Saturday, October 20, 2007

Teaching Science

I have taught science for about 35 years now. I taught science first at middle schools (7th and 8th grade), with the added goal of trying to also teach English as a second language (ESL in the teaching lingo). Then I taught high school biology, and later at private "free schools" and Montessori schools. I have taught at universities, colleges, medical schools, and art institutes. I was the Director of Education Programs for a Natural History Museum with as many as one thousand student contacts per week. I have also been a mentor teacher, and a lecturer on teaching science for high school and elementry school science teachers at the University of California, Irvine Summer Science Institute.

I hope you all will take the minute to read the following from MASSIMO PIGLIUCCI, 2007 "THE EVOLUTION-CREATION WARS: WHY TEACHING MORE SCIENCE JUST IS NOT ENOUGH" MCGILL JOURNAL OF EDUCATION ? VOL. 42 NO 2 285-306;

Finally, there is also - unfortunately - the very real concern that many science teachers are creationists themselves. This seems to me to fall into the same category of teachers' training mentioned above. We must require that teachers know the subject matter they are to present, and that they intend to teach science according to currently accepted knowledge. This is not a matter of respecting individual teachers' religious beliefs: if you believe that the earth is 10,000 years old, then you really do not understand, at a deep level, geology, physics, and biology. Consequently, you simply should not be teaching science. It is up to university-level teaching programs, as well as to the people setting hiring procedures, to make sure that unqualified individuals are not responsible for teaching our children. (emphasis added)

My next post will be about why honestly teaching science matters to Christians.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mr. Sean Gray teaches high school science. We are doomed.

I read this morning some creationist nonsense and against my better judgement I wrote a reply. The original was in the link below. This link!

In my observation of the data, there is very little, to no, evidence to support evolution and an old Earth. But there is ample [I like that word], data to support Intelligent Design and a relatively young Earth.

-Evidence against evolution? No credible evidence of transitional fossils. No missing link has ever been found to match any of the organisms, big or small, that we see today.

There is a substrata of creationists who insist there are no transitional fossils. If you present them with clear examples at higher taxonomic levels they claim that there are no examples at lower. If you then show low level changes, they will demand high level ones. So to anticipate these dodges here are examples of both.

The series of fossils examined in the like above are the transitional sequence from reptiles to mammals. These are the subclass Synapsida. To quote paleontologist Clifford Cuffey, “This is well documented in the fossil record by a massive volume of incontrovertible data that cannot be explained away. Such large-scale, progressive, continuous, gradual, and geochronologically successive morphologic change (Sidor & Hopson, 1998) is descent with modification, and provides compelling evidence for evolution on a grand scale.”

Smooth change between species is easily demonstrated when looking at small to very small marine or aquatic series. This is because they are in favorable conditions to become fossils, and their fossils accumulate into massive sedimentary blocks hundreds of feet thick across millions of years. Don Lindsay has assembled documentation on six smooth transition sequences, and gives references for one hundred.

-Evidence against an old Earth? Comets. Comets burn out quickly. Scientists know they can only burn for a short period of time and cannot be part of the nebular hypothesis or the '4.5 billion year-old' solar system.

It is bizarre that a science teacher would say that comets “burn,” slowly or quickly. Comets are “dirty snowballs” a mass of different ices and minerals- none of which burn during the life of a comet. The durability of a comet will depend on its orbit and exact composition. Quite obviously some comets are the result of orbit perturbations of large massive bodies in the outer solar system. Some very simple presentations suitable for high school students can be found in the online Wikipedia.


Mr. Gray, you should also learn about the other sub-planetary objects in solar orbits. For example, meteorites which are very important in determining the age of the solar system. Some helpful links are;



And I also recommend reading;

Dalrymple, G. Brent

1991 The Age of the Earth Stanford University Press

-Evidence for Intelligent Design? Irreducible Complexity. It's the idea that if any part of the whole is taken out [reduced] then the whole cannot function, the mouse trap is the classic example. Take one part out of the mouse trap and it will not work. All the parts must be together all at once for the mouse trap to actually trap a mouse. It couldn't slowly develop into a trap, even if 90% of the trap were already in place. Evolutionist say far more complex mechanisms, like the human cell, evolved... even though 0% were in place.

