William Crenshaw and Erskine College

I think I like this guy.

Science is the litmus test on the validity of the educational enterprise. If a school teaches real science, it’s a pretty safe bet that all other departments are sound. If it teaches bogus science, everything else is suspect…. I want a real college, not one that rejects facts, knowledge, and understanding because they conflict with a narrow religious belief. Any college that lets theology trump fact is not a college; it is an institution of indoctrination. It teaches lies. Colleges do not teach lies. Period.

That’s from William Crenshaw, who was an English professor at Erskine College. “Was”…no more. He’s been fired.

It turns out Erskine College is the Institution of Indoctrination for some fringe sect called the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, which I find hilarious. It’s some dinky, smug, pretentious religious group that thinks their peculiar dogma dictates the laws of the universe. One of their big issues is that Crenshaw doesn’t think science ought to bow down before biblical literalism.

The conservative element has apparently been lobbying to give him the boot for years, and they’re celebrating now.

The ARP Talk blog called Crenshaw’s comments on science evidence that he is “functionally an atheist who, in his rabid, secular fundamentalism, preaches his views with as much vigor and determination as an old-time Methodist revivalist of 100 years ago.” The blog added that Crenshaw was “an evangelist of infidelity” and said that he encourages students to question faith with “his secular brain-dribble.”

I like him even more.

The school and the troglodyte alumni wanted him out because they claim he was “disloyal” and “discouraged potential students from enrolling at Erskine.” The ironic thing is that the actions of the college to muzzle faculty are a better reason to discourage students from attending Erskine.

Not that it’ll matter much, because I suspect most of their enrollment comes from Mommy and Daddy DumbThugChristian telling their kids that they have to go to Erskine, but I’ll chime in: you’re nuts if you go to Erskine. Pick a better school. If you’re already at Erskine College, TRANSFER. It’s not too late to get a degree with a name on it that won’t be quite so embarrassing.

(Also on FtB)

Unclear on the concept

Fox News carried out a phone survey to find out what people thought of god and science. Here are the results:

Which do you think is more likely to actually be the explanation for the origin of human life on Earth:

The theory of evolution as outlined by Darwin and other scientists 21%
The Biblical account of creation as told in the Bible, 45%
or Are both true? 27%
(Don’t know) 7%

It’s nothing at all surprising; a little less than half the American population typically answers these sorts of questions with dumb piety. The fact that a quarter are trying to claim compatibility is a little weird, but otherwise, whoop-de-do.

Ken Ham has commented on the results.

I’m sure many of you saw this poll. If it accurately represents the population in the USA, then why is evolution taught as fact in schools? Why do secularists have so much control over what is taught? I think there are a number of reasons and will comment later–but thought you would be interested to read this.

Somebody is unclear on the concept. Science is not determined by public opinion, and you don’t settle it by running a poll. Shall we vote on math, chemistry, physics, psychology, history, literature, and Spanish, too?

(Also on FtB)

Creationism evolves by jerks

I think one thing Razib says is exactly right:

One of the most interesting things to me is the nature of Creationism as an idea which evolves in a rather protean fashion in reaction to the broader cultural selection pressures.

Creationism has evolved significantly, but it’s not exactly protean: it’s punctuated equilibrium. If we had a time machine and could bring a typical creationist who came to age after Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood face-to-face with a pre-Scopes trial creationist, there would be a fabulously ferocious fight, because their theology and their basic beliefs would be so radically different. They do change in response to the environment, but reluctantly and not without a lot of hysteresis.

I’d say there were four major shifts in the last century.

  • The Scopes trial, 1925. Even though the creationists nominally won this case, it was a public relations disaster for them: this was the polarizing event that split the country into the righteous rubes and the smug scientists.

  • The Genesis Flood, 1961. The creationists struck back with this popular book of pseudoscience, in which miscellaneous myths drawn from sources such as the Seventh Day Adventists were laundered and whitewashed and propped up with sciencey talk, in addition to religious justifications. You want to understand modern creationists? Read this. It’s the new dogma, and it’s what Ken Ham and Kent Hovind preach.

  • McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 1982. This was a major defeat for the creationists, and provoked a new change in tactics: skulking. They realized they couldn’t be quite so brazen in the courtroom anymore, and so began an era in which they’d claim the mantle of science more and more. They were still making the Genesis Flood arguments, but they’d hide away the Bible references.

