Category Archives: Science education
Creationism Nit: Archaeoraptor?
So the other day I found myself near one of the local Bible book stores and since I had the time wandered in to see what creationist fare they might have in their apologetics section. As it turned out not a lot, however in the homeschooling section they did have this little tome titled, Exploring the world of biology: From mushrooms to complex life forms (2009) by a John Hudson Tiner and published by Master Books (which as far as I know is still a subsidiary of the Institute for Creation Research):
I am not sure why Mr. Tiner—who is apparently a math teacher—chose to start with mushrooms in his “exploration” but even leaving out simpler organisms makes his exploration a tall order when he only has 160 pages to work with.
Regardless, I am not here to critique the entire book, or even the section from which I have drawn my nit (I couldn’t do so in good faith anyway, as I only flipped through the book and took a couple quick photos). I am only here for the nit, nit, nit!
And the nit is this from page 133:
Here we have a black and white photo of a fossil which is labeled Archaeoraptor liaoningensis.
Huh, yeah, it is just that the problem is the picture is not of that notorious fraudulent fossil. See for yourself; compare the picture above with following illustration of the actual Archaeoraptor:
You don’t have to have a degree in comparative anatomy to tell these two specimens apart.
What Tines has done is publish what is clearly a cropped photograph of the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx siemensii —perhaps the single more famous and recognizable fossil in the world—and mistakenly labeled it as Archaeoraptor.
So, yeah, “oops!” Mr. Tines may want to familiarize himself with Archaeopteryx before he opines on the state of the fossil evidence for the evolution of birds from other dinosaurs (let alone starts writing books that might fall into the hands of impressionable children).
For more info on the Archaeoraptor story see:
“Archaeoraptor Fossil Trail” By Lewis M. Simons from the October 2000, National Geographic magazine
Archaeoraptor illustration source:
Pickrell, John (2015) The great dinosaur fossil hoax, Cosmos (website).
Playing Chess with Pigeons on Facebook
While I have had a link to my personal Facebook page in the sidebar for some time, I don’t know if I have ever mentioned here that Playing Chess with Pigeons has its own Facebook page… Well, now I have.
I generally post cartoons and news stories directly related to CvE as well as links to science news stories that I think are interesting and/or obliquely related to the CvE debate.
Anyway, have a look, like, subscribe, share…
Secular Museum Blunder
To demonstrate once again that I am an equal opportunity critic, here is a nit I have to pick with a secular museum, namely the Riverside Metropolitan Museum located in downtown Riverside, CA. It is a small museum and most of its limited public floorspace is taken up by displays dealing with Native American culture and artifacts. However it also has a number of displays on natural history, primarily that of the mountains & deserts in Riverside County. It is near some of these displays I found the following stuck to a wall:
And here is the lone label seen in the bottom right-hand corner:
It reads, “Baron Cuvier’s Pterodactyl“, apparently a reference to the fact that it was the “father of paleontology” Georges Cuvier who dubbed one of the earliest discovered pterosaur fossils “Ptéro-Dactyle”.
Yeah, the problem is though the cast of the fossil accompanying the label is very clearly not of the genus Pterodactylus named by Cuvier. Rather it is a cast of a Rhamphorhynchus. Here for comparison is the holotype specimen of Pterodactylus:
The red arrow points to Pterodactylus’ rather diminutive tail, which stands in rather stark contrast to Rhamphorhynchus’ long kite-like tail which ends in a diamond shaped vane (see above).
Amusingly this is not the first time that these two genera have been confused. Apparently Rhamphorhynchus was originally misidentified as a species of Pterodactylus but after a few rounds of reclassification finally ended up as its own genus by the hand of Richard Owen 1861.
So a wag of my finger to the Riverside Metropolitan Museum; you need to fact check your displays.
Beware the Coursera bait and switch!
On July 30 I signed up on Coursera to take their “verified certificate” version of the course Evolution: A Course for Educators, taught by Joel Cracraft and David Randle of the American Museum of Natural History. I figured it would be fairly easy given my background and the certificate would add a little something to my resume. So, as I said, I signed up, paid the $29 fee for the certificate got an email receipt back from Coursera and waited for the class to start on Aug. 3rd.
Aug. 3rd quickly rolls around and I get another email, ostensibly from Cracraft & Randle, welcoming me to the course.
Then I tried to log in and start the course only to get a 404 error message telling me that the page for the course isn’t there.
I contact Coursera and they send back the usual “use X browser & clear your cache” troubleshooting message. I was already using browser X and I cleared my cache but this has no effect and I inform Coursera of this.
Next I get an email telling me that the course I signed up for has “changed format” (apparently in a matter of days) and that I needed to “un-enroll” from the old course, get my money back and then re-enroll in the new version.
One problem though, the new “format” is $20 more than the old one!
I suggest to them that since I already paid the price they had asked for (and got a receipt & welcoming email etc.) that they should allow me access to the course.
They responded by refunding my money and telling me (in corporate happy talk) that it was too damn bad and that if I wanted to take the course I would have to cough up $49 dollars, going so far as to suggest that I look into their financial aide services if I thought that would help.
