Where oh where have the creationists gone?

30 04 2007

Is it just me or have creationists been awfully silent lately? Answers in Genesis hasn’t updated its website in several days (how can I live without “News to Note”?!), Uncommon Descent features mostly posts made by DaveScot about global climate change, and the UD-wannabe blog site Overwhelming Evidence has essentially halted (minus a few posts from O’Leary and hoaxers, which don’t count). Sure, there are plenty of smaller personal blogs that are still coming forward with anti-evo content, but much of it is recycled Disco Institute & AiG material consists of running around in circles, arms waving and going “Duh duh duh”, so they’re not really adding anything to the discussion. While I am not going to be so brash as to herald the end of ID, could it be that people are just getting tired of hearing of it, or that some in the creationist crowd are running out of ideas the random Bible Verse+Idiotic assertion generators at the Disco Institute & AiG have broken down? (We all know there’s been no new creationist ideas since the mid-1800’s, although the “new” ideas of the time were on par with the already-discussed Omphalos) I’m sure some of this has to do with the opening of the creation museum on AiG’s part, but I am curious as to why the normally loud-mouthed Disco Institute crew hasn’t been relatively quiet lately. Regardless of this, I suggest that we all enjoy the silence before another fart-filled flash animation or “hoax of dodos” shows up.

Update: After searching for nearly an hour for anything on WordPress to respond to involving creationism, I came up with practically nothing new. Sometimes I just feel the need to have an all out debate and I was hoping to stir up the hornet’s nest a little bit, but it appears that creationists have mysteriously disappeared. Could it be that I’ve been Left Below?

Update the 2nd: TheBrummell has once again corrected my erroneous statements; shame on me for giving the creationists too much credit.

Update the 3rd: AiG is back up and running again, claiming that they had so much computer trouble because of all the traffic they’ve been getting as of late. I was intrigued, however, by this statement they made about the glitches;

Over the last week, the AiG website experienced significant technical difficulties, which severely limited access. It’s just one of those things that happens in a fallen world using computers built by fallen humans being run by fallen people. As we tell people, “The reason the AiG website had problems is due to sin! And the answer’s in Genesis!”

What was it Mark Twain once said about such statements? Oh yes, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” Indeed, if it was not for original sin we’d never have any computer problems at all. At least when the web is slow or my computer crashes I now know who’s actually to blame…

Dryptosaurus, I hardly knew ye

30 04 2007

Every once in a while I have a little bit of dinosaur deja vu, encountered photographs, paintings, models, documentaries, etc. that I haven’t seen since I was about 10 or 11 years old. Such was the case when I received my copy of David Raup’s Extinction: Bad Genes of Bad Luck? in the mail today. I recognized the painting on the cover immediately as one I had seen from a paleontology documentary years ago (although I can’t remember much of it except interviews with Stephen Jay Gould, Bob Bakker RE: Nanotyrannus, and David B. Weishampel with his functional reconstruction of a Parasaurolophus crest, interspersed with pictures from David Norman’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs), although I must admit I couldn’t quite figure out what sort of dinosaur I was supposed to be looking at. The painting as a whole is beautiful, but the dinosaurs seem a bit grotesque; my mind wanted to say dromeosaur but I knew that couldn’t be right. The back cover, however, revealed the answer; the painting is supposed to be of a male and female Dryptosaurus (ex-Laelaps)!

While the skeletal remains of Dryptosaurus remain elusive, I’ve heard a few things about some attempts to figure out what it really looked like. Now that the weather is nicer I plan to go searching for some bits of it myself in the Big Brook area, although given their rarity I’m not likely to come up with anything (which doesn’t mean I won’t still be dreaming of a fully articulated skeleton, hanging out of a riverbank begging to be excavated). Indeed, New Jersey seems to be suffering from neglect when it comes to nature (regardless of whether it’s conservation now or figuring out what was here millions of years ago) but there is much to find for those willing to look. I still can’t forget carefully slicing away the green marl from the Main Fossiliferous Layer at the Inversand Pit, the sandy material giving up just a few fragments of bone. I’ll probably never find out what they once belonged to, but it was utterly exciting nonetheless.

Can a camel stop WalMart?

30 04 2007

According to this LiveScience article, construction workers digging a hole for an ornamental citrus tree at the location of a future WalMart uncovered the bones of an approximately 10,000 year old camel. The article is light on details, and while it has been agreed that the camel will go on display at Arizona State University, nothing has been said as to whether the area will be checked for more fossils. Does this remind anyone else of the famous Simpsons episode “Lisa the Skeptic” (featuring Stephen J. Gould, no less) where the fossil of an “angel” is found? I’m not saying WalMart planted the camel as a scheme, but I would like to see the area looked over for other fossils before yet another WalMart is established (how many more do we need, really?). I intend on writing the company to ask what its intentions are for the site, even though I fully expect a form-letter reply. Whatever correspondence I get I will post here.

More movie nonsense: Hogzilla

30 04 2007

One of my first posts here on Laelaps was about “Hogzilla” and a National Geographic program devoted to the supersized pig. The documentary wasn’t that good and I suspected that after it was discovered that the monsterous swine was a full 4 feet shorter than claimed it would slip away into obscurity. I was wrong.

According to this news article, Hogzilla is going to be the titular monster of what is likely to be a direct-to-DVD B-film, and I’m sure the estimate of the pigs size will increase (because an 8-foot killer pig just isn’t enough, I suppose). If any of this sounds strangely familiar to you then you might be recalling the Aussie horror film Razorback, based in part on the famous Azaria Chamberlain case (the origin of the famous “The dingo ate my baby” phrase). Razorback is perfect movie trash, featuring surrealistic shots (part of the film takes place in a factory where kangaroos are minced up and canned, much of the rest taking place in the outback where cars adorn the branches of trees denuded of foliage) and a monster that bears closer resemblance to a Muppet than anything truly terrifying. Regardless of big-screen hits and misses when it comes to monster movies, direct-to-DVD specialists like Lions Gate have been pumping out monster-filled gore fests for years, any there’s any number of cookie-cutter films featuring Sasquatch, C. megalodon, giant killer spiders, Chupacabras, ancient carnivorous insects, cephalopods, and anything else that might strike your fancy. Perhaps they’ll all be riffed-on by an MST3K-clone in the future (one can only hope).

Speaking of which (and this is the last tangent, I swear), Kevin Murphy, Mike Nelson, and Bill Corbett are still at it under the new moniker “The Film Crew” (same MST3K goodness, but no puppets or silhouettes) and if you head over to their website you can vote for what the first video release will be. My vote is for The Wild Women of Wongo, how about you?

I Can Has Cheezburger?

30 04 2007

I stumbled onto the photoblog I Can Has Cheezburger? the other day and I have no choice but to add it to my blogroll; I’m a sucker for stupid animal photos. Maybe it’s not the most intelligent brand of humor out there, but I just can’t help but laugh at many of the pictures that go up daily.

Jurassic Park 4: Noah’s Ark

30 04 2007

This just in via Cinescape (or Mania, as it’s now called); Darren Aronofksy (of Requiem for a Dream fame) is planning on making a film about Noah. This won’t be like the upcoming Evan Almighty however; Aronofksy is planning on looking at the “dark side” of the character, explaining in an interview that;

Noah was the first person to plant vineyards and drink wine and get drunk… It’s there in the Bible – it was one of the first things he did when he reached land. There was some real survivor’s guilt going on there. He’s a dark, complicated character.

The big question is, however, will Noah be sharing his ship with a pack of Deinonychus? If AiG had their way, I’m sure there would be.

Painful & Purple Prose: Omphalos

30 04 2007

Late Sunday afternoon I was finally able to close Philip Henry Gosse’s pretentious creationist work Omphalos and relieve the pain I had been putting my brain through. I must admit that I did not read every single page, however, as Gosse makes a point of taking the reader on a walk through the Creation just after it had been “called into being”, picking various examples from the plant & animal kingdoms and explaining how the age of an individual is determined. After a long discussion of how old the elephant, palm tree, or beetle in front of the hypothetical tourist is, Gosse triumphantly exclaims that any such assertion would be wrong being that we know that all life is not even an hour old.

