November 2010 Archives

Freshwater: Court approves settlement

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The Mount Vernon News reported today that the probate court in Licking County, Ohio, has approved the terms of the settlement of Doe v. Mt. Vernon BOE, et al.. The sole remaining defendant had been John Freshwater, the Board having settled more than a year ago. According to the News’ story, the settlement terms give the Dennis family $25,000 in attorney fees and $150,000 each to Jenifer and Stephen Dennis as well as $150,000 in an annuity for Zachary, all of it from the Board’s insurance company (Freshwater was sued as an employee of the Board).

The only remaining proceeding still to be finished is the referee’s recommendation based on the administrative hearing, with Board action on the recommendation to follow. The referee reportedly hopes to finish his recommendation by the end of 2010.

America’s Four Gods

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The subtitle of this book, by Baylor professors Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, is “What we say about God—& what that says about us.” The thesis of the book is, in essence, that classifying people according to their religious denomination (or lack thereof) tells you little about, for example, their politics or their views on science. Instead, Froese and Bader classify people according to the kind of God they believe in: authoritative, benevolent, critical, and distant (not to mention none).

Froese and Bader pose 2 questions, “To what extent does God interact with the world? To what extent does God judge the world?” As a result of interviews and surveys, they conclude that

Dolichovespula maculata

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Dolichovespula maculatabald-faced hornet nest, Boulder Colorado. Nest courtesy of Rachel Shannon and a zillion hornets.

But it’s all about the science …

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Most of our readers are no doubt aware of the recent near-expulsion of William A. Dembski from the ranks of true believers. This story in the Florida Baptist Witness covered it in some detail. The basics:

1. Dembski, now a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an apologetics book in which he suggested that one can reconcile an old earth with the initiation of natural evil by a literal Fall of a real pair, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden in the recent (~6,000 years) past by positing that the Fall echoed backward in time to tarnish all 4.5 billion years of earth’s history (or some such blather). Dembski mentioned en passant that Da Flood was probably a local event, not a global deluge.

2. Dembski was criticized for his apparent old earthism and deference to actual science in a book review by a faculty member at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dembski’s former employer.

3. After some to-ing and fro-ing involving (among others) the Presidents of the two seminaries, both of them young earthers, Dembski issued a clarification reiterating his belief in an inerrant Bible, etc., etc.

One thing I found of interest in this tempest in a theological teapot was Dembski’s comment on his treatment the local/global flood issue. He was quoted as writing

“In a brief section [of his book] on Genesis 4-11, I weigh in on the Flood, raising questions about its universality, without adequate study or reflection on my part,” Dembski wrote. “Before I write on this topic again, I have much exegetical, historical, and theological work to do.”

Um, Bill? You might consider that you have much geological work to do. After all, a putative global flood is geological event and geologists have been gathering relevant data for, oh, say, three centuries or so. And this is all about the science, isn’t it?

ResearchBlogging.orgThinking about fitness landscapes can stimulate detailed discussion and consideration of the meanings and limitations of such metaphors, and my introductory comments did just that. Most notably, Joe Felsenstein pointed us to the various ways these depictions can be employed, and urged everyone to use caution in interpreting them. All too true, but the goal here is modest: I want to discuss the interesting questions that arise when considering the relationship between genotypes and phenotypes, i.e., how a particular genetic makeup influences fitness, whether the genetic makeup in question is simple or complex, and however fitness is conceived. These questions can take further discussion in all sorts of directions, but there are two that I have in mind in this series. First, I want to point to increasing capacity of scientists in their ability to examine these relationships experimentally. Second, I want to highlight the failure of design creationists to address or even to understand such matters.

If you know a little about evolution, you already know that mutation is a major source of genetic novelty. And you've probably heard (or surmised) that the mutation rate in a population or lineage is thought to contribute to something called "evolvability." No mutation means no evolvability. And maybe it's clear that too much mutation is a bad thing, too. And so, the mutation rate itself is a parameter that contributes to fitness, with fitness referring in this case to the ability of a population to adapt or compete over time. There can be, it seems, a fitness landscape for mutation rates, in which we could depict fitness as a function of the mutation rate. Perhaps we could even sketch such a landscape if we could generate genetic variants that differ solely in their mutation rate.

Experiments like this have been done, and the best-known examples come from work on bacteria. Earlier this year, a group at the University of Washington in Seattle, led by Lawrence Loeb, took the analysis a big step further, in work that sought "to characterize the fitness landscape across a broad range of mutation rates." The co-first authors of the report are Ern Loh and Jesse Salk.

