Recently in What motivates creationism Category

Stephen Dilley’s new book, Darwinian Evolution And Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, is now available, at least on Kindle. Chapter 12 is by me; it’s entitled, somehwat dully, “Classical Liberalism And Evolution.” In it, I argue that evolution, far from undercutting the premises of classical liberalism, is at least compatible with them, and, as I think, provides a stronger foundation for them than any variety of creationism. But, as I contend at the outset, it doesn’t much matter, because evolution is true. So if it’s incompatible with libertarianism, then so much the worse for libertarianism.

Chapter 11 is by my friend Shawn Klein; it’s called, somewhat more interestingly, “Volitional Consciousness and Evolution.” Other contributors include Roger Masters and Michael J. White.

Todd Wood has just announced that Bryan College is discontinuing support for the Center for Origins Research (CORE). I am actually kind of sad about this. Wood was almost the sole representative of critical thinking in the creationist movement. He also had the virtually unique trait of understanding what modern evolutionary biology actually said before opening his big mouth about it. I can’t think of a time when he quote-mined Gould’s punctuated equilibrium quotes or blamed Darwin for Hitler or used the other careless, bottom-of-the-barrel tactics ubiquitous with creationists of the ID or AIG varieties. And I can think of many times when he called shenanigans on creationists engaging in those sorts of sins.

Jerry Coyne pwns Paul Nelson

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I’ve had my disagreements with Jerry Coyne over a few things, but this is freakin’ genius. Bonus points for the Marshall McLuhan/Annie Hall reference.

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Jason Rosenhouse moved from the east coast to Kansas for a postdoc. He had studied a bit about creationism while a graduate student at Dartmouth, so it would be an exaggeration to say that he was surprised to learn that not everyone in Kansas was a liberal Democrat (even by today’s standard of liberalism). Nevertheless, for reasons that are not made completely clear, he humored his inner anthropologist and attended a handful of creationist conferences over a period of several years. The result is the splendid book Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line, which both shows creationists as regular people, just like scientists, and also takes them seriously, without condescension or sarcasm.

Not that Rosenhouse cuts them any slack. He gets up to the microphone and asks pointed questions, and he is completely open about who he is and what he believes. He mingles with the conference attendees and is impressed by how very pleasant they are; he is pleasant in return, except for one apparently unfortunate interaction with Ken Ham. Nevertheless, however pleasant the creationists may be, Rosenhouse makes clear that he and his interlocutors are always talking past each other, and his critiques have virtually no effect - except occasionally, when he sees a young student listening intently and thinks he may have planted some seeds of doubt.

Today on the DI Media Complaints Division blog, William Dembski writes,

I recall posting on my blog a gorgeous picture of wildflowers, hinting at the wonders of God’s creation, and seeing comments by atheistic evolutionists who dismissed it as merely “sex” run amuck.

I actually remember this post. It was a post Dembski put up on May 14, 2005 at Uncommon Descent. Quoth Dembski:

Barnosky_etal_2011_Nature_Fig1.jpgThis isn’t exactly about creationism/evolution, but it’s still pretty cool. And I will find a way to tie it in, since I haven’t blogged on PT in, I think, months.

Contrary to what creationists believe, evolutionary biologists don’t sit around in biology departments plotting to overthrow God and morality. We spend our time doing things like statistics and programming and specimen preparation and experimental manipulation and DNA sequencing and field observation, and then give and hear talks and discussions about this research. The main thing we are interested in is not “proving evolution”, it is discovering cool facts and devising hypotheses to explain them, and then devising tests of those hypotheses (typically, statistical tests, something which creationists almost always ignore). In short, it’s like any other science.

This paper is a case in point:

NATURE | REVIEW

Barnosky, Anthony D.; Matzke, Nicholas; Tomiya, Susumu; Wogan, Guinevere O. U.; Swartz, Brian; Quental, Tiago B.; Marshall, Charles; McGuire, Jenny L.; Lindsey, Emily L.; Maguire, Kaitlin C.; Mersey, Ben; Ferrer, Elizabeth A. (2011). “Has the Earth’s sixth mass extinction already arrived?” Nature 471(7336), 51-57. (DOI - Link)

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.

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.

This week I was invited out to Oklahoma to speak in the University of Oklahoma’s Darwin 2009 speaker series. It was quite a trip – I got to meet the Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, and breakfast with Richard Dawkins himself. The evolution issue is still hot in Oklahoma, and my visit coincided with a general cultural fracas in the state over evolution, creationism/ID, and what attention these issues should receive in public schools and in universities. I’ll attempt to give a brief snapshot of how things currently look in one of the reddest of the red states.

NY Times: Expelled from “Expelled”?

