Weekend Intellectual Free-Fire Zone #17

This is another slow weekend for our kind of news. All we can find is this from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville: Forensic Anthropologists Find American Heads are Getting Larger. Here’s what it’s all about:

White Americans’ heads are getting bigger. That’s according to research by forensic anthropologists at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Lee Jantz, coordinator of UT’s Forensic Anthropology Center (FAC); Richard Jantz, professor emeritus and former director of the FAC; and Joanne Devlin, adjunct assistant professor, examined 1,500 skulls dating back to the mid-1800s through the mid-1980s. They noticed US skulls have become larger, taller, and narrower as seen from the front and faces have become significantly narrower and higher.

The researchers cannot pinpoint a reason as to why American head shapes are changing and whether it is primarily due to evolution or lifestyle changes.

We can suggest a reason: American heads are about to explode from all the creationist nonsense they’ve been fed.

Other than that world-shaking news, there’s a great new post by Barbara Forrest: Speaking of not getting the memo: Philosopher Bradley Monton on the LA Science Education Act. It’s rather specialized, about one particular creationist who exposes the true reason for the Louisiana Science Education Act, but it’s the sort of thing that will be devastating evidence when that law gets challenged in court.

Here’s an excerpt (omitting numerous links) to encourage you to click over there to take a look:

DI [the Discovery Institute] specializes in dissembling. They deny that ID [intelligent design] is creationism, even though it has been exposed in the published scholarship and in federal court as merely the newest variant of old-fashioned creationism. (See also here.) They also deny that the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) has anything to do with ID, despite the fact that showing otherwise is very easy and that the LSEA’s legislative sponsor himself announced that the law was introduced precisely to permit teaching creationism. Nonetheless, we have a string of denials from DI.

As an extra bonus, there’s a link to your Curmudgeon’s blog buried deep within Forrest’s article. See if you can find it.

That’s the only news we’ve got, so you’re on your own. As with all our free-fire zones, we’re open for the discussion of pretty much anything — science, politics, economics, whatever — as long as it’s tasteful and interesting. Banter, babble, bicker, bluster, blubber, blather, blab, blurt, burble, boast — say what you will. But avoid flame-wars and beware of the profanity filters.

We now throw open the comments to you, dear reader. Have at it.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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28 responses to “Weekend Intellectual Free-Fire Zone #17

  1. SC said:

    As an extra bonus, there’s a link to your Curmudgeon’s blog buried deep within Forrest’s article. See if you can find it.

    Buried is right. I had to cheat to find it.

  2. Ceteris Paribus

    Well, it isn’t actually cheating to peruse the links is it?

  3. @CP: I opened the source code, then did a search for “sensuous”. Took me right to it. There was no perusing involved.

  4. Ceteris Paribus

    @Gary: Well, I daren’t do a search on that word. My keeper wife has rigged my pc with a bot that remotely reports to her on a whole list of forbidden terms. (About the only free term I am allowed is “eternal lake of fire”).

    Besides, I like to look at links before clicking. Never know whose site you will wind up at.

  5. @CP: You now join an exclusive list of people whose comments I shan’t peruse while drinking Mt Dew.

  6. Justin Pursley

    I am in need of a little guidance here. My father is a hard line Creationist, though an otherwise intelligent person, and he has his own virtues. He keeps insisting that scientists refuse to date a fossil unless they know what layer of earth that it was found under due to carbon dating being so futile. He insists that not even scientists have any real faith in their methods to date fossils and they will keep recalculating and using different methods to date fossils until they get the answer they want.

    I know that he gets this from the Christian radio he is always listening to, but can someone direct me to a particularly good website that specializes in explaining how scientists date fossils and are not just taking random guesses to get the dates?

  7. retiredsciguy

    Gary, you should switch to Dr. Pepper. It’ll tickle your sinuses like nothing else. (By the way, does anyone know why the plural of “sinus” isn’t “sini”?)

  8. but can someone direct me to a particularly good website that specializes in explaining how scientists date fossils and are not just taking random guesses to get the dates?

    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html

    One of the first things you might mention to your dad is that carbon dating has never been used for fossils, because the half-life of carbon-14 is too short, carbon dating can only go back about 50,000 years. Potassium-argon dating is used for anything from 100,000 years ago to millions. Your first experience with creationist misinformation.

