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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In the how the hell did I miss this column

From the Independent Florida Alligator today:

What students learn about evolution in books is "fake" and has no scientific value, a Turkish neurosurgeon said to about 50 students Tuesday.

Human life is a result of Allah, not evolution, said Dr. Oktar Babuna, a controversial Muslim speaker.

In his speech, which was sponsored by Islam on Campus and cost $3,000, Babuna argued against Darwinism and said the only way to understand life on Earth is through Allah and the teachings of the Koran. Babuna said it is scientifically impossible for evolution to have occurred.

Yes, well Dr Dino says the only way to understand life on earth is to study God and the bible and the Discovery institute is telling us to study biology but think about an intelligent designer manufacturing parts.

he goes on

To further prove his point, he said fish could never have transformed into land animals because their internal systems are entirely different than those of land animals.

They paid to bring this guy in??? I guess a neurosurgeon with this level of biological knowledge has to make money somehow. I don't know how I missed this talk, but I am damn sure glad I did. Looking forward to the letters. The nice thing is that the reported response to his talk in the paper is largely negative and they responded a lot better than the gator basketball team.


Joe Meert

Idaho Science Teachers Reject ID and Dr Dino update

The blows just keeping on coming to the ID folk. Yesterday, FOX News Boise reported:

Boise, Idaho -- Science teachers in Idaho are officially against teaching intelligent design in the state's public schools.

The Idaho Science Teachers Association has approved the official position, saying teachers in public schools are charged with teaching methodology that's been approved by the scientific community.

Intelligent design contends that complex living organisms must have been created by a higher being.

The Association's president says the teacher's group isn't taking a position against teaching religion, but he says under law, religion does not belong in the science classroom.

At least Idaho got it right from the start! Then again, I'm still wondering why such statements should even be necessary. Science classes are about teaching science, why should we single out only some forms of nonsense? The answer is, of course, sadly simple. ID has political and ideological clout that forces school boards/teachers to debate the idea and posit a stance. It's a darn shame that scientific and educational societies/groups have to come out with a public stance on issues that are neither scientific nor educational, but that's where we are.
Even so, the picture may not be so rosy. According to another news report on the topic:

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna (Republican) says he'll leave it up to local school districts to decide whether or not to teach it.
Teach 'what' Tom? It sure sounded like you wanted strong science in your campaign speeches and writings. A comment on Red State Rebels notes that Luna is pro-ID and here is a nice voter's guide to show why Idaho is not out of the Kansas woodshed yet.

Creationist Kent Hovind is now holed up in his cell and it's interesting to look at what is happening to his 'ministry' since he left. It may be part shock and it may simply mean that once the con is gone, the con game is short-circuited; however, son Eric is not carrying on Kent's 'speaking over 900 times/year' tradition. There are currently only 5 lectures scheduled between now and May for son Eric. The website is now quite out-of-date still highlighting the 'storms' of July 2006. CSEblogs was getting hundreds of responses leading up to and immediately following the conviction of Hovind, but the latest blog entry by Kent on February 19th has only 98 comments (compared to 358 replies to the Jan 20th I've been sentenced blog or 240 comments on his bunk 3).


Joe Meert

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Just for Fun: The Evolution of Creation Debates

I visited some discussion boards and I am always amazed at the tortuous paths leading from the OP (opening post) to the most recent post (MRP). Try to match the OP to the corresponding MRP

1. Okay, first off, I know that evolution and a billion year old earth are not necessarily the same. The ones who believe in evolution must believe in an old earth, but there are some who believe in an old earth but not evolution. Keep in mind that I do know the difference while I make this post.

2. James L. Powell, professor of geology and former director and president of the L.A. County Museum of Natural History. In a video urging scientists to tell the public what's true regarding intelligent design, he makes this conclusive argument against ID.

The most complete treatment of the question of evolutionism and what it does to ethics and morality to my knowledge is still probably Sir Arthur Keith's little treatist "Evolution and Ethics", written while WW-II was in progress.

This is what tyranosaur meat looks like:




Now see if you can match the last post to the OP:

Poor guy is long dead, so he can't respond. Still waiting on any evidence he "renounced" (your word) evolution. Another whiff, strike two. maybe you should try a lighter bat.

Not quite true. Three women are mentioned in the lineage in Matthew:
Matt 1:3 in part: and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar,
Matt 1:5 in part: and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth

Just say something like: John said XXXXXXX. You don't need to mark off paraphrases, just give the name of the original speaker. Although if you are writing a paper or something you'd need to add a reference -but internet forums aren't that formal.

My problem is that throughout our conversation is that you display an inherently subjective idea of what constitutes dogmatism, and a dogmatic insistence that your beliefs are the product of reason and not themselves dogmatic. I remain unconvinced; but I am a natural skeptic, and I could be wrong.


Joe Meert

PS: The answers can be found in the comment section.

Radiometric Dating-Getting the Age you want

Vindhyanchal Basin, India
If there is one thing I've learned in science it's to expect the unexpected (and then to publish it as fast as you can). We had a good learning experience in my research group this past week and it's an interesting tale of geochronology and the claim of young earth creationists that 'unwanted dates are thrown out'.
We are working on a project in the Vindhyanchal basin in north-central India. The basin is one of several sedimentary basins collectively referred to as "Purana Basins" in India. Almost by decree, the upper sedimentary sequences were assigned Cambrian-Ediacaran ages, but without any sound geochronology/fossils to back these estimates. A colleague of mine is working on another of the basins to the south of ours called the Chattisgarh basin.
Things began to get interesting last summer when my student began analyzing zircons contained in the sandstone layers within the basin. Zircon is a robust mineral (resistant to weathering and metamorphism). Zircon commonly contains uranium in the lattice structure making it ideal for U-Pb dating. By studying the recycled zircons in the sedimentary rock, we can estimate from the youngest zircons present a 'maximum age' for the rock. For example, if the sedimentary sequence contains recycled zircon that is 700 million years old, then the sedimentary rock has to be younger than 700 million years. How much less can be a problem, but suppose there are other younger source rocks for the zircon nearby (500 million years for example)---if these are not present in the sample, then we may be able to bracket the age to between 500-700 million years. It's not perfect by any means, but here's the rub.
Our 'Cambrian-Ediacaran' rocks currently sit adjacent to the third largest felsic igneous province in the world (read this as lots of zircon). We've dated this complex to 771 million years old. Presumably, a Cambrian-Ediacaran sandstone would be replete with 770 million year old zircons, but we found exactly zero! We have some magnetic data that also suggested that the rocks might be older than previously thought. The figure below shows the population of zircons we found. Barring other explanations for the lack of 770 Ma zircons, we might conclude that this rock is between 770-1000 million years old. The old end means these rocks are nearly 500 million years older than thought. Interesting, but the story gets better.

Detrital Zircon Ages from Bhander Sandstone, India

Intrigued, we asked my Indian colleague to collect rocks sitting stratigraphically above the 770 Ma igneous complex because they should contain 770 Ma zircons and they do. Therefore, these 770 Ma old rocks were eroding and supplying zircons to a nearby basin, but apparently not to ours. I described this to a friend working on the Chattisgarh basin and he said---Hmm, we have geochronologic data from our basin showing that the rocks there are 500 million years older than we thought. So, now we have two Purana basins with evidence that they are far older than we thought.

Detrital Zircons from the Marwar Supergroup

Did we bury the data? Hardly. It became a race to get published and sadly, our group has lost the race! It's a good lesson for my students because they realize that we are not the only ones thinking about these problems. It's a good lesson for creationists who accuse scientists of burying dates that disagree with what we previously thought. On top of that, it's darn good fun.


Joe Meert

Monday, February 26, 2007

Rapid reversals of the magnetic field

A few years ago, I began to look at the claims of young earth creationists for rapid reversals of the earth's magnetic field. Here is the introduction from that site:

One of the more intriguing arguments put forth by young earth creationists for the age of the earth has is related to the strength of the magnetic field. The notion that the earth could not be older than ~10,000 years on the basis of magnetic field strength was forwarded by Thomas Barnes (1971, 1973). Barnes, using the known decay of the dipole moment over this century, argued that the magnetic field has decayed via free decay since creation no more than 10,000 years ago. Barnes' analysis relied, at least in part, on fitting an exponential curve to the observed decay whereas a linear decay model would give a maximum age on the order of 100 million years (Brush, 1983). Barnes rejected the idea that the earth's magnetic field had reversed polarity. Reversals were originally suggested in the early 1900's (David, 1904; Bruhnes, 1906) although it was unclear if this was a real feature of the magnetic field or a rock magnetic artifact. Subsequent work has demonstrated that reversals of the main field have taken place (Jacobs, 1994).

A magnetic reversal, in simple terms, occurs when the force between the two poles reverses direction. In a reversed magnetic field (by definition, today's field is 'normal') a compass will point to the south geomagnetic pole and the inclination (dip of the magnetic needle) will also invert itself at all locations on the globe with the exception of the magnetic equator (Figure 1). However, even this is a simplistic definition of a reversal. A more precise definition requires that the geocentric axial dipole term changes sign on a global basis, the change in sign must have some stability (typically unchanged for a few thousand years), Thus, strictly speaking there can be at most only a few reversals if the time scale favored by young earth creationists is correct. Shorter term variations in directions are described as 'excursions' or 'events' (Jacobs, 1994).

As noted, Barnes (1973) did not accept that magnetic field reversals have taken place in the past. One of the reasons for rejecting field reversals was that reversals provided some evidence that the main field could be generated by a dynamo process. It should be noted that a dynamo does not require a reversal as there are reversing and non-reversing dynamos. However, if reversals do occur, then the decay of the dipole field cannot, in and of itself, be used to measure the age of the earth. A few decades later, it became apparent that reversals of the magnetic field have taken place and creationists had to move quickly to accomodate these new observations. Humphreys (1988,1993), a self-professed 'fan' of Barnes took up the gauntlet of trying to rescue the young magnetic field argument once reversals became undeniable. Whenever rates are discussed amongst ye-creationists, there is a nearly universal decree that says "the rates implied by conventional geology are wrong" and the real rates are faster. Humphreys quickly adopted the 'rapid reversal' explanation, but made several crucial mistakes along the way.

I am in the midst of planning a symposium later this year and one of the invitees is Profesor Rob Coe (UC Santa Cruz). Rob is one of the world's best paleomagnetists who also has an interest in the history of field intensity and reversal. In 1989, Coe and Prevot published an article entitled "Evidence suggesting extremely rapid field variation during a magnetic reversal" which Humphreys seized on as evidence for rapid reversal. However, it is important to actually look at what Coe and Prevot (1989) were discussing. First, Coe and Prevot (1989) made no argument that the reversal process itself was rapid, only that the reversal period included evidence of rapid fluctuation in field intensity and direction. A subsequent publication in 1995 by Coe and co-authors was titled "New evidence for extremely rapid change of the geomagnetic field during a reversal". Humphreys used these papers to make the following claim:

"In 1988, startling new evidence was found for the most essential prediction of my theory--very rapid reversals". and "I cited newly discovered evidence for rapid reversals (Coe and Prevot, 1989), evidence in thin lava flows confirming my 1986 prediction. Since then, even more such evidence has become known (Coe, Prevot, and Camps, 1995)"

This is a false representation of Coe et al.'s work and I describe the error in some detail on the weblink posted at the beginning of this article. When Rob replied to me with the title of his talk for the upcoming meeting, I asked him if he knew that creationists were misusing his work. He replied:

"Yes, that is unfortunate because the rapid-field-change hypothesis offers no basis for any of their stuff. Insofar as there is any evidence for the duration of the Steens polarity transition, from estimates of rates of SV, it is several thousand years. The question we examine is whether the systematic streaking of directions of samples as a function of height in a single flow could have been caused by an EPISODE of rapid movement of field direction while that flow was cooling through its blocking temperatures. We state as much in everything we have written, but they ignore that."

Indeed, ignoring data or inventing data seems to be part and parcel of the creationism/id movement.


Joe Meert

Saturday, February 24, 2007

So this could get interesting

The RATE people are on tour and maybe coming to a church near you. One of my colleagues is throwing out a modest proposal to the RATE crowd. He decided that rather than debate the group during their 'talk', he would invite the speaker to give a seminar at the department (unadvertised) regarding the young earth view. I suggested that since these are geologists, it might be of use to take them to the field for a longer trip and have them explain the local geology in young earth terms. I like this modest proposal and hope to report on the event if the RATE speaker agrees to the private questioning.


Joe Meert

Friday, February 23, 2007

What's wrong with intelligent Design?

A report out today in Science Daily on ID. Here's the most interesting aspect of this report. The author of the article referenced in this news release offers the following problem with Intelligent Design:

When scientific theories compete with each other, the usual pattern is that independently attested auxiliary propositions allow the theories to make predictions that disagree with each other," Sober writes. "No such auxiliary propositions allow ... ID to do this." In developing this idea, Sober makes use of ideas that the French philosopher Pierre Duhem developed in connection with physical theories -- theories usually do not, all by themselves, make testable predictions. Rather, they do so only when supplemented with auxiliary information. For example, the laws of optics do not, by themselves, predict when eclipses will occur; they do so when independently justified claims about the positions of the earth, moon, and sun are taken into account.

Similarly, ID claims make predictions when they are supplemented by auxiliary claims. The problem is that these auxiliary assumptions about the putative designer's goals and abilities are not independently justified. Surprisingly, this is a point that several ID proponents concede.


On a "How do people come up with this stuff"? This particular blog host asks for personal information when filling out the profile. Apparently, it takes your birthdate and assigns you your astrological sign. Several people (only some of them whom I would refer to as idiots) have asked me about my 'belief in astrology'. One of these wackos went so far as to say:

Your blog link is a conduit for astrology, as your personal details section shows. Your opposition to ID is of dubious pedigree.

Others have asked "Do you really believe in astrology". The answer is a definite yes. Astrology does exist. One need only pick up the daily newspaper to find an astrological forecast. The only problem of course is that astrology, like ID/creationism, is pure bullscat. So, despite the fact that the blog profile lists my astrological sign, I do not now, nor have I ever, endorsed astrology as anything more than pure idiocy. I also wonder if some of these people believe my age as listed in the profile?


Joe Meert

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Capitalism, Nonscience and Science

I had a good discussion with my class yesterday regarding intelligent design creationism and science. The question posed by the student (and many ID'ers) is why don't we teach the concept of Intelligent Design along with evolution and just let the students make up their own mind. This sounds like a fair argument and particularly as couched by the student. The claim was made that science should be like capitalism and that the best idea, like the best product will win out in the end. Sounds very much like the rhetoric from the ID folk. The more I thought about this, the better it sounded to me, but for very different reasons. Here is the argument I would make. Science is capitalistic in some sense. Science does entertain a wide range of ideas and the good ideas last, are 'bought' and populate the marketplace. Bad ideas, like the Yugo, enter and leave a competitive marketplace quickly. So why not let a Intelligent Design enter the marketplace and let the 'consumer' decide?
The answer to that question is really simple. Forbes magazine reports:

Toyota--which has the best-selling passenger car in America with its Camry--is preparing to assault the American pickup market with larger, overhauled versions of its Tacoma (due out this fall) and full-size Tundra.

Note that Toyota does not say "Let's re-introduce the Yugo" because the marketplace has spoken and concluded that the Yugo just doesn't cut it. Instead, Toyota and other market leaders try to capitalize on what works and then work to improve that idea. Successful corporations do not even consider launching prototypes that show no market appeal. A true capitalistic venture is not patient with poorly formed ideas and ill-conceived projects. When a product works and continues to work well, changes to the product should be carefully considered or they will be doomed to failure (remember the "New Coca-Cola")?

