A fracking lie. No more no less

Paul Braterman:

By my geologist friend Michael Roberts.

I don’t like it when creationists tell lies and I don’t like it when anti-frackers tell lies, either.

My own view, for what it’s worth, is that the Royal Society probably know what they’re talking about when recommending that the UK proceed, but with tighter regulation than that currently at force in the US; that if more methane means less coal that’s a good thing (coal has twice the carbon footprint per unit of energy, as well as a whole shopping list of other disadvantages); that knee-jerk rejection of fracking is the very opposite of evidence-based decision making; and that quantified evidence-based decision making is crucial if we are to keep the lights on while keeping the climate change already in process within tolerable bounds.

https://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/shale-gas-extraction/report/ June 2012

https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/Publications/2015/01-07-15-rs-response-environmental-audit-committee-environmental-risks-fracking.pdf Jan 2015 and references therein

Originally posted on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin:

Here’s the latest picture doing the rounds to show earthquake damage done by fracking

Yellowstone1959

Or more clearly ;

yellowquakeq1959

Now this looks very scary  and will make people concerned that will cause quakes in their area. However twitter sleuth aka sadbutmadlad took on the roll of Sherlock Holmes and soon found that this terrible shot had nothing to do with fracking and was in fact caused by a 7.5 quake near Yellowstone in 1959 which is somewhat before modern fracking started

You can read it all about it here ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1959_Hebgen_Lake_earthquake

Oh deary me, pants on fire

Featured Image -- 1005

It does seem to me that fractivists wear very Hot Pants and possibly the fire is fuelled by CH4.

If this was a one-off it would be forgiveable, but porkies like this are the staple fare of so much anti-fracking literature put out whether in print or in the aether.

It seems that this…

View original 106 more words

Creationism in schools; the myth of the “isolated incident”

It recently emerged (see Jonny Scaramanga’s post, shown below) that Durham Free School was teaching creationist doctrine, based on the explicit creationist claim that the Solar System is so well suited to intelligent life that it must have been designed by God, complete with reference to the eclipses He has so thoughtfully provided for the edification of astronomers:

When the _____ comes between the earth and the Sun, there is an _____ . There are ____ going round the Sun. Only Earth has life on it. God has designed the Solar System so that Earth can support life. For example, Earth is the right _____ from the Sun, so that we are neither too hot nor too cold. Our moon is big, which stops us from wobbling.Comets and asteroids which could destroy Earth are mopped up by planet _____ before they get to us.

An isolated incident? Not really. Durham Free School has (or had; it is closing at Easter) numerous problems, being described by a local MP to the BBC as a “haven for crap teachers”. My friend Jonny Scaramanga has now discovered that the individual teacher concerned has a track record of creationist teaching, and gives all the details in a blog post on Patheos, which with his permission I reproduce below. This is far from the first case where schools set up by obviously creationist groups have had to be shut down in short order, or even failed to take off altogether; consider for example al Madinah and, in its many reincarnations, Everyday Champions.

So when we learn, as we are learning, that creationist groups such as Apex Church and York Street Hall in Peterhead are infiltrating schools, it is no surprise to discover multiple links between these schools and other fundamentalist groups; for the full Scottish Secular Society response to these disclosures, see here.

The official Scottish Government position is that incidents such as the Kirktonholme scandal were isolated, and that no official action or guidance on creationism is needed. I see no reason to believe this cheerful conclusion as regards Scotland, any more than it would have been correct if applied to England. Do you?

And one unfortunate difference is that while aggrieved parents in England can appeal to official guidelines, the Scottish Government has so far resisted giving any such advice.

Regular readers will know that the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee will be considering the matter on March 10th (see here and here). We look forward to their deliberations, and to the Government’s response, with interest. 

State-funded school in Durham, England employed a creationist science teacher

Schools Week carries the exclusive news that Durham Free School gave students a science worksheet that said “God has designed the solar system”. The local newspaper reports that parents are justifiably outraged.

I’ve done some Internet sleuthing, and it looks like the science teacher in question has a long history of teaching at creationist schools. It’s against the law for Free Schools in England to teach creationism. If the teacher, David Hagon, has indeed taught creationism as science in his past roles, it must be asked how he was given the job at Durham Free School.

Image from schoolsweek.co.uk. I believe its inclusion here constitutes Fair Use for critique. What is it with creationists and their obsession with fill-in-the-blank exercises? Content aside, this is awful pedagogy.

From the article:

Schools Week has discovered David Hagon, a teacher at the school, in September asked year 7 pupils to complete a worksheet as part of their science homework that stated God was responsible for the design of the solar system.

The worksheet (pictured) said: “Only the Earth has life on it. God has designed the solar system so that the Earth can support life.”

Any school, academy or free school that is found to teach creationism as a scientific fact would be in breach of the law and its funding agreement.

A spokesperson for Durham Free School said: “Legitimate concern was raised over this matter as the worksheet was in clear contradiction of the school’s policy and practice.

