Friday, June 27, 2008

Pseudoscientific Pap

This is another review I posted at the site, this one of Walt Brown's "In the Beginning"

This review is based on the online edition of the Seventh Edition of "In the Beginning" which is more recent than my print copy. It is one very long series of errors and misrepresentations. Brown, like many "creation scientists," cites and quotes many actual scientists lending an apparent connection between his work and reality. If a reader does not have the educational background, or time to personally read these citations, they might be fooled into thinking there is some support for Brown's wild ideas.

I'll take two examples as typical of Brown's disconnect from reality. In his "Frequently Asked Questions" section titled "68. Old DNA, Bacteria, and Proteins?" Brown cites Giuseppe Geraci et al., "Microbes in Rocks and Meteorites," (Rendiconti Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Vol. 12, No. 9, 2001, p. 51) for support of the notion that "fountains of the deep" (see Genesis 7:11) blew massive amounts of the earth into outer space. This article was published with a long list of objections and cautions that its conclusions were provisional, and that there were many doubts regarding methods used by the principal investigators. Brown ignores these cautions, nor does he note that over forty years of meteorite investigations have always found terrestrial contamination to be the source of microorganisms found in meteorites, e.g. "Bacterial Contamination of Some Carbonaceous Meteorites" J. ORO T. TORNABENE (1965 SCIENCE, VOL. 150, pg. 1047-1048). The probability of contamination increases in direct proportion to the amount of handeling the samples are subjected to under unsterile conditions. The two meteorite samples examined by Giuseppe Geraci had been recovered, handled and publicly displayed for many decades, one for over a century. Brown builds everything on this one error having ignored decades of related research.

In the same section, Brown claims that the discovery of "proteins, soft tissue, and blood compounds preserved in dinosaur bones" preclude an ancient earth. I have dealt with these topics at considerable length elsewhere, and the links to these articles are in the first comment below. In short, Brown's argument fails on this as well.

In a section on transitional fossils, Brown serves up massive numbers of out-of-context and manipulated "quotes." These are known as quotemines and most of those used by Brown are exposed in the "Quote Mine Project" maintained by the TalkOrigins Archive, which is dedicated to exposing the sort of creationist chicanery as Browns book.

Brown makes the statement, "If evolution happened, many other giant leaps must also have occurred: the first photosynthesis, cold-blooded to warm-blooded animals, floating marine plants to vascular plants, placental mammals to marsupials, egg-laying animals to animals that bear live young, insect metamorphosis, the transition of mammals to the sea (whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and manatees), the transition of reptiles to the sea (plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs), and on and on."

Lets just look at a few gross errors in that paragraph. First is the most obvious error regarding the supposed transition of "placental mammals to marsupials." Sorry Walt, it didn't happen that way. If you reverse it from marsupials to placental mammals you will be still wrong. The evolution of cyanobacteria and the evolutionary innovation of endosymbiosis lead directly to the evolution of photosynthesis, and while not complete, these must first be refuted scientifically before Brown can claim they cannot be completed. Then there is the question of sea mammals. Brown lumps three major groups, the Cetaceans (whales and allies), the Pinipeds (seals, walrus, sea lions) and the Sirenians (manatee, sea cow and dugong). Demanding a common group of fossils for these would be asinine. The transitional fossils for the cetaceans are the best known and the most accessible general reader source is from the laboratory of Dr. J. G. M. Thewissen, also an excellent source on the evolution of Sirenians. The known transitional fossils fall into six families, Indocetidae, Pakicetidae, Ambulocetidae, Remingtonocetidae, Protocetidae, Dorudontidae, and Basilosauridae. The transitional fossils of the Sirenians are less well studied with only about fifty specimens. None the less, the broad outline connecting the elephants, hippos, and manatees is known. The early transitional fossils for the pinipeds are the least well known, but one in which I have personal experience. The best fossil specimen in the world (over 90% complete) of the most likely ancestor of the pinipeds, Gomphotaria pugnax, was discovered by one of my former students and is curated by a museum where I was a director.

These basic errors show why engineers should not write about biology or paleontology- they are ignorant. It is for these reasons that I wish there were "negative" points I could award to Brown's pernicious book.

I would like to offer a few links to material I mentioned in my review;

Walt Brown's book is available on the web at

Misrepresented quotes used by Walt Brown. You will find the entire quote, and a discussion;

My articles refuting the "ancient proteins equal a young earth" error

"Dino-blood and the Young Earth"

"Ancient Molecules and Modern Myths"

"Dino Blood Redux"

The laboratory website of Professor Thewissen;

Sunday, June 22, 2008

McCain and creationists

Republicans, Democrats Differ on Creationism

Speaking as a liberal deomocrat, I am glad that the profiles of the Dems and independents are much closer to each other (at least this year). McCain is going to need the religious right more this year than ever, and I don’t think he will get them. I think they will stay home.

However, there is plenty of lefty antiscience woo to go around. Also, I have not seen any real science support anywhere from either party in Louisiana.

The gallup poll I linked also has a longitudinal graph that is very interesting. Note that the only real shift has been from “I don’t know” toward “Evolution only.” This was only a 5% shift at that. So, with 44% of Americans holding to the creationist line that humans were directly created by God in the last 10,000 years or less- we are truly and deeply screwed.

Unless you are an optimist.

Then, in spite of a right-wing dominated political landscape for the last 20+ years, and the highly publisized pro-creationist events such as the AiG creation museum opening, etc. most Americans have not shifted toward creationism in any significant numbers.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pournelle III

while many “Intelligent Design Theorists” are in fact fundamentalist creationists, not all of them are, and some like the late Sir Fred Hoyle are not creationists at all.

Dawkins wrote, “All the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout, and, when talking to the faithful, they drop the science-fiction fig leaf and expose themselves as the fundamentalist creationists they truly are.”

