Recently in War on Science Category

Curious article Is scientific research flawed? on the AIG website. The author, Callie Joubert, is identified only by name and has no bio. The article correctly enumerates some of the problems with science, particularly medicine, and blames conflict of interest, competition, and so on – the usual suspects.

The author also notes two papers in physics, the Bicep2 experiment in Antarctica and the “superluminal neutrinos at the Swiss-Italian border.” Both papers apparently had drawn erroneous conclusions and were retracted. The author fails to note the significance of the fact that the papers were retracted – that when science makes a mistake it admits that mistake and tries to correct itself.

Nevertheless, the article is not half bad until it gets to this point:

There is another “background assumption that almost all practitioners in the biomedical sciences agree upon and that is naturalism.” Naturalism is problematic because human problems are often reconceptualized and subsequently described in terms that are consistent with the evolution story but otherwise in conflict with alternative perspectives.

And:

[Scientists] refuse to accept that the scientific method is only one source of truth among others. What need serious reevaluation are the naturalistic materialist and the biological reductionist worldview that dominates the academia; it is a wholly misguided conceptual framework for the articulation and explanation of human origins, personal and interpersonal problems, and how it [sic] may be rectified.

I want to make two brief points: This article outlines some serious problems with Big Science and makes a great deal more sense than any of the material I have read on AIG to date. It fails to stress that the problems have been discovered by the scientists themselves, and the scientists are trying to correct the problems. Unfortunately, the article is to some extent an ad hominem attack, in that the problems of Big Science, while very real, have absolutely nothing to do with science’s adherence to naturalism, which I take to be the main point.

The author is in good company, but I also object to his or her use of reductionism as an epithet; reductionism is what scientists do when they discover that gas laws can be reduced to molecular physics, molecular physics can be reduced to atomic physics, atomic physics can be reduced to nuclear physics, and so on. Reductionism is not a dirty word, or at least it ought not to be.

Finally, I will be more impressed by articles like this one when I see creationists finding problems with their own thinking and working to correct them. Or even correct problems that others point out.

A commenter on an earlier thread directed our attention to an article by Zack Kopplin in the Daily Beast, “School teaching creationism with video from Islamic sex cult.” The headline may be a bit over the top, but the gist of the article is that the school district is employing materials developed by Harun Yahya. To give due credit, here is what the commenter, “Charley Horse,” wrote on the earlier thread:

A bit off topic … but of interest.

School Teaching Creationism With Video From Islamic Sex Cult. An Ohio school district is using a video made by a Holocaust-denying Muslim to undermine evolution in science class.

QUOTE A BIT:

A curriculum map recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.”

…The district’s curriculum map calls for teaching “an alternative theory called Intelligent Design,” which is another name for creationism. Youngstown suggests teachers show a creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, produced by the right wing Christian advocacy group, Focus on the Family and by the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank.…

“Students are reminded how the irreducibly complex system like the flagellum of a bacterial cell could not have evolved slowly, piece by piece and serves as a counter-example to evolution,” says the curriculum, citing another disproven creationist talking point. It also recommends the video Darwin’s Dilemma, also produced by the Discovery Institute. Other materials call evolution a “theory in crisis,” and were created by the All About GOD ministries.

The Daily Beast article directs us to a “curriculum map” and notes,

A curriculum map (PDF) recommends teachers in this public school district show a creationist video, Cambrian Fossils and the Creation of Species as part of 10th grade science education. The video claims that the Cambrian Explosion “totally invalidates the theory of evolution.” The Cambrian Explosion was a time period, nearly 550 million years ago, where, over the next tens of millions of years, the number of species on Earth experienced a (relatively) rapid expansion by evolutionary standards. Christian creationists regularly point to this explosion of life as evidence for creation by God and against evolution.

Blink and you’d miss the Islamic connection in the video. A black screen flashes for less than one second that says “this film is based on the works of Harun Yahya.” In the right corner, there’s a gold bubble that says, “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah” in Arabic.

I followed the link to the curriculum map. I am not a biologist, and I did not read all 24 pages in detail, but, sure enough, on page 3/24, I found,

Dan Phelps just sent us an editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader. The editorial accuses Kentucky of seeking science jobs while at the same time denying science: not just evolution but also global warming, alternative energy sources, and conservation. The editorial notes that Kentucky is “perennially short of money,” in part because of tax breaks like that for the Ark Park, and concludes,

Kentucky forgoes tax revenue to help deny science while telling students they need to learn it. In homage to coal, Kentucky dumbly stints on alternative energy technologies, or even conservation, while telling young people they need to prepare to work in advanced manufacturing.

The messages aren’t just mixed, they’re in open conflict.

That about sums it up.

By Gaythia Weis.

I want to call attention to the newly enacted legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which relinquishes Federal control over many aspects of the education of our nation’s children. In so doing, this law may enable religious activists to exert their influence to a greater extent than previously possible. I need not remind readers of The Panda’s Thumb of the manner in which creationists attempt to subvert the public education system to further their own ideological goals.

ESSA is the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was first enacted in the Lyndon Johnson administration as a means of furthering equality of education in our nation. ESSA is ostensibly directed to address issues, including excessive student testing and ineffective teachers, that many think were problems with the previous No Child Left Behind program. However, the ESSA is the result of bipartisan political compromise and its provisions raise new issues.

Some of these issues ought to be of grave concern to those of us interested in science education. These issues call for our close attention and active monitoring.

The War Before Kitzmas

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Over at Elizabeth Liddle’s “The Skeptical Zone” (TSZ) blog, Salvador Cordova had something to say about being banned from the “Uncommon Descent” (UD) blog, now being managed (loosely speaking) by Barry K. Arrington.

Arrington did something for Cordova that he doesn’t do for most people banned from UD, which was to send Sal an explanatory letter, which Sal included in his TSZ post. I’ll quote it below the fold.

School’s out, and I discovered a new website, TheTorah.com, which appears to be a project of a group of Modern Orthodox Jews to promulgate their acceptance of higher criticism (also called historical criticism). In other words, these are scholars who practice Orthodox Judaism but are not Biblical literalists. Their website proclaims a need for a “historical and contextual approach” to Torah study. Amen, and good luck to them!

Most of the articles on the Website are of no particular interest to me, but two caught my eye. Under “Biblical Scholarship 101,” an article on Noah’s flood shows in considerable detail how the story is composed of two interwoven and sometimes contradictory tales. The argument is used to support what is often known as the Documentary Hypothesis. It is hard to see how anyone could argue that both tales are literally true, and indeed I once used a shorter version of the same argument on Panda’s Thumb. I consider the Documentary Hypothesis to be so convincing that it is frankly a fact that the Bible is composed of four or more threads. Which leads me to the second article that caught my eye, below the figurative fold.

“Measles vaccine protects against other deadly diseases,” proclaims an article in ScienceInsider. In reality, the protection is indirect: Getting measles disposes you to getting other potentially fatal diseases over the next several years. Evidently, measles, unlike, for example, whooping cough, not only weakens your immune system but also makes it “forget,” so you may even contract a disease that you already had and thought you were immune to. (As an aside, though it was supposedly impossible, I contracted mumps twice, as diagnosed both times by a physician. I now wonder whether I had contracted measles between the two cases of mumps.)

As described in the ScienceInsider article, Michael Mina and colleagues at the Emory University School of Medicine demonstrated a correlation between a child’s getting measles and subsequently dying of other diseases. Specifically, they showed that children who survive measles are especially vulnerable to contracting a fatal illness for an average of approximately 2.5 years after the measles infection. The result held true both before and after the widespread use of the measles vaccine. The researchers found no such vulnerability among children who had contracted whooping cough, so the result is apparently specific to measles.

Vaccination had practically eliminated measles from the United States by 2000. Since 2013 or so, we have experienced hundreds of cases, largely if not entirely due to the anti-vaccination movement (see, for example, MMR vaccine controversy, which details the fraudulent but influential paper by Andrew Wakefield). Little did we know that the anti-vaxxers have put children in danger of contracting not only measles (a serious disease on its own, incidentally), but also other serious and potentially fatal diseases as well.

Anyone who relies on the Supreme Court to guarantee that creationism will not be taught in public school or that the Ark Park’s threatened lawsuit will necessarily fail might want to read an article by Erwin Chemerinsky in the January 1 issue of The Washington Spectator. In that article, which I take to be a longish abstract of his book, Chemerinsky argues that the Court has generally not lived up to its “lofty expectations” and indeed has more often “upheld discrimination and even egregious violations of basic liberties.” The Chemerinsky article does not appear on the Spectator website, so I will abstract it very briefly below the fold.
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Update, January 5, 2015. The article is now available here, so you may read it for yourself and not take my word for what Chemerinsky says.
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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.

According to an article in Science today, a creationist group has booked a room for a conference at Michigan State University. Science is more discreet than I have to be, but it appears that they duped a student group into booking a room for them, and they are scheming to hold another conference at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Science writes that the conference, scheduled for November 1 and

called the Origins Summit, is sponsored by Creation Summit, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit Christian group that believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and was founded to “challenge evolution and all such theories predicated on chance.” The one-day conference will include eight workshops, according the event’s website, including discussion of how evolutionary theory influenced Adolf Hitler’s worldview, why “the Big Bang is fake,” and why “natural selection is NOT evolution.” Another talk targets the work of MSU biologist Richard Lenski, who has conducted an influential, decades-long study of evolution in bacterial populations.

All that old familiar nonsense.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to the indefatigable Dan Phelps for the tip.

By David MacMillan.

8. New perspective. I think there are several different varieties of creationism activists. Some are obsessed with the presumed negative effects of evolution and secular humanism. Some are driven by suspicion for science and the certainty that a conspiracy must be afoot. Some use creationist apologetics to make themselves feel smarter and better-informed than the general public. Some are genuinely interested in science and want to know the truth.

I’d be lying if I said my motivations for arguing creationism were firmly in the last camp. I wasn’t much of a conspiracy theorist, but I certainly believed that there were inevitable negative consequences from the acceptance of evolution. I was definitely stuck-up about my “special” expertise. But deep down, I really did want to know the truth about the world. I loved being right, but I loved learning new things more.

By David MacMillan.

7. The religion of evolution.

The final set of creationist misconceptions about evolution surrounds its supposed religious, moral, and ethical implications. These objections prove difficult to address, simply because they have little or no objective basis and are almost purely philosophical or religious. This section will concentrate mostly on explaining the relationships and connections between these arguments, as systematically refuting them would delve deep into philosophy and theology and is far beyond the scope of a single post.

By David MacMillan.

6. Genetic evidence.

Revised July 4, 2014.

Perhaps one of the clearest and most obvious confirmations of evolution is the convergence between the evolutionary paths of descent determined by fossil evidence and the phylogenetic tree generated by algorithms analyzing genetic information. Because the tree of universal common descent is real, not invented, it leaves the same fingerprint in every part of nature that life touches. Matching trees can be found in global fossil distribution, in analysis of skeletal morphologies, in chromosome length, count, and banding, and in numerous common genetic sequences.

Not every genetic sequence yields a perfect branching tree. Evolutionary theory would not predict perfect branching trees, because random mutations scramble the relationships over time. Even though mutations provide the variation needed for diversification, their accumulation throughout that diversification can eventually obscure the evidence needed to reconstruct those relationships.

By David MacMillan.

5. Evolution of evolution.

Most creationists believe that the theory of evolution was developed out of an ideological commitment to explaining life apart from God. Explanations of the history of evolutionary theory often point out personal struggles in the lives of prominent scientists – Darwin most often, of course – in support of this belief. “Secular scientists wanted a way of explaining a world that didn’t require God, so they invented this ridiculous theory.” To creationists, this foundation offers an easy way of dismissing all the theoretical and observational bases of evolution. If evolution is just wishful thinking born of anti-theistic extremism, then all the “evidence” is reduced to ad hoc speculation.

