Some evolutionists are taking the culture war over origins to the next step: boycotting an entire U.S. state in protest of the state’s education laws.
The state is Louisiana, where last summer Governor Bobby Jindal signed a law allowing teachers to “use supplemental textbooks . . . to help students critique and review scientific theories,” though the bill clarified that it should not be used to “promote any religious doctrine.” Of course, any language suggesting critical thinking or open discussion of any science sounds alarms among evolutionists, who want to keep all questions out of evolutionary indoctrination.
Now, in response to the law, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology announced that it will move its 2011 conference from New Orleans to Salt Lake City, Utah. (This year’s conference brought nearly 2,000 academics to Boston.)
The president of the SICB executive committee, University of North Carolina–Wilmington’s Richard Satterlie, sent a letter telling Gov. Jindal:
It is the firm opinion of SICB’s leadership that this law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana. . . . The S.I.C.B. leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula.
(You can read the full text of the letter on SICB’s website [PDF].)
The New York Times reports that Gov. Jindal’s office has been nonchalant, with spokesman Kyle Plotkin commenting, “That’s too bad. New Orleans is a first-class city for a convention.”
Answers in Genesis is also aware of at least one other organization that has received pressure from members to follow suit and abandon New Orleans as a conference city.
Usually when a perceived “anti-evolution” bill passes in a state or community, evolutionists complain that the locale’s children will end up underprepared academically; the common threat is that the locale will not be able to attract scientific jobs in the future. However, the SICB’s boycott shows how such a situation could arise solely out of the perception of poor education: even if Louisiana’s students are now twice as scientifically literate thanks to the new law, evolutionary institutions will refuse to associate with Louisiana, a priori. This corresponds with the general evolutionary insinuation that no matter what scientific degrees you have, you can’t be a “real scientist” unless you accept evolution.
A second point of interest is that the SICB boycott has come even before there’s any evidence that the new law is being used to undermine the teaching of evolution. Again, this reinforces evolutionists’ unwillingness to allow any questioning or critical thinking of their pet theory. But then again, evolutionists haven’t always waited on “evidence” anyway!
Stephen Moss of Britain’s The Guardian aims to answer the question “who exactly are” creationists? Will his answer be on target or way off base?
We’re happy to report that Moss starts off with our Creation Museum, accurately listing the basic facts (70,000 square feet; designed by a former Universal Studios visionary, etc.). While Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum doesn’t represent all of “Creationdom,” we are nonetheless glad to be identified as a difference-making creation ministry.
“Creationism has surprisingly little difficulty accommodating dinosaurs,” Moss declares in response to a model T. rex at the Genesis Expo, and we’re certainly glad he’s noticed. Some evolutionists seem to think dinosaurs are a “gotcha” issue for creationists, while many Christians fret unnecessarily over how to “fit” dinosaurs with the Bible. Moss even correctly states the creationist view of dinosaurs without any ridicule (though he points out the evolutionist perspective as well).
Disappointingly, Moss doesn’t do so well when it comes to Christian perspectives on evolution. “Almost all Christians used to go along with the idea that Genesis was a bit suspect on dates, and that the six days of the Bible were metaphorical,” he writes, crediting the seminal The Genesis Flood for turning things around. While that book did help unify and rally creationists—a definite spark for the modern young-Earth creation movement—it isn’t accurate that “almost all” Christians went along with compromise on Genesis. More precisely, there were many who trusted God and Genesis as written, but they didn’t have access to the wealth of scientific and theological resources we have today that support a recent creation. Genesis Expo curator Ross Rosevear refers to pre–Genesis Flood creationists as “voices in the wilderness.”
Moss errs again when he claims, “If you believe in young-Earth creationism . . . virtually all existing science has to be rewritten.” Actually, most fields of observational science (those that work with repeatable experiments, describing the way things are today, etc.) are no different for creationists. It is only in the questionable areas of science dealing with purported history—cosmology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, etc.—that the disagreement arises. Even then, we don’t see ourselves as “rewriting” science; rather, creation scientists are continuing to expand knowledge based on our starting point of God’s Word.
Some of the creationist ideas Moss lists (propounded by Rosevear) are not biblically necessary, however, and are just a few of many hypotheses within creation science. For instance, Rosevear claims the speed of light has changed, which is one of several creation models explaining distant starlight. Likewise, Moss reports the idea that dinosaurs went extinct because “they couldn’t adapt to the fall in oxygen levels that followed the Flood.” Again, this is only one particular model within creation science that is neither proven nor biblically necessary.
“The theories are at best antediluvian, at worst absurd,” Moss continues, “so creationists feel more comfortable picking generalized holes in Darwinian thinking.” Hold on a second—is he familiar with the creation scholarship published in the Answers Research Journal? While one role of creationists (and News to Note, while we’re on the topic) is to respond to alleged “proofs” of Darwinism, we also have the complementary role of learning how creation reflects God and the history of the Bible.
Current AiG–UK head Paul Taylor also chimes in, arguing that creationists are “less marginal than we were 20 years ago” and now have greater respect. “They want to clamp down on what children can be taught, which is what they accuse us of,” he adds.
Turning back to the U.S., Moss slips when he claims that “creationists and intelligent design organizations (often a front for Christian creationists) are fighting perpetual legal battles to get creationist teaching into the classrooms of state schools.” Not only are the Intelligent Design Movement and young-Earth creationists very different, but we, for one significant organization at least, have not been involved in fighting legal battles at all. (See Is the intelligent design movement Christian?)
