setting up to post examples of smooth change in fossils, I found that Don Lindsay's web pages are back up. So, click Here and go to his excellent examples of gradualism. Note that these are examples chosen to demonstrate a particular mode of evolutionary change- that of tiny changes accumulating across hundreds, and thousands of generations.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blogger Gadgets

The "follower" gadget seems to break every few days. Nobody shows up in the sidebar, but the software says there are now 18 "followers." At first I would waste a few hours trying to fix "my mistake," now I just wait for it to be fixed at the "home office." If you are a regular visitor, or might become one, I confess I gain motivation to make posts knowing you are out there in cyberville.

I have noticed an increase in page views over the last month or so. (I have also had a spate of creationist spam sent to my email). I hope that readers gain something, if only a moments distraction.

Friday, July 08, 2011

More Creatocrap from Mr. Caldwell

I brush aside the trivial lie by Caldwell that his letter, “… had nothing to do with creationism, which is a separate subject,” by observing he implicitly is employing the false dichotomy of evolution v. God. None of his supporters have missed his real intent, nor have I.

However, his following creationist nonsense does demand a thorough refutation.

Third, I sketched out some of the specific objections to evolutionary theory, but they were not the best ones, being limited by the letter length requirements.

Caldwell had the option of selecting any “objection” he liked, or as many as he liked. Next, Caldwell spewed,

Expanding a bit, every scientific theory or fact must have the property of being able to be falsified. Darwin's theory is no different. In fact Darwin identified two ways for falsifying his theory. One would be if gradualism in the genome did not show up [it hadn't at the time], and if a mechinism(sic) in life could be found that absolutely could not have come into being through microevolutionary(sic) incremental steps.

But, Caldwell has no interest in even being self consistent. He now claims that Darwin identified measures that could falsify his theory while originally Caldwell insisted that “evolution is untestable, given its billions-of-years basis.”

What a load of manure! First, the concept of a “genome” did not exist in Darwin’s time. Darwin’s own ideas of how heredity functioned were entirely wrong. This was shown in the early 1900s with the rediscovery of Mendel’s genetics (Castle 1903). Research by early geneticists, such as Hardy(1908), and Weinberg(1908) was actually promoted as a refutation to Darwin’s evolutionary theory. It was in the 1930s that work by many mathematicians and biologists, most notably R. A. Fisher, Theodosius Dobzhansky, J. B. S. Haldane, and Ernst Mayr, unified genetics and evolutionary biology.

Castle, W. E. (1903). "The laws of Galton and Mendel and some laws governing race improvement by selection". Proc. Amer. Acad. Arts Sci. 35: 233–242.

Hardy, Gh (Jul 1908). "MENDELIAN PROPORTIONS IN A MIXED POPULATION.". Science 28 (706): 49–50. doi:10.1126/science.28.706.49. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17779291

Weinberg, W. (1908). "Über den Nachweis der Vererbung beim Menschen". Jahreshefte des Vereins für vaterländische Naturkunde in Württemberg 64: 368–382.

I can not see the least reason not to continue exposing the self proclaimed ‘scientist,’ Mr. Caldwell, as a nincompoop. He now claims that far from being untestable, Darwin proposed tests of evolutionary theory, and that these tests have been falsified. Caldwell’s first false claim is,

”Gradualism does not show up in the fossil record, especially in the Cambrian, and this is affirmed by most evolutionists, then ignored. The Cambrian Explosion was known to Darwin even 150 years ago, and he stated at the time that if gradualism was not found to explain the sudden appearances of such a vast array of advanced life, his theory would die on the spot. Searching the Cambrian and PreCambrian, has revealed millions of fossils, but no gradualism.”
I dealt with the millions of years long Cambrian “explosion,” and the millions of years long precursor, the Ediacaran, twice already in just this one newspaper discussion, most recently on July 6, 2011 at 4:43 p.m. I see no need to repeat myself. Caldwell did ad a slight alteration, using the word, “gradualism.” We do of course have excellent examples of gradualism in the fossil record. But they are all from rather boring, stable organisms living I rather boring stable environments. They are marine snails, and little critters called foraminifera. The latter live in the billions in the Earth’s seas, and as they die, their calcified bodies drift down to the bottom of the sea. Happily for the oil industry, and evolutionary theory, the evolution of forams leaves a clear testament to gradual change in evolution. The other best example is also of a small class of many millions of marine snails that also live in a rather stable shallow, warm sea environment.

