Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A student stays the course

Problem? What problem?

The average score on the business calculus exam was 83%. Since I thought that the exam was reasonably challenging, I was pleased with my students. Of course, that didn't extend to everyone. I was quite worried about a select few. Especially the student who earned 7%.

I wrote a note on her exam paper: “Come see me. We need to talk.” She had probably earned most of her points by accident. I mean, when you scatter dots all over a Cartesian grid, some of them have to lie on the graph of the given quadratic function.

A week went by with no response. It wasn't easy to catch her before or after class. She had a tendency to come to class a couple of minutes late and vanish with most of her classmates within a nanosecond of dismissal. But finally I caught her, calling her by name as the class broke up and before she could quite escape.

My student came up to me with her lips pressed together, as if viewing something distasteful. Her face was otherwise blank.

“I'm afraid you're not doing at all well in the class. What are you doing to improve the situation? What are your plans?” I asked.

For some reason, my words seemed to surprise her. She said, “I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing.”

My turn to be surprised. I became uncharacteristically blunt.

“Then you're going to flunk the class. If you expect to transfer to the university as a business major with credit for this class, you won't have it. You'll have to start all over again. Right now you can't plot points and you can't graph lines, which you should have learned in algebra. What you need is lots of study time and a tutor to get you back on track.”

I suggested she go to the campus learning center to request a tutor. I told her if she brought me the tutor request form, I would sign it to indicate she needed math help. Since I appeared to be done, she turned and left, saying nothing. I don't expect to see that tutoring form.

The world is full of stories of clueless students. We teachers swap them back and forth like folk tales. But this is the first time I have had a student return to class after wiping out so abysmally on the first exam. In addition to the 7% on the exam, my student has racked up no better than 12% on the homework and quizzes. My grading scale is traditional, with 60% being the break between D’s and F’ and 70% the break between C’s and D’s. If we continued that pattern downward, I guess my student's grade is around a J or a K right now. She'd have to soar to reach an F.

And yet she's content to do nothing.

I wonder if the business calculus class is just a placeholder for her—units that she needs to maintain full-time or half-time student status for some reason. Perhaps financial aid. Some of my students are allowed to live at home with their parents so long as they maintain a certain number of units in school, although I doubt that's my student's situation; she's not a teenager. I just don't know.

One of my younger colleagues has a keen sense for student attitudes. When I told him about my stubborn student, he nodded his head and said, “You've made yourself a nuisance to her. Some students can maintain the illusion that they're doing fine in the face of all kinds of contrary evidence, but when you specifically tell her that she's failing, it becomes your fault. Everything was fine until you said that. She's probably upset with you now.”

I suspect my colleague is right. It's not nice to let the air out of a student's fantasies. A student once asked me how much longer it would take until his unbroken string of D’s added up to a C. Questions like that demonstrate unequivocally that math has not been learned.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Creation on campus

A future mis-educator

Ken Ham likes to sprinkle testimonial letters throughout his creationist newsletters. The new issue of Answers Update (Vol. 13, No. 9) has a focus on educating children (with the scare headline Evolutionists target children—all about the National Science Foundation) and includes letters on that topic. Prepare to be dismayed:

Creation on campus

“I thank you so much for your ministry. I am a biology education major at Pennsylvania State University. I am surrounded by people who have dedicated their lives to go against what the Bible teaches.

“Your website and publications have been a great encouragement—and help—to me as I talk every day with my professors and peers.

“Praise God for His wonderful work through you all!”

—A. H., Corsica, PA
Does anyone know if Jonathan Wells is taking graduate students for advanced studies in biology?

Of course, we're not just talking about higher education. Heck, if wicked evolutionists can target the children, certainly creationists can take a vigorous crack at it.

A school prayer

“I received a call from Bill at AiG last week. Bill asked if I had any prayer requests for your team. My reply was for continued prayer that Christians with children in public schools will raise children who will see and question false teachings.

“Little did I know that God would reveal His work so quickly!

“On Friday of that week, my 2nd grade daughter said: ‘Mommy, my teacher read us false teaching’ (about evolution forming the first plant). After I praised her for recognizing this and affirmed that God spoke all things into existence out of nothing, she said, ‘But that is what you pray before we go to school—that we will be protected from, and know, false teaching.’

“Thank you for giving me words and information to armor my daughter.”

—S. R., Minnesota
Oh, oh. Look out, PZ, that's in your own backyard! (And my goodness, doesn't that second-grader possess an amazingly sophisticated grasp of sentence structure? It must be the Holy Spirit helping her suck up to Mommy.)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Augean stables of creationism

An exercise in futility

Creationism is a robust little critter, evolving constantly under the pressure of natural selection. It preserves, however, certain favored traits that the keen observer will quickly recognize. Just as the satanic Black Mass is a reverse-recited parody of the Roman Catholic High Mass, creationism is a conclusion-first parody of science. As the King of Hearts in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland says to the jury before any evidence has been presented, “Consider your verdict.” Creationists who pretend to offer scientific arguments have their verdict well in hand. The evidence is immaterial (as is the agency of creation, for that matter). Yet they feel compelled to pay homage to science at least insofar as they brew their mock-science soup.

A particularly hefty helping of mock-science is offered up by James Melton of the Bible Baptist Church in Sharon, Tennessee. While it's a thankless, tedious, and rather futile undertaking to puncture his arguments one after the other, yet it may serve as an object lesson to those who have never seen all the entrails of a creationist argument laid out on a dissecting table. It is a many-headed beast, a mosaic or chimera cobbled together in Frankenstein mode from a bountiful supply of stale religious arguments. Melton's piece carries a 1997 date, but the attentive reader will discern how many of its components remain in active play in the creationist arsenal.
Evolution: Fact or Fiction?
Copyright © 1997 James L. Melton
Published by Bible Baptist Church, Sharon, TN

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” (Romans 1:20-23)

These inspired words of God should be posted over the door to every science and biology lab in every state university in America. Every person born into the world is born with enough conscience to tell him that God created the Heaven and the Earth. If you do not believe that God created the Heaven and the Earth, then it is because you've allowed someone to educate you out of your faith in God's word. You have been tricked into forsaking the Bible by placing your faith in a man-made religion called “Evolution.”
In every state university? I presume the separation of church and state is a notion foreign to the Reverend Mr. Melton.
Someone says, “Evolution is not a religion.” Evolution IS a religion, because it lacks scientific evidence, thus requiring it's adherents to follow Darwin's theory by FAITH. Evolution is a RELIGIOUS CREED based upon blind faith. There is not in existence one single piece of scientific evidence which proves that man has evolved upward from animals. It is impossible to prove any theory of origins “scientifically,” because the very essence of the scientific method is based upon OBSERVATION and EXPERIMENTATION, and no scientist has ever observed or experimented with the origin of the universe.
The infamous plagiarist Ann Coulter said in her latest book that not a shred of evidence can be found to support evolution. As usual, she is borrowing an old argument from those who live in stubborn denial. Note how Melton helpfully explains science to us: If you can't experiment with it directly in the lab, it can't be science. (Yet he also argues that creationism is true science.) This shows both an ignorance of what is really going on in biology laboratories, where evidence for evolution is routinely adduced, and a refusal to understand that “observation” takes many forms. He also conflates the Big Bang with evolution, attacking the origin of the universe while sniping at the origin of species. Someone should tell him, by the way, that the Big Bang has been observed—in the background radiation of the universe.
All scientists know this, including L. Harrison Matthews. In his forward to Darwin's 1971 edition of “Origin of the Species,” Matthews says, “... Belief in the theory of evolution is thus exactly parallel to belief in special creation—both are concepts which believers know to be true but neither, up to the present, has been capable of proof.” In other words, the theory of evolution is a theory based on FAITH, rather than scientific fact.
Pastor Melton cites Darwin's 1971 edition of On the Origin of Species (not Origin of “the” Species), but I think we can be forgiven for doubting that Darwin had much to do with it. Furthermore, the Matthews quote has been lifted out of its context and conveniently omits the professor's statement that “Many naturalists were already convinced of the fact of evolution, but without a plausible theory to show how it might have taken place they were unable to refute their opponents who held to the doctrine of special creation.” Matthews goes on in his preface to explain how a plausible theory had developed and gained almost universal acceptance among scientists. In the end, Matthews was not rejecting evolution at all nor was he really equating it to faith-based creationism.

