Monday, December 24, 2012

I am not an astrophysicist, but I don't need to be one.

I have my news feed tuned to show articles with any connection to evolution, creationism, science education, and a half-dozen other tags. In the Dec. 23, 2012 trawl there was this gem by the "Reverend" Michael Bresciani. A Google search failed to show any reason this guy should be revered for anything. He claims to be a Prophet of God Almighty, and has pages of prophecies. I read a few. As far as I can tell he is about as successful, and specific as the daily horoscopes on newspaper comic pages.

Judging from his, Christmas Speaks to the Evolutionist, this guy has a low high school reading ability. Or, he is possibly really smart, and has a huge scam working. His screed was reposted in a far-right on-line "journal."

The only "science" in this lump of creatocrap was a garbled remark,
The Big Bang theory recently took a big bang itself at the discovery of a galaxy that is almost all black holes according to scientists at the University of Texas in Austin. The discovery punches some serious black holes in the assumption that the universe developed spontaneously without outside or intelligent intervention.

This is only one of hundreds of new discoveries made by creation scientists in the last few decades that have loaded a preponderance of proof onto the side of intelligent design. So why aren’t evolutionists taking a look see?

The actual science was discussed Here: in the University of Texas press release. The original paper was published in Nature on the 28th of November this year, "An over-massive black hole in the compact lenticular galaxy NGC 1277." There was also a brief news item in the same issue.

The Creatocrap
"a galaxy that is almost all black holes"

The Facts
There is only one "Black Hole" in any known Galaxy. There is only one core Black Hole in galaxy NGC 1277, the subject of this idiots remarks (as if he knew it). *Clarification added March 16, 2013: There is only a single core black hole in elliptical galaxies like the Milky Way, or NGC 1277. Small black holes can form in super novas of very massive stars.

The Facts
There is no known galaxy that is "almost" all Black Holes. Even galaxy NGC 1277 which this fool is yammering about, has a Black Hole that is only 14% of the mass of the galaxy. Galaxy NGC 1277 is actually small, only 1/10th the size the Milky Way.

The Creatocrap
The discovery punches some serious black holes in the assumption that the universe developed spontaneously without outside or intelligent intervention.

The Facts
This discovery does not challenge any origin of the universe theories- it is about the evolution of galaxies. This observation cannot suggest any form of "intelligent intervention."

The Facts
It merely challenges a single idea about the ratio of Black Hole mass to galaxy mass, and how that related to the formation of new stars.

The Creatocrap
This is only one of hundreds of new discoveries made by creation scientists

The Facts
This was not a discovery made by "creation scientists." It isn't even that new. (See below)

Just a year ago, Nature also published a news item, "Record-breaking black holes fill a cosmic gap: Largest black holes ever discovered shed light on the early Universe" (06 December 2011). The original article was, "Two ten-billion-solar-mass black holes at the centers of giant elliptical galaxies" Nature
480, 215–218 (08 December 2011).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Deleted by the Kingman Arizona "Daily Miner"

I wrote a reply to the following creatocrap. It was deleted due to "excessive length."


Linda Athens Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Kingman Arizona "Daily Miner"

It is NOT a fact 99.9% of scientists believe in evolution. In fact, most good scientists believe in God. That is FACT.
*****************

Ms. Athens repeats a number of common creationist, and fundamentalist errors about science, faith, and history. I doubt that any of them are original with her, as they are easily found in creationist pamphlets. She makes an interesting misstatement claiming, "In fact, most good scientists believe in God." This was compounded because she prefaced it with the false assertion that significant numbers of scientists reject evolutionary theory in biology. (I'll ignore the trivial argument about 99.9% of anything. For the purpose of exposing Ms. Athens, 98.0%, or 69.99% are equally acceptable numbers).

We need to work backwards through this chain of errors. Her conclusion was that "good scientists believe in God." I reject that trivial falsehood that "good" can only be applied to a Christian, although Ms. Athens probably thinks so. In that case a "good" scientist is someone expert in, and professionally successful in science. The question of how these scientists think about the existence of gods, or a non-material immortal soul has been studied going back nearly a century. The following paragraph is closely adapted from Larson and Witham (1998).