“It was an isolated incident, which the former headteacher dealt with promptly, firmly and appropriately; the worksheet is not used by the school.

Durham cathedral pictured from the river. Photo by Wiki Commons user jungpionier. Creative commons.

An isolated incident? According to the Northern Echo, a parent claimed otherwise. It all seemed fishy to me, so I searched online for the phrases “David Hagon” and “Christian school”. I just had a hunch.

I found this:

STAFF, parents and pupils at a Sale-based Christian school are celebrating after receiving a glowing report from Ofsted.

Inspectors visited Christ the King School in November last year and returned complimentary findings about the institution’s provision of spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and pupils’ outstanding behaviour.

Accompanying the article is a photograph of a staff member with the students, and the caption reads “Deputy Head David Hagon with some of the pupils”.

Two questions then arise:

1) Did Christ the King School teach creationism?
2) Is this the same David Hagon that has recently taught at Durham Free School?

1) Yes. CTKS (which closed in 2008was a member school of the Christian Schools Trust (CST), a network of private evangelical schools in the UK. Sylvia Baker was one of the founders of the CST, and she produced a PhD thesis about it. Here are some notable quotations from that thesis:

The [CST] schools may well constitute the only setting within the United Kingdom where science education is approached within a creationist framework. [pp. 150-151]

The teaching of creationism as an alternative to the theory of evolution constitutes one of the most controversial issues involving the new Christian schools. Walford (1995a, p20) investigated 53 of the schools in 1993 and found that the teaching of creation and evolution was one of their distinguishing features. This has been confirmed by a recent investigation involving the schools which took part in this survey, as described in Chapter 3. The Christian Schools Trust statement on the teaching of creationism and intelligent design (see Appendix 3) clarifies the approach that the majority of the schools are taking. [pp.160-161]

The schools themselves claim that, in addition to placing all of their educational practice within a Biblical creationist framework, when it comes to science education they teach creationism alongside evolution as a debate. [p. 166, see also p. 168]

Appendix 3 then contains a statement, agreed by all member schools of the CST, which as my friend and colleague Paul Braterman puts it, is “a skilfully crafted instrument for teaching evolution in such a way that it will not be believed”.

So a David Hagon was the deputy head of a school that undoubtedly taught creationism as science.

2) Was it the same David Hagon teaching at Durham Free School?

Probably. I can’t prove he is, but it seems only a remote possibility that there could be two creationist David Hagons. I did a search on the Electoral Roll for David Hagon. In the 2002 register, there were 19 matches (the most of any year); for 2015, just 11. According to British Surnames:

There are approximately 852 people named Hagon in the UK. That makes it the 7,920th most common surname overall. Out of every million people in the UK, approximately 13 are named Hagon.

Given what a small minority creationists are in England, it’s not massively likely that there are two creationist science teachers called David Hagon, is it?

Hopefully, a Durham Free School parent or pupil will be able to look at the photo from Christ the King School and confirm whether this is indeed the same David Hagon.

I’m not finished. Google has another match for “David Hagon” and “Christian school”, and it’s from Emmanuel College in Gateshead. According to the article, someone named David Hagon was “Head of Electronics” at the school.

The name “Emmanuel College Gateshead” may ring a bell for you. That’s because it was embroiled in a massive row over creationism. Scientists both Christian (John Polkinghorne) and atheist (Richard Dawkins) criticised the school’s science teaching, and it was noted that the school had allowed its hall to be used for an Answers in Genesis meeting. The school’s head of science, Steven Layfield, had previously been a director of the creationist organisation Truth in Science.

So if I have correctly identified this David Hagon, he has previously been in a senior position at one private school where creationism was explicitly taught, and one state-funded academy where it was allegedly taught. Yet somehow he was teaching science at a Free School where it is a condition of the funding agreement that creationism is not taught as science. It looks something went badly wrong with the vetting procedure for staff at Durham Free School.

Read more:

I’m breaking the law by showing you this picture

Bullingdon

Yes, that’s Dave, Boris, and the rest of their Old Etonian pals, in purpose-tailored [1] getups, before the notorious Bullingdon Club dinner, which year after year ended in drunken rioting, invading and smashing up the rooms of ordinary students (who were referred to as “trogs” i.e. troglodytes), the occasional debagging (an old tradition; see Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall), and then moving on to more serious stuff like smashing up shops.

And while we’re at it, a few years later here‘s George Osborne, Number 16. Jo Johnson, Boris’s younger brother,is at Number 8.

The Oxford elite: The Bullingdon Club members in 1993 - George Osborne is pictured on the far left next to his swaggering chums

We saw this happening, when I was a student, year after year, and groaned. It would be interesting to see the police records of Dave and Boris’s Bullingdon nights, if they still exist.

But no need to worry. Not only was the State paying their student fees, plus a token minimum grant (not loan), but they knew that daddy would show up with cheque-book and persuade the shop owner not to press charges. In David Cameron’s case, daddy was a hard-working stockbroker, and rose to be senior partner of the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon & Co., now with offices in Switzerland and Singapore, despite the handicap of having had a father and grandfather who were also partners in the firm, and Cameron has pointed him out to us as an example of what can be accomplished by hard work and diligence.