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The New York Times reports in an article titled Disinvited to a Screening, a Critic Ends Up in a Faith-Based Crossfire how a critic was invited and then disinvited from attending the screening of Expelled and how the critic still attended the showing.

Shortly before he was to attend a screening in January of the documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which is about alternatives to the theory of evolution, Roger Moore, a film critic for The Orlando Sentinel, learned that his invitation had been revoked by the film’s marketers.

But Roger Moore decided to attend anyway

Oops, someone pointed out to me that this publication preceded the DI’s press tour.

Poor Discovery Institute, after spending much time and effort on trying, unsuccessfully, to generate some media interest on the Gonzalez tenure case, all they got was a cynical response from Mac Johnson at the conservative site Human Events.com.

So in light of the issue’s new prominence and with a desire to improve the mental hygiene of others, I would just like to say that Intelligent Design is a really, really bad idea –scientifically, politically, and theologically. I say this as a dedicated conservative, who has on many occasions defended and espoused religion and religious conservatism. I also say it as a professional molecular biologist, who has worked daily (or at least week-daily) for years with biological problems to which the theory of evolution has contributed significant understanding – and to which Intelligent Design is incapable of contributing any understanding at all.

When everything else fails…

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The Discovery Institute, after having realized that Intelligent Design is doomed to remain scientifically infertile and vacuous and after their devastating loss at the Dover trial, seems to have retreated to their fundamental opposition to materialism. Hopelessly confused by Phil Johnson’s misunderstanding of methodological and philosophical naturalism, the DI seems to be intent to blame evil Darwinists for immoral behaviors such as eugenics.

Let me start of by pointing out that any such attempt is doomed from the beginning for the simple reason that the Discovery Institute and other ID Creationists have claimed that Darwinism cannot provide foundation for morality, or in other words, Darwinism cannot serve as a principle on which to build a decision of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’. This means that Eugenics cannot have a foundation in amoral scientific concepts lest there exists an external principle on which to base the decision as to what is good and bad for society.

People should therefor not be surprised that eugenics has been a principle which preceded Darwinism. Equally unsurprised will be the well informed readers who are familiar with the eugenic history of Christian evangelicals in the United States.

But I digress. The Discovery Institute, after having come to the inevitable conclusion that Intelligent Design is likely to remain without scientific relevance has changed its approach. While I predict that their attempts will become an ever greater disaster than their attempts to introduce the concept of Intelligent Design into schools, there is an even greater concern. Namely by violating St Augustine’s fair warnings about Christians saying foolish things (about science), an observer may easily come to reject the whole teaching of Christianity as a similarly foolish enterprise.

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Hat tip Sparc

Editors in chief Dr. Niles Eldredge, Ph.D., Curator of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, New York and Gregory Eldredge, M.A. at the John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx, New York have announced a new journal titled Evolution: Education and Outreach Launching at the conference of the National Association of Biology Teachers, November 28-December 2, Atlanta.

*** Evolution: Education and Outreach will be free online during 2008! ***

Hat tip Sparc

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution revolutionized scientific thinking. Since the publication of The Origin of Species 147 years ago, this theory has been extensively and rigorously tested. Overwhelming scientific evidence from many disciplines exists to support this theory. From the vast body of scientific evidence that has accumulated, we have come to an understanding of all areas of the biological world - from our cells and DNA to our lakes and forests. Evolutionary principles are the foundation of all modern biology and have led to major advances in fields as diverse as molecular biology, developmental biology, genetics, behavior, and paleontology. As such, evolutionary theory is a fundamental and necessary component of modern science education.

Evolution: Education and Outreach will promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience. Targeting K-16 students, teachers and scientists alike, the journal will publish articles to aid members of these communities in the teaching of evolutionary theory.

The Ghosts We Think We See

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Just in time for Halloween, the latest edition of Newsweek has a neat article about the psychology of supernatural belief. Here are a couple of excerpts:

The mind also sees patterns in random data, which is why the sky is speckled with bears and big dippers. This drive to perceive patterns—which is very useful in interpreting experimental data as well as understanding people’s behavior—can also underlie such supernatural beliefs as seeing Jesus in the scorch marks and flecks of grain on a grilled-cheese sandwich. “If a stain looks like the Virgin Mary,” says Hood, “then it is a divine sign and not a coincidence. If the wind in the cave sounds like a voice, then it is a voice.” […]

The mind also tends to impute consciousness to inanimate objects (ever yell at a balky computer?). This leads us to believe that natural phenomena are “purposeful, caused by agents with sentient minds,” says Hood, whose book “The Supernatural Sense” is due next year. It’s only a short step to thinking that “ ‘things that go bump in the night’ are the result of some spirit or agent,” not branches brushing against your drainpipe.