James H. Leuba surveyed American scientists in 1914 regardering their belief, or non-belief in a personal god, and an immortal soul. 58% of 1,000 randomly selected US scientists expressed disbelief or doubt in the existence of God, and that this figure rose to near 70% among the 400 “greater” scientists within his sample. Leuba repeated his survey in somewhat different form 20 years later, and found that these percentages had increased to 67% and 85% (1933). Larson and Witham repeated Leuba’s 1914 survey in 1996 and found little change from 1914 for American scientists generally, with 60.7% expressing disbelief or doubt in the existence of gods. (Larson, E. J. & Witham, L. Nature 386, 435–436 1997).

Leuba had also identified "great scientists" as opposed to those merely employed in science. To try and match that population, Larson and Witman in 1998 surveyed members of the American National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS is the most prestigious scientific organization in the United States. Established by Congress in 1863, membership is highly restricted. Larson and Witham found that, "Disbelief in God and immortality among NAS biological scientists was 65.2% and 69.0%, respectively, and among NAS physical scientists it was 79.0% and 76.3%. Most of the rest were agnostics on both issues, with few believers. We found the highest percentage of belief among NAS mathematicians (14.3% in God, 15.0% in immortality). Biological scientists had the lowest rate of belief (5.5% in God, 7.1% in immortality), with physicists and astronomers slightly higher (7.5% in God, 7.5% in immortality). Overall comparison figures for the 1914, 1933 and 1998 surveys appear in Table 1.

BELIEF IN PERSONAL GOD 1914 1933 1998

Personal belief 27.7 15 7.0
Personal disbelief 52.7 68 72.2
Doubt or agnosticism 20.9 17 20.8

BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY 1914 1933 1998

Personal belief 35.2 18 7.9
Personal disbelief 25.4 53 76.7
Doubt or agnosticism 43.7 29 23.3*

* There was a typographic error. The agnostic position is likely ~16%.

Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham: "Leading Scientists Still Reject God." Nature, 1998; 394, 313.

Leuba, J. H. The Belief in God and Immortality: A Psychological, Anthropological and Statistical Study (Sherman, French & Co., Boston, 1916).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Augusta Chronicle

I made a few posts yesterday to the Augusta Chronicle following a published Letter to the Editor by a typically ignorant creationist.

As it happens, the Chronicle has a policy blocking anyone not subscribed to their paper from reading, or looking in anyway to more than 5 items per month.

As of last night, I cannot see- let alone reply to- anything on the Augusta Chronicle's discussion board.

Readers are welcome to leave any comments here that they care to make. Perhaps we could carry on the discussion.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Junk DNA, and Junk Creationism

(Heads up Feb. 24, 2013: There is a new paper "On the immortality of television sets: “function” in the human genome according to the evolution-free gospel of ENCODE," published in the "Genome Biology and Evolution" journal that does a total debunking of the absurd claims made by the ENCODE project).


The creationists, particularly the intelligent design breed, have been shouting that discovering some functions in "junk" DNA somehow proved their fantasy is correct. Discotute fellow Jon Wells even wrote a book about it, "The Myth Of Junk DNA."

Soon after the discovery of how DNA stored sequences used to replicate proteins there began a bidding war for research funds to specify the DNA sequences and identify their function. In the battle, non-coding sections were called "junk DNA" since there was no obvious function that could be intuitively connected with a particular gene. A protein coding sequence clearly had a function, even if what the protein did was unknown at the time. Since building a sequence data base was then extremely expensive (and boring), the argument against deciphering non-translated "Junk DNA" won out. But, the possible functionality of "Junk DNA" was raised in the late 1970s. The argument was simple: there was an evolutionary cost to making copies of useless DNA. Since this cost was being paid, the "Junk" must have a function. The human genome project was conceived after the discovery of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 1983. Many researchers were still objecting to spending scarce research money on non-coding sequences as late as 1989.