  • Intelligent Design creationism, 1990. One could argue that this is just more post-McLean shifting, but the Discovery Institute, Bill Dembski, and Michael Behe did greatly influence the rhetoric. “Specified complexity,” “irreducible complexity,” and “teach the controversy” became the new catch phrases.

Where I disagree with Razib, though, is in his impression of eloquence in this clip of Richard Land defending creationism. Maybe it’s because I’m so familiar with this stuff, but I was completely unimpressed: he may have spoken confidently, but the impression of fluidity is false, because that was a rote recital of done-to-death creationist talking points. It was Duane Gish spiced with a superficial seasoning of Michael Behe, a lot of 1961 mixed with a bit of glib 1990s, and rather than supporting the idea of a flexible creationism that evolves in response to cultural pressures, that was a beautiful example of stasis.

Here are Land’s arguments distilled down:

  • “significant majority of Americans don’t believe [in evolution]”. Slightly less than half, actually, but I think it was a fair point in defense of Rick Perry’s denial of evolution as a pragmatic political move. But still, it’s part of an ancient and fallacious argumentum ad populum. That uninformed people believe in something doesn’t make it true.

  • “I believe in evolution within species, don’t believe in Darwinian theory of origins.” This is extremely standard creationist tripe, I’ve been hearing it for ages. Modern creationists blithely accept a kind of hyperevolution within “kinds” and erect imaginary boundaries to delimit it. You’ll hear this story in Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum”, for instance. It ignores the fact of molecular evidence linking whole phyla together.

  • “It takes far more faith to believe nothing became something than to believe in a Creator.” Tired. Old. Boring. Yeah, I’m supposed to find it easier to believe in a magic invisible superman that I’ve never seen than to believe in natural forces that I see in operation every day.

  • “irreducible complexity.” This has become a stock phrase reduced to meaninglessness — it sounds impressive, though! These are the creationists’ new magic words. I suspect that Land doesn’t really understand the concept, let alone that it has been refuted.

  • “Single celled organisms that Darwin could not know about because those microscopes hadn’t been invented yet.” Oh, please. Microscopes had achieved the theoretical limit of resolution (the Rayleigh limit) in the 19th century. Darwin had microscopes that were just as powerful as the high-end scope sitting on my lab bench today, although he wouldn’t have had the range of contrast-generation techniques we now enjoy. Darwin wrote papers about microorganisms.

I would grant Razib the point that creationists do know how to lie boldly, which allows them to sail through unchallenged in many situations. The clip is a good example: it’s from a bloggingheads dialog with Amy Sullivan, that apologist for liberal Christianity, who looks on like a stunned fish while Land regurgitates creationist tropes, and then ignores all the wrongness to move on to a completely different point.

I think that’s another source of the impression of eloquence: too often, creationists are paired with incompetent or unprepared opponents who grant them the privilege of lying smoothly. If Sullivan had a bit of wit or even a tiny bit of knowledge about what Land was saying, he could have been exposed as a dishonest fraud fairly easily. And that would have been entertaining.

(Also on FtB)

Not like a worm?

Ann Coulter is back to whining about evolution again, and this week she focuses on fossils. It’s boring predictable stuff: there are no transitional fossils, she says.

We also ought to find a colossal number of transitional organisms in the fossil record – for example, a squirrel on its way to becoming a bat, or a bear becoming a whale. (Those are actual Darwinian claims.)

Darwin postulated that whales could have evolved from bears, but he was wrong…as we now know because we found a lot of transitional fossils in whale evolution. Carl Zimmer has a summary of recent discoveries, and I wrote up a bit about the molecular genetics of whale evolution. Whales have become one of the best examples of macroevolutionary transitions in the fossil record, all in roughly the last 30 years — which gives us a minimal estimate of how out of date Ann Coulter’s sources are.

But then she writes this, which is not only wrong, but self-refuting.

To explain away the explosion of plants and animals during the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago, Darwiniacs asserted – without evidence – that there must have been soft-bodied creatures evolving like mad before then, but left no fossil record because of their squishy little microscopic bodies.

Then in 1984, “the dog ate our fossils” excuse collapsed, too. In a discovery the New York Times called “among the most spectacular in this century,” Chinese paleontologists discovered fossils just preceding the Cambrian era.

