Thursday, December 27, 2012

Bad taxonomy

Bad taxonomy: by Donald Prothero via Skepticblog
One of the strangest aspects of “creation science” is their attempt to reconcile the fact that there are between 5-15 million species on earth, yet somehow they all had to fit on Noah’s ark (one pair or seven pairs of them, depending upon which version of the story you read). Such an idea might have made sense to the ancient Hebrews, who only knew of a few dozen kinds of larger mammals in the ancient Middle East, and did not make distinctions between most types of insects or other invertebrates (just as most people today call almost all insects, arachnids, and other small land arthropods “bugs”), let alone recognize the existence of microorganisms. But the modern-day “creation scientist” must be a strict literalist, and cannot take these ancient stories in the context of their times. Instead, these myths must be literally true in today’s context, and then whatever modern science has revealed in the past few centuries must be re-interpreted or discredited or ignored. It’s one of the most astounding examples of motivated reasoning, reduction of cognitive dissonance, cherry-picking, and confirmation bias one could imagine. In the case of shoehorning all of life into tiny Noah’s ark, they even have invented a name for it (“baraminology”). Quite a few creationists play at this pointless game of sophistry, arguing how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.
Let’s start with the term baramin itself. It was created out of nothing by Seventh-Day Adventist Frank Marsh in 1941 by tacking two words together from a Hebrew glossary (bara ”created”; min,  ”kind”) without any idea how Hebrew actually works. Since almost none of the creationists read the Old Testament in the original Hebrew (or they would spot the problems and inconsistencies that make literal interpretation absurd), they don’t realize how ridiculous this term is, and why it doesn’t mean what they think it means. As I learned when I studied Hebrew, the Semitic root “B-R-A” (vowel points were not invented until centuries later) is translated “he created” or “he conjured,” so it is a past-tense verb, not a past participle of a verb, as Marsh used it. And min can be used to mean not only a “kind” but also a species, or even a sex. Slapped together as Marsh did it, the object min replaces the original subject Elohim (one of the names for the gods), so literally translated, baramin means “the species created”, not “god created”—and certainly not “created kinds” in any sense the scriptures use. If Marsh had known any Hebrew and wanted to create a grammatically correct translation of “created kind”, it would have been min baru (past participle). But given the consistently sloppy scholarship of creationists, I would never expect them to get this part right.
Leaving aside their ignorance of Hebrew, the whole topic of “baraminology” reminds one of a laughably poor imitation of science—science as imagined by kids at play, or amateurs who are parroting the forms without understanding any of the principles or protocols or implications of the actual research, or the silly imitation of science in the movies and TV where they spout sciency-sounding words that make no sense whatsoever. The focus of their “research” is to skim over the entire field of modern animal classification and then imagine ways to shoehorn hundreds of individual species and genera into the smallest possible number of categories. They don’t bother to work with actual animals, or get their hands dirty with the dissections and anatomical work that established the modern taxonomy of organisms, or spend the years in graduate school to obtain the kind of training necessary to understand and analyze molecular phylogenetic data, or wade into the gigantic literature of modern systematic theory since the days of Simpson and Mayr and cladistics. No, that would require that they be trained in actual science, and confront the evidence for evolution that runs throughout life. Instead, they do superficial, high-school level “book-report” types of analyses, where they cherry-pick ideas here and there from highly simplified internet sources and Wikipedia articles. They know just enough science to pick up a stray factoid here and there without any understanding of the caveats and methods behind the data, or the relative significance or importance of one kind of data versus another that only comes with years of graduate study in a field.
So what are the methods of “baraminology”? In a nutshell, they are wildly inconsistent. A baramin might correspond to what a real biologist recognizes as a species, a genus, an order, a family, or even an entire phylum (Siegler, 1978; Ward, 1965)! In some cases, they mimic the methods of phenetic taxonomy and look for overall similarity; in others, they ape the terminology of cladistics with such odd terms as “holobaramin”, which has no rigorously-defined meaning whatsoever (since it is based on a concept with no consistent basis or meaning). Unlike real systematists, “baraminologists” don’t work with actual specimens or enumerate real anatomical characters, or analyze their own molecular sequences, or use rigorous methods of character analysis and computerized methods of determining parsimonious solutions. Instead, if this recent effort by veterinarian and “independent scholar” Jean K. Lightner (NOT a systematic biologist) is any indication, it consists largely of looking at images of the animals on the web and deciding by a glance at single photograph which ones rate their own baramin and which ones don’t. Indeed, one “baraminologist” said so in no uncertain terms: “The cognita are not based on explicit or implicit comparisons of characters or biometric distance measures but on the gestalt of the plants and the classification response it elicits in humans.” They remind one of what Humpty Dumpty told Alice (in Through the Looking Glass), “Whenever I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”
Lightner’s article is particularly revealing. She is trying the reduce the thousands of species of mammals alive today into the smallest number that can fit on Noah’s ark, and ends up with 137 baramin: some are families, some are genera, some are species and others are whole orders within the class Mammalia. She clusters all pigs and peccaries and hippos in one baramin, but splits up the many families of possums and other Australian marsupials into separate baramin. All cats, from tiny ocelots to giant tigers, are one baramin; so too are all canids, from tiny foxes to big wolves. She occasionally quotes parts of recent molecular studies (particularly in the case of hybridization) to lump or separate baramin, but completely ignores the overwhelming evidence from those same molecular studies of the interrelatedness of the taxa involved. In a nutshell, she cherry-picks what makes animals look different today, and avoids anything that might suggest they are closely related to each other. This is like looking at the terminal branches of a tree and trying to find their distinctiveness today, but failing to notice the fact that they are connected the further down you go, and they all come from a common trunk. Her article explicitly avoids talking about ANY fossil evidence (except in the case of horses, which even creationists cannot ignore). But it is precisely that evidence that confirms what anatomical and molecular data have long demonstrated: everything converges to common ancestor if you go back far enough. As I demonstrated in my book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, you can trace many such terminal branches of the tree of life down to common ancestors that cannot be distinguished. For example (pp. 304-306), those same horses that creationists are so happy to lump into one “kind” can be traced back to primitive dog-sized four- and three-toed ancestors which are nearly identical to the earliest rhinos and earliest tapirs. These are separate baramin according to Lightner, but if she bothered to look closely at these Eocene fossils, she could not tell which baramin they belonged to. In my book, I provide many other examples of lineages which can be traced down to ancestors that are nearly indistinguishable, such as whales and their anthracothere ancestors, the different lineages of antelopes and giraffes and pronghorns, the elephants and the manatees, the pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) and their bear-like relatives, and so on. Clearly, if you ignore 99% of the evidence and cherry-pick the most recent members of diverging lineages, you will not see the evidence of evolution in every part of their biology, anatomy, fossil record, and molecular sequences.
Even more startling is the fact that creationists will shoehorn ALL of horse evolution into one baramin! If a creationist saw an early Eocene horse like Protorohippus(formerly “eohippus”) without knowing its connection to modern horses, they would NEVER consider it to be related to a horse. This is virtually all of evolution right there, a concession that evolution on even the largest scale is real. Their only difference with real scientists is that horses are separate from tapirs and rhinos as different kinds, yet the fossil evidence demonstrates even that “macroevolutionary” transition that they refuse to admit.

A plushie version of a pseudocheirid possum from Australia, originally displayed on a website selling plushies but mistaken for the real animal by creationists and posted as such in their article about “baramin”
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this whole exercise in amateurish incompetence concerned one of the many photographs of animals that Lightner’s web paper stole (without permission or attribution) from various web sources. One of her “animal photos” of a pseudocheirid (“ring-tailed possum”) was not a real animal at all, but a photo of a plush toy! That photo has since been replaced in the original website, but the point is clear: they can’t even tell real animals from toy plushies, since their total level of analysis is to glance at photos on the web, not to work with actual specimens. RationalWiki and P.Z. Myers in his Pharyngula blog noticed this, and pointed out that with a bunch of plush toys on the ark instead of real animals, they might have a lot fewer problems with feeding them or dealing with all the poop. It reminds one of Turkish creationist Harun Yahya and his habit getting fooled by photographs of fishing lures instead of real insects in his ridiculous book Atlas of Creation, that was sent out a few years ago. And it reinforces the conclusion that creationists are completely out of their depth on topics like this, dabbling in stuff stolen from the web like a high-schooler cribbing a report without understanding what they are doing, or even noticing that their pictures don’t show what they think they show!


  • Siegler, H.R. 1978. A creationist’s taxonomy. Creation Research Society Quarterly 15:36–38.
  • Ward, R.R. 1965. In the Beginning. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

The Rocks don’t lie

A review of The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood, by David R. Montgomery
Creationists are notorious for distorting or denying the facts of biology (evolution), paleontology (denying the evidence of evolution in fossils), physics and astronomy (denying modern cosmology), and many other fields. But some of their most egregious attempts to twist reality to fit their bizarre views are found in “flood geology,” a concoction of strange ideas about the geologic record that clearly demonstrate how little actual experience any of them has in looking at real rocks. I dissected this issue in great detail in Chapter 3 of my 2007 book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters (Columbia University Press, New York).
David Montgomery, however, devotes an entire book to the topic of geology and creationism. The title is tantalizing, making one wonder whether this is yet another creationist book disguised as real science. But the content is relatively straightforward. Montgomery is a well-respected geomorphologist at the University of Washington who has studied landforms around the world, and he makes it clear up front that he is not about to support the ridiculous ideas of flood geology. Instead, he embarks on a long narration that is part travelogue, part history, and part description of the breakthroughs in biblical scholarship that long ago led to the rejection of biblical literalism by anyone who can actually read the Bible in the original Greek and Hebrew.
His first chapter looks at a number of places on earth where he has done research on Ice Age glacial dams and floods, and shows that they show no evidence of being part of a global flood. In Chapter 2, he recounts the evidence of Grand Canyon with the creationist’s Grand Canyon: A Different View in his hands as he hikes, and remarks (p. 16) simply that “the story was nothing like the tale I read in the rocks I had spent the day hiking past.” Unfortunately, he does not provide enough detail (or illustrations of key outcrops) to really debunk the interpretations of “flood geologists”.
The next two chapters then recount the early history of geology, from the Greeks and Romans, to the Middle Ages when scholars and natural historians tried to shoehorn all of earth history into the narrow accounts of Genesis, and finally were forced to reject the idea of Noah’s Flood by about 1840—all without losing their Christian faith. At the end he remarks (p. 91), “After Cuvier, the drive to find evidence of Noah’s Flood in the rocks was well and truly dead, although modern creationists would later resurrect the idea.” The next chapter then carries the historical narrative through the birth of modern geology, with Hutton, Buckland, and Lyell, and the eventual realization that the earth is immensely old with (in Hutton’s words) “no vestige of a beginning.”
Chapter 8 then jumps to another topic altogether: the discovery by George Smith and the others of ancient Sumerian and Babylonian flood myths that were directly plagiarized by the authors of Genesis. In Chapter 9, Montgomery looks at flood myths in cultures all over the world, and shows that there is no evidence they are describing a single universal flood of Noah. Chapter 10 then goes through the history of modern American creationism, from the Kentucky “Creation Museum” to the birth of fundamentalism, to George Macready Price and his amateurish efforts to create a new “flood geology” in the 1920s through the 1950s. Throughout this account, Montgomery points out how far from reality Price’s imaginary geology was, and how it was fought by genuine Christian geologists like J. Laurence Kulp, who attempted to reconcile Genesis and geology without violating the laws of earth science. Kulp’s efforts were eventually overshadowed by the later backlash into extreme fundamentalism, and marked the end of any attempt at scientific rationality trumping literalism in the creationist community.
Chapter 12 shifts to the story of J Harlen Bretz and the “Scablands floods,” and how this and other Ice Age glacial-dam floods bear no resemblance to Noah’s Flood (despite creationist attempts to hijack this discovery to their advantage). Then in Chapter 13, Montgomery describes the modern incarnation of “flood geology” proposed by Whitcomb and Morris in the 1960s, and this marked the birth of the current creationist attempts to push “flood geology” on the faithful. Throughout the chapter, Montgomery points out the absurdities of the Whitcomb-Morris model. In his final chapter, Montgomery talks about the conflict between science and faith, and tries to be conciliatory to both sides, as long as religion doesn’t try to deny science with absurdly literalistic interpretations of the Bible. In the final pages (pp. 256-257), he adopts a lofty tone:
“The scientific story of the origin and evolution of life, the vast sweep of geologic time, and the complexity of the processes that shaped the world we know today inspire more awe and wonder than the series of one-off miracles from Genesis that I read about in Sunday School. Miracles do not fuel curiosity or innovation. If we embrace the claim that Earth is a few thousand years old, we must also throw out the most basic findings of geology, physics, chemistry or biology. The concept of geologic time, on the other hand, opens up an entirely new creation story, along with the idea that the world is unfinished and creation is ongoing. And a complex, evolving world is one we would be well advised to do our best to understand. Personally, I find a world that invites exploration and learning more inspiring than a world where all is known….Yet no honest search for truth can deny geological discoveries—not when the Earth’s marvelous story is laid out for all to see in the very fabric of our world. We may argue endlessly about how to interpret the Bible, but the rocks don’t lie. They tell it like it was.”
In summary, Montgomery has covered nearly all the bases relevant to creationism, Noah’s ark myths, and “flood geology.” His tone is deliberately relaxed and non-confrontational, and he makes a great effort to educate the reader (both geologist and creationist) about the historical background to these ideas, and why Christian geologists in the 1830s and 1840s rejected Noah’s flood as soon as the rock record became well enough known. He is clearly trying to win the reader who is religious but conflicted about creationism and “flood geology” without saying anything that might alienate either side. My own preference, as I showed in my 2007 evolution book, is to be a bit more pointed and direct, and call a spade a spade when creationists are distorting the truth. I prefer to be explicit in the details of why “flood geology” is wrong, and not to gloss over such evidence (since the creationists themselves seem to relish this sort of nitpicking). I’m not sure which approach works better. Judging from the reviews of Montgomery’s book on its site, most readers seemed to like the gentle tone, although many reviewers would have preferred a stronger attack on creationist absurdities. The one creationist review on shows the usual complete lack of comprehension of the book (if he read any of it at all). If Montgomery attempted to really reach them, his non-confrontational, history-heavy approach did not succeed. However, it cannot hurt to have books with more than one approach to tackling “flood geology” and creationism available on the market. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about the background to the debate and the general nature of the evidence, and doesn’t require the point-by-point refutation of creationism that other sources (such as my 2007 book, or the website, provide). Either way, science wins with such books in the hands of readers wavering on the fence between science and superstition.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Top 10 Claims Made by Creationists to Counter Scientific Theories by George Dvorsky

The Top 10 Claims Made by Creationists to Counter Scientific Theories:

One of the most challenging tasks for the modern day creationist to is reconcile the belief in a 6,000 year old Earth with the ever-growing mountain of scientific evidence pointing to a vastly different conclusion — namely a universe that's 13.5 billion years old and an Earth that formed 4.5 billion years ago. So, given these astoundingly dramatic discrepancies, biblical literalists and 'young Earth creationists' have had no choice but to get pretty darned imaginative when brushing science aside. Here are 10 arguments creationists have made to counter scientific theories.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Real Geology vs. “Flood Geology” via eSkeptic

Real Geology vs. “Flood Geology”


ny time you read creationist attempts to claim Noah’s flood was real, they point to the Grand Canyon or cherry-pick a flood event in a local region and claim there was once a giant flood that could cover the entire earth. Such claims show that creationists not only don’t know much about real geology and have never looked at very many real outcrops, but also that they don’t know history.