  9. retiredsciguy

    @Justin Pursley: I don’t know of a website that specializes in explaining fossil dating, but have you looked around on Wikipedia? That would be my first place to start looking. Suggest you start with “radiometric dating”, particularly potassium – argon. If it weren’t 1:00 AM, I’d do the searching for you and give you the links, but you’ll probably learn more about it by doing it yourself anyway.

    As far as using the carbon — 14 dating method, it’s not at all useful for dating fossils because it has too short a half-life, and will only take you back 50,000 years or so. It is useful for dating human artifacts, however, and is quite reliable.

    Good luck. However, don’t be too discouraged if your father refuses to listen because he’s thinking you’re trying to change his religious beliefs. You might have some luck in getting him to accept the science if you suggest that the core message of christianity has nothing to do with the age of the earth or how human beings came about, but in how we deal with each other in our daily lives.

  10. retiredsciguy

    Looks like Gabriel and I were writing at the same time. I should have thought about talkorigins. Excellent resource.

  11. does anyone know why the plural of “sinus” isn’t “sini”?

    Because you’re speaking English, and not Latin. I think that whether we use the Latin plural depends on how long ago the word passed into colloquial English. “Index”, for example, crossed over hundreds of years ago, and so we (sometimes) say “indices” for “indexes”. But some Latin words ending in -us don’t take the -i plural, for example “virus” doesn’t even have a Latin plural, since it is a collective noun.

    And the plural of “octopus” wouldn’t have been “octopi” in Latin anyway, since it was borrowed from Greek and isn’t a Latin word.

  12. docbill1351

    Very nice exhibit at the Natural History museum in London, Where We Come From, displaying a nice sequence of hominid fossils including Lucy. Also on display is an exquisite flint hand axe dating back 340,000 years. The workmanship is astounding; very delicately and deliberately crafted.

    Animals Inside Out displayed animals with preserved organs, bones,nerves and other stuff exposed. If you think a camel is ugly on the outside you should see the mess on the inside.

    My favorite display was a 19th century reconstruction of giant sloth bones mostly because it was in front of a floor vent blowing cold air!

    Oh,and did I mention free? Yep, the museum does not charge a fee. Perfect outing.

  13. @Justin Pursley

    but can someone direct me to a particularly good website that specializes in explaining how scientists date fossils and are not just taking random guesses to get the dates?

    Radiometric Dating
    A Christian Perspective
    Dr. Roger C. Wiens http://www.asa3.org/ASA/resources/Wiens.html

    If you want just radiocarbon dating try:
    radiocarbon WEB-info http://www.c14dating.com/
    You might want to start at the K-12 page!

    A really god book is:
    NATURE’S CLOCKS
    How Scientists Measure the Age of Almost Everything
    Doug MacDougall

    Anti-anti-evolution sites are two a penny but they are mainly concerned with correcting creationist errors – not always too accurately. The real refutation of these errors comes from oneself after acquiring a proper understanding of the science involved. Knowing the limitations of the techniques is as important as knowing the techniques themselves because this is where the creationists go to find their material – good ones that is, the bad ones either copy (not without errors) the work of the good ones, or they just make stuff up.

    Creationists do not have an explanation for why every scientific dating method cannot work. They find a few ‘bad dates’ and then fall back on a conspiracy theory to account for the other 99%. Much of the nonsense dates back 50 years and few creationists appreciate just how much science has progressed in precision and accuracy since then.

  14. “The researchers cannot pinpoint a reason as to why American head shapes are changing and whether it is primarily due to evolution or lifestyle changes.”

    As one who knows more about evolution than 99% of people, but less than 99% of evolutonary biologists, I would say “How could they in only a few generations, at least without some idea of the mutations (possibly several in parallel?) that are being selected, as opposed to prexisting variation (most likely the case, as with height)? But I could be wrong, and thus defer to those who do the actual work, and have the most to gain by challenging the status quo, to educate me. I won’t whine about a nonexistent “conspiracy.”

    More importantly, how many nonscientists know what anti-evolution activists do to spin such stories? How they’ll say everything from “natural selection explains everything, so it explains nothing” to “it’s only ‘microevolution’.” Never underestimate how these misleading sound bites stick, even to people who are not hopelessly in denial of evolution. And never underestimate how almost no one, not even critics who know better, thinks of asking “OK, what’s your alternate explanation – what happened when? And what are its weaknesses that you want students to learn?”

  15. @Justin:

    I see that you have been given some good references to refute YEC, but I caution you that most committed evolution-deniers who see the absurdity of YEC merely backpedal into OEC, Omphalism, or worse, the “don’t ask, don’t tell what happened when” ID strategy. To possibly prevent that I recommend that he read “Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth Miller. That book (written in 1999, but still very relevant) refutes not just YEC, but also OEC and ID, while giving committed theists some provocative (though nonscientific) ways to “keep God in the picture.”

  16. Jack Hogan

    Justin Pursley said:

    He insists that not even scientists have any real faith in their methods to date fossils and they will keep recalculating and using different methods to date fossils until they get the answer they want.

    I am afraid the problem is your father thinks scientists are stupid and/or they are extremely dishonest and involved in a vast conspiracy to lie to and hoodwink everyone about the age of fossils.

    I doubt any web site you direct him to can solve that problem. It is deeper than not understanding the science behind dating of fossils.

  17. Curmie: “They noticed US skulls have become larger, taller, and narrower as seen from the front and faces have become significantly narrower and higher.”

    I think we should consider the alternative theories.

    RSG writes: “@Justin Pursley: … Suggest you start with “radiometric dating”, particularly potassium – argon. ”

    @Justin Pursley: Be prepared the the next point of disbelief – that radiometric dating is bad too. The short answer to this is that if radiometric dating is wrong, then nuclear reactors wouldn’t work.

  18. Jack Hogan: “I doubt any web site you direct him to can solve that problem. It is deeper than not understanding the science behind dating of fossils.”

    Exactly. Which is why I’m convinced that if people – especially those who take “thou shalt not bear false witness” seriously – truly paid attention to the antics of the anti-evolution activists, only a minority (at most 25%) would continue to deny evolution. Either they’d be hopelessly postmodern, or if scripture is their security blanket, adopt an Omphalos approach (“yes, the evidence contradicts it, but I believe it anyway”).

    Even if one ignores the evidence, it’s simply bearing false witness to pretend that scientists are “conspiring” and/or “bullied, and/or that pseudoscience-peddling evolution-deniers are “expelled.” When Pope John Paul II described the evidence for evolution as “convergence, neither sought not fabricated,” he surely had some awareness (and sadness) that anti-evolution activists do nothing but seek and fabricate “evidences,” and yet still can’t force a convergence on a single consistent alternate explanation. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the trend of anti-evolution pseudoscience not only away from alternate theories that it’s advocates know can’t be supported. It’s evan slowly going away from the long-refuted “weakness” of evolution and more than ever about the paranoia that accepting evolution is supposedly the root of all evil. So much for God-given free will.

    If Justin’s father is not one of the ones beyond hope, this is the kind of argument (it’s in Miller’s book) that will turn him around, and ironically make his faith in God even stronger.

  19. In the spirit of Free Fire – some miscellaneous notes on my activities this past week:

    I spent my first cup of coffee perusing the Creation Science Society of Milwaukee pages. Like a certain very clean cheese shop, I find it entirely uncontaminated by science.

    Last week I told a Nobel laureate they are wrong. Some of the subsequent Creationists comments are a hoot, the rest are tl;dr.

    Our friend Gary Hurd has been busily battling nonsense, and I have been trying to lend a hand.

    Perhaps this is not interesting, and I can understand that. On the other hand, it might be interesting to learn what others here have been up to. So … what’s up?

  20. Ah, we found some timely news. The Governor General of Canada, on the Occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, says:

    The Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen is a celebration of a lifetime of committed service, steadfast loyalty, and true dedication, and it is also a celebration of our wonderful country and its evolution.