Despite being soft-bodied microscopic creatures – precisely the sort of animal the evolution cult claimed wouldn’t fossilize and therefore deprived them of crucial evidence – it turned out fossilization was not merely possible in the pre-Cambrian era, but positively ideal.

And yet the only thing paleontologists found there were a few worms. For 3 billion years, nothing but bacteria and worms, and then suddenly nearly all the phyla of animal life appeared within a narrow band of 5 million to 10 million years.

It’s so weird to read that: yes, people have been predicting that the precursors to the Cambrian fauna would have been small and soft-bodied (what else would you expect), and that they would be difficult to fossilize…but not impossible, and further, scientists have been out finding these fossils. Somehow this is a refutation of evolution? What we’re seeing is exactly what evolution predicted!

What we have is a good record of small shelly fossils and trace fossils from the pre-Cambrian — before there were fully armored trilobites, there were arthropod-like creatures with partial armor that decayed into scattered small fragments of shell after death, and before that there were entirely soft-bodied, unarmored creatures that left only trackways and burrows. Even in this period Coulter wants to call abrupt, we find evidence of gradual transitions in animal forms.

And then to claim that there is an absence of transitional forms because all that was found were worms! Um, if you take an animal with an armored exoskeleton or bones, and you catch it before the hard skeleton had evolved, exactly what do you think it would look like? Like a worm.

As evolution predicted. As the evidence shows.

I can’t even guess what Ann Coulter was expecting a pre-Cambrian animal to look like. Not like a worm, apparently…but like what?

(Also on FtB)

I’m laughing, but it’s not great medicine

Aww, that’s kind of sweet. The creationists are trying to cheer me up while I’m on my sick bed. How else to interpret these wacky assertions from Austin Casey, a 19 year old student?

Science is fundamentally a search for the truth about the universe, and Perry’s acknowledgement of the holes in evolution theory manifests a much better understanding of science than Huntsman’s faith in scientists.

Cute. No, sorry, Perry doesn’t know anything about evolution, and acknowledging “holes” that don’t exist and denying the existence of processes well supported by the evidence is the antithesis of good science.

Scientific observations are classified into three categories: hypotheses, theories or laws. Hypotheses are the weakest interpretations of evidence, while theories garner more support. Laws are said to be the strongest explanations, but even they aren’t facts.

No, Casey is inventing a hierarchy that doesn’t exist. Which is more significant, Ohm’s Law or cell theory? Hawking’s theory of black holes, or the Hardy-Weinberg law? And hypotheses are a preliminary prediction about something; they aren’t in the same ballpark as theories and laws. A theory is “The grandest synthesis of a large and important body of information about some related group of natural phenomena”, according to Moore (from our intro textbook this year!) A law just refers to a body of observations that can be quanitatively summarized by a short mathematical (or in some cases, verbal) statement. I certainly do think that a law and a theory can be a statement of fact!

Moreover, the theory of evolution comes from one interpretation of available evidence. Contrary to Huntsman’s claim, the Republican Party is proving more scientific because of its legitimate recognition of the gaps in evolution.

To point out one weakness, evolution relies on the assumption that beneficial genetic information has been repeatedly added to genomes throughout the history of the universe. But not even Richard Dawkins, a leading evolutionary biologist from Oxford University, could name a single mutation that has added beneficial information.

Oh, piffle. Of course he can: read his books. Every evolutionary biologist can think of examples, and it’s trivial to find lists on the web. Biologists routinely identify traits with selective advantages.

It is not scientific when the Republican party denies reality.

I’m afraid it didn’t really cheer me up. I still feel icky and it’s no reassurance to know that clowns like Casey are lying in the newspapers.

(Also on FtB)

Darn it, don’t tell me this

I have decided not to ever debate creationists any more. What settled it for me was the awful Jerry Bergman debate: I was deeply embarrassed to be sharing the stage with that raving fruitcake. It was clear that it was not an opportunity for rational discussion, and further, talking with members of the creationist majority afterwards, they were unanimous in their assessment that a) Bergman was an idiot whose clock got thoroughly cleaned, but b) so what? If FavoriteCreationist X had been there, he woulda showed me that evilution was false.

I felt like I was totally wasting my time and doing nothing but boosting Bergman’s reputation. And I decided on the spot that Gould and Dawkins were 100% correct, and debating was a fool’s errand.

But then, dammit, an ex-creationist explains what brought him over to the side of reason: watching debates.

