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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Republican Candidates' Bigotry

Defend EqualityI realize this makes for three political posts in a row (I try not to focus too much on politics), but here's one more issue that makes it hard to seriously consider some of the leading Republican candidates - their bigotry towards homosexuals. As reported in Reuters:

Texas Governor and Republican presidential contender Rick Perry has signed a pledge vowing to support a Constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be a union of one man and one woman, the group sponsoring the pledge said on Friday.
Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, among those competing with Perry for Republican presidential nomination, have also signed the pledge, the group said.

Not that public opinion polls should be used to defend civil rights, but just to be clear, according to Gallup, a majority of Americans do support marriage equality, and the trend has been towards further and further support. When are Republican politicians going to get the memo that their bigotry doesn't represent Americans' views?

I first heard of this story from The Digital Cuttlefish. Go check out his site for his poetic take on the issue.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Richard Dawkins' Litmus Test

Richard DawkinsI just wrote an entry, 2012 Political Litmus Test, where I explained that I would have a very, very hard time voting for candidates who didn't accept evolution or anthropogenic climate change, and then listed the stances of several candidates on those issues. Well, I just found out that Richard Dawkins wrote an article for the Washington Post, titled Attention Governor Perry: Evolution is a fact, where he made very much the same point in regard to evolution (he even called it a 'litmus test'). So, if you want to go read something more eloquent than what I could write, by someone much more influential than me, go check out that article. Here are a couple snippets to whet your appetite.

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.
A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.

As a side note, I debated whether "Dawkins'" or "Dawkins's" was the appropriate possessive form. According to this page, since Dawkins ends in a hard 'z' sound, it's the convention to just add the apostrophe. For someone like me, who's last name ends in a soft 's' sound, "Lewis's" would be the preferred form.

Added 2011-08-26 I just found out that there is actually a whole series of essays on this topic. It's in the On Faith section of the Washington Post, under the title, On evolution, can religion evolve? I haven't read all of them, yet, but most of the ones I have are pretty good. I can say that Paula Kirby's essay is excellent. For a truly awful example that will make you want to scream at your monitor, go read the one by Cal Thomas. Its one virtue is that it's short. For another awful example, but without the virtue of brevity, read the one by John Mark Reynolds.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2012 Political Litmus Test

Update 2012-01-23 As the campaign progress, the politicians have begun pandering to their base and changing their tune. Go read the update to see how things have changed.

Litmus PaperI've written before about my own political litmus test. Basically, it would be very, very difficult for me to support any politician who doubted evolution or advocated the teaching of creationism in schools, or who doubted the reality of anthropogenic global climate change. To nearly quote myself, for someone to take those positions requires that they lack knowledge of the issue, are willing to ignore the consensus of experts, and/or are willing to ignore evidence in favor of their ideology. None of those traits are something I want to see in the politicians representing me.

I use evolution and climate change in particular because they're well known issues - you can't claim that you've never heard of them, and, for evolution in particular, the evidence is simply overwhelming. I'm not trying to be a single issue voter. I view these issues nearly on par with things like the spherical Earth or heliocentricism. If, as a politician who will have to deal with a broad range of issues, you can't accept reality, I don't really care what you have to say on other issues, because you've already blown your credibility.

So, how are the current front runners looking on these issues? Here's a quick table. I put Obama on top (since I'm pretty sure the Democrats aren't going to run anyone against him), and some of the leading Republicans after that, in alphabetical order by last name. Note that I'm only trying to give a quick summary in the table below. Politicians are by nature slippery in stating their positions, or willing to say different things depending on the crowd, so it's sometimes a little hard to pin down their actual stances (not that a politician refusing to unambiguously come out in favor of either of these positions is much better than flat out rejecting them).

Candidate Evolution Anthropogenic Climate Change
Barack Obama Accepts Accepts
Michele Bachmann Doesn't Accept Doesn't Accept
Newt Gingrich Accepts Accepts
Mike Huckabee Doesn't Accept Accepts
Jon Huntsman Accepts Accepts
Sarah Palin Doesn't Accept Doesn't Accept
Ron Paul Doesn't Accept Doesn't Accept
Tim Pawlenty Doesn't Accept Doesn't Accept
Rick Perry Doesn't Accept Doesn't Accept
Mitt Romney Accepts Accepts
Rick Santorum Doesn't Accept Doesn't Accept

So, out of the Republican candidates listed above, only three are even worth starting to consider. And honestly, only one of them, Romney, has much of a chance of getting the Republican nomination. It really does scare the hell out of me that the people who reject the science on these issues are even contenders.

Here's a bit more detail on the candidate's positions:



Here's what Obama had to say in his own words:

I’m a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state.

But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith. That doesn’t make faith any less important than science. It just means they’re two different things. And I think it’s a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don’t hold up to scientific inquiry.

Source - Bad Astronomy

Climate Change:

Obama at least pays lip service to the threat of climate change, but it's disappointing that he hasn't gotten more accomplished in the time he's been in the White House.

Source - NY Times Blog



According to a blog by the name of The Stillwater Tribune, Bachmann has a very, very muddled understanding of evolution:

Bachmann’s personal definition of what evolution is became unclear at that point, but she went on to say that a grain of wheat plus a starfish does not equal a dog, and that this was what evolutionists were teaching in our schools.

She's also pushed for the teaching of creationism in schools.

Source - Stillwater Tribune
Source - The Bachmann Record

Climate Change:

This quote from a speech Bachmann gave on the House floor reveals a very ignorant position on climate science.

Carbon dioxide is natural. It is not harmful. It is a part of Earth’s life cycle. And yet we’re being told that we have to reduce this natural substance and reduce the American standard of living to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occurring in the earth.

Source - Environmental Law Prof Blog

She also treads dangerously close to conspiracy theories, implying that much of climate science is "manufactured science".

Source - Think Progress



Here's what Gingrich had to say in an inteview with Discover magazine back in 2006.

Do you view evolution as "just a theory" or as the best explanation for how we came to be? Evolution certainly seems to express the closest understanding we can now have. But it's changing too. The current tree of life is not anything like a 19th-century Darwinian tree. We're learning a lot about how systems evolve and don't evolve. Cockroaches became successful several hundred million years ago and just stopped evolving.

Where do you come down on teaching intelligent design in schools? Do you think the ruling in the Dover, Pennsylvania, case was appropriate?
I believe evolution should be taught as science, and intelligent design should be taught as philosophy. Francis Collins's new book, The Language of God, is a fine statement that combines a belief in God with a belief in evolution. I do not know enough about the Dover case to critique the judge's decision, but I am generally cautious about unelected judges establishing community standards—that is the duty of elected officials.

Source - Discover

However, he has been a bit cagey recently in not trying to admit to accepting evolution, presumably in an attempt to not alienate the creationists among the Republican base.

Source - Sensuous Curmudgeon

Climate Change:

Gingrich has not made it a secret that he accepts climate change is a real problem. As just one example, in an ad with Nancy Pelosi, he explicitly said, "We do agree our country must take action to address climate change."

Source - Daily Caller



There's the infamous example from the 2007 GOP debate, where Chris Mathews asked the candidates which among them did not accept evolution, and Huckabee raised his hand. He's tried to do a bit of back-pedaling since then, but he's never come out in full support of evolution, nor denial of young earth creationism.

Source - Wired
Source - Mike Huckabee fansite

Climate Change:

Back in 2007, at least, when he was in support of a cap and trade plan, Huckabee said of climate change that "it’s all our fault and all of our responsibility to fix it."

Source - Think Progress


Evolution & Climate Change:

In the wake of some of Rick Perry's anti-science statements, Huntsman made his now famous Tweet:

To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.

Source - Huffington Post (ugh, I feel a bit dirty linking there)



In her book, Going Rogue, Palin basically admitted to being a creationist (if you follow the evolution debate enough, you'll know that many young earth creationists treat 'microevolution' differently from 'macroevolution'.)

I believed in the evidence for microevolution—that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time, But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings—thinking, loving beings—originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about not through a random process, but were created by God.

Source - The Daily Beast

Climate Change:

Back in July of 2008, Palin appeared to accept climate change. Here's what she had to say back then:

Alaska's climate is warming. While there have been warming and cooling trends before, climatologists tell us that the current rate of warming is unprecedented within the time of human civilization. Many experts predict that Alaska, along with our northern latitude neighbors, will warm at a faster pace than any other areas, and the warming will continue for decades.

Source - Seattle P-I

However, once she hit the national spotlight, her tone began to change. In an editorial she wrote for the Washington Post in December of 2009, she had the following to say:

But while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes. We can say, however, that any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs.

That editorial also reveals that she bought into the manufactured Climategate controversy.

Source - Washington Post



Here's my transcript of a YouTube video of Paul speaking about evolution, leaving out a few stutters and ums.

I think it's a theory, the theory of evolution, and I don't accept it, you know, as a theory. But I think [video glitch or edit] the creator that I know, you know, created us, every one of us, and created the universe. And the precise time and manner and all [or you know] I just don't think we're at the point where anybody has absolute proof on either side.

Sources - Dispatches from the Evolution Wars
More Info - Ron Paul fansite

Climate Change:

In a November 2008 interview for New York Times / Freakanomics, Paul appeared to at least accept climate change and some measure of human effect, but he questioned just how much of an effect humans had.

It is clear that the earth experiences natural cycles in temperature. However, science shows that human activity probably does play a role in stimulating the current fluctuations.

The question is: how much? Rather than taking a “sky is falling” approach, I think there are common-sense steps we can take to cut emissions and preserve our environment. I am, after all, a conservative and seek to conserve not just American traditions and our Constitution, but our natural resources as well.

Source - Ron Paul fansite

However, he later changed his tune, calling climate change a hoax in an interview with Fox Business.

You know, the greatest hoax I think that has been around in many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on the environment and global warming. You notice they don’t call it global warming anymore. It’s weather control.

Source - Ron Paul fansite



Pawlenty both accepts creationism himself, and feels that it should be taught in schools. Here are some of his responses to a Newsweek interview.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about social issues your party has been dealing with. In her book, Palin claims that McCain’s handlers wanted her to be silent about her belief in creationism. How would you describe your view?

ANSWER: I can tell you how we handle it in Minnesota. We leave it to the local school districts. We don’t mandate a curriculum or an approach. We allow for something called “intelligent design” to be discussed as a comparative theory. It doesn’t have to be in science class.

QUESTION: Where are you personally?

ANSWER: Well, you know I’m an evangelical Christian. I believe that God created everything and that he is who he says he was. The Bible says that he created man and woman; it doesn’t say that he created an amoeba and then they evolved into man and woman. But there are a lot of theologians who say that the ideas of evolution and creationism aren’t necessarily inconsistent; that he could have “created” human beings over time.

Source - Sensuous Curmudgeon

Climate Change:

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Pawlenty said that he thinks the climate is changing, but that it's a natural occurrence and that humans aren't' influencing it.

Well, there’s definitely climate change. The more interesting question is how much is a result of natural causes and how much, if any, is attributable to human behavior. And that’s what the scientific dispute is about.
But I think it’s fair to say that, as to whether and how much -- if any -- is attributable to human behavior, there’s dispute and controversy over it.

At least this is slightly more sensible than the people who just completely flat out deny climate change altogether.

Source - LA Times



Of course, there's the recent example where he told a little boy that evolution was "a theory that's out there", and continued with "It's got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both Creationism and evolution." (BTW, creationism isn't taught in Texas schools.) But previously, back in July, he was even more explicit.

There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn't happen by accident and a creator put this in place.

Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I'm not going to tell you that I've got the answers to that. I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there's enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.

Source - New York Magazine

Climate Change:

Not just does Perry doubt climate change and humanity's influence, he's come out and basically said it's part of a conspiracy:

...there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.

Source - CBS News



Here's what Romney had to say during a 2007 primary debate.

I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe, and I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.
I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design. But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.

Source - Daily Beast

Climate Change:

Here was Romney's response to a question on climate change during a Town Hall meeting in Manchester, New Hampshire.

I don't speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. I can't prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer.

No. 2, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don't know how much our contribution is to that, because I know there's been periods of greater heat and warmth than in the past, but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it's important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and global warming that you're seeing.

Source - Politico



Here's part of what Santorum wrote in an editorial for the Washington Times.

This opposition to intelligent design is surprising since there is an increasing body of theoretical and scientific evidence that suggests an alternate theory is possible. Research has shown that the odds that even one small protein molecule has been created by chance is 1 in a billion. Thus, some larger force or intelligence, or what some call agent causation, seems like a viable cause for creating information systems such as the coding of DNA. A number of scientists contend that alternate theories regarding the origins of the human species - including that of a greater intelligence - are possible.

Therefore, intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes.

It's the standard creationist canards.

Source - Access Research Network

Climate Change:

As for solutions like carbon taxes, cap-and-trade legislation and other government efforts to control our energy consumption, however, I think most Americans don't believe Al Gore and the hysterics (good rock band name) have made the case.

Could it be that Americans know that over time the Earth goes through natural cooling and heating cycles?

Could it be that they recognize that most of the doomsday scenarios are not scientifically supported and that even the "consensus" projections are just that - projections based upon highly interactive questionable assumptions over long periods of time?

Or could it be they suspect that no one really knows the role that man-made carbon dioxide plays in the larger scheme of climate change?

Or maybe Americans are coming to understand that global temperatures have actually cooled over the last 10 years and are predicted to continue cooling over the next 10.

Source - The Inquirer

I suppose I should explain my confidence in evolution and anthropogenic climate change.

I've written extensively about evolution on this blog, so there's a lot of information if you just look around. One of my posts that originally was fairly minor turned into a good source for external links to information on evolution.

Here are a few of the better entries I've written on evolution. Of course, there's far more than this.

Here are two articles I wrote on this blog concerning climate change:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fire a Little Too Close for Comfort

This was the view from my front yard yesterday afternoon*:

Helicopter Dumping Water Just Outside Tanglewood
(Click to embiggen)

There was a pretty big fire right on the edge of our development. According to police spokesman, Sgt. Joe Snyder, the fire threatened 100 houses at its worst, but thankfully in the end only caused minor damage to the siding of two houses. Around 25 acres were charred when it was all over. 20 residents were evacuated, but none were injured. Four firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion, after which they jumped right back into the thick of it fighting the fire.

We heard about the fire while we were out shopping, so we almost immediately returned back home to see what was going on. At that point, there were plumes of black smoke that we could see from a few miles away, and right near the entrance to the development, there were flames 20-30 feet high (by my estimate - my wife thinks they were higher, but it's also possible we could both be overestimating due to our excitement). The main entrance was closed, so we had to take the back way in. The picture above shows how close the fire was to our house - close enough to be a bit concerned, but not anywhere near as concerned as the people living in the houses that were evacuated. At one point, when the wind shifted, it got a little hazy around our house from the smoke, but most of the time the wind was blowing the smoke just north of us.

The helicopter showed up a little while after we got home, and by that point, the smoke wasn't nearly as bad. The helicpter stayed for around an hour or so making several dumps. Here are a couple more photos of it:

Closeup of Helicopter Dumping Water Just Outside Tanglewood
(Click to embiggen)

Closeup of Helicopter that Dumped Water Just Outside Tanglewood
(Click to embiggen)

From what I've heard, the best guess is that the fire started when an electrical transformer exploded. With as dry as it's been here, those sparks were enough to start the fire. Whether the transformer did actually start the fire or not, we were without power for several hours. With the heat wave here, it was starting to get pretty stuffy.

Thankfully, the firefighters were able to get the fire under control and prevent any major damage or injuries. And the power company was able to restore power within a couple hours of being allowed on site.

So, to the firefighters and utility workers who worked in the 106º heat to save our houses and give us our power back, I want to express my sincere and deepest gratitude.

More Info:

*Okay, technically, that was the view from my next door neighbor's yard - the tree in the bottom right of the photo blocked the view from our yard.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Texas Education - Follow Up to the Follow Up to the Science Instructional Materials Debate

TEA LogoI wrote a few weeks ago about the vote then taking place for the final adoption of supplemental science instructional materials, and followed up with a post explaining how everything had gone mostly well, but that there was one sticking point left. A young Earth creationist had made it onto one of the review panels and made several bogus objections to the materials from Holt McDougal, even though none of the other members of his panel agreed with him. The compromise reached during the meeting was to let Holt McDougal work with the commissioner, Robert Scott, to come up with a satisfactory response to the objections. Scott stated that he would work with appropriate experts to ensure that the materials stayed scientifically sound.

Well, earlier this week, the TEA announced that the issues had been resolved, and it looks like nothing was watered down or changed for the worse. So, it's just more good news for Texas students.

Read more in the links below, including a memo from the TEA detailing Holt McDougal's response.

Monday, August 15, 2011

End of Wichita Falls Heat Wave Streak

Hot ThermometerWell, the record setting streak had to come to an end some time. The high temperature in Wichita Falls this past Saturday was only 93ºF, breaking a string of 52 consecutive days where the temperature had exceeded 100ºF. The previous record, set back in 1980, was 42 days. The summer's not over, yet, though, and we're probably still in for some more scorchers, so there are still a few more heat related records to be had, such as most total days over 100º in one year (we'll probably break that one today).

More Info: NOAA - Heat Wave and Summer Temperature Data for Wichita Falls

Friday, August 12, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Bonus Entry (And the End of the Review)

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicOne aspect of the book that I didn't discuss much were the photos. Every so many pages, a photo was inserted into the book. There were a total of 27 in the main body of the book. A few of these were relevant to the topic being discussed where they were inserted, but many were just random pictures of primates. There were also 19 photos in the appendices, most showing gorilla and orangutan skeletons or skulls. So, as one final bonus entry in this series, I figured I would make a post full of those photos.

I've labeled each photo the same way it was titled in the table of contents. I've also rotated some of the photos to make them easier to view, since those were oriented sideways in the book. My source for these photos was The Internet Archive copy, rather than manually scanning each one from my print copy of the book. Unfortunately, some of the photo captions weren't scanned in their entirety for The Internet Archive copy, so I've only shown what was available.

Most pictures below are links to higher res photos. Some of the linked photos are significantly better, sometimes the image below is already as good as the linked photo.

Other than the above, I present these photos without comment.

Photos from Main Body of Book

Another View of Chimpanzee, Page 2

Red Howler Monkey, Page 14

Profile View of Chimpanzee, Page 20

Gibbon, Page 26

Trinil Ape Man, Neanderthal Man, Cro-Magnon Man, Page 34

Grandfather Orang, Page 46

Skeletons of Man and Chimpanzee Compared, Page 56

Gorilla's Face, Page 66

Gorilla Profile, Page 78

Rhodesian Cave Man's Skull, Page 86

Natural Walking Posture of Gorilla, Page 90

Head of Galada Baboon, Page 106

Sapajou, Page 118

Another View of Grandfather Orang, Page 122

Orang Skull, Human Skull, Page 134

Chimpanzee with Arms Shaved, Page 156

Skeleton of Horse and Man Compared, Page 166

Rear Hand of Gorilla, Page 184

Head of Orang, Page 204

Exceptional View of Chimpanzee's "Foot", Page 218

Grizzly Bear Can Be Compelled to Stand Upright, Page 244

Natural Walking Posture of Chimpanzee, Page 262

Excellent View of Chimpanzee Countenance, Page 284

Skeletons of Polar Bear, Lion and Ruffled Lemur, Page 300

Orang in Thoughtful Mood, Page 306

"Foot" from Which the Human Foot Evolved, page 318

Gorilla Forehand in Walking Posture, Page 332

Photos from Appendices

1. Skeleton of Gorilla in Upright Position

2. Cervical Spines of Gorilla

3. Pear Shape of Gorilla Thorax

4. Gorilla Skeleton in Natural Walking Posture

5. Gorilla Scapula and Pelvis

6. Gorilla Arms and Legs
6. Gorilla Arms and Legs">

7. Skulls of Gorilla, Man and Orang

8. Skull Crests of Apes

9. Profiles of Three Skulls

10. Brain Pans and Jaws

11. Profile of Man and Gorilla

12. Three Skull Caps

13. Two Skull Caps

14. Two Skulls Without Jaws
14. Two Skulls Without Jaws">

15. Skulls and Jaws of Man and Orang
15. Skulls and Jaws of Man and Orang">

16. Jaws of Orang and Man

17. Two Skull Bases

18. Triassic Shoe Sole Fossil

19. Under-Side of Triassic Fossil

That's it. This review is now complete, and I won't be posting any more entries devoted to Alfred W. McCann's creationist book, God- or Gorilla?. I hope you've enjoyed it, but like I wrote in the introduction, don't expect me to ever do a review this detailed again.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Follow Up to Texas Education in the Budget Crisis

TEA LogoGood news everyone. I wrote back in April about teachers being laid off here in Wichita Falls due to funding cuts. Well, that was in preparation for a worst case budget scenario. As it turns out, instead of the Wichita Falls Independent School District (WFISD) budget being cut by $11.5 million, it was 'only' cut by $5.6 million. So, as the headline of the local paper says, WFISD to rehire most teachers. According to the article:

In an interview after a work session Tuesday, WFISD Superintendent George Kazanas said he expected to bring back "90-plus percent" of the teachers who were let go purely for budget reasons.

It still sucks that school funding is being cut at all, but at least it's not as bad as it could have been.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, Appendices, Part II (And the End of The Book)

This entry is part of a series. For a bit of an introduction and an index of all entries in the series, go here.

God or Gorilla PicThis installment covers the final appendices.

Here's a rather inconsistent argument.

[quoting G Frederick Wright -jrl] "But between 1680 and 1766 the Falls [Niagara Falls -jrl] had evidently receded about 412 feet. Between 1766 and 1856 the recession had been 600 feet. The average rate is estimated by Professor Winchell to be about five feet per year, and the total length of time required for the formation of the gorge above Fort Snelling is about the same as that calculated by Woodward and Gilbert for the Niagara gorge" - some 7,000 years, not 3,000,000 years!

These corrections have been adopted by the geologists as orthodox, but no parallel corrections have been applied to what they call the Eocene, or to the little squirrel-like father of the horse, the Eohippus, given, like the Niagara gorge, an age of 3,000,000 years.

Perhaps some day it will be quite as scientific to correct 3,000,000 years of Eohippus to 7,000 years, as it has been scientific to correct the 3,000,000 years of Niagara gorge to 7,000 years. (McCann 337)

For the moment, let's just grant that an early estimate for the age of Niagara Falls was 3 million years, when a more accurate estimate might be 7 thousand years. How would this change in estimated age of a singular geologic feature have anything to do with an estimate of when the Eocene occurred? It's not as if Niagara Falls is used in any way to date the Eocene. It's a feature made by erosion of older rock.

As a matter of fact, the 7,000 year estimate isn't too bad. The falls were actually formed around 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age when the glacier sheet overlying that area retreated.

McCann still doesn't like provisional statements.

At this point there is the suggestion of a thinly veiled doubt. The writer uses the "perhaps." "Perhaps," he says, "also the Rhodesian man had a wide nose in comparison with which the Negro or the Tasmanian's would seem narrow." "Perhaps" is always good! (McCann 345)

What's wrong with tempering statements this way? Would McCann prefer that people pretend to be certain where they're not?

McCann had found what he thought was certain evidence against evolution. He dubbed it the Triassic 'Shoe'.

In March, 1922, John T. Reid, member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, and mining director of the Nevada United Mining Company, brought to New York, where it was exhibited at the Herald Square Hotel, the "fossil sole" of a shoe or sandal, which, according to the orthodox methods of estimating age by geological processes, must be set down as between 36 and 360 million years old. ... There can be no doubt that the rock in which the fossil is imbedded is Triassic.(McCann 351)

Here is a picture of this 'fossil'.

'Triassic Shoe' Iron Concretion

His implications here would be correct, if only it were true.

A human fossil imposed on Triassic rock either means that the system of judging age periods, as far as geologists are concerned, is now and has been wholly and preposterously absurd, or that a Triassic shoemaker manufactured shoes in Nevada some thirty millions of years before the first monkeys appeared on earth. (McCann 352)
Out of this ridiculous muddle it can be argued that inasmuch as man could not have descended from a creature that did not come into being until some 30,000,000 years after man's arrival, that creature must have descended from man. To complete the absurdity, we are confronted with, an alternative for the "ape-origin of man,", and must now worry over the "man-origin of ape." (McCann 352)

What McCann doesn't want to consider is that maybe this isn't a human fossil. If it's not actually a human fossil, then all of his conclusions fall apart.

McCann tries to further build his case that this is in fact a shoe.

Obviously any authoritative recognition of this curious fossil will upset all Darwinian theories. Yet the sole of the shoe is so obviously the sole of a shoe, with its bevelled welt and hand-stitched seams, that no observer can doubt for an instant either its origin or nature. It certainly is the product of a human hand, and was worn on a human foot.

The New York Times says: "It would fit nicely a boy of ten or twelve years. The edges are as smooth as if freshly cut. The surprising part of it is what seems to be a double line of stitches, one near the outside edge of the sole and the other about a third of an inch inside the first. The 'leather' is thicker inside the inner welting and appears to be slightly bevelled, so that at the margin, half an inch wide, which runs outside, the sole is something like an eighth of an inch thick. The symmetry is maintained perfectly throughout. The perfect lines pursued by the welting, and the appearance of hundreds of minute holes through which the sole was sewed to the shoe are the things which make the object such an extraordinary freak in the eyes of the scientists who examined it.

"The edges are rounded off smoothly, as if it were freshly cut leather from an expert cobbler. The stone to which it is attached is about the size of a brick. The heel and part of the sole appear, the toe-end being missing." (McCann 353-354)

Take a close look at the photo of the 'shoe' (don't forget to click on the image for a larger version). As much as I look, I don't see any stitches. I see an interesting shape, and concentric bands, but nothing that unambiguously identifies it as the fossil of a shoe. In fact, it doesn't really look much like a shoe to me. It's curving too much in the top of the photo where you'd expect it to be continuing on a little straighter if it was truly a shoe.

Someone else has actually already addressed this rock (so far, the only other person I've found on the Internet who's read any part of this book):
Nevada Shoe Print? on paleo.cc

If you want to read a thorough debunking, follow that link. In short, the rock is nothing more than an iron concretion - interesting in its own right, but not a fossil shoe that's going to overturn all of evolutionary theory.

McCann had a series of photos in the appendix, comparing skeletons and skulls of humans to gorillas and orangutans. Here's one such example.

Ape Skull Photos

He made a big deal of the ridges on the top of the gorilla skulls, questioning how we could have evolved from an animal so different in anatomy (note that of course we didn't evolve from gorillas, orangutans, or chimps, but rather that we all share a common ancestor). However, McCann was a bit selective in the gorilla skulls he used. Whether it was deliberate omission or simply ignorance, he didn't include any photos of female gorilla skulls. This is significant because female gorilla skulls don't have the same ridge that male skulls do, making them appear much more similar to a human skull.

Female Gorilla Skull

For more photos of ape skulls, take a look at this page from the University of Edinburgh.

The last issue discussed in the book was a body supposedly found fossilized after being interred for only 6 years. The story was all hearsay, so McCann sent a telegram to the undertaker involved. I'm including this passage just because I found it so humorous. I can almost imagine McCann rushing into a telegraph office and breathlessly dictating this message.

This communication was received April 4, 1922, whereupon the writer sent a Western Union telegram to Mr. Willis Green, Battle Mountain, Nevada, which read as follows: "John T. Reid of Lovelock, Nevada, now in New York, informs me of your experience with a petrified body that had been in the ground but six years. Scientific interest urges me to appeal to you for facts and details. Will thank you to rush reply by wire collect." (McCann 358)

Finally, here is the closing paragraph of the final appendix - the last bit of text before the index. It was written about a response he received to his above message on the petrified body.

Under ordinary circumstances, had one not known the true history of these bodies, they could have been loosely but scientifically described as " fossilized. Moreover, they might have been 30,000 years old. Apparently fossils don't always tell the truth. (McCann 359)

Apparently, creationists don't always tell the truth, either.

And so ends McCann's book, and my review. I do have one bonus entry in store, though, so don't forget to check back next week.

Proceed to Bonus Entry (And the End of the Review)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for July 2011

Top 10 ListOnce again, it's the end of a month, and time to look at the server logs for the site. And as normal, I've compiled a list of the 10 most popular pages from the site for the month. There was a newcomer that hadn't made the list before - Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part IV.

Overall traffic was much the same - down about 1% from the previous month.

As long as I'm discussing July, I might as well mention something from the real world. We're having a pretty hot summer here in Wichita Falls. Every day this past July, the high temperature exceeded 100ºF. As of today, we've tied the record for most consecutive days where the temperature exceeded 100º - 42 days. Seeing as how the high for tomorrow is predicted to be 112º, I think it's safe to assume that we'll set a new record. And August is just getting started. (more info)

So, here are the 10 most popular pages from this site for July 2011.

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Autogyro History & Theory
  3. Blog - My Favorite Airplanes
  4. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  5. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part IV
  6. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  7. Blog - The Texas Republican Platform, or Why I'm Not a Republican
  8. Blog - Crazy E-mail - Cash for Clunkers
  9. Blog - Book Review - Voyage of the Beagle
  10. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution

Added 2011-08-03 - As of right now (11:15 a.m.), weather.gov is reporting 100ºF in Wichita Falls. So, we've officially broken the record. And now that we can say that that's done, it would be nice to see some rain.

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