I was hoping you would see a lot more of Dave and Boris enjoying themselves in the run-up to the Westminster election. As I had hoped before the last one. But this was not to be.

In 2007, the copyright owners of the picture suddenly and mysteriously decided to ban its further distribution. I wonder why.

I am glad that the story has now resurfaced. It was the BBC who carried it in 2007; I am not hopeful that they would do the same today.

Just remember, we’re all in this together; Dave said so. And have a thought for what else the people in these photographs have smashed.

h/t Geoffrey Braterman, RealPaulLewis

1] Cost, £1,000, or 200 hours minimum wage earnings, when the story was written. I’m told (see comments) that this was uninflated and should in present day money be £3,500, or pushing 600 hours minimum wages, or 49 weeks benefits living allowance in Glasgow. But remember, that includes the special biscuit-coloured waistcoat. And you do get two more chances to wear it, if you make it into the Club in your first year.

Reviewed: Animal Weapons, by Douglas J. Emlen

AnimalWeaponsI have had enough of arguing with creationists. If force of argument could defeat them, they would have disappeared long ago. The reality is that people believe what they want to believe, that they like what they like, and that they are much more interested in what relates to them directly than they are in scientific abstractions. So the way to defeat creationism is to present the scientific reality in ways that are engaging, enjoyable, and above all personal. In this post, I review one of three recent books that succeed in doing this, using very different approaches. The other two will form the subject of a later post.


Animal Weapons
, by Douglas J. Emlen, is subtitled The Evolution of Battle, and compares the evolution of weaponry by animals with that of human warfare. The book is greatly enriched by drawings by the graphic artist David J. Tuss, who specialises in the dramatic portrayal of scientific material, although, thanks to the extraordinary development of animal weapons, I found some of the illustrations difficult to follow.

EmlenLabEmlen himself is a professor of biology at the University of Montana, and his laboratory’s website is itself a feast to behold. One of his group’ aims is, as stated on that site, to actively communicate the excitement of evolutionary biology to broad audiences through books and the popular press, contributing to public understanding of animal diversity and morphological evolution and Emlen is co-author, with Carl Zimmer, of Evolution, Making Sense of Life, one of the few university level textbooks I have come across that can be read for pleasure. Emlen’s own original Ph.D. project, which he refers to in the book with evident nostalgia, involved fieldwork in Central America studying dung beetles. It turns out that some species of dung beetles do, and some do not, develop extravagant weapons. Ball-rolling dung beetles squabble over balls of food carved out from the droppings of larger animals, but the fights are free-for-all scrambles and they do not become heavily armed. Tunnelling dung beetles hide their trophies in burrows with narrow entrances. Females feed and hatch their young at the bottom of these tunnels, and males duel fiercely to retain possession of these. This duelling situation leads to direct selection pressure in favour of larger weapons, despite their cost; Emlen himself showed that selecting for larger weapons exacted a direct cost in poorer development of other organs, such as the eyes. Burrowing dung beetles develop weapons, while ball-rolling dung beetles do not.

This illustrates a general point about weapons developed for control to resources. The resources need to be defensible, like burrows, or (to take other examples that Emlen cites) tree branches, or sap-oozing nicks on tree trunks.

Throughout the animal kingdom, some species do, and some species do not, develop fierce weapons 148px-Lascaus,_Megaloceros (1)whose only function is to fight others of their own kind. Among large animals, these weapons are generally  a feature of the males, and are used in duels to decide access to females, either directly or through control of resources such as food or territory. The costs of these weapons to those who possess them are enormous. Stags, for example, devote so much calcium and phosphorus to building up the calcium phosphate in their antlers, that they cannot get enough from their food and deplete their skeletal bones to make up the shortfall. The most extreme example in the deer family is the extinct Irish elk (Lascaux cave painting shown R), where extravagant and development seems have been so demanding as to leave the animals with no margin to spare when changing climate reduced the amount of fodder available. However, the cost of not having the best weaponry is, from an evolutionary point of view, prohibitive. There is nothing worse for your genetic inheritance than failure to secure mating opportunities.

Less extreme are weapons developed by some carnivores, such as sabretooths, who had 10 inch long canines capable of breaking the back of a mammoth. But these also are expensive to their possessors, requiring adaptations of the skull and neck that make fast running impossible, and sabretooths are thought to have ambushed their prey by dropping down from trees.

640px-Alcazaba1The counterpart of offence is defence, and the counterpart of weaponry is armour and fortification. A mediaeval fortress would be defended by two sets of walls, the outer one shielding the inner from bombardment, the only entrances being narrow gateways easily guarded by a few heavily armed soldiers, in a space too confined for attackers to take advantage of numerical superiority. The same is true of termite mounds, which are capable of withstanding attack by a column of army ants; similar causes produce similar effects.