  21. @Justin: I have a father who believes essentially every crackpot theory the fundagelicalized-GOP espouses. I understand. First, do not laugh at him or his ideas. (Basing this suggestion on painful personal experience.) That will throw the “I’m not listening to anything else you have to say” switch faster than anything. Second, I highly recommend the Frank J position of try to show how creationist websites attacking evolution are doing so while bearing false witness. In other words, they’re lying. The Barbara Forrest link in Curmie’s post has loads of evidence showing just how dishonest creationists can be. If your father simply begins railing on the evidence of evolution, I’d point out that at least evolution *has* some evidence to refute. If that doesn’t get you anywhere, my suggestion (and others on this forum may disagree) would be to say, “Fine. Darwin & Wallace never lived. The theory of evolution was never posited. Give me the who, what, when, where of your alternative theory. Tell me what predictions your alternative theory makes that I might use to test whether the theory holds water, e.g. Tiktaalik. Negative arguments against evolution will not suffice because I’ve already allowed that it never happened. Go.” If none of this works, then you and your father will have to agree to disagree.

    @TA: Sorry. I haf a code, so I’ve not been nearly as productive as thee. Telling a Nobel Laureate that they are wrong about something is, well, that’s a good weekend. I’m surprised that Josephson is not touted more often by IDCers as “evidence” for their theory. (Of course, the ratio would then be 78:1, as opposed to 78:0.) Reading through Josephson’s Wikipedia article, however, I’m not surprised to find that he’s touting Wegener (of continental drift fame) as “evidence” that good science can be “suppressed”. Despite the fact that Wegener’s ideas, just as with geocentrism, the Big Bang theory, and, yes, even the theory of relativity, required a generation to be accepted. Simon Singh explained that many paradigm-shifting theories require the current vanguard to literally die off and for a new set of scientists to come in before such theories are accepted. Only IDC has been around for, what, 5 generations? And has as much to say in its favor as it did when it was first espoused? Anyway, well done! Give your dog named Erik a few extra scratches behind the ears in celebration.

    @Doc Bill: Go ahead. Keep rubbing it in.

    @SC: “it is also a celebration of our wonderful country and its evolution.” Just another example of the conspiracy.

  22. Retired Prof

    So Canada turned out the way it did through the natural process of evolution, whereas the U.S. was created by a group of intelligent designers who wrote its constitution. Yet the results are very similar. Hmmm.

  23. Ceteris Paribus

    @Gary: “Mt Dew.”
    @retiredsciguy: “Dr.Pepper”

    Hey, keep it quiet. If my parole officer wife sees these posts, she will imagine I’m trying to join a cult that advocates snorting caffeine, and there won’t be any soda in the refrigerator stronger than root beer for the next 6 months.

  24. @CP: Should we switch to Sprite? Or 7-up?

  25. docbill1351

    @Gary. Had a full English breakfast with eggs, fried bread and baked beans and two Crestor, then lunch at a “carvery” with Yorkshire pudding ‘n’ meat gravy which, seeing as we’re in Leeds today, was fitting, washed down with two or six pints of ale. Watched the Queen’s flotilla on telly then went down t’ pub to finish the day. Nary a creationist in sight.

  26. @Doc Bill: That’s some good salt you’re rubbing into my wound there. Now why don’t you give me a nice papercut and pour some lemon juice in it!

  27. @Gary: Thanks for the advice. I honestly don’t know if it even would be a good idea to approach him at this point. He depends on religion a lot for comfort and solace and I don’t think I want to take anything, even Creationism, away from him. I am just pissed off at the snake oil salesmen I hear him listening to. The fact that he used to pay tithe when he really couldn’t afford it was something that rankled the hell out of me. Religion, no matter what kind it is, is supposed to reaffirm a communities values and tend to those who are in need. Somehow it has degenerated into being another parasite on to the poor.

  28. Ceteris Paribus

    @Gary & @ Doc Bill: OK, I’m finally catching on. So Sprite and 7-up would be the recommended gateway sodas prior to snorting Mt. Dew and Dr. Pepper. Then try out salt rubbed into wounds, before moving on to the real deal with paper cuts marinated in lemon juice.

    And then could I go straight to watching a whole series of David Rives videos, or would an initiate want to watch David Brown’s ‘Hydroplate’ cartoon first?

    But eating off an English menu is definitely not on the table, even after having already visited Canadian restaurants several times previously.