Because of this misconception, creationists rarely understand the actual history of how geology, paleontology, and biology built upon each other to provide us with our understanding of the world. Mainstream geology emerged significantly ahead of Darwin’s work; many early geologists were Christians. Studying the distribution of rock layers around the globe allowed geologists to construct a complete geologic column and begin appreciating the incredible amount of time the column represents. Moreover, the regular progression of extinct species fossilized throughout the geologic column had been well-catalogued.

By David MacMillan.

4. Transitional fossils.

One of the most common and most frustrating creationist objections to evolution is the claim that there are no “missing links” or “transitional fossils” required by evolution. This claim is made without qualification, particularly in presentations to lay or church audiences. As unthinkable as it might seem, creationists really do believe that transitional fossils simply do not exist. On this basis, they conclude that evolution must be false.

They maintain this completely erroneous view by consistently misrepresenting what a transitional fossil actually is. Creationists don’t deny that Archaeopteryx, Pakicetus, Tiktaalik, Australopithecus, and similar prominent examples of transitional fossils exist; they rather argue that these are not “true” transitional fossils.

By David MacMillan.

3. You don’t evolve, your species does.

Creationists often conceptualize evolution as something which is purely vertical: successive changes from parent to child to grandchild to great-grandchild accumulating over time. They can hardly be faulted for this misconception, because this view seems to be shared by the general public and even reinforced by the sometimes-imprecise explanations and depictions of evolution by museums and science educators.

Evolutionary adaptation, however, does not happen in a straight line from parent to child. Rather, adaptation takes place throughout a population as different genetic sequences spread outward from parents to all their offspring and are recombined and reshuffled in many different individuals each successive generation. Evolution is wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. It is the combination of changing genetic material across an entire population that makes major evolutionary adaptation possible; without this constant mixing and recombination from the entire population, evolution would grind almost to a halt. Evolution is a phenomenon that functions not at the level of the individual, nor at the level of individual lineages, but across the entire population within the species (Figure 1).

sardines-2.jpg

Figure 1. This hypothetical example depicts evolutionary change as an emergent property of the entire population. Both the “ABC” combinations (in shades of blue) and the “XYZ” combinations (in shades of red) offer a survival advantage and are passed on, while combinations of the two (shown in shades of purple) are detrimental and are removed from the population. No specific mutation order is required; as long as the selection pressure remains steady, the mutations accumulate together (essentially “finding” each other) and two separate genotypes emerge.

By David MacMillan

2. Variation and adaptation

The majority of modern creation science freely admits the existence of biological variation, adaptation, and speciation. Indeed, the recent-creation model – particularly the belief that all extant life descended from a small group of “kinds” present on Noah’s Ark which diversified into all families on Earth after a global flood – requires enormous adaptive variation and near-constant speciation. Creationists estimate that fewer than 10,000 pairs of land-dwelling, air-breathing animals on the Ark diversified to represent all families alive today. There are around 6.5 million land-dwelling species today, so millions of speciation events would have needed to take place over the past 44 centuries since their global flood.

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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.

By David MacMillan

Following the joint interview with Dan Phelps and Terry Mortenson on WEKU-FM, David MacMillan wrote a letter to Dr. Mortenson. This article is based on that letter. Dr. Mortenson responded to Mr. MacMillan’s letter, but unfortunately requested that his response be kept confidential. Odd behavior, it seems to me, for someone who is itching for a debate; Dr. Mortenson is welcome to respond here any time he likes.

Panda’s Thumb recently posted a guest contribution by Dan Phelps, who was interviewed along with Answers in Genesis’s Terry Mortenson on WEKU-FM, Eastern Kentucky University’s NPR station. Dr. Mortenson, for his part, posted his own discussion of the interview on the Answers in Genesis website. As a former creationist and AIG guest author who has recently been writing about the creation-evolution controversy in light of Ken Ham’s recent debate with Bill Nye, I thought Dr. Mortenson’s comments provided a particularly good example of one of the biggest problems with the creationist movement.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the War on Science category.

Theological Issues with Intelligent Design is the previous category.

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