Well, instead of paying more money I am telling everyone I know about their bait and switch and asking that you pass this on on Facebook and Twitter and the like. Thanks!
By the way, does anyone out there know Cracraft or Randle? I wonder what they would think of how Coursera treats their would-be students.
[And I was so looking forward to the Dinosaur Paleobiology course they offer as well…]
And now a little poorly concealed bragging
Last weekend while I was awaiting delivery of my copy of Cambridge University historian of science Nick Hopwood‘s new book Haeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud (2015) on 19th century biologist Ernst Haeckel and his (in)famous embryo illustrations, (which I have written about a few times here an PCWP and elsewhere), I got a Facebook notification that I had been “tagged” in a post by my friend (in real life, not just Facebook) and colleague Dr. Nick Matzke. The somewhat cryptic post said the following:
Hey look who’s in the acknowledgements – Troy Britain
Attached to this comment was the following picture:
Thereafter the comments conversation between Nick M. and I went like this:
Me: Wait, wait, wait, this isn’t Hopwood’s new book is it (my copy is in route)?!
Nick: Yep it is!!
Me: Holy crap!
Apparently Professor Hopwood was kind enough to mention me (and Nick Matzke as well) in the acknowledgements section of his new book (page 304).
The relevant section reads as follows:
For crucial pieces of advice, I thank Thomas Brandstetter, Troy Britain, Solveig Jülich, Ron Ladouceur, Nick Matzke, Signe Nipper Nielsen, Ron Numbers, Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, and Constance Sommerey…
Quite an honor! All the more given the company of people like Nick Matzke, Ron Numbers and the rest.
Thank you Prof. Hopwood, you are too kind! And thank you for writing this book! It needed to be done and I look forward to reading it (or rather the rest of it, I’m up to chap. 3 already)!
A happy Pi day to one and all!
I am now on Patreon
I have opened a Patreon account and humbly beseech my readers to seriously consider becoming a patron of my work here at Playing Chess with Pigeons. Please, please, think about supporting me in my effort to produce substantive critiques of creationist propaganda.
I am not paid by any scientific institution or educational organization to write articles for this blog; something that often involves many hours, even days, of research and occasionally requiring me to travel to various university libraries or museums. Rather I have gladly done this for years without any remuneration beyond the knowledge I have gained in the process and the satisfaction I get from defending the truth and science education from ignorant and dishonest attack.
However, I could use your help now more than ever since I have recently been laid off work and my wife and I were already struggling just to make ends meet. Even a small amount from a number of my readers could add up to making a very big difference in our lives.
It would also be a plus for my readers since it gives me added incentive to take the time to research and write more frequently (you only pay if I produce) without feeling like I am not contributing to our livelihood. Also, specifically for those who choose to become patrons, there are some added incentives and rewards (for example see the Patron Supporters page at the top of the blog).
And rest assured that only substantive articles, like my “Gill slit” article or my travelogue critique of Dinny the Dinosaur, will be submitted for patronage (not the quickie throw away stuff).
Please help me in the fight against the forces of ignorance that plague the world.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, for reading and for your consideration!
Answering Creationist Questions
Someone named Stephen has asked some questions on my “creationist questions” page and I am moving my response up to the main page.
Just to get a couple points of order out of the way I want to note that you asked three questions at once and only one (#3) touches on evolutionary biology, violating my question guidelines in multiple ways right off the bat. However, I said might grant some leeway and I will in this case.
Stephen: First, to clarify, I am a college student, almost through with my history degree (as a major), I have a minor in geology, and I have taken enough courses to almost have minors in philosophy and anthropology (just establishing that I am not an uneducated internet troll…. at least not completely). This does not make me an authority on the debate between evolution and creationism, but I have studied enough to be fairly well versed in the arguments that each side uses.
OK, good to know; as it would mean that there is no reason you should be making any glaring errors in those areas, yes?
Stephen: I was home-schooled by choice and was taught evolution and creation equally…
You were taught about a mature and productive scientific field and the relatively brief creation story from the Hebrew scriptures (backed up, no doubt, with the pseudoscience, misrepresentations and misinformation of “creation science”), “equally”?
You should understand that from my perspective that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Stephen: I studied the sides and decided to pick the side that, I believe, has the least number of holes in its arguments. I decided to become a creationist, but I still see both sides and am willing to keep my mind open to all possibilities.
Well then, my question would be what are some of the supposed “holes” in evolutionary theory? Please do not tell me they are of the sort usually put forward by “creation scientists”, I have a library full of those bogus arguments.
Again, from my perspective creationism is collection of long refuted empirical claims (young Earth, Flood geology) backed by a premise (“God did it”) that is fundamentally untestable and therefore scientifically useless.
Stephen: Question 1: How do you define science (yes, I am talking about the AIG argument between “testable/repeatable science” and “historical/perceived science”)? I do mean you specifically, as different words mean different things to different people, and “standard definitions” do not always fully encapsulate this idea.
In the context you seem to be asking (that of Answers in Genesis’ idiosyncratic redefinition of science), I would say that science is a process wherein people derive coherent explanations about the state of the natural world which are testable by further, intersubjective, observations of the natural world. This holds regardless of whether the particular phenomenon under examination is something that occurred in the past or is currently ongoing.
In science, one does not have to be able to repeat the occurrence of something in order to explain it. What is necessary is that the observations that are made to test the explanation be repeatable by anyone who makes the effort, i.e. not subjective revelations knowable only to an individual or an elect few.
As with forensic science used against criminals, one need not repeat the crime in order to make observations (of finger prints, DNA, etc.) to build a case as to who the most likely perpetrator is.
The same is true when one is trying to explain the current state of nature be it biological, geological or astronomical. We do not need to repeat, in full, the processes that lead to the current state of affairs in order to piece together a case against the most likely “perpetrator”.
Of course, in practice, there is more to it than that but I am not writing a book on the philosophy of science.
Professional creationists want to muddy the waters on this because their explanations either have failed to hold up against observations of the natural world, or are simply not testable by such observations. In other words, their ideas are either failed science or non-science and so they try to tear down good science in an attempt to mislead people into believing that their ideas have merit.
Stephen: Question 2: Why do scientific laws exist: gravity, thermodynamics, etc. if no one created them (yes it does seem like a silly question, but believe it or not, I have found this question to be helpful)?
This is a question about cosmology and is essentially asking why the universe is the way it is. My answer is, I do not know. Cosmologist are working on such questions and they may or may not be able to answer some or all of them someday, however I see no reason to assume that if they do find answers to them that they will include the idea that the universe was “created” by a conscious being of some sort.
Any explanations that cosmologists do come up with will have to be testable by observations of the natural world in order to be scientific. “God did it” does not meet that criterion.
Stephen: Question 3: How do you believe that things such as a conscience, idea of self-awareness, and the ability to fully reason came to be? Yes, this is a philosophical question, because philosophy is the first “science” and was the root of all the other disciplines.
I don’t know if the ability to “fully reason” actually exists and I would quibble with you that these are necessarily philosophical questions. I would say that the evidence suggests that these things are evolved characteristics as we see them in a continuum in the animal world with humans merely being at one end of the spectrum.
Stephen: In addition, evolution influences much more than biology, geology, and physics (to name a few of the traditional sciences) in its scope, and all aspects of the theory need to be considered.
I disagree. Biology, geology and (to a lesser degree) physics influence evolutionary theory but not the other way round. Evolutionary theory had to be consistent with the facts of biology (obviously) but also geology and physics in order to be considered successful. Theories of geology (plate tectonics etc.) or physics (relativity etc.) do not need to factor in evolutionary theory but rather stand or fall based on observations from those fields.
If inconsistencies between evolutionary theory and say, plate tectonics, were discovered, then those would have to be worked out, but physical geologists who are trying to solve geological problems do not sit around worrying about how their findings might affect those of biologists. They find what they find and it is up to the biologists to figure out whether their own theories can be made to fit with the new data or must to be scrapped in favor of new ones.
What you are talking about reflects the conspiracy theory thinking of creationists, wherein all of modern science is some sort of evolutionist plot to discredit the Biblical account of creation, it isn’t.
The actual problem is that the facts of nature, biological, geological and physical, simply are not consistent with creationism and creationists have adopted this conspiracy idea as a way to avoid facing that fact.
Stephen: Especially since the idea of “origins” is one of the three fundamental questions of philosophy (IE: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?).
“Where did I come from?” is an empirical question answered by science; proximally by reproductive biology and evolutionary theory more distally by astronomical and cosmological theories. You would have to be more specific to get answers that are more specific.
“Why am I here?”—assuming it is not merely a rephrasing of the previous question—is a question that assumes something not in evidence, that there is some externally imposed purpose to our existence. It could be that there is no “why” and therefore the question is incoherent.
“Where am I going?”, again this assumes that you are going anywhere. Barring evidence that anyone is going anywhere this question is also incoherent.
Stephen: By the way, I have heard your comparison of “playing chess with pigeons” before (in relation to evolutionists). Is that saying original (to you) or did you get it from elsewhere? If so, where?
The answer to that may be found in the tab at the top of my blog titled “Playing Chess with Pigeons?“. It is taken from something first written by Scott Weitzenhoffer in reference to creationists; so if you have seen it being used in any other way it was pilfered directly or indirectly from him.
I’m now on LinkedIn
Here is a link to my profile. Since my current employment is on shaky ground (I am looking at a possible lay-off in the near future due to slow business), I am currently trolling for connections and endorsements, especially from, but not limited to, sciencey types. So if you’re on LinkedIn and have found my dissections of creationist propaganda informative and or entertaining, please consider giving me a few mouse clicks for support. Thanks!
P.S. if LinkedIn suggests “skills” that are not already listed in my profile, please do not endorse them. It keeps giving people the idea that I have skills that I don’t actually have (honesty is a harsh mistress) and thanks again.