First of all, Fred Hoyle was never an “Intelligent Design Theorist,” nor is he in anyway referred to in the Dawkins editorial that I can see. In the candid moments I quoted above, the prominent ID proponents all reveal their true goals and opinions which are undistinguished from “scientific creationism.” In her Dover testimony, Prof. Barbara Forest demonstrated that the founding IDC textbook, “Of Pandas and People” had been simply altered by replacing “Creator” with “designer.” Available but not employed at the trial was an early manuscript where the deletion/insertion was incomplete and the neologism “cdesignproponentist.”It is a perfect literary “transitional fossil.” ID creationists hope to take advantage of language games in an applied post-modern relativism that is breath taking and to a degree successful.

Intelligent Design Creationism is unrelated to the natural theology of William Paley, as has been insisted on by William Dembski. Paley assumed the existence of a creator and sought in the expression of nature clues to the attributes of that deity. IDC assert that there is a method by which they can demonstrate that a deity exists, and all talk about space aliens and time travel is a smoke screen (references as above).

Pournelle wrote,
The panspermia hypothesis, which asserts that life originated on a planet other than Earth and was brought here by either natural or intelligently directed actions, is hardly ludicrous, has at least some unexplained evidence in its favor, and holding it as an hypothesis is hardly evidence of buffoonery. The late Robert Bussard was well known to believe in panspermia. Several of my science fiction novels make use of this hypothesis, and I have yet to see any definitive refutation.

There are two sorts of “panspermia” hypotheses. One might be called a “global” panspermia where life is ubiquitous wherever possible conditions exist, and that a feature of life is to transfer from one planetary system to another. There are two accessible books,“Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe” by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee, and “Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe” by Simon Conway Morris. Even though neither take a positive view of the global panspermia idea, neither invoke magical creators nor argue that the existence of life implies a magical creator.

Another would be a “local” version where the ability of life as microorganisms to migrate is limited to single planetary systems. These do certainly provide possible tests and as such are scientific rather than religious. For example, here are three papers that examine this later version;

Hornbeck, Gerda et al
2001 “Protection of Bacterial Spores in Space, a Contribution to the Discussion on Panspermia” Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere v.31(6):527-547

Kirchvink, Joseph, L, Benjamin P. Weiss
2001 "Mars, Panspermia, and the Origin Of Life: Where Did It All Begin?" Palaeontologia Electronica vol.4 No.2

Line, Martin A.
2002 "The Enigma of the Origin of Life and its Timing." Microbiology 148, 21-27

No matter how great a physicist Bussard was, this does not translate into an expert in biology, let alone the origin of life. This was the same problem Hoyle had, success in one area of science does not simply leap into other areas. Another good example would be physicist Lee Spetner, who authored “Not By Chance: Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution” (1997, New York: The Judaica Press). This problem is suffered by Hubert Yockey to the extent that, were I still a professor of medicine, I would propose defining a “Yockey syndrome” characterized by the delusion that a physicist knows all things about all things and even if there was knowledge they lacked it would be trivial. The acute form is expressed by physicists writing about biology.

The “directed” seeding of life by natural intelligent beings has no empirical literature that I know of, and has no part to play in IDC at any rate. (This is not mere repetition as Pournelle has objected to earlier- the references have been given). Forty years ago I wrote a story (influenced by “Childhoods End”) in which an accident in a fusion experiment transported a hapless fellow back to the Hadean. His internal population of bacteria and viruses started life on earth. My high school teacher liked it, as far as I recall. But this was fiction, and outside of a creative writing class, has no place in school curricula.

My favorite part of the Dover Panda’s Trial begins with Eric Rothschild asking Mike Behe, “We're going to look at chapter 8 of that book (“Why Intelligent Design Fails”), if you could pull up the chapter heading there? And it's titled “The Explanatory Filter, Archaeology and Forensics,” and it's written by somebody named Gary S. Hurd. Are you familiar with Dr. Hurd?”

It ends with Rothschild’s comment, “Science fiction movies are not science, are they, Professor Behe?”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pournelle II

Novelist and social observer Jerry Pournelle had recently posted his objections and rejections to an editorial written by Richard Dawkins. The original piece by Dawkins was a protest against his mangled interview for the creationist movie “Expelled.”

Pournelle ignores or is ignorant of the context of the Dawkins piece. None the less, while Pournelle repeatedly says he does not want to argue the Intelligent Design creationism case, he reiterates it and ignores any counter arguments and even implied there were none.

On the other hand, intelligent design theorists do have scientific critiques of Natural Selection’s ability to explain what we observe. I have already alluded to one, irreducible complexity, which states that certain organism or organs are simply too complex to have arisen in stages.

The refutations of Behe’s notion of “irreducible complexity” begin with its definition.

Behe's definition of IC is”

A single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function of the system, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. (Darwin's Black Box, pg. 39)

Unnoticed by Behe was a deadly flaw, the existence of something that is IC under that definition merely loses a particular function if damaged. It says nothing about how such an entity or process could have evolved by the combinations of otherwise functional entities. Behe’s favorite example is a five part mousetrap. But, every single part has independent functions, and multiple functions exist for various combinations of these individual parts. This is well known in biology as “Cooption” the common occurrence when one, or a group of genes is duplicated, and then modified resulting in new functions. One concrete example is the evolution of nylonase. Only a slightly more difficult notion is scaffolding; two or more existing processes are combined and the result is then simplified by reduction in the number of steps or parts. We see biological examples most easily in the reduction of genes in obligate parasites, and the most famous example is endosymbiosis.

So, then Behe then tried to salvage his cherry with a redifinition;

An irreducibly complex evolutionary pathway is one that contains one or more unselected steps (that is, one or more necessary-but-unselected mutations). The degree of irreducible complexity is the number of unselected steps in the pathway.

Note well that Behe has abandoned the entire core of his original argument regarding function. In its place he has substituted “necessary-but-unselected mutations.” Real science has shown that even mildly unfavorable mutations are commonly transmitted; ie the unselected steps in Beheland. We have known this for decades. These unselected, or even detrimental mutations are then material available for recombination, and the expression of new complex functional genomes.