Evolutionists have their entire lives and reputations resting upon Darwin's theory. They're committed to their religion, just as any true Christian is committed to his. If an evolutionist changes his views, then he denies and forsakes his fellow scientists and former educators. He becomes a “black sheep,” loses his job, his reputation, and his social standing. Since he has studied and worked his entire life to get where he is, he isn't about to throw it all away. So the committed evolutionist chooses to strive harder and harder in his effort to disprove the Genesis account. He will ignore all facts which support Special Creation. He is not open to anything other than “evidence” to prove his theory. All evidence which proves CONTRARY to his theory is discarded and ignored. A fine example of this behavior can be found in the work of Dr. George Wald, Novel Peace Prize winner for Science in 1967. Dr. Wald says the following:

“When if comes to the origin of life on this earth, there are only two possibilities: creation or spontaneous generation (evolution). There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved 100 years ago, but that leads us only to one other conclusion: That of supernatural creation. We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds (personal reasons); therefore, we choose to believe the impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance.” (Dennis Lindsay, “The Dinosaur Dilemma,” Christ for the Nations, Vol. 35, No. 8, November, 1982, pp. 4-5, 14.)

So Darwin's theory is commonly accepted as a scientific fact, NOT because it can be proven, but rather because it is the ONLY ALTERNATIVE TO BELIEVING THE GENESIS ACCOUNT OF CREATION. The evolutionist has gotten himself into a trap where he must spend the rest of his life running from God.
I'm pretty sure that “Novel Peace Prize” is a typo for “Nobel Peace Prize,” except that that would be wrong, too. Even if one omits the misplaced “Peace,” there is no Nobel Prize for “Science,” as such. Wald was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1967. The key point, however, is that Wald never said anything like the supposed quote attributed to him. Various versions of the spurious Wald quote have circulated in creationist literature, but they all seem to miss the point that many scientists mean “the order of nature” when they use the word “God.” Wald's actual words appeared in Scientific American and the pertinent passages are quoted in detail at talkorigins.org. This misuse of statements by scientists is sometimes called quote mining, but the Wald example is a particularly egregious example of just making it up.

The average evolutionist would have us believe that all TRUE scientists accept Darwin's theory as fact. Sir John Huxley, grandson of Thomas Huxley, wrote the following in 1959:

“The point to make about Darwin's theory of evolution is that it is no longer a theory, but a fact. No serious scientist would deny the fact that evolution has occurred, just as he would not deny the fact that the earth goes around the sun.” (Tax, Sol, Ed. “Evolution After Darwin,” Issues in Evolution, Chicago University Press, 1960, Vol. 3, p. 41.)

See how the system works? A scientist cannot be recognized as a SERIOUS scientist unless he REJECTS THE BIBLE and RECEIVES EVOLUTION. Well, there have been, and still are, MANY serious scientists who do not believe in evolution. For example, Dr. Albert Fleischman, Professor of Zoology at the University of Erlangen in Germany, says, ”The Darwinian theory of evolution has not a single fact to confirm it in the realm of nature. It is not the result of scientific research, but purely the product of the imagination.”
Sir Julian Huxley is basically correct: Acceptance of evolution among scientists is virtually universal. The exceptions are therefore remarkably rare and creationists must cite the same small handful over and over again in making their case that scientists can be creationists. Indeed, Albert Fleischman (1862-1942) is one member of that exceedingly select band. He would be lost in obscurity if creationists were not compelled to turn to him whenever they need to find an actual biologist who would not accept evolution.
Professor L.T. More, of the University of Chicago, says, "Unfortunately for Darwin's future reputation, everyone of his arguments is contradicted by fact."

Professor A.C. Steward, from the Cambridge University, says, “A student who takes an impartial retrospect soon discovers that the fossil record raises more problems than it solves.”

Dr. Austin Clark, F.R.G.S., of the American Geophysical Union, opposes evolution by saying, “The great groups of animal life do not merge into one another. They are and have been fixed from the beginning.”

So the Bible believer must understand that he is not alone in his stand against Darwin's foolish theory. There have always been a few scientists around who were honest and open-minded enough to consider all the facts and take an unpopular stand for the TRUTH, rather than IGNORE the facts and take a POPULAR stand for evolution. We should thank God for them.
The truest word in Melton's summary is “few,” which he uses to describe the number of anti-evolutionist scientists. To underscore the desperate nature of their plight, consider that Louis T. More's dates are 1870-1944. If they had a more contemporary scientist, the creationists would undoubtedly cite him. More, by the way, was not a researcher in the life sciences. He was apparently a physicist rather than a biologist. As for Austin Hobart Clark, he lived from 1880 to 1954. For someone writing in the 1990s, Melton sure has trouble finding contemporary sources. I guess all the good scientific creationists are dead scientific creationists.

Some have begun to compromise by professing to believe in the Biblical account of creation AND in Darwin's theory. These people call themselves “Theistic Evolutionists.” They belong in the same category as “sober alcoholics” and “liberal conservatives.” In the Bible, God is the Creator of all things (Gen. 1). In evolution, natural chance can account for the existence of all things. In the Bible, all life forms are created in six literal days (Gen. 1). In evolution, life forms evolve over millions of years. In the Bible, creation has been completed (Gen. 2:3). In evolution, a natural creative process continues. In the Bible, oceans appear before land (Gen. 1:9). In evolution, land appears first. In the Bible, life begins on land (Gen. 1:11). In evolution, life began in water. In the Bible, the earth is made before the sun, moon, and stars (Gen. 1:14-19). In evolution, the earth comes later. In the Bible, all stars are made on the fourth day (Gen. 1:16). In evolution, the stars evolve at various times. In the Bible, birds and fishes are created on the fifth day (Gen. 1:20, 21). In evolution, fishes evolve hundreds of millions of years before birds. In the Bible, man appears before rain (Gen. 2:5). In evolution, rain appears before man. In the Bible, man is created before woman (Gen. 2:21-22). In evolution, woman genetically appears before man. In the Bible, light appears before the sun (Gen. 1:3-19; Psa. 74:16). In evolution, the sun appears before any light. In the Bible, plants appear before the sun (Gen. 1:11-19). In evolution, the sun appears first. In the Bible, the human body comes from dirt (Gen. 2:7). In evolution, the human body evolves from monkeys. In the Bible, man exercises dominion over all organisms (Gen. 1:28). In evolution, most organisms become extinct before man evolves. In the Bible, man is originally a vegetarian (Gen. 1:29). In evolution, man is originally a meat eater. In the Bible, life comes in fixed and distinct “kinds” (Gen. 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25; I Cor. 15:38-39). In evolution, life forms are in a continual state of flux. In the Bible, man's sin is the cause of death (Rom. 5:12). In evolution, struggle and death exist long before man evolves.

Evolution is the intellectual basis for two of the biggest devils of the 20th century: Hitler's Naziism and Mark's communism. Secular humanism, atheism, and liberalism are all the evil fruits of Darwin's hellish theory. The Lord Jesus said, “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20), and the fruit of evolution clearly assures us that Darwin's theory is as far away from Biblical truth as Hell is from Heaven. “Theistic evolution” is too funny for words.
At last Melton and I find common ground: theistic evolutionists are clearly prepared to throw away the entirety of the Genesis account. We differ, of course, in that I think it's good to throw it out. Melton, instead, despairs of his evolutionary co-religionists.

It's interesting to see how Melton beat D. James Kennedy to the punch with his denunciation of Hitler and the supposed role of evolution in the rise of the Nazis. (By the way, I think Melton means the communism of Marx rather than Mark's, but I'm just guessing.)

Over the years, being hard-pressed for real evidence, the evolutionists have managed to conjure up a number of “proofs” that Darwin's theory is a scientific fact. This so-called “evidence” is worshipped by all evolutionists, while all contrary evidence is ignored. Let's consider some of their evidence.

VESTIGIAL ORGANS are believed by evolutionists to be parts of the human body that are no longer needed. Therefore these useless body parts must be “left-overs” from our ancestors, the monkeys. These “useless” body parts include the appendix, the coccyx (tail bone), the pineal gland, the plica semilunaris, the tonsils, and the ear lobes.

Naturally, the facts are ignored. Many medical doctors agree that all of these organs have important functions in the human body, and aren't “vestigial organs” in any sense. The appendix contains a rich blood supply which serves as some defense against cancer. The tail bone isn't where your monkey tail used to be, as Darwinians believe, but it instead provides support for the muscles which control elimination. The pineal gland contains important hormones which the body needs. The plica semilunaris helps to keep foreign particles out of the eye, and the tonsils help to keep foreign particles out of your child's throat. The tonsils also help to keep infection from spreading. Yes, even the ear lobe has a purpose, for it helps to keep our ears warm during cold weather.
Have you heard anyone call the pineal gland a useless vestige? If so, you must be fairly old, since no one has done so since it was discovered in the 1960s that it has a role in melatonin production. Melton might argue that this clinches his argument, but instead it underscores the rationale that permeates his essay: While science may be self-correcting, every such correction is proof of its unreliability. The development of scientific knowledge is thus an indictment, while biblical knowledge—which may not be questioned or amended—never requires correction. (Verdict first. Trial later.)

Another “proof” for evolution is found in the field of BIOCHEMISTRY. This is where scientists mix genes and chromosomes in their effort to prove relation between man and animal.

Is there any conclusive evidence? No there isn't. Any learned scientist should be familiar with the rather embarrassing test conclusions of Dr. Nutall back in 1904. Nutall's tests concluded that baboons and hoofed animals are related to whales, that pigs are related to tigers, and that black people are related to monkeys! There isn't one ounce of real evidence anywhere in the entire field of biochemistry which proves that men and animals are kin—just theories and wishful thinking.
Melton is apparently speaking of George Nuttall, professor of biology at Cambridge. Although I have not read Dr. Nuttall's research papers, which appear to be about blood types and similarities across species, I dare say the Reverend Mr. Melton hasn't either. Therefore I doubt Melton's unqualified statement that Nuttall came to the claimed conclusions. Still, what if he did? Then Melton is back on his hobby horse of criticizing evolution for shortcomings in old research—over a century old in this case. The clear-cut reality today is that DNA studies have fleshed out the family tree of animal life in remarkable detail. In fact, all of the species cited by Melton in his mocking of Nuttall are related to each other, and we can now gauge the degree of each relationship in amazing detail. Why does Melton talk about 1904 biochemistry instead of 2004 biochemistry?
EMBRYOLOGY is another field of study. This is where unborn embryos are studied in order to detect the preformed shape of humans and animals. This is the field where we find Haeckel talking about “ONTOGENY RECAPITULATES PHYLOGENY” This is the belief that every individual passes through the many evolutionary stages while still in the mother's womb. That is, you body took on the shape of an amoeba, then a paramecium, then a jelly fish, then a fish, then a bunch of other creatures during the nine months prior to your birth. Of course, this theory ignores the fact that respiratory systems develop LATE in the human embryo. So how did early mammal life exist without breathing? They've also ignored the fact that the head of an unborn baby is larger than the body, which is NOT the case with fish.

Professor Waldo Sumway, of Stephens Institute of Technology, says that “There is never a time in the development of a mammal when it could have been mistaken for a fish or reptile.”
You got that? If Haeckel was mistaken, then all of evolutionary theory must be wrong! Poor Haeckel has been reduced from a transitional figure in the early development of evolutionary theory to creationism's favorite punching bag. He deserves better. By the way, I think that “Sumway” is a reference to Waldo Shumway, the author of a textbook on vertebrate embryology, who was simply pointing out that recapitulation is not part of evolutionary theory. I think the main reason recapitulation is still bruited about is the constant references to it by creationists, who either don't know any better or can't bear to relinquish a false argument.
Now we come to the wonderful world of TAXONOMY, where cartoon charts are used to artificially classify bones in order to “prove” evolution. This is where evolutionists develop a “disneyland” mentally and construct a chart which shows the earth to be about 4.5 billion years old. Then they proceed to divide this chart up into various time frames containing hundreds of millions of years each. As new discoveries are found, the scientists conveniently place them at selected places on the chart.

This would be a dandy little system, except for one minor problem: THEY'VE NEVER PROVEN THE ORIGINAL CHART! It's nothing more than blind guesswork. No one has ever proven that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. The chart is NOT scientific. In fact, many scientists believe that the earth isn't over 6,000 to 10,000 years old! Of course, all opposing views are ignored by evolutionary scientists, for they need a nice big time period in which to place their new findings. You've heard of people “buying time?” Well, evolutionists just DREAM IT UP.
My previous point about DNA studies suffices to counter this claim, but the DNA research does not stand alone. Scientists in many different fields have constructed the synthesis that provides the framework for today's studies in evolution. Melton can't resist returning to his young Earth argument again, but his claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny. There are “many” scientists who believe in a young Earth? No, there aren't. Their numbers are a tiny fraction of the scientific community. And where would the creationists be without if they couldn't pad their numbers with the engineers who pad their réumés by pretending to be scientists?
Another “proof” for evolution is COMPARATIVE ANATOMY, the belief that similar bone structures prove animal kin through evolution. That is, if two different animals have similar bone structures, then they must have evolved from the same original ancestors. Of course, this is more nonsense. Any scientist knows perfectly well that many such bone structures are produced by entirely DIFFERENT GENES, thus proving that they are in NO WAY RELATED! In fact, if similar bone structure proves anything, it proves that these animals were created by the same God!
Melton is quick to cite what “any scientist” knows about “many such bone structures,” yet he gives not a single example of either. Interestingly enough, he believes that similar bone structures are evidence of divine intervention, when two alternative explanations are much more parsimonious: (a) common descent and (b) convergent evolution—similar structures shaped by natural selection to adapt to similar circumstances. Scientists do not claim that ichthyosaurs are the ancestors of porpoises, but their aquatic environments shaped both animals similarly.
The sixth argument used to support evolution is the so-called FOSSIL EVIDENCE. The evolutionist believes that the fossil record proves a progressive evolution of the species over millions of years, beginning with non-living matter. This non-living matter supposedly evolves into protozoans, and the protozoans evolve into metazoan invertebrates, which evolve into vertebrate fishes. The fishes evolve into amphibians, which evolve into reptiles, which evolve into birds. The birds then evolve into fur-bearing quadrupeds (animals with 4 legs), and these quadrupeds evolve into apes, and the apes evolve into man.

Now for those who actually believe such a fable, we have a question: WHERE ARE THE TRANSITIONAL FORMS? If all of those life forms survived by changing into higher life forms, then would someone please show us one living example of this today? Where can we observe a reptile who is slowly changing into a bird? How about a bird who is turning into a four-legged animal? This is one of the strongest arguments against evolution: NO TRANSITIONAL FORMS. Even Darwin realized this in his “Origin of the Species” when he said that “this is the most obvious of the many objections which may be argued against it.” (Vol. 2, 6th Ed. p. 49)
Oh, but this is just sad. Melton's caricature of evolution is trivial to refute, and he promptly does so. Let us help him. No one argues that birds are ancestral to humans. Our friendly creationist also repeats Darwin's concerns about the state of the fossil record nearly 150 years ago as if it is still a valid description of today's situation. Many transitional forms have been uncovered. We'll never find all of them because the fossil record is inherently incomplete, but the reptile-mammal transition and the return of the whale to the sea are now understood in remarkable detail. This, of course, will not deter Mr. Melton, even if he knows about them. He is an exponent of “Gish's Law,” which says that newly discovered transitional fossils do not plug gaps; rather, they create more of them! After all, if you discover that fossil B appears to fit in the gap between fossils A and C, then the one gap between A and C has been transformed into two gaps: one between A and B and another between B and C.

Melton quickly moves on to deny the possibility of finding transitional fossils (so he must be ignoring those that have been discovered) and then invokes catastrophism and Noah's famous flood.
Yes, it certainly is. The more the fossil record builds, the weaker the theory of evolution becomes, because the needed transitional forms are NOT BEING FOUND to link the species! They never will be found, because the species are NOT LINKED (I Cor. 15:38-39).

The evolutionist also runs into another problem when he considers WHERE and HOW many fossils are found. The devout evolutionist subscribes to the belief that things are pretty much the same as always. He believes that there have been no major world catastrophes to wipe out animal life, but that various species have become extinct as a result of failing to adapt to their environment. The problem with this is the stubborn fact that there are many burial sites around the world which are literally paved with fossils! Often times such fossils are found in a totally different climate from that in which they once lived. Mammoths have been found frozen, preserved perfectly in ice in Northern Siberia and Alaska. Many of these are very large and strong animals, which evolutionists claim should have survived and overcame any obstacles. BUT THEY DIDN'T! What happened? Why did they die out? How can evolution explain this? Evolution CAN'T explain it. Evolution IGNORES it. It is explained in Genesis chapters 6, 7 and 8—the Flood.
Is Melton complaining that wooly mammoths are found in the midst of the freezing environments to which they were adapted? I thought he was talking about fossils in incompatible climates. Strange. And it sure is cheeky of mammoths to die and get frozen in the ice. Evolution claims they should live forever, you know.
Before moving on to our next section, a few words should be said about the various "ape men" that have been found and placed neatly on the fictional cartoon chart in standard text books. A few simple cases will be more than enough to show the reader that Anthropology is not without it's humor.