Human weaponry evolves rapidly, under cultural pressures, as the result of technical innovation, with long periods of stasis in between. The invention of the battering ram transformed ships from mere vehicles for fighting men into weapons able to destroy each other, so that naval warfare became a matter of duels in which the largest and fastest ship would be the winner. This led over the course of some 300 years from 600 BCE onwards to the development of multiple rows of oars until the ships grew too unwieldy to manoeuvre (one of my very few complaints about this book is that it tells this same story twice). Individual human weaponry can become very expensive, like knightly armour. Such weaponry can also suddenly disappear, as armour became useless against improvements in crossbows, longbows, and, eventually, firearms, much cheaper and more available to the common citizenry than the panoply of a mounted knight, only to reappear in our own time with the development of Kevlar. The arms race between fortification of cities and the development of siege warfare machinery came to a rapid end in modern times with the appearance of artillery. Human warfare can also evolve in surprising ways, as in the development from the Vietnam War to the present day of asymmetric combat, depending on small locally based militias operating in small groups against the massed might of great powers.

In nature, arms races can come to an end in several different ways. They can reach equilibrium, Sneaky4when the additional expense of even larger weapons is not enough to compensate for the sheer difficulty of maintaining them. In a population of lumbering heavily armed creatures, small, nimble variants can become, at least for a while, more successful, but once these have taken over completely the arms race can start all over again. This has happened many times in dung beetles and in antelope. Heavy weaponry can be bypassed or its owners tricked. For example, small dung beetles can dig parallel burrows that bypass the guarded main entrance, mate with the female, and leave the same way they came, with the guardian none the wiser. Or, as in the case of the Irish elk, changed circumstances may make the hereditary weaponry nutritionally unsustainable, bringing the arms race to an end through the disappearance of the population.

B-2_first_flight_071201-F-9999J-034There is one important difference between human and animal arms races that Emlen does not discuss. Natural selection is brutal but rational, and expensive armament does not survive unless it does in reality contribute to its owner’s individual fitness. Human weaponry is very different, because it is the result of political choices. Hence the persistence of such enormously expensive projects as the US Stealth Bomber programme (each B2 bomber, shown L, cost $2 billion in 1997 dollars), the entire British and French “independent” nuclear weapons programmes, or the bloated nuclear arsenals of the United States and, in its time, the Soviet Union and now of Russia, despite their total irrelevance to any actual or conceivable military situation. Indeed, if the author’s account of the Able Archer crisis of November 1983 is correct, the last of these came perilously close in November 1983 to bringing our civilisation to an abrupt end for no good reason whatsoever. Dung beetles have better sense.

In a later post, I will be reviewing The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being, by Alice Roberts, and Grandmother Fish, by Jonathan Tweet.

Animal Weapons, by Douglas J. Emlen, Henry Holt, pp 288, Hardback ISBN-13: 978-0805094503, Nov. 2014, from £ 11.19/$13.95; Paperback, Picador, scheduled for December 2015; Audio CD/Audiobook available.

Irish elk, as shown in book, HTO, Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Double-walled Alcazaba of Malaga, 11th Century, Photo Gaxul via Wikimedia. Sneaky male dung beetle from book. B2 image by USAF via Wikipedia.

Disclosure: the copy reviewed was my own personal purchase.

This review first appeared on 3 Quarks Daily, here.

What is the “Soft Tissue” Found in Dinosaur Bones?

Paul Braterman:

An analysis (with link to full scholarly critique) of this deceptive and slippery claim, which creationists continue to promote despite rebuttals from the very scientist whose work they are misdescribing. The red “blood” colour is merely iron oxide; the preserved structures are encased in bone mineral; the only preserved organics are fragments of notoriously tough connective proteins, stabilised by cross-linking over time (I would add from my own scientific experience that the microcomposite bone-collagen structure will add further stabilisation); and the scientist responsible (Mary Schweitzer, who happens to be a devout Christian) has herself protested against the use of her data to promote an indefensible Young Earth agenda.

Originally posted on Letters to Creationists:

For fossils as old as dinosaurs (over 65 million years), the conventional wisdom has been that no original organic material could remain. If the delicate structure of soft body parts is discernable, that is only because these parts were converted to some type of inorganic mineral in the fossilization process.

However, over the past two decades, paleontologist Mary Schweitzer has rocked our world by presenting visual evidence of soft tissues recovered from the interior of dinosaur bones, and biochemical evidence indicating that these are in fact the remnants of the original cells and structures from within the dinosaur bone pores. For instance, here is a network of blood vessels, containing little round red things that look like red blood cells:

High magnification of dinosaur vessels shows branching pattern (arrows) and round, red microstructures in the vessels. Source: Schweitzer, et al., “Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex”, Science, 307 (2005) 1952 [6]. High magnification of dinosaur vessels shows branching pattern (arrows) and round, red microstructures in the vessels. Source: Schweitzer, et al., “Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex”, Science, 307…

View original 1,013 more words

The amazing geology of a “granite” kitchen countertop

Paul Braterman:

Reblogged from geologictimepics Rockin’ countertops–geologic time in our kitchens and bathrooms!

