Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stanley Miller dies; Biogenic chemistry lives

The death of chemist Stanley Miller was reported last week, and a number of bloggers commented on his legacy. Miller was an anti-darling of Creationists, owing to his pioneering work (with Harold Urey) on the development of biologically-important molecules from simpler precursors leading to the origin of life. He published the results of his famous experiment in 1953 and Creationists have been denying their validity ever since.

Miller continued his research for decades, but Creationists remain unsatisfied with each new result. I guess that means they will be unfazed by a report in the 11 May 2007 issue of Science, "The Process of Tholin Formation in Titan's Upper Atmosphere." Tholins are hydrocarbon-nitrile aerosols; Titan is the large satellite of Saturn visited by the (unmanned) spacecraft Cassini. The paper discusses evidence for tholin and other complex organic molecule formation in Titan's atmosphere (about 1,000 kilometers up). Here's the line that won't bring a smile to the lips of Creationists:
The chain of molecular growth that we have identified in this study is similar to that first identified in the Miller-Urey experiments.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Creationism museum of deception opens today

Today is the grand opening of Ken Ham's $27 million Creationism Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. There is something quite fitting about the fact that it borrows heavily from Hollywood--animatronic dinosaurs in dioramas alongside of humans--providing an atmosphere of make-believe for those wishing to live in a world of fantasy.

As reported on Public Radio this morning, scientists say all the dinosaurs died out by about 65 million years ago. Not for Ken Ham, however. Ham doesn't let mere science get in the way. After all, he claims, those evil atheist evolutionists are attacking Christianity, so True Christians(TM) must use their heavy artillery, otherwise known as Lying For Jesus. Creationists must not only deny the science of evolution, they must also deny physics, chemistry, geology, as well as most of the rest of biology.

It's a beautiful world portrayed by the Creation Museum. To get there, just close your eyes tightly and repeat, "I wish the world was like this; I wish the world was like this; I wish..."

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Supernatural not religious?

The York Daily Record/Sunday News carried another opinion piece on 20 May 2007 by Richard Cleary, a retired alleged science teacher and devotee of Intelligent Design Creationism. He's still whining about Judge John E. Jones III's decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which ID was dealt a mortal blow. He seems to be conceding that ID is supernatural, but saying that doesn't make it religious. He does not bother to define "supernatural" or "religious" in his piece, but obfuscation and fogginess are stanard operating procedures for Intelligent Design Creationists.

Cleary makes a series of arguments, all erroneous, misleading, or merely straw men. His favorite seems to be that the Intelligent Designer may be supernatural, meaning outside of this universe. He claims that's no more religious than the concept of multiverses, so maybe the Intelligent Designer lives in one of those parallel universes. Codswallop--that's no better than claiming said Designer lives in France. I suppose he would have to suggest there's a different Intelligent Designer in each universe, responsible for designing one of the others. In other words, it's turtles all the way down.

Cleary disingenuously claims
But sometimes we hear that ID is a religious belief because its advocates are frequently Christians. But if the metaphysical commitments of a theory's advocates are all that are necessary to make a theory religious, why is the naturalistic Darwinian view not considered to be an atheistic belief since many of its advocates are certainly atheists? Furthermore, if the naturalistic view is indeed an atheistic hypothesis, why is it permitted to be taught in our schools?

The old "if playing baseball is a sport, not playing baseball is another sport" contention. We teach science in school; evolution is science, a very important science, so we teach evolution. What is so hard to understand here? And what about the fact that many evolution scientists are not atheists?

Further foolishness:

But what is meant by saying that the designer can't be detected? Does it mean that we just can't see the designer and thus have no direct evidence that there is one? Or does it mean that the designer is in principle undetectable?

If it means the former, we should point out that there are dozens of entities scientists postulate which cannot be directly observed - quarks, neutrinos and dark matter, for example - but they can be studied and their existence inferred from their effects.

Likewise, there is abundant evidence of design in our world from which we can infer the existence of a designer. It may be that we can't study the designer directly right now because our technology doesn't allow it, but that doesn't mean that we'll never be able to study it.

How silly! What a child! Of course we study things we cannot see; we have special instruments to detect them and measure their properties. What instruments do we have for detecting Intelligent Design? What do we measure, and in what units? Measuring properties of quarks is not the same as seeing unicorns in the clouds, or concluding that, because humans design and manufacture (oops, sorry, I realize the ID folkses can't deal with the manufacturing aspect) pocket watches and Mini Coopers, anything more complex than a piece of chalk must therefore also be designed. We've seen that Dembski's Explanatory Filter is useless; what, then, Mr. Cleary, is the evidence indicating Design that you claim is so abundant ?

