By Carl Zimmer:
[Hat tip to Brian Switek.]
I have had the honor of being invited to join the crew over at Panda’s Thumb, the premier counter creationism blog on the interwebs and have gladly accepted.
Fear not my minions (all 5 or 6 of you), Playing Chess with Pigeons is not going anywhere! This is will remain the focus of my blogging. Little things here; big things here but cross posted to Panda’s Thumb as well (more traffic, more better!).
Thanks to the Panda’s people for having me, I hope to live up to the honor.
Actress & comedian Julia Sweeney gives a very funny account of when her eight year old daughter asked her about the facts of sexual reproduction.
I just heard from my friend Ed Brayton that Skip Evans, former National Center for Science Education, Network Project Director (a job I applied for after he left) and veteran of the creation/evolution debate has died due to heart problems. My condolences go out to Skip’s close friends and family.
He will be missed.
For more information see:
A Death in the Family: Skip Evans by Wesley Elsberry.
Skip Evans dies by the NCSE
I decided I am not going to bury the lead on this one. Brian Thomas of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) just posted another in a long line of creationist screeds attacking the evidence for evolution from comparative embryology, which as usual claims that the evidence is based on fraud and pins much of the blame for it on 19th century biologist Ernst Haeckel.
I began writing a rebuttal straight away but then I happened to take a second look at the bright pink image of an embryo atop the article and it brought me to a sudden halt. So, having backed up, let me start again.
Thomas: German zoologist Ernst Haeckel is perhaps most famous for defending evolution with the argument that creatures replay their evolutionary past when developing in the womb. …In his zeal to promote evolution, Haeckel foisted faulty embryo sketches onto his readers, and the zeal of his followers has perpetuated those falsehoods for over a century. (Thomas 2012, emphasis mine)
Yeah, about that…
That’s right, yet another irony meter has been reduced to subatomic particles by a creationist.
My friend and colleague (frienlleague?) Dr. Eugenie Scott gave, yet another, excellent talk titled “Reason and creationism” at the Global Atheist Convention, Melbourne, Australia (4/15/2012). Have a watch:
Over at the Discovery(less) Institute’s Complaint Dept., resident attack chihuahua, Casey Luskin answered some fan mail that supposedly asked how people, sans financial resources, could support intelligent design (creationism). He suggests a variety of things that boil down to: submerge yourself into the intelligent design creationism bubble and pester your kid’s teachers and school administrators into foisting creationist misinformation onto their students:
There are lots of ways you can support Discovery Institute and ID in ways that don’t involve money. One of them – liking Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture on Facebook of course — you already did. You could also become a follower of our Twitter account, follow our podcast on Twitter, or listen to ID the Future online. Reading Evolution News & Views will help keep you up-to-date on the debate. You can also subscribe to our Nota Bene newsletter, which is free.
Those are all ways for you to stay informed. But there are also ways that you can reach out to others. These include:
- Start your own ID blog, or participate in other ID blogs like Uncommon Descent. It’s always good to have pro-ID voices on the Internet, although I’ll warn you that lots of Internet ID-critics just want to shout you down and call you nasty names, so it’s not uncommonly the case that you’d be wasting your time by engaging them.
- Become a voice for academic freedom in your local community. One easy thing you can do is sign the Academic Freedom Petition. You can write letters to the editor to local newspapers, calling on them to stand up for good science education and provide corrections to misinformation or biased reporting on this issue.
- Another constant need is to ensure that your local public libraries, secondary school libraries, and university libraries have up-to-date copies of intelligent design books. Even if you don’t have the money to donate the books, recommend books to the library and ask if they would consider adding them to their collections.
- You might consider starting a local organization to increase awareness about intelligent design. A great way to do this is to start an Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club. These extracurricular clubs are affiliated with the IDEA Center (which is a distinct organization from Discovery Institute), but they can organize events on local college campuses or in communities to show videos or bring speakers to educate the public about the issue. IDEA Clubs are a great way to raise awareness and understanding of the scientific case for intelligent design in your local community — you could start one yourself, or help a student do so. See www.ideacenter.org for details.
- Besides IDEA Clubs, if you know university students who are interested in ID, you can encourage them to get involved with Discovery Institute’s Summer Seminars on Intelligent Design. And if you know pre-college students who are college-shopping, encourage them to consider how the school they’re going to attend deals with topics like the origins of life and of human beings. (Note: I went to a science-focused public university that was largely anti-ID and had a great experience, so I’m not saying students must go to a pro-ID college. But they might want to consider this issue, one way or another, when they apply.)
Finally, another way you can make a difference is to advocate for positive changes in education in your local school or community. If you have kids, find out how their schools cover evolution. For public schools, we recommend that they teach the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution without getting into alternative theories like intelligent design. A lot of this is explained in our Briefing Packet for Educators – but if you want to get involved more directly, contact us here at Discovery Institute and we can help you. For private schools, we have another list of recommended resources, which I recently discussed here.
What is significant by its absence from this list is any suggestion that his readers should directly familiarize themselves with what the overwhelming majority scientists are actually saying or with the actual evidence, unfiltered by the ID creationist spin zones that he lists.
Now I understand that Mr. Luskin probably believes that all of mainstream science is engaged in a global satanic conspiracy to hide the Truth ™ from the masses, but for the sake of intellectual rigor he should want people to be familiar with the thing that they are fighting so fiercely against; and not just the version presented in the IDC echo chamber.
If someone asked me how they could prepare themselves to deal with creationists I would tell them that they need:
Of course, no one can be an expert in all the relevant fields of science. Even most scientists, while they might be experts in their particular area of study, may have only a basic grasp of the several other fields outside of their own that is required in order to effectively counter creations claims. You can start off talking with a creationist about cosmology—because many of them do not understand that the Big Bang theory is not part of evolution—and in quick succession be grilled about various aspects of geology, biology and physics.
Worse yet, most scientists have only superficial level of knowledge regarding creationist arguments and tactics, which makes sense given that they trained in doing science and not counter apologetics. Moreover, many feel, with some justification, that to get such training is a waste of their valuable time. Unfortunately, this can lead to public relations setbacks for science education if they then allow themselves to be snookered into formal debates with professional creationists.
Again, from my experience you need not only a basic knowledge of a variety of scientific subjects—especially geology, paleontology and biology—but a good knowledge of creationist arguments in order to keep from getting steamrolled by the creationist shotgun approach to debate (a.k.a. the “Gish Gallop“).*
For that reason, unlike Mr. Luskin, I strongly encourage people, both scientists and interested laypersons, to study the work of the opposition, not just what people like me say about it.
[*I would generally advise against live public debates in the first place. Instead, stick to written ones that do not allow creationists effective use of the Gallop in the first place.]
I finally had a chance this weekend to pick through some of my mother’s family photo collection and found a few pictures of myself that are prophetic about what my lifelong interests would be. They are from one of the family camping trips we took, traveling all over the American Southwest. During this trip, circa 1975, we went to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah/Colorado.
Now admittedly the color they had originally painted this statue (a brownish green scheme) was a little dull, though we have no way of knowing what color Stegosaurus actually was. But the current paint job on the statue seems a little bizarre to me.
And here we have a shot of me inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall, being much more serious in the presence of the astonishing number of dinosaur fossils exposed in the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry.