Recently in Slightly Off Topic Category

Since everyone is all het up about Noah, I thought I would resurrect (sorry) a narrative I wrote 15 years ago for my book on science and religion. The “Friedman” I cite is Richard Elliott Friedman, author of Who Wrote the Bible? I used the section primarily to explain why scholars are convinced that the Hebrew Bible is a composite of two different but related methodologies (the documentary hypothesis), but it also shows the utter incoherence of the Bible when read as a literal history. The excerpt may be found below the fold.

I occasionally receive a request to print or post a photograph that has appeared on Panda’s Thumb, but this one takes the cake: A magazine called Creation Illustrated, which bills itself as “The Christian answer to National Geographic,” requested permission to publish this photograph


in its magazine. Fat chance!

Their e-mail was datelined, “URGENT - Matt Young’s photo of Table Mountain needed.” Needed, eh? I am afraid I was not very kind to them:

Thank you; I am glad you liked my photograph. Unfortunately, under no conditions will I allow this photograph (or any other to which I own the copyright) to be published in any creationist publication. So my answer is, “No.” Did you not notice that the website, Panda’s Thumb, where the photograph was published, is devoted to scientific reality, that is, evolutionary science? “Christian answer to National Geographic,” indeed!

Until now, I was blissfully unaware that National Geographic needed an answer of any kind.

By Dan Phelps ([Enable javascript to see this email address.])

This is a guest contribution by Dan Phelps, who participated in a sort of warm-up debate before the infamous Nye–Ham debate. Mr. Phelps’s contribution was inspired in part by a challenge for a formal debate by his interlocutor, Terry Mortenson, who, astonishingly, admitted that he has “no credibility in the scientific community and little even within Christian circles.” Mr. Phelps evidently looked further into Dr. Mortenson’s background and discovered at least some of the reasons that Dr. Mortenson lacks credibility, period.

By David MacMillan. The author has a B.S. in physics from the University of North Alabama and once wrote a very positive review of the Creation Museum.

It’s rare to see a prominent scientist or educator agree to a public debate with someone from the creation science movement. Giving equal time to both sides might be a foundational principle of American dialogue, but it paints the issue as more of a controversy than it actually is. That’s why it surprised a lot of people when Bill Nye, science educator and TV personality, agreed to debate the president of Cincinnati’s Creation Museum, Ken Ham.

Oooh, do I smell a book deal! NPR today ran an interview with a Christian pastor who supposedly made a New Year’s resolution to live for a year without God. Ryan Bell was the pastor of a Seventh-Day Adventist congregation but was asked to resign when he expressed doubts about God.

A reader asks weather anyone knows what book this page comes from or not:


I say, wind, shmind, the whether on the moon was stormy that day or not. Anyway, how do they know weather there is wind on the moon – were they there (or not)? Read and understand.…

Submitted by the Whether Underground.

Comet Ison: Perihelion is now


Nice video here, along with a sky map telling you where to look in the early morning. Instructions for viewing it in daylight here – wear sunglasses and take their advice to use a stationary object, not your thumb, to block the sun. And latest images here. I am going out now with my trusty camera and looking for a lamp post, but it may be too close to the sun already.

Update: Here is a remarkable picture from the Nasa site above, taken on November 25.


When President Kennedy was shot


A number of people across the web have posted their memories of where they were the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Mine is short: I was at sea aboard the ship of the U.S. Navy that he visited less than a week before he was shot.

The Creation “Museum” in Kentucky recently acquired an Allosaurus fossil, according to an AP release by Dylan Lovan yesterday. The proprietor of the Creation “Museum,” Ken Ham, seems to think that the mere acquisition of a dinosaur fossil gives his “museum” credibility and makes it a real museum. The fossil was donated by the Elizabeth Streb Peroutka Foundation of Maryland, about which I have so far managed to learn virtually nothing.

The article quotes geologist Dan Phelps, a perpetual thorn in the side of the Creation “Museum”:

A recent Gallup poll concluded that Americans consistently rate math the most valuable subject they took in school, ahead of English, science, and history. Specifically, 34 % of those polled in both 2002 and 2013 rated math the most important subject. English, meaning English, reading, and literature, came in second, with 21 % in 2013 rating English the most important. Between 2002 and 2013, incidentally, science jumped from 4 % to 12 %. Figure 1 shows Gallup’s results for 2002 and 2013 in graphical form.


Figure 1. Percentage of responses to Gallup polls taken in 2002 and 2013. Mathematics held firm at 34 %, whereas science increased from 4 to 12 % at the expense of English, reading, and literature.

by Carl Drews

What will happen to the Earth’s oceans as the level of dissolved CO 2 in the oceans increases? This post explores the likely consequences of this increase for plants and animals living in the oceans. We will not cover questions about the reality of climate change itself, nor the suggested causes of global warming (human-caused or natural).

The complexity of the earth system is such that nobody can be an expert on all aspects of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Climate change involves many interrelated scientific disciplines. One of the great things about Panda’s Thumb is that it covers a wide range of scientific topics, and anyone can contribute their own expertise when their particular field comes up. I am sure that PT readers will correct me if I get something wrong here (and even if I don’t!).

By Dan Phelps

On September 12, 2013, I received a letter (see Appendix) signed by Ken Ham and a slick advertisement from the Ark Encounter touting funding the Ark Park via bonds. The bond issuer will be the City of Williamstown, Kentucky. According to the website mentioned in the letter, the co-borrowers will be Crosswater Canyon, Inc., a non-profit organization controlled by Answers in Genesis, and Ark Encounter, LLC (co-borrower, solely owned by Crosswater Canyon, Inc.).

Waco Mammoth Site needs help


Someone who identified himself only as Profound Pharynx wrote the other day asking for our help in getting a paleontological resource, the Waco Mammoth Site, designated a National Monument. Specifically, he asks that we sign a petition asking the President to name the site as a National Monument by executive order. The petition must gather at least 100,000 signatures by October 11; as I write, it has 73 signatures, but in a few moments it will have 74.

Here is what Profound Pharynx asked us to publish:

Another giant is dead


I became aware of science fiction sometime around 1950, when the “commercial club” in my tiny village–my dad, who managed the lumberyard, Butch Holdredge, who owned a grocery store, two saloon owners whose names I don’t recall, Mr. Hanenberger, who owned the hardware store, the Laudon brothers, who owned the grain elevator, and the village banker, Merle Comingore–arranged for free movies to be shown on a sheet hung on the side of the township building outdoors on summer Saturday nights. Typically, the itinerant projectionist, who drove up from Winona, showed a cartoon (Mighty Mouse was a favorite), a serial, always with a cliff-hanger, and a two-reel feature. One summer the serial was a Buck Rogers saga created 10 years earlier. I was entranced by it.

I remember seeing Destination Moon in a real theater in its first release in 1950 (admission 14 cents). I read the science fiction pulps–Amazing Stories, Astounding Science-Fiction–when I could find them. All that was part of the background that led me to work in aerospace years ago.

Now the last of the founding giants of modern science fiction, Frederick Pohl, has died. RIP.

Science on trial?


Lou Dubose reported in the Washington Spectator the other day that Eastman Chemical prevailed in a lawsuit against two small companies, and Dubose thinks that decision could have far-ranging consequences. I am not certain whether science was on trial, but as it turned out in vitro assays may have been.

I cannot find much interesting material that postdates the decision, but you can find a slightly gloating press release by Eastman Chemical here.

Giant panda gives birth


Professor Steve Steve reports that his distant relative Mei Xiang gave birth to a cub at the National Zoo yesterday. NPR reports that the zoo did not know that the panda was pregnant until recently, when, according to Professor Steve Steve, she told her keepers that she “might be just a little bit pregnant.” Reuters reports that scientists will shortly perform a paternity test. You may see a webcam shot of the giant panda here.

Scientists discover new mammal


Photograph by Mark Gurney, Smithsonian Institution.

Well, discover in the same sense that Columbus discovered America. The “new” mammal, the olinguito, was formerly mistaken for its closest relative, the olingo. Both inhabit the cloud forests of the Andes. The discoverer, Kristofer Helgen, described the animal as a “cross between a teddy bear and a house cat,” to which editorialized, “(awwww).” The olinguito is related to the raccoon.

But they also ruled that cDNA sequences may be patented. The argument is something like this: DNA is found in nature, hence not patentable. But cDNA, or DNA stripped of its introns, is not found in nature, hence potentially patentable. See Adam Liptak’s article in The New York Times.

The outcome means (or seems to mean) that Myriad Genetics will no longer have a monopoly on testing for the breast-cancer genes, BRCA-1 and -2. Liptak suggests that competition will now drive the cost of such tests down from the present price of around $3000. Myriad’s stock nevertheless had gone up at the time of Liptak’s report.

Atheist in a foxhole


I hope this is not too far off task, but two years ago, on June 4, 2011, at approximately 8 a.m., I took my wife to the emergency room. I did not bring her home again till November 18.

John Searle’s homunculus announces phased retirement


Those who know John Searle’s “Chinese Room” critique of the possibility of genuine consciousness in artificial/machine intelligences will enjoy this:

John Searle’s homunculus announces phased retirement

After 54 years of teaching at Berkeley, the man inside John Searle’s head has announced he will be entering a three-year phased retirement after the end of the current semester. The diminutive Zhu Tao made the announcement at a press conference Monday in a rare out-of-costume appearance.

At the conference Zhu said he is retiring from his current position in order to spend more time with Searle’s family. “I have become quite attached to these people,” Zhu said through a translator. “Although, admittedly, not being able to understand a word they say has limited the intimacy of our relationships.”

While he expressed sadness at the end of an era, Zhu looked back with pride at his time inside John Searle’s head. Zhu is popularly credited with sparking the shift away from brain-based cognition. Today that shift continues apace, with figures such as Andy Clark and David Chalmers outsourcing their thinking to call centers in India as part of a growing movement of philosophers who believe cognition can extend beyond the boundaries of one’s skull.

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