So that’s why I say that we should debate creationists. I think that the majority of creationists simply were like me, uneducated about what evolution really is, blinded by fundamentalist religion that sees evolution as evil and ill-served by a public school system where biology teachers are afraid to teach evolution or don’t even accept it themselves.

Aaarrgh. I will not change my policy on the basis of this one account.

Maybe we should have a debate about whether to have debates…

(Also on FtB)

Sleaze and controversy from the American Freedom Association and Discovery Institute

Two years ago, a California science foundation gave permission to to the American Freedom Alliance (“freedom” is like “family” in these organizations; when you see it, you should be instantly suspicious) to show a movie in their IMAX theater. The film was titled “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record”, and it was an Intelligent Design propaganda piece. This happens fairly often; these sleazy organizations love to present the illusion of being scientific, so they like to rent out halls in museums and universities in order to put on their shows. The physics auditorium on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus is apparently a very popular venue for just that reason. But it does not imply any endorsement of the content of the movie by the venue owner — it’s being rented as a public exhibition space, nothing more.

Unfortunately, in this case the AFA and their co-enablers, the Discovery Institute (Hiss! Spit! Booooo!) did their very best to misrepresent this showing as an endorsement by the California Science Center Foundation. The DI was involved; you know they wanted to stir up controversy, because that’s what they do. And they got it: the foundation cancelled the showing over the false representations of endorsement. So the AFA sued them, again, exactly as the DI wanted.

The lawsuit has now been settled. The AFA and DI have nothing to do but harrass with lawyers, while the foundation has the work of running a legitimate science institution to do, so they settled with an agreement (a rather contrived agreement) that they’d offer to host a movie, the AFA would agree to decline, and that the Foundation’s insurance company would pay the defense’s court cost to spare further litigation. And of course neither side would admit fault.

The AFA and Discovery Institute has violated the agreement, as you’d expect. They’re now bragging about their victory.

“Even though the AFA has no interest in returning to the IMAX theater, they at least feel by being invited back they have been vindicated. The invitation represents a form of apology,” said attorney William J. Becker Jr., who represented the alliance.

The court agreement says there is to be no admission of fault, but the AFA lawyer is claiming the California Science Foundation has apologized to them?

The Discovery Institute and their pet mini-lawyer, Casey Luskin, also declare victory.

“This is an historic victory for the ID movement,” said Casey Luskin, an attorney and policy analyst with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “The First Amendment forbids government preference for one viewpoint over another, yet evidence disclosed in this case shows the CSC, Smithsonian Institution, and LA County Museum of Natural History attempted to stifle dissent from Darwinism. The result was illegal state-sponsored suppression of protected speech.”

Errm, they allowed the AFA to book the IMAX theater to show the movie; the reason they shut it down was that the Discovery Institute lied and misrepresented the position of the science foundation. And then there’s this:

“This is the first free speech case for the ID movement, and its first victory in that field,” said Becker. “This settlement represents an acknowledgement that a state-owned science institution sought to censor an event solely because it related to ID. It’s a vindication for ID, and First Amendment guarantees of free speech.”

There they go again, lying and misrepresenting. The case was dismissed with no admission of fault from either side. It’s not a victory for anyone, other than the lawyers.

You’re better off reading the California Science Center Foundation’s response.

The dispute arose out of unapproved press releases that had been issued relating to a private event that the AFA had intended to hold at the California Science Center’s IMAX Theater. The press releases, for which AFA was responsible, falsely implied that the Foundation or the Science Center were sponsors of the AFA’s event. They were not, and as a result of these false and misleading press releases, the Foundation cancelled the AFA’s event.

The AFA then sued the Foundation and the Science Center for breach of contract and violation of the First Amendment, claiming that the Foundation’s cancellation was based upon the purported content of the AFA’s program. This was not the case, and the evidence demonstrated that the Foundation was right. Indeed, the fact that the Foundation booked the AFA’s event in the first place affirmatively demonstrated the lack of merit to AFA’s argument.

Through discovery, the Foundation also discovered other evidence that undermined AFA’s claims. For instance, although the AFA asserted that the offending press releases were issued by an entirely independent third party (the Discovery Institute), it was uncovered that the AFA and the Discovery Institute actually had been secretly coordinating the publicity efforts and were intentionally trying to make the publicity that led to the cancellation as provocative and controversial as possible. One email among Discovery Institute individuals talked about “letting the jinnie out of the bottle” when “all hell will break lose.” The Foundation was certainly entitled to cancel the AFA’s private event.

There is a lesson to be learned here. It’s not the one the Discovery Institute thinks; this is not vindication for intelligent design (Seriously? This is where they find ‘vindication’, in lawsuits?), nor does it open the door for Intelligent Design creationism advocates to play this game of charades with presenting their movies in scientific venues.

It shows once again that creationists are liars, and that they’re also nasty litigious scumbags who deal in bad faith. If the AFA or the Discovery Institute approached your institution asking to lease an auditorium for a night, call your lawyers right away. Lock down any agreement as tightly as possible, and make it clear and unambiguous that any of the kind of crap they pulled in California will get them shut down. You might also want to consult your insurers right now and ask what can be done to protect you from the kinds of frivolous lawsuits over ‘controversies’ that organizations like the Discovery Institute will gin up in the future.

You might want to think about this prescient comment from Eugenie Scott in 2009:

But another correspondent, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which champions evolution in clashes over which theory should be taught in public schools, urged “NOT asking the museum to cancel the showing of the movie. Really — the story that ‘big science is trying to squelch controversy . . . ‘ is going to be a bigger story and draw more attention to the movie’s showing than the showing itself.”

That’s what these creationist organizations want. In a lot of ways, they’re exactly like the Westboro Baptist Church, thriving on noise and lies.

(Also on FtB)

Someone has taken the Coulter Challenge!

It only took five years. Remember, my Coulter Challenge was for someone to take any of Coulter’s paragraphs about evolution from her book Godless, and cogently defend its accuracy. It’s been surprising how few takers there have been: lots of wingnuts have praised the book and said it is wonderful, but no one has been willing to get specific and actually support any of its direct claims. Until now.

It takes that special combination of arrogance and ignorance to think anything Coulter said is defensible, so I suppose it’s not a huge surprise that our brave foolhardy contestant is Michael Egnor.

After professing his deep and entirely uncritical love of Ann Coulter and everything she has ever said, Egnor chooses the very first paragraph of the first chapter on evolution. He might as well, he thinks she’s “right about everything”.

Liberals’ creation myth is Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is about one notch above Scientology in scientific rigor. It’s a make-believe story, based on a theory that is a tautology, with no proof in the scientist’s laboratory or the fossil record–and that’s after 150 years of very determined looking. We wouldn’t still be talking about it but for the fact that liberals think evolution disproves God.

One thing about my Coulter Challenge is that I specifically wanted just one paragraph, one idea, because the typical creationist tactic is to throw out a hundred cursory accusations in a confused mess, so that the poor scientist has to pick through a curdled puddle of logical vomit to find one addressable nugget…and then, of course, once that’s been shown to be fallacious, the creationist can stand over the incoherent crapola he’s spewed forth and demand that we clean everything up, or he’ll declare victory.

Egnor is no exception. He can’t possibly make a simple point lucidly, but has to throw out a lot of frenzied chum to distract and give him an escape hatch: so he babbles about evolution being a religion, atheists, obnoxious Darwinists, Scientology, falsifiability, yadda yadda yadda. It’s badly written, sloppy thinking, and I give him a D on form alone. Any other people taking the challenge, learn from this: try to write something coherent and on point. I’m asking for a scalpel, and when you yank out the kitchen silverware drawer and turn it upside down making a noisy clatter, you aren’t answering the request.

So I picked through the puke and found one chunk from Egnor that seems relevant to Coulter’s claim, so I’ll address that. I’m going to ignore the rest — it’s all a distraction, in which he wants to suck up my time writing an encyclopedia for him, which he will reject anyway.

The most difficult theoretical hurtle [sic] Darwinism has had to face is not, as some have asserted, the problem of building the New Synthesis from Mendelian genetics and Darwin’s (Lamarckian) theory. The most difficult theoretical hurtle [sic] Darwinists faced is disguising ‘stuff changes and survivors survive’ so that its utter banality isn’t obvious. Neologisms don’t just happen by themselves (unlike life). They need to be created. So Darwinists gave us natural selection, sexual selection, kin selection, group selection, reciprocal altruism, disruptive selection, diversifying selection, selective sweeps, background selection, adaptive radiation, punctuated equilibrium. All Darwinian ‘selections’ reduce to: ‘living things vary heritably and survivors survive’. Of course, ‘survivors survive’ is more precisely: ‘relatively more effective replicators relatively more effectively replicate’, but succinctness is a virtue. The great challenge for Darwinian theorists since the 1860’s has been to make Darwin’s banality/tautology (stuff changes and survivors survive) seem like a scientific theory. Slather on the lipstick. You gotta dress up the banality (and the contradictions) with science-sounding stuff.

Coulter and Egnor have dredged up a hoary old creationist argument, long disposed of, that the definition of natural selection is tautological. It’s not. I could just cite the excellent analyses from John Wilkins and Jason Rosenhouse, but I’ll give it a whirl myself — one thing I know about creationists is they don’t read citations, anyway.

First of all, it is a significant advance to recognize that species are not fixed and do change over time. There was a time when this hypothesis was flatly rejected, and it’s a sign of progress that even the creationists nowadays are forced to recognize evidence of patterns of change in species — they just usually try to impose artificial, unsupported claims of barriers that limit change. This is the fact of evolution: life has changed significantly over long ages, and we are all related to all other forms on earth.

Darwin did not come up with that, though. Darwin’s contribution was an explanation for how that change occurred through differential reproductive success of variants in populations. Egnor has distorted that principle through a fallacious reduction to “survivors survive”. That is not what scientists study. We do not go to a field area for a few years, notice that each generation of birds is the progeny of the living individuals of the previous generation, and declare victory; that would be a tautology. (The alternative, that the birds were spawned by the dead zombie corpses of the failed members of the previous generation, would be rather interesting though. Hasn’t happened yet.)

Let’s fix Egnor’s erroneous reduction. “living things vary heritably and survivors survive” doesn’t reduce to l“survivors survive”. More accurately, it should be “living things vary heritably and better adapted variants survive and increase their frequency in the next generation”. That is not a tautology. We can assess degrees of adaptation to local conditions independently of simple survival.

For example, look to the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant in the Galapagos (hey, look, we even have online exercises in which you can analyze the data!). They examined, for instance, the effects of a major drought on their study island; they did not simply say, “some birds will die, some will live, survivors will survive”, but instead made specific predictions that variants that were better able to exploit difficult or marginal resources in this time of starvation would be better able to survive. And that is what they saw: larger beaked birds that were able to crack the spiny, hard-shelled Tribulus seeds were better able to live through the drought, while the smaller beaked birds that couldn’t eat Tribulus seeds at all died off in large numbers. And in the next generation, what they saw was a genetic and morphological shift in that beaks were on average significantly larger.

“Survivors survive” may be tautological, but “large beaked birds survive” is not.

Neither Coulter nor Egnor seem to have the slightest clue about what evolutionary biologists actually do, and their proud ignorance invalidates what they claim to understand as the subject of study in evolution. Every study of evolution is built around specific hypotheses about mechanisms, not dumb blind counts of nothing but the living and the dead, but measures of differential reproductive success against some detailed parameter of their genetics. All those terms Egnor cluelessly throws around — “natural selection, sexual selection, kin selection, group selection, reciprocal altruism, disruptive selection, diversifying selection, selective sweeps, background selection, adaptive radiation, punctuated equilibrium” — have specific, different meanings, and do not reduce to merely “survival”.

As expected, the outcome of the first Coulter Challenge is that one fool, Coulter, is multiplied into two publicly exposed fools, Coulter and Egnor. I like this game, let’s play some more. Next?

(Also on FtB)

Ham is rich in irony

The LA Times did a story on those wacky Catholic geocentrists who read the Bible and insist that, by a literal interpretation of the words therein, the earth must be at the center of the universe, with everything else rotating about it. They quote verses and everything, so actually, in a very literal sense, they’re right that the Bible does imply a very strange folk physics. But the story had to go further, and got a quote from…Ken Ham.

Ken Ham.

I guess it’s kind of appropriate. You’re doing a story about goofy literalist lunatics, and he is one of the biggest. But still, it seems like there ought to be some recognition that one is digging into a dunghill for weird quotes when you pick up the phone and call Answers in Genesis.

“There’s a big difference between looking at the origin of the planets, the solar system and the universe and looking at presently how they move and how they are interrelated,” Ham said. “The Bible is neither geocentric or heliocentric. It does not give any specific information about the structure of the solar system.”

Ham is usually adamant that one must interpret the Bible literally, word by word, but I guess this is a case that shows he’s actually one of those cafeteria Christians.