In 1922, a bunch of bones were found in Nebraska by a man named Harold Cook. After studying the upper and lower jaws and the teeth of some thirty animals, a complete ape known as Ramapithecus was constructed on the basis of ONE TOOTH! Years later, the entire skeleton from which the tooth came was found. It turned out to be an extinct species of pig.
And quick-witted creationists jumped up to point out the error! Uh, no. As usual, scientists took care of tidying up their own mistakes. And the mistakes were much less than Mr. Melton imagines. Hesperopithecus (Nebraska man) was not seized upon by scientists as an undeniable human ancestor. In fact, paleontologist Henry Osborn, who looked at the human-like tooth and made the first tentative identification, actually said, “I have not stated that Hesperopithecus was either an Ape-man or in the direct line of human ancestry.” Osborn thought that the tooth belonged to a primate, but was not willing to commit to the notion that it was from a human species. Nebraska man's career lasted only about five years before scientists unraveled the tooth's true origin. Unlike creationists, scientists abandon their hypotheses when they are found wanting.

By the way, what was all that stuff Melton was saying about Ramapithecus? He's confusing the story of Nebraska man with an entirely different species. Ramapithecus was discovered in Asia (in northern India). For a time it was considered a probable hominid, but later was classified as related to orang-utans rather than humans. Mr. Melton needs a good fact checker to help him with his essays.
Dr. Eugene Dubois discovered the famous Java Man (Pithecanthropus erectus) in 1891. This “great discovery” consisted of a small piece of the top of a skull, a fragment of a left thigh bone, and three molar teeth. But, instead of being found all together, these remains were found in an area of about seventy feet, and they were found over about a year's time. They were also found in an old river bed with other assorted extinct animal bones. This, of course, presents a number of problems for Java Man. How can the “experts” be so sure that these remains all came from the same being? Better yet, how do such bones survive for 750,000 years without decaying? Where's the EVIDENCE to PROVE these theories? We know what the scientists want to believe about these findings, but WHERE'S THE PROOF?
The species now known as Homo erectus is represented by many fossils scattered across Africa and Asia. Erectus was a well-traveled and very successful human ancestor, whose reputation does not rest solely on Dubois's original discovery.
Piltdown man was discovered by Charles Dawson in 1912. Dawson claimed to have found some bones, some teeth, and even some primitive implements in a gravel pit in Piltdown, Sussex, England. He took them to a British museum where anthropologists claimed that they were 500,000 years old. Textbooks throughout the world then proclaimed Piltdown Man as the greatest find to date. Then in October of 1956, Reader's Digest EXPOSED this finding as “The Great Piltdown Hoax.” The bones where found to be fraudulent. The jaw bone was proven to have belonged to an ape which had died only FIFTY YEARS before (not 500,000). The teeth had been filed down, and both, teeth and bones, had been discovered with bichromate of potash to cover up their true identity! So much for Piltdown Man.
Yes, evolutionists would have gotten away with their little hoax if not for the intrepid reporting of Reader's Digest! Is it too difficult for Melton to discover that the Piltdown hoax was uncovered by scientists in 1953, three years before Reader's Digest got around to writing a story about it?
The so-called Neanderthal Man was discovered around 1900 in a cave in the Neanderthal Valley near Dusseldorf, Germany. Naturally, he was hailed as another great “missing link.” Since that time, it has been proven that Neanderthal wasn't an ape-man at all. He turned out to be a fully erect human being with a cranial capacity of over 13% more than that of normal man. Today, he is classified as “Homo Sapiens” (completely human). The “missing link” is still missing.
This is undoubtedly good news for fans of Neanderthal man, who might have been thinking that the name Homo sapiens neanderthalensis relegates him to the status of a subspecies of human being. Some scientists won't even give Neanderthal that much credit and prefer the designation Homo neanderthalensis, considering him to be an entirely distinct species within the genus Homo. Either way, Neanderthal is not exactly considered just plain folks.

I noticed something interesting while checking on Melton's claim about Neanderthal. He apparently cribbed his argument, words and all, from an earlier essay by a fellow names Huse, who in 1983 wrote “Nowadays, Neanderthal Man is classified as Homo sapiens, completely human.” Fortunately, the change in the first word and the parentheses at the end preserve the Reverend Mr. Melton from the sin of plagiarism. Or so he may think.
Finally, we come to Lucy, a 40% skeleton found in Ethiopia by D.C. Johanson in the 70's. Johanson claimed that “Lucy” had walked on two legs, because of the “angle of the thigh bone and the flattened surface at its knee joint” (National Geographic, December, 1976). However, the knee joint was badly crushed; so Johanson's conclusion is mere speculation. Anatomist Charles Oxnard said the “Lucy” did NOT walk upright, at least not in the same manner as humans. The chimpanzee DOES spend some time walking upright, so this was probably just another ape.

Now this is the kind of “evidence” which supports evolution. This is what a child is taught in the public school system and in the state universities as “scientific fact.” This is what the Bible labels as “science falsely so called” (I Tim. 6:20).
The Charles Oxnard cited by Mr. Melton is a genuine scientist who published a paper on the bipedalism of Lucy and her species. However, as usual, creationists exaggerate what Oxnard said. As noted by Jim Foley at www.talkorigins.org, “Oxnard also claims that, while probably bipedal, australopithecines did not walk identically to modern humans. Creationists sometimes quote this conclusion in a highly misleading manner, saying Oxnard proved that australopithecines did not walk upright.” At least Melton gives us a fig leaf (“at least not in the same manner as humans”) to cover the embarrassment of his argument. The point is that Lucy was bipedal, not that she went loping along like a modern human.

For his big finish, Melton tries to burnish his Young Earth credentials by single-handedly refuting all of the scientific measures that demonstrate the billions of years of existence of our planet and the universe.

Evolutionists generally use five different methods in determining the age of matter: salt content in the oceans, deposition of sediments, rate of soil erosion, disintegration of radioactive materials, and Libby's Carbon 14 experiment. Problems can be found with all of these methods, but the biggest problem of all is the method that they've chosen to ignore—the study of Half Lives.

This is where one figures the current rate of decay or deterioration of something and then figures backwards to see how long this process has been going. For example, if one fills his gas tank up with gas and drives for 100 miles, you can figure that he's driven 100 miles if you know how may miles his car will travel per gallon.

The dating of matter works the same way, except in science this is called the study of Half Lives. Evolutionists tend to steer away from this field of study, for it is very capable of demolishing their religious conviction that the universe and the earth is billions of years old. Let's look at a few examples:

The sun is continuously burning out at a rate of 5 feet per hour. This means that the sun would have been TWICE the size that it is now only 100,000 years ago! Only 20,000,000 years ago, the sun would have been so large that it would be touching the earth! Yet evolutionists insist that the universe, including the sun, is billions of years old.

Because of meteors and meteorites, interplanetary dust falls upon the earth at a rate of at least 14 million tons per year. The evolutionists claim that the earth, the moon, and the various planets are at least 4.5 billion years old. This means that there should be a layer of space dust on the moon over 500 feet thick. However, when the astronauts landed on the moon, LESS THAN THREE INCHES of dust were found. Three inches could have accumulated in less than 8000 years.

Radioactive helium is generated by decaying uranium atoms. Dr. Melvin Cook, a former Nobel-prize nominee, says that this helium is constantly being released into our atmosphere, and that there are currently about a million-billion grams of this helium in our atmosphere. Yet, this is a very small number compared to what it would be if the earth were over 4.5 billion years old. According to Cook's measurements, the earth can't be over 10,000 to 15,000 years old.

The half life of the earth's magnetic field is believed to be less than 1400 years. That is, 1400 years ago, the earth's magnetic field would have been twice as strong as it is today. Only 10,000 years ago, the earth would have had a magnetic field as strong as the sun! WHO KNOWS what it would have been like 4.5 billion years ago!?
As you can see, Mr. Melton has trouble with the concept of “half life,” skipping merrily from radioactive isotopes to magnetic fields. He thinks that scientists don't pay attention to half-lives, an assertion he makes without any particular evidence. Perhaps he said that because they ignore the creationist argument about magnetic fields. In the middle of it all, Melton mixes in some speculation about the shrinking sun. He cites a creationist scientist (Melvin Cook), calling him a “nominee” for a Nobel prize (not a very meaningful characterization, since being nominated by someone is not the same as being seriously considered for the award); in fact, he was never even nominated. Melton digs up old arguments about dust deposition without realizing they depend on long-discredited estimates of deposition rates.
You see, these are the things that are commonly ignored by “serious scientists.” The theory of evolution is an UNSCIENTIFIC theory, which is made up of blind guesswork and outright lying. It cannot be proven by the scientific laws of observation and experimentation. Darwin's theory is nothing more than a religious faith for high-minded people who think they're too smart for God. The Lord Jesus Christ was a Creationist (Matt. 19:4; Mark 13:19), and when we compare His life work to the life work of Darwin and his followers, we find a much better Way in Jesus Christ and in the written word of God.
Evolution is unscientific because creationists say so. That's really all they have, since their evidentiary offerings are so paltry.

What a mess all of this has been! Yet even a non-biologist, with just a bit of diligence and discernment, can knock over these flimsy creationist arguments. Mr. Melton's essay is a nice example of its species: a cobbled-together paste-up of hoary arguments—many long known to be false—sprinkled with misinterpretations as well as outright errors of fact.

Will Mr. Melton repent of the error of his ways? Unfortunately, creationists rarely do.

The stupid little boy

Stupidest in the whole world!

One of my students favored me with this joke, which I greatly enjoyed. Here is my rendering of it:
The Stupidest Little Boy in the Whole World

A man walks into a barbershop for a quick trim. The barber sits him down in the chair and gets to work with his clippers.

“See that kid hanging out in front of the shop?” asks the barber.

The customer looks out the shop window and sees a small boy. “Uh huh.”

“That boy,” continues the barber, “is the stupidest kid in the whole world.”

Not knowing what else to say, the customer says, “Oh?”

“No kidding,” the barber says. “Look, I'll show you.”

The barber waves at the boy and gestures for him to come in. The boy sees the barber and comes into the shop.

“Just get a load of this,” mutters the barber into his customer's ear.

The barber ceremoniously places two quarters in the palm of his left hand and puts a dollar bill in his right. He holds them out toward the boy. “Help yourself,” he says. “One or the other.”

The boy moves closer and examines the barber's offerings. He looks back and forth between the two hands while the barber smirks. Eventually he snatches the two quarters and runs out the door, leaving the dollar bill. The barber turns back to his customer.

“Did you see that? I tell you, the stupidest kid in the whole world!”

When his haircut is finished, the customer pays the barber and steps outside. He sees the little boy further down the block, happily licking an ice cream cone. The man strolls over to the boy.

“Say, kid, why didn't you take the dollar?”

The boy looks the man in the face and says, “Listen, mister. The day I take the dollar bill is the day this game is over!”

So says the stupidest little boy in the whole world.

Small town propaganda

A moving Target

Davis is a fairly small town near Sacramento, the state capital of California. Its major claim to fame is a large campus of the University of California, which is probably all that saves it from being nothing more than a bedroom community for civil servants. I last mentioned Davis when I wrote about a trip to the university last spring to attend a symposium on classroom-based research. There were rewarding presentations on both mathematics instruction and biology (see Darwin in Davis).

I have many friends and colleagues with degrees from UC Davis. Yesterday I enjoyed having dinner with a family member who is pursuing his studies there. We ended up spending some time discussing the latest controversy in small town politics. The Target Corporation has proposed one of their “big box” stores for Davis and the city council punted the decision to the voters in the form of a ballot proposition, Measure K in the November general election.

The anti-Target group in Davis argues that the presence of such a large store in their town will violate the slow-growth general plan that is supposed to guide local development. In addition to setting up a website, www.DontBigBoxDavis.org, the opponents put out a mailer that my relative and I found quite eye-catching. Is the Target store going to carve a giant chunk out of downtown Davis if the voters approve Measure K on November 7? The image on the flier was daunting:

It has often been argued that big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Target can destroy a city's downtown business by drawing commerce away from the central district. The No on K flier made it seem as though Target was preparing to be the central district—or at least six city blocks of it! Wow!

We had a second piece of campaign literature that added to the confusion. This one was a six-page tabloid titled On Target and published by Davis CARES, a pro-Target group that had gone to the trouble to work up a telling acronym by naming themselves Citizen Activists for Responsible, Effective Solutions. I'm impressed. The group is sponsored by Target Corporation and has its own website urging a yes vote on K. The Davis CARES tabloid carried a rather different map of the proposed development:

Okay, the shapes in the two drawings are similar, but the street names are almost completely disjoint. Only Second Street appears in both maps. The lettered streets (C through G) of the anti-K map are nowhere to be found. What's going on?

I punched up Google Maps and zoomed in on Davis. As you can see, the lettered streets of Davis's downtown are down in the lower-left corner of the map, where I put a B to label the location shown in the anti-K illustration. Second Street runs along the south edge of the town all the way to the east edge of the map, where it meets a major road called Mace Boulevard. The point labeled A is the actual proposed location of the Target development. It's a couple of miles from downtown.

So what, exactly, is going on? I have no idea if the anti-K forces have been taken to task for their confusing drawing, but I can confidently predict their defense: “We were just trying to show how big the proposed development would be relative to downtown (even though nothing on the flier explains this). We had no idea people would think that Target wants to bulldoze most of the central city!”

I'm sure it was all an innocent mistake. An oversight, as it were.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A classroom conversion

Peter Fromm's name is not legion

P.Z. Myers over at Pharyngula has linked approvingly to the website of a high school science teacher, Ms. SuperScience. The teacher is unapologetic about teaching real science and recounts a brief encounter with an upset parent. A mother replies to her statement that the biology class will definitely cover the evidence for evolution by repeating a popular creationist talking point: “Well, what evidence, because there really isn't any?” Ms. SuperScience shows her no mercy, citing the findings of molecular biology and discoveries in the fossil record. The creationist flees.

She may well return, but it will undoubtedly be to joust further with the science teacher, not to admit that the teacher is right and she is wrong. It is a symptom of the closed mind of the creationist that evidence is irrelevant. First they say it doesn't exist and then, when you display it in abundance, they either reject it as irrelevant, suggest it's misunderstood, or imply it's fraudulent. It can't be right, you see, because God the Creator would never allow it.

Strangely enough, though, I think the creationist mother is right to be concerned, at least from her point of view. There is no better treatment for a narrow religious point of view than immersion is a good secular university. Young people are less deeply programmed than their ossified elders, for whom data-filtering has become a way of life. It must be even more dangerous when high school teachers are brave enough to teach science as it is rather than as the religionists would prefer (which may very well be “not at all”).

The estimable Martin Gardner wrote a neglected novel titled The Flight of Peter Fromm. It's a semi-autobiographical work that recounts the spiritual and intellectual journey of a Bible-believing young man who finally comes to realize that his childhood training is a tissue of myths and fantasies. His epiphany comes in the form of a lecture on geology:
Peter had raised his hand in class one day, Blitz told me, to ask if it were possible that all the sedimentary rock on the earth had been deposited at the same time. “You mean,” said Blitz, intending to be funny, “by the big flood described in the Old Testament?” Everyone in the class laughed except Peter who nodded gravely.

“I was dumbfounded,” said Blitz. “I didn't want to embarrass the kid by arguing with him in front of the class, but I spent the rest of the hour going over all the evidence I could think of that proves sedimentation has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. The boy listened without batting an eyelash. After class he came up and asked if he could see me sometime in my office.”

Blitz pushed away his empty dessert dish and blotted his mustache with a napkin. “When he came to see me he had a big book with him called The New Geology. It was by some knucklehead named Price.”

“I know the book,” I said. “Price is a Seventh-Day Adventist who lives in Walla Walla, Washington. He must be as old as Methuselah. You know, he was the scientific authority William Jennings Bryan kept referring to during the Scopes trial in Tennessee.”

“It figures,” said Blitz. “I borrowed the damn book and stayed up half the night reading it. I had no idea anyone like Price still existed. Why, he has the notion that....”

“You don't have to tell me about Price,” I said. “I've read his book.”

Blitz lifted his bushy eyebrows. “Sometimes you amaze me, Homer. Is there anything you haven't read? Have you seen my latest paper, ‘Vadose and Phreatic Features of Limestone Caverns’?”

I laughed and shook my head.

“I was so fascinated by Price,” Blitz went on, “that next day I took his book to class with me. For three days all I did was talk about Price and the man's priceless stupidities. When I gave the book back to Peter, do you know what he did?”

“He still wanted to argue about it?”

Au contraire. He shook my hand and thanked me. He told me those were the most important lectures he'd ever heard.”

I felt relieved. Peter meant, of course, exactly what he said—he always meant what he said—even though he could not then have been aware of how sharp a corner he had turned. To change the metaphor, Blitz had driven the point of a geological hammer into the rock of Peter's fundamentalism. He had opened the first tiny fissure through which the waters of modern science could begin their slow erosion. Now the metaphor breaks down. It may take a million years for a boulder to crumble. A religion can crumble in a few centuries. A man's faith can crumble in less than a year.

Peter threw away his copy of The New Geology.
Peter was more receptive toward evidence than most creationists, but remember that he's based on Martin Gardner's own growing-up experiences. It's not just a fictional account. Science teachers who keep teaching actual science will make it possible for other students to make their flight from unreason.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Read all about it!

You can be famous, too

Is the New York Times refusing to run your press releases? Has the local paper stopped publishing your letters to the editor? (I know, I know. That's why so many of us have blogs now.) Well, you can stuff your scrapbook with newspaper clippings that celebrate your fame and present the news of the day your way. That's because you write it yourself.

The Newspaper Clipping Generator awaits your visit. Make up a newspaper name, type in your article, and voilà!

You shouldn't use the name of a real newspaper, of course, so I chose “Los Angeles Tribune,” the fictional paper of Ed Asner's Lou Grant. Oops! Thanks to the fold, it looks just like the Los Angeles Times.

The clipper generator does not do a very good job of fitting your text into the column space (that is, kerning and justification are terrible), so be prepared to tinker with your text a few times to get it to look okay. I took half a dozen iterations because my fake article is longer than it should be. Sort of like this post.

By the way, I did not discover the clipping generator on my own. It was brought to my attention by Elayne Riggs, who has a blog at Pen-Elayne on the Web.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Our Lady of Whatever

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

The apples in my family tree don't fall very far. I grew up with my grandparents living next door. My nieces had the same experience, growing up next door to my parents. Now the eldest of my nieces is raising her children in close proximity to both their grandparents and great-grandparents. No, the apples stay close to home.

There are, however, exceptions. While my parents and siblings and nieces and nephews and various cousins are concentrated in a couple of Central California counties, a couple of us escaped to the wilds of the north state. Not too long ago, my parents decided they had one more long road trip in them and spent some hours on the freeway to drop in on the son and grandson who had wandered away. We braced ourselves for the visit.

Events back home are organized around family anniversaries and church holidays. Up here my life and the life of my nephew are governed mostly by the academic calendars of our respective schools. He is busy arranging a postdoc as a research scientist at his university and I am a full-time college faculty member. Although we stay in touch with the folks down home (and my nephew heads south at frequent intervals for visits), our orbits bear scant resemblance to the trajectories of most of our other family members. We both knew that it was time to dig out the mass schedule of the local Catholic churches because Mom & Dad were coming up on a weekend, and they would insist on going.

Of course, their son and grandson would be dragged along in their wake. It may seem a bit odd, but on their home turf my parents no longer try to enforce church attendance. They're just happy to see us. By contrast, however, once they've made the long trek to come visit distant family members, it would be the height of rudeness not to accompany them everywhere. I guess it makes sense.

Mass confusion

My folks arrived at my home, whereupon I alerted my nephew that we were on our way. Mom & Dad were taking us all out to dinner, but first we were picking up their grandson and going to Saturday evening mass (which many Catholics attend in fulfillment of their weekly obligation, which is more commonly discharged on Sunday). My nephew (who is also my godson) had informed us that the only opportunity in his small town was a bilingual service. That was more of a problem for him, a monolingual anglophone, than for his bilingual relatives. My parents and I are accustomed to Portuguese and decades of exposure to Spanish have made it easy to follow along at a Spanish mass. As it turned out, however, the bilingual mass really was a two-language affair. They didn't have supertitles, like in an opera house, but the priest said everything twice, first in English and then in serviceable Spanish. My nephew tuned in and out in turns as we attended the longest Saturday mass we had ever experienced this side of an Easter vigil.

Ordinarily I think my parents would have been pleased that their wayward kin were getting a double whammy, but we were all waiting dinner till the service was over, so they were getting restive, too. Then, just as we were running through the final responses and champing at the bit to dash for the doors, we were ambushed by the Virgin Mary.

Mary is a very busy woman. In addition to haunting a wide variety of edibles (particularly Mexican ones, although she's not too proud to appear in a humble cheese sandwich), the Blessed Mother has been racking up a most impressive series of avatars. Even non-Catholics are quite familiar with some of them: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima (very big in my family because of the Portuguese connection), Our Lady of Lourdes, etc., etc., etc. Like I said: busy, busy, busy.

The Blessed Virgin is not content to rest on her laurels. No, on the particular evening when my parents, my nephew, and I had finally reached the end of a long bilingual mass, the priest cheerfully announced (twice, of course) that we were about to be treated to a special presentation. I knew right away what was going on, and I suspect that my parents did, too. When a middle-aged woman with a very earnest expression on her face rose in response to the priest's summons and moved to the front of the church, I had no doubt at all. She bore all the traditional stigmata of the Marian advocate, of which an intense earnestness is the most visible.

We had had ample warning. Prayer cards had been handed out at the door to everyone who attended the mass. They bore an unfamiliar image of the Virgin Mary on the front (see the picture at the top of this post) and included a devotional prayer on the back. Although I could scarcely be more lapsed as a Catholic, I dare say I do as good a job as my weekly-attentive parents in keeping tabs on what the church is up to. If I had never seen this Marian icon, it was likely new. We were about to be treated to a pitch for a new devotional practice.

The woman with the earnest expression briefly reminded us of the long tradition of Marian devotions in the Roman Catholic Church. No kidding. She said that she was introducing us to the Virgin's new aspect as “Our Lady of All Nations.” She asked us to fish out the prayer cards that had been distributed before mass and then she led us through the prayer (yes, twice).
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father,
send now Your Spirit over the earth.
Let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts of all nations,
that they may be preserved from degeneration, disaster and war.
May the Lady of All Nations, who once was Mary,
be our Advocate. Amen.
Not bad, as Marian prayers go. Staring off with an invocation of Jesus is a good move, since it helps guard against the accusations of Mary worship often leveled against Catholics. I had already perused the card a couple of times during lulls in the mass and quickly homed in on what I knew would be a trouble spot. Sure enough, Mom was on it the moment we left the church.

“What does it mean—‘who once was Mary’?”

I didn't spend years in catechism for nothing and I knew that it would do no one any good for my mother to be distressed.

“I'm sure the intent is simply to distinguish between her life on earth and her subsequent reign as Queen of Heaven.” (Yes, that's one of her many titles in Catholic dogma.)

“But why does it say ‘was’ Mary?”

Time for the big guns.

“Don't worry about it too much, Mom. If you've never heard of this before, then it's probably not yet an authorized devotion. You noticed that the presentation was by a laywoman rather than a cleric, so I doubt it's official. At some point Rome will make a decision on it.”

Ah, the advantages of a church with a hierarchy and a magisterium! Mom calmed right down. What I said was undoubtedly true. (She never seems to fret about getting explications on points of Catholic practice from her nonpracticing son, whom she hoped would someday be a priest. But then, priests provide marriage counseling, so why shouldn't a former Catholic give advice to Catholics?)

I was mostly right, by the way. The devotion to Our Lady of All Nations is a recent upstart. The seer in this instance was Ida Peerdeman of Amsterdam. (Mary prefers to appear to others of her sex, although the boy Francisco got to play a bit part at Fatima. Guadalupe would be the main exception, allowing for the unfortunate likelihood that Saint Juan Diego never existed.) The bishop of Haarlem denied in 1956 that Peerdeman's visions were supernatural and banned public devotions to Our Lady of All Nations. The cult persisted, however, and by degrees has become more mainstream. A new bishop in Haarlem, however, issued a decree in 1996 that permitted public devotions, although without specific church endorsement. This is a bigger step than many might realize, because even the famous apparitions of Fatima and Lourdes are not part of church doctrine; Rome endorses them but does not require belief in them as truths of the faith. Eventually, in 2002, yet another bishop of Haarlem declared that Peedeman's visions were miraculous: “I have come to the conclusion that the apparitions of the Lady of All Nations in Amsterdam consist of a supernatural origin.”

Persistence pays off.

And the part of the prayer that disturbed my mother? Devotees of Our Lady of All Nations have offered this explanation, quoted on the Eternal Word Television Network website:
This refers to the fact that Mary is no longer just Mary but rather The Lady, The Woman at the foot of the Cross. These words refer to her Eternal Motherhood over all of us, for she is Mother Whom Jesus gave to us from the Cross with the words: Woman behold thy Son!
Well, that certainly clears it all up, doesn't it?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Prometheus, proto-creationist

Bringer of fire, not light

The novels of Jasper Fforde are ridiculously entertaining. He writes in a fantasy genre that treats fictional characters as denizens of a parallel universe. It can be awkward when they get feisty, such as Ophelia launching a hostile takeover of Hamlet because she's sick of the title character's dithering—and besides, her part is too small.

Fforde is best known for his Thursday Next series of novels, four books in which Thursday gets herself in trouble in such venues as Jane Eyre, gets trained by Miss Havisham of Great Expectations as an agent in Jurisfiction, and hides out in an unpublished novel so that she can bring her pregnancy to term in peace. This was not a genre with which I was previously familiar, although I suppose Tom Holt has been mining a similar vein for a longer time (e.g., Snow White and the Seven Samurai). Fforde, however, holds my attention better.

The Thursday Next series appears to be complete now, or at least on hold, while Fforde branches off into his new Nursery Crime project. The first installment, The Big Over Easy, is a murder-mystery/detective thriller concerning the apparent murder of Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant van Dumpty, a.k.a. Humpty Dumpty. Of course, given Mr. Dumpty's notorious problem with alcohol and his penchant for sitting on walls, it's difficult to be sure that foul play was involved in his fall.

Characters from classical mythology are as likely to stroll through the pages of Fforde's novel as any nursery rhyme character, so we get to meet Prometheus, a Titan who is seeking asylum in the United Kingdom while fighting extradition to Mount Olympus, where he is wanted for a prison escape. Prometheus finds lodging in the home of Jack Spratt, Detective Inspector with the Nursery Crimes Division, and eventually has a pleasant chat with Spratt's grown daughter, who is named Pandora:
Prometheus and Pandora continued talking as the fire gradually burned itself down. Prometheus pointed out the flaws in evolutionary theory, such as how a bird could possibly have evolved wings without having useless appendages for thousands of years that would have hindered its survival. Pandora countered by saying that rule number one of the cosmos was that unlikely things do happen. Indeed, given the time scale involved and the size of the universe, unlikely things, paradoxically enough, became quite commonplace.
Nice! I don't know Fforde's own convictions on the matter, but he provides us with a neat juxtaposition of a specious criticism of evolution and a significantly flawed counter-argument.

These days it's just embarrassing when yet another creationist demands to know the utility of “half an eye” or “half a wing.” The answer is the same one that lays waste to claims of “irreducible complexity”: preadaptation and co-option. Intelligent design creationists love to argue that the bacterial flagellum is so finely tuned a mechanism that it cannot be reduced in any way without destroying its functionality; therefore it could not possibly have evolved from any simpler predecessor. Unfortunately for the creationists, it has now been shown that the flagellum has likely precursors in certain protein secretory systems. The secretory systems were not propulsion systems, but evolution is pragmatic and opportunistic. The secretory systems were co-opted for a function other than their original. (See Ken Miller for more details of the argument.)

By contrast, Pandora's counter-argument has a nugget of truth at its core: a lot can happen in deep time. Nevertheless, she is depending entirely too much on the probability of random occurrences. So the proto-birds will have trouble managing their clumsy half-wings for millions of years until they manage to get airborne? Yes, it's very unlikely, but if you wait long enough...

No, no, no. The point is that any “half-wings” will have a useful function of their own. It won't be flying, because they aren't “designed” for flying. Of course, we weren't there as observers (as creationists love to point out), so we are limited to working with the limited evidence that survives in the fossil record and the DNA of today's living species. By slow patient degrees (there is something to that argument about time), the story is coming together. It is making perfectly fine progress without the intervention of any divine beings, whether creator spirits or fire-bringers.

Speaking of fire-bringers, let's give the last word to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt, who muses on the conversation going on between his daughter and the exiled Titan:
“Science meets mythology. It'll be interesting to see what conclusions they draw before the night is out. I'll be fascinated to hear what Prometheus has to say about the fossil record.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

Melanie Morgan, née Goebbels

The angry update

In a previous post, I reported how Melanie Morgan of KSFO radio in San Francisco used an article in WorldNetDaily to lie about Iraq. She said we were definitely “winning” because American troop deaths were dropping every month. That's a questionable criterion for success in the ill-advised Iraq war—surely a necessary condition but hardly a sufficient one. Furthermore, her claim is demonstrably untrue. She could give it a certain truthiness only by truncating the month of August. The day after she published her WorldNetDaily column, her claim had already been invalidated.

One of the truly damnable things about Morgan and her ilk is how they make easily refutable statements about Iraq, terrorism, patriotism, or what have you, and, when you refute them, they claim you are glad they are wrong. Yes, aren't we all delighted that the rising body count quickly gave the lie to Morgan's specious claims? It's nasty, but it's how they do business. “The Iraq war is foolish and unnecessary,” you say. “Oh, well then you support terrorists!” they say. “We're going to lose hundreds (now thousands) of men and women in our armed forces in this unnecessary war!” you say. “Aha! You hate America and you're happy about our casualties!” they scream.

The September casualty count has been compiled now and here is the “happy” result. Morgan penned her propaganda with several days left in August, enabling her to float the fiction that the U.S. body count was still dropping. Instead, however, we see that the August result was a secondary spike, jumping back up to 67, just short of the May total of 69. We are continuing to feed our troops into a meat grinder for no better reason than that George W. Bush wanted to “get” Saddam Hussein, to show that he's a bigger and tougher man than his Daddy (who was smart enough in the first Gulf War to stop after achieving the goal of liberating Kuwait).

As I write this, on September 11, the U.S. body count for the month is already at 26, with nineteen days left to go. At this rate, September will match or exceed August. This is miserable, galling news. I keep forgetting how pleased I should be that the loons who support the Iraq war are always being proved wrong. What comfort is there in being right when it doesn't matter? The man in the White House will keep staying the course, even if he has trouble explaining what that course is, and there'll be no improvement in the lot of our military until he is hobbled and neutralized. Even a determined Democratic congress, however, will have trouble reining in our imperial president, who thinks that “commander-in-chief” means “king.”

It makes you want to vomit.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Smoking or nonsmoking?

Separate but unequal

In the 1970s, when I was in a graduate program in mathematics, I frequently stopped at a 24-hour restaurant near the university for a bite on my way home in the afternoon or evening. I usually sat at the counter, where the service was quick, and read a book while munching a sandwich.

Those were the days when smokers felt entitled to light up and fumigate any venue they occupied, so it was by no means unusual to find myself sharing the smog bank generated by the fellow on the next stool. I've hated cigarette smoke all my life, but enduring second-hand smoke was a commonplace of everyday existence back then. The only surprising departure from standard practice would occur when your neighbor at the counter would turn toward you and ask, “Do you mind if I smoke?” This was an exceedingly rare courtesy.

My grateful response would be, “Oh, thanks for asking. I would really appreciate it if you didn't.” More than once, however, I discovered that I was not being asked for my permission at all. No, I was being notified. The smoker would smirk, brandish a lighter to ignite the cigarette already in his mouth, and favor me with the first cloud of smoke.

Perhaps smokers were more polite where you grew up, but it was exceedingly rare in my experience to meet a smoker who was willing to refrain from his god-given right to pollute the local environment. As you can imagine, I therefore never took seriously the plaintive cries of smokers who wanted to know why we needed smoking bans when human kindness and courtesy would suffice. Yeah, right. Tell me another one.

Sometimes I drop in for lunch at the restaurant that I used to frequent thirty years ago. It's gone through three new names and a couple of major remodelings over the decades. The counter is long gone, replaced by small booths. It is also, of course, a nonsmoking establishment.

All restaurants are nonsmoking in California. So are bars, for that matter. That one stuns me when I think about it. Bars are nonsmoking? I would never have predicted that. Although the Golden State is rather in the vanguard of the antismoking movement, the ban on smoking in drinking establishments came as a shock. It doesn't much affect me, since I'm a nondrinker and seldom have occasion to be in bars, but it's still difficult for me to imagine clean air in drinking establishments.

As a fairly provincial fellow who doesn't travel much, I'm usually at rather loose ends on those occasions when I'm away from my usual haunts. In 1998, on a trip to Colorado for a friend's wedding, I was momentarily discombobulated when the hostess at a restaurant asked my party whether we wanted smoking or nonsmoking? I had not been asked that question in many years, although we in California had gone through a lengthy “separate sections” period before making the restaurant ban total. Today it no longer even occurs to me to think I might have to sit in or near someone else's smoke cloud. Smokers have dwindled in numbers and we have them on the run—out into the alleys where they furtively congregate to catch a few puffs before going back inside among the less addicted people.

This morning's newspaper prompted my reminiscence about the bad old days. The journal had picked up an Associated Press story about restaurants in Georgia that were trying to work around the ban on smoking in eating establishments. In Georgia. Think about that, folks. Southern states—tobacco states—are enacting smoking bans. Gosh and damn. The revolution arrived without anyone quite realizing it.

AP reporter Russ Bynum filed his report with a dateline of Dublin, Georgia:
A year after Georgia forced restaurants to extinguish their smoking sections, the sign outside Chuck and Kay Fordham's diner defiantly invites customers to “Bring Your Butts On In.”

Inside, ceiling fans stir the smell of frying bacon and hash browns and clouds of blue cigarette smoke as patrons puff away over cups of coffee. Butts pile up in the ashtrays on the tables and lunch counter.