Compare this with my description of a single pebble here.  In these twice-metamorphosed slabs of rock, the fragment under high local stress (asterisked) is that little bit more soluble as a result, The beauty of rock structures is something that continues to amaze and delight me.

Originally posted on geologictimepics:

I stopped by a “granite” supplier yesterday –the kind of place that sells “granite” and “marble” slabs for countertops.  Besides the fact that almost none of the slabs were actually granite or marble, they were spectacular rocks that showed wonderful wonderful detail. I nearly gushed at the idea of taking a geology field trip there.  It’s local, and you seldom find exposures like this anywhere else!

slabs of polished rock at a "granite" warehouse --not sure if any of this is actually granite, but it all reflects geologic time. slabs of polished rock at a “granite” warehouse –most of it’s not actually granite, but it all reflects geologic time.

Generally speaking, “granite” in countertop language means “igneous” or “metamorphic” –crystalline rocks that form miles beneath Earth’s surface and so require great lengths of time to reach the surface where they can be quarried.  When I first started this blog, geologic time with respect to igneous and metamorphic rocks were some of the first things I wrote about –it’s such pervasive and important stuff.

View original 473 more words

Darwin vs today’s creationists; Eugenie Scott in Glasgow

GenieIntro

Lady Hope; Darwin on religion; varieties of creationism; creationist activity in UK; Petition 1530; Intelligent Design and the varieties of creationism; the eye; continental drift and biogeography; Mendelian inheritance; ancestry of whales; varieties of creationism; the “missing link”; Q&A

This is my personal selection from the talk that Genie gave to the Glasgow Skeptics on Monday February 15, as best I recall it. I thank her for a copy of her slides, and any misinterpretation is entirely my own fault (I have added some comments of my own in parentheses).

the title of the talk was: “What Would Darwin Say to Today’s Creationists?” The answer is just this:

Haven’t you been paying attention during the last 156 years?

Lady Hope and the myth of deathbed conversion

The first thing that would surprise Darwin if he could come back to life today would be the legend of his death-bed confession, to a certain Lady Hope, of reversion to Christianity and renunciation of evolution. Lady Hope is real enough. An evangelist and temperance crusader, she was a colleague of the philanthropist James Fegan, who ran a mission to London’s street urchins. Fegan corresponded with Darwin, who in 1880 gave him permission to use the reading room at Downe House for his work, and it seems plausible that Darwin and Lady Hope might have met around then.

In 1915, we have Lady Hope being reported at a Baptist revival meeting as having said that she spoke with Darwin in his death bed, and that Darwin had confessed to a love of scripture, and to regretting things he had said when younger. More specifically, that as a young man with unformed ideas he had thrown out suggestions that to his surprise spread like wildfire. (I note that Darwin in his autobiography confessed to an initial love of Paley’s natural theology, and in The Descent of Man to surprise at the speed with which evolution had been accepted, and remarks of this kind may be the seed of Lady Hope’s account.) In 1915, Lady Hope was over 70, so knowing how memories are reworked, and how stories grow in the telling, we can see how the totally false story that we have today could have arisen without conscious mendacity.

Darwin’s religious views

As for Darwin’s own views, he referred to belief in the punishment of unbelievers as “a damnable doctrine”, and may well have turned away from the idea of a benign deity after the death of his dear daughter Annie. (However, if I understand his Autobiography correctly, he continued to regard “this immense and wonderful Universe” as more than the product of mere chance[1], and eventually retreated into agnosticism only because he regarded the matter as beyond human understanding; I have discussed this here, and how more sophisticated modern creationists misdescribe his views here) .

Young Earth and other varieties of creationism

Crossbedding

The Cococino sandstone layer, showing the cross-bedded structure.  This, when examined together with small-scale and granular texture, identifies it as a wind-swept dune deposit.

Darwin, who was a geologist before he became a naturalist, would be very puzzled by Young Earth creationism, since in his time the Churches accepted (and churchman geologists contributed to) the geological column and the implication of many millions of years. Young Earth creationism and “creation science”, as a claimant to speak for mainstream Christianity, only arose in the mid-20th century. “Creation science” needs to account for the plain facts of geology, and does so in extraordinary ways, asserting for example that the entire Colorado Plateau, successive strata with a depth of over a mile, were laid down and drained within a year by the waters of Noah’s Flood. Hence creationists’ obsession with the Coconino Sandstone, whose texture and cross-bedded structure (as known since before 1945; see here and references therein) are characteristic of a wind-blown desert dune, and their extraordinary attempts to rationalise the claim that it was laid down under water.