Gosse does try very hard to reconcile geology with church doctrine, but alas, unless one already accepts a 6 day creation event (although Gosse makes a point of not saying whether this event happend 6,000 years ago or 6,000,000,000) Gosse’s entire premise falls flat. To save you the trouble of reading the work yourself, Gosse accepts that God “called into being” all life on the planet as well as creating Earth itself. He also (obviously) rejects “transmutation of species” and so all elephants were always born to elephants, and at the moment of creation only a just-sexually-mature adult would have appeared being that such a stage of life is the most perfect (the same goes for the rest of life, including us). What about fossils? Well, just as God would have created all adult beings with the vestiges of age, so too would God have created the world as if it were really ancient, as if there was no other way to do it (dinosaurs and other fossils being the equivalent to a tree’s growth rings). Gosse does cover his bases, however, and explains that species too have a life cycle, and the elephants of ancient times were just another stage in the continuous and unbroken lifecycle of elephants altogether. Screwy, ain’t he?

Obviously Gosse’s work did not have the impact he was wishing for, giving the faithful the impression that God was a deceiver while asking geologists to accept that they are finding the vestiges of creation in fossils rather than animals that once lived on earth. The whole book could have been written in about 25-50 pages, but Gosse goes to great length to lay out the arguments of others and then to use example after example after example in an attempt at straw man arguments. Gosse’s folly, however, is that he really sets up “stone man” arguments; he wants to make those who don’t accept Creation look like fools, only ending up looking foolish himself. Even beyond this silliness, Gosse’s writing style while walking the reader through the Garden of Eden is laughably pretentious. Here’s an example during an encounter with the ideal horse;

See this Horse, a newly created, really wild Horse,

“Wild as the wild deer, and untaught,
With spur and bridle undefiled,”-

his sleek coat a dun-mouse colour, with a black stripe running down his back, and with a full black mane and tail. He has a wild spiteful glance; and his eye, and his lips now and then drawn back displaying his teeth, indicate no very amiable temper. Still, we want to look at those teeth of his. Please to moderate your rancour, generous Dobbin, and let us make an inspection of their condition!

Luckily for me, I just received George Gaylord Simpson’s Horses so I can undo the brain damage such passages caused me. In all, Gosse’s book is more of a curiosity and a failed attempt to reconcile science and scripture. I do wonder, however, why more creationists have not tried his approach to fit geology into a Biblical context; most likely because it comes out being inconsistant with their beliefs. Then again, I wouldn’t say having a Tyrannosaurus rex in Eden, chomping on coconuts, lends much more credibility to the modern creationist movement.

Post Script: After reading Omphalos I turned to Errol Fuller’s Extinct Birds: Revised Edition. While beautifully illustrated and informative, it was very dry and not the sort of book easily read cover to cover, being that I only got to page 118 before having to give up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful book, but not one that makes for riveting reading. Thus, in the wee hours of the night, I opened up a copy of Carl Zimmer’s At the Water’s Edge I had purchased the day before on campus for $2 and thus far it’s proven to be rewarding. So much to learn, so little time…

Weekend reading…

27 04 2007

I received a few more books in the mail yesterday and I almost don’t know where to start; it all looks so good. Here’s my brief thoughts on what I’ve been going over lately (and most of these books are dirt cheap if you get them used from amazon.com), and you’re likely to hear more when I’ve finished them.

1- Omphalos by Philip Henry Gosse (1857, reprint 1998)

I first became interested in this book after reading Stephen Jay Gould’s treatment of it in The Flamingo’s Smile. Given that I’ve been keen to go back and learn more about the like of Hutton, Buckland, Paley, Steno, Smith, Mantell, Owen, Cuvier, Huxley, etc., I figured Gosse’s work wouldn’t be a bad place to start (especially since it was actually available in a reprint, otherwise I’d have to shell out over $260.00 for it). I started reading it yesterday during “video time” in my behavioral biology class, and although I’m only 60 pages in there are plenty of errors. Gosse starts off by stating the positions of various clergymen and scientists on the subject of an old earth, stating that we cannot abandon the Bible nor can we ignore the rocks; God’s handiwork must be apparent in nature and not conflict with Scripture. After this summary, he begins to explain fossils found at different strata, placoderms being referred to as “sharks” and all the dinosaurs being illustrated in woodcuts based off of Waterhouse Hawkins’ famous monsters from the Crystal Palace. What caught my attention most, however, was his brief discussion of pterodactyls where he says he has been convinced that they are actually flying marsupial mammals and was tempted to give them little furry ears in the woodcut (and although he did not, the flying reptiles do look awfully like bats; I’ll supply a picture at my earliest convenience). I’m sure it’ll get much more painful as Gosse tries to do mental somersaults, although I can’t quite help myself listening to his far-fetched ideas.