So how does this relate to ID? Intelligent design is offering a new product without proper testing. ID is trying to convince us that a YUGO is better built and more dependable than the Toyota Camry. ID is trying to package itself as a 'new coca cola'. What's worse is that ID is trying to re-introduce us to the Yugo and new coca cola pretending that the market has never truly tested these products! The market already has a Camry and Coke Classic. It's called evolution and its a proven product with market value and 'star power'. Evolution is the Kleenex, Coke Classic and Xerox of biological science.
The problem for ID is not that the market is unfair because markets are inherently unfair in a true capitalistic sense. Evolution is a proven product and it's unlikely that the scientific market will drop rigor and research in favor of a proven inferior product. So, when the ID'ers make the argument that we should give them a chance ask them if they would invest in a Yugo dealership in the US or try to corner the "New Coke" market. ID is selling us RONCO science in an IBM world. They keep telling us 'but wait there's more, in addition to a new science, you're getting salvation from your sins'. I'm not buying it.


Joe Meert

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Poor Design

Ok, who knows how much help this may be, but I'm willing to try. My wife has been experiencing back pain and lower leg pain and numbness for more than three months. We've tried physical therapy, drugs and rest but it's still the same. Sh had an MRI and was told she should consider surgery for a herniated disk. The literature is unclear on this. Some report that the cure (surgery) can be worse than waiting whereas others claim that the cure can bring immediate relief. I'm and anti-cutter (As is my wife), but we are going on more than 4 months of pain and change in lifestyle so we are interested in comments on how others may view this poor design and the best way to handle it.....Oh and she needs reconstructive knee surgery this summer. I recall a line from War Games along the lines of "Mr. McKitrick, after careful consideration I've come to the conclusion that your system sucks". Indeed, that's how I am beginning to feel about human anatomy.


Joe Meert

Phil Johnson goes on the attack

Lawyer Phil Johnson, considered the founder of the modern Intelligent Design political party published his thoughts on the current campaign. The ID movement has faced a number of political defeats of late and Johnson knows that the ID party is facing the same sort of problems faced by Ross Perot's Reform Party. The group enjoyed some success, but later faded off into the sunset. Johnson does not want that to happen to the ID party because, of course, souls are at stake in this political race! Nevertheless, Johnson has to be worried about that 'giant sucking sound' that came from Dover, Pa back in Dec 2005.

To be fair, at least Johnson is not worrying publicly over which t-shirts will sell the best. In his latest epistle, Johnson attacks 'Darwinism' and complains about variety in the beak of the finch as if this were the only evidence available for evolution. He gets it all wrong from the outset, but then again, political moves need not be accurate, they only need to instill faith in the voters. Johnson starts off:

The claim that evolutionary science has discovered and verified a mechanism which can account for the origin of biological information and complexity by involving only natural (unintelligent) causes is supported by an immense extrapolation from limited evidence of minor, cyclical variations in fundamentally stable species.

Johnson gets it so wrong in this statement, that it's impossible to know where to begin. Then again, in order to defeat a strawman, one must build the strawman first. So, Johnson creates a caricature of evolutionary biology and then pretends to crush it by showing how variability in beak sizes in finches supports his claim. Johnson of course ignores the fossil record which clearly shows a temporal change in biological organisms over time. Of course, Johnson will claim that an intelligent designer had a hand in forcing that change, but there is nothing to scientifically support that claim. Let's face it though, ID is not about science. Science is merely a facade for the political ambitions of the ID institute and sure enough, those goals positively shine in Johnson's latest letter.

The first ploy is to make note of a famous convert. Sure enough, Johnson makes note:

One early sign of the way the world is headed came in December 2004, when there was much comment in newspapers and internet discussion groups about famed atheist philosopher Anthony Flew.

I have to be honest, philosophy is not my field, but yntil this was circulated around the internet, I had never heard of Anthony Flew (and I suspect not many other scientists recognized the name. However, this 'conversion was a big deal. I suppose one might liken it to the conversion of a staunch Republican over to the Democratic party or vice-versa.

The problem with Johnson, as with most other ID'ers is that simply cannot write a long essay without bringing up the religious aspect of Intelligent Design. Johnson cannot escape the trap that ultimately doomed the ID political movement in Dover. He notes:

I agree with this point (--that there is a first causer), and my personal view is that I identify the designer of life with the God of the Bible, although intelligent design theory as such does not entail that. Scientific materialists fiercely resist consideration of the existence of a designer of what we see in nature, in part because they fear that even the most minimalist version of a deity will tend to become understood as something like the God of the Bible, who communicates with humans and cares about how we behave. Perhaps that fear is justified, but so what? That the cosmos is ruled by a God who cares about us is a possibility we ought to be considering, rather than a forbidden idea from which we ought to flee.

The rest of Johnson's gospel is merely a tirade against materialism and the accusation that science won't follow the evidence where it leads. It contains poll data (like any good campaign), but sadly very little science. Keep writing Phil and try to ignore that giant sucking sound the ID party keeps hearing.


Joe Meert

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dembski and the ID folk are confused

Yup, there appears to be turmoil amongst the Intelligent Design folk over which mascot to use. On the one hand, the bacterial flagellum has been popular and, at least according to the ID folk, easy to understand. The new kid on the block is the ribosome. Apparently that one is appealing, but kind of complicated. Yes folks this is the type of science you've come to expect from the DISCO crowd. Arguments about which mascot produces better t-shirt sales**. After all, we have learned that if the t-shirts don't sell, then the science can't be all that great. Yup, these are the sorts of intellectual debates generated by Bill Dembski at his groupies at DesignInference on a daily basis. I can see the weekly meeting now at headquarters.....

Meyer: We need a new mascot for ID. T-shirt sales have dropped and people are complaining that we lack imagination. I propose the Krebs Cycle.

Dembski: Too complicated. How about one that says "Specified Complexity: Too Complex to be specific about".

Behe: Don't be an idiot Bill, you know my mousetrap has popular appeal and everybody likes the mouse (ask the Disney folk). Or the flagellum that's also a peach.

Wells: What a crock, the mousetrap is getting old, the flagellum is risky (remember your embarassment at Dover, Bill?) and both are losing oomph with the public. If we really want to increase t-shirt and mug sales we've got to be innovative. I like the ribosome.

Behe: Aww do I have to take this crap from Jon. T-shirt sales are going well. Mug sales are up and our calendar and poster sales are off the charts.

Dembski: How about the toaster?

Meyer: Focus fellas, this is an important new step for the Discovery Institute. Evolution is failing in large part due to our increased sales. We've got to get it right.

Behe: I know this is off-topic, but I was thinking about getting back to the lab and doing some research.

Dembski, Meyer, Wells: Mike, you always bring levity to an important decision with your jokes. Ok, tommorrow we'll make this monumental decision. Who's going to contact Fox News?

Yes, folks these are precisely the types of high level discussions going on around the idea of Intelligent Design.....and they wonder why real scientists laugh at them.


Joe Meert

**All sales profits, of course go to research***

***on the next product.

Talk Radio Evolution

On my way home from Washington, i found a copy of a Pittsburgh paper and lo and behold, our little controversy had hit the columnist page. The column is authored by Humes (who wrote Monkey girl) and introduceme to a phrase called 'Talk Radio Evolution'. I found the article online and it's well worth a read.

here is the introduction

When I first arrived at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse in Harrisburg for what was billed as the second coming of the Scopes "monkey trial," a man mingling with the media gaggle handed me an invitation to a lecture titled "Why Evolution Is Stupid."

The fellow advised me to come hear the truth about Charles Darwin's dangerous idea. Then he jerked a thumb toward the courtroom and said, "You're sure not going to hear it in there."

I had gone to Harrisburg just over a year ago to research a book, expecting cutting-edge arguments for the theory of evolution pitted against an upstart movement called "intelligent design," which claims there is evidence of a master designer inside living cells. And hear them I did, in frequently riveting (and occasionally stupefying) detail, as the judge considered whether teaching intelligent design in public schools breached the wall separating church and state.

And yet that invitation and the angry, volatile town meeting it led me to that week proved even more enlightening. It showed me an essential truth of the culture wars in the United States that seemed especially relevant last week (Darwin's 198th birthday was Monday): There are really two theories of evolution. There is the genuine scientific theory and there is the talk-radio pretend version, designed not to enlighten but to deceive and enrage.