Some likely functions of this "junk" were discovered by geneticists in the late 1980s, reaching journal publications by the early 1990s. The development of automated sequencing machines around 2000 finally eliminated the last objections to sequencing "junk."

(See;
AD Riggs (1990) “Marsupials and Mechanisms of X-Chromosome Inactivation”.
Australian Journal of Zoology 37(3) 419 – 441 (Suggested that "junk DNA" would not be preserved without some function, identified control functions specifically as promoters of spreading).

J Brosius and S J Gould (1992) “On "genomenclature": a comprehensive (and respectful) taxonomy for pseudogenes and other "junk DNA"” PNAS November 15, vol. 89 no. 22 10706-10710 (They propose that “junk DNA” is evolutionarily significant by providing raw material for future functions, is implicitly the source for current gene functions, and preserves the evolutionary history of organisms. Received 1991).

Emile Zuckerkandl, 1992, “Revisiting junk DNA” Journal of Molecular Evolution Volume 34, Number 3 / March, 1992 (Received 1991) (Suggested that "junk DNA" would not be preserved without some function, speculated that there were control functions).

What did the creationists have? ... The best they can do is a 1998 article by William Dembski. In an article for the Christian magazine “First Things,” he noted the discovery of functionality by scientists (not by creationists) in portions of the human genome that had been considered as uninteresting “junk DNA” by many. Specifically, Dembski quotes Bodnar et al’s 1997 abstract from, “Deciphering the Language of the Genome.” To a competent reader, Dembski is defending creationism’s position from scientific advances by attempting to co-opt them.

Bodnar, JW, J Killian, M Nagle, S Ramchandani (1997) “Deciphering the Language of the Genome.” Journal of Theoretical Biology Vol 189, Issue 2, 21 November 1997 Pages 183-193).

Dembski, William A. (1998) “Science and Design” First Things 86 (October 1998): 21-27.

The ENCODE project began releasing reports with 30 articles published in the first week of September this year. They generated a great deal of excitement, and controversy. The first highly controversial topic was how they chose to define "functional" for DNA sequences. Basically, any segment of DNA that was transcribed by RNA was anointed as "functional." The directors of the project are already walking back from that claim. They weakly explained that the "public" might have been confused. Days later, a key project leader, Ewan Birney, Ph.D., was trying to justify using "80% functionality" in his press releases. His answer was to redefine "functional." In practical terms, "functional" became anything they could find that could bind somewhere. For what Birney admitted most people think of as "functional," the percentage falls hard to ~20%.

Here is a portion of his self commentary;.

Q. Ok, fair enough. But are you most comfortable with the 10% to 20% figure for the hard-core functional bases? Why emphasize the 80% figure in the abstract and press release?
A. (Sigh.) Indeed. Originally I pushed for using an “80% overall” figure and a “20% conservative floor” figure, since the 20% was extrapolated from the sampling. But putting two percentage-based numbers in the same breath/paragraph is asking a lot of your listener/reader – they need to understand why there is such a big difference between the two numbers, and that takes perhaps more explaining than most people have the patience for. We had to decide on a percentage, because that is easier to visualize, and we choose 80% because (a) it is inclusive of all the ENCODE experiments (and we did not want to leave any of the sub-projects out) and (b) 80% best coveys the difference between a genome made mostly of dead wood and one that is alive with activity. We refer also to “4 million switches”, and that represents the bound motifs and footprints.

We use the bigger number because it brings home the impact of this work to a much wider audience. But we are in fact using an accurate, well-defined figure when we say that 80% of the genome has specific biological activity.

http://genomeinformatician.blogspot.com ... ughts.html

The only thing holding back "the progress of genomic research" has been lack of money, and the religious-right blocking stem cell research.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Creatocrap from James Nienhuis, Article 1, part 2

Link to Part 1

Nearly all cultures surveyed by ethnographers have a creation myth. They have some common features. They delineate a "time" before the creation of humanity when the universe was populated by magical beings, and then some reason these gods decided to create humans. They give some explanation for death, for another example. When the creation took place is either left open (long long ago, etc.), or ignored altogether. The creation story in Genesis is of the latter type actually making no temporal references at all.