2 – Extinct Birds (revised edition, 2001) – Errol Fuller

I haven’t gotten a chance to sit down and look at every page, but this is an absolute beauty of a book. While I was disappointed with Wolfe’s Moa, Fuller’s book looks like it’s going to supply what I was looking for; a gloriously illustrated (albeit brief) account of the various birds that have gone extinct over recent centuries, including ratites like the moas and the ever-famous dodo. Even if the text turns out to be entirely worthless, the various photos, paintings, sketches, and other representations of the extinct birds as so well done that it’s well worth the money (even though I only paid about $6.00 for it).

3- Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology – (1995) by Lawrence Weschler

While I was somewhat disappointed by Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads (it’s still a good book, just not what I was expecting), Weschler’s book has already turned out to be a great joy. I read through the first 36 pages last night and just as Weschler was drawn into the curiosity cabinet of “Jurassic Technology”, so too is the reader. It’s no surprise that this book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, which goes to show how interesting science can be when written about in an engaging way. The book is also fairly well illustrated, providing plenty of little diagrams and pictures of the subjects mentioned so that the reader is not left in the dark about what is being discussed, and it’s likely that I’ll finish this one tonight or tomorrow.

4- Rivers in Time (2000) by Peter Ward

I started this book months ago but put it down for some reason, only to pick it up on the way to my evolution class last week. While Ward’s writing can be a little tedious at times, it has proved to be a rewarding book, especially in his discussion of the K/T extinction controversy. I do wish that there was some more illustration in his works (rather than the photos of various formations and a fossil here and there), but the book has gotten better as I’ve progressed through it. Part of the problem may be that dinosaurs and their extinction is so familiar that it’s easy to picture and imagine, whereas the equally fascinating (if not moreso) Permian/Triassic extinction is a bit more difficult to visualize. Ward gives plenty of background on the major players in these debates as well, a topic I think that is all-too-often glossed over elsewhere, and so it’s a record of changing ideas about extinction as much as it is about extinction events themselves. I may finish some of my other books first, but I’ll certainly complete this one soon.

5- Aquagenesis (2003) by Richard Ellis

I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting Richard and I have some correspondence with him now and then, and there’s little doubt in my mind that he’s the #1 science writer/artist when it comes to life in the seas. That being said, it’s been a little difficult to get into Aquagenesis so far. Indeed, it reminds me a little bit of Ward’s book (see above) in that there are some parts that are very engrossing and others than seem to drag a bit. Even so I’m still a long way from finishing the book and I’ll likely finish it right after I complete Rivers in Time.

6- Life of the Past; An Introduction to Paleontology (1953) by George Gaylord Simpson

While Simpson’s The Meaning of Evolution proved to be an interesting look at the state of evolution in the 1950’s, I wasn’t that impressed with Life of the Past. Meant to be a popular work that would communicate basic ideas in paleontology, this short book merely recaps much of what was said in The Meaning of Evolution and doesn’t shed much light on the process of paleontology, from figuring out where to dig to study of what has been removed from the ground. There wasn’t very much that was notable in the book overall. Despite this, however, I am still hoping to get my hands on his famous Tempo and Mode of Evolution, right after I scrape enough money together to purchase a copy of A.S. Romer’s Osteology of the Reptiles. (Minor tangent; I find it funny how so many paleontologists/evolutionists end up being referred to by their first two initials followed by their last name. If I were to follow, I’d be B.J. Switek, which doesn’t sound as distinguished as the late scientists I just mentioned).

7- Marine Mammals (1999) by Berta and Sumich

This is probably one of the best textbooks I’ve ever seen, giving the reader an evolutionary take on marine mammals. The book is bursting with illustrations that are actually helpful and relevant to the text (as opposed to a picture of Oprah eating a hot dog, like in my biology textbook), giving the reader a visual representations of the skeletal or other structures being discussed. The famous swimming sloth Thalassocnus natans is included (albeit briefly) in the text as well, and it is an excellent resource for anyone interested in marine mammals. I have yet to read it cover to cover (I got as far as pinniped phylogenetic relationships), but I find it to be very informative and accessible.

