Jurassic beaver

Say hello to Castorocauda lutrasimilis, a primitive mammalioform from the middle Jurassic—164 million years ago. Despite its great age, it has evidence of fur and guard hairs still preserved in the fossil, and was rather large for its time. It’s estimated to have weighed about 500g (about a pound) and was over 400mm (over a foot) long in life, and as you can see from the reconstruction, shows signs of being aquatic. In size and lifestyle, it probably resembled the modern platypus.


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Minnesota Creation Science Fair

Scale Model of a section of the Ark by Russ McGlenn

I blew it off again this year: I just don’t have a strong enough stomach for it. Every year, the Twin Cities Creation Science Association sponsors a science fair, and I tell myself I ought to go see it, but I know what to expect, and I just can’t bring myself to see a bunch of kids getting intellectually abused.

It’s pretty much like any other science fair, which means that 90% of it is utter dreck that kids have done because it was required of them, and 10% is real enthusiasm and an honest appreciation of good but simple science. The TCCSA science fair is a lot like ordinary science fairs, and plainly borrows heavily from the usual rules of science fairs, but it has a few differences.

Every exhibit is required to display a Bible verse.

The exhibits have an unusual goal:

Five things to remember:
1. Know your material.
2. Be Confident.
3. Communicate well.
4. Be thorough.
5. Pray your exhibit will witness to non-Christian visitors.

That is one of our main goals at the Science Fair.

Their questions are peculiar, and unfortunately, they have to lie about what evolutionary biologists do.

Evolutionists ask this question:
How can I prove that evolution is true (and God does not exist). This may not be stated in this way, but is inferred by their writings. Darwin and others have said that if evolution is true, there is no need for God.

Creation scientists need to ask this question:
What can I learn about myself, God, and God’s plan for the universe as I study His creation today. I believe true science is a way to learn more about God and ourselves. It is a living class room in which God is the Instructor and we the students. Jesus used common things in nature to illustrate his principles as he taught.

There is a list of suggested research topics that range from the trivial and inane, to reasonable science fair topics, to ludicrous religious babble:

3. Make a computer model of the Flood currents.
4. Statistical occurrence of giants, and midgets and dwarfs and giantism. Use Princess Flo, Goliath, and brothers. [Calling Jim Pinkoski!]
6. Build and run studies on a strata forming wave tank. This would confirm or disprove strata are all laid down at the same time. See http://www.icr.org/newsletters/impact/impactoct00.html and video tape Evidences: The Record & the Flood from Geoscience Research .
12. Trilobites prove Noah’s flood because they are curled up or not?
13. Do Lilydale closed clam fossils support a world wide flood? Collect 100 shells and compare.
35. Why does the Bible say there is one glory of the sun, one glory of the moon, and one glory of the stars?
52. What was the weather like before the Flood?
53. Were all the animals friendly to man before the Flood? Idea: raise several baby animals like snake and mouse together to see if they remain friends as they are older.
54. Why do they live longer before the Flood?
56. Why do plants and insects die in the Fall?
58. Why did God create the moon to control the tides?
72. What is God made of?
80. Why did God make pests like bugs and mosquitoes?
92. Why do some animals lay eggs and others bare babies alive? Why did God do it this way?
97. Why did God make birds to fly?
98. Were dinosaurs alive at the same time as humans?
102.Why do we have pimples? Did God goof?
103.Where was the Garden of Eden? Is it around today?
105.What are aliens and are there really any in our world? see Lamentations 5:2, Eph 2:12, Heb 11:34.
112. What is the difference between cold and warm blooded? Why did God do it this way?

There are photos of this year’s fair online. Browsing through them, I don’t see any sign of the kind of idiocy espoused above, and in fact it looks most ordinary: a mob of cute kids, and some goofy posters, some promising. It’s just too bad it’s all warped and run by a bunch of dingbats.

The Ruse-Dennett feud

You may have heard that Michael Ruse has been caught out of school, sharing a private spat between himself and Daniel Dennett with the William Dembski. This isn’t too terribly surprising—Ruse’s reputation has been spiralling downwards rather rapidly, what with all his sucking up to the Intelligent Design crowd in recent years, and I’m half-expecting any day now to hear that he’s become a creationist. In his waning years he’ll be able to replace the legitimate respect of scientists, which he’s been working hard to flush down the sewer, with the fawning and lucrative love of creationists.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Dennett, and I don’t think I even own a copy of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea any more. While I disagree vigorously with many of his ideas about evolution, I think he comes off better in this exchange than Ruse, who spends a lot of time whining about those damned mean atheists.
Jason hits exactly the right note in responding to that, I think.

Now, I happen to share Dennett’s and Dawkins’ contemptuos attitude towards Christianity, but that’s not the part I want to comment on. Rather, I want to challenge this idea that the atheism of Dawkins and Dennett hurts the cause of promoting quality science education.

This assertion is frequently made but it is never backed up with anything. Is it really true that the strident atheism of people like Dennett and Dawkins negatively influences the way people look at evolution? If that’s true, it certainly paints a bleak picture of many religious people. If I argued that I would be symapthetic to evolution, except that I see people like Ken Miller, John Haught and Simon Conway Morris drawing theistic conclusions from it, I don’t think Ruse would show me much respect. After all, evolution should sink or swim on the basis of the relevant evidence. If that evidence is strong, it should not matter what Dawkins or Dennett (or Haught or Miller or Morris) thinks.

Arguing that strident atheism hurts the cause is remarkably condescending towards religious people. It’s saying that they are too emotional to understand and think seriously about the evidence. It’s saying that those people can’t be expected to provide an honest assessment of the evidence because mean old Richard Dawkins made a snide remark about their religious views.

When I encounter people like Ken Miller or Simon Conway Morris I say simply that they are right about the science but wrong about the metaphysical stuff. Why can’t religious people be expected to have the same reaction towards Dawkins and Dennett?

Bravo. Ruse is echoing a common tendency, the habit of trying to hide away the atheists on the side of evolution—it’s also represented by that common adjective, “strident”. You can’t be a plain-spoken advocate for common sense and the avoidance of absurd superstitions, no matter how hallowed by time and tradition, without getting called “strident”, “dogmatic”, and “fundamentalist” over and over again, as well as being told, in more or less these words, to sit down and shut up and quit scaring away the rubes…while every scientist who makes room in his head for a little credulity towards ancient myths is treated as a special gift to the cause of reason. It’s extraordinarily irritating. Can we get a little consistency, please?

We need more atheists speaking out—that’s how we’re going to get people used to the fact that we exist. The fact that we are content to work with the religious, while many of the religious will not reciprocate that tolerance and even some of our fellow scientists want to hide us away, is a good example of who is holding the moral high ground here, and Ruse’s condemnation is yet another reason why I don’t hold much respect for the guy.