First of all, all geologists before 1800 were creationists and devout Christians who believed that the rocks they were studying were deposits of Noah’s flood. But by 1840, they had completely rejected the idea of a global flood because the rock record clearly didn’t support the idea. The Noah’s flood story was rejected by creationists based on the actual hard evidence over 170 years ago, and no geologist with legitimate training and any real experience in the real rock record has taken it seriously since then. The reason is simple: there are no flood deposits in most parts of the world that could reasonably be connected to Noah’s flood, and 99% of the rock record (including the Grand Canyon) are not flood deposits whatsoever. As I explained in my 2007 book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters (pp. 58–64):

The first detailed attempt [to revive the “Noah’s flood geology” model] came from a Seventh-Day Adventist schoolteacher named George Macready Price, who published a series of books starting in 1902. Price had no formal training or experience in geology or paleontology, and in fact attended only a few college classes at a tiny Adventist college. But inspired by Ellen G. White, the prophetess and founder of the Seventh-Day Adventist movement, he dreamed up an explanation called “flood geology” and aggressively promoted it for more than sixty years until his death in 1963. According to Price, the Flood accounted for all of the fossil record, with the helpless invertebrates being buried first, and the larger land animals floating to the top to be buried in higher strata, or fleeing the floodwaters to higher ground.

Ignorant of history or geology, Price was unaware of the fact that religious geologists had believed in a Noachian deluge explanation of the fossil record in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but abandoned it when their own work showed it to be impossible—long before evolution came on the scene. The most famous geological treatise of the seventeenth century, The Sacred Theory of the Earth, by Reverend Thomas Burnet, dealt with the problem of the Noachian Deluge explaining the rock record. Burnet, unlike the modern creationists, did not fall back on the supernatural. Although others urged him to resort to miracles, Burnet declared: “They say in short that God Almighty created waters on purpose to make the Deluge…. And this, in a few words, is the whole account of the business. This is to cut the knot when we cannot loose it.”

In Price’s later years, his bizarre ideas about geology were generally ignored as embarrassments by most creationists (see Numbers, 1992, pp. 89–101). Most subscribed to the “day-age” idea of Genesis, where the “days” of scripture were geologic “ages,” and did not try to contort all the evidence of geology into a simplistic flood model. Some disciples of Price actually tried to test his ideas and look at the rocks for themselves, which Price apparently never bothered to do. In 1938, Price’s follower Harold W. Clark “at the invitation of one of his students visited the oil fields of Oklahoma and northern Texas and saw with his own eyes why geologists believed as they did. Observations of deep drilling and conversations with practical geologists gave him a ‘real shock’ that permanently erased any confidence in Price’s vision of a topsy-turvy fossil record” (Numbers, 1992, p. 125). Clark wrote to Price:

The rocks do lie in a much more definite sequence than we have ever allowed. The statements made in the New Geology [Price’s term for “flood geology”] do not harmonize with the conditions in the field… All over the Middle West the rocks lie in great sheets extending over hundreds of miles, in regular order. Thousands of well cores prove this. In East Texas alone are 25,000 deep wells. Probably well over 100,000 wells in the Midwest give data that have been studied and correlated. The science has become a very exact one, and millions of dollars are spent in drilling, with the paleontological findings of the company geologists taken as the basis for the work. The sequence of microscopic fossils in the strata is very remarkably uniform … The same sequence is found in America, Europe, and anywhere that detailed studies have been made. This oil geology has opened up the depths of the earth in a way that we never dreamed of twenty years ago. (quoted in Numbers, 1992, p. 125)

Clark’s statement is a classic example of a reality check shattering the fantasy world of the flood geologists. Unfortunately, most creationists do not seek scientific reality. They prefer to speculate from their armchairs and read simplified popular books about fossils and rocks, rather than go out in the field and do the research themselves, or do the hard work of getting the necessary advanced training in geology and paleontology.

In the 1950s the young seminarian John C. Whitcomb tried to revive Price’s ideas yet again. When Douglas Block, a devout and sympathetic friend with geological training, reviewed Whitcomb’s manuscript, he “found Price’s recycled arguments almost more than he could stomach. ‘It would seem,’ wrote the upset geologist, ‘that somewhere along the line there would have been a genuinely well-trained geologist who would have seen the implications of flood-geology, and, if tenable, would have worked them into a reasonable system that was positive rather than negative in character.’ He assured Whitcomb that he and his colleagues at Wheaton [College, an evangelical school] were not ignoring Price. In fact, they required every geology student to read at least one of his books, and they repeatedly tested his ideas in seminars and in the field. By the time Block finished Whitcomb’s manuscript, he had grown so agitated he offered to drive down to instruct Whitcomb on the basics of historical geology” (Numbers, 1992, p. 190).

In 1961, Whitcomb and hydraulic engineer Henry Morris publishedThe Genesis Flood, where they rehashed Price’s notions with a little twist or two of their own. Their main contribution was the idea of hydraulic sorting by Noah’s flood, where the flood would bury the heavier shells of marine invertebrates and fishes in the lower levels, followed by more advanced animals such as amphibians, reptiles (including dinosaurs) fleeing to intermediate levels, and finally the “smart mammals” would climb to the highest levels to escape the rising floodwaters before they are buried.

The first time a professional geologist or paleontologist reads this weird scenario, they cannot help but be amazed at its naiveté. Price, Whitcomb and Morris apparently never spent any time collecting fossils or rocks. What their model is trying to explain is a cartoon, an oversimplication drawn for kiddie books—not any real stratigraphic sequence of fossils documented in science. Those simplistic diagrams with the invertebrates at the bottom, the dinosaurs in the middle, and the mammals on top bear no real resemblance to any local sequence on earth. In fact, those cartoons show only the first appearance of invertebrates, dinosaurs, and mammals, not their order of fossilization in the rock record (since invertebrates are obviously still with us, and are found in all strata from the bottom to the top). This diagram is an abstraction based on the complex three-dimensional pattern of rocks from all over the world. In a few extraordinary places, such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce National Parks in Utah and Arizona, we have a fairly continuous sequence of a long stretch of geologic time, so we know the true order in which rocks and fossils stack one on top of another. But even in that sequence, we have “dumb” marine ammonites, clams, and snails from the Cretaceous Mancos Shale found on top of“smarter, faster” amphibians and reptiles (including dinosaurs) from the Triassic and Jurassic Moenkopi, Chinle, Kayenta, and Navajo formations.

Just to the north, in the Utah-Wyoming border region, the middle Eocene Green River Shale yields famous fish fossils have been quarried by commercial collectors for almost a century. The Green River Shale produces fossils not only of freshwater fish, but also freshwater clams and snails, frogs, crocodiles, birds, and land plants. The rocks are finely laminated shale diagnostic of deposition in quiet water over thousands of years, with fossil mud cracks and salts formed by complete evaporation of the water. These fossils and sediments are all characteristic of a lake deposit which occasionally dried up, not a giant flood. These Green River fish fossils lie abovethe famous dinosaur-bearing beds of the upper Jurassic Morrison Formation in places such as Dinosaur National Monument, and above many of the mammal-bearing beds of the lower Eocene Wasatch Formation as well, so once again the fish and invertebrates are found above the supposedly smarter and faster dinosaurs and mammals.

If you think hard about it, why should we expect that marine invertebrates or fish would drown at all? They are, after all, adapted to marine waters, and many are highly mobile when the sediment is shifting. As Stephen Jay Gould put it:

Surely, somewhere, at least one courageous trilobite would have paddled on valiantly (as its colleagues succumbed) and won a place in the upper strata. Surely, on some primordial beach, a man would have suffered a heart attack and been washed into the lower strata before intelligence had a chance to plot a temporary escape….No trilobite lies in the upper strata because they all perished 225 million years ago. No man keeps lithified company with a dinosaur, because we were still 60 million years in the future when the last dinosaur perished. (Gould, 1984, p. 132)
In addition to the examples just given, there are hundreds of other places in the world where the “dumb invertebrates” that supposedly drowned in the initial stages of the rising flood are found on top of “smarter, faster land animals,” including many places in the Atlantic Coast of the United States, in Europe, and in Asia, where marine shell beds overlie those bearing land mammals. In some places, like the Calvert Cliffs of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland or Sharktooth Hill near Bakersfield, California, the land mammal fossils and the marine shells are all mixed together, and there are also beds with marine shellsabove and below those containing land mammals! How could that make any sense with the “rising flood waters” of the creationist model?

In short, the “flood geology” model was rejected by trained, experienced geologists (who also happened to be creationists) over 170 years ago, and has not been taken seriously since then. Real geology has proven enormously powerful, for without it we would not have the fossils in our museums or our understanding of geologic history. Without it, we would never find oil, gas, coal, or many other economic deposits that are based on understanding real geology, not theological fantasies. If “flood geology” were still in use by real geologists, we would have none of these benefits.

Gould, S.J. 1994. “Hooking Leviathan by its Past,” pp. 375–396, in Gould, S.J.,Dinosaur in a Haystack. W.W. Norton, New York.
Numbers, R. 1992. The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Knopf, New York.
Prothero, D.R. 2007. Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. Columbia University Press, New York.
Whitcomb, J.C., Jr., and H.M. Morris. 1961. The Genesis Flood. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Nutley, NJ.

A Flood of Nonsense! The Myth of a Universal flood via eSkeptic

The World Destroyed by Water (illustrated
by Gustave Dore). Dore Bible illustrations can be found at

“And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.” —Genesis 7:24 
“The World Destroyed by Water” by Gustave Doré.

A Flood of Nonsense!
The Myth of a Universal flood Myth

by Tim Callahan

One of the programs of the (so-called) History Channel that is particularly galling to me as a skeptic is their Ancient Aliens series, where Erich von Daniken, Zecharia Sitchen, Georgio Tsoukalos and David Childress, among others, advance the pseudo-scientific theory that extraterrestrials both created us through biological engineering and gave us our ancient civilizations. In the process of advancing their dogma, they spout blatant falsehoods that go utterly unchallenged. The History Channel, shamefully, makes no attempt whatsoever to offer any rebuttal to these spurious claims. Rather, as is their policy with any program dealing with the historicity of anything from the Bible, their policy toward ancient astronaut theorists is one of shameless pandering, a strategy most probably determined by favoring profits over proof and ratings over reason. Fortunately, filmmaker Chris White has addressed this imbalance, putting the lie to these claims thoroughly in his three-hour documentary Ancient Aliens Debunked,recently posted on
Unfortunately, in one area in particular Mr. White has stumbled badly in his assertion that the biblical story of the flood is not derived from Sumerian flood stories (whose connection to the ancient alien series is thin in any case) and instead claims that both biblical and Sumerian flood stories reflect an actual worldwide flood and are not the result of cultural diffusion from some earlier myth. According to White, all over the world there is a universal myth of a worldwide flood in which only a few people, usually about eight, are saved by entering a boat, while the rest of humanity is drowned. White argues that, of course, one great drawback to such an assertion is that science in no way supports such a universal flood. Geology and the fossil record and genetics all militate strongly against any historical validity of a worldwide flood. Thus, comparative mythology is his only evidence on the offing.
Are flood myths universal? No. At least, not one in which a worldwide flood wipes out all of the human race but for a couple or a single family. Consider the case of China. Does this large country with an unbroken history going back to ancient times have a flood myth, replete with a boat on which a few survivors escape, from thence to reestablish the human race? It does, however that particular flood myth comes from an ethnic minority called the Miao. They speak a language similar to Thai and appear to have immigrated to China from Southeast Asia. The only other flood myth from China involves annual flooding from rivers and the need for people to work together to prevent such destruction. It involves no ark and no destruction of all life on the planet.
Consider also an Egyptian flood myth. Surely this one should be similar to those of the Bible and Mesopotamia if the flood were, in fact, historical. In this myth the gods, suspecting mortal treachery against them, dispatch the goddess Hat-hor to take vengeance on the human race. However, her blood lust gets out of hand and threatens to utterly annihilate humanity. Since this is not the aim of the gods, they pour out upon Egypt a flood of beer brewed from mandrake root, which has soporific properties. Hat-hor, setting out on her daily rampage, looks down at the flooded land of Egypt, sees her own beautiful visage reflected in the beer and bends down to kiss it. She begins to drink the mandrake root beer and drinks so much of it that she forgets the plan of destruction and instead staggers off to bed. Thus, in the Egyptian flood story, the flood saves the human race.
Yet another flood story that differs significantly from the biblical one is found in Norse myth. Odin and his two brothers, Villi and Ve, kill the frost giant, Ymir, and make the world out of his body. His blood creates a flood that drowns most of the other frost giants. All this happens before the creation of the human race.
There is no native Celtic flood myth. I have to stress the word “native” since the Celtic myths, like those of the Teutonic peoples were written down by Christian monks, who harmonized them with myths from the Bible. Here is yet another problem with the vaunted universality of flood myths: Many of them appear courtesy of cultural contamination by Christian and, in some cases, Muslim, missionaries.
Diffusion of flood myths is also a factor. While there are differences between earlier Mesopotamian myths and the story of Noah’s ark, and while there is not a literary descent from the earlier material to the later, there is a cultural continuity. Thus, the Akkadian flood epic, Atrahasis, gave rise to later flood tales, not only the story of Noah in the Bible, but, as well, that of Deucalion and Pyrrha in Greek mythology. We do not find, nor would we expect to find, any great literary correspondence between an Akkadian epic, written on preserved tablets dating from ca. 1650 BCE and the biblical flood myth, the earliest version of which probably dates from ca. 850 BCE.
In his defense of the biblical flood story as history, White also falls back on an old canard, to whit, that the scribal transcription of the biblical text is so precise that it is far more accurate and less open to corrupting changes than any other ancient document. Certainly this might have been true of their transcription once the documents in question were seen as holy writ. However, varying versions of biblical tales were still being written perhaps as late as the Babylonian Captivity (587–538 BCE). That the biblical text is of late compilation is further attested to by its many anachronisms. Consider, as an example, what Genesis says of the place of origin of Abrahm, that is, Abraham (Gen. 11:31 emphasis added):
Tereh took Abrahm his son and Lot, the son of Haran, his grandson and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abrahm’s wife, and he went forth from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran they settled there.
While this test purports to be from the hand of Moses, written sometime between 1400 and 1200 BCE, the Chaldeans did not occupy Ur until ca. 800 BCE. Hence, this document’s reference to Ur as “Ur of the Chaldeans” dates it as having been written after that time.
Chris White would do a great service to the cause of critical thinking, and to himself as well, were he to excise the flood material from his otherwise exemplary documentary. END

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another creationist drops by to show that there’s no evidence for evolution « Why Evolution Is True

Another creationist drops by to show that there’s no evidence for evolution « Why Evolution Is True: "About ten days ago I got this comment from “Steve” (obviously not one of the “evolution Steves”) about my July 9 post “What would disprove evolution?” That one listed a number of conceivable observations that could be seen as countering the existence of evolution, though none of them had ever been been made.

I offer Steve’s comment as another specimen of the mindset of creationists, and of their ignorance of biology. It seems to be a willful ignorance, since it’s easily dispelled with about ten minutes of Googling.

I have one more of these in the series, a post from yet a third creationist asserting that humans didn’t evolve."
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Friday, August 3, 2012

How the Blind Watchmaker Made Eyes

How the Blind Watchmaker Made Eyes

by Donald R. Prothero
Since the days of Darwin, eyes and evolution have been an irresistible topic for scientists and amateur authors alike. British biologist St. George Jackson Mivart was initially a supporter of Darwin, but when his Catholic religion caused conflict with Thomas Henry Huxley in 1871, he changed to a critic. Mivart’s critique focused on the issue of the perfection of the human eye and how he could not fathom how it could have evolved by natural selection and random chance (a point still raised by creationists today who know nothing about comparative biology).
In later editions of On the Origin of Species, Darwin specifically addressed Mivart’s criticism and carefully explained how the incipient stages of complex structures like the eye could be useful, and could have evolved by small steps; it did not require a giant leap to the complexity to develop the human eye. As Darwin first showed, nature is full of examples of every kind of photoreceptor, from simple light-sensitive cells to eyespots to simple eyes with no lenses, to a variety of solutions of seeing with more and more complex eyes. Once you arrange these solutions in an array, it is only a small step from one to the next, more complex eye. (Indeed, many animals actually show this transition during their embryonic development as their eyes change, and in some organisms, the eyes develop differently in males and females). In fact, the passages where Darwin talks about the eye are one of the most frequently “quote mined” by creationists trying to distort Darwin’s meaning, because they quote only the beginning of the paragraph were Darwin is setting up the creationist position in order to shoot it down the in the rest of the passage (which creationists never quote). Here is the first section that creationists quote (On the Origin of Species, 6th ed., 1872, 143–144):
To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.
Here is the rest of the quote that creationists conveniently leave out:
Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound.
The rest of Darwin’s chapter goes into great depth describing the full range of photoreceptor solutions in the animal kingdom, which creationists also conveniently fail to address.
Fast-forward 153 years later to the culmination of this line of argument, represented by Ivan Schwab’s outstanding book Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved. There have been a number of scientific papers that have expanded on Darwin’s comparative sequence of ocular solutions, but none in the beautiful full-color coffee-table book format that extensively reviews photoreception across all of biology, as does Schwab’s book. Schwab is a professor of ophthalmology at University of California Davis, so he knows eyes in a way that few biologists do, but he also takes great trouble to study and image photoreceptors from nearly every group of living organisms. The book shows not only spectacular color photographs of a wide range of organisms and close-ups of their eyes, but many images of histological sections through the eyes and head (done by Richard Dubielzig, DVM), color reconstructions of prehistoric animals by renowned paleoartist John Sibbick, and microphotography of eye histology. Detailed discussions of the eye anatomy of many key living organisms are provided, along with speculation about the eye anatomy of fossils with excellent preservation. Some, like trilobites, have preserved their crystal calcite lenses unaltered, so we can actually see what they could see. The anatomical discussion might be heavy going for those without any background in biology, but the author provides excellent diagrams and definitions of every anatomical term, plus a glossary, so those who wish to dig in and learn the material will be rewarded.
The book also attempts not just a comparative biology exercise, but a fully chronological account of the geological factors that were in play when each type of eye arose prehistorically. Thus, rather than running through the full gamut of eye types in, say, phylum Arthropoda or phylum Chordata, the chapters jump from the kinds of eyes that existed in invertebrates of a given geological period to the contemporary vertebrates, and back again. This exposition may be a little hard to follow for some readers, but it does allow one to see when each type of eye arose and under what geological conditions. Thus, we can better understand, for example, how 300 m.y. old Carboniferous dragonflies with wingspans almost 3 feet across had eyes the size of golf balls! They, like the 9-foot Arthropleura (a sowbug relative on steroids) or the foot-long cockroaches of this period, were able to grow so large because atmospheric oxygen levels at that time were much higher; oxygen is a critical limiting factor not only for arthropod growth, but especially for eye development. Elsewhere, he describes the amazing dolphin-like marine reptiles known as ichthyosaurs, some of which had eyes the size of beach balls, the largest eyes ever known. These animals apparently were divers into the dark depths of the oceans where they must have hunted prey (possibly large squid like modern sperm whales hunt) that live at such depths.
Schwab begins at the beginning of the simplest life forms, discussing the chemicals and pigments found even in bacteria and algae, and how many (besides chlorophyll) are sensitive to light. He shows how some non-photosynthetic light-sensitive pigments have non-light-sensitive precursors, and evolved before the advent of photoreceptors, then were later co-opted for light sensitivity. Schwab goes into the recent research on evolutionary development of eyes, and how certain genes turn on or off expression of certain eye features, or even the entire eye. He reminds us how many animals have no need for sensitivity to light at all, let alone photoreceptors or eyes, and dispels our anthropomorphic notion that eyes are essential to evolutionary success.
In discussing the appearance of the first real eyes of the trilobites in the Cambrian, Schwab does not make the mistake that Andrew Parker made in his 2004 book In the Blink of an Eye: How Vision Caused the Big Bang of Evolution. Parker’s book was excoriated in the scientific community, not only for its execrable writing style and lack of proper references, but for the even simpler reason that the “Cambrian explosion” was no “explosion” (it took at least 20–80 million years in a series of steps) and that the trilobites and their eyes were one of the last events in this long slow process, so they are unlikely to have caused anything more than the late radiation of more trilobites.
Finally, in his review of cephalopod eyes, Schwab shows how the structure of the fluid-filled eyeball of an octopus evolved independently in that lineage and in the vertebrates—but the octopus eye is actually designed better than our eye! It has no “blind spot” in the retina caused by the exit of the optic nerve, and its layers of photoreceptors are not buried under several other layers of cells, distorting the vision, as our retinas are. The next time you run into a creationist who rhapsodizes about how beautifully designed nature is, remind them of the flawed construction of our eyes compared to that of an octopus or squid, and ask what that tells them about the Designer!
In a project this large in scope, small errors are bound to creep in, especially in areas far from the author’s expertise in eye anatomy. For example, he mentions the discredited notion that a meteorite impact might have something to do with the great Permian extinction; he follows the controversial idea that turtles are nested within Diapsida; but he retains the outdated notions that mesonychids are closer relatives of whales than hippos and other artiodactyls. These can be forgiven, because the author is making an attempt to reach across disciplines and paint a broad picture in a geological context, and such an effort is hard for anyone, regardless of specialty, to manage.
In the broader sense, the entire book is an outstanding antidote to scientific ignorance and creationist lies. It is beautifully written and illustrated, yet the writing is accessible to anyone with some biology background and a willingness to follow the details carefully. The evidence for evolution screams out at you page after page. Like Darwin did in 1859, Schwab pounds the case home with example after example in a way that no creationist can rebut. Among the overwhelmingly positive reviews the book has received in the professional journals and on the Internet, there are three pathetic one-sentence negative reviews by creationist trolls on the book’s page, which clearly show that they didn’t actually read the book and could not comprehend it. Indeed, one of them admits that he gave a bad review to the book after only reading the “look inside” feature on the site and skimming the few pages that are presented. If that doesn’t summarize creationist “scholarship” in a nutshell, nothing does! END
About the Author of this Review
DR. DONALD R. PROTHERO was Professor of Geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, and Lecturer in Geobiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He earned M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees in geological sciences from Columbia University in 1982, and a B.A. in geology and biology (highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa) from the University of California, Riverside. He is currently the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of 32 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five leading geology textbooks and five trade books as well as edited symposium volumes and other technical works. He is on the editorial board of Skeptic magazine, and in the past has served as an associate or technical editor for GeologyPaleobiology and Journal of Paleontology. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, and the Linnaean Society of London, and has also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Science Foundation. He has served as the President and Vice President of the Pacific Section of SEPM (Society of Sedimentary Geology), and five years as the Program Chair for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. In 1991, he received the Schuchert Award of the Paleontological Society for the outstanding paleontologist under the age of 40. He has also been featured on several television documentaries, including episodes of Paleoworld (BBC), Prehistoric Monsters Revealed (History Channel), Entelodon and Hyaenodon (National Geographic Channel) and Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (BBC). His website is: Check out Donald Prothero’s pageat Shop Skeptic.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What would disprove evolution? « Why Evolution Is True

"If evolution is a scientific theory worth its salt, then there must be some conceivable observations that could show it to be wrong. I just wanted to put down, for the record, what some of those observations might be. First, let’s reprise what I see as the major components of the theory of evolution."
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11 Eye-Opening Highlights From a Creationist Science Textbook -

A few months ago, I was reading about homeschooling, because I do things like randomly reading about homeschooling. I read an article that mentioned a family using science textbooks produced by Bob Jones University. (If you're not familiar, that's a large, for-profit, evangelical Christian university in South Carolina.) I had to see what one of those textbooks was like. I bought one for a few bucks on Amazon and a few slow shipping weeks later, I had my answer. 

I purchased a copy of Science 4 for Christian Schools, an evangelical-written and -approved science textbook published in 1990. According to the stamp on the inside cover, my copy was previously owned by The Country Church & Country Christian School in Molella, Oregon. So, thanks guys!
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

8 Humanlike Behaviors of Primates via Live Science

While we lost most of our body hair and bulked up our brains, humans are evolutionarily close to other great apes, with about 97 percent of our genes DNA matching up. Beyond looks, researchers have found a startling number of humanlike behaviors practiced by our ape ancestors.
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Did a Copying Mistake Build Man's Brain? via Live Science

A copying error appears to be responsible for critical features of the human brain that distinguish us from our closest primate kin, new research finds.
When tested out in mice, researchers found this "error" caused the rodents' brain cells to move into place faster and enabled more connections between brain cells.
When any cell divides, it first copies its entire genome. During this process, it can make errors. The cell usually fixes errors in the DNA. But when they aren't fixed, they become permanent changes called mutations, which are sometimes hurtful and sometimes helpful, though usually innocuous.
One type of error is duplication, when the DNA-copying machinery accidentally copies a section of the genome twice. The second copy can be changed in future copies — gainingmutations or losing parts.
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The “Tornado in a Junkyard” Fallacy via Science-Based Life

As a promoter of science literacy and therefore the theory of evolution, I often get some push back from those who are either unaware of the tenets of the theory, or are straight up opposed to it.
One of the most common arguments is to say that evolution is impossible, because evolving something as complex as the human eye, for example, would be “like a tornado going through a junkyard and creating a 747.” This is meant to imply that creating a complex structure is impossible by chance, and therefore that there had to be some “intelligent design” to the process.
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Stupid Design via Science Based Life

Does our world seem so perfect to you that it had to be created? Was then there some all-powerful designer that created beauty intertwining with complexity, or are we simply ignoring all of the evidence that shows that the universe is certainly not adapted for us? Getting caught up in our sensory interpretations of elegance blinds us from the cold reality of a hostile existence (not intelligently designed or designed for us). When proponents of so-called “intelligent design” make this complexity and beauty argument, they are hopelessly shortsighted in their view of an anthropocentric universe. What we will look at below are facts about the universe, our planet, and about humans that make “intelligent design” or a universe crafted with humans in mind seem nonsensical.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Genetic adaptation of fat metabolism key to development of human brain-Science Daily

About 300,000 years ago humans adapted genetically to be able to produce larger amounts of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. This adaptation may have been crucial to the development of the unique brain capacity in modern humans. In today’s life situation, this genetic adaptation contributes instead to a higher risk of developing disorders like cardiovascular disease.
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

God Said Stars Are Made from Water?--Exposing PseudoAstronomy

God Said Stars Are Made from Water?:
This is a quick post that is kinda another “WTF?” post from something that the young-Earth creationist (YEC) Institute for Creation Research’s (ICR) “science” writer Brian Thomas put out in his article, “What Causes a Galaxy’s Magnetism?
About the first two-thirds of the article is basically parroting a press release about a new map of the Galaxy’s magnetic field. The jist of the press release is that a team of astronomers has mapped our galaxy’s magnetic field to higher precision and accuracy than had been done previously with an eye towards studying extragalactic magnetic fields: you need to know what’s in the way before you can figure out what’s going on with a far-off object. It can also act, over time, on slightly magnetized dust and gas within the galaxy.
But – gasp! – we don’t know why the Galaxy has a magnetic field to begin with! As the ICR article states, “Secular astronomers are no closer to understanding what could cause galactic magnetic fields than they were when they first detected the fields over a century ago.” (That’s the first sentence of the article.) You kinda know what’s coming next … a God of the Gaps argument.
From what I can tell – and this is WAY outside of my field so if any astronomer who knows more about this reads this post, please post in the Comments – the statement is true that we don’t really know what caused the Galaxy’s magnetic field to form in the first place. But, a very recent article has an idea that it may have formed from a background field “seed” that became stronger as the Galaxy formed. So it’s not like we’re totally ign’ant, there are ideas out there.
But no, apparently that’s not good enough. Creationists have to figure it out from the Bible, and …
“In 2008, physicist D. Russell Humphreys proposed a Bible-centered model for the origin of magnetic fields that is consistent with the overall strength of the spiral Milky Way’s magnetic field. If God formed the stars and galaxies during the fourth day of creation using water that He had created earlier, and if those water molecules were all originally aligned, their tiny magnetic fields would have combined to form a galactic magnetic field that has decayed to something that looks like today’s observed field strength.”
Yup, that’s right. The premise of this creationist proposal is that stars are made from water. I really don’t think anything else needs to be said at this point.

Mystery human fossils put spotlight on China--Science Daily

Mystery human fossils put spotlight on China: Fossils from two caves in southwest China have revealed a previously unknown Stone Age people and give a rare glimpse of a recent stage of human evolution with startling implications for the early peopling of Asia.
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Evolutionary surprise: Developmental 'scaffold' for vertebrate brain found in brainless marine worm--Science Daily

Evolutionary surprise: Developmental 'scaffold' for vertebrate brain found in brainless marine worm: Scientists report finding some of the genetic processes that regulate vertebrate brain development in the acorn worm, a brainless, burrowing marine invertebrate.
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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Faint Young Sun Paradox

Posted 22/03/2012 by eyeonicr in Daily (pseudo)Science Updates. Tagged: ICR, Astronomy, Creationism, Science,Skeptic, Brian Thomas, Skepticism, Global Flood, Faint young sun paradox.
The Faint Young Sun Paradox:
If our Sun is, as we believe, a perfectly normal 4.5 billion-year-old main sequence star, we would expect that, say 3 billion years ago it would be largely the same as another main sequence star of that age. And, 3 billion years ago, we would thus expect that the sun would output around 70% of the energy it does today. Unfortunately, this is too little to sustain liquid water on the surface of the Earth. And yet, we know that there was.
This, then, is the faint young Sun paradox.
The Sun, through a telescope (a bad idea, but somebody managed it...)
As you can probably guess, this has the creationists jumping for joy. Never mind our very ability to predict this kind of thing being a testament to our models of stellar evolution. Hence, the DpSU for Wednesday: Can Solar ‘Belch’ Theory Solve Sun Paradox?

The notion that the earth and cosmos are billions of years old continues to present serious problems for evolutionary scientists. For instance, billions of years ago, the sun would only have glowed faintly, leaving nearby earth totally frozen. But with no liquid water on earth’s surface, how could life have evolved and become fossilized so long ago?
This conundrum has been called the “faint young sun paradox,” and after 25 years of research, it remains just as problematic as ever. Scientists have tinkered with models of what they thought were atmospheres that might have kept earth warm. But sunlight would have prevented an ammonia-caused greenhouse earth, and earth’s oldest rocks show that the atmosphere was not dominated by the mild greenhouse gas carbon dioxide either.
There are, it should be pointed out, other greenhouse gases. And the people who came determined that “earth’s oldest rocks show that the atmosphere was not dominated by the mild greenhouse gas carbon dioxide” – you’ll note that Mr Thomas forgot to add that they are ‘supposedly’ Earth’s oldest rocks – came up with their own solution to the paradox. And their results were disputed – I’m not sure of the outcome.

Since researchers have found no solutions to the faint young sun paradox through planetary geophysics, some now look to reconfigure the sun’s evolutionary history. A team of researchers funded by the NASA astrobiology program plans to test new models of a sun that may have been large enough and that also existed early enough to have heated the earth billions of years ago.
Penn State University’s Steinn Sigurdsson will lead the team using a powerful computer program to model the early sun. He told Astrobiology Magazine that “to provide enough planet warming without overstepping any solar constraints, the Sun had to lose the extra mass in roughly the first few hundred million years.…That implies a solar wind that is about 1,000 times faster than what we currently observe.” Sigurdsson and his team plan to look for “stretch marks” left by such a tremendous break in solar wind.
A testable hypothesis! The link is here.

In order to make the solar physics work out correctly, the team needed to invent a way for the sun to discharge incredible amounts of its own mass within a narrow time range. Otherwise, the question of why the early sun might have been too faint for life on earth would be replaced by the equally vexing question of why today’s sun does not scorch the earth.
Or, possibly, they could try a different mechanism to solve the paradox.

Of course, even if the researchers cobble together ancient events that fit with physics, that does not mean that the events actually happened.
I need to remember this quote next time Flood Geology comes up: it shall be my new “When do the differences enter the conversation?”
I mean seriously, pretty much every model that tries to resolve this paradox has better support than the weird ideas the creationists come up with to explain away the impossibility of their Flood. Indeed, judging by their standards of evidence they would all be correct, which would ironically itself present a paradox.

For example, if a mega solar “belch” could have enabled the early sun to heat up earth enough for ancient life to survive, that would still not solve the problem. It would merely change the question from “How could a young sun not have been so faint?” to “What could have forced a young sun to eject so much material so quickly?”
Hey, science! That’s how it works, Brian: each ‘answer’ raises more and more questions. Scientists have had centuries to come up with a way to keep themselves permanently gainfully employed: you must admit that they pulled it off.

But the biblical model of a young world suffers none of these conundrums. The faint young sun paradox remains unsolved for those who insist on a long-ages cosmology. And its solution, despite upgrades in scientific software, promises to evade the naturalistic view.
The idea that the earth and sun were both created during the creation week thousands of years ago, with the sun immediately able to provide life-supporting light as Genesis records, is perfectly consistent with scientific observations.
Er, no – again, creationists are always making up these borderline-possible (if at all) models with no evidence better than “you can’t say it’s impossible – at least, not in the time it’ll take for me to change the subject.”
So, tu quoque Brian. But there seems to be no good reason why science can’t eventually agree on the correct solution: perhaps, if they were all true to a degree, you wouldn’t need such high levels of greenhouse gasses; the solar wind wouldn’t have to have been as strong etc. But the creationists? Well, if it comes down to it, I need to ask the ICR some day which model of the Flood they support: as it stands B.T. is just jumping between those that suit him at a given moment.

Filed under: Daily (pseudo)Science Updates Tagged: Astronomy, Brian Thomas, Creationism, Faint young sun paradox, Global Flood, ICR, Science, Skeptic, Skepticism

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Scientists Unlock Evolutionary Secret of Blood Vessels

ScienceDaily (Feb. 21, 2012) — The ability to form closed systems of blood vessels is one of the hallmarks of vertebrate development. Without it, humans would be closer to invertebrates (think mollusks) in design, where blood simply washes through an open system to nourish internal organs. But vertebrates evolved closed circulation systems designed to more effectively carry blood to organs and tissues.
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How Earth's Primordial Soup Came to Life Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience Senior Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Just as species are believed to have evolved over time, the individual molecules that form the basis of life also likely developed in response to natural selection, scientists say.
Life on Earth first bloomed around 3.7 billion years ago, when chemical compounds in a "primordial soup" somehow sparked into life, scientists suspect. But what turned sterile molecules into living, changing organisms? That's the ultimate mystery.
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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rethinking "Out of Africa"

By Christopher Stringer

I'm thinking a lot about species concepts as applied to humans, about the "Out of Africa" model, and also looking back into Africa itself. I think the idea that modern humans originated in Africa is still a sound concept. Behaviorally and physically, we began our story there, but I've come around to thinking that it wasn't a simple origin. Twenty years ago, I would have argued that our species evolved in one place, maybe in East Africa or South Africa. There was a period of time in just one place where a small population of humans became modern, physically and behaviourally. Isolated and perhaps stressed by climate change, this drove a rapid and punctuational origin for our species. Now I don’t think it was that simple, either within or outside of Africa.
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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Genesis Weak

Published by Steven Novella under Creationism/ID

I advise you to please turn off your irony meters before reading further or clicking the link to the video I will be discussing today. You may also want to take a couple of deep relaxing breaths to help preserve your neurons from the irrational assault they are about to suffer.

I was recently asked to take a look at Genesis Week with Ian Juby (Wazooloo), a slick YouTube series in which Juby takes us on a mystical journey through the looking glass of creationist nonsense. In his world science and reason are flipped completely upside down. It is, as they say, a “target rich environment” – too rich for any one blog post, so I will pick out a few gems.

The title of this episode is “I’m hooked on a feeling,” referring to new research showing that acceptance of evolution is strongly influenced by a gut “feeling of certainty” that people have about the theory. Juby makes much of this study (without, of course, putting it into any context) concluding that people believe in evolution despite the evidence (what he describes as overwhelming evidence for creation) rather than because of it.

The study itself reviews prior research on this question, summarizing it:

Despite the variety of studies that have been reported, there are no convincingly clear findings about the relationships among knowledge level, beliefs, and acceptance level regarding the theory of evolution. While some studies have provided evidence for a robust relationship between knowledge level and level of acceptance (Paz-y-Miño & Espinosa, 2009; Rutledge & Warden, 1999), others found no evidence of a straightforward relationship (Sinatra et al., 2003), and little evidence that instructional treatments affect acceptance levels (Chinsamy & Plagányi, 2007), even when learning gains have been substantiated (Nehm & Schonfeld, 2007). It has also been suggested that the nature of relationships change when acceptance of evolutionary theory is framed in the context of macroevolution rather than microevolution (Nadelson & Southerland, 2010).

So – it’s complicated. Results of research seem to depend upon how the study was conducted, meaning that confounding variables have not adequately been controlled for so they determine the outcome of individual studies, which therefore have conflicting results.

However, at least so far there does not appear to be a clear relationship between teaching students about evolutionary theory and their acceptance of it. This is actually not surprising and in line with the consensus of psychological research, which shows that people form opinions largely for emotional and ideological reasons, and then cherry pick the facts they need to support those opinions.

The findings of the current study are therefore nothing new, and there is no reason to think that this phenomenon is unique to belief in evolution.

But to put this study into its proper context – this is about affecting the opinions of students by confronting their emotional reactions to evolution. It is not about how scientists form their opinions about evolutionary theory.

This is a common logical error that creationists make – confusing public opinion with expert scientific opinion. Juby tries to make it seem that this study shows that acceptance of evolution in general (including among scientists and educators) is about feeling rather than evidence.

He then goes on to another common claim of creationists that reflects their astounding intellectual dishonesty. He lists a few biologists who are creationists – as if their opinions are evidence based, and contrasting them with the emotion-based acceptance of evolution.

Among scientists, however, >99% accept evolutionary theory – a relevant fact that Juby failed to mention. This is also in line with other research, showing that only at the highest levels of science education do facts trump emotion in forming our beliefs about controversial or emotional topics. Among the experts there is a strong consensus – the evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that all life on earth is related through an evolutionary process. Juby, however, rattles off a couple of creationist exceptions as if they are the rule.

It is hard to imagine that Juby is not aware of these facts. We are left to conclude that he is either living in a creationist bubble or is flagrantly dishonest in dealing with the question of scientific acceptance of evolution.

Eventually Juby gets around to listing some of the alleged overwhelming evidence for creation, including irreducible complexity and lack of a mechanism for increasing genetic information. He lists a bunch of old long-discredited creationist canards, and that is his “overwhelming evidence.”

Creationists proposed the notion of irreducible complexity over a decade ago, and really it was just a reformulation of arguments they have been putting forward for a century and a half – since Darwin proposed his version of evolutionary theory. It has been debated and discussed among scientists, and found to be a fatally flawed idea. It’s flat out wrong – disproved by numerous counter examples. I first wrote about it myself in 1999, and the arguments haven’t changed.

The alleged lack of a mechanism for generating new genetic information is nonsense – not a serious scientific or even philosophical argument. (I first debunked this one in 2002.) The combination of random mutations and selective pressures, combined with gene duplication and other genetic mechanisms, are fully capable of increasing overall genetic information and creating new information.

Creationists like Juby have no counterarguments to the scientific consensus clearly demonstrating that irreducible complexity and creationist abuses of information theory are false. They simply trot out the same discarded claims over and over again with arrogance and casual dismissiveness of the scientific consensus – a consensus slowly built on a mountain of evidence.

I’m not bothered by the fact the people like Juby can promote their nonsense on an open forum like YouTube. He is unlikely to change anyone’s opinion. He also provides yet another opportunity to point out the terrible logic and questionable honesty of the creationists. They do make it easy in that they have nothing new to say. Science changes and new ideas and new evidence are brought to bare. Creationism is stuck in its prescientific conclusion, and continue to rely upon long discredited arguments – even when dressed up in a slick YouTube video.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Viral Attacks on Bacteria Reveal a Secret to Evolution by Wynne Parry, LiveScience Senior Writer

Evolution of a trait. An image of the protein, LamB, on the surface of the bacterial cell. Scientists examined what happened with the virus could no longer infect the bacteria through this protein.
An image of a protein, LamB, found on the surface of the bacterial cell. Scientists examined what happened when a virus could no longer infect the bacteria through this protein.
CREDIT: Justin Meyer 

The arms race between a virus and the bacteria it attacks has helped scientists better understand one of the mysteries of evolution: How new traits evolve.
In a series of experiments, the bacteria-infecting viruses repeatedly acquired the ability to attack their host bacteria through a different "doorway," or receptor on the bacteria's cellular membrane, explained Justin Meyer, the lead researcher and a graduate student at Michigan State University. [Video: The Virus Mutates]
Their results offer insight into a difficult question about evolution: Where do new traits come from?
According to evolutionary theorynatural selection can favor certain members of a population because of traits they possess, such as camouflage or an ability to get at food others can't reach. These favored organisms are more likely to reproduce, passing on the genes for their helpful traits to future generations. While it's clear how natural selection causes a population to change, or adapt, explaining how new traits arise has been trickier, Meyer said.
For instance, do random genetic mutations gradually accumulate until they produce new traits? Or, does natural selection drive the process from the start, favoring certain mutations as they arise, until a whole new trait appears?
To get an idea, he and others, including two undergraduate researchers, prompted a virus to evolve a new way to infect the bacteria, then looked at the genetic changes associated with this new ability. They also found that changes in the bacteria could prevent the virus from acquiring this new trait.
Evolution of a trait. An E. coli cell. In the experiment, these bacterial cells evolved resistance to the virus, prompting the virus to evolve.
An E. coli cell. In the experiment, bacterial cells like this one evolved resistance to a virus, prompting the virus to evolve a new way to attack..
CREDIT: Brian D. Wade and Alicia Pastor, Center for Advanced Microscopy, MSU
In 102 trials, they combined E. coli cells with the virus, called lambda. Lambda normally infects the bacteria by targeting a receptor, LamB, on the bacterium's outer membrane. The virus does this using a so-called J protein at the end of its tail; this protein unlocks the door into the bacterial cell, Meyer said.
When cultured under certain conditions, most E. colicells developed resistance to the virus by no longer producing LamB receptors. To infect the bacterial cells, then, the virus had to find another doorway into the cell. (Once inside, the virus hijacks the bacteria's cellular machinery to copy its own genetic code and reproduce.)
In 25 of the 102 trials, the virus acquired the ability to infect bacteria through another receptor, called OmpF. The viruses were genetically identical at the beginning of the experiment, so the researchers looked to see what genetic changes had occurred.
They found that all the strains that could infect the bacteria shared at least four changes, all of which were in the genetic code for the J protein, and which worked together, according to Meyer.
"When you have three of the four mutations, the virus is still unable to infect [the E. coli]," Meyer said. "When you have four of four, they all interact with each other. … In this case, the sum is much more than its component parts."
However, natural selection appears to have driven the rise of these individual mutations, he said, because the same mutations arose over and over again, and because they appear to affect the function of the J protein.
"The mutations are really centered on a small part of the gene and genome that would affect binding," he said. 
Evolution of a trait. Two lambda viruses. Mutations in viruses like these lead them to find a new way to attack their bacterial hosts.
Two lambda viruses. Four genetic mutations in viruses like these lead them to find a new way to attack their bacterial hosts.
CREDIT: Brian D. Wade and Alicia Pastor, Center for Advanced Microscopy, MSU
So, why, in most cases, did the virus fail to acquire the ability to enter through the OmpF doorway? The researchers looked to see if other changes in the virus, or changes in the bacteria, interfered.
They found that while other changes in the virus did not seem to interfere, a specific change found in the E. coli populations from 80 trials did.  Disruptions appeared in bacterial genes responsible for producing a protein complex, called ManXYZ, in the inner membrane. That change in the inner membrane meant the virus couldn't get all the way inside the cell, whether through LamB or OmpF.
"So there is this interesting co-evolutionary dance," Meyer said. "One mutation in the host and four mutations in the virus lead to a new virus. One mutation [in the host] and only a few mutations in the virus and a second mutation in the host, and the whole system shuts down."
You can follow LiveScience senior writer Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and onFacebook.