The notion of IC was introduced to creationism by Mike Behe in his 1996 book, “Darwin’s Black Box.” The concept was however older having been noted as an argument for evolution much earlier (see for example Muller, Hermann J. (1918) "Genetic variability, twin hybrids and constant hybrids, in a case of balanced lethal factors." Genetics 3: 422-499). What is at issue is not if biological systems might appear, or even be irreducibly complex, but whether Behe’s claim that these systems could not have evolved. There are clear demonstrations that Behe’s favorite, the bacterial flagella is the product of evolution. Evolution in (Brownian) space: a model for the origin of the bacterial flagellum” by N. J. Matzke can be downloaded from

But more impressive are the arguments that IC is inherently evolvable. Two good reviews are; “Beyond Suboptimality: Why irreducible complexity does not imply intelligent design” by Mark Perakh,

And, “Irreducible Complexity Demystified” by Pete Dunkelberg,

The massive factual and logical problems with Intelligent Design Creationism would take several books to fully expose. Fortunately these have been written. A short list would include;

Mark Perakh
2003 Unintelligent Design New York: Prometheus Press

Niall Shanks and Richard Dawkins
2004 God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory Oxford University Press

Robert T. Pennock (Editor)
2001 Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives MIT Press

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

Barbara Carroll Forrest, Paul R. Gross
2004 Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design Oxford University Press

Evidence for a young Earth? Population growth. Population growth calcuations, using the current population of 6 billion people, show that people have probably have been around between 6 and 10 thousand years, closely matching the geneology of the Bible.

The sort of arguments made by creationists regarding population growth curves are hopelessly na├»ve. If Mr. Gray’s other sciences are as poor as his math skills he really should not be teaching. Mr. Gray has made invalid assumptions regarding population growth. The most striking is to assume it to have always been constant. We know historically that this is not true, as famines, wars and plagues have made variable impacts over the millinia. Also, unless Mr. Gray has abandoned the biblical flood of Noah, he has far less than 6 to 10 thousands years to play around with anyway. He needs to start the whole game over about 4400 years ago to stay biblical. Finally, we know that there were huge changes in population growth directly related to the discovery and spread of farming in the Neolithic. Prior to that, human population growth was a very slow process more dependent on the retreat of the world’s ice fields than anything else. Finally, a colleague of mine wants Mr. Gray to tell us how many people did it take to build the Egyptian pyramids, and how that fits his population “calculation.” Conventional dating places the Genesis flood well in the ~600 years of Egyptian pyramid construction. Either there were just a few Egyptians hauling rocks, or there should be trillions of people alive today.

There is a myriad of evidence to share but I thought I'd throw a few out there.

Mr. Gray, so far you have merely embarassed yourself. All of the "myriad evidence" you have presented are what we call "PRATTS" - points refuted thousands of times.

Another piece of evidence against evolution is the fact that there are diverse life forms at sea-floor vents. Bring that one up with an evolutionist and he'll change the subject faster than John Kerry changes his mind.

This is one of Mr. Gray’s stranger comments, standing out as an absurdity coupled with a pointless political dig. Evolution predicts that any source of energy will be exploited by life, and that specialized organisms will evolve in response to extreme environments. What could marine hydrothermal vent communities do except give further evidence for the evolution of life?

If people leave the room when Mr. Gray begins one of his soliloquies, it is probably because they don’t like talking to him.

Another room clearer? Ask an evolutionist: What role does homosexuality play in evolution? He knows that homosexuality couldn't have come via natural selection because any genetic predisposition to the behavior would necessarily wipe out the gene in the first generation.

Again, Mr. Gray exposes gross ignorance, and seems proud of it. First, most complex behaviors are the result of multiple genes, and are strongly responsive to environmental conditions. That is the nice way to say that Mr. Gray’s fantasy of a “gay gene” that would be rapidly be eliminated is gross ignorance.

Mr. Gray’s knowledge of behavior both human and non-human is as lacking as his basic science. This is not surprising to me when I checked and found his graduate degree was in “Biblical Counseling” from Colorado Christian University. I was a professor of psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia back when Mr. Gray was struggling to escape from High School. We actually established a monthly program on religion and psychiatry. We were strongly motivated by the need to provide some amount of professional support to so-called “pastoral counselors” being churned out in bible schools by the hundreds without the first idea of human behavior or therapies.

I asked a public high school biology teacher that question and he said he didn't know and, not only that, he refused to even think about it. It made for an awkward lunch break in the teacher's lounge.

I predict that Mr. Gray provokes many awkward moments in the teacher’s lounge and elsewhere.

