Creationist hijinks in the news

After a week long hiatus, the Hovind trial continues in Florida. This week, we learn about the virtues of Christian charity.

Hovind, a tax protester, makes a substantial amount of money. But he believes he and his employees work for God, are paid by God and, therefore, aren’t subject to taxation.

Schneider testified this morning that Jo Hovind requested financial help for her bills from Baptist Health Care, claiming that she had no income.

Schneider also said the Hovinds wrote checks to their children from their Christian Science Evangelism account. They also withdrew money from that account for cashier’s checks.

On one day, a $9,000 check was withdrawn for their son, Eric. That same day, another $9,000 check was withdrawn for Eric’s wife, Tanya.

So they’re raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, they just bunny-hop down to the bank and withdraw sub-$10,000 chunks of cash at will, and they have to beg Baptist Health Care for financial assistance? There must be a few poor Baptists somewhere who are struggling to meet their medical bills who are outraged about that.

Meanwhile, we can’t forget that other infamous creationist, Ken Ham. He isn’t in financial trouble (far from it; I suspect he’s doing research on squeezing camels through needle eyes right now), but he’s facing another, somewhat less critical problem to his fleecing-the-rubes operation: Lucy is coming to town.

Associated Press news reports announcing Lucy’s visit state as fact that the fossilized remains are between three and four million years old and that “debate” still rages about how close an ancestor to man Lucy would be. But Ken Ham, president of the biblical creationist group Answers in Genesis, says those reports are only the beginning of Lucy’s anti-creationism tour.

“When I see that they’re bringing the most famous of the supposed ‘human ancestor’ fossils to America, and they’re going to feature it across America, I can see this is a big push for evolution,” Ham observes.

Oh, no! How dare those wicked evilutionists confont Americans with <oooh!> EVIDENCE <gasp>!! I can see how he’d be unhappy that our museums would be confronting creationist lies with the actual data—showing the evidence is making a “big push for evolution”.

Awww, Mike S. Adams noticed me!

Mike Adams latest column is all about his UMM visit…although, actually, it’s more of a whine about me.

Dr. P.Z. Myer did, in fact, make my talk Thursday night and something very strange happened: He, too, experienced a sudden and dramatic change in his level of courage during the course of the speech.

During the question and answer session, Professor Myer simply leaned against a door post with his arms crossed and said nothing. He just stared at me blankly and stood motionless in the same place where he was standing for the last twenty minutes of the speech. During the “Q & A”, I looked directly at him and asked “Are there any other questions?”

He looked directly at me? How was I supposed to tell? He is correct that there was a big crowd there, and a spillover into the hallway. I arrived late, and there were 3 or 4 people in front of me before the entrance…as they trickled away at the end, I worked my way farther forward. I only got as far as the door by the halfway point in the Q&A.

I’d be flattered that he noticed my presence if he weren’t such a pathetic gomer.

More important than what the video will show is what it will not show. Specifically, there will be no image of Dr. Myer mustering the courage to ask a question of Dr. Adams. Instead, he simply cowered away, and then ran back to his home computer in order to blog a fictitious account of a wonderful event &mdash; probably while sitting in his pajamas.

But it is a shame that Dr. Myer lacked the courage to ask me a single question. I certainly had a couple to ask of him. And I’ll bet the audience would have liked to hear him explain how an evolutionist who deems the universe to be accidental can be so full of moral superiority. Or perhaps how the accidental moralist can be an atheist and yet so angry at God.

It takes courage for a man to admit that he is sometimes afraid. But that courage is not a gift of random mutation. It is a gift from a God who loves even the most hardened atheist.

“Cowered away”? Or stood (apparently, prominently) at the door listening?

It wasn’t a lack of courage, I have to say. I have a personal policy at these sorts of talks of always giving the students first crack at speakers, no matter whether I approve of them or not. I’ve been at events where a professor and a speaker get into a little dialog at the end, and entertaining as it might be, it’s not as instructive as getting the students involved. While the students were readily raising their hands, even if they were college Republicans, I wasn’t going to interrupt. And the questions were still coming fast when the organizer peremptorily ended the session.

Since he had questions for me, I suppose he could have asked them directly, since he seems to have noticed me there; I think he’d reply rightly that he wouldn’t do that as long as he was getting questions from his audience. In this column, he could have replied to my complaints about the unlikelihood of his stories—a guy who claims he converted to being a far right wing Republican because of his revulsion at the unprincipled abuses of their immense power by feminists has some explainin’ to do—but whining that I didn’t ask a question at his talk is mighty feeble stuff.

And speaking of courage—complaining on the web about a criticism while not giving a link and misspelling the critic’s name, let alone neglecting to address any of the points, is at best discourteous, and more likely a reluctance to let his happy audience of cheerleaders actually see the substance of the complaints.

But here’s a deal. Since Dr. Mike S. Adams is such an avid proponent of seeing alternative points of view expressed on college campuses, and since he has so much clout at the UNC as a beloved professor, he can always get one of the campus organizations there to invite me out to his university (I expect the same honorarium he got here, of course) to give a talk on evolution and creationism, and then he can ask me his questions. I’ll even make sure to keep a seat in the front row open for him.

His readers apparently are smart enough to figure out my email address despite Adams’ coy misdirection. I’ve got lots of messages calling me a “liberal pussy” this morning—why are they calling me that which Mike S. Adams fears the most?

Carroll steps up to the plate…

The physicist Sean Carroll takes on Eagleton, and also makes a few comments on The God Delusion—key point, I think: Dawkins took on too many issues at once in the book, and opened himself up to criticisms on the weaker parts that are used to dismiss the stronger parts. I agree.

Most of the discussion takes up a weakness in theology, and it parallels the weakness in Dawkins’ book: the confusion between different concepts of this god-thingie. Theologians play that one like a harp, though, turning it into a useful strategem. Toss the attractive, personal, loving or vengeful anthropomorphic tribal god to the hoi-polloi to keep them happy, no matter how ridiculous the idea is and how quickly it fails on casual inspection, while holding the abstract, useless, lofty god in reserve to lob at the uppity atheists when they dare to raise questions. When we complain that the god literally described in the Old Testament is awfully petty and hey, doesn’t this business of a trinity and an immortal god being born as a human and dying (sorta) sound silly, they can just retort that our theology is so unsophisticated—Christians don’t really believe in that stuff.

It gets annoying. We need two names for these two concepts, I think. How about just plain “God” for the personal, loving, being that most Christians believe in, and “Oom” for the bloodless, fuzzy, impersonal abstraction of the theologians? Not that the theologians will ever go along with it—the last thing they want made obvious is the fact that they’re studying a completely different god from the creature most of the culture is worshipping.

Gum disintegration syndrome

Here’s a weird and trivial phenomenon to consider: gum disintegration syndrome.

I’m not much of a gum-chewer, and never have been…but I remember gum from when I was a kid, and you could chew and chew and maintain a flavorless wad for a long time. Recently, I thought I’d try gum as an appetite suppressant, and I got some of the sugarless stuff. To my surprise, I’d chew on it for a few minutes, and shortly I’d feel it losing its texture and getting runny, and then it would dissolve into small fragments that I’d just swallow. I thought it was those dang cheap confectionery companies, that the formulas for gum base had changed since I was a kid, or maybe it was the sugarless kind that was just different. I tried a couple of different brands—same result. I would have abandoned it there and chalked it up to yet another example of the evils of creeping capitalism and Things Were Better in the Good Old Days, but I mentioned it to my wife, who thought I was nuts. She’s been dipping into my gum, and noticed no difference—it lasts as long as she wants to chew it.

Weird. My wife sent me this Straight Dope article on it, but it’s not very helpful. There’s some speculation that it’s a result of secretions during arousal (unlikely in my case; I can be reading, or driving the car, and it happens…unless perhaps I have a remarkable libido) or temperature (I tried taking the gum out every once in a while to cool, but no difference, it still breaks down. Besides, my body temperature isn’t unusual enough that my doctor has noticed.) At this point it’s simply a mystery. Maybe I’ve acquired some novel new digestive enzymes, but I don’t think I’ve been in any teleporter accidents—if I graduate from dissolving Wrigley’s to novel ways of eating donuts, I’ll let you know.

I’m not concerned about it*—maybe it’s just as well this is a vice I won’t be pursuing—but now I’m curious. Anyone else have the power to reduce gum to soup? Does it only happen in moments of passion? Details!

*Although…if everyone gets a mutant superpower in their life, and mine is the ability to digest gum instead of acquiring laser eyeballs or telepathy or super-regeneration, I’m going to feel ripped off.

A Devonian lamprey, Priscomyzon

Reconstruction of Priscomyzon in dorsal (top) and left lateral (bottom) views. b, Macropthalmia stage of Lampetra showing anterior location of orbit and smaller oral disc, both positioned in front of the branchial region. The total length of the specimen is 116 mm. Drawings in a and b are scaled to show equivalent head lengths: from anterior limit of the oral disc to rear of the branchial region. Horizontal bars indicate the anterior–posterior span of the oral disc in each species.

The life of a parasite must be a good one, and often successful; the creature at the top of the drawing above is a primitive lamprey from the Devonian, 360 million years ago, and the similarities with the modern lamprey (at the bottom) are amazing. It’s less eel-like and more tadpole-like than modern forms, but it has the same disc-shaped mouth specialized for latching on to the flank of its host, it has similar circumoral teeth for rasping through scales and skin for its blood meal, the same pharyngeal adaptations for a life spent clamped to a fish.

I’ve put a photo of the fossil and a cladogram below the fold.

[Read more…]

Mysterious marine whatsis


Strange things are found in the sea, like this mysterious gelatinous blob bobbing about in the Norwegian fjords.

On Oct. 1 Rudolf and his brother Erling were diving when he spotted the unusual object.

“It was 50-70 centimeters (19.5-27.5 inches) in diameter and looked like a huge beach ball. It was transparent but had a kind of thick, red cord in the middle. It was a bit science-fiction,” Svensen told newspaper Bergens Tidende’s web site.

It’s something cool: a large squid egg sac. Mmmmm…two-foot diameter ball of squid eggs.