Behe’s latest is to take a page from Bill Dembski and adopt a probability argument. In the just released “The Edge of Evolution,” he claimed that there is a limit on the number of genetic changes, mutations, that can be allowed. His example is protein to protein binding, and Behe insisted that more than two sites just cannot evolve independently. This is of course nonsense. A very well illustrated and easy to follow refutation is available from Ian Musgrave, “ Behe versus ribonuclease; the origin and evolution of protein-protein binding sites”

Another of Behe’s arguments in “The Edge of Evolution” bites the dust with the recent publication from Richard Lenski’s research group at the Michigan State University. (Z.D. Blount, C.Z. Borland, and R.E. Lenski, "Historical Contingency and the Evolution of a Key Innovation in an Experimental Population of Escherichia coli." PNAS). Carl Zimmer’s “Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life” (Pantheon, May 6, 2008), places this research in the context of broader scientific questions. An easy to understand presentation of their most recent article is available at “A New Step In Evolution.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jerry Pournelle posted a very poor bit of work Gods, Earthlings, and Intelligent Design” on June 13, 2008. Pournelle was reacting to an opinion piece in the Los Angles Times by Richard Dawkins. I don't say that Pournelle was ‘responding’ because that implies his writing was related to what Dawkins had written - he was merely reacting.

Pournell began,
I don’t usually get into the “Intelligent Design” argument, because I don’t have a lot to add to it; but once in a while poseurs like Professor Richard Dawkins jump into the fray with such outrageous aplomb that I feel compelled to answer. See here for his latest.

All that is clear from reading Pournelle’s item is that he does not like Richard Dawkins. And judged from this article, he correctly acknowledges not having “a lot to add” to the discussion of intelligent design creationism versus science. I have yet to finish reading any Dawkins book I have started, and I find his evangelical atheism tedious. But I am an activist in the Evo/creato conflict. I have contributed to the National Center for Science Education Reports and such internet sites as the TalkOrigns Archive, and I co-founded the popular Panda’s Thumb site. I was also a contributing author to “Why Intelligent Design Fails: A scientific critique of the new creationism” (2004 Rutgers University Press). My chapter in that book, “The Explanatory Filter, Archaeology and Forensics” was featured as part of Mike Behe’s cross-examination in the famous Dover “Panda’s” trial.

There are certainly problems with Dawkins’ piece, particularly his theological argument that a “simple god” could not have created a complex universe. Scientific cosmology has proposed that “simple” rules govern the behavior of matter and energy, and that as Dawkins must agree, these simple rules control biological life and evolution as well. If simple rules can lead to humans impregnating virgins (a sadly common unplanned occurrence), why couldn’t a simple god manage?

Pournelle’s attack on Dawkins ends up reading as an argument for ID creationism, and not a very good one. Take his use of a quote from the LA Times, “Intelligent design ‘theorists’ (a misnomer, for they have no theory) often use the alien scenario to distance themselves from old-style creationists: “For all we know, the designer might be an alien from outer space.” This attempt to fend off accusations of unconstitutionally importing religion into science classes is lame and disingenuous. All the leading intelligent design spokesmen are devout, and, when talking to the faithful, they drop the science-fiction fig leaf and expose themselves as the fundamentalist creationists they truly are.”

Pournelle claims this is typical of Dawkins and “also egregiously wrong.” What?? It is exactly correct.

1) There is no ID theory, 2) ID proponents do use the “aliens or time travelers could be the designer/creator” claim as a way to obscure their intimate connection to “scientific creationism,” and fundamentalism, 3) when speaking to religious fundamentalists the ID proponents are very clear in repudiating the “outer space” claim and acknowledge their religious motivation – supernatural creationism by the Judeo-Christian god.

Let's look at some statements by some principle ID proponents.

First, Philip Johnson:

Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.” Date: January 10, 2003. Source: American Family Radio

Michael Behe:

Our intelligence depends critically on physical structures in the brain which are irreducibly complex. Extrapolating from this sample of one, it may be that all possible natural designers require irreducibly complex structures which themselves were designed. If so, then at some point a supernatural designer must get into the picture. I myself find this line of reasoning persuasive. In my estimation, although possible in a broadly permissive sense, it is not plausible that the original intelligent agent is a natural entity. … Thus, in my judgment it is implausible that the designer is a natural entity." (Reply to My Critics)

And three from William Dembski:

"Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory." 1999 “Signs of Intelligence,” Touchstone Magazine.

"My thesis is that all disciplines find their completion in Christ and cannot be properly understood apart from Christ." William Dembski, 'Intelligent Design', p 206

…but let’s admit that our aim, as proponents of intelligent design, is to beat naturalistic evolution, and the scientific materialism that undergirds it, back to the Stone Age.DEALING WITH THE BACKLASH AGAINST INTELLIGENT DESIGN version 1.1, April 14, 2004”

But, it turns out that Pournelle has not read what Dawkins wrote. Pournelle reads “Begin with the last sentence: that only fundamentalist creationists assert the possibility of evolution influenced by aliens from outer space.” In the LA Times item, Dawkins clearly discussed this “outer space” notion as presented by Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel and makes no inference regarding any religious motivation. Dawkins is referring to ID creationists as fundamentalists. Dawkins observes that ID creationists do not seriously argue the space alien idea.

This is such a gross misreading of what Dawkins wrote that I wonder what is his problem. Is it that Pournelle dislikes Dawkins to the extent that he cannot even look for a legitimate failing, but grasps at the first thing he can distort? Or does he actually support ID creationism and throws up a strawman argument to burn? Or, has he never bothered to learn what ID creationism is about and lack any basis of opinion?