Since the oil industry needs to know which of these species tell them when they are near, or far from petroleum billion$, the classifications and evolution of these little critters is well funded. By well funded, I mean VERY WELL FUNDED; there is more money spent per year in petroleum exploration than in all other paleontology for all time. (We in the USA spend more on killing people per year than has been spent globally per year on saving them).

Mr. Neal Caldwell bloviates into the cybersphere

Background: I have spent some hours in writing comments to the "Letters to the Editors" pages of the Knoxville Times. One particular letter by Mr. Neal Caldwell has captured my attention. What follows are my reactions to his July 2, 2011 claim that I had not responded to him. Caldwell's words are in italics.

Why respond to these idiots? First, there is some benefit at searching out information to use refuting creationist stupidity. Second, there are the occasional readers that actually say they have learned something useful. This is hopefully true, and it is an ego boost at any rate. Thirdly, any neutral reader will at least know that the creationists cannot go unchallenged.

I read a recent comment several times in the discussion thread following Mr. Neal Caldwell June 21, Letter to the Editor, “Evolution doesn’t add up.” The comment was written by Mr. Caldwell on July 2, 2011, 2:04 AM. Each time I read it, I became more irritated at his dissimulation.

Mr. Caldwell first claimed (falsely) that his original objections have been ignored. In fact, they were clearly addressed, each and every one.

To review, in the June 21 letter Caldwell claimed;

“evolution is untestable, given its billions-of-years basis,”

The truth is that we observe the physical manifestation of evolution every day. Our pharmaceutical and agricultural industries are a daily application of evolutionary theory. Every day there are at least a dozen scientific journal articles on direct tests of some aspect of evolutionary theory. I have posted the link to a list of dozens of observed speciation events, . But, one test proposed in the 1930s by JRB Haldane still stands the test of time, “To disprove Evolution you need merely to find a fossil rabbit in a Cambrian deposit.” There is not a “billion-of-years-basis,” there is simply the fact that the Earth is 4.55 billion years old. Why should that be a problem?

Mr. Caldwell next claimed (falsely) that, “One-hundred and fifty years of digging has unearthed the very embarrassing counter-Darwinian “Cambrian explosion,” showing most major species appearing side-by-side instead of end-to-end as required, and in a most un-Darwinian time frame, thereafter remaining static instead of ever changing.”

This is actually six (6) separate lies. They are lies because anyone claiming the mantle of science, as Mr. Caldwell did, should know how to read, and use a library.

Fossils have been excavated and analyzed since the late 1700s. Fossils were observed, and displayed even in antiquity, see: Adrienne Mayor, “The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times,” (2000 Princeton University Press). Since the early 1800s, scientists recognized that fossils represented ancient, and extinct forms of life. Since 1830, geologists realized that neither a recent creation, nor a global flood could account for the fossil record.

The Cambrian “explosion” did not exhibit “most major species appearing side-by-side.” This is a ridiculous statement that labels Mr. Caldwell as an ignoramus. There are entire Phyla that have disappeared before, during, and after the so-called “explosion.” See: James W. Valentine, “On the Origin of Phyla” (2005 University of Chicago Press).

The stupidity of Mr. Caldwell’s writing, “end-to-end as required,” is the ignorant product of the PRE-evolutionary theory notion of the “Great Chain of Being,” that asserted that there was some particular goal of life, and that every species was “fixed” somewhere along the “chain.” The alternate version was that there was a “ladder” of species, and that every species had to have one “above” it that it could strive to become.