Loh et al. introduce their work by noting that previous analyses of the influence of mutation rate on bacterial fitness were informative but limited in scope. These experiments tended to emphasize mutators (variants with higher-than-normal mutation rates) and tended to perform head-to-head competitions between only two variants (mutator vs. normal, for example). And modeling studies of the phenomena would benefit from further validation by experimental data. So the authors set out to measure bacterial fitness in the presence of widely-varying rates of mutation. Their experiment employed two innovations that filled these gaps in previous work:

  1. The panel of variants included not two, or ten, but 66 versions of the DNA copying enzyme (DNA polymerase I). These variants all grow normally when they live alone, but they exhibit mutation rates that span six orders of magnitude, from one thousandth of the normal rate to a thousand times the normal rate. (Because the DNA polymerase is the main copying machine, its fidelity is a major determinant of the error rate and therefore the mutation rate.) This means that unlike all or most previous work in this area, their library included antimutators - variants with a lower-than-normal mutation rate.

  2. The authors staged evolutionary competitions in which all 66 variants were put together and grown for 350 generations. Specifically, they regularly diluted the cultures so that the environment cycled between low density (leading to rapid growth) and high density (leading to nutrient depletion and stasis).

The experiment is, then, relatively simple in concept. Create a pool of variants and then see which ones (if any) will take over when they're in competition with all the others. We'll skip the details of the creation of this library of variants, though it could be fun to discuss in comments. Suffice it to say that because the variants all grow normally when living in isolation, any differences in competition outcome are likely due to the effects of mutation rate on the ability of variants to adapt in the face of competition.

In one excellent graph (from Figure 2 of the paper) shown below, the authors summarize their basic result: in the various competitions, only eight of the 66 variants emerged as winners or co-winners. Those eight variants represent a relatively small subset of what we might call mutation-rate space. Here's how the authors describe the outcome:

The recovered mutants were all moderate mutators, with mutation rates ranging from 3- to 47-fold greater than that of the wild type. Of these, 88% had at least a 10-fold elevated mutation rate. No antimutators were detected in the output population despite constituting 77% of the input population.

Loh et al Fig 2.jpgYou can see this from the graph: each colored arrow points to a mutation rate, representing a variant that was one of the winners, and the bar graph above it shows how often that particular variant won. The scale left to right is mutation rate. Variants from normal on down (going left on the scale), all of those antimutators, were losers. Ditto for the super-mutators at the other end of the scale.

Loh et al. went on to show that the winning variants had adapted by putting the winners into head-to-head competition with their ancestors. (Oh the cool things you can do when your experimental organism is E. coli!) In other words, the winning variants had evolved, becoming more "fit" than when they started, by virtue of competing in a crowded jungle of other variants. The winners were different from their ancestors, but also from each other, demonstrating that the winners had acquired new characteristics beyond their higher mutability. The authors conclude that "under conditions where organism fitness is not yet maximized for a particular environment, competitive adaptation may be facilitated by enhanced mutagenesis."

The paper is fun to read and relatively approachable. Check it out.

So back to the two points I wanted to emphasize. First, the authors briefly employ the "fitness landscape" metaphor, simply to indicate that mutation-rate variation (in this case due to engineered genetic variation in DNA polymerase I) is likely to map onto "fitness" (in this case, ability to win an evolutionary competition under a certain set of environmental conditions) in interesting and perhaps surprising ways. Their data add a layer of intriguing complexity to studies and discussions of the roles of mutation and mutability in evolution and evolvability. Second, they did their experiments at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Less than 12 miles away, in Redmond, Washington, is a research institute dedicated to intelligent design. According to Google Maps, it's a 16-minute drive from that institute to the UW School of Medicine. (Or 40 minutes in traffic. Neither of these numbers impresses me, having lived in metropolitan Boston for five years.) Now, some of the researchers at that institute are keenly interested in mutation and evolution in bacteria. Do you suppose those researchers are interacting with the Loeb lab? Attending seminars, exchanging research materials, collaborating, consulting? I would be interested to hear from scientists at either place. If, as I suspect, none of those things has happened, then maybe the folks at that institute in Redmond could, with our encouragement, expand their influence and find new opportunities by contacting their world-class colleagues, right in their own neighborhood. As curious as they claim to be about evolution and mutation, they would be crazy not to. Right?

(Cross-posted at Quintessence of Dust.)

