“[S]cientist urges teaching of creationism in schools” blared alarmist headlines after Michael Reiss, Royal Society director of education who claims “creationism has no scientific basis,” nevertheless let his toe slip from the evolutionary line on education. Now, after less than a week, Reiss has been, well, expelled, one might say.
The controversial comments came last week at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool. According to the BBC, Reiss, who is not a creationist, made the following comments:
An increasing percentage of children in the UK come from families that do not accept the scientific version of the history of the universe and the evolution of species. What are we to do with those children? My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science that one really wants them to learn. I think a better way forward is to say to them, “Look, I simply want to present you with the scientific understanding of the history of the universe and how animals and plants and other organisms evolved.”
Reiss, a qualified biologist and former science teacher who is also a Church of England minister, added that he “realized that simply banging on about evolution and natural selection didn’t lead some pupils to change their minds at all.”
Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis.
However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis.
I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility.
Meanwhile, fellow members of the Royal Society continued to attack Reiss, even claiming he was unqualified to hold the director of education post because of his religious views. Nobel laureate Richard Roberts wrote scathingly to the Royal Society president, “We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome. Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?” Nobel laureate Harry Kroto, also a member of the Royal Society, took aim at Reiss’s background as well: “I warned the president of the Royal Society that [Reiss] was a dangerous appointment a year ago. I did not realise just how dangerous it would turn out to be.”
Atheist Richard Dawkins, also a Royal Society fellow, quipped: “A clergyman in charge of education for the country’s leading scientific organisation—it's a Monty Python sketch.”
Reiss finally tried to end the controversy himself by quitting his post as director of education “in the best interests of the society,” a news release stated. Reiss is reportedly returning to full-time work as professor of science education at the University of London’s Institute of Education.
Unsurprisingly, the resignation sparked further furor, with Imperial College London’s Robert Winston, a professor of science and society, noting that Reiss “was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science—something that the Royal Society should applaud.”
The comments were echoed by Ronald Jackson, head of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. “I was at the actual discussion and what I heard him say, however it has been reported, was essentially the position advocated by the Royal Society,” Jackson said. He added that the Royal Society “should have supported him and used this opportunity to further a reasoned debate.”
It seems that in this row over Reiss’s comments, many evolutionists have revealed their true colors at least as much as Ben Stein’s film Expelled might have. By attacking one of their own for even suggesting that creationism be dealt with in some way other than outright dismissal, they have reminded us that evolutionary theory won’t tolerate competition, even when handling legitimate questions from students. As we’ve asked repeatedly, if evolutionists have such confidence that Darwin’s idea is scientifically superior, why must creation be censored so completely in school classes? And why are evolutionists so eager, even if it means sacrificing one of their own, to avoid any discussion of the creation/evolution controversy in the classroom? After all, no one said anything about not teaching evolution. We can only conclude that, in imagining away the scientific basis for arguments against evolution, they believe that if they repeat the story of evolution enough times, without competition, eventually students will succumb.
Sadly, it looks like they may be right—and if the world fails to take note of the treatment of Michael Reiss and others like him, we can only expect increasing attempts to marginalize the origins controversy.
As part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, the Church of England is issuing an apology of sorts to Darwin for its previous “anti-evolutionary fervour.” The response from Darwin’s descendants? Thanks, but no thanks.
The informal apology appears on a special Church of England website set up to commemorate Darwin, titled “On the Origin of Darwin.” The site includes an introduction, welcome message, some history, and upcoming events, but at the center of the news is an essay by Malcolm Brown, the church’s director of mission and public affairs, titled “Good Religion Needs Good Science.” In it, Brown writes:
Subsequent generations have built on Darwin’s work but have not significantly undermined his fundamental theory of natural selection. There is nothing here that contradicts Christian teaching. . . . Christians believe that God became incarnate as a human being in the person of Jesus and thereby demonstrated God’s especial love for humanity. But how can that special relationship be undermined just because we develop a different understanding of the processes by which humanity came to be? . . . Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still.