Humans need reliable freshwater. Nearly all humans live where there are rivers. Even in tropical regions, rivers and the bays at the mouths of rivers are preferred living places. We see the same thing in archaeological site locations. Nearly all Mesopotamian agricultural societies relied on irrigation following the major drying trend from about 6,000 years before present, to about 3,000 years B.P. There is an interesting geological correlation here, 6K YBP is about when the sea level raise from the end of the last major glaciations stabilized to current average pool levels. The Neolithic origin of agriculture was about 2,000 years before that. It seems obvious that as declining rainfall, and then declining river flow reduced available water for crops, irrigation was developed as a substitute. The oldest recorded creation myth from Sumeria, the Epic of Atrahasis, rationalized the creation of mankind as workers used by the gods to maintain their irrigation canals.

It is a simple, and obvious fact that even during long term droughts, rivers will flood eventually. To a Neolithic farmer the flood that washed away her crops, house, and perhaps most of her community was one that did destroy her whole world. To people who had no idea how large to world really was, the "whole world" was just a little larger than the distance they had walked. It should be obvious to the most naive observer that all cultures will have a flood story about the "big one" that destroyed the world. And if everyone had died there was nobody to tell the tale, so there will always be a hero protected by the gods.

Mr. Nienhuis spins the notion in the last of his first article that all the creation myths, and all the flood myths originated from the biblical account in Genesis 1-11. This isn't original. I suspect that as agricultural populations expanded these myths of floods, and gods, and paradises expanded. The declining nomads, and hunter and gatherer populations under physical and cultural assault, retreated to marginal habitats while replacing their old origin stories with those of the more powerful invaders. But, the Genesis flood stories were themselves derived from the Sumerian, and Babylonian myths we know today as the Epic of Atrahasis, and of Gilgamesh.

Mr. Nienhuis also ventures into the weirdness with unsupportable claims that Einstein's General Relativity, and "the deterioration rates of cosmological entities" are supports for a thousands of years old creation. He then scattered a slew of falsehoods about the "scientific support" for a global flood, lack of transitional fossils, and the "recent dispersion from the Mesopotamian region" of all humanity. We finally reach the end of his sermonette with his pitch to "READ MY BOOK." Always a classic. After all he presents "extremely compelling information" that "science is severely in error regarding earth and cosmological history."

Monday, December 03, 2012

Creatocrap from James Nienhuis, Article 1, part 1

I was pointed to the "scientific proofs" for young earth creationism published by a man called James I. Nienhuis, and his website "Genesis Veracity." Specifically, someone called "Apologia717" wrote,
"I have weighed the validity of genesisveracity.com against the more than 1000 + page biology or geology textbooks citing thousands of peer reviewed scientific papers and genesisveracity makes the most logical sense...."

Will you discuss with me???? After the debate I can turn an atheist into a believer? I pray that is my mission to further GODS Purpose...."

So, I proposed we take the creatocrap one article at a time. (This seems to be very similar to debunking Mrs. Chatman, but maybe a bit deeper pile). Here we start with Article #1: You Have Not Been Told the Whole Story.

Mr. Nienhuis has a real talent for the Gish Gallop method of debate. This is named for the famous creationist Duane Gish who could spout so many lies and half-truths in a single breath that his opponents were left dumfounded. Nienhuis adds the refinement of using far-right political buzzwords intended to play up his audience's prejudices. In the first sentence he highlights that, "The "elites" of various scientific communities," are not to be trusted because, well that they are "elites." In the fake populist far-right, only billionaires are to be trusted because they are not "elites." Just ask Mittens Romney.

His first assertion of a "fact" is, "However, the assumptions that are the "building blocks" of the derivational dating methods of the physical world are severely cracked. The "assumptions" that Mr. Nienhuis, and his YEC associates most object to are the actual facts which irrefutably demonstrated the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. These are the many radiometric dating methods. The single most important question is "Are Constants Constant?" which I answered at the linked post. The answer is yes they are constant, and have been constant for over six billion years.

Mr. Nienhuis continued, "Most of the scientists throughout human history have believed that the earth and universe are young." Aside from the fact that there have not been any scientists for most of human history, the Hindu tradition claims the cosmos is infinitely ancient. That tradition is older than the Bible by many centuries. In various other traditions there are cyclic creations, an example currently popular with the New Age folks is the Mayan creation myth. In the Sumerian, and other Mesopotamian traditions there was specific creation of the Earth, but from older material of unspecified age. Genesis is of course familiar to anyone likely to be reading this little article.

Mr. Nienhuis next makes several assertion (mostly wrong) in a sentence that will need to be broken down into its components. He wrote, "Only in the 1700's and 1800's did old-earth and universe theories become popular, "thanks" to Lyell, Darwin, Hutton, and Marx, among others.

Before addressing the historical failures of this claim, I want to highlight the political manipulation that is the hallmark of Nienhuis. He mentions (Charles) Lyell (1797-1875), (Charles) Darwin (1809-1882), (James) Hutton (1726-1797), and (Karl) Marx (1818–1883) as proponents of an ancient Earth. Only three of these men were contributors to geology. The only possible reason to mention Karl Marx in this context is to trigger far-right hostility to communists. Marx had nothing what so ever to say regarding the age of the earth, or any other topic in geology. When he wrote about miners, he was totally uninterested in what happened geologically in the mines.

The notion that the Earth could not possibly be anywhere near the 6,000 years old computed by James Ussher in 1650 was not popular until the 20th century. One might think that with the prolific young earth creationists, it is not popular even now. But, popularity is not a scientific proof of anything. Among informed scientists, the knowledge that the Earth was ancient preceded evolutionary biology by over a century, and was not first proposed by atheists. However, prior to the geological discoveries of Smith, and Hutton in the late 1700s, scientists were too afraid of religious persecution to publish their conclusions. The earliest non-biblical idea of the age of the Earth seems to have come from Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738). His ideas were only published posthumously in 1748. Both Newton, and von Leibniz thought that the Earth's original state was molten and both offered ideas of how the Earth's surface could have been molded in a plastic state. Neither men, in spite of their public renown dared publish any non-biblical estimate of the age of the Earth. The first scientist to publicly dispute any biblical age calculations while still living was Comte de Buffon (1707-1788). His experiments on the cooling time of iron spheres allowed him to conclude the Earth must have had at least 74,832 years to cool. In private papers not published until many years after his death, he expressed the thought that the actual age could be as high as 3 billion years. For other early attempts to find extra-biblical estimates of the age of the Earth see; Dr. G. Brent Dalrymple, "The Age of the Earth" (1991 Stanford University Press).

Darwin was first regarded as a geologist, and his proposed mechanism for the formation of pacific ocean coral atolls is still recognized today as the correct one. But, it was the discoveries of Hutton, and William Smith (1749-1817) that truly established geology as a science. Smith showed that geological strata were deposited sequentially, and that the fossils in sedimentary strata were temporally ordered. Hutton is best known for his demonstrations that the same physical forces acting today could account for the entire geological record.

Charles Lyell is still best known for his three volume text, Principles of Geology published between 1830 and 1833. It was Darwin's college professor Sedgwick who sent him off on the HMS Beagle with the first volume of Lyell’s "Principles," which Darwin said, “Allowed me to see with the eyes of Hutton.” Darwin cared little about the age of the Earth. When Lord Kelvin insisted that the Earth was no more than 100 million years old, Darwin accepted this, although he had privately speculated it was much older. It didn't matter to him how long evolution had taken- it had happened in what ever time was available. (Additional materials on Darwin's education are available, Here.

Link to Part 2