Sunday, September 25, 2016

Going Dark For a Bit

My surgery is 8:00 in the morning and I will be out of commission for at least a few weeks. I will post more when I can.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Scientifice American: "Creationism Invades Europe"

Scientific American is sounding an alarm that creationism is gaining support in Europe. Stefaan Blancke and Peter C. Kjærgaard write:
We are used to thinking about creationism as an exclusively North American phenomenon. It is not. Although it originated in the U.S., organized creationism has gone global. But in Europe creationism does not represent a united community; it varies strongly from one country to the next. In some countries creationism provides an identity to smaller local religious communities, and has little impact. This is the case in Scandinavia. In other places creationism is tied to substantial and well-organized subcultures. We find this in the Netherlands. And in some places creationism exists among religious elites that have considerable political power. Russia is a notable example.

For years, although creationists were growing in number in European countries and gradually developing an influence in schools and local communities, they mostly kept under the radar and were not a major concern. Not until, at least, about a decade ago, when the Council of Europe issued a warning against the growth of creationism and the potential threat to the educational system it posed. At that point, creationism became a matter of public and political debate. Polls were taken all over Europe to determine public opinion. Some online polls were hijacked by creationists in Turkey to alter the outcome. Books, pamphlets and Web sites were launched and circulated. And the media loved it.
While one does tend to think of young earth creationism as a uniquely American phenomenon (after all, it sprang from the Seventh Day Adventists in the early 1900s), it is important to note that the currently reigning king of creatonism, Ken Ham, is Australian by birth and upbringing.

The authors remark that the scientific community got caught flat-footed and now are scrambling to catch up to the wave of web sites, pamphlets, magazines and TV programs that are being sponsored by the young earth creation groups.  This is similar to what happened here in the United States.  It was only dimly understood that creationism was making inroads in society, despite the high-profile cases involving the public schools.  The home school community is almost lock-step creationist, a situation that has caused no small amount of grief in our household.  The post below this one is but one example of this. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Answers in Genesis' Deceptive Video on Radiometric Dating

Answers in Genesis now has a “Check this Out” feature where they tackle a scientific claim which argues for an old earth and try to debunk it.  Recently, much to my dismay, one of the home school teachers sent out a link to one of these videos on radiometric dating.  Aside from the mistakes inherent in the video, itself, it betrays a deep misunderstanding of how science works.  Here is the short video.



We will take this bit by bit.
  • 0:28 – the narrator states that most scientists regard the age of the earth as between 4.55 and 4.6 and then remarks that, if this is so accurate, why the 50 million year discrepancy?  He then states “That seems like a lot.”  50 million divided by 4.55 billion is 1.09%.  That is the standard error. This date range is made up of thousands of individual dates. The speedometer on your car is less accurate than that (standard error of 2.5%).  In fact, in any statistical test a 1% standard error is considered is equivalent to saying that you are 99% confident that the results you have are accurate. 1% is not a lot of anything. Also carefully omitted from the narrative is that these dates are derived from at least five different kinds of radiometric isochron dating: 
    • Lead-Lead isochron
    • Samarium-Neodymium isochron
    • Rubidium-Strontium isochron
    • Rhenium-Osmium isochron and 
    • Argon-Argon isochron.  
All of these dating methods have different decay states, decay rates and half lives and yet all give dates to within 1% error
  • 1:52 – After a reasonably straightforward description of radiometric dating, the narrator then, while admitting that it is true that a decay rate can be measured using “observational science,” it requires “historical science” to tell how old the rock actually is. He states that in order to get accurate measures from rocks, one would have to know both the decay rate and the initial conditions of the rock, otherwise we cannot directly measure the ages of rocks.  He asks “how do we know what the initial conditions were in the rock sample?”  and “How do we know the amounts of parent or daughter elements haven't been altered by other process in the past?” and How does someone know the decay rate has remained constant in the past?"   He then says “They don't.” This is false.
  • Timothy Heaton, Chair of the Department of Earth Sciences & Physics at South Dakota State University writes this about the parent/daughter ratios:
    Isochron dating bypasses the necessity of knowing the quantity of initial daughter product in the rock by not using that value in the computation. Instead of using the initial quantity of daughter isotope, the ratio of daughter isotope compared to another isotope of the same element (which is not the product of any decay process) is used as the comparison for isochron dating. The plot of the ratios of the number of atoms of the parent isotope to the number of atoms in the non-daughter isotope compared to the number of atoms of the daughter isotope to the non-daughter isotope should result in a straight line that intersects the vertical y-axis (which is the ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes). This point of intersection gives the initial ratio of daughter to non-daughter isotopes, which would also be the ratio in a mineral that crystallized without any parent isotope present.
    Here is a web site that shows how this plot works in graphic fashion. The narrator's  hourglass analogy is, therefore, inaccurate.  We don't need to know how much sand was in the hourglass to begin with, nor did we need to observe the process.  The decay rate is well-known and invariate, which leads to his second statement.
  • As far as the variation in decay rates of radiogenic isotopes goes, they have been shown to vary only  0.1% in response to outside influences (here, and here) and have been shown to vary significantly only under extreme laboratory conditions not found on earth.
As noted above, buried deep in this video and others that Answers in Genesis puts out is a particular philosophical bent that sees “observational science” as real science and “historical science” as not. Ken Ham is often quoted as rejecting historical science by rhetorically asking “Were you there?”  In other words, we cannot know historical processes because we did not observe them.  Consequently, when the narrator of this video says “we don't” in answer to how we can know how some of our assumptions about radiometric dating are correct, it is this philosophical bent in action.

Such a perspective is facile, as it completely disregards the fact that we reconstruct past events every day at all levels, from the simple act of encountering a broken glass on the floor with ice and water beside it (someone dropped a glass of water) to complex murder investigations in which no one but the murderer was present.  No one questions the validity of these assumptions and they form the basis for much of what we do in life, including our entire criminal justice system.

Secondary to this notion that we can reconstruct the past is that the processes that occur today also occurred in the past.  If I am digging in a field and encounter, at a depth of three or so feet, a series of horizontal metal beams that are four and a half feet apart with ties in between them, because I know that distance is the standard railway gauge, I can reasonably assume that what I have uncovered is part of an old railway.  Was I there when they built it?  No, but I didn't have to be to have a pretty good idea of what it is.

This is true not just of human constructs but also of natural formations.  Because we have modern floods, hurricanes, meteorite craters and so on, we can identify these formations in the past.

This puts historical science and all of its reconstructive observational power on level footing with observational science.  While Ken Ham and others at Answers in Genesis might say otherwise, it simply is not so.

It is amazing how much damage to scientific and academic integrity one can do in a three-minute video.  Answers in Genesis is, apparently, up to the task.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Creationism Not To Be Taught in Ohio Schools

World Religion News is reporting that the kerfuffle going on regarding the use of the Adnan Oktar (nee Harun Yahya) video on creationism has prompted the CEO of Youngstown, Ohio schools to issue a statement that creationism will not be taught.  Elisa Meyer writes:
The Ohio school curriculum has required that teachers show a creationist video as part of the tenth grade education program. The video, “Cambrian Fossils and The Creation of Species“, depicts the creationist theory of the origin of life.

However, things are going to change across Youngstown schools with the new decision made by Mohip. The CEO said they will follow a curriculum that will be completely in line with the guidelines as laid down by the Education Department of Ohio. Ohio has directed schools and institutions to base their education completely on a scientific approach and to avoid religious and pseudo-scientific beliefs and theories altogether.
World Religion News paints it as an ‘iconic’ victory for atheists, which is fundamentally myopic but indicative of how this disagreement is being framed these days.