If he’s going to bend on this, though, I have to point out that the chapters of Genesis that he relies on for his insistence on a young earth are very brief, contain no detail and vast amounts of ambiguity, and that the Bible is also silent on how species are structured and interrelated. If he insists on using it as a science text to discuss biology, a topic that is not at all emphasized or even properly described in the book, I don’t think he can complain at another fringe religious group that decides to use it as an astronomy textbook — they’re both doing exactly the same thing.

(Also on FtB)

Rats emboldened by Rick Perry

So Bryan Fischer came out swinging like a lunkhead, and now Ann Coulter scurries out to try and get in a sucker punch. Neither are very effective.

Roughly one-third of my 2006 No. 1 New York Times best-seller, “Godless: The Church of Liberalism,” is an attack on liberals’ creation myth, Darwinian evolution. I presented the arguments of all the luminaries in the field, from the retarded Richard Dawkins to the brilliant Francis Crick, and disputed them.

But apparently liberals didn’t want to argue back.

I do, I do! I read Godless — it was appallingly bad, packed full of very poor rants made in complete ignorance of the science. I even challenged Coulter fans to pick out their favorite paragraph for me to dissect…and none stepped forward. Maybe there are no Coulter fans. Or maybe they’re smarter than she is.

She’s apparently going to do a series of columns exposing the weaknesses of evolution. This week, she holds her banner high for irreducible complexity.

Most devastating for the Darwiniacs were advances in microbiology since Darwin’s time, revealing infinitely complex mechanisms requiring hundreds of parts working together at once — complex cellular structures, DNA, blood-clotting mechanisms, molecules, and the cell’s tiny flagellum and cilium.

“Microbiology”?

“Microbiology”?!?!

It wasn’t microbiologists who worked out the structure of DNA. She apparently believes microbiology is the field that studies itty-bitty little things. It’s so cute to see someone so ignorant sit there and glibly type out such revealing nonsense. I’ve had students do that — it’s a sign that they deserve to fail.

Or how about this?

Thanks to advances in microscopes, thousands of such complex mechanisms have been found since Darwin’s day. He had to explain only simple devices, such as beaks and gills. If Darwin were able to come back today and peer through a modern microscope to see the inner workings of a cell, he would instantly abandon his own theory.

Bwahahahaha! How many of you molecular biologists do all your work by peering into a microscope? Oh, look, did you see that Notch molecule bind to Delta? Hey, there goes the cytoplasmic element, activating a transduction cascade! Do you also use your microscope to read off the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA coiled in the nucleus? Such a silly naif.

Aside from the ignorant gaffes, though, here’s the rotten heart of her argument.

It is a mathematical impossibility, for example, that all 30 to 40 parts of the cell’s flagellum — forget the 200 parts of the cilium! — could all arise at once by random mutation. According to most scientists, such an occurrence is considered even less likely than John Edwards marrying Rielle Hunter, the “ground zero” of the impossible.

Nor would each of the 30 to 40 parts individually make an organism more fit to survive and reproduce, which, you will recall, is the lynchpin of the whole contraption.

No one argues that they all arose instantly in a flash in full functioning order. Oh, wait, there are some who do: the creationists. No legitimate biologist is that stupid. Her claim that the individual components can contribute no incremental benefit is nothing but an assertion from a non-biologist with no knowledge of biology; I recommend Ian Musgrave’s article on the evolution of the flagellum that describes transitional forms and the combination of components involved, as well as refuting the simplistic notions of what a flagellum does that most creationists have.

Dembski has claimed that, as the eubacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex, he can eliminate explanations based on natural law for the origin of the flagellum. This conclusion is wrong for two reasons: (1) Being IC does not eliminate indirect evolutionary explanations, and flagella can evolve from simpler systems through a series of functional intermediates. Further, (2) eubacterial flagella are not the ” outboard motors” that Dembski envisages, but rather organelles that are involved in swimming, gliding motility, attachment, and secretion. They occupy one end of a range of secretion-based motility systems in bacteria of varying complexity, and several existing intermediate stages show how the flagellum could well have arisen by evolution and natural selection.

Coulter has a BA in history and a law degree. She hasn’t even done any research on the biology she’s critiquing; she only parrots creationist sources. Liberals aren’t afraid to argue evolution with her, but instead see her as an unqualified, clueless twit who isn’t even capable of addressing the actual substance of an argument.

(Also on FtB)