Loh E, Salk JJ, & Loeb LA (2010). Optimization of DNA polymerase mutation rates during bacterial evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107 (3), 1154-9 PMID: 20080608

Apparently Behe has been mentioning this in his England tour:

Volume 85 Number 4 December 2010 Major Articles

Current Perspectives on the Biological Study of Play: Signs of Progress Kerrie Lewis Graham and Gordon M. Burghardt

Experimental Evolution, Loss-of-Function Mutations, and “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution” Michael J. Behe

What is an Individual Organism?: A Multilevel Selection Perspective Henri J. Folse III and Joan Roughgarden

Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design: A Look into the Conceptual Toolbox of a Pseudoscience Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman

The Boudry article is online here and is quite good, catching points that most commentators on the IC argument miss. (Part of the goodness is that it cites Pete Dunkleberg’s 2003 “IC Demystified” at talkdesign.org, which is one of the better discussions out there.)

If past experience is any guide, Behe’s article will make abstract arguments about the improbability of adaptations *if* many simultaneous events are required, but will present no evidence that many simultaneous events are likely to be necessary for the sorts of adaptations we actually see in biology. Positive evidence for ID will not be provided at all, but the article will be trumpeted as such by the usual ID propagandists. But the article isn’t out yet, so we’ll see, I suppose.

Meleagris gallopavo

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Meleagris gallopavoWild Turkeys — Near Sonora, TX in Texas’s Hill Country.

Kevin Padian, of the Department of Integrative Biology & Museum of Paleontology at University of California, Berkeley, recently dashed off a letter to colleagues titled “STARS OF V.P. PUNKED BY CREATIONIST FILMMAKERS.”

[VP is “Vertebrate Paleontology.”] What’s the beef? Padian wrote the following on Nov. 18th:

STARS OF V.P. PUNKED BY CREATIONIST FILMMAKERS

Got your attention? Good. Here’s a recent video called “Evolution, the Grand Experiment,” that dozens of VPers helped to make, innocent of the fact that the smooth-talking and obviously intelligent filmmakers were young-earth creationists. As the publicity says, it was “filmed over 12 years on three continents and seven countries,” and you can get it for twenty bucks on Amazon. It’s being widely shown on cable TV. And it’s being used in testimony for a current trial about whether and how to teach evolution in schools.

http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Gra[…]p/0892216972

The scientists punked by these twerps include Jim Kirkland, Phil Gingerich, Angela Milner, John Long, Gary Morgan, Irena Koretsky, Tasser Hussain, Gunther Viohl, Peter Wellnhofer, Tim Rowe, Annalise Berta, Phil Currie, Bill Clemens, Paul Sereno, Dave Weishampel, Nick Czaplewski, Andy Knoll, and Monroe Strickberger … and yours truly. It’s not that what all of you say in the video is wrong. It’s that the filmmakers have taken it completely out of context. They have represented the honest uncertainty of science as fraud and hoax.

While this ‘punking’ may be a first for the vertebrate paleo crowd, it’s certainly not the first such devious effort. Here’s one involving biologists and our own P. Z. Myers.

Discuss.

Y’all remember how, years ago, Casey Luskin and the boys were calling Judge Jones a plagiarist because the final decision in Kitzmiller drew a lot of language from the briefs? I pointed out at the time that, well, that’s what briefs are for. Now here’s an article in Political Research Quarterly that uses software to find that even the U.S. Supreme Court draws a lot of language from the briefs filed by the parties in any particular case, thus reaching the unremarkable conclusion that “there is a connection between the language of the parties’ briefs and the language of the opinions, which means that parties have the potential to influence the law.” For most of us, it’s nice to know that court opinions show the judges actually read the briefs. But for Luskin & Co., it’s doubtless evidence of just how huge the Darwinist plagiarist conspiracy really is.

Fraser River

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Photograph by Ken Lord.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

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Fraser River, an endangered river environment, Pitt Meadows, B. C., Canada. Mr. Lord writes, “In 2010, the Fraser River became the third most endangered river in British Columbia due to pollution, agriculture, industrialization, and urbanization. In the 18 years in which the list of endangered rivers of B. C. has been kept, the Fraser River has been in the top 5, 17 times. The Fraser river is home to the endangered white sturgeon. In 2009, 90% of the expected return of spawning sockeye salmon did not show up in the Fraser River. A catastrophic collapse of the sockeye salmon population may have occurred, possibly due to overfishing, pollution, and climate change.”

New Issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach

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T. Ryan Gregory flags the availability of the newest issue of “Evolution: Education and Outreach” a few days ago. The main emphasis is on ‘tree thinking’ and there are some very good resources available there. However, of interest to me was Mazur’s article on the relationship of religiosity, political conservatism, education, and acceptance of several scientific propositions about evolution, plate tectonics, the Big Bang, and heliocentrism.

Some of our more recent trolls have reminded me of an article, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, by Justin Kruger and David Dunning of Cornell University. Briefly, Kruger and Dunning demonstrated that college students who scored in the lowest quartile on several tests grossly overestimated their own abilities compared to everyone else’s, probably because they did not know enough to know that they did not know. Oddly, students in the highest quartile slightly underestimated their own abilities.

The concept of a "fitness landscape" is a fundamental idea in evolutionary biology, first introduced and established during the so-called "evolutionary synthesis" in the early 20th century. It was the great Sewall Wright who pictured adaptation as a "walk" through a landscape (pictured below), where the walking is done by variants (of an organism or a molecule) and the landscape is a theoretical representation of the relative fitness of the variants. (J.B.S. Haldane did similar work around the same time, but Wright's paper is much better known perhaps because it's more accessible to non-experts. See Carneiro and Hartl in PNAS earlier this year for more.)

SewallWrightLandscape1932-300px.gif

It's a simple concept, and a helpful one, though sometimes subject to over-interpretation. And it helps to frame some of the big questions in evolutionary genetics. One of those big questions is this one, stated somewhat simplistically: how do the variants navigate to fitness peaks, if there are fitness valleys that separate the peaks? (The ideas is that fitness is higher on the peaks, and so a population would be unlikely to descend from a local peak into a valley.) In other words, given a particular fitness landscape, what are the evolutionary trajectories by which variation can explore that landscape?

Such a question calls out for an experiment. It would be so nice to be able to map fitness landscapes using hard data, so as to design and perform experiments on the navigation of adaptive walks. Specifically, this would facilitate an empirical examination of the genetic structure underlying the fitness landscape, and that's how a lot of the interesting questions about evolutionary exploration will be addressed. Of course, biologists have been working on this for a long time, and we've learned a lot about real fitness landscapes over the decades. But detailed maps of such landscapes require detailed knowledge of the genetics of the landscape, and that has presented a significant technical challenge. Because of these technical limitations, examination of fitness landscapes have been either highly focused on very small landscapes (say, the fitness of a small number of variants) or have described the landscapes at very low resolution (by analyzing a tiny subset of the possible variants).

It's worth taking some time to understand the problem before we look at how new techniques and approaches are changing the situation.

Look at Wright's drawing. It looks like a topographical (topo) map, with dotted lines indicating parts of the landscape that represent equal fitness. And it looks smooth, like a topo map of rolling hills or dunes. The elevations represent fitness, but what do the lateral distances represent? They represent variation: more specifically, each point on the map represents one particular genetic variant. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about a whole genome navigating a complex fitness landscape or a single protein navigating a map of one specific function. Either way, each point on the map is a different variant. And, importantly, each point on the map is adjacent to many other points on the map, such that a tiny change (a single nucleotide change in a DNA sequence, for example) results in a step from one point to an adjacent point. This means that a map like Wright's is likely to depict the postulated fitness of enormous numbers of variants: even a seemingly simple map of the function of one molecule, in order to be a complete map, would have to account for millions of potential variants. (For example, an average-sized protein composed of 400 amino acids can be made 20400 different ways.) Even if the map only seeks to account for the function of a small part of a protein, say, 10 amino acids, that's still 2010 different possibilities. That's a lot of possibilities.

And that's a problem for at least one reason. Wright's map shows a smooth landscape, in which changes in fitness happen in small increments as the variants diverge from each other. His map creates the impression that closely-related variants will differ only slightly in fitness from each other. But reality could be completely different in a given case. It could be that the real landscape is a crazy cacophony of varying fitnesses, with an aerial topography more like downtown Manhattan than like the dunes of West Michigan. And it could be a mixture of both: smoothly varying overall topography that arises from more dramatically varying local topography.

To tackle such a problem, we would need to be able to measure the fitness of zillions of variants, in such a way as to be able to link the fitness measurement to the exact genetic makeup of each variant. In more technical terms, we need to describe/measure phenotypes of zillions of genotypes, and we need to know both the phenotype and the genotype of each of those zillions of variants. How can this be accomplished, or is it even possible?

Three recent papers serve as excellent examples of how scientists are working on questions like this. One notable thing about the papers is, of course, the fact that they have tackled this seemingly intractable problem. Another is the technological advance (next-generation DNA/RNA sequencing) that largely explains the breakthrough success of two of the research groups. And another is the fact that all three labs are located in one particular metropolitan area, an area that is home to an anti-scientific think tank that claims to be interested in the very same questions.

We'll explore those three papers in three subsequent posts. But if you want to get started now, here are the articles to read:

Optimization of DNA polymerase mutation rates during bacterial evolution. Loh et al., PNAS.

High-resolution mapping of protein sequence-function relationships. Fowler et al., Nature Methods.

Rapid Construction of Empirical RNA Fitness Landscapes. Pitt and Ferr-D'Amar, Science.

(Cross-posted at Quintessence of Dust.)

There hasn’t been a heck of a lot to talk about regarding the ID movement lately. ID arguments have always been recycled creationist silliness, but in the early days, at least they would update the arguments to apply them to somewhat new/interesting systems, like the bacterial flagellum, and thus there would be something to talk about for awhile. But after the Kitzmiller case and followup publications in 2006-2007, pretty comprehensive rebuttals of all of the ID movement’s major arguments and attempted examples have been available.

Einstein rings, a spectacular prediction of relativity, taken from Hubble (Image credit Hubble/NASA)

You may remember a little while back I wrote about a conference of modern Geocentrism (Galileo was Wrong). Geocentrism is the belief that Earth is the centre of the Solar system, nay the entire Universe and everything revolves around it.

Todd Wood attended the conference, and you can read the about his growing sense of incredulity in his posts (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5).

It turns out that these folks are relativity deniers.

Sondre Stromfjord

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Photograph by Malcolm S. Schongalla.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Schongalla.Sondrestromfjord2_Greenland.jpg

Sondre Stromfjord (Søndre Strømfjord), Greenland. Mr. Schongalla writes, “View looking west down the fjord, from an altitude of approximately 500 m. The arctic is one of the environments most significantly affected by climate change. Greenland’s icecap has experienced significant peripheral thinning. I am not a geologist, but my lay interpretation of this photograph is that it reflects a region that is primarily Archaean gneiss dated to 2.7-2.8 Ga. A striking, dark-colored band is visible on both sides of the fjord.”

My colleague Gary Hurd has spent much of the last 3 days virtually attending a virtual workshop on the origin of life. The workshop will conclude at 5 p.m. eastern standard time today. Here is Mr. Hurd’s report, which he filed at about noon eastern time:

Freshwater: No ruling until 2011?

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The Mt. Vernon News is reporting that R. Lee Shepherd, the referee in the administrative hearing on the termination of John Freshwater as a middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon City schools, says that his “personal goal” is to have a recommendation for the Board of Education by the end of the year. He has recently received new submissions from both attorneys, R. Kelly Hamilton for Freshwater and David Millstone for the Board, and is incorporating them into the mass of material he is evaluating. Most notably, Millstone submitted a case decided just a few weeks ago by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, the appellate court overseeing federal cases in Ohio. According to a summary

The appellate panel in Cincinnati upheld a lower court’s ruling for the Tipp City [Ohio] Exempted Village School District, writing that the right to free speech “does not extend to the in-class speech of teachers in primary and secondary schools made ‘pursuant to’ their official duties.”

One of Freshwater’s claims has been that the district’s restrictions on his classroom behavior violated his free speech rights and this case apparently contradicts that claim. Hamilton, of course, submitted a rebuttal to Millstone’s submission. (Parenthetically, I have to say that there are some aspects of the court’s ruling as summarized in the linked material that trouble me, but it seems on point for the present proceedings.)

Hat tip to reader CMB

Phippidus princeps

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Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

Denelsbeck.Phippidus-princeps__Eupeodes.jpg

Phippidus princepsjumping spider – munching on Eupeodes sp. – hoverfly. Mr. Deneslbeck (“Just Al” to PT readers) is a naturalist and semi-professional photographer. He writes, “Nothing endangered, remarkable, or of particular scientific interest to either of these, I just liked the photo. I haven’t defined why jumping spiders seem to have more personality than other species of arachnid, including those with two distinct eyes in the front, but I don’t think I’m alone.” He runs a website here and recently posted a favorable review of my very favorite book here.

