Tuesday, 4 September 2012

religion and evolution

Quoting Ray Comfort:
“Bill Nye is living in the same dream-world as Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins and their cut-and-paste clone believers,” Comfort told WND. “These devotees believe in the fairytale of evolution and quote Einstein (who wasn’t an atheist) and Mark Twain (who wasn’t an atheist) as though they too denied God’s existence, when they didn’t.”
Via the Sensuous Curmudgeon.

I rewatched the Bill Nye video -no hardship there - and noted that Nye never mentioned 'Christianity' or 'religion'.  He did talk about creationism but creationism is by no means all of Christianity.  Comfort is not alone in conflating the two concepts, and I have to wonder, because he surely has been corrected before now, how he can state  that evolution = atheism and still expect to retain credibility.  If his mission is to convert atheists to his religious beliefs, one would imagine that he would be forced to be more honest. Perhaps his mission is merely to literally preach to the converted and continue to receive their money.

At Ask the Atheist, the question “Does belief in evolution lead to atheism?” was debated and I definitely see evolution guiding seekers that way (toward atheism) but noted religious leaders and scientists-who-are-also-religious suggest otherwise.  At the Clergy Letter Project, more than 12,000 Christian Clergyfolk have signed a letter stating that the theory of evolution does not contradict their Christian beliefs.

I think this is the appropriate place to discuss a problem with many of the scientists placed on lists of believers and hence creationists.  I actually see two problems, but one is simple to point out and move on from.  Many scientists are Christian but also evolutionists.  Others, like Einstein, have very peculiar ideas about religion and cannot easily be considered Christians or Jew or be fit into any organized religion.

The second problem is timing.  da Vinci might have been a creationist - and I don’t think he fits a model that most creationists would accept - but he also died long before evolution was even considered.  Similarly, Lord Kelvin estimated the age of the Earth (to 20-400 million years of age) before radioactivity was discovered.  I am certain that the age he settled on was the result of serious and rigorous work.  However, his result can’t be seen as a refutation of later estimates because he was unaware of a key discovery.  Newton was a creationist but this can’t be held as a refutation of evolution because Darwin proposed his theory long after Newton died.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Quote mining

One lesson that university professors tried to teach me and that didn’t really sink in until I left university, was the importance of defending every point I made in a formal essay.  You can’t write common knowledge without attributions or citations.  Controversial claims require even more careful citations.

But there are ways to “game” the citations.  An obvious way is to attribute the claim to an non-existent author or scientific article and hope no one researches the citation.  This is risky and there is a more plausible-seeming trick. Find a quote from a scientific article that is close to what you want and changing it as little as possible until it fits your ends.  Or find a quote that means one thing in context and another out of context.  This is quote mining.

The classic example of using a quote out of context is mis-use of the full title of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.  The sub-title is “ or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”.  Hmm, “favoured races”, that sounds like something Hitler would say.  People have used this title to claim the book defends racism in humans.  The fact is, the book does not describe humans at all, but does use ‘race’ as we use ‘breed’ (of dogs, for example) today.

The Quote Mine Project at Talk Origins looks at several mined quotes that have been slightly altered or taken out of context to cast doubt on the theory of evolution that does not exist.  At the link in this paragraph (or here), John Wilkins states,

[I]t is worth observing too that not only were these quotes taken carefully out of context, but that they must have been deliberately done so. After [unearthing the context] I could not find there is [any] way these could have been taken accidentally or in ignorance out of the context.Several of them turn out to be railing against creationists. More than a few turn out to be making the exact opposite point [than the bare words seem to indicate] and at least one was reporting secondarily on the ideas of others in order to rebut them. Once is a mistake, twice is carelessness, three times could be stupidity, but the sheer volume of these is a deliberately planned campaign of disinformation.

One of my goals on this blog is to point out common creationist errors that continue to this day, so let me describe five examples.  The first, at the Norwich Bulletin, Cal Lord, and only a few days old, misquotes Nobel Prize winner, George Wald:

I will not accept that philosophically because I do not want to believe in God. Therefore, I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible.

This quote does not exist but was used on August 30, 2012 and elsewhere.  Many, many places elsewhere and it is precisely the sort of thing everyone should want to remove.

Creationists, tear down this fabricated quote!

Second, and far more widely abused, is Darwin’s quote on the evolution of the eye.

From chapter 6 of On The Origin of Species,
To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. (Darwin 1872)

The quote is halfway down the page or about halfway through the chapter.

A creationist coworker struggled to put special meaning into the word “seems”.  I take it to mean something along the lines of “appears to be but may not be”, but ...well, I can’t remember his exact words and it would be rude claim too much fidelity when I found his claim ridiculous.  It seemed to me that he claimed  that up until the time Darwin wrote that sentence, we did in fact find eye evolution absurd, but immediately afterward found a workaround.  I must have this wrong but this was what I understood.

The problem for creationists is that in reading even one sentence , even one word further, suggests that this was a rhetorical point, much as one asks a rhetorical question just before answering it.