Sound like anyone you know?

An important point made in the article is that the tendency to see patters that aren’t there or to impart consciousness to things that aren’t conscious is a normal outcome of the way the human brain functions, due in large part to having to deal with incomplete sensory input. A couple of important lesson to draw from this (to me anyway) is that, first of all, rigorous empirical testing is necessary in science precisely because everyday perception can be so badly misleading. And secondly, the brain’s wiring can make it very difficult for people to disabuse themselves of supernatural beliefs. I still don’t know what the best method of doing that is, but getting them to understand the underlying means by which such beliefs form is probably a useful exercise.

In the post about my review of Behe’s The Edge of Evolution, many complained that they couldn’t access the full text without a university subscription or paying a huge fee. I have checked Elsevier’s policies on this. Authors are not allowed to post the published PDF to their websites (you have to get that from Elsevier), but they can put up the unformatted, submitted preprint version of their articles, as long as they include the reference and DOI to the published version. So here is the reference: Nicholas J. Matzke (2007). “The edge of creationism.” Trends In Ecology and Evolution, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 24 October 2007. ScienceDirect, doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2007.09.004.

…and the full text is below the fold. Note that the unpublished version has a few minor differences from the published version. For example, it has more emphases which were kind of my way of jumping up and down on the smoking ruins of Behe’s core arguments in The Edge of Evolution.

Behe review in TREE

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I am pleased to announce that Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE) has just put up the article-in-press version of my book review of Michael Behe’s The Edge of Evolution. Here is the reference and link:

Nicholas J. Matzke (2007). “The edge of creationism.” Trends In Ecology and Evolution, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 24 October 2007. ScienceDirect, DOI.

The DOI link doesn’t seem to be working just yet, presumably that is temporary. And the other link is one of those nasty superlong ones, so if nothing works, go to the TREE website and click on “Articles in Press” to see it (you will have to have a subscription or university access to get the article; I will provide a partial quote below).

Writing this review was challenging. There are a great many things wrong with Behe’s book, and attempting to hit the most important points effectively, with just 750 words to work with, was quite a challenge. For example, there was no way to fit in anything about HIV, even though some really good points have emerged on that front in the last few months. Thanks to the PT crew for a great many helpful discussions, comments, etc. I also had Cavalier-Smith’s (1997) TREE review of Darwin’s Black Box, literally the article that got me into ID criticism in a serious way, to inspire me (despite some flaws in that review).

I tried to make every word count, so it is hard to pick a summary quote, but here is a bit from the middle:

The Alliance for Science, a wonderful group of which I am a member, has a link about a survey that examines public perception of the new Creation Museum. Having recently visited the Propoganda Ministry Museum myself, I was very underwhelmed. I will report my experiences there in a future post replete with pictures over at Neurotopia. I feel bad because I haven’t been keeping up on the evolution/science activism side of my life for a very long time now, aside from this post and pushing the Alliance for Science’s Evolution Essay Contest, I have done very little this year to even address the issue. Might have something to do with my dad dying and whatnot, I’m not sure.

The interesting part of the survey is that “white evangelicals” or “fundamentalists” weren’t particularly approving of the intellectual travesty Museum either. Maybe there is hope for America after all. Or, maybe the “Museum” really is such a shoddy, transparent attempt at evangelizing that nobody is fooled.

Do stop by and check it out.

I was back in Ohio last week to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. While I was in the area, a number of the PT regulars also met up south of Cincinnati to take our own tour of Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum. (Wesley has a picture of the group here; I’ll also try to scan in another “official” picture tomorrow).

My brain still hurts. My thoughts on everything over at Aetiology (with photos, of course).

The PNAS Early Edition webpage has just posted a series of papers from the December 2006 National Academy of Sciences Sackler Colloquium, “In the Light of Evolution: Adaptation and Complex Design,” organized by Francisco Ayala and John Avise. The series of papers, on topics ranging from color vision to beetle horns, is now available (I will post the list below the fold). Eugenie C. Scott (aka Genie) was invited to speak at this meeting about evolution education and the history of opposition to it, and the speakers wrote papers to be published in PNAS and a forthcoming NAS volume.

Genie brought me on as a coauthor on the paper she was asked to write. This became:

I have just read the latest post of young-earth creationist/Discovery Institute fellow/Biola professor/blogger John Mark Reynolds. I think I am just going to have to occasionally serve the role of his guilty conscience in matters scientific. He has apparently thrown his own scientific conscience down a well somewhere, or he wouldn’t be able to say the wildly hypocritical things he does.

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