The remainder of the article can be read here.

Now, I'm afraid I'm going to be reading this as soon as I finish The God Delusion. Does "Books a Million" ever toss people out for being cheap? Oh well, my cheapness may soon end as I've put in for testing as the father of Anna Nicole's baby.


Joe Meert

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Interesting Report on Science Education in the US

(AP)SAN FRANCISCO - People in the U.S. know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago, good news that researchers say is tempered by an unsettling growth in the belief in pseudoscience such as astrology and visits by extraterrestrial aliens.

In 1988 only about 10 percent knew enough about science to understand reports in major newspapers, a figure that grew to 28 percent by 2005, according to Jon D. Miller, a Michigan State University professor. He presented his findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

to continue reading.

The major dumbing down is coming about through all the false science necessary to bolster a religiously dogmatic position known as young earth creationism/intelligent design.


Joe meert

Saturday, February 17, 2007

In the Anti-Semite What the hell is this class...

Well leave it to Georgia to hopelessly confuse religion, physics and biology into a twisted mess of nonsense. If you're wondering who might have been responsible for such a stupid mess, you need only to turn to Georgia legislator Ben Bridges. Bridges, in attempt to distance himself from Judaism, Science and sanity approved the following memo from a staff member:

"Indisputable evidence - long hidden but now available to everyone - demonstrates conclusively that so-called 'secular evolution science' is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion," the memo said. "This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic 'holy book' Kabbala dating back at least two millennia."

Bridges is a classic evolution hater and as Woody Allen might say "he is a classic Jew-hater" as well. So, where did he get the idea to take a swipe at Judaism and evolution? Well perhaps from Warren Chisum of Texas who finds himself in a similar political bind. Actually, it is Chisum who was blindly following one of Bridges workers. So despite what you might have heard to the contrary, everything is more bigoted and ill-conceived in Georgia.
Who elects these people. Nevermind, I don't want to know.


Joe Meert

William F Buckley Weighs in on Science

National Review conservative pundit and self-appointed expert in science, William F. Buckley lashed out against evolution and in support of intelligent design. Buckley tells us that he is an expert on the subject because he hosted a 2 hour firing line debate back in the 1990's.
Buckley takes the usual anti-evolution tactic which attempts to paint evolution as a dogmatic belief that squelches alternative views. If Buckley understood science as well as he has mastered the English language, he would realize that the dogmatic appearance of evolutionary biology is an illusion. Good science does not persist because its adherents blindly follow along. Evolution appears dogmatic simply because it has defeated any and all challenges that science has thrown at it. Buckley buys into the aged intelligent design argument and fails to realize that there is nothing really new nor nothing really scientific about intelligent design. Don't believe me? Read the article, there is no scientific argument made. He holds forth Phillip Johnson as his casus belli in support of the ID argument.
Those who claim that Intelligent Design is not part of a conservative political and theocratic movement might want to consider just who exactly are advocating for their position. Buckley is a religious political conservative who apparently does not understand the scientific arguments underlying evolutionary biology, but knows quite well how to politically support the movement.
Sadly, many ill-informed Americans will buy into the eloquent verbiage of William Buckley and think that science is about stifling any competitors.


Joe Meert

Friday, February 16, 2007

Washington DC

I was traveling today to Washington, DC to attend a proposal review panel. These meetings bring together a number of diverse scientists to review and critique research proposals submitted for possible funding. When writing a proposal, the goal is to outline in detail the scientific plan of the proposal, the problems that will be addressed in the proposal and the expected outcomes of that research. The sums of money (especially taxpayer money) are low relative to the overall budget of the US, but still not exactly chump change. So, I think each of the panel members involved take a responsibility to make sure that projects that are funded are good scientific investments. There will be a lot of back and forth and some debate about each proposal and hopefully we will be able to produce a ranking based on merit and potential for success. Ultimately, when the projects are awarded, it is up to the investigator to make wise use of the funding and to publish the research results in normal scientific venues. In brief, that’s how the system works and yet some good projects may not be funded whilst some projects will be funded that won’t live up to the hype.
Why bring this up? Well, I was reviewing the web pages of Answers in Genesis and he Institute of Creation Research. For example, the RATE Group is asking for love donations to support nonsensical 'research'. The good news is that it's simply a case of a fool and his money being quickly parted. Whereas many real scientists must rely on their ingenuity and scientific instincts to garner research funds, creationists merely have to tug at the heart of the gullible. Furthermore, what exactly is the purpose of doing 'creation research'? The answer is known so the research is simply about providing scientific confirmation of their religious beliefs. I actually spent some time reviewing the original RATE proposal for scientific content. You can read my comments by following this link.


Joe Meert

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How to Debate a Creationist

This photo is so cool (creationist Steve Austin on the left) and who is featured in the background?

I received a letter from a colleague yesterday. Apparently a group of creationists are coming to his campus to talk about the age of the earth from a creationist perspective. He wanted me to offer some suggestions for how to question them on their work. The creationists are going to talk about their 'research' on geochronology and how it demonstrates an old earth. Challenging creationists on their turf is not a simple thing to do. Here was my reply to his query "What questions should I ask regarding their work?":

That's a tough call. Here's why I think it's a losing proposition:

(1) They have all the time to 'answer' any question you give them.
(2) The 'Dr.s' are bringing 'gods message' to 'gods people'. How
can you hope to best god?
(3) Any question you ask has to be simpler than their answer in
order to work. You have to think of a question that can make a
simple point that will be hard for them to give an equally simple
answer to.

I have some of those questions in mind, but I want to check out
a couple of things to make sure that in phrasing the question
properly, the audience can say "Wow, what about that?" and
leave the hosts talking in an overly technical language to answer
it. The problem, even there, is that they have the last word and
they have the audience on their side. I would suggest simply not
asking anything at the church meetings, but you should
definitely go and then write a letter to the student and local
newspaper on their claims. It's always better to have a written,
rather than, verbal exchange with these people on their stage.
The University audience will also probably be loaded with their
followers so you have to tread carefully there as well. I wish
that it was possible to just stand up and say "Folks, what you
just heard is the biggest load of bullshit I've ever witnessed and
to think they are doing it in the name of your God should be
considered blasphemous". That, of course, does not go over too
well--even if it is accurate!.

Here's what I think can potentially make them a bit uncomfortable (though it won't sway many in the audience). The creationists presenting this particular seminar have all published in the secular literature. That's important because I think it's possible to bring up a series of questions along the lines of "What do you really believe". For example, I described this old earth/young earth dichotomy in the case of Dr. Ross and Dr. John Baumgardner. I think it's fair to bring up examples like Baumgardner, Ross, Snelling and John Woodmorappe (aka Jan Peczkis) and ask the question:

"Why do you write old-earth evolution articles when it appears from your talk today that you don't believe a word of it? Is it opportunism to pad your resume, a case of cognitive dissonance, flat out scientific dishonesty or is young earth creationism simply a way to make a buck? "

It's a harsh question, but also it's also a question that must be answered without using a lot of technical sounding mumbo-jumbo. I'd also encourage anyone who does ask this question to be prepared with quotes from their articles in case they try to slink away from it. More than likely they will give the cognitive dissonant response (see what Dr. Ross had to say about his dissertation), but it might get some members of the audience curious about just what the heck is going on.

Lastly, the only way to really debate a creationist is to ask that the debate be in written form (where both parties have equal input into the format). The alternative is a strictly time-controlled forum wherein the moderator can cut the speaker off if they stray from the question. Neither option is favored by young earth creationists. I asked Kent Hovind to agree to the time format and he refused. Walt Brown insists that any written debate is his way or the highway. So, the best advice that I can give to anyone wanting to challenge them is to stay away from formats where you will not get ample time for discussion and ask them questions about the scientific integrity that they lack.