Creationism is invariably associated with religion, and with those schools of religious thought that place great emphasis on the sanctity of a particular text. (Since such texts are ancient, they could hardly do other than adopt a creationist viewpoint.) Darwin probably never considered Islamic creationism, Turkey (despite still being a great European power) being seen as remote and exotic. Acceptance of evolution seems to vary widely throughout what one might call the Muslim world, but is a worryingly low 35% in Turkey. Turkey is home to the prolific publicist Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya), publisher of the Atlas of Creation, which attempts to deny that evolution has occurred by comparing present-day forms with fossils. The Atlas’s scientific methodology, however, leaves much to be desired. Its “caddis fly” image is a photograph, not of an insect, but of a fishing lure. (I fear the problem of Muslim creationism may be deep-seated and widespread. I have written about the emerging alliance between Intelligent Design creationism and conservative Islam in Scotland, while in 1985, the then nominally secularist Turkish Government invited the Institute for Creation Research to help draft the school curriculum.) In the UK, according to a Theos/Comres 2009 survey, only 37% of those surveyed said that humans are the result of purely naturalistic evolution, 28% said we are the result of evolution according to God’s plan, 11% believed in evolution guided by divine intervention, and only 17% embrace separate creation. (The authors of the Theos report on the survey, themselves, describe evolution as “uncontestable”[2].)

There are varieties of creationism. Young Earth creationists accept biblical chronology, and think that present and extinct species coexisted. Old Earth creationists accept versions of the scientifically agreed chronological sequence, but regard each stage as a separate phase of the Creator’s activity. Guided evolution accepts common descent, but treats successive changes as the result of divine intervention (perhaps by intervention at the molecular level). Intelligent Design considers mutation as a random process, and, neglecting the role of selection, improperly infers that it cannot generate meaningful novelty. (In the US, Intelligent Design advocates are generally Old Earth creationists, but in the UK leadership and allies are more often believers in a young earth.)

Creationism in the UK and its opponents; the current Petition

Creationist bodies are very active within the UK. Creation Ministers International has a UK branch (which caused furore by sending a speaker to the publicly funded St Peter’s Academy in Exeter, a mistake by the school that will not be repeated). There is Truth in Science (which sent copies of the creationist pseudo-text book, Explore Evolution, to every school in the UK), and others. Various bodies, such as Skeptics, Humanists, and the British Centre for Science Education, actively work to restrict their influence, and the Scottish Secular Society’s Public Petition PE01530 (with which regular readers will be very familiar) aims to keep creationism from being presented as valid in schools.

The eye, continental drift and biogeography, Mendelian inheritance, the ancestry of whales, and the mythical missing link

GenieEyeDarwin would have been very interested in the direction of creationism in the UK, and the revival of the design argument, which he regarded as refuted by natural selection. When he considered the eye as a structure that at first appeared too complex to have arisen naturally, he pointed out that it could have arisen from a photosensitive spot, through a directional cavity, to an enclosed structure whose fluid would concentrate the light, and eventually, via the development of the enclosing membrane into a lens, to the complexity of the mammalian eye in its present form. We now know that all these imagined stages are actually evident in molluscs.

He would have been delighted by continental drift, which solves long-standing puzzles in biogeography. Biogeography is one of the most convincing arguments in favour of evolution. It explains, as separate creation can not, why the flora and fauna of continental islands are closely related to those of the adjoining land mass, while those of oceanic islands are restricted and exotic. And yet, how come there were marsupials in Australia and in South America, but nowhere else? (North American marsupials crossed from the south, after the relatively recent closure of the isthmus between the two continents). We now know that marsupials appeared when present-day Australia, Antarctica, and South America were joined together in the supercontinent of Gondwanaland, allowing migration of marsupials from their original South American home, and indeed marsupial fossils have been discovered in Antarctica.

He would also have been delighted to learn of Mendelian genetics, which solve the “dilution problem”. Under blending inheritance, a favourable variation would appear in less intense form in the offspring of the favoured individual, but genetic inheritance avoids this. Instead of the character being passed on with half the intensity, it is passed on with the same intensity to half the offspring.

Darwin was ridiculed (still is, by particularly ignorant creationists; see here) for speculating that the behaviour of a bear swimming with his mouth open to catch prey was a clue to the ancestry of whales, which clearly are mammals. Yet within the past 40 years, we have accumulated detailed fossil knowledge (free access review article, from which the image below is taken, here)  of all the intermediate stages linking present-day whales to their even-toed terrestrial ancestors. This is part of a general phenomenon. Darwin famously lamented the gaps

https://i2.wp.com/static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs12052-009-0135-2/MediaObjects/12052_2009_135_Fig27_HTML.gif

Whale evolution ;the first 10 million years

 

in the fossil record, and present-day creationists echo these laments, as if they were still warranted. Thus they commonly repeat a remark made some decades ago, to the effect that all known human ancestral fossils would fit onto a small table. Not any more. The human fossil record is now so rich, that we have more specimens of the relatively obscure species Homo habilis than we have of Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

Skulls

A sample of the skulls of species intermediate between modern humans and other apes

 

So the scientific record (including much not even touched on here), ever since the publication of On the Origin of Species, has been one of steadily reinforcing the central concepts of common descent, and of natural processes driving evolution.

What, then, would Darwin set to today’s’s creationists? Simply this: “Haven’t you been paying attention during the last 156 years?”