Widely reported in response were the words of Andrew Darwin, who harshly rejected the apology as “pointless.” The great great grandson of Charles reportedly said, “Why bother? When an apology is made after 200 years, it’s not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organisation making the apology feel better.” (Interestingly, the Vatican made it clear this week that it wouldn’t bother apologizing to Darwin, at least partly because Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, stated that Darwin’s theories were “never condemned by the Catholic Church nor was his book ever banned.”)
Our view is that Brown seems to miss the point that the 19th century Church’s “attacks” on Darwin were, by and large, based on legitimate intellectual disagreement, itself rooted in different views on the authority of Genesis—in other words, similar to the conflict over Darwin today. The Church of England (and many other denominations) has, over time, given in to Darwin’s views not because the conflict between Genesis and the Origin of Species went away, but because many Christians conceded the authority of Genesis. Genesis is the book of the Bible which presents the foundational history for all Christian doctrine (especially the gospel message—see Genesis 3), and thus it must be upheld as accurate and authoritative.
Brown also writes in his essay, “Whilst Christians believe that the Bible contains all that we need to know to be saved from our sins, they do not claim that it is a compendium of all knowledge.” We agree; for instance, the Bible simply does not contain a report on how many went through AiG’s Creation Museum last week. Yet this idea is sometimes popularly misconstrued as indicating that any “knowledge” outside the Bible must somehow trump even when there is clear scriptural teaching, as if the biblical account either doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter on any but metaphysical planes. But the origins debate centers on how life came to be, a one-time prospect that science can’t experimentally repeat. One must accept, by faith, either the historical account in Genesis or some other historical account, even one written by modern naturalistic scientists. Biblical creationists point out, however, that using observational science, we can confirm that Genesis is totally accurate.
Furthermore, despite claims of how the church may have somehow offended Darwin (who was probably an atheist, by the way, or at least an agnostic at the end), he is nonetheless buried in Westminster Abbey, the most famous church in England. In fact, sad as it is to say, the 20th century church more than made up for the disagreements with Darwin of the 19th century when it bought into evolutionary theory and elevated it above the Genesis account. The ultimate result—an increasing rejection of not just Genesis, but the whole Bible—may shape the 21st century church.
An ant so strange it’s been jokingly labeled “from Mars”—but can the creation model explain it?
A single specimen of the ant, named Martialis heureka, was discovered in Brazil by Christian Rabeling, a University of Texas–Austin graduate student. (Martialis means “of Mars.”) The pale, eyeless M. heureka makes the soil of the Amazon rainforest its home, apparently living mostly underground and feeding on soft-bodied creatures with its long jaws.
While “superficially similar” to other ants, M. heureka is atypical in several ways, according to Rabeling and colleagues. In addition to its pale color and lack of eyes are its long, segmented front legs and its forceps-like jaws, possibly used to drag prey out holes in the soil.
Attracting as much attention as its features, however, is the distinct DNA of the ant. Evolutionary DNA analysis suggests M. heureka may be separated by over a hundred million years from other ants, a “relic from an ancient branch on the ant evolutionary tree” in the words of the National Geographic News report.
“The fact that a single ant . . . can tell us so much about the evolution of ants highlights how little we know about the diversity of life on the planet,” commented Corrie Moreau (who was not involved in the finding) of Chicago’s Field Museum. However, while it is clear that this ant is quite different from many other ants, we don’t buy the logic that difference proves something about evolution. For one thing, the different structures of this ant explain why its DNA is so different; for another, its differences show it has adapted well to its environment. This is because God created the original ant kind—or a larger kind from which ants, wasps, and bees have all devolved—with enough information to adapt to numerous environments. M. heureka has likely lost its eyesight (a loss of genetic information), while it shares the large jaw with a few other ant species, such as the bull ant.
She may seem a little rough around the edges, but Wilma, the National Geographic Society’s new Neanderthal re-creation, is fully human.
Created for October’s issue of National Geographic magazine, Wilma’s skeleton was formed from replicas of actual Neanderthal bones. The team of artists and scientists also used DNA analysis as a basis for Wilma; DNA evidence has indicated that at least some Neanderthals may have had red hair (as does Wilma), pale skin, and possibly freckles.
The National Geographic article [note: some pictures may be inappropriate for children] tells the gruesome story of Neanderthal remains that show clear signs of cannibal carve-up—and tours a variety of theories about how similar Neanderthals were to “modern” humans and why Neanderthals disappeared.
Several quotes are of interest to creationists:
Neanderthal's low-domed skull housed a brain with a volume slightly larger on average than our own today. And while their tools and weapons were more primitive than those of the modern humans who supplanted them in Europe [though see News to Note, August 30, 2008], they were no less sophisticated than the implements made by their modern human contemporaries living in Africa and the Middle East.
[. . .]
In 1979 archaeologists discovered a late Neanderthal skeleton at Saint-Césaire in southwestern France surrounded not with typical Mousterian implements, but with a surprisingly modern repertoire of tools. In 1996 [archaeologists] identified a Neanderthal bone in another French cave, near Arcy-sur-Cure, in a layer of sediment also containing ornamental objects previously associated only with modern humans, such as pierced animal teeth and ivory rings. . . . [M]ore recently, [archaeologists] analyzed hundreds of crayon-like blocks of manganese dioxide from a French cave[.]
Additionally, when reviewing the debate over whether or not Neanderthals and “modern” humans interbred, Stephen Hall reports:
The disagreement . . . is hardly the first time that two respected paleoanthropologists have looked at the same set of bones and come up with mutually contradictory interpretations. Pondering—and debating—the meaning of fossil anatomy will always play a role in understanding Neanderthals.
As for Wilma, her matted hair, dirty face, and “caveman” clothing obscure how similar to modern humans she clearly is. The fact that the differences are figuratively superficial—and, in some ways, advantageous to Neanderthals, such as the larger brain size—combined with their hunting prowess, tool-making, arts, and other signs of skill mean there is no reason to believe Neanderthals were not ordinary, modern humans. They were, no doubt, descendants of Noah (who lived around 2,300 BC) who populated Europe; conditions such as rickets may have augmented their skeletal differences with other human groups. But as we point out in item #7, such differences can clearly be accounted for within God’s creation of individual kinds—including humankind.
A gecko “frozen in time”—it may be (supposedly) more than 100 million years old, but it’s just as complex as geckos today!
From earlier this month, National Geographic News reports on the foot, toes, and part of the tail of a gecko found in a piece of fossilized tree sap (amber) from Myanmar (Burma). The discoverers believe the find dates from 97 million to 110 million years ago—supposedly 40 million years older than the age of the gecko remains previously considered oldest.
The gecko is so well preserved that easily visible are the lamellae—sticky hair-like structures that give geckos the ability to run up walls and across ceilings. (We reported on the gecko’s abilities—and human attempts to imitate them—in last week’s News to Note, item #6.)
The supposed age of the find led the Oregon State University researchers to conclude that by that time, geckos must have “already evolved” their specially adapted feet. But is it so unreasonable to conclude that this evidence points, rather, to the fact that geckos were always geckos, designed with spectacular feet for spectacular feats (and we would argue only a few thousand years ago)?
Commentators continue to weigh in on the nominees for U.S. vice president—and Sarah Palin’s possible creationist views are frequently center stage.
Arthur Caplan, chairman of the medical ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania, is the latest to take aim at Palin for her possible views on origins. In an opinion piece, Caplan argues that Palin’s nomination “forces out into the open the question of whether the United States can compete in world markets that rely on our scientific and technical prowess with a creationist as vice president or president.”
The lightning rod for the criticism of Caplan and others is a comment Palin made in a televised debate in 2006, where she declared that schools should “teach” both rather than being “afraid of information.” Palin revised her comments the next day, clarifying, “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”
In Caplan’s view, though, having someone in office who thinks students should be allowed to discuss creation means:
With views like these, no wonder he concludes that voting for Palin—“or any creationist”—is like voting for “the lifestyles of the 19th century.” Apparently, in Caplan’s mind, it doesn’t even matter what your political views are, or if you think creation shouldn’t be taught in schools; if you believe in creation, you’re automatically unqualified!