Folks who don't want a side order of secondhand smoke with their eggs and burgers should probably stay away from the Smoker's Cafe.

The Fordhams found a way around the smoking ban by exploiting a loophole that was created to exempt bars from the law. Instead of banning cigarettes, the couple banned children from their restaurant.

“The biggest thing with me was the government telling you that you can't do this,” Chuck Fordham said. “Most smokers, after they eat, want a cigarette. And to get up from the table to smoke, it's just a pain.”
I love that line about “the government.” Whether you like it or not, Mr. Fordham, when you live in a representative democracy, you are the government. We all are. Smoking bans, with loopholes or otherwise, would never be enacted without sufficient support from the public. The smoking ban in Georgia represents a sea change in the status of tobacco, which even in the deep South is no longer sacred. There are cities in Alabama that ban smoking in bars (although the state as a whole has yet to follow suit).

What the Fordhams have discovered is that smokers no longer have the sympathy of a majority of the population. They now belong to an oppressed minority. An oppressed minority that is killing itself off at a rate faster than the general population.

The antismoking trend is here to stay, so we can breathe a little easier.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Greenbacks and Ham

Putting the “cult” back into “culture”

The mail brings me yet another begging letter from Ken Ham, president of the Answers in Genesis ministry (also known as “AiG”). Ham is shaking the money tree once again on behalf of his organization's Creation Museum, a deluxe temple to wilful ignorance. Maybe you believe that you descended from a long line of ape-like ancestors, but Ken Ham says he never evolved at all! (And from his picture, you can see his point.)

It would never do to just come right out and cry “Send money!” Ham favors his targets with an over-wrought narrative of wicked atheists assembling to battle against God's anointed and to prey on children with their non-bible science camps. Ham is pleased to recount that God has seen fit to smite the enemy (their science camps enroll fewer than AiG's Bible camps) and their activities have reportedly backfired, garnering more publicity and contributions for their target: Ken Ham's Creation Museum.

Notwithstanding a succession of brilliant victories, Ham needs more money, so out comes the open palm and the pitch for dollars. But instead of my telling you all about it, here is what Ham says. No doubt you will be moved to tears. (It's up to you whether those tears are of laughter or grief.)

September 2006

Dear web visitor to AiG,

Did you know that a camp that trains children in atheism/secular humanism started—not so coincidentally—in Kentucky, and in the same year we had a highly publicized zoning battle over our Creation Museum a few miles away?

Sad to say, these atheist camps are now spreading to other states.

Now, who would have ever thought of Kentucky as a battle ground between Christianity and humanism! We expect such battles in the highly populated liberal parts of the country—like the West and East Coasts—not in relatively conservative family-friendly states.

Ten years ago this month, Mike Zovath (our VP of the Creation Museum) was handed a copy of a local newspaper that had the following front-page headline and subhead: “Museum plans spark debate.”

We were all shocked! You see, we thought it would be easy to rezone a piece of property to build offices and a small (at the time) Creation Museum!

An atheistic organization called “Free Inquiry Group” (FIG)—headed by atheist, attorney Ed Kagin (who is currently the director of the American Atheists Society in Kentucky)—led a charge in opposing the Creation Museum

And what a battle it was! AiG was front-page headlines on and off for months! On the evening news one night, a local Cincinnati TV station led off with a story about the opposition to the museum ... and put President Clinton's re-nomination for president (at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago) as the second story.

At first, it was so obvious that most of the opposition was because we were Christians. I remember being at a public zoning meeting where one person actually said that “the separation of church and state” forbade us building a Creation Museum in Kentucky!

Think about it: a private museum … funded by private donations … shouldn't be built on privately owned land because of the (non-existent supposed Constitutional clause of) separation of church and state! Incredible!

At one of the zoning meetings, a lady stood up and pointed at me and vehemently said, “He's Jim Jones [the suicide cult leader] coming to get our kids!”

Actually, we were instead “AiG, coming to teach kids the truth concerning God's Word, praying that they would trust the Lord Jesus for salvation, and thus live forever with the Lord in Heaven!”

The reality was that the atheistic/humanistic FIG organization that opposed us was out to get kids themselves—to train them in a philosophy of hopelessness and purposelessness … and end up separated from God for eternity.

In the same year that the zoning battle began (sparked by the Free Inquiry Group and Ed Kagin, one of the FIG leaders), so did “Camp Quest” for children.

Mr. Kagin's website states:
Camp Quest is the first residential summer camp in the history of the United States for the children of Atheists, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural, world view.

Camp Quest is now operated by Camp Quest, Inc. an independent non-profit Kentucky Corporation …
On the same website, the Camp Quest canon states:
Camp Quest was conceived, and has been operated for the past ten years, as a summer camp for the children of the irreligious, for those who have accepted Atheism, or lack of a belief in a supernatural world, by whatever name such may be called, as a conclusion, not as a belief.
Camp Quest has spread from Kentucky to: Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Ontario (Canada), California, and Tennessee.

Interestingly, the average number of students attending these damps is only 20, ranging in ages from 7-17. A very small number, but no doubt will continue to grow.

By comparison, though, I think of the hundreds of thousands of K-12 students who have attended our Bible-upholding assemblies since 1996. Praise the Lord!

Ten years ago, when we were going to build the AiG offices and Creation Museum on the first property we were looking to buy, we had planned for a 30,000-sq.-ft. building, and it was 10 minutes from the interstate.

Well, the Lord allowed the opposition (led by Mr. Kagin) and the subsequent loss of that first property to guide us to a new property adjoining I-275 instead. Because of the larger, better-located property, we also decided to build a 95,000-sq.-ft. building—over 3 times the size of the original plan!

In addition, Patrick Marsh, living in Japan at the time, contacted us to ask if he could be our exhibit designer. Patrick had worked with Universal Studios, the 1984 Olympic Games in LA, Asian theme parks, etc.

Patrick came on board, and during the delay in finding a suitable piece of land, we decided to take the Creation Museum to a whole new level of technology and with themed exhibits … and thus a whole new level of excellence.

Now, prior to even opening to the public, the Creation Museum has expanded even further. Because of recent research and now bigger-than-originally expected attendance, we have already expanded the café and have made a new and larger lobby (creating a portico out front).

As a result of the opposition of Mr. Kagin and others to the Creation Museum in 1996, AiG will now be reaching hundreds of thousands more people a year—with the truth of God’s Word and the wonderful message of salvation!

Truly, “… we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

On the 10-year anniversary of the beginning of the battle for the Creation Museum, how we praise God for his faithfulness! The AiG ministry has grown: around 200 staff involved in many different outreaches to take the message of the authority of the Word of God—and the creation/gospel message—to literally millions.

Our website has been mightily blessed. It's this year's “website of the year” as selected by the 1,400-member National Religious Broadcasters. And the museum is nearing completion—to be open this coming spring.

As the secular media and others visit, all are amazed at what has been accomplished. The quality—the professionalism—and the fact that this whole facility can be built for only $25 million (plus $1.4 million for the recent expansion of the cafe and lobby/portico), of which $23 million has now been supplied. Praise God!

While the end is in sight to open the museum debt-free, please don't forget the many core ministry outreaches that require support through our general fund. These include the popular website, correspondence to all ages, our radio program, the new curriculum materials, video productions, speaking events, the Answers magazine, etc.

We see the Lord's hand of blessing every day at AiG, including how so many young people are being impacted. Here is a recent, wonderful testimony about a young girl and her mother that we received through our website:
“The AiG conference [near Knoxville] was wonderful. Ken [mentioned] one book in particular, A is for Adam, had more children come to know Jesus than any other [AiG book]. My ears perked up and I bought the book.

“My 4 1/2 year daughter and I read the book every day for a week. One day she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said she didn't want to go to hell. She said she wanted to be where Jesus—and where her mommy and daddy—was going to be.

“My little girl bowed her head and prayed to ask Jesus into her heart that day. It was glorious. thank God for how you have touched our lives.”—G. D., Knoxville, TN
Thank you for using our website. It has been raised up for this time to battle the culture war at a foundational level … and take the gospel around the world (in 11 languages so far).

Your help is crucial. Your gift will help see more lives changed—as God blesses—as the authority and accuracy of the Bible are proclaimed.


Ken Ham

P.S. Can you believe that atheists are deliberately targeting young people with a message of hopelessness … with eternal consequences for the “good” of our children?

Do not forget Ken Ham's message, gentle readers! The children won't believe in eternal happiness with a benevolent Creator unless we remedy the lack of evidence with diligent brainwashing and museums devoted to pseudoscience. Oh, and send money.