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Geology for evangelicals

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In honor of the opening of Ken Ham’s nefarious Ark “replica” today – you know, the one made out of gopher steel and wood – I decided to post this piece about a book written by evangelical scientists who know better than to treat the book of Genesis as history or science, for evangelical laypersons who either know better than to treat the book of Genesis as history or science, or can be taught to know better.

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The book is called The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth, and it is an anthology written by competent people and directed at evangelical Christians. Indeed, the subtitle is, “Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” The book, which I have not seen, appears to be lavishly illustrated, with 255 photographs and 104 diagrams and sketches, according to Church & State magazine. It is being sold in all 8 bookstores in the Grand Canyon National Park.

I am getting virtually all my information from an article in the latest issue of Church & State magazine. They note that the book has 11 co-authors, 8 of whom are evangelical Christians, and 3 are agnostics. The authors’ specialties include geology, biology, and paleontology. Church & State quotes Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education to the effect that the book “does a great job of explaining the science of Grand Canyon’s spectacular geology, as well as helping readers understand how the creationist misuse of Grand Canyon finds no support from science.”

Importantly, the publisher of the book is an evangelical firm, Kregel Publications, which, according to co-author Tim Helble, “was a good match for us because they have … published other books dealing with origins issues and would be able to sell the book in venues where evangelicals can be reached.” The last seems very important to me.

The bulk of the Church & State article is an interview with Mr. Helble, a retired hydrologist with the National Weather Service. Mr. Helble states explicitly that the “11 authors wanted to help counter the misleading information being disseminated by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) ministries.” He recognized the problem in 1994 when he found a book, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, edited by PhD geologist Steve Austin, and apparently chock full of errors. Here are a few snippets from the interview:

Three things we agreed to before we started writing were (1) our target audience is people who are uncertain about the age of the Earth, (2) a Christian reader shouldn’t feel like he/she is being ridiculed and (3) a college science degree shouldn’t be needed to understand it. …

Of course the Bible has tremendous value – I just think the young Earthers over-globalize the flood account, fail to see the worldview of the ancient Near East people and miss out on the rich poetic devices used in the early parts of Genesis. …

I think those claiming censorship misunderstand how the scientific process works. You can’t write an article about something like a geologic formation that basically says “the Flood did it,” and expect to have it accepted by a scientific journal. There has to be a quantitatively realistic mechanism consistent with the laws of physics behind what you are proposing. …

Creationism is a third rail in public schools, but there are some ways to inoculate students against it without directly addressing the subject. Schools could to do a better job of teaching how we know the Earth is old. For example, instead of just teaching that sedimentary rocks are made of sediments like sand and silt, students can be shown how fossils are found in such rocks of things that take a long time to form like intact reef systems, termite nests, forest communities and orderly nests of unhatched dinosaur eggs. …

By the way, when a student brings up young-Earth arguments, the worst thing to do is attack his or her faith. All you’re doing then is reinforcing the “us-vs.-them” mindset and helping the young-Earth ministries keep a lifetime follower. …

It certainly seems like there is a clash [between science and religion] if you focus on the extremes – the “new atheists” at one end and the YECs at the other. It’s interesting that both of them insist on a wooden, literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11.

I think religion and science can coexist if they don’t tread on each other’s turf where it’s not appropriate. I’ve seen new atheists use some pretty bad theology, and I think religious people should accept that there are some things that you just have to take on faith – stop trying to find “ultimate proofs” of difficult theological ideas like creation.

I am an old atheist (or, as I prefer to put it, a strong agnostic), and I do not know what is wooden about my interpretation of Genesis, but we will let that go. I think that among Mr. Helble’s most important remarks are that people should not feel that they are being ridiculed (yes, I know it is difficult at times, and the line between gentle satire and ridicule is sometimes uncertain), students should not think their faith is being attacked, and religion and science can coexist if they do not “tread on each other’s turf.” That is, as your local accommodationist, I think he is right that we have to accept religious people as they are, but only as long as they do not make claims that are flatly contrary to scientific fact.

Dan Phelps tells us that Barry Lynn of Americans United will appear alongside Ken Ham (I do not know whether in series or in parallel) on radio station WEKU in Richmond, Kentucky.

Ken Ham, President of Answers in Genesis will be joining us live via Skype for the show; as well as Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United. Jay Hall from Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts, and Humanities will be live in the studio.

We’re interested in your questions and comments on the park before and during the show at [Enable javascript to see this email address.]. You can leave a voice message at 859-622-1657 or call in when you tune in for EST Thursday morning from 11 to noon on 88.9 WEKU. [Eastern Daylight Time = UTC - 4 h.]

Feel free to tweet about the topic @wekuEST and post to the WEKU facebook page.

Confusingly, Eastern Standard is the name of the show, but Richmond is on Eastern Daylight Saving Time. I am listening to Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 on WEKU right now, so I assume the program will be streamed. If you listen to it, please feel free to comment here.

This link is a preview of an Australian television show about the “replica” of Noah’s Ark being built out of gopher steel and concrete in Kentucky. I think it will air next Sunday, and I hope that an online version will be available soon afterward. “Sunday Night” is apparently an Australian news magazine similar to 60 Minutes in the US.

Ken (who you callin’ the a Messiah, bud?) Ham commented on the program here; he seems to have been bent out of shape by a comment made by Bill Nye in the preview. Mr. Ham is an Australian native, and that may be part of the reason that the Australian channel is running the story.

The producers also interviewed the Ark Park’s persistent critic Dan Phelps at length, both in a hotel meeting room in Cincinnati and on an outcrop near Big Bone Lick State Park. I have a feeling that Mr. Ham will be bent further out of shape if Mr. Phelps’s comments are aired.

LIGO discovers gravitational waves

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A friend of mine, a theoretical physicist, has been telling me for over 30 years that we will never discover a magnetic monopole, proton decay – or the graviton. So far, he appears to have been correct, but now scientists at LIGO have detected a gravitational wave that resulted from the collision and amalgamation of 2 black holes. The news was so exciting that the server at Physical Review Letters supposedly crashed earlier today. I got a copy of the article but, as Shakespeare might have put it, much of it was written in Greek. The 2 graphs, shown in the Times article, look mighty convincing, though.

The graviton, if it exists, is the quantized particle that carries the gravitational field, much as the photon carries the electromagnetic field. I am not, alas, a theoretical physicist, so I do not know whether a gravitational wave necessarily implies a graviton. Unless I am mistaken, any classical (nonrelativistic) wave such as an electromagnetic wave or even a sound wave can be quantized, but I have no idea whether a (relativistic) gravity wave can necessarily be quantized. Perhaps some reader can shed light on the question.

In the meantime, I give my friend a tentative score of 2.5/3: No one has yet definitively discovered a magnetic monopole, and the lifetime of the proton has not been definitively measured.

Like a commenter on an earlier thread, I am very curious indeed to hear the creationists’ reaction to this stunning news.

Just a day before a handful of candidates dropped out of the race, Science ran an article on the candidates’ positions “on some select science-related issues (keeping in mind that the candidates have yet to sound off on many topics of interest to researchers).” The article was necessarily a little shallow but gives a good idea where most of the candidates stand on critical issues like science policy, the space program, climate change, vaccination, and genetically modified organisms.

Giant panda gives birth today

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Mei Xiang, a giant panda at the National Zoo in Washington, and a distant cousin of Prof. Steve Steve, gave birth today, only 3 days after she realized she was pregnant. The identity of the father is unclear, but Prof. Steve Steve asked us not to go into that.

Update, 9 a.m. August 23: Prof. Steve Steve informs us that according to an updated Times article (same URL), Mei Xiang has had twins.

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Model of the HMS Beagle constructed by Luis Peña out of more than 2000 Lego pieces.

I received an e-mail from Luis Peña, a self-described Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL), regarding his goal to develop an official Lego set, Darwin & HMS Beagle. To further his goal, Dr. Peña built the model of the Beagle shown in the photograph, using standard Lego parts and custom decals.

Lego will consider “Darwin & HMS Beagle,” provided that the project obtains 10,000 votes within the next 537 days; it currently has 7754 votes, counting mine yesterday. Voting is a bit of a pain, in that you have to register and answer a handful of questions, but it seemed to me to be well worth the effort.

Asked for more detail, Dr. Peña writes,

5/10/15

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From David Young on Facebook:

Number nerd warning: Today at 8:25.5 pm (local time) it will be 5 / 10 / 15 20 : 25 : 30.

NCSE tells us,

April 18-25, 2015, is the inaugural Climate Education Week, sponsored by Earth Day Network. To celebrate, the Climate Education Week website is providing K-12 educators with the Climate Education Toolkit – “a free, easy-to-use, ready-to-go resource with everything you need. The Toolkit includes a week’s worth of lesson plans, activities, and contests for K-12 students that meet Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core. Each day covers a different theme related to climate change with two highlighted activities handpicked by Earth Day Network for your use.” There are videos, contests, a downloadable Earth Day poster, and even an interactive on-line textbook for middle school students – all aimed at helping to promote climate education!

You may find NCSE’s resources on climate science and climate education on their Website.

adam-and-eve-cast-out-of-paradise-after-eating-from-the-tree-of-knowledge-in-the-garden-of-eden.pngI would like to introduce everyone to James Downard, and his website Troubles in Paradise (TIP). TIP is available at http://tortucan.wordpress.com/ or http://www.tortucan.com.

James Downard is an activist with decades of experience tracking the creationists, stretching back to encounters with Stephen Meyer in Washington state in the early 1990s. In 2010, he did a guest post for PT, “An Ill Wind in Tortuca”, available at: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/201[…]wind-in.html

Troubles in Paradise is a massive review of the creationism/ID movement, its people, and its arguments, along with a similarly massive review of relevant scientific evidence and literature. TIP primarily covers the movement up to about 2004, which of course was just about the peak of the ID movement, leading up to the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

I think it is extremely valuable to the pro-science community to have such a historical review available: the ID movement actively tries to conceal what it was saying pre-Kitzmiller, and of course the “intelligent design” label itself was an attempt to disguise connections to creation science. (And, “creation science,” particularly the whitewashed version put forward for the Edwards v. Aguillard case, was its own attempt at obscuring connections to religious fundamentalism.) (On this, see especially: Matzke, N. (2009), “But Isn’t It Creationism? The beginnings of ‘intelligent design’ and Of Pandas and People in the midst of the Arkansas and Louisiana litigation.” In: But Is It Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy, Updated Edition, eds. Pennock & Ruse, Prometheus Books, 377-413; google Scholar)

Today in 2015, it is not uncommon for commentators new to the creationism/ID debate to start producing writings almost totally ignorant of the history of the issue. Hopefully Downard’s effort will help correct this problem, and will serve as a resource that science fans can link to and cite.

Troubles in Paradise is really several books’ worth of work, so if you’ve ever gone to the bookstore and bought a science book, please think about making a similar donation so that Downard can continue his efforts.

Below, I post Downard’s short description of the project, which includes a Q & A email interview I conducted with him, and links to his GoFundMe page, www.GoFundMe.com/dseego. Please reblog, retweet, and spread the word! PS: James Downard’s Twitter is: @RJDownardNick Matzke

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Short description of Troubles in Paradise, by James Downard:

Welcome to TIP, a new open access resource for defenders of sound science who get really unsettled by the claims of antievolutionists (be they Young Earth Creationists or the newer brand of Intelligent Design) but may not have all the best science information ready to drop on their claims.

The TIP files (all in pdf format) cover all aspects of antievolutionism (from paleontology and biology to the social and political ramifications of antievolutionism as they play out in schoolrooms and school boards or in state legislatures, Congress, or even candidates for President.

The Old TIP files form the base of the project, drawing on over 5500 sources, and step by step I am updating that material with a much larger set of newer data (over 36,000 sources and counting, including over 14,000 technical science sources aimed at claims popping up in over 6000 antievolutionist works) to keep TIP constantly current. The new modules also have an index to help locating all specific topics and people covered.

There are more pdfs & offsite web links in Other Stuff, including the 3ME illustrated guide to the Cambrian Explosion, and the origin of birds and mammals, the perfect heavy brick to lob at antievolutionists who make the mistake of claiming “there’s no evidence for macroevolution.” 3ME not only shows how wrong that is, it also pulls back the curtain to see just how antievolutionists manage to evade all that evidence (not a pretty picture, but has to be done).

Check out all the material here on TIP, all open access to download and share freely with anyone you think needs evens stronger evidence to counter the claims of antievolutionists.

Q & A with James Downard:

Q: Why did you decide to call your project “Troubles in Paradise” (TIP)?

The tenth annual Evolution Weekend, February 13-15, is almost upon us. To check out what’s going on in your neighborhood, click here. This year’s theme is Science and Religion in Dialogue: Past, Present, and Future. The Evolution Weekend website notes,

Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. An ongoing goal has been to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic, and to show that religion and science are not adversaries. Rather, they look at the natural world from quite different perspectives and ask, and answer, different questions.

Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.

While I do not entirely agree with the sentiment expressed in the first paragraph, it is better than some of the alternatives.

Finally, NCSE reminds us that the anniversary of Darwin’s birth is February 12, and House Resolution 67 would recognize

Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s peoples.

Rep. Jim Himes introduced the bill on February 2, and, according to a press release from the American Humanist Association, it is the latest in a series of such resolutions, the previous four having been introduced by Rep. Rush Holt and Rep. Pete Stark. Although the PR is not explicit, I think we may infer that none has so far passed the House.

A new PBS series, Earth: A new wild, will highlight China’s breeding of giant pandas with the intention of introducing them into the wild. One goal of the series is to demonstrate that humans and nature are interdependent, according to its producer, M. Sanjayan. The 5-part series will begin on February 4. You may see a 1.5-min clip from the show at the link above. You may also see photographs of newborn panda triplets here.

There is no truth to the rumor that our colleague Professor Steve Steve sired any of the baby pandas.
———
Acknowledgment. Thanks to Debbie Bloom Garelick for the initial link.

I would not exactly call it a Christmas present, but today I happened to learn of a press release circulated by the Nature Publishing Group on December 2 of this year. The press release was not exactly a model of clarity, but if I understand it correctly, subscribers to any of a number of the publishing group’s journals can legitimately make articles available to individual colleagues who are not subscribers. In addition, readers of “100 media outlets and blogs … will be able to provide their own readers with a link to a full text, read-only view of the original scientific paper.”

Recognizing that “researchers are already sharing content, often in hidden corners of the Internet or using clumsy, time-consuming practices,” Nature has decided to “present a new way to conveniently share and disseminate this knowledge using technology from one of our innovative and disruptive divisions – Digital Science – to provide a real solution to the global problem of how to efficiently and legitimately share scientific research for the benefit of all.”

I consider this development very welcome indeed.

Philae craft lands on comet

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Rosetta headquarters announced a few moments ago that the Philae lander is now sitting on the surface of the comet and transmitting data. Unfortunately, the European Space Agency is not exactly releasing a trove of pictures. I know this is not biology, but where did you think those hydrocarbons came from in the first place?

Or, as Right-Wing Watch puts it, Neo-Confederate Republican Michael Peroutka Wins Maryland Election. Mr. Peroutka operates the family foundation that donated the allosaurus fossil to the Creation “Museum,” as we reported here. I will not synopsize the Right-Wing Watch article, but I think that you will find that being a neo-Confederate is the least of Mr. Peroutka’s problems; if he is not completely crackers, he is giving a convincing imitation.

Giant panda fakes pregnancy

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The Xinhua news agency reported the other day that a giant panda, Ai Hin, had faked pregnancy, possibly in order to receive better treatment in the form of a private room, air conditioning, and luscious bamboo. This observant and inventive panda is, of course, a distant relative of Professor Steve Steve.

Panda cub is 1 year old

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That cub is Bao Bao, the cub born at the National Zoo in Washington. See here for a short video or here for still photos. Bao Bao is the second panda to have been born at the zoo and survived to her first birthday. She is, of course, a distant cousin, once removed, of Professor Steve Steve.

What we got from NCSE:

We’re gearing up for this month’s webinar, which will cover how to use online petitions as an organizing tactic, and how to make the most of them. We’ll demo some of the software people use, talk about how to write a great petition, and talk about how to use the resulting list of supporters to grow your groups and fight science denial. We’ll talk a bit about building and maintaining email lists, and converting those contacts into more active participants.

You can find more info and register here.

It’ll be Wednesday, at 2PM Eastern, 11 Pacific. I hope you can join, or watch online afterward. And please do share that information with your groups.

While searching for the source of this cartoon, I ran across the website of Samuel Varg, a Swedish magician and skeptic. Mr. Varg has posted an interview with Kenneth Miller on YouTube and promises interviews with Candida Moss and John Safran.

Mr. Varg and his colleague Anders Hesselbom were unusually well prepared. Professor Miller, in turn, was an excellent spokesperson for theistic evolution, though I had to take issue with his claim that the universe is “overflowing” with the possibility for life. His position seems to me to be very close to deism, but you can listen to the interview and decide for yourself.

The National Center for Science Education will host a webinar, “Debunking and confronting science denial,” Wednesday, May 28, 4 PM EDT/1 PM PDT. Josh Rosenau of NCSE will moderate a panel that includes

Shauna Theel from the climate and energy project at Media Matters for America, John Cook of SkepticalScience.com and the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, and be moderated by NCSE’s Josh Rosenau. Shauna will discuss her work addressing media misstatements and how citizens can correct the record. John will describe the debunking resource SkepticalScience.com and the Debunking Handbook he co-authored, and Josh will talk about the experience he’s gained debunking science denial at NCSE.

More here; register here.

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