Posted by: paulgarner | February 5, 2014

Reflections on the Ham-Nye debate

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few months, and if you have any interest at all in the origins question, then you’ll know that last night saw the long-trailed debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye take place at Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum in Kentucky. The event was also streamed live on the internet to tens of thousands of viewers around the world, including yours truly.

Ken Ham is well known to many as the public face of creationism while Bill Nye has a celebrity following in the USA as ‘the TV Science Guy’, though both are less well known here in the UK. Many creationists were excited at the prospect of seeing the two men face off, because so few creation-evolution debates happen these days compared to the heydays of the seventies and eighties when Duane Gish and Henry Morris regularly toured university campuses. By and large, anti-creationists were unhappy with Nye for agreeing to the debate, many feeling that a public platform of this kind simply gives creationists a credibility they don’t deserve.

So how did it go? Here are a few brief reflections.

Although I quite enjoy listening to adversarial debates I don’t think they’re always a good way to get at the truth of a matter, so I wasn’t looking forward to this event as much as some of my friends and colleagues were. And, sure enough, I was a bit disappointed with it overall. I’m not sure Ken Ham really took the right approach. There was too much of a scatter gun approach in my view, trying to cover too much ground in a short time. Something more focused would have been better, perhaps the presentation of a few case studies showcasing the predictive and explanatory success of specific creation models. That would have anticipated the repeated challenge by Bill Nye for Ken Ham to give some examples of fulfilled creationist predictions.

For his part, I thought Bill Nye displayed a lot of confusion and misunderstanding of creationism, in a way that often sapped the strength of the points he was trying to make. One glaring example was when he challenged Ken Ham to explain the Lake Missoula boulders in terms of Noah’s Flood, although creationists, like evolutionists, associate these with glacial flooding. Nye clearly hadn’t done sufficient homework to know that. On the whole, he seemed pretty well informed about the physical sciences such as astronomy but less confident when it came to the natural sciences such as geology and biology. And yet these disciplines are the most central to the question of origins.

Of course it’s easy for a non-participant to criticize from the sidelines and rather more difficult for those taking part in the heat of the moment, but I thought both debaters could have given more substantive responses to some challenges. Ken Ham, for example, didn’t seem well prepared to address Bill Nye’s points on bristlecone pines and ice cores. Not that creationists have these issues all sewn up (there are still plenty of unresolved problems!) but there are important things that could have been said and weren’t. Bill Nye missed some obvious comebacks too, I thought, such as his attempt to reconcile conflicting radiocarbon and K-Ar ages with a less-than-credible appeal to overthrusting, rather than the “contamination with modern C-14″ argument that I was expecting.

So in my view there were no knockout punches on either side. In fact, I’d call it a score draw. But if you missed it, you can watch it here and judge for yourself.

There’s a fascinating article in this month’s Scientific American entitled ‘The case against Copernicus’ (Danielson and Graney 2014). Yes, you read that right. The case against Copernicus.

Actually the authors aren’t suggesting that Copernicus was wrong to challenge the geocentrism of his day, but they are arguing that those who resisted his conclusions at the time had reasonable grounds for doing so. The fact is that the observational evidence did not support Copernicus but instead favoured the modified geocentric model proposed by Tycho Brahe. According to the Scientific American article the Copernicans “were forced to appeal to divine omnipotence” to avoid having to “give up their theory in the face of seemingly incontrovertible physical evidence”. In fact, by 1600, 57 years after the publication of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus “no more than a dozen serious astronomers had given up belief in an unmoving earth.”

As I read the article, I was reminded of the can of worms that Todd Wood opened up back in 2009 when he wrote that the theory of evolution was well supported and not about to collapse. Many creationists reacted angrily to his blog post while many anti-creationists were jubilant; few took much notice of the follow-up posts that clarified Todd’s position and put it into context (all of which are now linked to at the bottom of the original post).

But Todd was right, of course. Evolution is a well supported and very successful scientific theory. It is not in crisis or on the verge of collapse. And the lesson we should draw from history is that this does not mean that the theory is true. In the mid sixteenth century the evidence clearly favoured Tycho Brahe’s geocentrism, but Copernicus turned out to be right and the geocentrists were wrong. Indeed, Todd himself referred to this historical example in his post on ‘The nature of evidence’.