A Personal Note: Of Life and Prostates

Funny thing about the prostate gland.  It is absolutely essential for procreation.  Put simply (and I know some people who did not know this), the prostate gland produces semen, without which the sperm would have nothing in which to travel.  Not prostate, no children.  On paper, it is a somewhat elegant solution except for the fact that, as Robin Williams once quipped: “The human body was designed by a civil engineer. Who else would run a toxic waste pipeline through a recreational area?”

The sad fact of the matter is, however, once the children have been conceived and borne, and middle age descends like a ton of bricks, the prostate becomes not just irrelevant, it actually becomes a hindrance  to every-day life.  I have many friends who are dealing with prostate problems of one sort or another.

Where am I going with this?  On September 26, I will have surgery to remove stage three cancer from my prostate.We are told, as men, that if we live long enough, 75% of us will get some form of prostate cancer.  For most men, it strikes late in life, and they typically die from something else.

My cancer is different.  I am only 54.  As I remarked to my fellow church members, this is the Dan Fogelberg, Bill Bixby, Frank Zappa kind of cancer.  It is the kind that kills. For those of you familiar with such things, it has a Gleason score of 7.   Fortunately, for me, all indications are that the cancer has not spread, so this should take care of it.  It will result, nonetheless, in some somewhat unwanted life changes.  Oh well. Can't be helped. 

Long story short: that is why the posting has been somewhat spotty.  I have been trying to get ahead at work and working long hours to that effect.  I have also had one stinkin' medical test after another (some not so fun at all) and am worn out.  I hope to be back in the saddle soon.  My doctor seems confident that I will be back to work in four weeks.  One of the things that complicates things a bit is that I have type 2 diabetes which will prolong the healing process.  As soon as I am able, I will begin posting again. 

Please forgive the personal nature of this post but if you are a believer, please pray for me and my family.  Thanks.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Barbara King Responds to the Critics of Her NPR Post

Barbara King, in a follow-up post to her plea to teach evolution to promote science literacy on NPR, responds to critics that her suggestions promote only one view of many different viable options to teaching evolution, and, therefore, deprives students of different views of a complex subject.  She notes:
With more than 4,100 entries in the comment section plus hundreds more responses on Facebook and Twitter, and private email messages arriving at my inbox, too, I haven't attempted to categorize the responses in any formal way. More than a few were startling, like the warning that came to me via email that because I was supporting "programming children" in my views on evolution, God "will have to allow you to go to a particularly brutal place (yes there are levels of torment in hell), and you will consciously have eternal regret."

But there was also genuine concern that evolutionary scientists, including me, advocate forcing children to learn one way and one way only. In response after response, the idea was put forth that all views about how and when life appeared on Earth should be taught so kids can make up their own minds.
She also takes direct aim at the John Ellis article on PJ Media, which I also addressed.The responses she cites, however, indicate something very ominous: many, many people out there have no idea how science proceeds, or even what it is.  One response she quotes is this:
"Shouldn't we leave people to decide what they believe? Our nation is too large and too diverse to have a nice black and white, right vs wrong answer to group everyone into. It was a nation founded upon religious freedom. Freedom to believe, freedom not to believe. We're all losing sight of that and creationism vs evolution isn't the only place."
This is so backward, I don't even know where to start. As I noted in my post on this subject, science is not democratic. You can't vote for the kind of science you want. Teaching alchemy is not a viable alternative to modern chemistry. There is no justification for teaching the theory that there is a giant vacuum cleaner inside the earth that is responsible for things falling to the ground. There is no empirical justification for it. She reiterates this:
Freedom to believe anything one wants in the religious sphere is incredibly important. I'll have no part of scientists' religion-bashing. People who celebrate a 6,000-year-old Earth and the sweeping effects of a "great flood" on Earth and its inhabitants in church have as much right to do that as any of us have to espouse our particular brand of religiosity — or of agnosticism or atheism.

In my Ark Encounter post, my point is different: When it comes to science, we shouldn't let our children believe anything they want. Science isn't about belief.

Children need to be taught the facts from geology, biology, anthropology and other sciences, how those facts were determined, and how those facts will be refined with new knowledge over time. Ark Encounter, its sister attraction the Creation Museum, and their creationist supporters push religion as science; they claim that evolutionary "theory" means the science is wishy-washy on facts, which is a major misunderstanding of what theory means in science; they push false information as fact. None of that is OK.
This message is lost on people like John Ellis, who think that teaching evolution as modern science constitutes “scientism slurping” and “science worshipping.” What would people like Ellis have us do? There seems to be very little realization that the same methods that we apply to engineering, astronomy, geology, biology and medicine, we also apply to evolutionary science. For some reason, evolutionary science is separated as if it were some wholly different enterprise.  I rather suspect that Ellis wouldn't describe an aerospace engineer as “scientism slurping” in working out the construction of a rocket engine. Yet, he has no compunction at doing so for evolution.  How do you reach people like this?  Especially people like Ellis, who has no science background at all? 

I'm open to suggestions. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Matthew Walther Writes About What He Found at the Ark Encounter

Matthew Walther, writing for the Washington Free Beacon chronicles his visit to the Ark Encounter and asks some basic questions:
The question that Christian visitors to the museum will ask themselves is what the point of all this is. Looking at elaborate reconstructions of pre-Deluge ungodly living—robed priests on the steps of a ziggurat handing over babies to be sacrificed to a gilt snake idol, slave maidens striking titillating poses and feeding grapes to Sumerian emperors—and pondering the question of Noah’s occupation—they think he might have been a blacksmith—is fun, but is it spiritually edifying?

There is something striking, even sublime about the sight of the Ark itself, which is being billed as the “largest timber-frame structure in the world.” But was it worth spending $100 million, most of it in junk-grade municipal bonds via an arrangement that I cannot imagine many of our current federal judges think constitutional? What about the zip-line course across the surrounding valley that I decided to forego and the Noah’s Chili With Cheese and $2.50 soft drinks (no refills) at the adjacent restaurant and the planned Tower of Babel—not to be built to scale, one presumes—and pre-Flood city exhibits? Will this strengthen anyone’s faith or bring a single soul to Christ?

Or is it merely a monument to the nitpickers amongst us?
Or is it just another monument to the Disney-ization of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Evolution of the Eye

Here is a nifty little video on the formation of the eye by evolutionary processes that was created by Essilor.  It is hand-drawn animation and is quite informative. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

PJ Media Takes on NPR on Science and Completely Misses the Point

Science is not a democratic exercise.  There is either scientific support for a theory or there is not.  If there are competing views about how some kind of observable phenomena should be explained, one of those views is usually shown to be incorrect.  That is how science proceeds.  Consequently, the idea of “teaching the full range of views” on a subject should be viewed with some skepticism. It is certainly valid to do so in an historical context to get a picture of how scientific understanding of a given phenomenon has progressed, but not as far as teaching prevailing scientific understanding of it. Yet, that is exactly what is being suggested by PJ Media writer John Ellis.

Ellis is responding to an NPR post, which is supportive of evolutionary theory, and he is critical of the post writer, Barbara King, for her position that evolutionary theory should be taught uniformly throughout primary and secondary institutions.

First, the NPR post.  King writes:
Watching the NBC Nightly News broadcast on a Friday earlier this month, I gaped as the last segment aired.

Kevin Tibbles was reporting from the site of Kentucky's Ark Encounter, constructed by Christian fundamentalist, young-Earth creationist and Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham. At the time, Ark Encounter was set to open to the public the following week.

Tibbles described Ark Encounter as telling "the Old Testament story of Noah, the animals and, of course, the flood." He interviewed Ham and closed out the 2-minute piece by noting Ham's hope that people will come in droves "to study the story of Noah for generations to come."
Astounded that the Ark Encounter showed humans and dinosaurs coexisting, despite the fact that dinosaurs had been extinct for some 60 million years before our ancestors arrived on the scene, she wondered how to best respond to this misinformation. 
*Speak out and speak up to school boards. Parents can insist that biology teachers in public schools be well-qualified to teach evolution; currently, many are not. In a related vein, check in with the "Take Action" page of the NCSE.
*Let the media know when they do a poor job of covering evolution-related issues or, conversely, a good one. The week after the NBC Nightly News segment, CBS News aired a report from Ark Encounter. Correspondent Mark Strassmann talked to Ham — and to a visitor who confirmed her belief that dinosaurs and people "walked hand-in-hand" a few thousand years ago on Earth. But he went on also to interview Jim Helton from Tri-State Freethinkers and science communicator Bill Nye "The Science Guy" as well, who stood up for evolutionary science.
*Read science- and evolution-based books to, and with, your children. Even young kids may enjoy and learn from age-appropriate writing that gets across concepts of evolution. Last year, I wrote here about Grandmother Fish by Jonathan Tweet and illustrator Karen Lewis. Another example is Evolutionary Tales by Matt Cubberly and illustrator May Villani, a short book that invites children to think about adaptive features of animals like the sugar glider, tarsier and pileated woodpecker.
*Ask evolution-related questions of political candidates and their staff. Science is, of course, a big issue in presidential campaigns. It's clear that the Hillary Clinton campaign accepts anthropogenic climate change as a serious risk to the world that requires science-based policy initiatives, whereas the Donald Trump campaign does not. But on evolution, it's much harder to find evidence of questions asked and answered. (An attempt to reach Trump senior communications adviser Jason Miller this week did not produce a reply; even asking evolution-related questions may be valuable, though, because they let staffers know what voters care about.)
It should be pointed out that this column came out before Trump named Mike Pence as his running mate, a man who has not shown support for evolutionary theory in the past.

So....what did John Ellis of PJ Media have to say about Barbara King's suggestions?  Well, one can get a pretty clear idea from the title of the column, which is “NPR Writer Having a Meltdown Because YOUR Children Might Learn About Noah's Ark.”  Actually, King only mentions the Ark Encounter as a lead-in to promote the teaching of evolution.  As noted above, she correctly points out that there are 65 million years in between modern humans and dinosaurs, a geological point firmly established by many lines of evidence.  Beyond that, though, her point, and it is a very good one, is that the general public is woefully uneducated about basic evolutionary theory, a theory that underpins all of modern biology.  That is her target.

Ellis goes on:
Last week, NPR treated us to a condescending and science-worshipping article written by Barbara King, an anthropology professor whose latest book is titled How Animals Grieve. If King had stopped at the usual scientism slurping, that would have been bad enough. King, however, took the extra step and demanded an obeisance from parents and the complete sacrifice of their children to the god of contemporary science.

Taking aim at young earth creationism as manifest by Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, Barbara King scolds reporters who give any positive attention to, in King's words, "anti-science creationist discourse." She goes on to explain how society has failed our children by allowing them to be exposed to anything but evolution. After a series of proposed remedies, King concludes her condescending rant by declaring that, "Our children must be taught about evolutionary science in order to be science-literate."
First off, this column kind of surprised me coming out of PJ Media. This is the kind of thing I would expect to read from the Discovery Institute, the intelligent design think tank out in Washington state.  Who is John Ellis?  If you click on his name, you are greeted with this:
Having spent the majority of his adult life as a theatre artist throughout the Southeast, John now lives in the DC area with his wife and two kids. Besides writing, he works on the staff at his church. Prior to writing for PJ Media, he was a columnist for No Depression and regular contributor to Bearded Gentleman Music.
In other words, he has no scientific training whatsoever.  He is a musician and writer (and not of science).  Here is what he writes next:
Since scientism is a faith-based religion, and a faith-based religion that has the entire trajectory of science history undermining it, scientism's adherents have to forcefully clear the worldview deck in order for their religion to flourish. In the marketplace of ideas, the weaker ideas are going to need some handicapping, so to speak.

The thing is, next to no one is attempting to keep children from learning about evolution. Creationists that have any sway over policy want children to learn options. There is a concerted effort, however, to frame worldview discussions in a manner that eliminates any worldview that doesn't bow down to the current, most-privileged group-think. In other words, Barbara King isn't really concerned that your children be science-literate; she wants to make sure that your children aren't exposed to ideas that threaten her larger worldview. She wants control.

Controlling the education of children is one of the front lines in the battle of worldviews. Barbara King realizes that for her religion of scientism to flourish, children's education has to be devoid of competing ideas.
There are numerous problems with this column. Ellis uses phrases like "the usual scientism slurping" as if such were a common thing in scientific discourse, yet does not define or explain in any satisfactory way what "scientism" is or why Dr. King's writing should be characterized as such.  Further, his use of the phrase "god of contemporary science," suggests that he holds the scientific enterprise in very low regard.  Given his background, one wonders what qualifications he has to write this column and who green lighted it in the first place.

He mentions "taking aim" at young earth creationism.  This is, perhaps, because young earth creationism is an easy target at which to take aim.  There is no defensible science that supports the young earth position.  We have known for almost a hundred years that the earth is not 6,000 years old and the evidence for the young earth position gets weaker every day.  Consequently, defense of young earth creationism, by people like Ken Ham and others, has begun to focus on how acceptance of an old earth and evolution amounts to "compromising the biblical message," that, as Christians, we should know better than to accept evolution, or how evolutionary thought leads to the gross evils of mankind (despite the fact that evil has been around considerably longer than evolutionary theory).  This is a blatant move to appeal to the emotions of supporters and to their religious perspectives.  After all, if the Bible clearly says that the earth was created in six literal days (and that is really big IF), then modern science MUST be wrong.

He speaks derisively of Dr. King's statements that we must teach evolutionary biology to kids to keep them science-literate and that the difference between creationists and evolutionists is that creationists don't worship science.  It is hard to combat an argument like this because it is so lazy.  How do "evolutionists" worship science?  He doesn't say.  Evolutionary biologists don't worship science, they practice it.  He says that the strength of creationists is that they are not "threatened by competing views."

Would he make the same argument that we should teach our kids alchemy, instead of modern chemistry?  What about teaching the various theories of gravitation prior to our modern understanding?  There are, after all, people that still subscribe to those.  What about geocentrism?  How about the Flat Earth Society?

Anyone that tried to seriously teach these would be laughed at, and rightly so.  Why, given that modern young earth creationism has no scientific support, should we treat it differently?  Why, if evolution has more support than most scientific theories, does teaching it constitute sacrificing school kids to "the god of contemporary science?"  If competing views have been shown to be false, why should we teach them?

He writes that scientism (once again, undefined) is faith-based and that it has the entire history of science undermining it, therefore, promoters of scientism need to "handicap" the weaker ideas.  News flash: that is what science does.  It weeds out the weaker ideas.  Back to my initial point: science is not democratic.  Ideas that have no empirical support get put in the dustbin of history.  Science does and must proceed this way or we have no way of understanding the world and universe in which we live.

He writes that no one is trying to keep people from learning evolution.  This simply isn't so.  One of the principle findings of the Dover trial in 2005 is that the defense witnesses lied repeatedly about why they wanted an alternative to evolution taught.  Most of the defense witnesses could not even identify what Intelligent Design was.  When pressed, it became clear that they wanted creationism taught. 

Recent reports from other places in the country indicate that, almost uniformly, attempts to "teach the controversy" or "teach the full range of ideas" are smokescreens for getting young earth creationism (and hence, anti-evolution) into the classroom (For example, see here, here, here, and here).  Most of these bill supporters would like nothing better than to have evolution stripped from the curriculum of public education.  That they have not been very successful so far is not for lack of trying.

This is a very poorly-written article.  While blasting what he calls "scientism," Ellis makes no effort to explain why we should teach creationism in its place.  Further, he makes no effort to explain why the teaching of evolution should not happen, simply that he thinks it consists of a "world view."  If teaching evolutionary theory constitutes teaching a "world view" then guess what?  Most of what we teach as science entails a "world view."

Heliocentrism is a "world view" and we teach that. When Galileo confirmed Copernicus' finding that the earth was not in the center of the universe, it sent shockwaves throughout the church, such that the work of Copernicus was banned. Much like the modern struggle against evolution, it literally changed their "world view" in such a way that they couldn't incorporate it into their understanding of scripture.  Does any educated person today doubt that the earth is not in the center of the universe?   

Gravitational theory changed our understanding of the universe and introduced us to black holes, quantum mechanics and string theory.  Plate tectonic theory changed our understanding of how our earth works, why earthquakes and volcanoes happen where and when they do and why most natural disasters happen.  Science News has a great little article on the Top 10 Revolutionary Scientific Theories, every one of which changed our "world view."  Ellis is just upset because King's world view differs from his.  The catch is that there is empirical support for her world view and there is none for his.  As such, his argument that her promotion of evolutionary theory constitutes "scientism" fails. 

Sunday, August 07, 2016

New Scientist: Public Schools Should Not Take Their Kids to the Ark Encounter

A post in the New Scientist has come out squarely against the idea that public schools should take kids on field trips to the Ark Encounter, despite a plea from Ken Ham to do so.  Josh Rosenau, of the NCSE writes:
Throughout the Ark, wordy signs, animatronic mannequins and strident videos all insist that it is no Sunday school tale, but a “historically authentic” boat that existed just as Ham and others on the young-earth creationist fringe imagine it.
Perhaps because of disappointing visitor numbers so far, it is offering reduced rates – $1 a student and free tickets for accompanying teachers – to tempt schoolchildren through its doors. Schools and parents should know that a visit wouldn’t educate or entertain, it would misinform and browbeat.

Publicly-funded schools certainly should not take their charges to the park. The US Constitution prohibits government bodies, including schools, from endorsing one particular religious belief over others. Ark Encounter is all about endorsing Ham’s particular reading of Genesis as the literal truth. The constitutions of nearby states, from which a trip might be feasible, echo that proscription.
While this may be true, that is not the best reason to stay away from the exhibit. I am always a little bit leery of anything the FFRF says, because, as an organization, it would think absolutely nothing of trampling religious freedoms in an effort to squash religion altogether. Having said that, it would be pretty hard to square a tax-payer funded public school trip to an attraction that is designed specifically to convert people to its particular brand of Christianity.  Especially when there is not a shred of scientific evidence that the flood on which the story is based actually happened.  As Christian geologist Carol Hill writes:
No geologic evidence whatsoever exists for a universal flood, flood geology, or the canopy theory. Modern geologists, hydrologists, paleontologists, and geophysicists know exactly how the different types of sedimentary rock form, how fossils form and what they represent, and how fast the continents are moving apart...
Kids can go see Ken Ham's monument to the Disney-ization of Christianity, but it will probably never happen as part of a sanctioned field trip.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Viruses have a strong role in Evolution

A story making the rounds reports on a study that suggests that viruses may have had a very strong influence on human evolution.  The Economic Times reports the following:
In a new study, researchers apply big-data analysis to reveal the full extent of viruses' impact on the evolution of humans and other mammals.

The findings suggest an astonishing 30 per cent of all protein adaptations since humans' divergence with chimpanzees have been driven by viruses.

"When you have a pandemic or an epidemic at some point in evolution, the population that is targeted by the virus either adapts, or goes extinct," said David Enard, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

“We knew that, but what really surprised us is the strength and clarity of the pattern we found,” said Enard.
This is not so surprising. We already know that endogenous retroviruses have had a very large role to play in human evolution and that the pattern of their dispersal provides some of the best evidence of common ancestry.