Caplan certainly isn’t alone. The author(s) of a Rutland Herald opinion piece earlier this week argue—without any apparent basis, other than Palin’s “teach both” comment—that she “not only doesn’t believe in basic science, she celebrates the fact.” That opinion piece concludes:
At no time in history has humanity been more reliant on scientific knowledge. Virtually everything we touch is the result of human engineering, from safe drinking water to the light switch on the wall to most of our foods. Even organic foods are the result of generations of farmers selectively breeding and planting to improve their output. The biological mechanism that allows generational improvement of crops to work is evolution, a concept which over half the American public does not believe in, including Sarah Palin.
Some thoughts for Caplan, et al.: first, these writers are ignoring the very substantial difference between origins science and operations science. It’s one thing for an engineer to invent a device and perfect it through repeated experimentation, trial, and correction; it’s a very different thing for a paleoanthropologist to discover a few pieces of primate bone and, through layers of interpretation, conjecture, and artistry, attempt to establish it as a definitive new species of ape-man.
Likewise, one’s belief about how life formed doesn’t influence whether one can understand renewable energy technologies, find new ways to combine technology and medicine, pioneer sustainable agricultural techniques, and so forth. In fact, if it weren’t for an ardent creationist, society wouldn’t have the lifesaving MRI scanner. Many—if not most—of the great scientists of the past believed in biblical creation as well, and there are numerous qualified scientists today who accept the Bible’s account of origin and many more who, while not necessarily biblical creationists, do dissent from Darwin. And what moral motivation would a true Darwinist have for wanting to help the weak survive—thus impeding the process of natural selection? (You can read more about this topic in Science or the Bible?
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out that the “biological mechanism” allowing “generational improvement” of crops is not evolution; rather, artificial selection allows farmers to select the best traits—out of traits produced by already-existing genetic information (see By what means?).
As for Sarah Palin, we’ve outlined what is known about her could-be creationist views in Is She Really a Creationist? And it seems to be nothing short of arrogant overconfidence to accuse Palin—or anyone—of not believing in basic science and “celebrating the fact” merely because we have different opinions about which theories are scientific and which aren’t.
They may look like different species entirely, but the world’s shortest man and the world’s longest-legged woman are definitely both Homo sapiens!
A photo shoot for 2009’s Guinness World Records brought the two together: China’s He Pingping, who stands just under two and a half feet (76 cm) tall, and Svetlana Pankratova, a Russian whose legs alone stretch for nearly four and a half feet.
Believe it or not, Pankratova isn’t the tallest woman ever, and Guinness technically labels Mr. Pingping the shortest man who can walk.
Along with photos of the world’s largest and smallest horse standing together (see slide #16 in an MSNBC slideshow), the pictures of He and Pankratova remind us of the great diversity of life—even within individual species. Size, shape, and color may vary greatly, but this wide range of diversity is permitted because of the genetic information God programmed into the original created kinds (and which, in turn, allowed better adaptation to peculiar environments). This, of course, is in addition to variation created by disease and other disorders.
The question is, do evolutionists take such built-in, existing-today variation into account when lining up horse fossils in an alleged horse evolution sequence? What about when small human fossils are labeled “hobbits” and classified as a separate species? Such evolutionary storytelling seems to ignore the diversity of species living today and other created kinds that may have gone extinct.
University of Liverpool mathematician Lasse Rempe guides viewers through a beautiful slideshow, accompanied by background music, of images generated by mathematical functions.
At first the slideshow may seem to have little to do with biblical authority. But after viewing it, take a look at AiG astrophysicist Jason Lisle’s article Fractals. Enjoy the beauty of God’s “abstract” creations!
You heard it, folks: sad as we are to say, AIG is in a severe financial mess and is clinging to life thanks to $85 billion in U.S. government money.
So is the Creation Museum going to remain open? Relax—as most readers probably realize already, it’s the “other” AIG, formally known as the American International Group, that’s in financial trouble. But with a few News to Note readers egging us on, we couldn’t miss out on a very tardy (or early) April Fools’ joke!
Of course, $85 billion could pay for several Creation Museums in every country of the world, so if you happen to have that sum lying around, don’t forget us! In all seriousness, though, we do thank God and all our supporters for His provision through your faithfulness.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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