Q&A:

GenieFbImageQ: Is there a risk that so uncompromising a talk would put off those sympathetic to creationism?

AS: I would not give this talk to such an audience. There are those whose identity is bound up with creationist religion, whom I cannot hope to reach; those uncertain, to whom I would present the arguments for evolution; and those, like tonight’s audience, who need no convincing.

Q: Are creationists dishonest?

A: Most ordinary creationists are either misinformed or muddled. The higher echelons go through considerable mental contortions, but I have no reason to doubt their sincerity.

Q: How can we respond to those who consider “Goddiddit” a satisfactory explanation?

A: Science is highly valued socially and culturally. So any ideologue tries to recruit science. Hence “creation science,” and devices like imagining the speed of light to have been much higher in the past, so as to allow light from galaxies billions of light years away to have reached us within 6,000 years. “Creation science” is a procrustean bed, on which all observations are distorted until they fit the initial biblical assumptions.

This is contrary to the key moral value of science which is the admission of fallibility. Science as process depends on critical examination and revisability. We need to impart this, not by telling but by showing, and showing by asking. The dandelions on our lawn have short stems, but those over there have long stems. Why might that be?

1] This idea of overall cosmic design is of course the very opposite of the kind of piecemeal meddling that goes by the name of “Intelligent Design theory” today.

(2] Theos is funded by the Templeton Foundation, making it anathema to some exponents of evolution. I have argued that such doctrinal purity is misguided.)

Ken Ham, Noah’s Ark, and authenticity

A MEME ABOUT KEN HAM IN A HAT

hamstraightprofile meme

God of Evolution, which I regard as an ally against the forces of darkness, writes:

I don’t remember the part of the biblical flood story where Noah sues the government for not giving him millions in tax breaks. Maybe that’s because Noah actually was interested in following the God’s directives, you know, unlike some people.

This work by godofevolution.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

And if you think that Ken Ham and all he stands for is irrelevant to Scottish schools, think again.

Holyrood dinosaur makes International Business Times headline

John Mason, the Holyrood dinosaur, has given an interview to International Business Times UK, one of the world’s top 2000 websites, under the headline

Darwin Day 2015: Scotland’s creationist ‘dinosaur’ John Mason is fighting to take God back to school

With further memorable comments on creationism, miracles, and the age of the Earth.

Unfortunately, despite the headline, Mason is not fighting to take anything back. He is merely attempting to maintain the status quo. As I commented on the ibtimes site,

Scottish Parliament: Return to homepageThe shocking truth is that Mason is not fighting for change, but to maintain the status quo. He is reacting to attempts [Parliamentary Motion; Scottish Secular Society Petition] to get the Scottish Government to issue guidance to stop separate creation being presented in Scottish schools as a viable alternative to the established science of evolution and an old Earth. At present, no such guidance exists, and the Scottish Government, so far, is pretending that none is necessary.

Here, without cherry picking, is what Mason is reported as saying on the subject:

I don’t like creationism. It’s not a word that I ever use myself, like ‘fundamentalist.’ I’d see that as being a part of a package that’s more than a belief that god created the world. If that’s what you mean by creationism I’m fine with that, but I feel it has a lot of baggage. It gives a wrong impression.

I’m a mainstream Christian. The key thing is only that God created the world, I don’t get excited whether it’s six days or 6 million years. I don’t think timescale is important.

That’s why I put in the [Parliamentary] Motion with the option of God creating the world, be it over 6 days of six million years. That’s not fundamental to me. There are some things fundamental to Christianity, such as Jesus dying on a cross, but how long God took to create the world is not one of them.

In the words of the ibtimes reporter, Gareth Platt, Mason continues by insisting that neither creationism nor evolution can be proved by science. I want to press him on this… So, I ask my interviewee, how much proof do you need?

Paolo Veronese 008.jpg

The Wedding Feast at Cana, Paolo Veronese, 1653

None of these positions can be disproved by science. Science has to know its limitations. The Bible says Jesus turned water into wine. Science can look at that wine but, assuming that miracle happened, science could not tell us whether that wine was five minutes or five months to make.

If God creates miracles, science is out of its depth. I don’t think science can make a statement on where we’ve come from, it is based on the assumption that God hasn’t created a miracle.

To discover something means finding out things that are already there. My fundamental belief is that God created the world and all the rules of science, so science cannot find out that god doesn’t exist. I’m totally committed to the truth so I want science to find out new things. Other people start off with the assumption that god does not exist, so there are assumptions being made on both sides.

The idea of a God that creates the world is a very central belief to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. There’s nothing revolutionary about it. It is fundamental to the whole Christian belief that there is a creator, and Christianity would unravel if creationism was proved wrong.

I don’t see how you could be a Christian, Muslim or Jew and not believe that God created the world. Even those who accept evolution would say there was a God who set it in motion.