Cleary winds up his opinion with the claim that it is "[o]nly those who don't understand ID or who choose to misrepresent it, two groups which include almost all of its opponents, some of its advocates, and Judge Jones, do that [identify The Designer with God of the Bible]." He needs to listen to his leaders; the grand poobahs of ID have themselves identified The Designer as God and revealed their religious agenda:

Phillip Johnson, who reanimated ID in 1991: “[T]he materialist story thrives only as long as it does not confront the biblical story directly. In a direct conflict, where the public perceives the issues clearly, the biblical story will eventually prevail” [The Wedge of Truth, 1991].

William Dembski wrote in the July/August 1999 Touchstone Magazine: “Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

UPDATE: My letter to the editor responding to Cleary's nonsense was published Saturday, 2 June. Another LTE critical of Cleary's article, was published the day before. That letter concluded, And as long as its proponents base their arguments on biblical references, ID is religious.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A fair question, or not?

Various bloggers have commented on the recent Republican "debate" in which the eleven assembled contenders were asked if they "believed" in evolution, and three--Brownback, senator from Kansas; Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, and Tancredo, congressman from Colorado, indicated they did not. McCain, who was the only individual asked the question, replied that he did, but went on to waffle and try to please both sides.

There was also unfavorable discussion of Kathleen Parker's Washington Post article, which tried to tell the reader the issue was too complex to be meaningful in any way. She said The debate question was fundamentally a setup for ridicule.

I agree with that second point, but I say the ridicule was well-deserved. I disagree with the first point, however.

Yes, the science of evolution is complex, and we can't expect mere politicians to be able to explain it or to explain why Creationism (of the Intelligent Design or any other flavor) is not a valid alternative scientific theory in the brief time allotted in the entertainment piece gratuitously called a debate. However, all of the candidates have had ample time to listen to real scientists and to realize that evolution is considered the bedrock foundation of biology. If they dismiss evolution science in favor of Creationist publicity and eyewash, will they likewise dismiss scientific findings regarding climate change if those finding are inconsistent with their political ideology; will they advocate failed (as determined scientifically) policies regarding sex education in order to pander to their perceived constituency? Will they disregard scientific advice, preferring instead to embrace misinformation and wishful thinking to take America into unnecessary wars?

The question was fair. It gave voters some insight into the likelihood of candidates preferring to operate within a fantasy world, or at least pandering to a constituency that dwells in such a world.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Creationists' obsession with Nazis

Red State Rabble has an excellent post about how the Discovery Institute has failed in its efforts to bring anti-science into the public school science classroom; how the media have become wise to the fact that Creationism (even if it's called "Intelligent Design") is not a valid scientific endeavor, on equal footing with evolution science; and how, in their decline, the Discovery Institute now resorts to merely trying to paint evolution and Charles Darwin with color from the Pot of Evil.

In their contempt for honesty (see, for example, Ed Brayton's discussion of DI fanboy and William Dembski's lickspittle Salvador Cordova at Dispatches from the Culture Wars), the Creationists often link evolution and Charles Darwin with Nazism. RSR mentioned in his post that the topic was raised by a Creationist at a Kansas hearing on proposed new science standards in 2005, and went on to follow the theme as it was repeated recently at Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in speeches given by Discovery Institute Fellow John West. West's speech followed a presentation of dominionist D. James Kennedy's film, Darwin's Deadly Legacy, in which the lie was nurtured further. Finally, RSR takes the Nazism link to Christian Reconstructionist R.J. Rushdooney, founder of the Chalcedon Foundation, and one of its major financial backers, Howard Ahmanson. RSR recommends Chris Hedges' new book, The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism, which draws somewhat different conclusions regarding who has been emulating the tactics of Nazis than these people whould have you believe.

As usual, the real losers in this are the gullible public who believe those who are "lying for Jesus" (as the expression goes). One of those losers is H. Hoover Yount, who, in a letter to the editor of the York Daily Record May 1 said
...all the "offending board members [of the Dover, PA, school board] wanted to do was request that the science teacher tell the class that there was an alternative view of biology to the Darwinian theory, and it was contained in a book titled "Of Pandas and People," and several copies were available in the school library.
Banning books is what the Nazis did. Let's not "ape" them.
This was followed by another letter, by Katie Riley, on May 3. Riley said
With prayer, the Bible, and creation-supporting science removed from government schools, what remains is humanistic indoctrination...

Our government-sanctioned genocide of more than 47 million people towers over Nazi Germany's estimated 21 million.

These two individuals have swallowed the load that evolution=atheism=nazism, because persons claiming to be good Christians told them so.

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