If the later, I recommend some reading;

Pro ID creationism

Behe, Michael
2007 The Edge of Evolution. New York: Free Press

Dembski, William
1999 Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Religion.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity

No Free Lunch. Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Johnson, Phillip E.
1993 Darwin on Trial, 2nd Edition.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

Moreland, J. P. (ed.)
1994 The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for the Intelligent Designer.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

Pro science

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

Mark Perakh
2003 Unintelligent Design. New York: Prometheus Press

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

And of course the decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Instant Classic

Here is a classic creationist’s comment regarding the Texas Science Standards posted by “wenchwoman” to the Huston Chronicle 6/15/2008 11:48 AM CDT;

Creationists are not the only ones who question evolution. Evolution has not been tested nor proven. The fossil evidence does not support transitional evolution, which is the reason that you have arguments among the evolutionists which include theories like punctuated equilibrium. According to the laws of physics, for things to randomly become more complex does not make sense.

Why be afraid to teach the facts? Evolution has a lot of holes and flaws. Why use old, fake pictures like the moths in England (which have long been proven to have been faked) in modern textbooks? Give some texts that present the full evidence and keep up w/the data. That's all anyone wants.

I saw seven errors at first glance.

The first sentence suggests that scientists, like creationists, “question evolution.” Of course, creationists do not question evolution, they reject it out of hand. The overwhelming majority of biologists and others with professional qualifications related to evolutionary biology accept the basic theory of evolution without reservation. There are creationist biologists employed by religious institutions, and even government laboratories. In every case I have examined, their religious commitments preceded and dominated their scientific training. Scientists do widely and vigorously examine and reexamine the details of evolutionary theory. Examples would be the relative significance of transgenetic exchange versus mutation in the development of genomic complexity, or instances of allopatric versus sympatric speciation.

Next, it is perhaps too technical to point out that scientific theories are not subject to “proof” in the meaning of ultimate truth. We must always be open in principle that some better theory might be proposed. For example, we are still hoping for a fully successful theory of gravity. In this regard the Theory of Evolution is far better tested than theories of gravity. You can demonstrate this for yourself using a search engine for scientific literature, say Medline, or Google Scholar.

There are ample numbers of transitional fossils which expose the contrary claim as a simple falsehood. The higher in the taxonomic category you look the easier it is to find transitions. What is difficult is to absolutely establish direct species-to-species transitions from fossils. This, and now well known variations in the rate of species changing made the argument for punctuated equilibria so interesting. Darwin in his “The Origin of Species” pointed out that species extinction was a key event widening the separation between related species. Punctuated equilibrium arguments are extinctions on a large scale.

“The laws of physics” most certainly do not counter evolution. This is the hoary Second Law of Thermodynamics (SLoT) argument. There are many ways to refute this, but my favorite is to point out that we all begin as a single celled egg- quite simple compared to a billion celled adult. The SLoT no more prevents this than it does evolution. For a more through discussion, I recommend the following website;

Personal and professional harassment is a very common reason American teachers are afraid to teach about evolution today. And a recent study found that about 16% of high school science teachers are actually creationists who either skip evolution or (nearly 14%) actually teach creationism. (Citation: Berkman MB, Pacheco JS, Plutzer E (2008) “Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait.” Public Library of Science, Biology 6(5): e124 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060124

The final significant error was about the Peppered Moth (Biston betularia) research by Bernard Ketterwell. These moths underwent a considerable change over the last two centuries from a light color with black specks, to a nearly all black form, and then back to a lighter form. This change was in parallel with the decline of light colored background in the trees the moths rest on caused by industrial soot, and the recovery following environmental laws after the Second World War. Ketterwell photographed two moths which he mounted to a tree for an illustration of the strong contrast between the two forms of moth. These photos were widely used in textbooks, because of how obvious and easy to understand this example of evolutionary change really is. The major falsehood told by creationists about this research was that Ketterwell’s data were faked by using dead moths glued to a tree. This has been strongly promoted by creationist Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute, in his book “Icons of Evolution.” The facts are quite different.

Well, any experiment can be improved on, and entomologist Michael Majerus was critical of Ketterwell’s earlier work. After many years, he was forced to conclude that Ketterwell had been correct all along. You can read more about this at;

Friday, June 13, 2008

Louisiana Shows the Way!

The lower house of the Louisiana legislature has overwhelmingly passed SB 733 by a vote of 94 to 3. The act claims to support “academic freedom.” Specifically, the Louisiana Science Education Act states;

13 B.(1) The State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, upon
14 request of a city, parish, or other local public school board, shall allow and
15 assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster
16 an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes
17 critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of
1 scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the
2 origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

3 (2) Such assistance shall include support and guidance for teachers
4 regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and
5 objectively review scientific theories being studied, including those enumerated
6 in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection.

7 C. A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook
8 supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks
9 and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique,
10 and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city,
11 parish, or other local public school board.

12 D. This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine,
13 promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or
14 promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

We all know that this is a bill to be used to inject creationism into science curriculum and to return religious fundamentalism to top place in Louisiana schools. We know this because the act itself denies this in section D. It is also obvious because the fundamentalists and creationists who all love the bill are in a loud chorus denying that they are drooling over this religious victory.

There has been an equal outpouring of angst and outrage from secularists, most notably The Louisiana Coalition for Science, and the National Center for Science Education. But, I think they have missed a critical issue- this return of fundamentalism and ignorance is a much needed economic stimulus for a chronically underemployed region.

This Act when implemented will allow Louisiana teachers to finally stop teaching- even halfheartedly- that humans truly and scientifically are all one family- that's commieism. The economic gains from racism are astounding! This alone would kill any sort of unionism. Why that was the whole point of the War Between the States. With a scientifically illiterate public there would be no support for such nonsense as environmental laws. Without a labor movement, and those pesky treehuggers out of the way, the business opportunities for Louisiana are wide open!