So I would urge my fellow creationists not to be afraid to acknowledge the successes of evolutionary theory. We will get nowhere with a policy of denial. As Todd concluded:

“Whether or not a future Copernicus or Newton comes along to replace evolution with something better depends on us. If creationists content themselves with critiquing evolution, nothing will change (or if it does change, it will not be favorable to creationists). If instead creationists apply themselves to the development of new theories of creation, who knows what might happen?”

Reference

Danielson D. and Graney C.M. 2014. The case against Copernicus. Scientific American 310(1):62-67.

Posted by: paulgarner | November 27, 2013

Origins reviews Set in Stone

Set in Stone, the DVD on the evidence for geological catastrophism in Great Britain to which I contributed in 2012, has been reviewed by David Tyler in the latest edition of Origins, the journal of the Biblical Creation Society (No. 58, November 2013, p.20). Here’s the review in full:

This DVD provides a major challenge as it informs the understanding of viewers. The challenge is to deeply held convictions that we can reconstruct the geological history of our island by reference to modern-day processes. There are historical and intellectual roots to the consensus approach that prevails in school and university textbooks. These roots go back to social cultures and philosophical stances adopted by the Victorians. We see the world through their eyes to this day. By visiting various locations around the UK, and by looking at evidences found in the rocks, the presenters demonstrate that alternative perspectives are not only possible but are necessary to do justice to the data. My interest in these issues has led me to visit all the locations featured in the DVD – with the exception of Giant’s Causeway. However, I have seen similar basalt flows on Mull and on Skye. The presenters do a good job in pointing out relevant data and showing that the present is not the key to the past. Over the years, I have heard geological speakers at professional meetings bring out all the radical ideas that viewers encounter in the DVD. The difference is that these speakers consider geological history to be long periods of relative quiet punctuated by catastrophic events. In this, they follow Professor Derek Ager in thinking that earth history is like the life of a soldier: ‘Long periods of boredom and short periods of terror’. This DVD finds that the evidence is on the side of catastrophism. The publisher explains it this way: “Were the rocks around us formed slowly and gradually – or suddenly during catastrophic events? Did the history of the world unfold over vast eras of time or much shorter periods? And what do the rocks really tell us about the geological history of our world?” This DVD has evidence-based answers and has the potential to do much good in the world of education. Students find stimulus in questioning alternative explanations of the data. The extensive references to literature in the transcript booklet will be of considerable value with follow-up study – helping budding geologists feel more confident that they will not be asking stupid questions if they continue to examine evidences for the Earth’s catastrophic past.

The DVD can be purchased from Truth in Science in the UK and from Amazon in the USA, as well as from other distributors.

Posted by: paulgarner | November 26, 2013

The single biggest volcano on Earth

I just have time today to highlight the discovery of what may be the single largest volcano on Earth, roughly comparable in size to Olympus Mons on Mars.

Sager et al. (2013) report in November’s Nature Geoscience that the Tamu Massif, a major component of Shatsky Rise, an oceanic plateau in the northwestern Pacific, is a single massive shield volcano emplaced within a relatively short period of time, possibly during a single pulse of magmatism, in the latest Jurassic to earliest Cretaceous. Seismic profiles and rock samples reveal the dome-shaped edifice to be composed of thick lava flows that can be traced over distances of 5 to 20 km with anomalously low slopes attributed to the high effusion rates.

This extraordinary discovery provides further evidence that the scale and rates of geological processes in the past often dwarf those we are familiar with in the present.

Reference

Sager W.W., Zhang J., Korenaga J., Sano T., Koppers A.A.P., Widdowson M. and Mahoney J.J. 2013. An immense shield volcano within the Shatsky Rise oceanic plateau, northwest Pacific Ocean. Nature Geoscience 6:976-981.