Joe Meert

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Good News for Kansas and America

Yesterday, the new Kansas board of Education overturned the pro-ID/creationism science standards and brought them more into line with 21st Century science. That's obviously good news, but remember this is an ongoing soap opera in Kansas. Kansans seem to have a short memory and this decision yo-yo's the standards back towards good science. We'll have to see if in the next two-year cycle, Kansans forget and elect another slate of conservative fundamentalists hell-bent on ruining science education by implementing religious dogma into the curriculum. The track record suggests that is not an unlikely event (this marks the 4th change in the last 8 years!).
This has to be viewed as another slam in the face to the ID crowd. They've met with defeat at nearly every political turn and run the risk of becoming a marginalized political action group. They certainly have not accomplished anything in the way of science, but that was just a guise to forward a political agenda that is having about as much success as the Detroit Lions or Oakland Raiders in the past year (which for the non-football educated is slim to none). However, a good theocrat never truly goes away and I'm sure that Dembski and the ID bandwagon is working hard to pretend this is no big thing. They can rationalize this any way they want, but it's not good news. Fortunately for the ID/creation folk, many Americans pay little attention to the science standards and even more have a short memory. That's why the ancient religion of Intelligent Design looks so new to many.
Good science standards are crucial to maintaining a technologically and scientifically literate society. The theocratic society envisioned by the creationist/ID'ers will accomplish nothing other than to begin a new dark age in America.
So, hats off to Kansas but the ID/creation folks won't go away so easily---so stay on your toes. Don't believe me:

“This issue is never going to go away,” said John Calvert, director of the Intelligent Design Network and a Lake Quivira resident. “You can’t keep science in a box.”
I think he's got the quote backwards. ID/creationism is trying to keep science in a box. The new standards bring science back out in the open where it belongs!


Joe Meert

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Two Faces of Dr. Ross

Young Earth Creationist?
Old Earth Evolutionist?

In yesterday's New York Times, there was an article about a recent creationist paleontologist. I'm kind of late to blog on this subject since it's been on many other discussion boards. However, I wanted to make sure I thought through my opinion more carefully. So here is the story, creationist Marcus Ross existed in a world of cognitive dissonance in order to obtain a Ph.D. in geology. He apparently is well aware of his own disease noting

For him, Dr. Ross said, the methods and theories of paleontology are one “paradigm” for studying the past, and Scripture is another. In the paleontological paradigm, he said, the dates in his dissertation are entirely appropriate. The fact that as a young earth creationist he has a different view just means, he said, “that I am separating the different paradigms.”

There are many concerns here. The first is whether or not such a student should be awarded a Ph.D. because of his religious views. The second is the integrity of his science. The third is whether or not he wanted to obtain his Ph.D. from a secular school under a well-known advisor in order to legitimize his young earth science. Here are my answers:

(1) Religious views should not be held against the student and especially one who completes the coursework required for the degree. Apparently Ross has completed the coursework and written the requisite papers necessary for the degree. Therefore, from a minimalist perspective he should have the degree.

Now, here's where I am troubled by this. First, most professionals will not place their name on a paper where the conclusions are so antithetical to their own viewpoint. To write a paper where millions of years of evolution are used when that position is complete anathema to your scientific viewpoint smacks of opportunism. Furthermore, it is apparent from the literature that Ross had no trouble talking out of both sides of his mouth. He has several abstracts in the literature on YEC'ism and Intelligent Design. He co-authored a paper with Discovery's Paul Nelson on the problems with the Cambrian Explosion, but which hides behind evolutionary verbiage. Here is the abstract:

Various attempts have been made to quantify the increase in biological complexity exhibited by metazoans across the Neoproterozoic-Cambrian boundary. These include such metrics as genome size, cell type (Valentine et al. 1994), and a variety of complexity measures (e.g., McShea 1996). Here we develop a measure of ontogenetic depth--i.e., the distance, in terms of cell division and differentiation, between a unicellular condition and a macroscopic adult metazoan capable of reproduction (generation of gametes). We then apply this metric to the radiative events which occurred during the Cambrian Explosion, and assess the evolutionary mechanisms that may explain the increases in ontogenetic depth at the origin of the phyla.

ref:Ontogenetic depth as a complexity metric for the Cambrian explosion
Ross, Marcus R; Nelson, Paul A South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, Rapid City, SD, United States (USA) Discovery Institute, United States (USA)Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, vol.34, no.6, pp.427, Oct 2002.

He has authored other papers (according to Georef) here is his publication list:

Trans-Atlantic correlations of Upper Cretaceous marine sediments; the Mid-Atlantic (USA) and Maastricht (Netherlands) regions Ross, Marcus R; Fastovsky, David E
Northeastern Geology and Environmental Sciences, vol.28, no.1, pp.34-44, Mar 2006.

Stratigraphy and analytic paleontology of the lower Pierre Shale at Brown Ranch, southwestern South Dakota Ross, Marcus R. Proceedings of the South Dakota Academy of Science, vol.83, pp.163-181, 2004.

Quantitative approaches to Late Cretaceous shallow-marine and shelf stratigraphy of marine vertebrates Ross, Marcus; Fastovsky, David
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, vol.24, no.3, Suppl., pp.105, 10 Sep 2004.

Intelligent design and young-Earth creationism; investigating nested hierarchies of philosophy and belief Ross, Marcus R. Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, vol.35, no.6, pp.609, Nov 2003.

Chondrichthyan and reptilian fossils from the Upper Cretaceous Peedee Formation at Elizabethtown, southeastern North Carolina, and comparison to New Jersey faunas
Ross, Marcus R; Cuffey, Roger J Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America, vol.35, no.1, pp.66, Mar 2003.

It's not particularly impressive, but he may have several other papers in the pipeline. None of the articles are easily accessible as they are special issues or members only type documents, but it's clear enough that they are old earth articles written by a young earth creationist. So, in terms of answering the question "Did he do good science", I would answer "It looks like he did ok science". His advisor is top-notch and if his advisor claims that he did a good job, then I accept that as a valid answer. However, he did a good job by abandoning the core principles of his faith and his true 'creation-science' viewpoint. Cognitive dissonance positively bleeds out of this man.

Lastly, did he 'use' Rhode Island to give his degree legitimacy? The Institute for Creation Research has a graduate program in Geology. They offer a Ph.D. and Ross could have attended that school, written a dissertation in concert with his worldview and his twisted version of science and then trotted off to Liberty University or other young earth creation hotbed. It would seem to me the most logical thing to do. Instead, he chose a famous advisor and earned a respected degree. We'll have to see how often he is trotted forward as a Ph.D. from a secular university in an effort to legitimize his creationist work. From his new home at Liberty University he writes in his bio:

Marcus Ross has loved paleontology (especially dinosaurs) since he was a kid growing up in Rhode Island. He has continued pursuing this passion, currently researching about a group of extinct marine reptiles called mosasaurs. He is greatly interested in issues surrounding the creation-evolution controversy and the intersection of geology with the Biblical events of creation and Noah's Flood. He and his wife Corinna live in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Hey Dr. Ross, there was no global flood of Noah and if you had really paid attention in your classes and in the field, you would have noticed this.


Joe Meert

PS: I found some other publications of Dr. Ross and thought I should include them for completeness sake:

Title: Problems with characterizing the protostome-deuterostome ancestor.
Author(s): Nelson PA, Ross MR
Source: DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY 271 (2): 601-601 254 JUL 15 2004

Nelson PA, Ross MR
Understanding the Cambrian explosion by estimating ontogenetic depth.

