Sunday, 30 August 2015

Sci Am has 170 years of articles on Evolution

It is as the title says.  It is part of their Celebrating 170 years of Scientific American and of course, they are likely to have 156 years or less of evolution article as Darwin's theory was proposed only that many years ago.

I'm just dumping the link here.  I currently have four different Chrome windows open on a variety of subjects and need to clean up my desktop a little in order to get some real work done.

Your vile rejection of God is duly noted. You sound like a teen who thinks he knows it all. But you have no idea what you are talking about. Your poorly structured and written blog points to that. You are blind, friend. But I will pray for you. Again, when the day comes, and it will come, when you stand before God, you are not going to get a second chance to accept him.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

OT: a response to Parnell's "homosexuality is different from other sins"

Added later:
I wanted to mention that I found Parnell's article on a suggested post after I clicked on a friend's post, 9 sins the Church is okay with.  The 'sins' in that post were strange and not all that connected to the Bible as far as I could tell.  Anyway, I'm writing this introduction to specify that I haven't been hunting for Christian blogs or news to attack. It was suggested to me on Facebook.

---Original ---
Jonathan Parnell, at his blog, Desiring God, wrote about the difference between homosexuality and other sins of the Bible.  His blog does not have a comments section but he does have a Twitter handle.  I wanted to discuss his post and this blog is the closest in theme I have to use.

Jonathan Parnell, "Why homosexuality is not like other sins"

"the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
"At this moment in history, contrary to the other sins listed here, homosexuality is celebrated by our larger society with pioneering excitement. It’s seen as a good thing, as the new hallmark of progress."

"To be sure, the masses increasingly make no bones about sin in general. " -the end of this paragraph does mention, "in the church" but I feel Parnell needs to emphasize the hypocritical aspect of attacking homosexuality now.

In a long paragraph, Parnell names several other sins.  I have elided details to leave the names:
"But as far as I know, none of those sins is applauded so aggressively by whole groups of people who advocate for their normalcy. Sexual immorality .... Adultery .... Accusations of greed .... There’s no such thing as a drunk agenda yet. Most aren’t proud to choose a beverage over stability, and there aren’t any petitions that the government should abolish the driving restrictions of inebriated individuals. Reviling others .... Swindling, ...conniving scammers."
To paraphrase Parnell, "None of those sins is punished or attacked in church sermons as vigorously as homosexuality". Divorce and remarriage are common among Christians - this seems to be a form of immorality accepted by church-folk.  As for Greed and swindling, the wonderful John Oliver devoted 20 minutes to discussing the greed of a large number of church leaders.

But the bigger problem with Parnell's list is that he doesn't see anything different about homosexuality compared to the rest of the listed sins. Briefly, to a non-Christian in a secular society, homosexuality is victimless.

Homosexuality, or more properly, the opportunity for homosexuals to now get married, is a sign of love and desire for a stable long-lasting relationship.  Adultery is a sin that works to break up such relationships and usually happens in a moment of weakness.  Greed is a sin requiring more deliberation and outright evil.  It is the act of desiring more money than one has earned.  Drinking alcohol, and by extension, using other drugs, is of questionable morality but driving or attempting professional work while drunk causes a threat to all around that person.

I have heard some Jews describe some of the religious laws they follow as tests.  I think it was Van Halen that required bowl of brown M&Ms in their backstage room.  They didn't particularly care about the M&Ms; they cared that someone had read their contract and had followed their rules.  In the Bible, wearing clothes of mixed fabrics is forbidden, but as my Jewish friends explained, it was there as a test, a sign of their willingness to submit to God's authority.
Many Christians eat pork and bacon.  Many eat shrimp.  Many get tattoos. These are forbidden but they are different from sins of theft and violence.
And so is homosexuality.  This is why homosexuality is not like other sins.  It is victimless or the only victim might be the perpetrator.  A man who drinks alone and heavily but does not try to drive a vehicle or perform surgery is harming himself but no one else. This is different from murder.

 Homosexuals might or might not be harming themselves - you're welcome to the opinion that they are - but they are not harming others.  Their actions are different from murder.

As an aside, I note that Parnell's list of sins is quite lightweight. There are lots of things in the Bible described as sins.  Indeed, the translations of the Bible I read for this post do not use the word 'sin' in 1 Corinthians 6-9 (where his quote comes from). A quick search of Google suggests there are 125 sins described in the Bible. Parnell isn't interested in comparing homosexuality to murder or lying, which are Commandments.   The one he and I most agree on from his list is thievery as a sin. I would describe swindling as a form of thievery.

Greed, or in other Bible translations, 'covetousness' , can be damaging but is the heart of the Capitalist system of economics.

In Parnell's list, sexual immorality and homosexuality are both mentioned.  As a non-Christian, consensual sex between or among adults is seldom immoral of itself.  Adultery, which damages marriage and breaks vows one chose to make is usually immoral to some degree.

"As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God. And if our society celebrates it, we can’t both be caring and not say anything. "
Then also speak up against greed and swindling, especially when done by clergyfolk.  Speak up against divorce and remarriage.  Speak up against the lies of creationists.  If Christians want the moral upper-hand, they need to speak up against sins that are crimes against others with at least as much vehemence as they do against homosexuals.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Creationism in Korea

The Marmot's Hole is the place for English news in Korea.  Today, it featured a post, caught in the screen shot from Feedly above, that disappeared.  Then, a new post, covering overlapping content appeared.
Yonsei University, one of the oldest universities in Korea, is now offering a course on Creationism – the belief that the Universe and Life originate “from specific acts of divine creation.” The Hankyoreh has a good article on this and the (electrical engineering) professor’s description of his course is interesting:
And their quote, coming from the Hangyoreh (a local newspaper):
It isn’t about how creationism is correct and evolution is always wrong,… As a Christian studying and teaching engineering, I have often had to think about faith and science. My aim is to talk about these concerns with students – not to try to boost creation science,…scientists in the Christian faith “often experience conflict between the words of the Bible and their scientific understanding.” The course, he explains, is intended to “find the parts of the Bible that can be tested scientifically and aid Biblical understanding through a scientific approach to creationism and evolution.”
The Hankyoreh article does not make clear whether the class will defend creationism or defend theistic evolution or the like but that very uncertainty is driving some (like me) to fear the weasel words are hiding the intent of the class.

The comment section is already active with a commenter from England, Richard Forrest responding to creationists there.  I believe this Forrest is also active on Talk Origins, a evolution/creationism Google Group.

I shot my mouth off a few times there as well.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Archaeological evidence for a Looooonng stone age

From the Natural Historian:

Trillions of stone artifacts cover the surface of the African continent. The product of the manufacturing of stone tools by hunters and gathers over long periods of time, these stone artifacts literally carpet the ground in some places in Egypt and Libya.
Just how much Stone-Age produced rock could be strewn across the African continent?
Trillions and trillions of artifacts!
The trillion isn’t a typo. That number sounds absolutely fantastic, doesn’t it?  Let’s take a look at how these numbers were derived.
The results of a study just published (see references below) shows how incredibly dense stone artifacts can be in some places in Africa.   Working in a remote location in southern Libya, researchers took surveys from hundreds of one or two-meter square plots. From the tens of thousands of artifacts found in them, they estimated a minimum density of 250,000 stone artifacts per square kilometer is present in this portion of Libya.
One of the interesting parts of the article was the timeline given by AIG.  It includes an Ice Age.  It does not contain a stone age.  I have always wanted a Creationist timeline of Biblical and world events to see if and how they put them together.  Such a timeline would not need to include volcanic eruptions in Austral-Asia unless records show they affected the Middle-East but perhaps  1) a suggestion for when humans arrived in Australia would be handy- along with evidence supporting the date.
2) Geologists and Paleontologists claim evidence for five or six extinctions and several Ice Ages.  I don't know the details but would like to see an explanation for only one extinction and only Ice Age.
3) The start and end dates for construction of the Egyptian pyramids.
4) known fossil layers - From Pre-Cambrian on.
Back to the numbers of stone tools.  My Internet connection is not working right now so I am typing this in Wordpad.  When I am connected, I will try to find the link from Terry Mortenson of AIG who critiqued the original blog post.  If I do not, then note that two other bloggers that I do have links for have responded to Mortenson's reaction.  They are:
Age of Rocks