Posted by: paulgarner | November 22, 2013

Phil Senter responds to more creationist claims

One of the things I’ve done on my blog is to highlight the ongoing series of papers by palaeontologist Phil Senter that respond to creationist claims. So far these contributions have included papers about Lucy, vestigial organs, the Kachina Bridge “sauropod”, dinosaur baraminology (parts one and two), Flood geology and putative herbivory in theropods.

Since taking my break from blogging he has made at least four further contributions, which I thought were worth highlighting now that I’m back. Do let me know if you’re aware of any others. The first three concern more examples of supposedly “anachronistic” dinosaur depictions and the fourth addresses the hoary old chestnut about women having one more rib than men. Here are the citations with abstracts:

More “dinosaur” and “pterosaur” rock art that isn’t
Senter, P. Palaeontologia Electronica 2012;15(2):22A:14p.

Abstract. To support claims of the coexistence of humans with dinosaurs and pterosaurs, young-earth creationist authors have identified several pieces of ancient rock art as depictions of dinosaurs or pterosaurs. Here, nine such claims are investigated. An alleged pterosaur painting in Black Dragon Canyon, Utah, is actually not a single painting. Its “head” and “neck” are a painting of a person with outstretched arms. Its torso and limbs are those of a painting of a second person with outstretched arms, whose body continues into the “pterosaur’s” “wing.” The other “wing” is a painting of a horned serpent. The three paintings only appear connected because someone outlined the group with chalk. An alleged dinosaur petroglyph in Havasupai Canyon, Arizona, is a stylized bird with an extension on one foot; the hooked line that represents its head and neck is a stylized bird head. A second alleged dinosaur petroglyph in Havasupai Canyon is a stylized bighorn sheep or rabbit. An alleged dinosaur cave painting in Tanzania is an obvious giraffe. Three alleged cave paintings of long-necked dinosaurs in Zambia have short necks and most likely represent lizards. An alleged dinosaur painting on Agawa Rock in Lake Superior Provincial Park, Ottawa, represents Underwater Panther, a supernatural lake guardian of Ojibwe tradition. An alleged pterosaur painting at Alton, Illinois, is the product of the imagination of a nineteenth-century American author. These pieces of rock art now join the ever-growing pile of discredited “evidence” for the ancient coexistence of humans and dinosaurs.

Investigation of a claim of a late-surviving pterosaur and exposure of a taxidemic hoax: the case of Cornelius Meyer’s dragon
Senter, P. and Wilkins, P.D. Palaeontologia Electronica 2013;16(1):6A:11p.

Abstract. Here we investigate a claim that pterosaurs survived into the seventeenth century in Italy. In 1696 Dutch civil engineer Cornelius Meyer published an engraving of the skeleton of an alleged dragon from near Rome. Some recent young-Earth creationist authors have used the engraving as evidence against the separation of humans and pterosaurs by millions of years, claiming that the skeleton is that of a pterosaur that was alive in the seventeenth century. The engraving is detailed enough to identify the skeleton as a composite of bones from various extant animal species. Until now, however, no one has attempted such identification. Here we identify the specific animals that were used in the construction of this taxidermic hoax. The skull of Meyer’s dragon is that of a domestic dog. The mandible is that of a second, smaller domestic dog. The “hindlimb” is the forelimb of a bear. The ribs are from a large fish. Ostensible skin hides the junctions between the parts of different animals. The tail is a sculpted fake. The wings are fake and lack diagnostic traits of bat wings and pterosaur wings. No part of the skeleton resembles its counterpart in pterosaurs. This piece of young-Earth creationist “evidence” therefore now joins the ranks of other discredited “evidence” for human-pterosaur coexistence and against the existence of the passage of millions of years. Also, a three-century-old hoax is finally unveiled, the mystery of its construction is solved, and an interesting and bizarre episode in Renaissance Italian history is elucidated.

Dinosaurs and pterosaurs in Greek and Roman art and literature? An investigation of young-earth creationist claims
Senter, P. Palaeontologia Electronica 2013;16(3):25A:16p.