Regarding Mr. Caldwell’s lame assertion that there was “a most un-Darwinian time frame” for the Cambrian “explosion,” we first note that the “explosion” was 542 to 496 million years ago. For mathematicians like Caldwell, that is 58+96=154 million years. That is a very very long “explosion. And the “fuse” for the explosion was the Ediacaran Era, which saw the advent of the first complex metazoan life. This is currently dated from 630 million years ago to the start of the Cambrian Era, or for people unable to “add up,” 112 million years long. That is a very long fuse. Darwin had no idea that evolution had so many millions of years. See: G. Brent Dalrymple, “Ancient Earth, Ancient Skies: The age of the earth and its cosmic surroundings” (2005 Berkley: University of California Press).

Finally, lie number six (6) is that the Cambrian fauna’s “major species,” “remain(ed) static instead of ever changing.” As before, see Valentine 2005, and reflect for just a few seconds on the obvious examples of recent and continuing evolution.

Mr. Caldwell wrote the following, “He inappropriately solves his origin-of-life problem simplistically through expelling it from its biological home, into cosmological limbo.”

Well, I don’t know who “he” might be, Mr. Caldwell cannot be bothered with names. But, since Caldwell is so opposed to evolutionary biology, we can ask if the issue of the origin of life is essential to evolutionary biology.

It is obviously NOT.

In Darwin’s own estimation, the origin of life “hardly concerns us” (Origin of Species, Sixth Edition). In Darwin’s famous 1871 letter to Joseph Hooker, "It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter."

Interestingly, the origin of matter is the topic of Cosmology. If Mr. Caldwell were honestly interested in the origin of life, Abiogenesis, or Cosmology, the origin of matter, I would suggest he read;

Iris Fry,
2000 "The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview" Rutgers University Press

Deamer, David W.
2011 “First Life: Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began” University of California Press

(Both written for non-scientists, a very compressed version is my “A Short Outline of the Origin of Life,” )

and for Cosmology see:

Susskind, Leonard
2005 "The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design" New York: Little and Brown Publishers

Or on-line,
Foundations of Big Bang Cosmology

Mr. Caldwell continued, “the “simplest” life isn’t, and essential mechanisms discovered in the earliest cells are so unbelievably complex that they defy any reasonable evolutionary explanation.”

The “first cell” has never been discovered, so Mr. Caldwell’s claim they are “so unbelievably complex that they defy any reasonable evolutionary explanation” is pure manure. Go spread it on your roses, Mr. Caldwell. In the rather pessimistic opinion of a real scientist, we are not likely to ever be able to specify the “first cell.” See: Carl Woese,
1998 “The universal ancestor” PNAS Vol. 95, Issue 12, 6854-6859, June 9, and, 2002 “On the evolution of Cells” PNAS Vol. 99 13:8742-8747, June 25.

In addition to the references I gave before (ignored by Mr. Caldwell), truly interested people might listen in on “Program for Molecular Paleontology and Resurrection: Rewinding the Tape of Life”

Nobody should be surprised that there are “reasonable evolutionary explanations.”

Here are the last of Mr. Caldwell’s not very original objections to evolutionary theory;

“Richard Dawkins admits the “finely-tuned-universe” is intelligent design’s best argument.”

“proven” (evolutionary) examples only support “micro-evolution” (minor changes within species), which no one questions. The controversy centers on still unproven “macro-evolution.” Darwinists presume that these huge disconnected leaps, appearing from nowhere, represent accumulations of billions of undiscovered micro-evolutionary changes. Applicable sciences utterly fail to support that presumption, often contradicting it.”

First, Cosmology is not Evolutionary Biology. Second, without an exact reference, I doubt that Prof. Dawkins said any such thing. Third, given Mr. Caldwell’s obvious lack of veracity, I doubt that he could provide any honest citation to Dawkins in any case.

And then, we have demonstrated emergence of new species from old. This is “macroevolution.” It is definitive. There should be no further argument against evolution.

Here is a long list of examples, some over 100 years old;
“Emergence of new species,”

If Mr. Caldwell is ignorant of what a species is, he should read:
“What is a Species, and What is Not?” By ERNST MAYR

Mr. Caldwell wrote, “Permit me as physicist/mathematician scientifically and logically to doubt evolution’s ability to produce such unimaginably complex organisms having incomprehensible instincts beyond our analysis. Mathematically: “it don’t add up!”

I, unlike Mr. Caldwell, am a scientist. I have direct professional experience with the topics central to this discussion. And, like all most all scientists, I have a profound respect for the truth. There have been scientific frauds, and there are “scientists” who espouse creationist frauds.

I will not permit Caldwell to make this false claim. Mr. Caldwell claims he is a “physicist/mathematician.” A bit of Google and we learned he merely had undergraduate degrees, and never had professional training, nor scientific publications to support his claim. When it was to his advantage, Caldwell has claimed to be a mechanical engineer. Mr. Caldwell’s lack of imagination, or comprehension is not useful in assessing a scientific theory, particularly one he is obviously ignorant about. Even if Caldwell could claim familiarity with 35 year old physics, he has nothing in his writing or education to suggest any credibility about biology, or any other science. To claim otherwise is a fraud.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Mr. Benedict misrepresents Manfred Eigen

Manfred Eigen, won the Nobel Prize in 1967 for his work measuring extremely fast chemical reactions brought about by energy pulses. Though proud to use the term evolution, his models of the origin of life are not based on chance but on self-organizing chemical reactions that cycle to higher and higher levels. He is also the author of Eigens Paradox that explains a critical problem in positing cycles of RNA that lead to DNA.

Mr. Benedict has this problem; he doesn’t have any idea of what “random” or “chance” or “random chance” mean in probability theory, chemistry, or how they might apply in evolutionary theory, or studies of the origin of life. When I have taught statistics and probability at the college level, I had the advantage of very intelligent students committed to learning. I doubt that this is currently the situation.

One of the greatest philosophical advances of all time was the notion that real life should be the basis for our understanding of the universe. This was in direct contradiction of Platonic ideas of some “perfect” reality which was beyond the perception of humanity. But, this appeal to reality is what makes science ‘work.’ In this specific context of the “Eigen’s Paradox,” we can default to real physical data which trumps philosophical speculation. The particular result I have in mind is;

Ádám Kun, Mauro Santos & Eörs Szathmáry
2005 “Real ribozymes suggest a relaxed error threshold” Nature Genetics 37, 1008 - 1011 Published online: 28 August 2005 | doi:10.1038/ng1621

Abstract: The error threshold for replication, the critical copying fidelity below which the fittest genotype deterministically disappears, limits the length of the genome that can be maintained by selection. Primordial replication must have been error-prone, and so early replicators are thought to have been necessarily short. The error threshold also depends on the fitness landscape. In an RNA world, many neutral and compensatory mutations can raise the threshold, below which the functional phenotype, rather than a particular sequence, is still present. Here we show, on the basis of comparative analysis of two extensively mutagenized ribozymes, that with a copying fidelity of 0.999 per digit per replication the phenotypic error threshold rises well above 7,000 nucleotides, which permits the selective maintenance of a functionally rich riboorganism with a genome of more than 100 different genes, the size of a tRNA. This requires an order of magnitude of improvement in the accuracy of in vitro–generated polymerase ribozymes. Incidentally, this genome size coincides with that estimated for a minimal cell achieved by top-down analysis, omitting the genes dealing with translation.

Mr. Benedict misrepresents Ilya Prigogine

Ilya Prigogine, won his 1977 Nobel Prize for his theory that biological life self-assembled from inorganic non-life through the non-equilibrium thermodynamic processes. Again, random chance was abandoned, this time for the notion of an outside force arising in a thermodynamic process that, somehow, energized evolution. Such a force has never been identified.

Like every creationist I have ever encountered, Mr. Benedict is clueless about thermodynamics. There is no “outside force” invoked by Prigogine.
Two resources for Benedict to read are;

“The second law of thermodynamics and evolution”

C. Bustamante, J. Liphardt, F. Ritort
“The Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics of Small Systems”
Physics Today, vol. 58 (2005) 43-48

The "Laws" of thermodynamics only operate within boundary conditions, no different from Newton's "Laws" of motion. They are just dandy within their boundary conditions, but utterly fail beyond them. In particular, it is known that the 2nd law does not hold at extremely small scales, such as found within cells. The 1st law fails in quantum vacuums. This is real science, not superstition, or mysticism.