and Evoanth

From Age of Rocks:
More importantly, Terry makes no serious or scientific attempt to explain why anthropologists and geoarcheologists have misidentified thousands of artifacts, which were actually created by random collisions with other clasts. He essentially mocks those who are familiar with the process of weathering and erosion and have long considered how to distinguish random chipping from human knapping. He writes:
Below quoting Mortenson:
As AiG geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling commented to me after seeing the pictures and reading the article, these are mainly gravels transported and deposited by moving water. In the process they were rounded or shattered to varying degrees… Dr. Snelling added, “Such ‘artifacts’ are not found all across Africa, as there is much of Africa that isn’t desert. And they are not seen anywhere across the USA that I am aware of, or in Australia.” (emphasis added)
Age of Rocks points out that looking at a few photos and saying, "No, that's wrong" is not how science works.  Best would be if Snelling went and handled some of the rocks in location but an entirely acceptable alternative would be to read and respond to the actual published study.  AofR also notes that Snelling appears unaware of the Clovis people that lived in North America, including the USA and are known for their stone tools.
Evoanth (not sure what this is a shortform of) notes this part of the Mortenson's rebuttal:
...these [artifacts] are mainly gravels transported and deposited by moving water. In the process they were rounded or shattered to varying degrees . . . In any case, they are not all artifacts (“stone-age” tools) scattered over this vast area. In fact, it is highly questionable if any but a few of them are.
Evoanth responds:
Stop the presses everyone. Stones can break naturally. This is something now archaeologist had ever realised! It changes everything.
Oh wait, yes they had. Scientists are fully aware that rocks can break naturally (such rocks are called geofacts) and have a whole raft of techniques for telling them apart from actual artifacts. 
Evoanth then gives a list of four such techniques that you will have to visit the site to learn for yourself.
I have a really trivial example to post here.  Two, I guess.  First, in an animal behavior class in university, I studied bees that lived under a layer of glass.  The hive was basically two-dimensional except for bees climbing over each other.  There were no extra combs out of sight.  When I started my research, all I saw was a lot of bees moving aimlessly.   After twenty minutes, I saw my first waggle dance.  I noticed more waggle dances as time went on until I saw that there was one or more every minute.  My classmates and I would impress passers-by with, "Look, right there, a waggle dance..... There's another." And the spectator would see them but not be able to find any more until we pointed them out.
Second, and far more trivial.  I lived and worked near lakes and on boats throughout my childhood.  While painting a cottage near the water, a coworker asked me about a high-pitched hum he heard.  Without hesitation, I told him it was the whine of hydraulics in an Inboard/outboard boat motor.  He looked out and saw one just leaving its berth and the propeller mechanism was being lowered to cruising position.

I don't want to pretend to be an expert in any field but I do have sympathy for actual experts whose results are ignored or ridiculed with no real basis.  Rocks that break through chance have different characteristics than ones that are repeatedly smashed in one orientation. A geologist like Snelling might have the necessary background but he would do better to explain why the stones look more like ones washed along by a river than hand knapped into shape.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

What is consciousness?

TL;DR:   Nobody really knows.

For a little more detail, there is an interesting article on research done at San Francisco State University.   Here is a big excerpt:
Consciousness, per Morsella's theory, is more reflexive and less purposeful than conventional wisdom would dictate. Because the human mind experiences its own consciousness as sifting through urges, thoughts, feelings and physical actions, people understand their consciousness to be in control of these myriad impulses. But in reality, Morsella argues, consciousness does the same simple task over and over, giving the impression that it is doing more than it actually is.
"We have long thought consciousness solved problems and had many moving parts, but it's much more basic and static," Morsella said. "This theory is very counterintuitive. It goes against our everyday way of thinking."
According to Morsella's framework, the "free will" that people typically attribute to their conscious mind -- the idea that our consciousness, as a “decider,” guides us to a course of action -- does not exist. Instead, consciousness only relays information to control "voluntary" action, or goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system.
I enjoyed Sleights of Mind, a book on how magicians perform illusions and how we trick ourselves.  It touches on similar subject matter.

The study of consciousness relates to evolution and religion in what our minds actually are. Is the mind part of an incorporeal spirit or entirely a product of the brain.  I think Morsella's research supports the latter concept.  Some background at Wikipedia.
Added Sept 29, 2015:
BBC on Blindsight and consciousness.
Picking apart the experience may also reveal further clues about the power of unconscious mind. To understand how, imagine that you are part of a strange puppet show. You have been blindfolded, and your limbs are tied to invisible strings. Every so often, they are tugged here or there by a hidden puppet master, leading you through a complicated dance. To the audience, it looks like you are in full control of your actions, but you don’t have the foggiest idea of what you’ve just done.
The non-conscious mind acts as the puppet master, pulling the strings without their knowledge
That puppet show is essentially what happens when someone with blindsight navigates their way past obstacles – with the non-conscious mind acting as the puppet master. “It shows that awareness isn’t the whole story,” says Tamietto. “Very often we believe we have decided something, but our brain has made the decision for us before that – in many ways, and in many contexts.”

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Fossil evidence

In a previous post, I wrote about what evidence we should expect to find and whether gaps in the evidence were deal-breakers.  in brief, I tried to show there are places where we shouldn’t expect a lot of evidence (Smaller plants and animals are generally less likely to fossilize, as are soft bodied plants and animals.  Soft body parts, such as organs are less likely to fossilize.  Chemical traces are similarly fragile and their lack does not mean they never existed).  This isn’t to mean that there is no evidence for evolution or that we should accept evolution, or any scientific theory, on bad evidence.  Only that pointing out a lack of evidence in one area does not mean other similar areas are also lacking.

Here’s an example.  I personally don’t know what transitional fossils there are between dinosaurs and mammals.  Similarly, I don’t know what early carnivore might have transitioned into canines, felines and mustelids (the group containing weasels, otters, wolverines and more).  Partly, this may be due to my own ignorance as I have not dug into evidence or fossils in these areas.  On the other hand, there is excellent, finely graduated evidence for transitions between fish and amphibians. There are good transitionals between an ancient land mammal and whales.  There are so many fossils showing a transition from dinosaurs to birds that I personally don’t know which ones best show bird ancestors.

I blamed my own ignorance above but I also see ignorant people on Twitter claim there is no evidence for fish to amphibians.  I wish they would investigate where they lack knowledge before proclaiming it wildly to make a claim.  I have admitted my own ignorance above but not as a claim or to promote a conclusion.

Alright, to the evidence!

1: Fossils

First, it should be noted that fossils are found in assemblages that support an ancient Earth and evolution over a long period.  There are (very few) fossils of soft bodied organisms that pre-date the Cambrian Explosion.  In 2014, in the Cambrian fossil beds, a vertebrate fish was found, the Metaspriggina. This early fish was jawless.  Another, similar fish existed: Haikouichthys. The Pikaia, a chordate, also lived during the Cambrian.

I have heard and read the claim that all phyla were present during the Cambrian so they must have been created.  Again, there are fossils older than the Cambrian era and a phylum is a big group.  I have given examples of a chordate and two vertebrate fish but there are no jawed fishes, no amphibians, no reptiles, no birds, dinosaurs, mammals, crocodiles, or turtles.  Sharks don’t have bones the way other vertebrates do so I am uncertain on this point, but I believe there are no examples of them, either.

So, we have a period of sealife only, a period where, among vertebrates, only amphibians existed.  A period of dinosaurs, a period of giant mammals, then a period, continuing now, with humans.  There are animal groups that bridge some of these eras - sharks, turtles and crocodiles existed with and even before dinosaurs- but the groups I first named are discrete.  In one group of fossils, there are no land vertebrates.  In another group, there are dinosaurs but no large mammals or people.
We don’t need to stick to vertebrates.  Another famous group of animals that existed at one point and not with animals of other periods are the Ammonoidea.

The evidence I have given is, I would say, weakly supportive of evolution.  This is a broad strokes, a long distance look, at the evidence and at this scale we can only say that a primitive group of fish existed, then more advanced fish, then amphibians, then other terrestrial vertebrates.

While it offers only weak support to evolution, it seems, ah, the first nail in the creationist coffin.  Comparing the broad strokes of the fossil record to the creationist claim that all creatures were created in one week and that specimens of all such species died in a single year during the flood shows great conflict.

I’m describing it thus to emphasize the difference between support for one explanation with conflict for another.  If a piece of evidence appeared that conflicted with evolutionary accounts, that would not mean that creationism must then be correct.  On this blog I primarily deal with Biblical Young Earth Creationists, but Hindus have their own creation beliefs as do other religions and there are probably other propositions as well.

Transitional Fossils

What is a transitional fossil?
It is:
  • A snapshot of the existence of a single individual of a population
  • It has features of two distinct groups
  • Almost entirely lacking in organic molecules.
  • Without DNA, it is impossible to say if it is the direct ancestor or not (a grandfather or a great-uncle)
  • What they show is that a transition from group to group is possible .

In finding one, or a few, specimens, much can be determined of how the creature ate and lived, but not the range of its species’ survival.  Statistically, a fossil is likely to be made when the species is at peak population and geographic spread.  But when did the first individual of this group appear?  When did the last go extinct?  We can’t know.  This means that the fossil Archaeopteryxs, which are found later in the geological records than true birds appear, might still be the ancestor to true birds.  To my knowledge, scientists do not think so but the placement of the fossils is not definitive.   Archaeo has feathers but also a long bony tail and teeth.  there are other features which belong to one group or the other but are a little technical for me. Since Archaeo, many dinosaurs have been found with feathers.  Yet another new feathered dinosaur was recently found.

Some fossils do contain some organic molecules but these have so far been too degraded to run any tests suitable for identification or DNA comparison.

To be completely fair, transitional fossils do not mean that creatures must have transitioned from one species to another, but only that it is possible. Many creationists plaintively ask, "What good are feathers on an animal that can't fly?" From Creationtoday:
Reptiles have four legs, while birds have two legs and two wings. If the front legs turned into wings, the evolutionist has to believe that somewhere in the evolutionary spectrum they had to be half-leg, half-wing. This means, during that time, the creature couldn’t run or fly, and had a serious survival problem.
In this post, I am discussing evidence here, not arguing against specific claims, but briefly: Dinosaurs are not reptiles, many dinosaurs move on two legs.  One of the most famous dinosaurs has tiny, nearly uselessly small arms (T rex) which might be good evidence for evolution on its own.  There are lots of birds that have wings and run well but cannot fly.

Dr Kevin Padian, at the famed Dover Intelligent Design Trial, displayed some remarkable presentation slides on bird evolution that even show how the feathers evolved. His other slides are at the same site and show more transitions. The Fish to Amphibian transitional series is wonderful at least partially due to a creationist joke.
Creationist: There is a huge gap between A and Z.Evolutionist:  We found fossilized M.Creationist: There are now two big gaps.Evolutionist: We found fossilized F.Creationist: There are now three big gaps.
Padian’s slides show a full five or more transitional fossils between fish and amphibians.  Around the time of the trial, a new fossil was found, Tiktaalik, which filled in even more of the space between fish and amphibians.

Just last year, researchers raised a group of Senegal fish, bichirs, out of the water to see how they would adapt.  They already possessed gills and lungs and learned better how to walk and wriggle around out of water.

I should have a post on DNA evidence for evolution soon.

A first look at evolutionary morality

A common creationist argument against evolution is the existence of morality.  How and why do we use the terms good, evil, right, wrong, bad?

This video has the start of an answer.  I have elsewhere used a similar argument -without Dawkins' eloquence or the neat animations - and am glad to see it so clearly described.

As I see this, I think:

As a population, humans are comfortable with or capable of carrying perhaps 5% cheaters.  In the example above, if one person cheats once in a while, s/he gets a great benefit but no one suffers much of a loss.  Losing one fish a month isn't that bad.

This does explain how many people (I think nearly all) will cheat or steal in rare instances but few do so most of the time.

It doesn't really explain how we feel or experience good, evil or conscience.  In my opinion, this is an unconscious psychological effect.  Just as women are said to be attracted to different types of men depending on their menstrual cycle but not be aware of their change in judgement; just as apparently rational men and women irrationally treat tokens as less valuable than money ( see Dan Ariely on Youtube or his books.  The talk I haven't had time to find was one about casinos using tokens as guests don't attach the same significance to them.) despite their equivalent value, people feel pangs of conscience as a result of worry or nervousness.

I want to explore this further but this is where I am heading.