Abstract. Many young-Earth creationist (YEC) authors claim that ancient Greek and Roman writings describe dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and that Greco-Roman art illustrates Mesozoic reptiles. Such claims are used as “evidence” against evolutionary theory in an attempt to cast doubt on the separation of humans and such animals by millions of years. However, examination of the Greco-Roman materials in question reveals that none of them actually depict Mesozoic reptiles. In descriptions of “dragons” (Greek drakōn; Latin draco) in Greco-Roman literature—which YEC authors claim are dinosaurs—coils and the epithets ophis, serpens, and anguis reveal that the ancient authors are describing snakes, often large constrictors. This is the case for the draco described by Pliny. Phrygian dragons described by Aelian, the Vatican Hill child-eater mentioned by Pliny, the Bagradas River dragon, the legendary dragons that Alexander the Great supposedly encountered, and dragons in Greek mythology. An alleged theropod dinosaur in the Nile Mosaic of Palestrina is a mammal, possibly an otter. An alleged dinosaur in a Pompeii fresco is a crocodile. Herodotus’ description of winged snakes is anatomically incompatible with pterosaurs and possibly refers to cobras. Alleged pterosaurs on an Alexandrian coin are winged snakes. An alleged Etruscan pterosaur head sculpture depicts a mammal. Two alleged Tanystropheus in a Roman mosaic from Lydney Park, England are mythical sea monsters. These YEC claims now join the ranks of discredited “evidence” against evolutionary theory.

Genesis & the human ribcage: an opportunity to correct a misconception & introduce an evolution lesson into the anatomy class
Senter, P. The American Biology Teacher 2013;75:128.

Abstract. Many anatomy students begin the course with a misconception that human males and females do not have the same number of ribs. At the root of that misconception is Genesis 2:21–22, in which God removes a rib from Adam to make Eve. Removal of a body part is a surgical procedure, and one does not pass on the results of surgery to one’s offspring. The prevalence of this misconception is therefore an opportunity to discuss Lamarckian inheritance in the classroom.

Posted by: paulgarner | November 19, 2013

For the BCSE, sorry really is the hardest word

You have probably suffered enough of the BCSE’s silliness by now, but I thought it instructive to give you a brief update on how the BCSE responds to being called out on its malicious claims.

Earlier today I revealed how BCSE members had jumped to the conclusion that I was misleading people about my qualifications, based on unsupported assertions in an atheist blogger’s Youtube video. After I set the record straight here, three people responded on the BCSE forum.

First up was Brian Jordan, who with a bit of googling had found a couple of websites that mistakenly referred to me as “Dr Garner”, as if that was what I had objected to the BCSE doing. But this is misdirection, pure and simple. My actual objection concerned BCSE forum members suggesting that I was being personally dishonest in reporting my qualifications.

Next up was Roger Stanyard, apologising for not being “sufficiently precise” in detailing my qualifications. It wasn’t Mr Stanyard’s precision that concerned me; rather it was his assertion that I was falsely claiming to have a PhD that I do not possess. He could not resist adding that my details did not come up in a search of the online database of Fellows of the Geological Society, by which I can only assume he was insinuating that I might not actually be a Fellow after all. But if he had only read the database web page carefully, he would have seen that the level of visibility can be selected by individual Fellows. For the avoidance of any doubt, I have changed the settings on my entry so Mr Stanyard can now satisfy himself that I am indeed a Fellow. Mr Stanyard also suggests that I do not correct creationists when they mistakenly refer to me as “Dr Garner”. In fact, I do and in the case of ICR I did. ICR corrected their mistake within two hours. I wonder how long it will take for the BCSE to do the same?

Finally there was “Cathy”, an otherwise anonymous school teacher from the Midlands with an inordinate fondness for exclamation marks. She simply repeats the BCSE line that ICR is to blame for the BCSE smearing me, even though there is no evidence at all for this assertion. Indeed, the atheist blogger from whom Peter Henderson (and subsequently Roger Stanyard) originally derived the claim said nothing whatsoever about ICR as the source, rather stating (incorrectly) that I refer to myself as “Dr Garner”.

What does all this tell us? In short, that when members of the BCSE are caught out making claims they cannot substantiate, they prevaricate, obfuscate, offer begrudging “semi-apologies” that are not really apologies at all and generally seek to evade responsibility. What they don’t do is say sorry.

Posted by: paulgarner | November 19, 2013

More BCSE shenanigans (depressingly)

Well here I am again, after a lengthy break from blogging. I must confess I didn’t expect to break my “purdah” with this particular post and would much rather be writing about something more edifying. However…

Some of you will be familiar with the BCSE, the notorious anti-creationist organisation here in the UK that models itself loosely on the NCSE in the USA, but has none of the scholarly gloss or presentational panache.

In the past I’ve pointed out their inability to get even basic facts right and so I hesitate to draw further attention to them. But in the last couple of days members of the BCSE forum have been making some serious allegations about me and so I have decided to set the record straight here.

It concerns comments posted in this forum thread.

Peter Henderson of BCSE began the latest exchange on 17 November:

BCSE 1

In fact, this talk was given over five years ago in March 2008, but that is only the most minor error. Mr Henderson then continued:

BCSE 2

The link is to a recently uploaded Youtube video in which the video blogger (WildwoodClaire1) cites part of my ECG talk to make some (as it happens, erroneous) points about the Coconino-Hermit contact in Grand Canyon. The blogger appears unaware of recently published data supporting a tectonic origin of the sand-filled cracks at the base of the Coconino, contrary to the older interpretation that they were desiccation cracks.

Nevertheless, in the video the blogger states: “…Paul Garner, who calls himself Dr Garner, and I don’t know what his doctorate is in, but it’s not geology.”

The claim that I call myself “Dr Garner” is likewise erroneous, and the blogger provides no evidence to support it. I have categorically never called myself “Dr Garner” and I do not have a PhD, earned or otherwise. I am at a loss as to how the blogger came to this conclusion, especially since my credentials (as they were in March 2008) are accurately reported on the very first slide of the presentation that she is seeking to critique, namely “BSc, FGS”. (I have since also obtained the MSc in Geoscience).

On the BCSE forum, Roger Stanyard weighed in:

BCSE 4a

BCSE 4b

Mr Stanyard is, of course, correct that a masters degree is not a PhD, but I have never claimed otherwise. Nor have I ever claimed that my first degree was from the University of Cambridge, as Mr Stanyard suggests.

He then insinuates that I have been making false claims about the nature of both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, very serious allegations indeed if they can be substantiated. However, Mr Stanyard is wrong on both counts.

My undergraduate degree programme was labelled “Environmental Science” or “Combined Science”, but students specialised in one of three fields: geology, biology or geography. I specialised in geology.

Further, my MSc in Geoscience has not “suddenly become” a PhD. Rather, an ill-informed video blogger made an erroneous claim that was then repeated (without checking) by Peter Henderson on the BCSE forum and then used by Mr Stanyard (again, without checking) to cast aspersions upon my honesty and integrity in reporting my qualifications.

Mr Stanyard then went on to say:

BCSE 4

This, despite the fact that the ICR has never granted PhD degrees. (It did once have a graduate school granting masters degrees). The ICR web page that Mr Stanyard had apparently by this time googled did incorrectly list me as “Dr. Paul Garner” but ICR kindly and very quickly corrected this mistake as soon as it was pointed out to them.

Finally, Brian Jordan of BCSE added:

BCSE 5

Again, the suggestion being that I have been claiming to have a doctorate since graduating with my MSc.

So I contacted the BCSE committee to set the record straight. You will appreciate that wilfully misrepresenting one’s academic qualifications is a serious matter, and since the claims that I had done so were wholly untrue I felt that some kind of retraction was in order.

Mark Edon initially replied on behalf of BCSE suggesting that he post my email to the BCSE forum and invite those making the claims to respond. I replied:

Do you not think that the BCSE needs to take responsibility for potentially defamatory comments posted on its public forum, by moderating/deleting them and offering apologies where appropriate, rather than leaving a decision about how to respond up to individuals?

Mr Edon then replied again to say that the BCSE was unwilling to delete comments on its forum without first looking into the matter, and again suggesting that he post my email to the forum.

I responded that it might have been better for BCSE members to look into matters first, before posting such serious allegations, but that he was welcome to contact the individuals concerned privately to invite their response.

