Tuesday, 30 June 2015

misconceptions about evolutionary trees

The article from NCSE can be found here.  The image below has been cropped; to see the full image and a lot more, follow the link.

Dang it, I can't find Dawkins' quote that went along the lines of 'The ----, a limbless worm, is our exact evolutionary equal and just as evolved as humans'.
Whadoyaknow?  I covered the same subject in 2012.  Dawkins said, "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. "
From Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Biblical defense of a flat (and square) Earth

In 1893, Professor Ferguson (professor of what, I don't know) drew a map representing what he thought the Bible required the Earth to look like.

The image is from Wikimedia. It comes with this caption:
Four Hundred Passages in the Bible that Condemns the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and None Sustain It.
This Map is the Bible Map of the World.

A fragment of a footnote:

And his hands were steady until the going down of the sun—Ex. 17: 12. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed.—Joshua 10: 12–13. The world also shall be stable that it not be moved.—Chron. 16: 30. To him that stretched out the earth, and made great lights (not worlds).—Ps. 136: 6–7. The sun shall be darkened in his going forth.—Isaiah 12: 10. The four corners of the Earth.—Isaiah 11: 12
The Sensuous Curmudgeon has also documented verses that defend the notion of a flat Earth -although in the Curmudgeon's case, it is for purposes of mockery. A fragment:
1Samuel 2:8
for the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and he hath set the world upon them.
1 Samuel 2:10
The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the LORD shall judge the ends of the earth;
Job 9:6
Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble. [A reference to the usually unmovable earth, but it must be flat to sit on pillars.]
Job 37:3
He directeth it under the whole heaven, and his lightning unto the ends of the earth.
Job 38:4
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Strange that not many Creationists defend this claim any more.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Were feathers added to Archaeopteryx fossils?

Dr Walt Brown says yes.  From the Center for Scientific Creationism:
Archaeopteryx means ancient (archae) wing (pteryx). But the story behind this alleged half-dinosaur, half-bird is much more interesting than its fancy, scientific-sounding name or the details of its bones. If Archaeopteryx were shown to be a fraud, the result would be devastating for the evolution theory.

Since the early 1980s, several prominent scientists have charged that the two Archaeopteryx fossils with clearly visible feathers (the Berlin and London specimens) are forgeries.1 Allegedly, thin layers of cement were spread on the mating surfaces (slab and counterslab) of two fossils of a chicken-size dinosaur, called Compsognathus (komp-SOG-na-thus). Bird feathers were then imprinted into the wet cement.
This apparently is from Brown's 2008 edition of In the Beginning; compelling evidence for creation and the flood (the link is to a different edition).

Things go wrong in the first paragraph.  If Archaeopteryx were shown to be a fraud, scientists would continue to use all the other feathered dinosaurs that have been found. Flying Dinosaurs has a long list of feathered dinosaurs.
In 2012, paleontologists found that a T. rex relative, Yutyrannus huali, had filamentous feathers. If a relative had feathers, why not the king of reptiles itself?
Until a specimen is found with preserved imprints of feathers, though, the jury is out.
Carl Zimmer has more:
Now Archaeopteryx is sinking back into the crowd of primitive birds and feathered dinosaurs. As Ed Yong has ably explained, a fresh wave of fossils are coming to light. They reinforce the argument that paleontologists have agreed on for a couple decades now: birds evolved from a lineage of dinosaurs called theropods. But it’s less clear now how exactlyArchaeopteryx fits into that evolution. It might still be closely related to the ancestors of living birds, or there might be non-flying theropods that were more closely related. Combine this with the recent discoveries of heavily feathered dinosaurs–feathered down to their feet, in fact–and the possibility emerges that dinosaurs evolved into flyers more than once. We look up in the sky today and see the results of only one of those transitions.
Over the past two decades, discoveries in China have produced at least five species of feathered dinosaurs. But they all belonged to the theropod group of "raptor" dinosaurs, ancestors of modern birds. (Related: "Dinosaur-Era Fossil Shows Birds' Feathers Evolved Before Flight.")

Now in a discovery reported by an international team in the journal Science, the new dinosaur species, Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus (KOO-lin-dah-DRO-mee-us ZAH-bike-kal-ik-kuss), suggests that feathers were all in the family. That's because the newly unearthed 4.5-foot-long (1.5 meter) two-legged runner was an "ornithischian" beaked dinosaur, belonging to a group ancestrally distinct from past theropod discoveries.

"Probably that means the common ancestor of all dinosaurs had feathers," says study lead author Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science in Brussels. "Feathers are not a characteristic [just] of birds but of all dinosaurs." (Related: "Dinosaur Feathers Changed With Age.")
So already Brown seems to be in trouble.  On to the second paragraph. "Several prominent scientists" seems to be light on actual paleontologists. Fred Hoyle and N. Chandra Wickramasingh are mentioned.  They are both mathematicians and astronomers but have no obvious background in the study of fossils.

At The War For Science, they note that no such cement has been found by other researchers.
Palaeontologists that examined the London Archaeopteryx arrived at a quite different conclusion - “Proof of authenticity is provided by exactly matching hairline cracks and dendrites on the feathered areas of the opposing slabs, which show the absence of the artificial cement layer into which modern feathers could have been pressed by a forger.”.
War For Science quotes (above) from this Science Mag article.

For more information, have a look at Kevin Padian's slides from the 2005 Dover Creationism trial. I used Chrome's highlighter extension to highlight some of the text near the slides which I feel carry all the relevant information.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How dinosaurs became birds

Scientific American has the goods.  An excerpt:
But it has become increasingly clear that the story of how dinosaurs begat birds is much more subtle. Discoveries have shown that bird-specific features like feathers began to emerge long before the evolution of birds, indicating that birds simply adapted a number of pre-existing features to a new use. And recent research suggests that a few simple change—among them the adoption of a more babylike skull shape into adulthood—likely played essential roles in the final push to bird-hood. Not only are birds much smaller than their dinosaur ancestors, they closely resemble dinosaur embryos.

definition of a theory

Here is a common creationist definition, although a little more honest than some:
After all, evolution is a theory, and in the dictionary I have, it states that a theory, among other things, is a hypothesis, a guess, a conjecture, a speculative opinion — hardly absolute fact.
From Craig Kappel

The unusual honesty is in the phrase, "among other things".  Let's look at two online dictionaries:

Merriam Webster:(Click to enlarge - or follow the link)
The scientific definition is not so clear at Merriam Webster and it could be the first or fifth one in the list.

Dictionary.com: (ditto)

Here, the scientific definition is the first one.

The word 'theory' can be a synonym for 'guess' or 'conjecture' or 'opinion' but it sure seems dishonest when the relevant definition is there and deliberately skipped over.

Added Sept 24: a nice graphic from York Daily Record.  I hamfistedly added an extra line and some text to it.

Added later on Sept 24: At Science Alert, a video explaining the difference between hypothesis, theory, fact and law.
Added later, On Aug 23, 2016, Piers Sellers on climate change and Theory:
Fundamentally, a theory in science is not just a whim or an opinion; it is a logical construct of how we think something works, generally agreed upon by scientists and always in agreement with the available observations. A good example is Isaac Newton’s theory of gravitation, which says that every physical object in the universe exerts a gravity force field around itself, with the strength of that field depending on its mass. The theory—one simple equation—does a superb job of explaining our observations of how planets orbit around the sun, and was more than good enough to make the calculations we needed to send spacecraft to the moon and elsewhere. Einstein improved on Newton’s theory when it comes to large-scale astronomical phenomena, but, for everyday engineering use, Newton’s physics works perfectly well, even though it is more than three hundred years old.
via pharyngula.