Monthly Archives: January 2010

Creationism and the Fossil Record

TO make your weekend complete, we bring you the view from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) — truly the fountainhead of creationist wisdom. They have this new article at their website: The Real Nature of the Fossil Record.

The author is John D. Morris, the new head of ICR. John is the son of ICR’s founder, the legendary Henry M. Morris, regarded as the father of modern “creation science.” It’s fair to say that John is a life-long creationist.

This article is one of the most challenging we’ve ever encountered. Every paragraph — sometimes every sentence — overflows with creationist misunderstandings, distortions, and cognitive disconnects. In addition to those difficulties, it’s a long article. The best we can do is highlight some of the more striking passages, and point out a few of the article’s otherwise notable features. The bold font was added for emphasis. Here we go:

The fossil record leaves an inescapable impression on the honest observer. It certainly doesn’t communicate the macroevolutionary picture. The record of the past written in stone contains no evidence that any particular animal ever morphed into a fundamentally different type of animal. No trend can be found of gradual, Darwinian alteration through mutation and natural selection. These processes occur, but they are not mechanisms for true evolution of basic body styles.

It would require an entire essay to refute that opening paragraph. But we call your attention to the claim that the fossil record “contains no evidence that any particular animal ever morphed into a fundamentally different type of animal.” It’s difficult to know if that statement is due to ignorance, or if it’s intentionally misleading. Of course no “particular animal” ever “morphed” into a different animal. No evolutionary biologist claims otherwise. If Morris doesn’t know this, he’s an ignoramus; and if he does know it, he’s abusing his readers. Let’s go on:

Nor do we see punctuated equilibrium transforming them rapidly. Without a doubt, we see sudden changes in dominant fossil shapes as we ascend the geologic column, but this is not macroevolution.

No? Then what is it?

The species changes touted by punctuated equilibrium that we do see are either common variation of individual offspring, or adaptation of a population to differing conditions.

But isn’t that evidence of evolution? Not to Mr. Morris. We continue:

On the other hand, the fossil record does communicate sudden appearance of basic types, complete with all the features which characterize them. Lots of variety is on display, even at times enough to lead to a new species.

Well, what’s that?

But variety is not evolution. Cats are cats and dogs are dogs and always have been so. There are similarities between them, but no hint of relatedness. Both appear to have been suddenly created to live in similar environments, breathe the same air, eat the same foods, drink the same water, and survive through circulation of similar blood. We should expect similarities. But cats when they reproduce yield kittens, and reproducing dogs have puppies.

You see what we’re dealing with, and we’re not even 20% into Morris’s essay. Here’s more:

The fossil record features stasis as a dominant trend. It does not speak of major changes.

That flatly contradicts what was said earlier. But this is creationism, so let’s not worry about a few contradictions.

There is one major point that we noticed here. Nowhere in his essay does Morris talk about the age of the fossil record, although it certainly seems that he assumes a chronological progression of fossils. If you were to read the entire piece, you wouldn’t know that it was written by the head of a young-earth creationist outfit. This is strange, but we doubt that it signals a change in ICR’s basic outlook. They’ll be back in later essays talking about six days of creation and a world that’s only 6,000 years old. Moving along:

Each plant or animal alive today exhibits amazing complexity at the start. Each of its body parts is precisely designed to perform its function, and all work together for the good of the whole.

Each creature in the fossil record was a fully-formed, functioning specimen of its species. An individual born with partially-formed body parts wouldn’t be viable and couldn’t become a fossil. Surely Morris knows this — doesn’t he? Another excerpt:

Extinction is well-documented in the fossil record, and while extinction is a necessary part of the evolutionary scenario, it is not evolution. It might better be considered as the opposite of evolution. Losing a type is not what is in question, but the gaining of new types — now, that would be interesting.

But earlier, Morris acknowledges that new types appear in the fossil record. Did he forget what he wrote a few paragraphs ago? More importantly, can we take any more of this? Yes, just a bit more:

Evolution necessarily implies the concept of “descent from a common ancestor or ancestors.” Yet no ancestor/descendant relationship can be advocated with certainty based on the fossils. Indeed, the differences are obvious and make classification between types possible.

Doesn’t Morris understand the system of Linnaean taxonomy? It’s a hierarchical classification based upon observed physical characteristics, and the concept of a divergent tree of physical features is what makes the system function.

Okay, one more excerpt. We saved the wildest for the last:

The fossil record can be deemed essentially complete. Darwin was concerned about its lack of transitional forms, hypothetical creatures that demonstrate one type changing into another over time. He was hopeful they would be found one day.

But extensive exploration and fossil discovery in following years have not brought such in-between forms to light. The vast majority of taxonomic orders and families which live today are also found as fossils, yet without fossil transitions. We can be certain the record is substantially complete.

That paragraph is only about halfway through the essay. Trust your Curmudgeon, it doesn’t get any better. Oh, wait, we have to give you Morris’ final sentence.

Creation thinking predicts the evidence, while evolution must distort and flex the evidence and its position to accommodate it.

We could play with that, but after reading through all of Morris’s mess we don’t have the energy. We’ll leave that one for you.

Update: See Creationism and the Fossil Record, Part 2.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Creationist Wisdom #109: SETI

We’ve already written a few articles about the possibility of alien life. For example: Vatican Conference on Aliens, and Darwin, Evolution, and Alien Life

The topic is endlessly fascinating, and the most amusing moments come when we observe creationist attempts to deal with the subject. Creationists are incompetent at understanding life on this world, so it’s not surprising that they fail totally when the subject shifts to life elsewhere. We’ve written about their ravings before. For example: Creationism & Life on Other Worlds, and also Roswell Conference: UFOs, Aliens, & Creationism.

But for pure entertainment, we can always count on Answers in Genesis (AIG), one of the major sources of creationist wisdom. They have a very brief article on alien life at their website. It appears in their latest weekly news summary: News to Note, January 30, 2010. That’s the feature where they bring us “news from the biblical viewpoint.”

If you click over there and scroll down to the fourth item, you’ll find AIG’s reaction to something written by the BBC: Why hasn’t ET made contact yet?

The BBC article is a good, general-interest piece about SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and about Frank Drake, creator of the Drake equation, once known as the Green Bank Equation. They wrote about Drake because he’s attending the same conference we recently discussed here: Extraterrestrials, Darwin, and the UN.

Read the BBC article for their report of what Drake had to say. Then you can skip most of AIG’s article, which is their attempt to explain what Drake said. Now let’s jump right to AIG’s final paragraph — their criticism of the whole SETI endeavor:

The search for extraterrestrial life (whether intelligent or simple) is thoroughly entwined with evolutionary ideas. For example, the values used in the Drake equation are based on beliefs about how long it took life to evolve on earth, how long it took for “intelligence” to evolve here, etc. Thus, the values are based more on dogma than on data — as is the entire search for alien life.

What are people like that going to do when life is discovered out there? Or when it’s created in the lab? Both are inevitable, and either may occur at any time.

Creationist reactions to other scientific discoveries give us some clues: (a) denial, (b) mention Piltdown Man and allege fraud, (c) claim that whatever is found is impossible and must be the miraculous work of their magical mystery designer, (d) claim that it’s always been part of their scriptural knowledge, (e) mention Neanderthal Man, and attribute it to the Tower of Babel, or (f) blame it on the devil.

Creationists sometimes demonstrate a limited capacity for imagination, so It’s possible that they’ll conjure up some other Oogity Boogity response; but whatever their reaction is, it’ll be both wrong and amusing.

[Related post: See Ken Ham Says There’s No Extraterrestrial Life.]

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Big Full Moon Tonight, and Mars Too

THIS is off-topic, but there’s no news about The Controversy today. At the National Graphic website we read Tonight: Year’s Biggest Full Moon, Mars Create Sky Show. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

The biggest full moon of 2010 will rise in the east tonight, and it’ll appear with a bright sidekick: Mars will cozy up just to the left of the supersize moon.

Not only that, but this phenomenon has a name:

January’s full moon is also called the wolf moon, according to Native American tradition associating this month’s full moon with wolves howling in the cold midwinter.

Well! This has nothing to do with evolution and creationism (unless you change into a wolf tonight), but it’s timely news. Let’s read on:

The 2010 wolf moon will appear 30 percent brighter and 14 percent larger than any other full moon this year, because our cosmic neighbor will actually be closer to Earth than usual.

[…]

“This month has the largest full moon of 2010, because it coincides with the special moment when the full moon happens to occur on the same day as it is at perigee,” said Marc Jobin, an astronomer at the Montréal Planetarium.

But wait — there’s more:

And in a remarkable coincidence, Mars is at opposition tonight — directly opposite to the sun in the sky — so that as the sun sets in the southwest, Mars rises in the northeast.

Around opposition, the red planet gets closest to Earth. This year Mars swung by at just 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) on January 27, and it will still appear remarkably bright during tonight’s sky show.

“To the naked eye it will appear as a bright, orange-colored star right next to the full moon — the pair will jump out at you for sure,” Jobin said.

There’s more in the article, so click over there to read it all; but we’ve already given you enough incentive to get out there tonight to watch the show.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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The Theocratic Texas Republican Party Platform

We’ve written a lot about the lunacy of the Texas State Board of Education, both their ignorant, anti-Enlightenment attitudes about science education, and more recently their obsession with theocratic distortions of American history. Our assumption was that these actions were the misguided errors of a few individuals who managed to get themselves elected to little-watched offices.

Now we realize that we were wrong. The madness we’ve been observing is institutional, as can be seen by reviewing the platform of the Texas Republican Party. It’s literally saturated with creationism and theocracy. We assume that the document we found is authentic. If there’s a later version, we assume it doesn’t alter the provisions we quote below. If we’re wrong in these assumptions, we’ll post corrections.

Let’s get right to it. Here’s what we believe to be the 2008 Texas Republican Party Platform (pdf file).

There are many solid, traditionally Republican ideas that we like in this document; but there are, unfortunately, many offensive provisions too. We can’t mention them all, so we’ll focus only on the issues that we usually write about here. Let’s start at page 11, where we find:

Ten Commandments – We oppose any governmental action to restrict, prohibit, or remove public display of the Decalogue or other religious symbols.

On page 12 are three items that aren’t our concerns here, but you may find them interesting:

Homosexuality – We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. … We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values

Texas Sodomy Statutes – We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy.

Pornography – We urge our governmental bodies to enforce laws regarding all forms of pornography. We urge more stringent legislation to prohibit all pornography including virtual pornography and operation of sexually–oriented businesses.

Also on page 12, and continuing onto pages 13 and 14, there are several items relating to abortion and other carnal issues. As with sodomy, those aren’t our issues, so we won’t dwell on them. But on page 14 you may be interested in what the document says about Fetal Tissue Harvesting, Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, and Gene Manufacturing. Hint: they don’t like any of it.

Moving along, the education section has some interesting provisions. On page 17 we find this:

Traditional Principles in Education – We support school subjects with emphasis on Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems.

Ah yes, our scriptural Constitution, statutes, and free enterprise system. It was obviously scripture that motivated the Founders to rebel against their king, establish a federal republic, dis-establish the church in Virginia, and write a Constitution prohibiting religious qualifications for holding office, allowing secular oaths, and providing that a man-made Constitution was the supreme law of the land.

And then there’s this:

Theories of Origin – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, including Intelligent Design. We believe theories of life origins and environmental theories should be taught as scientific theory, not scientific law. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

On page 18 there’s a clear declaration of support for theocracy, with an ironic title:

Safeguarding Our Religious Liberties – We affirm that the public acknowledgment of God is undeniable in our history and is vital to our freedom, prosperity and strength. We pledge our influence toward a return to the original intent of the First Amendment and toward dispelling the myth of separation of church and state.

So there you are, dear reader. Make of it what you will.

Copyright © 2010. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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