The next word is “Yet” and like “on the other hand” or “but” or “however” it shows he might not hold the position he eloquently described.

Alright, here is the sentence starting with “yet”:
Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.

He goes on to describe several of those steps and examples of precursors to the mammalian eye that exist today.

The offending quote, suggesting that Darwin did not believe that a modern eye could evolve can be found in many places.  Here are some:

Huse, Scott. 1996. The Collapse of Evolution and quoted on Wikiquote.
Evolution of Truth mostly states that Darwin was only offering an example of what could show his theory to be wrong, but their response is bizarre.
The Christian Courier accepts the quote.
mtgriffith is happy to accept the quote and cites its use back in 1975.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Silvestru's Global Flood: Part one

This was becoming a long blogpost.  To make commenting on specific points easier, I have broken my discussion of the video below into a few different blog posts. This is the first post and mostly discusses the whole video in general.

In early September, 2011, my coworker posted on a Facebook group comments and a link to a video of Dr Silvestru discussing how he feels the global flood occurred.

The relevant part of the video is more than an hour long and it took me some time to watch it, take notes and research, to the extent I was able, his claims.  Although my coworker’s post mostly matched the aims of the Facebook group, discussion was squashed by the time I was able to add my comments.  As an aside, I do not exactly feel that my coworker was being restrained or censored so much as the limitations of Facebook Groups made his discussions unwieldy.  He might reasonably feel his views were censored by a philosophical group that should be anti-censorship, but I hope he can also see that Facebook’s everything-on-one-page format becomes annoying when multiple threads are simultaneously drawing comments.

Perhaps inviting people to an off-site location, on a Google Group or the like, would have been wiser and allowed me to post this critique somewhere.

Anyway, by the time I began writing this critique, the discussion is no longer ongoing at that Facebook page and I am not sure where to put this.  That’s part of the reason I have been coy about naming my coworker.

One reason Silvestru's arguments are hard to rebut is that neither I nor his target audience have the background to really understand or debate his claims.  I believe that my unnamed coworker is in the same position.  Some of his arguments, though possibly not difficult to learn to follow, appear arcane enough that I have passed on the business of trying to learn the necessary background.
I think Carl Sagan described what I think to be a similar phenomenon in discussing the work of von Daniken.  I used “I think” twice as I going from memory and cannot find his exact quote.  He said something like,
“With my fellow astronomers, I felt the astronomical aspects of his claims were weak, but the archaeological claims appeared strong.  Then I spoke to archaeologists and found they felt the archaeological claims were weak but the astronomy looked strong.”
I feel there is something universal here.  Generally, if we do not have extensive knowledge in a field, we are inclined to accept the claims of others.  Sagan wasn’t an archaeologist, so he provisionally accepted the validity of the archaeological claims.  Silvestru’s audience, myself included, are not knowledgeable about geology, so it is easy to accept his claims.  Even if we do not, it is hard to determine if and where his errors or misrepresentations are.

Near the beginning and at the end, he mentions large and dramatic events that I can agree happened.  He starts his talk by mentioning large-but-local floods, and suggests there was a 1,000 year long ice age.  At the end of his talk, he shows a chart with three extinction events.  I am not sure that he did, could, or even should tie them into the main theme of his talk.

Why shouldn’t he tie them into his talk?  As an evolutionist, I think that the problems regarding the story of the Flood are too big and diverse to ever be answered, but that same size means that Flood proponents should focus on segments or individual issues and offer some in-depth solution to each...eventually bringing them into a whole, a ‘modern synthesis’ if you will.  Silvestru does first step; he focuses on a possible explanation for the Flood without looking into the Ark or it’s contents.  Silvestru isn’t a naval engineer or biologist and, to his credit, he doesn’t try to be.

At some point though, he needs to dig into the larger picture.  I would, someday and from someone, like to see a Young Earth Creationist timeline that includes the Age of the Earth, the Flood, the rise and fall of the tower of Babel (and an explanation for why the endeavor was stopped, but manned journeys to the moon and unmanned journeys much further have not been), about when Silvestru’s one-thousand-year Ice Age (I presume this is Veith's 600 year-long ice age as well) occurred and how and what caused the other two extinction events Silvestru touches upon.  Also, when did the huge-but-local flood occur in the US (come to think of it, he may have said it happened at the end of the Ice Age).

Somewhat related, I would also like some connection to other reasonably well-dated events, such as construction of the pyramids, which I think occurred both before and after the Flood.

Should a reader choose to look into this, I can definitely accept error bars or +/- or the like.  I do understand that exact figures are hard to find dealing with events thousands of years in the past and would not imagine using uncertainty (or uncertainty only) as a reason to attack the claims.  Still, I do feel that such a timeline would immediately show the problems with the Biblical narrative.  Some events could be simultaneous, like the building of Babel and an Ice Age mostly affecting Europe and other Northern locales, but I think that agreed upon dates for Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Indian, Chinese and other civilizations would make the gap between Flood and recorded history very busy.

Either as a discussion of one of Silvestru’s first points or as big-picture aside, I need to mention uniformitarianism  vs catastrophism.  I am by no means an expert, but I think creationists (as catastrophists) overly simplify the uniformitarian view, both original and as it is understood today.  Uniformists accept gradual, slow change through local and entirely natural forces.  This might typically mean erosion and storm damage, for example.  However, it doesn’t deny the effects of earthquakes, large floods, volcanoes, or even meteors.  Uniformists do accept that some catastrophes do happen.  I suppose that if the flood was caused by entirely natural forces, as Silvestru tries to show, it could even fit into the uniformist view.  Let’s bar the Flood for the moment but still note that, for example, the Uniformist view allows both slow and fast burial of fossils.

Now, onto the video.  At 51 minutes, Silvestru states “The Genesis Flood happened after the natural laws were set and should therefore be explainable by existing scientific methods."
Note that I try to quote accurately,
but I do not promise 100%.
I do promise not to distort quotes deliberately.
 I find this to be bad theology.  If the Flood can be explained by natural laws, I see two problems.  First, there is no need to add God to the narrative.  Because Silvestru has kept his focus narrow (and I do approve of his focus), he does not defend the building of the Ark or any of the biological claims.  Perhaps there was a Flood, life survived on high mountains (Silverstu will later offer a depth of 3km and does not go into detail about mountains growing after the Flood), and people of the Bible saw the evidence of the Flood and added it - with embellishments - to the Bible.
 A second problem works like this:  God created the world and built in the Flood so that two thousand years after He (pardon the crude description) hit the ‘start button’, calamity would strike.  If he didn’t know humanity would become so evil they needed wiping out, then we should see unnatural causes for the Flood.  If he did know, even before he started, he is no better than a three-year-old frustrated with his toy for not working right.

 Silvestru asks the rhetorical questions “Where did the water come from and where did it go?”  Admirably, he goes out of his way to reject two other Creationist explanations: the Vapor Canopy and Walt Brown’s Deep Earth water deposits of water.

 His mechanism is described from fifty-four minutes to one hour, although he adds to that description somewhat through his talk.  It seems that when plate tectonics started, it started fast and brought a lot of hot mantle to the surface.  The description sounds reasonable as he describes it, but I don’t think I could do it justice.  Even if I want to give it the best and most positive possible description, even if it is entirely true; my description and eloquence would fail.  Let’s just say that the ocean floor becomes quite hot.  This causes it to expand and rise one mile and super-heated water to evaporate and rain heavily around the world.  For more detail, watch the video.

 In twenty to forty days, Silvestru claims, the ocean floor raised one vertical mile and either at the same time or soon afterwards, the continents sank by a mile.  Again, I haven’t even tried to understand the evidence for this, or even looked for it.  As I heard it, it seemed reasonable that if part of a sphere swells, another part of the sphere should dimple.

Now on to specific points, some of which I can argue against, some of which, I cannot.  To facilitate commenting, I have broken up the rest of the video into several blog posts.

Coconino Sandstone: Silvestru's Global Flood, part 2

This is part of a longer post about Silvestru's video containing evidence for a Global Flood.  I chose to break up the posts so that individual claims can be better discussed.  The video can be found here:

Note that the video starts with about thirty minutes of introduction.  I believe the original poster of the video has left some suggestions of where to start watching to skip the intro.

In this post, I look at silvestru's claims for the Coconino Sandstone.  As I mentioned in my original post, some claims, both for and against evolution, are beyond my ability to comment.  I am smart enough that I could learn more about geology and the like, but feel that it would take too much time to devote to a hobby.  The second set of points in this post are an example of what I am unable to argue for or against and, as part of trying to be fair, it is an example from the old-Earth side of the argument.

At some point between 51 minutes and one hour, 4 minutes (I didn't record the timestamp for this one) we come to evidence I can at least imagine I have a handle on.  Silvestru claims that the Coconino Sandstone, found around the Grand Canyon was laid down during the Flood.  I don’t see how this can be as there are footprints of terrestrial animals among those layers.  Some of those prints look be from newts, small aquatic vertebrates.  Others are from scorpions.  I feel this is good evidence that the location was not under three kilometres of water at the time.  There could have been water, but it would have to be fresh and relatively still - far less than the full torrent a global flood requires.

 Newts, indeed all amphibians, cannot tolerate salt water, and this water would be very salty for reasons that Silvestru gives and others that I will offer. At one hour twenty-six minutes, Silvestru describes ‘mineral-rich water’ permeating the mantle and sediments, so there is one source.  I feel that salt of the oceans, plus that of various salt lakes and deposits means that the total salt content of the water would be near current ocean levels and completely deadly to amphibians.  The fast moving water- carrying great quantities of fine silt - would also clog the newt’s gills.  It would also be somewhere between irritating and lethal for any animal with gills. This is one of the big-/small- picture problems I have with Silvestru.
Below is an argument against Coconino being caused by a global flood.  There is little need to comment on it as I do not have the background to defend or dispute it.  I hope it does not seem dishonest to display a claim like this then back away from it.  In my defense, I have offered examples from Dr Silvestru where I do the same.    My goal here is to show the limits of my own understanding and to suggest that others in the same position (of ignorance) should not use such arguments.

Regarding the Coconino Sandstone: Again, I am not a geologist.  Here, I will quote someone about the Coconino Sandstone discussing desert sand.  I suppose it is possible to determine that the sand in sandstone was laid down by wind in a desert rather than by silt in water, but I don't have the background.

That prompts a rather obvious question: How does a giant desert form in the middle of a global flood?The Coconino sandstone contains lots of evidence that it formed on land, not underwater. It has tracks made by terrestrial animals, for example, which is a real problem for flood geology. What were terrestrial animals doing walking around, leaving tracks in sand dunes in the middle of a global flood, especially after thousands of feet of sediments had been deposited by that flood beneath them?

A commenter at that link also discusses the shape and size of the sand grains.  

Just to stick with the Coconino Sandstone for a while longer - it's also a second source sediment, if I remember my geology correctly. But even if I don't: a look through a hand lens at the sand grains will show you nicely rounded, nearly spherical, almost uniformly sized grains. That means they most likely have gone through at least two cycles of erosion and deposition.

For more on both subjects, Talk Origins has some citations.
Updated May6: Another blog discussing the layers of the Grand Canyon.  An excerpt, there are more layers discussed at the link.

The Grand Canyon’s “layers”, on the other hand, are not all comprised of material one would associate with a volcanic eruption. In fact, they are comprised of a vast series of strata of different types, each requiring a distinct and long-lasting depositional environment in order to have time to form. The bottom layer is the Vishnu Group, mostly granite and precambrian rock. Above that, it’s all sedimentary rock, each layer deposited in an entirely different environment, in roughly this order from the bottom up:
Tapeats Sandstone: This is the oldest of what is called the Tonto Group, large strata formed at the edge of an ancient body of water called the Tonto sea. 300 feet thick, comprised of near-shore and sandbar deposits from the edge of that sea.
Bright Angel Shale: 325 feet thick, full of trilobites and other brachiopod and mollusk fossils, as well as lots of tracks, trails and burrows from animals. Formed in a shallow marine environment as the Tonto sea encroached further on land.
Muav Limestone: The last of the Tonto Group formations. 375 feet thick, with more trilobite and brachiopod fossils and yet more invertebrate tracks and trails. This was deposited as the Tonto sea encroached even further on the land.
Redwall Limestone: 500 feet thick. Like most limestones, this one is made up of the shells of sea creatures, made of calcium carbonate, after they die and settle to the bottom of a shallow sea. A 500-foot thick limestone takes an incredibly long time to form and it’s not possible for all of those sea creatures whose dead bodies are in the formation to have lived at the same time. This formation requires a shallow, relatively tranquil marine environment for a very long period of time in order to form.

Silvestru's Global Flood: Part three: Monterey Canyon

This is part of a longer post about Silvestru's video containing evidence for a Global Flood.  I chose to break up the posts so that individual claims can be better discussed.  The video can be found here:

Note that the video starts with about thirty minutes of introduction.  I believe the original poster of the video has left some suggestions of where to start watching to skip the intro.

In this post, at 1:04 Silvestru says, "What about a canyon - or gorge - in the ocean - deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon. Monterey Canyon  - California. The ocean doesn't flow. Evolutionists keep a low profile. - They don't even talk about it."

Let's ignore the condescending opinion.  I guess evolutionists don't talk much about it, but geologists seem to.

Here is the abstract of Robert Lloyd's master's thesis:
Evidence is presented that indicates that Monterey Submarine Canyon was once the terminus of a major land drainage system. This pre-existing drainage system is not in evidence today because it has been altered by displacement along the San Andreas Fault. A numerical model based on conservation of mass and plate tectonic reconstruction is utilized to reconstruct the topography of the region as it appeared prior to onset of motion along the San Andreas Fault. Model results indicate that the Colorado River may have drained into Monterey Bay during early Miocene time. (Author)

Elsewhere, this is described as 'the dominant theory'.  I'm out of my league here, but at the very least, geologists do talk and write about this.

One Problem with Silvestru's claim is that the Monterey Canyon, in his scenario, would never be on the surface.  If "the ocean doesn't flow" and his mechanism keeps that area underwater, how can it be a sign of a global flood?  Indeed, as Silvestru needs the ocean floor to buckle and pour water over the land, he also needs this canyon to flow in the opposite direction for at least half the time.

Silvestru;s Global Flood, Part four, atomic bursts

This is part of a longer post about Silvestru's video containing evidence for a Global Flood.  I chose to break up the posts so that individual claims can be better discussed.  The video can be found here:

Note that the video starts with about thirty minutes of introduction.  I believe the original poster of the video has left some suggestions of where to start watching to skip the intro.

In this post, which I thought about naming, "the science of 1950's monster movies" due to the strange belief that blaming atomic energy would solve his problems, Silvestru hypothesizes how the Earth could buckle and the oceans could flood the land.

At around 1:10, Silvestru brings up the mechanism for the flood, and I do, at last, feel competent to comment upon this. My summary:
Combined creationist model: Massive radioactive bursts send heat from the core, through the mantle to the ocean floor, creating domes.  The ocean basins' volume decreases and the water is pushed over the continents.  Radio clocks are 'reset'  Ocean floors rise, continents sink and deep ocean sediments flow onto (what is now) land.

His description includes images which show radioactive bursts moving up to the mantle under the ocean floors.  Here is a big problem.  Radioactive waves can travel more-or-less forever in vacuum. They don't travel nearly so far in atmosphere, liquids and don't travel far at all in heavy metal solids.  If radioactive bursts originated at or near the core, they would almost immediately hit the atoms of nearby ore.  Depending on the ore, the burst might be extinguished or amplified, but the direction of the continued burst would be random.  A particle hits and excites a nucleus and one or more particles may leave but there is no expectation that the new particles would continue in the same direction.  If Silvestru wants to imagine the entire Earth's mantle expanding due to heat energy, fine.  However, he cannot expect merely local expansion and buckling to occur.  His mechanism sucks.

Silvestru's Global Flood: Part five. The Bouma Sequence

This is part of a longer post about Silvestru's video containing evidence for a Global Flood.  I chose to break up the posts so that individual claims can be better discussed.  The video can be found here:

Note that the video starts with about thirty minutes of introduction.  I believe the original poster of the video has left some suggestions of where to start watching to skip the intro.

In this post, I display my ignorance:

At 1:18, he claims that fine sediment can settle in fast moving water, describing this as the Bouma sequence. I don't know if this is possible, but the results of this Google search seem to show otherwise.

After some quick searching, understanding the Bouma sequence seems to require more time than i wish to spend.  Read this abstract for some details.

Mostly, I want to say that when a specialist offers an incomprehensible argument, you need to look at other arguments, ones that you understand, to determine if you want to believe the new one.  Logic states that each argument rises or falls on its own merits but we can use logic to consider the trustworthiness of the speaker as well.  However you look at it, this is not an argument I am capable of rebutting, but that does not mean it is correct.

Silvestru's Global Flood: Part six, the Himalayas

Silvestru discusses the Himalayas around 1:22.  To simplify, he points out that there are fish fossils on or near the peak of Everest and also that geologists agree on a 3cm/year erosion rate.  He states that the mountain should be 135km deep valley in the mantle by now if erosion had continued for millions of years.  He says there is no way the mountain was raised 50 million years ago, it would have eroded to nothing.

I do feel moderately competent to comment here, especially as he provides nothing but assertion for his claims.  No evidence of anything is given here and I feel that is because there was no evidence for his claim.

Here is a very short video of how geologists feel the Himalayas were formed.  As I was taught in elementary school, they appear to have been formed when the Indian subcontinent impacted Asia.  The rocks found on Everest came from North and South, not vertically. This admirably explains the fish fossils as well - they may have come from the North.

Unless Silvestru can defend his claim that the rock rose vertically and not from either side, he has to be considered a liar, and a poor one.  This is grade school stuff.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Law of Biogenesis?

A fragment from a website called Truth-is-life:
"If you accept the law of biogenesis as reality, you accept a major pillar of creation science that Pasteur, a major creationist opponent of Darwin, conclusively proved. If biogenesis is scientific then creation has scientific support. "
I am reminded of faith healing charlatans that claim their therapies use quantum theory.  Quantum theory explains the actions of minute particles and does not show much or any effect on the human scale of things.  In the same way, Pasteur did show that a sterile organic solution, in a glass container, did not spontaneously produce macroscopic life.  It probably did not produce any life, but Pasteur would not be able to 'conclusively prove' that as microscopes were limited in resolving power at the time.

"A scientific law or scientific principle is a concise verbal or mathematical statement of a relation that expresses a fundamental principle of science, like Newton's law of universal gravitation. A scientific law must always apply under the same conditions, and implies a causal relationship between its elements.
A law differs from a scientific theory in that it does not posit a mechanism or explanation of phenomena: it is merely a distillation of the results of repeated observation. As such, a law is limited in applicability to circumstances resembling those already observed, and is often found to be false when extrapolated."

This is important as Pasteur studied a limited amount and variety of materials  amount of material for a limited time.  He did not have - and had no reason at the time to include - rock faces that could work as catalysts.  Some catalysts, notably meteor fragments, are known to change the chirality ratios of amino acids formed on their faces.

There is no explanation for how life originated from non-living materials and it seems likely that there never will be.  This is not to say that it could not happen, but that the evidence is transient and there is no reason to imagine it would last.  The recipe for creating life may include "simmer  for a hundred thousand years".