Concerning the East Kilbride scandal, Mason believes

that particular church probably went too far. It’s a privilege for any group to be operating in schools, we’ve got a long historical relationship between churches and schools and the state, [but] clearly we are now in a more secular society so the churches should be sensitive.

I am against abortion. I have no problem with gay rights, although I voted against same-sex marriage. But there’s a wider issue here. We’re trying to ensure that all minorities are respected, and there’s been more progress on some issues than others.

Let me comment briefly. I agree with John Mason when he says that we should be careful about how we use the word “creationism”, because it is so easy to slide from the general idea of God creating the world, to the specific anti-scientific belief that he did so more or less as described in some Iron Age document. Indeed, Mason does exactly that during the interview. That is why the Petition that I helped draft does not refer to “creationism”, but to “separate creation… as a viable alternative to the established science of evolution”

I also agree that if we assume a God who can do anything, it follows that he could have made a world that looks 4.5 billions (not just millions) of years old, within a universe that looks 13.8 billions of years old, in six days. I cannot imagine why he should wish to do any such thing, and indeed have said that I regard the suggestion is blasphemous, since it has him perpetrating the largest possible act of total deception. But let that pass. Perhaps John Mason has more insight into the mind of God than I do. However, if we are only supposed to teach those facts that could not be illusions resulting from a miracle, I don’t see how we can ever teach anything. After all, maybe the entire universe with all our memories was created only five minutes ago, by a God with a very twisted sense of humour. Science, I admit, can never disprove such a theory.

GodlessEvolution

From “How do we know God is real?”, handed out in School Assembly, Kirktonholme Primary, September 2013

I am glad that John Mason admits that at Kirktonholme, the church “probably” went too far. As I commented on the ibtimes website, the church handed out, to every pupil in school assembly, two books saying, among other things, that dinosaur graveyards were the result of Noah’s flood, that radioactive dating is a trick to discredit the Bible, that evolution is an indefensible theory, and that the reason so many people accept it is in order to justify their moral irresponsibility. It does indeed show a certain lack of sensitivity to tell schoolchildren that the Curriculum for Excellence syllabus is a lie and that their science teachers are tricking them.

As for his final sentence about minorities, I do not have the faintest idea what he means. I know that some of John Mason’s allies pay me the compliment of reading my posts, and would be glad if one of them would tell me.

Dino poop and the age of the Earth

The Holyrood Dinosaur, John Mason MSP, has pooped again. Last month he told us that science can’t disprove the theory that the Earth was created in six days. He’s quite right, of course; according to his chosen standards, no one can ever disprove anything. This month, however, he is busy telling us what is or is not important for schools to teach. His exact words, according to the Sunday Herald, were

… you can argue science is all about theories, but there is enough to teach in science without having to go into how old the earth might or might not be.

Good idea. Let’s just take out of the science syllabus everything that requires having to go into how old the Earth might or might not be. Goodbye to:

Everything to do with the Big Bang, the initial formation of hydrogen and helium, the formation of gas clouds, gravitational collapse, and the conversion of hydrogen to helium within stars

Red giants, supernovas, and the formation of the heavy elements (“heavy” in this context means anything heavier than helium)

The formation of the Sun, then the Earth, then the Moon, in that order (sorry, Genesis 1:1 – 18), from the collapsing and sorting of the material in the planetary nebula

Radioactive dating, and how we know the radiometric clock runs true

The whole of geology, including plate tectonics, mountain forming, the time needed to form and erode sediments. And while we’re at it, the whole of geography, geochemistry, mineralogy, and the science of looking for fossil fuel deposits and other useful materials, like building stones and metal ore

The entire fossil record. After all, it is full of missing links, and the more fossils you find, the more missing links there must be in between them

Human palaeontology and archaeology. These tell us that our ancestors split off from the ancestors of other kinds of ape some 5 million years ago, and that the Egyptians were in the middle of building the Great Pyramid when Noah’s Flood is supposed to have happened (funny that the work doesn’t seem to have been interrupted)

Anything whatsoever to do with ev*l*t**n. After all, ev*l*t**n takes a very long time, and we can’t prove that there was so much time available because we can’t prove that the Earth was not made in six days.

Dino poop. Together with the formation of petrified wood, coal, oil, and natural gas (did I mention them already?), the much-misdescribed mineralised blood vessels of dinosaurs, all other minerals formed by displacement or metamorphosis, and anything else that takes a really long time

So what should we teach instead? Luckily, John Mason has already given us the answer:

… some people believe that God created the world in six days, some people believe that God created the world over a longer period of time and some people believe that the world came about without anyone creating it; considers that none of these positions can be proved or disproved by science and all are valid beliefs for people to hold, and further considers that children in Scotland’s schools should be aware of all of these different belief systems.

So this is what we should make children in Scotland’s schools aware of, in the time freed up by the above deletions.

Analysing a dinosaur’s poop gives valuable information about its diet. And in the case of the Holyrood Dinosaur, confirmation that the diet is dangerously lacking in science, logic, common-sense, or anything else even vaguely connected with reality.

Deselection, anyone?

%d bloggers like this: