So I was on a panel discussion about micro vs. macroevolution…

Several weeks back I get an email from Phil Calderone, a member of one of the local atheist/agnostic/freethought groups (I.E.A.A.), asking if I would like to act as a fill in on a (then) upcoming “believers vs. non-believers” panel discussion on the subject of micro vs. macroevolution. Apparently, one of the persons originally invited was not going to be able to participate and he needed a fill in and was pointed towards me by Dr. Brad Hughes, who many years ago I had helped (along with others) prepare for a debate with “Dr.” Kent Hovind.

After some trepidation—due to having never done any public speaking before—I agreed to participate as long as it was understood that I was unlettered and neither a paleontologist or biologist but rather a mere amateur naturalist who has had a bit of experience in the creation/evolution debate. 

The format of the discussion was meant to be a relatively informal back and forth between four people with two on each side. One the “believers” side there was a gentleman named Kelly Clemensen, of something called the Areopagus Project, and Dr. Paul Giem of Loma Linda University (see also Giem’s web page here). On the non-believers side was myself and Phil Calderone who was to moderate but had to fill in the second non-believers chair for another person who couldn’t make it.

I will not go into any more description of the event as it was recorded on video and you can watch the proceedings for yourself below. However, truth and honesty before all I will be addressing at least two places where I know I screwed up in the discussion below the video.

Please feel free to point out any other mistakes I made, or address the many points made by the creationists that went unaddressed by either Phil or me during the discussion. I know there are whole bunches of things that our opponents said that was missed or deserved more in depth dissection.

Now that you have, hopefully, watched the video there are two places that I realized I messed up pretty much right after the debate. One was minor memory failure, misattribution about punctuated equilibrium. The other was a more significant—at least in my opinion—point were I brought up a group of fossil organisms that was really something of a red-herring—though I committed the fallacy out of partial ignorance—and should have known better from other statements I myself had made at other points in the same discussion!

Read on»

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ICR blocked me on Facebook

boy-that-escalated-quickly

So, the Institute for Creation Research put up a link on their Facebook page to one of their latest Acts & Facts articles on the whole Ernst Haeckel/vertebrate embryos thing and since the sort of stuff creationists write about this subject is a pet peeve of mine (as readers of this blog will no doubt have gathered) I decided to post a quick comment on the following quote from the article:

Guliuzza: Shouldn’t students be skeptical when they’re told that evolutionists can simply look at folds in embryos and see gill slits? The truth is that these are only folds of tissue in the pharynx region of vertebrates during the pharyngula stage of development. For mammals, birds, and reptiles, they never develop into a structure that is in any way like fish gills.

I wrote that this statement was not true as would be known to anyone who had cracked an embryology textbook and asked if Dr. Guliuzza (the author of the article) was therefore incompetent in this area or if he was being deliberately misleading. Further I provided a link to my blog post on the subject of “gill slits” so that anyone interested could look at the evidence for themselves.

I also corrected one of their other commenters on what Thomas Huxley and Charles Lyell’s professions and religious perspectives were. I also noted to the commenter that all science, not just evolutionary biology, leaves God and other supernatural agents out of its explanations.

I used no harsh language, I did not call anyone any names and I engaged in no mockery (unless you count my pointed question about Guliuzza competency/honesty) and yet the end result was that my link and all my comments have been deleted and I am apparently now blocked from commenting on ICR’s FB page.

I’ll leave the reader to decide what this says about ICR and the robustness of their scholarship.

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My Weekend at the O.C. Freethought Alliance Conference

The Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference (3rd Annual) is “in the can” and I had a blast. I went as part of a contingent from my local Atheist, Agnostic & Skeptics Meetup group, which had purchased a table at the event. The table was right up front next to the speakers table, all the people in our group were great and there were lots of interesting talks presented! I got to meet lots of new people and say hi to familiar friends and colleagues.

Here are a few of the new people:

Dave Silverman, president of the American Atheists who was famously challenged by Bill O’Reilly to explain how every day the tides go in and go out with “never a miscommunication”.

Aron Ra, a very popular YouTube anti-creationist and veteran of the talk.origins newsgroup. I had three people think I was him, before he arrived, though I’m not sure why. Considering how many things we share in common, it is somewhat surprising it took this long for us to run into each other.

And last but actually First the Lord Himself…

Mr. Deity, AKA “El“, AKA the very funny Brian Keith Dalton. If you don’t know who Mr. Deity is, go right now to his YouTube channel and start with episode one. See also the official Mr. Deity website.

The end of the conference came late Sunday afternoon just as a partial solar eclipse started and the organizers had two telescopes set up with special filters to allow us to safely view it. One of the scopes just showed the sun as a white disk with the moon cutting into it but the other actually allowed you to just make out the filaments of the many loops, flares and prominences in the corona of the sun. I have seen many pictures and films of these phenomena before but this was the first time I actually saw them with my own eyes. Incredible.

A NASA photograph showing solar prominences etc.

Once again I have a really great time and all the people I talked to, especially those at our table were a lot of fun. Thanks to Aaron for organizing our contingent and to the other members of our group for being such good company! My only regret is I got a bit distracted and got out of there kind of quickly at the end and didn’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye to them or to my friend and colleague Barbara Forrest (who was one of the speakers). Hopefully I’ll get to see them all again soon.

If you’re interested you can watch a streaming video or buy a DVD of the event from the O. C. Freethought Alliance (look for the guy in a black t-shirt with the long hair near the front) and if you live in the area consider attending the 4th Annual O. C. Freethought Alliance Conference in 2013. You just might see me there in person.

The Annual Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference

I will be attending the Third Annual Orange County Freethought Alliance Conference this weekend and am looking forward to meeting people whose work I have admired (Aron Ra, Mr. Deity) as well as getting a chance to see friends and colleagues I’ve met in the past (Michael Shermer, Barbara Forrest). And on off chance any of my readers are attending, I hope to get a change to met you to. Just look for the guy with long hair and a goatee, that isn’t Aron Ra (see his pic below).

Hopefully I’ll have some photographic evidence of event to share with everyone next week.

James Randi Challenges Homeopathy Pushers

Homeopathy: Not even snake-oil (because snake-oil contains more than just water).

James – The Amazing – Randi comes out

Magician and skeptic James Randi, a long time hero of mine has, at 81, come out as a gay man. He has been ‘out’ to his friends and close colleagues forever, and I must admit to not being terribly surprised myself (I picked up on a few hints here and there that made me suspect that it might be the case).

He doesn’t want to make a big deal out it, and I don’t see why anyone else should.

As I said he has been a long time hero of mine in the fight against what he amusingly calls “woo-woo” (paranormal &  pseudoscientific claims) and his being gay does absolutely nothing to diminish my admiration for him and the work he has done.

For more on Randi and his work check out the James Randi Educational Foundation.

A good primer on skepticism and “open mindedness”

Learn it, know it, live it!

[Via Pharyngula]