Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nice argument for the age of the earth | Pharyngula

Nice argument for the age of the earth | Pharyngula: Nice argument for the age of the earth
December 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm PZ Myers

"Geoffrey Pearce sent me this argument he uses with creationists, and I thought others might find it useful, too.

I am regularly approached by young Earth creationists (yes, even in the bedlam of sin that is Montreal…) both on the street and at home. If I have the time I try to engage them on the age of Earth, since Earth is something whose existence them and I agree upon. They will tell me that Earth is somewhere between 6,000 – 10,000 years old, and, when prompted, that the rest of the universe is the same age as well. I have taken the approach of responding to this assertion by pulling out a print of the far side of the Moon (attached, from"
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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Scientists Do and Creationists Don't

By Skip @ Panda's Thumb

What Scientists Do and Creationists Don't:
A favorite creationist mantra these days, and one you especially hear from young earthers, is that creationists and scientists both have the same facts, they just look at them differently. To laypeople that may sound reasonable. The handful of guys at Answers in Genesis look at the Grand Canyon and say it was formed by a flood about 4400 years ago when God got all pissed off at humans. The 24,000 members of the Geological Society of America (and virtually every member of the literally dozens of geological organizations listed at their web site*) look at the Grand Canyon and say it was formed over millions of years by natural processes that continue today.

Same facts; different conclusions. Some of us laypeople often hear these two positions and see them as equally valid positions on either side of a debate. But some of us scratch the surface, and it doesn’t take a very deep scratch to see a significant difference. Scientists do science and creationists don’t.

I’m currently making my way through the December 2010 Evolution: Education & Outreach, a special issue dealing with the teaching of phylogenetics. On page 507 in an article titled “How to Read a Phylogenetic Tree,” by Deborah A. McLennan, I came across the following. “…butterflies can be distinguished from cats and people because they have an exoskeleton made out of chitin (a tough, waterproof derivative of glucose).” This was one of those “how do they know that” moments for me. Having read Genetics for Dummies and other books in my efforts to start getting a handle on genetics, I’m really getting into how genetic relationships reveal evolutionary history. Could this be another one of those cases?

But first I wanted to at least know what chitin is. Wikipedia says it “is the main component of the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans.” Interesting enough. It also says in terms of function it’s comparable to the protein keratin, and that it has several useful medical and industrial applications. Neat-o! But what about evolution? Does evolution have anything to say about where this stuff came from?

Plugging “evolution of chitin” in Google returns a bunch of links, and the very first one I clicked on said, “[a]nalysis of a group of invertebrate proteins, including chitinases and peritrophic matrix proteins, reveals the presence of chitin-binding domains that share significant amino acid sequence similarity. The data suggest that these domains evolved from a common ancestor which may be a protein containing a single chitin-binding domain.” So it looks like these researchers have a pretty good idea about chitin’s history, and where it came from.

But the abstract also says that “comparisons indicated that invertebrate and plant chitin binding domains do not share significant amino acid sequence similarity, suggesting that they are not coancestral…We propose that the invertebrate and the plant chitin-binding domains share similar mechanisms for folding and saccharide binding and that they evolved by convergent evolution.”

So this research concludes that chitin in invertebrates evolved from a common ancestor, but invertebrate and plant chitin evolved independently.

Want to know more? how about a possible history of the stuff in humans traced all the way back “to the time of the bilaterian expansion (approx. 550 mya).” Furthermore, this paper documents some real twists and turns in chitin’s history: “The family expanded in the chitinous protostomes C. elegans and D. melanogaster, declined in early deuterostomes as chitin synthesis disappeared, and expanded again in late deuterostomes with a significant increase in gene number after the avian/mammalian split.” Someone has clearly done their homework!

This little exercise took me about 15 minutes, and I learned a little bit about chitin: what it is and got a glimpse into where it came from and how scientists are learning its history. Scientists doing science.

What do creationists say about chitin? I plugged the term in the search engine at Answers in Genesis and found an article called “What a Body!” by Professor Wolfgang Kuhn, who describes chitin as a “wonder substance” composed of protein and sugar. He further describes it as a “miracle body” and says that “even if we could produce chitin itself, all our modern technology would be unable to imitate this fine microstructure so as to make a sports car body out of it, for instance.”

What is the takeaway message of Kuhn’s article? “Next time you see this humble beetle, consider the incredible amount of programmed information needed just to construct this super-high-tech marvel, its outer coat. Such information is passed on generation after generation, silent testimony to the Master Programmer.”

Creationism is so easy! When the earth is only a few thousand years old, and plants, animals, everything on earth has no real history or past different from the present, it’s enough to call things “wonder substance” and “miracle body”. Poof! God did it… class dismissed.

I’ve often read creationists complain about the amounts of funding real scientists receive and how much is distributed by the NIH and the NSF. If only creationists had this kind of funding, they could do amazing research! But would they?

Answers in Genesis, perhaps the most visible and well-funded anti-evolution organization in the country, spent approximately $27 million building its creation “museum” in Kentucky. AiG is presently raising money for their latest venture, a Noah’s Ark theme park, estimated to cost $24.5 million when completed. I have a suggestion for Ken Ham and the folks at AiG. Why not spend a fraction of that 24 and a half million to actually do a scientific experiment? For instance: build a real ark, fill it with animals just like Noah is claimed to have done and float it out in the ocean for a year to test the hypothesis. Think of all the converts that would win when it worked! Hell, I’d get saved myself!

I emailed Dr. John Hawks at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and asked him about funding scientific research and he replied, “Last year NIH spent $8 million on the Cancer Genome Atlas, bringing it to a total of $43 million. This project works on the principle that cancer cells are engaged in an evolutionary process in the body that will often be convergent in different people, so that building a systematic atlas of the genes involved will help us understand and find effective strategies to treat different cancers.”

So for less than the cost of two huge, embarrassing testaments to ignorance and misinformation AiG could have funded something like the entire Cancer Genome Atlas. But then again, at the creation “museum” they have a Triceratops with a saddle!

It’s clear that for a fraction of what the creationist organizations spend on propaganda, they could easily fund lab work and research to publish evidence of their claims. But what they do publish is nothing more than distortions of real research. PZ Myers exposes a typical example about, coincidentally, chitin.

Even some lower-tier creationists pull down some pretty serious dough. Eric Hovind, son of federal prison inmate and notorious huckster Kent Hovind, is raising $1.5 million to make a film about the book of Genesis. In the 2011 Winter issue of his publication Creation Today, Son of Hovind claims he’s raised over $255,000.

Well, Eric Hovind has a high tech studio he makes his videos in, and I bet he has a few computers around there. What more does he need? Reed Cartwright, Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, tells me, “For a lot of computational genomics research, the data is already available and the only costs are for computers and salaries. And purchasing time on supercomputers is currently cheap.” So here’s another suggestion: Why doesn’t Hovind fund a couple of creationist geneticists to do some research when his computers are otherwise unoccupied? I’m sure he’d discover that every species on earth went through a genetic bottleneck about 4400 years ago that reduced the entire population to just two individuals … on a boat. Right, Eric?

Opportunities abound for creationists to fund real scientific research. Nick Matzke sent me this link. Use the Award Search feature and spend a few minutes checking out all the great research done on much smaller budgets than a theme park, or feature length film production.

Maybe scientists and creationists have the same facts. But if they do, it’s because one of those groups actually cared enough about truth to find out what the facts were. It’s not the creationists. Only one of those groups selfishly obsesses over their personal beliefs to the point of ignoring and distorting legitimate scientific research to further a social and theological agenda. And it’s not the scientists.
Note: As has been pointed out to me, what I have discovered in these papers is research on the evolution of chitin-binding proteins, not chitin itself. This layperson has learned that chitin is made from and digested by proteins that do evolve, and that’s what the research I found was all about. 
* I say ‘virtually’ because with the tens, or hundreds, of thousands of members across all those organizations there are probably a couple of young-earthers. But I’ll bet you can’t find one geologist, anywhere, who thinks the earth is six thousand years old who doesn’t regard the Bible (or whatever their favorite holy text is) as without error.
(Finally, this piece is cross-posted to my brand new blog,, so come on over to my place and give me some of your Internet love, you bunch of bad low motor scooters.)

Over 65 Million Years, North American Mammal Evolution Has Tracked With Climate Change

ScienceDaily (Dec. 27, 2011) — Climate changes profoundly influenced the rise and fall of six distinct, successive waves of mammal species diversity in North America over the last 65 million years, shows a novel statistical analysis led by Brown University evolutionary biologists. Warming and cooling periods, in two cases confounded by species migrations, marked the transition from one dominant grouping to the next.
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dinosaur Denialism by Donald Prothero

Dinosaur Denialism:

I have written frequently in these blogposts about the numerous forms of denial of science and reality that are out there, from global warming denialism, to AIDS denialism, anti-vaxxers, and creationism. They all have a lot in common, from their insular exclusionary attitude that refuses to accept evidence that doesn’t fit their world view, to the various strategies they use to reduce cognitive dissonance and fight against reality, all borrowed from the Holocaust deniers. These include: quoting out of context (“quote-mining”) to dishonestly suggest that the quoted person agrees with them, cherry-picking data to show the exact opposite of what the data really show, making phony lists of “experts” who agree with them, picking on the small differences within the scientific community as evidence that the “science is not settled”, picking on one small factoid (usually misinterpreted and out of context) as evidence that the whole of science is false, and so on. Usually, these obvious strategies to deny an overwhelming body of evidence are so transparently self-delusional that we can laugh at them.

But then I ran into something that staggered even my sense of how low these people can go. We are all familiar with how creationists use ad hoc explanations and special pleading to rescue the absurdities of their world view, from trying to cram all of the animals into Noah’s ark and dismissing the huge numbers problem through their non-biological concept of “created kinds”, to doing all sorts of violence to the geologic record to justify the Noah’s flood story, to even insisting that men have one less rib than do women (the last one is easy to check, but they don’t). As I have discussed in several previous posts, the more extreme Biblical literalists also believe in a flat earth and reject the heliocentric solar system. But I was flabbergasted to read of a whole group of extreme creationists who deny that dinosaurs existed! Usually, the creationists not only come to terms with the evidence of dinosaurs, but many have even tried to co-opt their popularity with kids under 10 by making them a prominent part of their propaganda (as does Ken Ham of the “Answers in Genesis” ministry and the “Creation Museum” in Petersburg, Kentucky). With something as widely accepted and exciting and popular as dinosaurs, which anyone can see for themselves in their local museum, how could any person in the 21st century argue they are not real?

Yet that is exactly the position of this bizarre creationist subcult, which would be unknown and invisible to most of us were it not for their web presence (and their web design is not as garishly bad as most crackpot websites). You can scan their website linked above and see just far off the deep end of batshit crazy they have plunged. A representative quote for how these paranoid people argue that paleontologists are creating fraudulent dinosaur fossils is as follows:

What would be the motivation for such a deceptive endeavor? Obvious motivations include trying to prove evolution, trying to disprove or cast doubt on the Christian Bible and the existence of the Christian God, and trying to disprove the “young-earth theory”. Yes, there are major political and religious ramifications.

The dinosaur concept could imply that if God exists, he may have tinkered with his idea of dinosaurs for awhile, then perhaps discarded or became tired of this creation and then went on to create man. The presented dinosaur historical timeline could suggest an imperfect God who came up with the idea of man as an afterthought, thus demoting the biblical idea that God created man in His own image. Dinosaurs are not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

Highly rewarding financial and economic benefits to museums, educational and research organizations, university departments of paleontology, discoverers and owners of dinosaur bones, and the book, television, movie and media industries may cause sufficient motivation for ridiculing of open questioning and for suppression of honest investigation. [That's a real laugher! Most paleontologists are poorly paid and cannot even get a job in paleontology!]

So, based on the premise that dinosaurs are a fiction designed to disprove creationism and drive us away from God, the writers of this website go into extremely bizarre thinking about dinosaurs and paleontology. There is a long section, using quotes out of context from the Berkeley evolution website, that claims that scientists dreamed up the whole thing as a big scam to undermine religion. Never mind the fact that all the early dinosaur discoveries were made by religious people such as Gideon Mantell, Rev. William Buckland, Mary Anning, and Richard Owen, and many later paleontologists (like Edward D. Cope) were also quite religious. This writer knows how to clip little bits of simplistic web histories out of context, but doesn’t know enough history to know the difference.

The next section on the website is another long, bizarre example of quote mining, where the author clearly knows nothing whatsoever about fossils and how they are found. The author jumps from one paranoid speculation to another, all in an attempt to suggest that dinosaur bones are forgeries planted in the outcrop by crooked paleontologists, and there is no way they could have gotten there without fraud. The list of mistakes and lies and misconceptions about fossils and geology is so long that I don’t have space to even begin listing them all. Because fossil skeletons are incomplete in the field, it is common practice to mold replicas to complete the skeleton for display. But the author of this website then jumps to the absurd conclusion that all the bones in every dinosaur skeleton on display are faked!

From there, this crazy site goes into the old shopworn (and long debunked) creationist attacks on radiometric dating and geology, using the classic tactic of quoting out of context to show the opposite of what the text really intended. Then the author savages other crazy creationists, including those who use the great size of dinosaurs to justify an expanding earth with stronger gravity today than in the past, and others who quote the passages about the “Behemoth” in the Book of Job as evidence that the Bible talks about dinosaurs.

Then the site jumps into other crackpot ideas, like Tom Gold’s abiogenic origin of petroleum (long ago falsified), and presents a list of 19th century naturalists who talked about dinosaurs because they allegedly made up their discoveries in order to promote evolution! Once again, this doofus is so ignorant of history that he has no idea that half that list consisted of devout individuals who were “creationists” and most of them worked on dinosaurs in a religious context. Not only that, but they were not trying to “prove evolution”—their work was done decades before Darwin’s book came out in 1859. Give this guy an “F” in history….

Finally, he trots out the laughable idea that paleontologists concocted this whole forgery to get rich, but clearly he knows nothing about real paleontology. Most of my colleagues have turned down more lucrative careers in law or medicine or business to work on fossils at a mere fraction of the salary that they could be getting elsewhere. Nor do professional paleontologists get rich from selling their fossils, either—only the commercial collectors who are not professionally trained or doing research. but simply in it for the money do so.

So how can anyone become so delusional and get so many things wrong that are easy to check? As we discussed in my Nov. 16 post, many creationist communities are highly insular and not only avoid secular media, but only hear and read what their church leaders tell them to. If you read only creationist crap for a long time, and surf websites looking for things that you can quote out of context, you too can become the kind of crackpot who can manage to get every fact in the article 100% wrong! As long as your faith in Biblical literalism is more important than checking the facts out for yourself, you can twist anything to suit this delusional world view.

So read this website if you dare. You need a strong stomach for lies and self-deception, and hopefully you will not be shocked by the low view of humanity that emerges from reading it….

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A tooth, a myth—and creationist lies. By Donald Prothero

"People love to touch old objects and feel a connection to the past, whether it be the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, ancient ruins in China or India or Egypt or Europe, pieces of fossil bone on display in a museum, or the oldest objects known, the 4.6 billion-year-old meteorites. Each time I travel to do research in historic old museum collections, it feels a bit like time travel."
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Armor of God, or, The Top One Reason Religion Is Harmful | Greta Christina's Blog

"So what is it about religion — exactly — that’s so harmful?

I’ve argued many times that religion is not only mistaken, but does more harm than good. But why do I think that is?

Sure, I can make a list of specific harms religion has done, from here to Texas. I’ve done exactly that. But that’s not enough to make my case. I could make long lists of harms done by plenty of human institutions: medicine, education, democracy. That doesn’t make them inherently malevolent."
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How not to examine the evolution of proteins

"The Discovery Institute has me on a mailing list for their newsletter, Nota Bene. That's probably unwise: usually I just glance at it, see another ignorant bit of fluff from Luskin or Nelson or one of the other usual suspects, and I snigger and hit 'delete', but sometimes they brag about how they're really doing science, and I look a little closer. And then I might feel motivated to take a slap at them."
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Shared Genes With Neanderthal Relatives: Modern East Asians Share Genetic Material With Prehistoric Denisovans

"During human evolution our ancestors mated with Neanderthals, but also with other related hominids. In this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Uppsala University are publishing findings showing that people in East Asia share genetic material with Denisovans, who got the name from the cave in Siberia where they were first found."
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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Skepticblog » Flip-flopping creationists

"I’ve posted frequently (see my July 24 post) on the religious kooks who insist that Galileo and Copernicus and all later astronomers were wrong and that the earth, not the sun, is the center of the solar system. They base this weird notion on their own version of biblical literalism, since there are many passages in the Bible (e.g., Isaiah 11: 12, 40:22, 44:24; Joshua 10:12-14) which clearly present a geocentric world viewpoint (as was widely held in almost all ancient cultures and not overturned until the 1500s)."
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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reflections from the Other Side: Those Pesky Craters

"Young earth creationists have a pretty serious problem. They're burdened with the task of explaining how all of this happened in just 6,000 years. We see craters like these on most solid bodies in our solar system, but for the sake of simplicity let's focus just on lunar craters for now. "

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Dinosaurs in Heaven

"No Dinosaurs in Heaven is a film essay that examines the hijacking of science education by religious fundamentalists, threatening the separation of church and state and dangerously undermining scientific literacy. The documentary weaves together two strands: an examination of the problem posed by creationists who earn science education degrees only to advocate anti-scientific beliefs in the classroom; and a visually stunning raft trip down the Grand Canyon, led by Dr. Eugenie Scott, that debunks creationist explanations for its formation. These two strands expose the fallacies in the “debate,” manufactured by anti-science forces, that creationism is a valid scientific alternative to evolution."

Invasion of genomic parasites triggered modern mammalian pregnancy, study finds

"ScienceDaily (Sep. 26, 2011) — Genetic parasites invaded the mammalian genome more than 100 million years ago and dramatically changed the way mammals reproduce -- transforming the uterus in the ancestors of humans and other mammals from the production of eggs to a nurturing home for developing young, a new Yale University study has found."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Simple Rebuttal « Science-Based Life

"Intelligent Design=Creationism

Here is a simple yet solid intelligent design rebuttal that would make any creationist pee a little."
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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Understanding Evolution: 17 Misconceptions and Their Responses « Science-Based Life

"Evolution is one of the best supported, most elegant, and most powerful theories in all of science. As it stands, it is the best explanation that we have for the diversity of life on Earth. Understanding evolution, as a scientifically literate society, is then a primary goal for anyone who was ever at least curious about the various forms of life we encounter. However, because evolutionary facts are thought to step on the toes of modern religious interpretations of life’s diversity (that all humans came from the interbreeding of a family generated from a rib bone, for example), there are many misconceptions that have been thrown in the way to act as obstacles to true understanding."
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Skepticblog » Bird Fossils and Clueless Creationists

"About a month ago, there was big publicity about the discovery and description of a new fossil bird from China, Xiaotingia zhengi. It is one of a long line of amazingly preserved bird fossils that have come from Jurassic and Cretaceous beds in Liaoning and other areas in China, and have completely revolutionized our understanding of early bird evolution. "
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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jumping genes helped evolution (Science Alert)

"Local research theory gives further proof to evolution and may help explain big evolutionary jumps in species.

Murdoch Univeristy Professor Wayne Greene and PhD student Keith Oliver have posited that transposons —also known as jumping genes—have had a larger role in primate and human evolution than is traditionally thought."
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Evidence against a recent creation - RationalWiki

There is perhaps no greater attack upon science and rational thought than the doctrine of a recent creation. Young earth creationists deny much of astronomy, geology, biology, palaeontology, chemistry, geomorphology and physics in favor of pseudoscience and their biblically based view that the world is only 6,000 years old.
This article presents some of the reasons why we know that the world is not "young". The entries below are listed in alphabetical order, while in the contents box at the right they can be found listed by the approximate minimum they put on the age of the earth. It is also important to note that these dating methods are not mutually exclusive and where their range, accuracy and applicability overlap, the dates they produce are concordant with each other.
Some young earth creationists accept that this evidence is convincing, but simply argue that God created the universe 6,000 years ago, but set it up so that it would look exactly like a 4.54 billion year old Earth, with fossils, DNA evidence, and eroded rocks created in the state that we would expect them to be in if they were much older - Phillip Gosse, the 19th century English naturalist, was a strong proponent of this view. This view is unpopular even with much of the YEC community,[1] since it raises the question of why God would create fake fossils and a fake history - do they exist to test our faith, separate the weak from the strong, or does God simply find them funny? These rationalisations tend to be unsatisfying to believers and skeptics alike. We cannot falsify this claim, since there would be no difference between a universe created 6,000 years ago that was indistinguishable from a much older one, and the much older universe of science; however, like other similarly unfalsifiable arguments, it is of little value. 
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Attention Governor Perry: Evolution is a fact - On Faith - The Washington Post

"There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job." Go To Article

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Skepticblog » Denial of evolution can be hazardous to your health…

"The continuing problem of creationists and their efforts to hamper science education and research in this country never seems to abate. Some people throw up their hands in resignation and say, “We can never change their minds, so let’s just ignore them.” As I pointed out in my book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, we cannot afford to ignore the creationist threat to science. Not only do they undermine the proper teaching of biology in our schools, but they have made no secret that their goal is to suppress any science that is not consistent with their literalistic view of the Bible. Good bye, astronomy and cosmology. Good bye, physical anthropology and human paleontology. Good bye, geology (and forget finding oil or coal or gas ever again). Good bye molecular biology, and its evidence for evolution. And forget all the benefits that these sciences provide us, or the richer perspective on life that we gain by understanding our true place in the universe, rather than the version handed down by some Bronze Age shepherds." Go To Article

Evangelicals Question The Existence Of Adam And Eve : NPR

"Let's go back to the beginning — all the way to Adam and Eve, and to the question: Did they exist, and did all of humanity descend from that single pair?

According to the Bible (Genesis 2:7), this is how humanity began: 'The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.' God then called the man Adam, and later created Eve from Adam's rib. Go To Article

Polls by Gallup and the Pew Research Center find that four out of 10 Americans believe this account. It's a central tenet for much of conservative Christianity, from evangelicals to confessional churches such as the Christian Reformed Church.

But now some conservative scholars are saying publicly that they can no longer believe the Genesis account. Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: 'That would be against all the genomic evidence that we've assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.'"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Evidence for Evolution | NCSE

"Does evolution really happen? Here's ammo for that next encounter with a creationist. An exclusive excerpt from The Evidence for Evolution" Read the excerpt

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Skepticblog » Shindigs of Pseudoscience

"Whenever I read about the conventions held by creationists, it is always staggering to see so much ignorance of science and scholarship on display. If you read through one of their programs or peruse the abstracts, your mind is boggled at the bizarre thinking and intellectual contortions these people must attempt, from weird ideas of how to fit all living thing into Noah’s ark to odd explanations of where the flood waters came from and where they went, to even weirder ideas of why the universe appears to be 13.7 billion years old (but is only really 6000 years old), or why radiometric dating doesn’t work or how to explain the complex geologic history of the earth with Bronze Age myths of superstitious shepherds." Read More

Epigenetic 'memory' key to nature versus nurture

"ScienceDaily (July 25, 2011) — Researchers at the John Innes Centre have made a discovery, reported this evening (24 July) in Nature, that explains how an organism can create a biological memory of some variable condition, such as quality of nutrition or temperature. The discovery explains the mechanism of this memory -- a sort of biological switch -- and how it can also be inherited by offspring." Read More

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Defeat of Flood Geology by Flood Geology | Senter | Reports of the National Center for Science Education

"The ironic demonstration that there is no trace of the Genesis
Flood in the geologic record" Read More

Fish fins and mouse feet controlled by the same ancient genetic switch | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine

"Whenever you pick up a book or take a step, you’re relying on a genetic legacy that’s been handed down since your ancestors swam about in prehistoric oceans. Your hands and feet– intricate bundles of bones and muscle – are your versions of the fins of fish. They may look very different, but they were sculpted from embryonic flesh using similar genetic programmes." Read More

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Skepticblog » An eyeful of creationist IDiocy

"A few weeks ago my email box was full of gloating messages from creationists claiming that the latest discovery of complex eyes in the Cambrian “proved” creationism and “refuted” evolution. As usual, creationists demonstrate a remarkable ability to completely misunderstand and misinterpret real science, and get the message of the paper ass-backward." Read More

RNA reactor could have served as a precursor of life

"( -- Nobody knows quite how life originated on Earth, but most scientists agree that living cells did not abruptly appear from nonliving cells in a single step. Instead, there were probably a series of pre-cellular life forms that arose from nonliving chemicals and eventually led to a living cell, one that could undergo metabolism and reproduce. One of the most well-known theories of pre-cellular life is the RNA world theory, which proposes that life based on RNA predates current life, which is based on DNA, RNA, and proteins. But recently, scientists have been wondering what may have preceded RNA. In a new study, a team of scientists from Germany has suggested that the ability to self-replicate may have first emerged in the form of an RNA reactor, which they show can transmit information." Read More

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Complex eyes in the Cambrian

"I got a letter from a creationist today, claiming that "Darwinism is falsified," based on an article in Nature. It's kind of amazing; this article was just published today, and the metaphorical digital ink on it is barely metaphorically dry, and creationists are already busily mangling it." Read More

10 facts of Darwinian evolution young-earth creationists donÍt want toæunderstand - Born Again Pagan

"10. Beyond a shadow of doubt, human DNA and chimpanzee DNA are 98% identical. We diverged from the same common ancestor 5 million years ago. This isn’t idle speculation, it is a fact bound up in deductive logic. We are the modern descendants of ancient apes, just as modern apes are the descendants from that same ancestral tree but on a different branch to humans. Just as the VW Beetle is the ancestor of the Porsche Carrera GT, one does not cease to exist because of the emergence of the other. But where car designs are engineered and refined by man, life is shaped by genetic mutations, which over time, gives rise to entirely new species." Read More

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pictures: Nine Fish With "Hands" Found to Be New Species

"Using its fins to walk, rather than swim, along the ocean floor in an undated picture, the pink handfish is one of nine newly named species described in a recent scientific review of the handfish family." Read More

Friday, July 8, 2011

inFact: Logical Fallacies 1

"Ever hear someone argue a point that was effective, even though it didn't quite ring true? Chances are they used a logical fallacy." Watch Video

Transcript from video:

In this first of three videos, we're going to look at some common fallacious arguments; ways that people make their points sounds convincing even when they're not true. A common one is:

The Ad Hominem

Arguing against the person rather than against the argument. Let's say some guy is trying to convince you that Einstein's theory of relativity is wrong:
Einstein? That guy married his cousin. How can you trust his calculations?
Flip it around and you have:

The Bandwagon Fallacy

Which tries to claim that something must be true because so many people believe it:
50 million people have read The Secret. That many people can't be wrong.
Oh yes they can. How about the people whose religious or political beliefs are different from yours? That's a lot more than 50 million right there.
You can also use:

The Argument from Antiquity

To prove that something must be true because people have believed it for a long time.
Chinese medicine's been around for 5,000 years. It wouldn't have lasted that long if it didn't work.
Being ancient only proves that an idea comes from prescientific times. Maybe it works, like the wheel; maybe it doesn't, like burning witches (some more great ancient wisdom).
A related tactic is to pull out

The All-Natural Fallacy

This is a way to sell a product by raising the specter of concern about competing products that might be... "tarnished" by modern knowledge.
You should sprinkle some of this Haitian zombie powder in your wound. Ground human bones, hemlock, stinging nettle, pufferfish neurotoxin... it's all natural.

The Argument from Authority

Ignores the need to have good information and instead relies on an authority figure.
It doesn't matter what your research shows; my information came from a scientist. So it can't be wrong!
But if all else fails, fall back on:

The Appeal to Quantum Physics

This is why people think Deepak Chopra knows anything; he throws around terms like this to make whatever he says sound scientific and advanced.
Quantum physics links our metaphysical beings through quantum entanglement.
Hey it sounded over my head; he must know what he's talking about.
Next time we'll look at some ways that language itself can be misused to accomplish the same thing.
Brian Dunning
Brian Dunning

Thursday, July 7, 2011

BBC - Wonder Monkey: Can religious teachings prove evolution to be true?

Matt Walker | 16:38 UK time, Tuesday, 5 July 2011

"It is one of the great questions of the past 150 years.

Did God or evolution drive the emergence of life in all its resplendent variety?

This blog, the US education system, and even American politics have to a degree all become dominated by the debate at various times, which goes to the heart of our world view and our ideas of where we, and all other forms of life, came from." Read More

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

YouTube - Epic creationist fails of our time

"Another nominee for the coveted Golden Crocoduck braves the waters of science with the leaky boat of creationist ignorance." Watch Video

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mammalian brain followed a scented evolutionary trail : Nature News

"As species go, humans aren't renowned for their sense of smell. But an improved ability to suss out scents in our 200-million-year old ancestors may have laid the groundwork for the bulging brains of humans and all other mammals." Read More

Friday, June 24, 2011

BBC News - Why is there only one human species?

Not so very long ago, we shared this planet with several other species of human, all of them clever, resourceful and excellent hunters, so why did only Homo sapiens survive? Read More

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jerry Coyne on Evolution | FiveBooks | The Browser

The evolutionary biologist tells us why Darwin is still essential reading and sifts the vast amount of more recent writing on evolution for books that are both inspiring to scientists and accessible to general readers. Read More

Jerry Coyne on Evolution | FiveBooks | The Browser

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Skepticblog » Reality Check

In recent years, both philosophers and science deniers (such as creationists) have repeatedly attacked the objectivity of science and scientists. Creationists claim that scientists are big frauds, deceived by a mass delusion about evolution. They argue that the stratigraphic sequence of fossils in the rock record is faked by evolutionists who shuffle the fossils and the strata in the order they need to prove evolution, then allegedly point to the same sequence as proof of evolution. (Never mind the fact that the objective, empirical sequence of fossils through geologic time was worked out by devoutly religious naturalists like William Smith and Georges Cuvier before 1800, at least 50 years before evolution was published by Charles Darwin).
Read On

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Africa the birthplace of human language, analysis suggests

ScienceDaily (Apr. 15, 2011) — Psychologists from The University of Auckland have just published two major studies on the diversity of the world's languages in the journals Science and Nature.

The first study, published in Science by Dr Quentin Atkinson, provides strong evidence for Africa as the birthplace of human language. Read More

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Top 15 Misconceptions about Evolution

Biological evolution is descent with modification. This definition encompasses small-scale evolution (changes in gene frequency in a population from one generation to the next) and large-scale evolution (the descent of different species from a common ancestor over many generations). Evolution helps us to understand the history of life. While evolution is very widely accepted, many people hold to misconceptions about it. This list should help to dispel some of those myths.

Top 10 Signs Of Evolution In Modern Man

Through history, as natural selection played its part in the development of modern man, many of the useful functions and parts of the human body become unnecessary. What is most fascinating is that many of these parts of the body still remain in some form so we can see the progress of evolution. This list covers the ten most significant evolutionary changes that have taken place – leaving signs behind them.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Missing Link Fallacy

"its a bacchanalian romp of differing misconceptions and twisted logic - basically, nothing out of the ordinary for a creationist, for whom apparently the addition of even more terrible ideas can only strengthen your argument. Very quickly, I got bored of the tedious process of writing a comment correcting these misconceptions, and I was just about to ignore it and start writing my next article." Read More.

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Sunday, January 30, 2011

No one ever found Noah's Ark

The hard-core fundamentalists love forwarding links to sites like this one, alleging to provide archeological proof of various fantasies from The Bible -- such as Noah's Ark.

Here is a good resource for understanding the bunk behind these alleged findings.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Why do creationists distance themselves from flat-earthers?

Firstly, let's remember that creationists say they take the bible literally.  Well, what about all the evidence in the bible that supports a flat earth?  And in the event you did not know -- the flat-earthers are not a novel piece of ancient history.  No!  They are still active.  You can see their website here!

"Teaching the Controversy" is total nonsense.

This is the first I've heard of creationists attempting to push bunk science masquerading as "Intelligent Design" into Ohio's public schools. Since I'm from Cincinnati, this struck me, and I thought it even more interesting because the TalkOrigins web page features an article from the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2002 as emblematic of the creationist perspective, along with details for debunking that nonsense.

There ARE transitional fossils

Creationists love to pretend there are no "transitional fossils." See for yourself. But they are lying. It's maddening.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Debunking Creationists

Have you seen the TalkOrigins web site? They have a great resource, showcasing TONS of claims by creationists, and then documenting why they are complete nonsense.

Why is evolution called a "theory"?

Here is the big secret creationists don't want you to know:  the word "theory" has a different definition when used in science than when used in casual conversation!  So why is evolution a "theory"?  Well, it's not... Not really.  It is a fact, in terms of what is plainly observable.  It's pretty easy to understand the terminology, which means creationists who try to make people confused about this word are dishonest!

The Science of Denial

My perspective may be different than most because I was a young-earth creationist for a good part of my adult life. Sadly, I wasn't much for hunting the truth, I was happy to accept my faith and trust in God.

To be honest, I didn't really think about it much until later but was a fairly fundamentalist Christian, accepting the Bible as inerrant, special creation, and even "speaking in tongues" which is also part of scripture. So when presented with the argument that we must believe Genesis literally, including that the Earth is young, that seemed like a natural. I had nothing vested in evolution or the age of stuff so it wasn't a big deal. In fact, it was fairly easy to accept the arguments presented by religious sources and look no farther.

That changed when a series of events led me to first doubt my beliefs about creationism then discover that they were pure and utter fantasy. Through the help of an Australian friend who answered some of my questions with specific examples, and the "Evolution 101" podcast of Zachary Moore, I realized that I'd been hoodwinked.

I was pissed.

It turns out that the scientific evidence for an old earth, for an evolutionary progression of life, and the validity of dating methods, is extremely well understood and well accepted by essentially everyone outside of religion. It says a lot that 95% of all working biologists accept evolution and an old earth, but it says even more that the remaining 5% are almost exclusively defending their religion. That's not science.

Geologists are another group that overwhelmingly accepts a billion+ year old earth. It's telling that even most Christian Geologists accept this as apparent by looking at the Affiliation of Christian Geologists website. Here's their statement about an old earth.

Since tossing the "god glasses" I've been thrilled to discover an incredible world of science that, as a method, has advanced our capability in everything from feeding a growing population to making really cool stuff like cars and powered paragliders. I've also learned that there's quite a science behind belief.

When someone has lots of social connections they are looking for ways to reinforce their core beliefs. That makes sense, of course, nobody wants to think of themselves as "close minded"; we want to think that we have good reason for those beliefs. So we seek out "supporting" evidence which is exactly what I did.

Answers in Genesis was where I turned for those questions that seemed intractable. And frequently their non-answer was disappointing but I always chalked it up simply not knowing the mind of god. "We'll find out in heaven" was a common refrain. It wasn't until my social circle changed that I was able to finally start looking elsewhere. When my Australian friend questioned my blind belief in a friendly but direct way, and I had no good answers, I started looking at other evidence.

Wow. That evidence is truly overwhelming for those who are interested in knowing, not just believing. It takes a lot but the trappings of reality are worth the journey.

Happy hunting.