Interestingly, the DISCO Institute has a discussion with Paul Nelson on this subject:

This ISCID informal discussion material represents work in progress that I am undertaking in collaboration with Marcus Ross, a paleontology graduate student in the Department of Geosciences, University of Rhode Island (317 Woodward Hall, 9 East Alumni Avenue, Kingston, RI, 02881-2019; E-mail: mros1106@postoffice.uri.edu)

An interesting blog on this idea can be found at Panda's Thumb

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy Darwin Day

Of course today has been designated "Darwin Day". While Darwin's "dangerous idea" had a profound impact on biology, it has also affected the geological sciences in a poignant way. At the time Darwin wrote his book, the age of the earth was being worked out by prominent scientists such as Joly and Kelvin. Darwin's idea made a specific prediction about the age of the earth--- namely that it had to be quite old if the diversity of life such as he knew it formed from the first organisms to emerge from that 'warm little pond'. While Kelvin's calculations held sway within the geologic community for some time in the late 1800's, Darwin's estimate for a much older earth was vindicated through the discovery of radioactive decay. It was not until ~100 years following the "origin of the Species" initial publication that the current age of the Earth was worked out to be ~4.5 billion years (for a nice read about the efforts of Arthur Holmes and colleagues to come up with this age, I suggest Cherry Lewis' book "The Dating Game".
The fossil record was tagged by Darwin for its importance in solving the history of life on earth and offers a wonderful confirmation of his theory of natural selection and biological change. Darwin also made contributions to geology such as the formation of atolls.
Darwin's ideas about how species vary from place to place was instrumental in providing evidence for continental drift. Work on the fossil record provided extraordinary evidence for faunal provinciality and for the motions of the continents.
Darwin can also be credited (at least partially) for the involvement of geology in solving 'problems' such as the Cambrian explosion (Darwins dilemma). His notion of life forming in a 'warm little pond' has driven many geobiologists and geologists to spend time on ancient outcrops looking for the oldest forms of life and thinking about the chemistry and environment that resulted in the very first replicators.
My own research on the motion of continents through time touches on Darwins dilemma because we can provide the paleogeographic setting for the expansion of Cambrian lifeforms and help to establish the timeline and tempo of evolutionary events.

Darwin's work has influenced a great deal of scientific thought and I think it's entirely appropos that we celebrate those contributions.


Joe Meert

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Evolution Sunday

I am going to talk at one of our local churches on Science and Religion today. I'll report back here a bit later in the day. The message to be featured in the bulletin is located here.

Well, I have to say that the experience was enjoyable. The group I spoke to was from a Lutheran church and I must say that they started with many of the typical misconceptions about science in general and evolution in particular. The big difference is that the group was interested in learning more about the issue. I guess the biggest surprise was how few knew about recent cases in Dover and Kansas despite the 'press' it received among those of us who follow these things. Most were sympathetic to the idea of Intelligent Design until I was able to explain how vacuous it is as a scientific endeavor. The lack of any real science to the Intelligent Design movement and their link to extreme fundamentalism is really going to continue to be a problem for their theocratic agenda. I encouraged them to read (back to back) Francis Collin's book and "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Both authors approach the idea of intelligent design from different perspectives. Dawkins is an avowed atheist and Collins a devout Christian. I think both authors are a worthwhile read no matter what your stance on religion.
There were the usual statements of disbelief such as "I can't believe we came from monkeys" or "I watch a sunset and sunrise on a perfect day and can't believe our place on earth is an accident". However, neither one of those individuals seemed particularly dogmatic about their views and when confronted with Collins' testimony on shared similarities between humans and primates, I could sense that the objections were not as strong.
We touched on the flood of Noah and I mentioned its similarity to the story found in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. At this point the pastor stepped in and also discussed the probability that Hebrews borrowed myths and legends from other cultures in the same way that we still do to this day (Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy etc). We then discussed human evolution and one person demanded to see the bones of the first human. That comment led to an interesting discussion on how evolution acts (on populations rather than individuals) and the meaning of the words "Adam and Eve". Again, the pastor stepped in and noted that Adam and Eve were not individuals, but representative of the first human populations on earth. I think that most of the people were interested in hearing this view on the origins of humans both from me and from the biblical viewpoint.
In the end, I don't know how much good (or bad) I did. I do know that this audience was interested in learning and not demanding. For my part, I tried to lead a discussion and interject with scientific knowledge when needed. I had a good time and hope to continue discussing these issues with this group or any others.


Joe Meert

Saturday, February 10, 2007


We hear a lot about the radical islamo-fascists, but rarely do we hear the Christian side of the same story. There is an article on the movement in the US that speaks of the Christo-fascist youth movement in the US. What's interesting about this article is that I saw it on the same day that I was reading Dawkins "God Delusion". In the part of the book I was reading, Dawkins was talking about the parental influence on the beliefs of children. While I don't necessarily think that parental influence is bad nor do I believe that children should be shielded from religion until they are older, this article describes some positively scary indoctrination. For example:

Recently, I viewed a chilling documentary "Jesus Camp", which examines "the evangelical belief that a revival is underway in America that requires Christian youth to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their religious movement." The film follows a group of evangelical kids who attend a summer camp where they are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God's army. Under the leadership of control-freak youth pastor, Becky Fischer, who makes Nurse Ratchet in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" look likeSnow White , the children are told that theirs is a unique generation - perhaps the last on earth before the return of Christ to rapture his church, and that just as Musilm children learn at an early age to carry and use automatic weapons so that they can die for Islam, Christian kids must learn to fight in the Jesus army in order to save souls and take back America for God - and be willing to die for Jesus.

This smacks of Mao's youth movement and the marxist-leninist approach to communism. Hitler knew all to well that getting the youth of Germany behind him assured him of a blind following. Compare the following statements made by Chairman Mao:

How should we judge whether a youth is a revolutionary? How can we tell? There can only be one criterion, namely, whether or not he is willing to integrate himself with the broad masses of workers and peasants and does so in practice. If he is willing to do so and actually does so, he is a revolutionary; otherwise he is a nonrevolutionary or a counter-revolutionary. If today he integrates himself with the masses of workers and peasants, then today he is a revolutionary; if tomorrow he ceases to do so or turns round to oppress the common people, then he becomes a nonrevolutionary or a counter revolutionary.

The Hitler Jugend were an important part of Nazi politics and this is Hitler's philosophy on youth in Nazi Germany:

Physical fitness, according to Hitler, was much more important for his young people than memorizing "dead facts" in the classroom. In his book Mein Kampf, he stated that "...a less well-educated, but physically healthy individual with a sound, firm character, full of determination and willpower, is more valuable to the Volkish community than an intellectual weakling."

School schedules were adjusted to allow for at least one hour of of physical training in the morning and one hour each evening. Prior to this, only two hours per week had been set aside. Hitler also encouraged young boys to take up boxing to heighten their agressiveness.

Hitler believed tough physical training would instill confidence and that "...this self-confidence must be instilled from childhood into every German. His entire education and training must be designed to convince him of his absolute superiority over others." He viewed education as a means of raising nationalist enthusiasm in German boys while teaching them to be ready to sacrifice themselves for the Fatherland. Special assemblies were often held in school halls featuring themes of heroism and readiness to die for "the cause."

Sound familiar? In fact, the radical islamic movement focuses on youth because they are more easily trained in the movement and follow orders blindly. Christo-fascism is as real and as dangerous as any other radical religious movement and it is important to keep tabs on young earth creationist and intelligent design movements as they are becoming populated with Christo-Jugend.

and an interesting video


Joe Meert

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Stupidest Claim of Yec'ism is....

Well, the simple answer is their claim that the earth is young. Yes, it's a bit boring I know, but it really is the stupidest claim that young earth creationists make. The scientific evidence favoring an earth older than 6000 years is overwhelming and makes any counterclaim appear exceedingly silly. The only real reason for having a young earth is so that evolution does not have time to take place and that means humans are somehow special. In fact, the only evidence for a young earth is a literal reading of Genesis and the assumption that the post-Adamite generations are a true history of all humankind. There is no independent corroborating evidence to support this claim. Just about ll the idiocies mentioned in previous posts flow directly from the assertion that the earth is young.
I think it's also interesting that, despite howling protests from the Intelligent Design camp, the goal is the same as young earth creationists. All their pleading about bacterial flagella are not really about elevating bacteria to a special place, but about using the same illogical arguments to support the claim that humakind could only have gotten here via special creation. ID'ers try to distance themselves from questions regarding the age of the earth because it is politically expedient to avoid discussing that issue. What is truly amazing about ID-creationism is that in attempting to get theocracy established via a back door, they are forced to abandon their belief in the very document that fueled their efforts (and yes, I know they've co-opted a few token non-Christians into the effort).