However, later that evening Mr Stanyard posted another diatribe on the BCSE forum accusing me of having “a phony PhD”.

This led to further email correspondence with Paul Braterman and Mark Edon of BCSE, in which it became clear that their tack now was to try to blame ICR! Indeed that is the tenor of Mark Edon’s email now posted to the original forum thread. My response to Mark was as follows:

You are now seeking (without any evidence at all) to pass the buck onto ICR. The fact is that members of your forum plainly stated that I was falsely claiming to have a doctorate and that I had misrepresented the nature of my first degree, the former evidently based on hearsay from an internet atheist. Only later was an error in my title on a single ICR web page brought into the discussion, with no evidence that was the source of the internet atheist’s error and despite the fact that ICR made that error in good faith and very quickly corrected it as soon as it was drawn to its attention.

Your suggested solution to these aspersions upon my personal honesty and integrity (namely to blame ICR) is unconscionable and clearly intended to divert attention from the mistakes and worse of your own forum members. It is one thing for ICR to have made a simple error in calling me “Dr” and quite another thing for those associated with BCSE to publicly claim that I am wilfully misrepresenting my qualifications, a very serious allegation as I have repeatedly said, and one that warrants a full apology and retraction.

The fact that BCSE is unwilling to give such an apology and retraction on its forum tells everyone all that they need to know about the BCSE.

Enough said (for now), I think.

Posted by: paulgarner | September 21, 2012

Taking a break

For the time being I am taking a break from blogging and (as the BCM website explains) from speaking engagements too. I may post here occasionally, but there won’t be any regular updates for a while. Don’t worry. I fully intend to be back, although it will be in months rather than weeks. I have some other “irons in the fire” at the moment that need my full attention.

In the meantime, the BCM website will continue to have all our latest news. And make sure you visit Todd Wood’s blog, where he is beginning an irregular series on what would convince him that evolution is correct. Sounds intriguing and I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to say.

For now – from me – it’s au revoir though not goodbye!

Posted by: paulgarner | September 18, 2012

Origins 2012

As regular readers of my blog know, I didn’t make it this year to the Origins 2012 conference. However, my BCM colleague, Stephen Lloyd, did. Here’s his report with a few photographs:

Origins-2012-SL-015.jpgThis was my first time at the Origins conference organised by the Creation Biology Society and the Creation Geology Society.

The conference this year was held at Patrick Henry College, a Christian College in Purcellville, Virginia, about a one hour drive from Washington DC.

The first day of the conference was taken up with a field trip to the Shenandoah National Park. As we drove across the Blue Ridge Mountains we learnt about the local geology and ecology and we also had plenty of time to talk.

Origins-2012-SL-019.jpgThe technical sessions the following day covered geology, biology and theology. One of the highlights for me was John Whitmore’s talk on deformation features in the Coconino sandstone that provide further evidence of its formation in water.

In the evening we were treated to an overview of various key topics. Kurt Wise set out the current state of the Catastrophic Plate Tectonics model and Andrew Snelling explained the latest creationist thinking on radiometric dating including proposals for the further work that is needed. Todd Wood discussed various approaches to creation biology and summarised the progress that has been made. He also set out a stimulating new framework for creation biology research that derives from a biblical doctrine of creation rather than the questions that arise in responding to evolution.

Origins-2012-SL-058.jpgSteve Austin finished the (long!) evening giving a fascinating account of his ongoing research on Dead Sea sediments that provide evidence for earthquakes in Israel’s history, including the one associated with the crucifixion in AD 33.

The final day was open to the public with various speakers invited to address different areas of theological importance for creation. Topics included the alleged mythical character of Genesis 1-3 and the historicity of Adam. I finished the conference giving a talk entitled: ‘Flood Theology: why does Noah’s flood matter?’

Conference abstracts and powerpoint presentations from some of the theology talks can be downloaded from the Creation Biology Society website.

Posted by: paulgarner | August 30, 2012

Virus, retrovirus

Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist sharing this. Hilarious.

Courtesy of Velica and with a hat tip to Robert Yerby for drawing it to my attention.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.