Let’s face it, there are some dirty, deadly jobs that need doing. Sure, there are safe alternatives, and remediation measures. But they cost money, and that cuts profits. Only Satan cuts profits! These much needed dirty jobs will make the rich richer, and the poor dead. Its not like the bankers will actually have to live there.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another Book Review Blocked by has readers to "moderate" the reviews submitted by the public. I have had reviews critical of creationist twaddle blocked. Here is an example below. I plan to edit it a bit and resubmit.

I was urged to read Carle R. Froede's “Geology by Design” by a young earth creationist who assured me that all my doubts about a young earth would be removed, and that all the physical evidence of an ancient earth would be refuted. Well, that did not happen. Instead I found another book that misrepresented geology, failed to account for the known data, and casually invoked miracles to patch-over internal failings of his proposed creationist scenarios.

The first, and most critical mistake made by Froede was that the science of geology was initiated as an effort to discredit biblical literalism. The founders of geology were certain that the rocks and surface features of our planet were largely the result of the Noachian Flood. Only after decades of accumulated evidence that could not be resolved into a flood event, did the prevailing scientific conclusion that there could never have been a global flood prevail. It is not at all as Froede declared that, “uniformitarianism was established precisely to rid history of the Genesis flood (pg. 12).” The actual history of flood geology is presented honestly and in great detail by Davis A. Young, an evangelical Christian and Professor of Geology at Calvin College, in his 1995 book “The Biblical Flood: A case study of the Church’s Response to extrabiblical evidence” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Paternoster Press). Wrapped in Froede’s error is the further false notion that his biblical interpretation is the “Truth,” and that if his understanding of Genesis 6:9-8 is not supported by science, then science is wrong. For a superior point of view, read David Snoke’s 2006 book, “A Biblical Case for an Old Earth” (Grand Rapids: Baker Press), which if nothing else will dispel the notion that only a young earth, and global flood can be reconciled with the Bible.

But what of the “science” to be found in Froede’s geology? It is as weak as his history and theology. Just one example will be sufficient. The first chapter of Froede’s book presents the organization of the scientific geological column which he contrasts with his proposed “biblical geological time scale.” Froede falsely claims that the scientific geological column is “more gaps than record.” My colleague Glenn Morton, a former young earth author who turned away YEC because he saw the field evidence with his own eyes, has compiled a list of locations around the world where the entire geological column, in its proper order is substantiated. Here is his list;

The Ghadames Basin in Libya
The Beni Mellal Basin in Morocco
The Essaouira Basin in Morocco(Broughton and Trepanier, 1993)
The Tunisian Basin in Tunisia
The Oman Interior Basin in Oman
The Western Desert Basin in Egypt
The Adana Basin in Turkey
The Iskenderun Basin in Turkey
The Moesian Platform in Bulgaria
The Carpathian Basin in Poland
The Baltic Basin in the USSR
The Yeniseiy-Khatanga Basin in the USSR
The Farah Basin in Afghanistan
The Helmand Basin in Afghanistan
The Yazd-Kerman-Tabas Basin in Iran
The Manhai-Subei Basin in China
The Jiuxi Basin China
The Tung t'in - Yuan Shui Basin China
The Tarim Basin China
The Szechwan Basin China
The Yukon-Porcupine Province Alaska
The Williston Basin in North Dakota (Haimla et al, 1990, p. 517)
The Tampico Embayment Mexico
The Bogata Basin Colombia
The Bonaparte Basin, Australia (above this basin sources are Roberston Group, 1989)
The Beaufort Sea Basin/McKenzie River Delta(Trendall 1990)
The Parana Basin North, Paraguay and Brazil( (Wiens, 1995, p. 192)
The Cape Karroo Basin (Tankard, 1995, p. 21)
The Argentina Precordillera Basin (Franca et al, 1995, p. 136)
The Chilean Antofagosta Basin (Franca et al, 1995, p. 134)
The Pricaspian Basin (Volozh et al, 2003)

See “The Geologic Column and Its Implications to the Flood” for more information.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

So Far Today.

I have a cold, and so I skipped fishing today (Friday night was great- I caught the jackpot fish, a 6 lb baracuda).

The Texas Board of Education is loaded with creationsits, and is coming up on their renewal of the science standards. I have been watching, and commenting on the Houston Chronicle website.

“David Bradley, R-Beaumont, told the Chronicle, "Evolution is not a fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proved."

The common confusion regarding fact, hypothesis, and theory may seem to be a distraction. But let me try to clarify this so that we can at least agree to terms. First, a hypothesis is a statement that makes a specific observable prediction that is the test of the hypothesis. “Atoms are made of neutrons and protons and electrons, therefore an atom can be separated into these objects.” The observations made constitute the “facts” used to test a hypothesis. A theory is a general statement that provides a explanation for a number of confirmed hypotheses, and suggests new hypotheses that can be tested. Another popular error is that a “Law” is more powerful than a theory. In fact an empirical law, let’s say Ohms Law, is a mathematical statement of relationships between observations. This is far weaker than electromagnetic theory because the theory can be used to derive the “law” but the law does not derive the theory. Philosophers of science like to point out that a theory can only be falsified, and never proven. This is probably what confused Mr. Bradley. The atomic theory can not be “proven,” nor the germ theory of disease.

Evolution is a fact because we can observe variation within populations, and the reproductive isolation of populations (species), and the change in populations (species) over generations. We have observed the change in populations over time produce newly reproductively isolated populations (new species). These are facts. These facts are confirmation of hypotheses generated from the Theory of evolution.

The classic statement of evolutionary theory by Charles Darwin had two main parts, that the obvious physical variation between individual plants and animals would have consequences for their ability to thrive and reproduce, and that because of this species would over generations separate into two or more new species. This is “selection and common descent.” The mechanism that produced the obvious variation within populations was unknown to Darwin, but he saw several sorts of selection in action; environmental (Darwin’s “natural selection”), behavioral (Darwin’s “sexual selection”), and the already well known artificial selection by breeders known even in ancient times.