Joe Meert

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Runner-up idiotic creationist claim

Well, I had to think long and hard to come up with the last two creationist stupid ideas. There have been some strong candidates (dinosaurs swimming in the flood--see comments to yesterday's post). I was looking for the really insane ideas and I hope creationists everywhere will forgive me if I failed to mention your favorite creationist stupid idea. Here are two that make me laugh every single time I hear/read them.

1. Out of place human artifacts- These cross the line from people writing about 'the mysterious origins of man' to creationists intent on demonstrating that rocks are not as old as we think. My personal favorite was the 'reel in the rock'. Apologetics Press apparently was shown this anomalous fishing reel embedded in 300+ million year old phyllite and 'discovered' in Tennessee. As apologetics press noted, there is no way that the phyllite could be millions of years old if a 100 year old fishing reel is embedded in the rock. They did not bother to think to much as to how a reel got into a metamorphic rock! Here is what apologetics press had to say about it

For those who would evaluate such evidence with an open mind, here are the facts. It was 1897 when William Shakespeare Jr. patented the first fishing reel. That, by definition, would limit the age of this reel to roughly 100 years. Yet this rock, which weighs close to 20 pounds, is considered by evolutionary timescales to be roughly 300 million years old. Ann Holmes, of the geology department at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, stated: "It's called phyllite. It's a metamorphic rock from the Appalachians, the Brevard Zone that was formed probably when Africa and America collided about 300 million years ago" (as quoted in Simms, 2003). Mr. Jones recalled that the geologists appeared very familiar with this type of rock, and he remembered being told that the rock came from the period when the continents divided. He said they informed him that the only two places where this type of rock is found is in the Appalachians and Africa. The obvious question then is: What is a 300 million-year-old rock-which is supposed to have broken off when America separated from Africa-doing in the Tellico River with a fishing reel embedded in it?

The answer? Well, it's a fake as are many of the so-called problematic artifacts (jewelry in coals, fingers fossilized etc). To be fair to apologetics press, I e-mailed them in regard to this find and also asked to look at the reel in the rock myself. They withdrew the article shortly thereafter and now it's hard to find a good image of this on the web. So here is my letter to Brad Harrub of AP:

Dear Brad,

I tried contacting you last week via the website e-mail system on your site but did not receive a response. This was disappointing because I happened to be on a field trip in Tennessee and the Tellico area. I was hoping to get a look at the reel in the rock that is touted on your website as evidence for a young earth and problematic for geologists. While I did not get to look at the reel, I was able to look at the rock type in which the reel appears to be embedded. I would like to demonstrate why the reel is not good evidence for a young earth and also to correct some scientific misinformation in your article. To be fair, I think most of these mistakes were simply the result of poor recollection on the part of the finder of the reel rather than deliberate attempts to mislead. Nevertheless, I think it is important to correct these errors of fact as side notes to your article. Let me start with the corrections and then explain why I think the reel is more of a curiosity than a scientific enigma.

(1) The collector stated that he recalled that they informed him that the only two places where this type of rock is found is in the Appalachians and Africa. This is incorrect. Phyllite is a common type of metamorphic rock found on every continent.
(2) Mr. Jones recalled that the geologists appeared very familiar with this type of rock, and he remembered being told that the rock came from the period when the continents divided. The rock formed as a result of continental collision according to evolutionary geology.

Now, here's the major problem with your story and I trust that you will do the right thing and withdraw the claim. Phyllite is a metamorphic rock and the minerals in the rock indicate (through non-controversial physics and chemistry) that the rock could have only formed under conditions where the temperatures were above 300 C and pressures were above 3-5 kbars (roughly 9-15 kilometers depth). These mineral reactions have been demonstrated in the laboratory and it is well known that the rock known as phyllite starts out as a mudstone and as it is progressively heated and buried it becomes a slate and then a phyllite. So if the reel had been embedded in the rock when it formed, then the reel would have been buried and heated causing it to be flattened as are many of the micaceous minerals in the rock. Imagine how the reel might look if it was run over by a dump truck full of granite. Yet the reel shows no deformation and no indication that it was part of the rock during the metamorphic cycle. Since I have not been able to study the rock in detail, I can only conclude that the reel became embedded in the rock after the metamorphism perhaps due to chemical reactions between dissolved minerals in the water as it sat there for many years. The alternative is that the reel was placed in the rock by someone as a practical joke. Again, this could only be verified through examination of the reel and the rock. However, it is clear from the simple physics and chemistry involved in the formation of the phyllite that it was not formed at the same time as the rock. Now, you may still assert that the earth is very young and that modern geology has the age of the earth all wrong, but this finding does nothing to help your case. I think we should be honest and forthright in the evidence we present to others. At the very least, I would hope you would be willing to publish my response to the article in question.

In writing this blog, I tried to find a good picture, but they've vanished from the web. Here's a very poor photo of the RIR:

It's late and I want to do my last 'stupid creation claim' justice so I'll put it on here sometime tommorrow.


Joe Meert

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ten stupid creationist ideas

I've heard a lot of young earth creationist ideas in my life and so compiling the top 10 most idiotic claims/research by the YEC crowd is not easy. So here they are (in no real particular order)

1. Catastrophic plate tectonics- John Baumgardner, an otherwise decent geodynamicist, has proposed a jelly-like mantle during the flood. In this scenario, continents are zooming around like jet-airplanes while the mantle releases tremendous amounts of heat in a global flood. The story of Noah fails, of course, to mention any of this and also to avoid the obvious buoyancy issues of underwater volcanic eruptions with large gas emissions. Noah, in his floating structure never even noticed any of this! So desperate are the creationists to explain all of geology in a flood framework that they've abandoned all reason.

2. Noah's Ark- It's not so much a claim as it is a blind following of a borrowed myth (from the Sumers) about a man building a boat because his god is pretty pissed off. The obvious problems of 8 people caring for all of the created kinds on the boat (food, water, excrement) are all hidden away in some dark 'feasibility analysis' by evolutionist cum creationist Jan Peczkis (aka John Woodmorappe). Woody claims that each of the 16,000 animals on the ark require only 7.2 seconds to care for (that's shoveling a lot of ---- literally and figuratively) John's wonderful statistical analysis manages to convince the brethren that the median size animal on the ark is a rat in order to solve the space problem. Woodmorappe probably borrowed the statistical analysis from his 1995 evolutionary article in the Journal of Vertebrate Palentology (written under his real name Jan Peczkis). There is so much wrong with this story that the mind boggles that anyone would try to show its feasibility.

3. Baraminology- This half-hearted attempt by creationists to develop a Linnean classification scheme for 'created' (bara) 'kinds' (min) was used to make young earth creation sound more scientific. In reality, this is a way in which they can place humans in a distinct classification in order to make them special (the apobaramins).

4. Vegetarian Carnivores- Yes, Virginia, t-rex was a vegetarian along with all the other meat-eaters! Here's what Mark Looy had to say about the T-rex:
"We call him our 'missionary lizard,' " Looy says. "When people realize the T. rex lived in Eden, it will lead us to a discussion of the gospel. The T. rex once was a vegetarian, too."

The Original "Salad Shooter"?

5. Rapid Radioactive Decay: In order to rescue a young earth something had to be done with radioactive decay. The obvious choice is to make radioactive decay not constant! So, the RATE group has worked hard to show that decay rates are not constant and may have been faster in the past. No one seems to wonder that if decay rates can change to be faster, they may also have been slower in the past. Rapid radioactive decay also presents a heat problem. Interestingly, a creationist by the name of Robert Gentry claims that decay rates are constant and therefore the short half-life of Polonium shows that some rocks were created instantaneously!

6. Wedge Plan: Often dubbed 'creationists trojan horse' or 'creationism lite', Intelligent Design is an attempt by creationists to establish a theocracy in America via scientific sounding publications. The Wedge Document, originally a private communique between the ID groups main politicians was leaked onto the web back in the 1990's. The ID folk have since tried to play down its importance, but the poor handling of this document (and the fact that they wrote it at all) has got to be one of the stupidest things the intelligent design creationists have ever done.