That’s all for now; I have a habit of starting up books that I’m semi-interested in while I’m waiting for new ones, only to put them aside and tear through the new arrivals. Many of the books that have just arrived are short, however, so even though I seem to have a lot of reading to do it’s not nearly as time-consuming as it may seem. To my own regret, however, I have yet to finish Gould’s The Structure of Evolutionary Theory and the textbook The Functional Anatomy of the Vertebrates, and I hope to complete both, cover to cover, by the end of the summer.

Mmm… preserved dinosaurs…

27 04 2007

Wouldn’t you know it, there’s even more dino-news to discuss this week. Over at DinoBase, Sarda lets us know that some skin impressions from a possibly herbivorous dinosaur have been found in Lower Cretaceous beds in Japan, and researchers are looking for more impressions or clues as to what was living in the area 120 million years ago.

This find reminded me of Leo, a 77-million-year-old Brachylophosaurus that has the best preservation ever recorded for a dinosaur. I can’t wait until the data garnered from the find are available to all, perhaps finally giving us some clues as to the internal anatomy of dinosaurs. The proportion of the lungs, heart, brain, stomach, etc. all hold important clues not only for the anatomy of the animals, but for their behavior/mode of living as well, and I’m quite anxious to learn more about the discovery. It’s not clear whether these organs have actually been preserved or have left any impressions, but I sincerely hope so.

Thoughts on college

27 04 2007

On the Larry Moran and PZ have recently commented on this article, discussing the lack of critical thinking/science home-schooled creationist students get exposed to. Being that such homeschool programs lack scientific content, create mistrust of scientists, and intellectually shortchange the kids through a lack of critical thinking in the lesson plans, I have no problem saying that such courses shouldn’t be accepted for credit and those students should have to take remedial-level science courses. If they don’t like it, there’s always Liberty University, right?

This isn’t to say children in public schools are doing better, science taking a back seat to the most important topics on standardized tests (language skills and math). The only standardized test I ever took with a section devoted to science was the ACT, and I scored a 95% in that section (much better than in math, let me tell you). When I was in high school the standardized testing blitz was just becoming more apparent, weeks out of the school year taken out to devote to not only the actual tests but prototype versions of tests that would be taken in years to come, and as far as I can recall there was no major difference between any of them. PZ recognizes this as well and states;

In my perfect world where colleges are not facing a painful lack of support from their state governments and were we aren’t scrabbling for students to keep our funding up, I’d tighten up admission standards across the board: you don’t get into any college unless you can read and write grammatically correct English, unless you know the elements of trigonometry, unless you’ve had at least a year’s instruction in a foreign language, and you’ve been exposed to at least algebra-based physics and have had a good lab course in chemistry.

No problem with the English part of it; I placed out of both semesters of “Expository Writing” because of my AP scores (to tell you the truth, I never even read Hamlet but I still nailed the essay). The math part though, that’s a different story. Math and I don’t get along, and I typically do whatever I can to avoid it (which is now impossible; I have to take precalculus and statistics before I graduate next year). I’ve never done well in that subject and likely never will, and if my admission to college depending on knowing basic trig and algebra-based physics, I probably wouldn’t be in college. Granted, math education is important and I’m not about to say “Math, who needs it?” but I think it’s also important to note that not every student is the same. In my case, I did exceptionally well in english classes but passed by the skin of my teeth (if that) in my math classes, yet I showed an aptitude for science; what am I to do?

Perhaps it’s the college I’m in an the courses that I’ve taken, but I have to say that I feel the college professors I’ve come in touch with generally haven’t done a good job at education either. Huge lectures where ppt slides go whizzing by and the students are told to buy a $100 book that is never referred to or used don’t exactly strike me as the pinnacle of higher education. Even in some of the smaller classes a lecture is merely a place for a professor to stroke their own ego for an hour, and overall I can’t say I’ve really learned much of anything during my years at college. Perhaps it’s my fault; I have changed majors a few times and haven’t always been the best when it comes to class attendance, but I’ve learned far more in one year of private study than I have in nearly 6 years of college. Sure, there might be some vestiges of understanding here and there, but I generally feel like I’m just paying to get a degree because that’s what I have to do; I don’t feel like I’ve been prepared for any type of career, profession, or to be any kind of scientist.

I’m sure the story is different elsewhere and other people have had more pleasant experiences, but I think the American education system is fraught with problems from top to bottom. Hopefully I’ll be able to escape the education system for a time (although graduate school is going to be necessary), but for the amount of money I’ve spent on tuition I would have much rather kept the money and educated myself.