The only honest answer I've ever gotten from an evolutionist [who was also a liberal] re: that question was also highly offensive to homosexuals. He said homosexuality is evolutions way of thinning out the population so we don't get over-populated.

I have no idea what Mr. Gray’s criteria for “honest answer” are. His question might be very offensive to homosexuals- I wouldn’t know. I do know that being offensive is not likely to slow Mr. Gray down, else he would not delight so much in how few colleagues like to talk with him. The answer he reports having been given by a liberal evolutionist regarding “population control” is in fact incorrect. Lets first begin with the obvious- sexual behavior is not a trivial on/off, heterosexual/homosexual proposition. Particularly if we try to find it within an evolutionary perspective. For the first observation, in biology the very notion of gender can be very complicated. There are millions of organisms in thousands of species which are functioning hermaphrodites. These are very common in invertebrates such as the mollusks. At the same time, there are strict sexually differentiated crustaceans such as the ostracods. Even among cordates, there are species that are quite fluid in their sexual function and do in fact respond to population pressure by changing gender, typically from female to male. Perhaps the most surprising to Mr. Gray would be the all female parthenogenic species which reproduce without any males at all.

Next we should consider non-reproductive sexual behavior in nature. Geir Soeli, the project leader of the exhibition entitled "Against Nature" at the Oslo Natural History Museum, told Reuters: "Homosexuality has been observed for more than 1500 animal species, and is well documented for 500 of them." One of the animals closest to humans in their sexual behavior, the Bonobo Chimpanzee (Pan paniscus) engages in same-sex behaviors nearly 60 percent of their sexual activity. Human homosexual behavior cannot be viewed as particularly different in kind, or frequency than that found in other species. In bonobos, frequent sexual acts between many group partners seems to have advantages. One obvious one is the reduced amount of inter group violence that is a common source of injury of the less sexually active Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.

And people say creationists lack the ability to think! The liberal/ evolutionist above thought he was a genius and that I should be fired as a high school science teacher for not believing as he.

I don’t know about Mr. Gray’s colleague's other opinions, but I can certainly agree that Mr. Gray is incompetent to teach science merely by his own expression of willful ignorance.

Monday, October 08, 2007

New Photo

I spent three days last week helping a grad student in marine biology with her masters degree project. Kim is studying the ecology of oil rigs in the Santa Barbara channel off the coast from Ventura, Ca. For the final effort, she wanted to tag five lingcod from a depth of about 750 feet. It took three days but we did it. Each day I reeled in over a mile of line, about 800 feet at a time, as we dropped and retrieved 3 to 4 pound weights up to nine times a day. Here is a photo of one of the beauties (and my own self).

Friday, October 05, 2007

Owen Perry- Pig Ignorant and Proud Of It

Mr. Owen Perry has written two short articles concerning what he calls “evolution”and “humanism.” There are an impressive number of errors of fact and logic. So many that it would be a major undertaking to correct each and every one. Rather than devote a major part of my day (or week) to the task, I’ll point out a few of the more glaring stupidities.

Perry claimed on the 24th of September to have read “with an open mind” “various theories of evolution” and then staggered into an incoherent discussion of cosmology. Cosmology is the study of the origin of the universe- it is not part of biology nor particularly relevant to evolution. Interested readers should visit the excellent websites Foundations of Big Bang Cosmology by NASA, and Professor Ned Wright’s Cosmology Tutorial which are hopefully accessible to most high school graduates and Mr. Perry. And in passing, we should point out to Perry that there are not “various theories of evolution.” The various sciences Perry actually referred to - cosmology, abiogenesis, and geology- are not evolutionary biology.

Following more nonsense, Perry makes up a quote from thin air regarding an imaginary “foremost proponent of evolution.” This mystery man was supposed to have said, “If there was ever a cataclysmic event, worldwide, then all our theories are "out of the window.” The sciences are well acquainted with several worldwide cataclysmic events, the best known popularly is probably the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary impact event that precipitated the end of the great dinosaurs. There were others and this does nothing to invalidate the theory of evolution.

There have been several scientific discoveries that have radically changed how believers understand the Bible. This is not a new problem for the faithful. Over eight hundred years ago, Thomas Aquinas wrote regarding science and the Bible,
"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 Theological (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 hold 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 refered to 1 Timothy 1.7}

The active promotion of ignorance by Mr. Perry is not merely a threat to America’s security, but brings shame to the larger Christian community as well.