I don't want to argue by metaphor, but imagine someone questioning your (or my) ancestry.  Here is my claim:  If you cannot name all of your 32 great-great-great grandparents (five generations back), then those of your 16 great-great grandparents (four generations back) were created by God.  This claim is almost impossible to disprove.  If you find it disprovable, then let me go back ten generations to your 1024 ancestors.  At some point, the genetics would be inconclusive and you would be utterly unable to prove your ancestry was not created by God.  And yet, even creationists would say that only two people were created by God and that was a lot more than ten generations ago.

More at The Frame Problem and Talk Origins.

Status:  The point is, as far as the possibility of an ancient origin of life from non-life, The Law of Biogenesis does not apply and people using it are either innocently ignorant or deliberately deceptive.
I may need to reread the truth-is-life article.   It contains gems like:
CONCLUSION Many of the giants in medicine--Edward Jenner, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Howard Florey and Ernst Chain, Selman Waksman--did pioneering work (including in genetics and antimicrobial resistance) while either rejecting Darwinism or ignoring it altogether.

This after pointing out that Pasteur was a contemporary of Darwin's, as was Mendel.  It would be better to say that they were unaware of Darwin's work, rather than that they rejected or ignored it.  This is certainly true of Mendel, whose work only came to light after his death, while Pasteur's famous experiment took place in the same year as Darwin's theory was published.

I am not sure what Darwinism is.  Some proponents of self-directed evolution (more on this below the extended quote) were involved, but Wikipedia suggests it started with Mendel's work.

The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,

...as the Eugenics movement came to the United States, the churches, especially the Methodists, the Presbyterians, and the Episcopalians, embraced it.Methodist churches around the country promoted the American Eugenics Society “Fitter Family Contests” wherein the fittest families were invariably fair skinned and well off. Methodist bishops endorsed one of the first books circulated to the US churches promoting eugenics. Unlike the battles over evolution and creationism, both conservative and progressive church leaders endorsed eugenics.  The liberal Rev. Harry F. Ward, professor of Christian ethics and a founder of the Methodist Federation for Social Service, writing in Eugenics, the magazine of the American Eugenic Society, said that Christianity and Eugenics were compatible because both pursued the “challenge of removing the causes that produce the weak. Conservative Rev. Clarence True Wilson, the General Secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals, and the man chosen to debate Clarence Darrow after William Jennings Bryan’s death, believed that only the white Aryan race was the descendent of the lost tribes of Israel.

The problem with laying all the blame for eugenics on evolutionists (and self-directed evo proponents) is that artificially altering an organism's characteristics was not what Darwin proposed.  He did use 'artificial selection' as a comparison for what evolution could do, but did not invent farming techniques or animal husbandry.  A related problem is that the author of the Truth-is-life article accepts micro-evolution, a subset of which could be said to include the goals of eugenicists. 

Just as our understanding of how atoms are put together does not mean we need to make atomic bombs, knowing how evolution works does not mean we have to change animal characteristics.  The 'Darwin-caused-eugenics' argument has nothing to do with whether Darwin's scientific claims are correct.  It seems a disgusting attempt to confuse the issue.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Why are there still creationists?

The following creationist argument is not one used by my (now ex-) coworker.  He is more sophisticated in his debating.  Still, the following rhetorical point is and has been used again and again, so here is my attempt at a comprehensive response.
Here is the point:  If humans came from monkeys why are there still monkeys?
A common alternate is: If humans came from apes, why are there still apes?
Stephen Baldwin "If we are from apes, why are the apes still here?"
Here is a similar formulation (March 16, 2012):
This is where Kern began to argue that evolution - at least macroevolution - doesn't make sense because "viruses are still viruses" and other organisms are still what they have always been ... "You're talking about adaptation here," he told her.
Smith went on to talk further about viruses, while Kern sat there with a sour look on his face, coming back to tell her that "You go back and viruses are viruses ... they may have adapted ... they are still viruses."
When Kern asked where the virus fossils are, Smith responded that viruses are too small to fossilize.
The short answer is clear and simple.
Apes are not, evolutionarily speaking, our ancestors but our cousins.  We both evolved from a common ancestor.
The viruses that exist today may or may not be similar to ancient ones but they too have evolved.  It is possible that a virus was the first sorta-lifeform and more complex animals evolved from it, although I have not heard that claim stated anywhere.  Still, viruses today are distant relatives, not ancestors.
There is a  larger question and it could be stated as "If humans are so superior, why do any other animals exist?" or "If humans are so successful, why do other animals exist?"
Dawkins discussed primitive and advanced animals in The Ancestor's Tale:
...Darwin's advice to himself would serve us all: 'Never use the words higher and lower'.
   Lancelets are live creatures, our exact contemporaries.  They are modern animals who have had exactly the same time as we have in which to evolve.  Another telltale phrase is 'a side branch, off the main line of evolution.'  All living animals are side branches.  No line of evolution is more 'main' than any other, except with the conceit of hindsight.  (Page 365 of First Mariner Books edition, 2005, The Ancestor's Tale.  This is the third or fourth paragraph from the start of the Lancelet chapter)
But lancelets are not primitive nor our remote ancestor. They are as modern as all other members in the pilgrimage. The Lancelet's Tale continues to develop the theme introduced in The Duckbill's Tale, that all living animals have had equal time to evolve since the first concestor, and that no living animal should be described as either lower or more primitive.

Perhaps an example from the military will help.  I have no background in the military but I think this metaphor works.  In the ocean, the most powerful vessel is the aircraft carrier.  And yet, this does not mean that the only military vessels used today are aircraft carriers.  Missile launching and countering vessels are needed as are mine sweepers and submarines.  A vessel, or an animal, can be very strong and successful and yet not be supreme in all areas.
Below is the beginning of a list I started looking at successful animals.  I count success as a combination of numbers and total mass.  Ants are on the list as they outnumber us by so much that their total mass is similar to ours.  Although a recent discussion of viruses encouraged me to write this post, I did not add microscopic animals to the list.
chickens: "More than 50 billion chickens are raised annually" 
sheep: 1.078 billion 
There are around 5 billion rats here on earth, which makes them arguably the second most successful mammal. After humans, of course. An average rat weighs around 450 grams. That makes for almost 5 billion pounds of rat. They are about 25 centimeters long, or 10 inches. That makes 1 and a quarter million kilometers of rat.
Blue whales are the biggest animal that has ever existed on this planet. They weigh almost 400 thousand pounds each. There are approximates 12000 blue whales on this planet. The weight of all the blue whales, is almost 200 million pounds less than the weight of all the rats.
It has been estimated that the total ant population is around 10 quadrillion, or 10,000,000,000,000,000. That’s a lot of ants. It’s more than 1.4 million ants for every person.
An average ant weighs about 20 milligrams, which is almost nothing. But that means all of them together weigh around 440,924,524,000 pounds. So do they outweigh humans? Unless the weight of an average human is only 63 pounds, then no. But let’s look at it another way.
Ants aren’t very good at being heavy. One thing they are good at though, is lifting a lot of weight. An ant can lift around 50 times its own body weight. So every ant in the world combined could lift more than 22 trillion pounds. If the human population wanted to lift that much, we’d each need to lift more than 3000 pounds. Which is more than 6 times the world record for weight lifting.
So my list, rather unimaginatively, consists of only two groups, human food items and detritivores with two examples of each.  I am so ignorant of ocean ecology that I feel unable even to suggest a fish to search online for.  Krill could also be on this list, I guess.

The lesson could be: there are a variety of ways of being successful.  Being small and having many offspring appears to work the best.  With this in mind, why are there still humans?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

About this blog

I have some background in biology and an enduring interest in science.  On the other hand, I have published no research nor am I deeply knowledgable in many areas of biology.  You may ask why I am writing blog posts on a subject that I have just admitted I don't have much to add.  My goal here is to pick creation science's low-hanging fruit as a service to both creationists and to people uncertain about the subject.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Radio-carbon dating of shells

From "Dating the Earth -3":

 Quotes from Experts onDating about Gigantic Errors In Dating Methods
Examples of where uniformitarian dating has been shown to be wrong.:
16 A living water snail taken from an artesian spring in Nevada was given as assessed age of 27,000 years. Science, Vol. 224, April 6, 1984 p:58-61  The original article explains that C14 dating works when living things get their carbon from atmospheric sources. But, for many years, evolutionists were claiming C14 could be used for dating all sorts of things, including living things. (check this for accuracy). 
17 Shell from living clams was 'dated' thousands of years old. Science, Vol. 141, August 16, 1963 p:634

Indeed, check it for accuracy.
The abstract for "A living water snail taken form an artesian..."
Carbon-14 contents as low as 3.3 ± 0.2 percent modern (apparent age, 27,000 years) measured from the shells of snails Melanoides tuberculatus living in artesian springs in southern Nevada are attributed to fixation of dissolved HCO3- with which the shells are in carbon isotope equilibrium. Recognition of the existence of such extreme deficiencies is necessary so that erroneous ages are not attributed to freshwater biogenic carbonates.

If you don't understand my concern, let me explain where Carbon-14 comes from:

To have some understanding of how carbon dating works I will describe it for you. Basically the sun shines down on the earth's atmosphere, which is composed mostly of nitrogen 14. By the sun shining on the atmosphere it makes the nitrogen 14 or (N14) atom unstable changing into a carbon 14 isotope or (C14). The small amount of C14 made each day combines with our normal carbon dioxide. Organic objects such as people, animals, and trees are either taking or breathing in carbon dioxide every day. When an organism dies it will no longer take in any more C14. So the C14 unstable isotope continues to decay. Scientist measure this decay time by a unit called half-life. The half-life of C14 is 5,730 years. Scientists then take what organic item they want to date and find out how many half-lives have passed on that object. Thus the date of an organism is found. See figure 1 to visualize the paragraph above. See the figure to visualize the paragraph above.  

This quoted section and image come from We Need Intelligent Creation Education and from the article 'Dating the Earth-3'.

So, for radiocarbon dating to work, the Carbon-14 needs to come from the atmosphere in the plant material and gathered through photosynthesis or from the plants the animal eats.  Note that the Science abstract specifically states that the shell of the snail is made from carbonate in the water, not from food the snail has eaten.  The article in Science is not at all showing that radio-carbon dating is wrong.  It is showing that the source of carbon needs to be known.

The best metaphor I can think of for the complaint in "Dating the Earth-3" is that of a student going to a language school (by a huge coincidence, I work in a language school).
Little Timmy goes to language school for a year and studies very hard.  Then he takes a proficiency test.  His mother comes in, furious."My son studied here for a year and look at his proficiency score.  He scored 5% on his TOIEC (a standardized test for English ability).  Therefore your methods here are terribly wrong!"  She says.
The school director looks at her quizzically, then responds, "You do know this is a French language school, do you not?"
The quoted section in red confuses me. Especially this part: But, for many years, evolutionists were claiming C14 could be used for dating all sorts of things, including living things.
I presume this is true, but I notice no reference or attribution.  I would like to see evidence that evolutionists claimed "C14 could be used for dating all sorts of things, including living things."

My original concern, the one that eventually led to this blog, is that Evolutionary (or mainstream scientific) claims change with new evidence while creationist ones do not. I think everyone would agree that many scientific claims have been changed with new evidence - this is a strength, not a weakness!  The sub-title of the quoted section is "Examples of where uniformitarian dating has been shown to be wrong."  These days, I only hear creationists using the term 'uniformitarian' but what we have seen, and what the cited articles describe, is how to improve dating techniques.  The sub-title could be "Examples of where uniformitarian dating has been shown to improve".

'Dating the Earth-3' is a long article and my goal is to break it up so that individual pieces can be examined in depth.  One problem I have is that I am going into far greater depth than my coworker did in making the article.  I specifically asked him where I could find the articles he references and quotes from and he replied he had not read most of them himself.  I feel this means I need only show how a few are deceptive.  If he has researched these claims properly, then any serious rebuttal (more than typing errors or the like) of even one claim throws all the rest into doubt and harms his perceived honesty greatly.  If he has not researched these claims, then any serious rebuttal of even one claim throws all the rest into doubt and shows him to be a bad researcher, although not a deceptive person.

As examples of articles I do not feel he has read, see the above two referenced above and these:
Dried seal carcasses less than 30 years old were 'dated' as 4,600 years old. Antarctic Journal of the United States, Vol. 6, October, 1971 p:210+ 
A freshly killed seal was assessed at 1,300 old. Antarctic Journal of the United States, Vol. 6, October, 1971 p:210+ 
"There has been in recent years the horrible realization that radiodecay rates are not as constant as previously thought, nor are they immune to environmental influences. And this could mean that atomic clocks are reset during some global disaster, and events which brought the Mesozoic [era] to a close may not be 65 million years ago but, rather, within the age and memory of man." Written in Frederic B.Jueneman, "Secular Catastrophism", Industrial Research and Development, June 1982 p:21

The Antarctic Journal of the United States is only available online form 2005 so am certain that he could not have read it.  I have not either, but suspect that it may have included information like this:

The seals feed off of animals that live in a nutrient-rich upwelling zone. The water that is upwelling has been traveling along the bottom for a few thousand years before surfacing. The carbon dioxide in it came from the atmosphere before the water sank. Thus, the carbon in the sea water is a couple of thousand years "old" from when it was in the atmosphere, and its radiocarbon content reflects this time. Plants incorporate this "old" carbon in them as they grow. Animals eat the plants; seals eat the animals, and the "old" carbon from the bottom waters is passed through the food chain. As a result, the radiocarbon content reflects a mixture of old radiocarbon, which is thousands of years old, and contemporaneous radiocarbon from the atmosphere. The result is an apparent age that differs from the true age of the seal. 

Or this:

Notice that all of the examples given of discordantly dated artifacts result from organisms from aquatic environments or which obtain significant amounts of carbon from aquatic sources. Since carbon in aquatic environments may have long since have been removed from atmospheric sources, it will have depleted its ratio of C14 to C12 already to some degree even before incorporation into the organism eventually tested. Trying to produce a C14 date when the initial assumptions are violated is not likely to succeed.

My second quote is from October '99, so this information has been available for more than ten years.

As for the quote by Jueneman, no such article exists online nor can I find any journal with the fairly generic name of Industrial Research and Development.  If such a journal exists, from it's name, I cannot see it being a strong forum for "Secular Catastrophism".  If such a journal and entry exists, my bet is that this is a letter to the editor, not a peer-reviewed article in it.
Status:  These quotes, divorced of all outside context, have to be questioned and treated skeptically.  I have shown how a very few are incorrect and plan to look at more, but again, I feel I am putting in more work than my coworker did in listing them here.  They may have started as innocently wrong, but after ten or more years without fact-checking, they are close to being deliberately deceptive.  Because the man is my coworker, I cannot go that far.  Innocently Wrong