“Written in Stone” excerpt available

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Some years ago I began following the blog of an undergraduate at Rutgers who split his posts between descriptions of work in paleontology and his problems getting a major put together in his preferred field of study. Over the years it has been a real pleasure to watch as Brian Switek, the author of Laelaps (first on Wordpress, later ScienceBlogs and finally on Wired’s network) grew as an up and coming science writer and as a person.

Brian’s first book, Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and our Place in Nature is coming out on December 1, and NCSE has an excerpt. Sadly, it’s not (yet?) available for my Nook (or for the Kindle) so I guess I’ll have to wait a while to read the whole book.

Hat tip to Adrian Thysse.

YEC paleontologist presents old earth research at GSA

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Marcus Ross is a young-earth creationist who was recently awarded a Ph.D. in vertebrate paleontology by the University of Rhode Island. He now teaches at Liberty University, which (IIRC, according to the acknowledgments in his dissertation) partly supported his doctoral work. Ross claims that he can both be a YEC, using his credential to bolster his teaching of Flood geology, and also work honestly in the framework of orthodox geology simply by switching “paradigms” according to (audience) context.

Ross presents work at standard geological conferences, and Joe Meert, a geologist at the University of Florida and a long-time creationism watcher, recently attended a presentation by Ross on correlating Cretaceous ammonite fossils in order to more firmly date the mosasaur fossils that were the topic of his dissertation research.

At the end of the presentation Meert asked Ross how he squared his YEC beliefs with a presentation that dated fossils to millions of years ago. According to Meert, Ross answered, “My talk had nothing to do with a global flood or a 6000 year old earth so your question is irrelevant.” When Meert pressed, Ross replied (Meert’s paraphrase)

Ok, for everyone in the audience who doesn’t know it, yes I am a young earth creationist who believes the Earth is 6000 years old and a global flood took place. However, I am not speaking as a young earth creationist here. When I speak at young earth creationist meetings I use a different framework than when I speak at the Geological Society of America meeting.

What struck me was Meert’s comment that several people felt sorry for Ross for being pushed to acknowledge his YEC beliefs and wondered why Meert was so harsh with him. Meert’s response is perfect:

Marcus Ross is just one of many two-faced creationists and I’m going to call them out on this hypocrisy any chance I get.

Read Meert’s whole post as well as Meert’s earlier post on Ross. I hope the student he mentions who went on a field trip led by Ross and two other YEC geologists does a guest post on it.

Workshop on origin of life

What we got in the mail:

I would like to alert you and invite you (and hopefully your readers) to attend a NASA-sponsored workshop on the origin of life - but you don’t have to leave home.

Tax credits for religious schools?

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According to an article by Adam Liptak in yesterday’s New York Times, the Supreme Court has just heard arguments relating to an Arizona law that gives a tax credit for contributions to private “tuition organizations.” Mr. Liptak puts it succinctly:

Belated Reminder: Columbus Science Cafe

In addition to the Columbus Science Pub (link is to its Facebook page) previously pimped here, there’s the Columbus Science Cafe. This week–in fact tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov 3, at 6:30 pm–Jeff McKee will speak on “The Far Side of Evolution” using (among other things) Gary Larson’s cartoons as illustrations.

Jeff is a physical anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology & Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at The Ohio State University, a former excavator (IIRC) at Sterkfontein, a stalwart of Ohio Citizens for Science, and general all-around good guy. The Cafe is at Gateway Film Center at 1550 North High Street.

Does theodicy devalue human life?

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Gert Korthof, on his blog today, takes on either Richard Weikart or God, I am not sure which. Professor Weikart, whom we have met before, thinks that something he calls “Darwinism” undermines the sanctity of human life and led directly to the Holocaust (and no doubt retroactively to such atrocities as the Crusades and the Inquisition as well).

Another organization endorses honest science teaching

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Voices for Evolution (large pdf) is NCSE’s collection of statements from various bodies–scientific, religious, and educational–that endorse the teaching of honestly presented science in public schools. A new body, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, has just adopted a strong statement on teaching science titled Keep Supernaturalism Out of the Science Curriculum. No wishy-washy euphemisms there! I hope it is soon included in NCSE’s collection.

I was informed by The Skeptical Teacher a couple of weeks ago of the intent to introduce it. He/she posted a draft. I’ve reproduced the final resolution as adopted below the fold, but I’ll put one powerful quotation from it here.

WHEREAS, attempts to subvert the validity or teaching of evolutionary theory are also attacks on all scientific inquiry and, therefore, also attacks on the validity of using reason and experimentation to understand the universe;

Nice!

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