Mr. Benedict misrepresents Christian de Duve

Mr. Benedict makes much of a list of scientists who, according to him, "recognize that random chance alone cannot have produced the simplest cellular life." I'll quote Benedict's remarks, and interpose corrections in

Christian de Duve, for example, a Nobel Prize winner, and in no way an advocate of Intelligent Design, has abandoned random chance as the agent of upwards evolution or the ascent of man. He envisions primordial planet earth as a chemical reaction
(secondary citation to de Duve, “Contingency and determinism” Pier Luigi Luisi, doi: 10.1098/rsta.2003.1189 Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 2003 361, 1141-1147 )
waiting to happen. Recognizing that the odds of random chance being impossibly against
(Links to a 1995 OOL review article, "The Beginnings of Life on Earth" in American Scientist for general readers. De Duve did not make a single reference to any probability, or “odds” or “random chance” opposing the natural origin of life. Just the opposite, in fact. The main thrust of the article was de Duve’s well known argument for the centrality of thioester chemistry to the OOL, and that life will be- must be- ubiquitous in the universe. This is not a surprising error for a creationist like Mr. Benedict to have made, either from ignorance, or dishonesty)
the formation of a single cell, let alone man, he has ceaselessly been searching for the string of chemical reactions that, once started, must have inevitably and, without chance, led to mankind. So far... no luck.
De Duve, like Gould and others rejects the strict teleological argument that somehow humanity is the "goal" of evolution, or the Universe. Mr. Benedict seems to have no actual grasp of any of these issues which should have been clear if he had tried to read the references he scattered in his comment).

"Darwinism is Dead" Oh really?

Monday, 4 July, 2011
There was a little essay, posted on the intertubes last Saturday by Paul Benedict that is a real creationist gem. It has all the low points, false premises, quote mines, citation bluffing, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics that creationists have spouted for over a generation. For example, as the title implies the main claim is that, “… for decades microbiologists have been abandoning Darwinism.” This is well known as, “The Longest Running Falsehood in Creationism.”

In its own way, this essay was a sterling example of Googling for answers, but actually reading the cited papers reveals that Mr. Benedict is either incompetent to read them, or has purposely lied to his readers (no surprises there!). That’s not all, Folks! Mr. Benedict also likes his creationism with an ID spin; we are treated to vacuous “complexity” claims, the Discotute list of names, and Benedict closed with, “It's time to tell the kids: it is statistically impossible that Darwin's explanation of the origin of life is correct.”

Let’s look at that last sentence first.

First of all, there was never an explanation of the origin of life offered by Charles Darwin. In the “Origin of Species” Darwin directly observed that there was no logical connection between the origin of life, and how life had evolved. Evolutionary theory is based primarily on the observations of living species, their diversity, and distribution. In the “Origin,” Darwin makes only the general observation that,
"I believe that animals are descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number.

Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants are descended from some one prototype. But analogy may be a deceitful guide. Nevertheless all living things have much in common, in their chemical composition, their cellular structure, their laws of growth, and their liability to injurious influences."

Later Darwin wrote a letter to the botanist Joseph Hooker (1871) noting that,
"It is often said that all the conditions for the first production of a living organism are present, which could ever have been present. But if (and Oh! what a big if!) we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes, at the present day such matter would be instantly devoured or absorbed, which would not have been the case before living creatures were formed."

Later in the same letter, he observed,

"It is mere rubbish thinking at present of the origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter."

Since the entire thrust of Mr. Benedict’s little essay is that “Darwinism is Dead” because “random chance” isn’t an explanation of the origin of life, we know that Benedict understands nothing about evolutionary theory, probability theory, or current research on the origin of life.

I'll take up these issues below.