The independent discovery of genetics as the means by which physical change was introduced into populations was at first seen as a direct challenge to Darwin’s theory, and for thirty years biologists were in separate camps. British scientists and mathematicians resolve the problem in the 1930s, formulating the “new synthesis” of genetics and evolution. This added the independently confirmed theory of genetics (the “random mutation” part) to the equally confirmed theory of evolution (the selection and common ancestor part).

Mr. Bowman, and probably many of the Texas SboE, thinks this is all somehow in doubt.

It is not.

The current effort in evolutionary biology is to produce a new “new synthesis” of developmental biology (embryology) and evolutionary theory. So while the TSBoE is fighting for creationism, they are denying what was resolved over seventy years ago, and totally missing what is right in front of their faces.

“Washbasin” wrote, “One would have to wonder where you would include the factual findings of science that suggests Divine Creationism. Every one is ready to pick up the theory of evolution without enough facts available to make a final conclusion. In fact, some who have fine credentials, fail to have common sense. If a leader or educator; why would I allow him to push his conclusions on to me. He is not a survivalist, he is weak, he spouts science but does not use final scienctific documentation to complete the theory propect to a final scienctific conclusion without taking the same liberties that a Creationist view point has to use.
In fact, a Creationist viewpoint will do better in and among Nature. Nature can be cruel. But it is what we have here on this Planet, we call Earth. Nature will render all things to you. Even lessons that point to intelligent design or what some have tired to dirty a line of science which can be called, Creationism.”

Mr. Washbasin, your notion that scientists “can not learn enough to survive on his own in Nature.” is not relevant to the discussion. It is moreover incorrect. All the biologists, archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists I know are very competent in the field. We all need the skills necessary to not only survive (well) but at the same time conduct our research. Since we need to be able to work where ever there is data to be had, from the bottoms of seas to the tops of mountains, we have (or rapidly gain) the skill set required. In the last decade I have worked with students in tropical jungles, deserts, mountains, caves, on the ocean, in tiny villages and urban slums. We all got our jobs done without any serious casualties while dealing peacefully with rattlesnakes, mountain lions and drunks. (Dang those mosquitoes though).

Personally, I have collected data that helped confirm evolutionary theory for over 35 years now. I have used guns, hunting dogs, fishing rods, backhoes, front loaders, trucks, microscopes, computers, shovels, picks- both pickaxes and dental, nuclear reactors, chemistry labs, and even the kitchen sink. This is not unusual for a field scientist.

Finally, you are mistaken that there is any data supporting creationism.

Carpenter wrote, “The fossil record does not show macroevolution but a series of extinctions followed shortly (in evolutionist terms) by new life bearing no resemblence to the former. This is not religion but observation of the scientific data. Darwin who observed microevolution (intraspecie change) made the massive leap of faith (YES FAITH) to macroevolution (interspecie change). He predicted innumerable transitional life forms would be discovered but ifr any have been the record is paltry at best. By Darwin's own admission, this would disprove macroevolution.

The problem with teaching creationism is that this is meant young earth/universe creationism, which is biblically unnecessary and scientifically absurd. The Hebrew "yom" can mean anything from a 24hour day to an eon. If yom is translated "period" instead of "day" there is no conflict with a 4+ billion year old earth and a much older universe.

It is this form of creationism which should be taught as an reasonable alternative. The scientific consensus is that the universe began with a hot big bang and has continued to expand. If it had a beginning it had to have a "beginner" or you are left with the proposition that nothing plus nobody equals everything.”

Mr. Carpenter, I am going to make a big guess that you have never personally studied the fossil record of any taxonomic group in any detail. I will guess that you have never worked in field recovery of fossils, or in laboratory preparation of fossils, or in the systematic analysis of fossils. I will bet that you have never published or taught college level courses about fossils.

How am I doing?

I have done each of those things, and I am not that unusual. There is more than ample evidence for smooth change (Darwin’s gradualism) in the fossil record. Large land animals are more difficult to fossilze, find and prepare, and so those data will never match that available for tiny marine critters like foramifera or even mollusks. It doesn’t matter because the general principles are identical.

Here is the big difference between the manure that, “Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions." (David Bradley, R-Beaumont) and giving them the skills they need to know how evolutionary theory has successfully met all challenges for 150 years. In the sciences, you can simply say, “Go out into the field, or into the laboratory and show me the evidence.” “Teach the controversy,” and the equally dishonest slogan “teach the strength and weaknesses” won’t educate.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ha ha Harum.

Turkish writer Adnan Oktar (pseudonym Harun Yahya) is a fundamentalist creationist. Unlike the garden variety American or Australian Christian creationist, Oktar is a fundamentalist Muslim. His many antiscience publications are echoes of Western creationists however, and closely follow the trail of young earth creationist (YEC) operations such as the Answers in Genesis Ministries, and Institute for Creation Research.

Oktar is a rabid anti-Semite, and Holocaust denier as well as creationist. For years he was little known outside of Turkey, or those few scientists and educators directly engaged against the creationist assault on science and reason. That changed with the publication of his Atlas of Creation. The Atlas is a massive book, weighing over 10 pounds, with one message; evolution is evilution. Why this changed Oktar’s profile is that he found funding to send hundreds of copies to US college and university faculty, and scientists around the world through his, "Foundation for Scientific Research" (BAV).

Oktar’s light shined bright enough that in August 2007 he convinced a Turkish court to block access in Turkey to, a website that hosts more than a million blogs, many of which are science related. Oktar objected because his opponent, Edip Yuksel, appeared on the site.

His light has dimmed however, and he has recently been found guilty of starting a criminal organization and profiting from it. He was sentenced 3 years in prison, but is free pending appeal.

He has attributed his court defeat to Freemasons and their opposition to the Atlas of Creation.

“They say it [the access to Atlas of Creation] has had a huge impact, like an atom bomb.”

“I can understand why the end of Darwinism has upset them so much, because this has really demolished their entire system. Their philosophies, world views and ideologies have been shattered.”

My sense of this is that we need not try to suppress Oktar’s over-weight book. We ought to celebrate another piece of creationist stupidity. The Atlas is riddled with gross, and humorous errors. Here are just two examples; Oktar wants people to think that the current forms of life have always existed, and that they are all found as fossils. He juxtaposed photos of what he claims are fossils and what he thinks are the modern exemplar. For at least two insects, he has used fishing lures as the modern example.

Really- this is creationist zoology at its best:



No need to supress HarHar Yahha, unless to preserve the scientific reputation of Turkey.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

How I spent Tuesday

I have taught Science classes for a while and have studied evolutionary theory (which, by the way is defined as something that can be tested, and is really only a hypothesis). When I teach evolutionary theory, I also include all the problems evolutionary bioligists have with their theory, like "Dating methods using use circular dates, archaeopteryx, transitional forms, Java, Piltdown, and Neanderthal man, life to non-life impossibilities, mutations, astronomical mathematical probabilities, defiance of scientific laws (entropy. Etc.), and several more. I have a real problem with teaching evolution as fact when only 6% of the US population believes Evolution alone should be taught in schools. I would suggest that neither evolution or creation of any kind be taught in science classrooms, since they both fail the scientific method test (cannot be scientifically repeated). Any teaching about origins should be in a phylosophy or religion class, since neither are really science. Tom Kabel.

I find it hard to believe that Tom Kabel is a science teacher in a public school. It is possible- too possible- but hard to believe. I would hope that teachers could spell, and present a reasoned, logical argument. Evolutionary biologists don’t have any problem with the age of the earth. Evolution happened, and however much time is available is the amount of time it took. The pace and tempo of evolutionary change is actually an active area of study, and very practical given the current high rate of species extinctions. However, Tom wants to have dating explained. The fact is that sedimentary sequences were worked out in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The core material data for all sedimentary studies is a location were there are multiple deposited strata resting on top of one another in what are called "clean" or "conforming" contacts. It was realized over 200 years ago that the fossils contained within the various strata were a useful characteristic that could be used to correlate strata from distant locations. This didn't assign any "age" to the rock, but placed it within a confirmed sequence. This was quite useful and was used commercially to discover new coal fields as early as the 1820s. Nobody new how old these rocks might be until the middle 20th century. The discovery of radioactivity in the late 1800s and the confirmation of the atomic structure of elements in the 1920s allowed for the application of radioactive decay to the question of how old are rocks (and the earth). Since the 1960s the excellent match between stratigraphic sequence and radiometric dates has enabled some shortcuts to be used when 1) the exact age of a strata is not particularly important, or 2) where there is an absence of directly datable rock, and I might also add 3) where there is just not enough money for lab work. But, "biostratigraphic" dates are not considered as reliable as absolute dates.

Neil77 wrote:
houston_res wrote:
"I don't know what weaknesses in the theory of evolution they plan to discuss."

Well, since you asked, here are just a few:
1) The Cambrian explosion
2) The Miller-Urey experiment requires an atmosphere that can not exist naturally
3) Heckel's drawings are known fakes
4) The peppered moth experiment was altered (they don't naturally rest on tree trunks, the experimenter physically placed them there, etc.)
5) The fossil record shows certain species to be older than their predecessors.
6) Macroevolution can not account for the existence of the cell

Now, none of these (excepting the Cambrian explosion) are actually evidence AGAINST evolution. They simply show that much of the evidence FOR it is nonexistent. The truly irritating argument to someone who knows anything about science is the gravity argument. Yes, they are both theories, but gravity is what is known as a FALSIFIABLE theory. This means that if it were false, there would be an experiment capable of proving it so. Evolution is not falsifiable. Another major irritation is the ignorance of the difference between micro- and macro-evolution. Microevolution is observable and, as much as anything is, provable. Macroevolution is not only unprovable, but has no evidence to support it that is also capable of supporting several other possibilities.
6/3/2008 11:51 AM CDT

It is hard to choose between Neil77's PRATT list (Points Refuted Thousands of Times), or dbldwn88. The pace at which these comments are flowing is remarkable.

Here is an easy one, "2) The Miller-Urey experiment requires an atmosphere that can not exist naturally"

The Miller-Urey experiment published in 1953 demonstrated that essential amino acids formed when a gas mixture of water vapor (H2O), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen (H2), ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4) were sparked by electricity. The particular mixture of gasses was selected because it reflected the gas abundance seen in the outer solar system which are the least altered because of their distance from the sun. At the time, geochemists were divided on the question of what the earliest earth atmosphere was like, and from the 1970s to the middle 1990s the majority opinion was that there was likely a mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of CO, nitrogen (N2), and much less of the other gasses used by Miller. This has been misrepresented by creationists as "proof" that evolution (incorrectly linked to the origin of life) is refuted.

In fact, recent studies have conclusively demonstrated that the gasses on the earliest earth were closer to the Miller-Urey experiment than the more oxidized mix suggested during the 1980s. However, in a truly fitting irony, the last paper ever written by Stanley Miller (published this year posthumously) has demonstrated that even an atmosphere with traces of free oxygen can yield excellent amounts of amino acids;

Miller, Stanley L.,
1953 “A Production of Amino Acids Under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions” Science vol. 117:528-529

Cleaves, H. James, John H. Chalmers, Antonio Lazcano, Stanley L. Miller, Jeffrey L. Bada
2008 “A Reassessment of Prebiotic Organic Synthesis in Neutral Planetary Atmospheres” Orig Life Evol Biosph (2008) 38:105–115

So, the creationists are once again without an argument.
6/3/2008 12:53 PM CDT

These are like potato chips. “4) The peppered moth experiment was altered (they don't naturally rest on tree trunks, the experimenter physically placed them there, etc.)”