7. Evolution is the root of all evil: This argument has various permutations within the creationist community. Creationist Carl Wieland gives us the 'mild connection' argument in the following quote:

Creationists are often accused of making a false connection between evolution and the various social evils of our modern world.

The charge is that we are claiming evolution causes immoral behaviour, holocausts, and the like. Is this AiG’s stance? Do we think evolution causes such things? Not directly; sin is of course responsible. But evolutionary thought permeating a culture will inevitably lead to a magnification of the effects of sin in one form or another. For one thing, it weakens the shared cultural restraints that arise out of a commonly adhered-to basis for morality.

Invariably, this argument always leads to discussions about Hitler, Stalin or any other megalomaniac. Evolution is always blamed for the evil perpetrated by these individuals. The argument is so nonsensical that I always make the point that when creationists trot out this canard, they have already lost the argument.

8. Evolution leads to Atheism: This one is so silly, but the idea is deeply embedded in the creationist mind. The minute someone begins to discuss evolution in a positive way, the creationist will assume (more often than not) that the evolutionist is an atheist. The plot is all to familiar. The creationists with some knowledge of creation literature will try to argue the problems with evolution and those with no knowledge will simply offer to pray for you and tell you about hell.

Ok, so far these are all very common and very stupid ideas proposed by creationists. We've all heard them before and often groan when we hear or read them. Tommorrow, I'm going to give 2 more really stupid ideas that may be less familiar to those who only occasionally meet up with creationists.


Joe Meert

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Update from Bunk 3

Well, we finally hear from Kent Hovind following his conviction on tax-related charges January 19th. Obviously the first couple of weeks in prison have not swayed Kent's own self serving view of his case. He still claims innocence and persecution stating:

The last six months of my life have been both a challenge and a blessing at the same time. July 13, 2006, the day before my thirty-third anniversary, my wife and I were arrested without notice or warning that the IRS thought we were doing something unlawful. We were shocked to say the least—and even more shocked when the jury found us guilty.

Why he was shocked (especially after listening to his recorded jail tapes) boggles the mind, but there he is still feigning ignorance about what put him there. I suppose that the first reaction to a long prison sentence would be denial, so I guess that's no surprise. Reading through the comments on Hovinds blog makes understanding Jonestown, David Koresh and Heaven's Gate a little easier.
On to other stuff. Islamic creationists are not far behind the fundamentalist Christian creationists. The National Center for Science Education reports...

Tens of thousands of copies of The Atlas of Creation, by the Turkish creationist known as Harun Yahya, were recently sent to French schools, colleges, and universities, according to Le Figaro (February 2, 2007). The newspaper reported that the "richly illustrated" 770-page book purports to show "the secret links between Darwinism and bloody ideologies like fascism and communism." It also contains a photograph of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, with a "stupefying legend" blaming terrorism on "Darwinism" and calling it the "only ideology that valorizes, and therefore encourages, conflict."

to continue reading...

I've never been able to grasp why people are so afraid of being one of many evolved species. We are special enough in that we evolved to a point where we can think about these things. We are special enough in that we have learned to harness and use the natural resources on earth. We are special enough to develop the technologies that allow the sharing of good information in a split second. Unfortunately we are also capable of shoveling craploads of misinformation like creationism/intelligent design in a flash. If evolution is responsible for evil, then it must also be responsible for good, love, inspiration, creativity, intelligence and, I suppose breaktaking inanity.
Finally, in the 'oh shit what just happened' department, we are in the process of running some zircons for U-Pb dating on Cambrian sediments in western India. The sediments lie on top of a rather large 770 Ma (million years ago) granite-rhyolite province called the Malani Igneous province. Zircons are ubiquitous in granites and rhyolites so we expected to see many, many zircons of 770-750 Ma (the age of the granites and rhyolites). Instead, we see an overwhelming abundance of ~850 Ma zircons and there is no nearby source (at least in present-day India). So now we are searching for the source of these zircons. Science, unlike dogmatic fundamentalism is full of surprises.


Joe Meert

PS: Just saw this 'spoof' on the Bush Commemorative coin

Monday, February 05, 2007

An Update on the Forest Fires at Ghost Ranch

(Ghost Ranch, New Mexico: The find was located in the center valley between the two peaks shown here)

I've been meaning to do this for a while now. Back in May, I posted a brief description of a find we made while in New Mexico. At the time, I did not have photos to post along with the description. So, here's a brief re-cap and a few photos of the region.

Young earth creationists are very fond of the flood story of Noah. They are; however, loathe to fully describe the strata that were laid down, pre, post and syn flood. There is a reason that they shy away from describing the flood strata. If they point vaguely at some rocks and say 'fossils in the rocks are of animals killed in the flood' then everything sounds good to their followers. If they actually pinpoint the strata, they run into serious problems. Paleosols, ubiquitous in the geologic record, are killers for any global flood scenario. Here I describe another serious problem for lovers of the Noah legend.

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico contains geologic strata dating to the Triassic-Cretaceous. Within the lower part of the section is the Triassic-age Chinle Formation. The Chinle is the same formation that makes up Petrified Forest National Park. Within the Chinle beds at Ghost Ranch you can find petrified wood with some ease. What makes the petrified wood at Ghost Ranch somewhat unique is the physical state of the petrified wood. The other thing that makes Ghost Ranch particularly interesting is the rich early dinosaur (and other raptor) fossils such as Coelophysis.

Coelophysis (Triassic)

One of the peculiarities of the fossil site is the fact that many raptors are found in one location and paleontologists have been wondering why this might be the case. Here is one explanation given about the Snyder Quarry at Ghost Ranch:

A bone bed in the Late Triassic Painted Desert Member of the Petrified Forest Formation that contains a diverse group of land and water-based animals, aquatic invertebrates, and abundant charcoal was found by Mark Snyder in 1998 (Heckert and Zeigler, 2003). Phytosaurs, two genera of aetosaur, a rauisuchian, an amphibian, an Eucoelophysis, and thousands of fish scales have been recovered from the quarry (Zeigler, 2005; Zeigler et al., 2005). Phytosaurs, a common fossil found at Ghost Ranch, were crocodile-like, scale-covered, reptiles up to 20 feet long that lived in rivers and lakes. Phytosaurs had a long, narrow head with nostrils just in front of the eyes. Aetosaurs, another common Ghost Ranch fossil, were 10-foot-long, armored reptiles with a crocodile-like body and a pig-like snout that also liked to live near water. The bonebed is in a 1 foot thick conglomerate containing mudstone rip-up clasts. The bones and wood are aligned, but not abraded, so transport in flowing water was minimal (Zeigler, 2005; Zeigler et al., 2005). The skeletons are mostly disarticulated, but there are no signs of scavenging or weathering, so burial occurred shortly after death. The ten phytosaur skulls found at Snyder quarry range fro 1 foot to 3 feet in length, indicating that juvenile to adults were present in the assemblage; young adult were the most common. Zeigler (2005) has proposed that the animals were killed by a wildfire through a combination of asphyxiation and high temperature, that the decaying carcasses were not at the surface very long, and that the animals were buried during the rapid sedimentation that often occurs after a wildfire.

If there was a wildfire, then there should be some evidence for such a wildfire. While poking around the site (my students were off mapping the strata), I found some pieces of petrified wood that showed clear evidence of having been burned. So, here is a photo of one of the pieces that I found:
Petrified Forest Fire in the Triassic (US quarter for scale at the far left of photo).

I should also note that these pieces are extremely fragile, the piece shown in this picture started falling apart almost as soon as I picked it up. If it had been floating around during a global flood, it most certainly would have been destroyed (not to mention the fact that it was found near many similar pieces). So, I would love to hear a creationist explain the formation of a forest fire during the global flood of Noah.

On another note, Pat Boone continues his ill-informed rant on evolution (including the Lady Hope canard!). Try to read the whole thing with a straight face.


Joe Meert

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