The peppered moths (Biston betularia) were a largely light colored moth with dark specks on its wings. During the industrialization of England, coal burning factories produced large amounts of soot that darkened the trees the moths rested in during the daytime. Over the course of the 1800s, the light pattern moth nearly disappeared and was replaced by an almost black form. It was proposed that this was an example of adaptive change supporting Darwinian natural selection. When environmental laws were passed in the 1940s in England, the trees began to shed their coating of soot, and the light colored moths made a reappearance. In the 1950s Bernard Kettlewell studied this recovery of the light colored moth and concluded that birds had found the moths more easily when they were of contrasting color with the trees where they rested.

There were two biologists, Bruce Grant and Michael Majerus who published criticisms of Ketterwell’s experiments. Grant, who had a personal grudge against Kettlewell, insisted that the moth’s ability to choose a resting place would have compensated for the soot covered trees, and that some other evolutionary force was responsible for the observed changes. Majerus thought that Kettlewell’s experiment could be greatly improved on technically, and that until someone (like himself) was well funded for many years, the Kettlewell result should be doubted. Biologist, critic and grumpy-old-man Jerry Coyne wrote an overblown review of Majerus’s complaints that was published in the journal “Nature,” and the creationists were all over the story like flies. New-Age science journalist Judith Hooper wrote a whole book about Bruce Grant’s hurt feelings and even hinted that Kettlewell had faked his data. Then Jonathan Wells, Intelligent Design Creationists, Discovery Institute Senior Fellow and ordained Rev. Sun Moon worshiper, wrote his “Icons of Evolution” that claimed the peppered moths were faked, and that peppered moths never rested on tree trunks.

These were all lies, of course.

The famous photo was not the basis of Kettlewell’s results- he merely used a photo of light and dark patterned moths next to each other to illustrate how easy it is to see the difference. Majerus has finished his improved experiments and discovered that Kettlewell had been correct all the time. For more information use the links below.

August 28, 2007

November 27, 2007

Here is one for dbldwn88, who wrote, “… life is not propagated by amino acids, but nucleic acids. Completely different molecules. And the nucleic acids that code for amino acids ONLY code for L-isomeric amino acid proteins. The probability of life arising spontaneously from nucleic acids that only code for L isomers is astronomical.”

I have written a bibliographic outline for the origin of life, but it far too long to use on this venue. Just some highlights regarding the abiotic origin of nucleic acids, and chirality;


Fuller, W. D., Sanchez, R. A. & Orgel, L. E. Studies in prebiotic synthesis. VI. Synthesis of purine nucleosides. J. Mol. Biol. 67, 25-33 (1972).

Robertson, MP, Miller SL.
1995 An efficient prebiotic synthesis of cytosine and uracil. Nature 375, 772 - 774 ()

Nelson K.E., Robertson M.P., Levy M, Miller S.L.
2001 Concentration by evaporation and the prebiotic synthesis of cytosine. Orig Life Evol Biosph Jun;31(3):221-229


Antonio Chrysostomou, T. M. Gledhill,1 François Ménard, J. H. Hough, Motohide
Tamura and Jeremy Bailey
2000 "Polarimetry of young stellar objects -III. Circular polarimetry of OMC-1" Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Volume 312 Issue 1 Page 103 - February

Michael H. Engel and Bartholomew Nagy,
1982 "Distribution and Enantiomeric Composition of Amino Acids in the Murchison Meteorite", Nature , 296, April 29, , p. 838.

Jeremy Bailey, Antonio Chrysostomou, J. H. Hough, T. M. Gledhill, Alan McCall, Stuart Clark, François Ménard, and Motohide Tamura
1998 Circular Polarization in Star- Formation Regions: Implications for Biomolecular Homochirality Science 1998 July 31; 281: 672-674. (in Reports)

Chyba, Christopher F.
1997 Origins of life: A left-handed Solar System? Nature 389, 234- 235 (18 Sep 1997)

Engel, M. H., S. A. Macko
1997 Isotopic evidence for extraterrestrial non- racemic amino acids in the Murchison meteorite. Nature 389, 265 - 268 (18 Sep)

Creationists like to present this as a profound mystery that is supposed to "prove" that they are correct. I want to mention a neat instance where both left and right amino acids are used in a living thing. It is very rare, but it does happen. Next time a creationist claims to be an "expert" and that amino acid chirality "proves" something supernatural, you can gob-smack-em. The protein is called Gramicidin A and it has 8 L-amino acids, 6 D-amino acids, and one glycine which is an amino acid that is neither L- or D- in its structure. I have found that even many biologists will bet an "adult beverage" that all proteins are exclusive L- amino acids.

44,000 generations of test tube evolution.

In other news, Carl Zimmer has posted some great evolution news.
One of the most important experiments in evolution is going on right now in a laboratory in Michigan State University. A dozen flasks full of E. coli are sloshing around on a gently rocking table. The bacteria in those flasks has been evolving since 1988--for over 44,000 generations. And because they've been so carefully observed all that time, they've revealed some important lessons about how evolution works.

Richard Lenski started with a single bacteria and has raised from it the billions of cells he currently monitors.

He kept each of these 12 lines in its own flask. Each day he and his colleagues provided the bacteria with a little glucose, which was gobbled up by the afternoon. The next morning, the scientists took a small sample from each flask and put it in a new one with fresh glucose. And on and on and on, for 20 years and running.

They were able to capture the step-by-step evolution of the ability to metabolize citrate in one strain.
To gauge the flukiness of the citrate-eaters, Blount and Lenski replayed evolution. They grew new populations from 12 time points in the 33,000-generations of pre-citrate-eating bacteria. They let the bacteria evolve for thousands of generations, monitoring them for any signs of citrate-eating. They then transferred the bacteria to Petri dishes with nothing but citrate to eat. All told, they tested 40 trillion cells.

That sound you just heard was Mike Behe's head exploding.

(HT to twiggy at Tweb)