As it proceeds, Moss’s article touches on several other topics: the firing of Michael Reiss, hate mail received by David Attenborough, whether Darwinism inspired the Nazis, how activist atheists actually push people away from evolution, the importance of Genesis 3 in explaining death and suffering, and Jesus’s statements about creation. But Moss manages to sneak in several anti-creationists barbs in the second half of the article, even closing with, “there is no serious disagreement in the scientific community about the fundamentals of Darwin’s theory.”
While it’s an interesting tour for readers—and hopefully informs them of several creationist ideas—the implied subtext ends up the same: creationists are more numerous, more organized, and more active, but they’re just as wacky as ever. Are we?
Never mind looking for “aliens” out in space; what if they’re living here among us?
That may sound at first like a B-movie plot, but it’s actually the latest hypothesis of well-known Arizona State University’s Paul Davies. The physicist told Chicago’s conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see items #4, #5) that our planet may have forms of “weird life” totally unrelated to life as we know it. The symposium Davies addressed was “exploring the possibility that life has evolved on Earth more than once,” or perhaps that life on Mars was transferred to Earth.
Where might these “aliens” be found? Davies suggests toxic arsenic lakes, salt lakes, deserts, and extremely hot hydrothermal vents in the deep sea as their likely habitats. He proposes a new “mission to Earth” to find such exotic life, which he calls a “shadow biosphere.”
According to BBC News, Davies asked, “The question is why? The cost is not expensive—it would be a fraction of the money we spend searching for extraterrestrial life.” Davies believes we may have missed these life-forms because our searches are customized for finding “life as we know it.”
More specifically, Davies believes we could find life-forms whose genetic codes use different amino acids, or who are based on elements other than hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and phosphorous. Davies suggests arsenic could function as an ideal substitute for phosphorous, which is why he proposes looking for life-forms in arsenic-rich lakes.
“Personally, I’m only interested in establishing whether life happened more than once,” Davies said. “If we find it has happened twice from scratch then it’s going to have happened all around the universe.”
As interesting as it would be to find forms of life even more exotic than what we’ve already discovered (such as so-called “extremophiles” that dwell in seemingly inhospitable habitats), Davies’ idea is entirely rooted in evolutionary theory. That’s actually ironic, since the unity of all life (its genetic basis) is an occasional argument given in support of evolution. Whether or not more exotic forms of life are one day found, neither creationists nor evolutionists should have any difficulty incorporating them into their worldview—although if life originating once was a chance event, imagine the likelihood of it evolving twice!
Despite the evolutionary interest in “alien” life on Earth, however, don’t expect the search for extraterrestrial life to disappear. This week scientists further speculated on the possibility of water on Mars; meanwhile, NASA and the ESA are hoping to send a mission to the Jovian moons to look at other places “where life might have evolved.”
Two weeks ago we covered a study that said there could be up to 37,964 alien civilizations in the Milky Way. Now, the number of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way has been enumerated: 100,000,000,000.
That figure is according to Carnegie Institution scientist Alan Boss, who addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see items #3, #5). Boss’s estimation is founded on the assumption that each Sun-like star has, on average, one Earth-like planet.
Of the extrasolar planets found so far, however, the vast majority are gas giants totally unlike Earth, and the few that are relatively “Earth-like” are nonetheless far from hospitable. However, at present, it is easier to discover gas giants than Earth-like planets, which facilitates Boss’s hopes.
Boss also believes we will find plentiful alien life on these planets. Boss told BBC News:
“Not only are they probably habitable but they probably are also going to be inhabited. . . . I think that most likely the nearby ‘Earths’ are going to be inhabited with things which are perhaps more common to what Earth was like three or four billion years ago.”
We also heard from Boss in the July 12 News to Note last year, who at the time claimed, “[E]verything has been pointing in the direction of, ‘Hey, the solar system, which we thought was unique, is not unique at all . . . [c]ertainly there will be other planets that support life . . . I think life is actually quite common. I think we’re going to find there are literally billions of [Earth-like planets] in the galaxy.”
At that time we referred to Boss’s “evidence-less faith in life off-earth,” and this latest news only reinforces our view!
Does the partially complete sequencing of the Neanderthal genome challenge creationists’ view that they were fully human?
Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute in Germany has announced the “first draft” of the Neanderthal genome. Paabo says his team has found no sign that Neanderthals and “modern” humans interbred, yet claims Neanderthals may have been able to speak to our own ancestors, since they share the well-known FOXP2 “language” gene. “There is no reason to believe they couldn’t speak like us,” Paabo said. “But of course there are many other genes involved in speech and language, so there are many more studies to be done.”
Paabo presented the news at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (see items #3, #4). According to the research, of the 60 percent of the Neanderthal genome sequenced so far, 99.5 to 99.9 percent of the DNA is the same.
The sources for the Neanderthal genome are bones found in a cave in Croatia. The team answered no to the question of whether modern Europeans had significant genetic information from Neanderthals, yet—curiously—found that the Neanderthal genome has a different form of one brain-development gene that is found today among Africans.
The team also hasn’t found anything in the genome to explain why Neanderthals are no more. “I don’t think they became extinct due to something in their genome,” Paabo explained. “It was clearly something in their interaction with the environment or with modern humans that caused them to be extinct.”
Even among humans alive today, there can be up to 0.9 percent genetic variation (although older estimates were as low as 0.2 percent); either way, it shows that Neanderthals clearly fall within the range of modern human variation.*
More importantly is the archaeological evidence, however, which overwhelmingly shows that Neanderthals—despite their physical differences, such as a larger cranial capacity—were as intelligent, social, and creative as us “modern” humans, and thus were made in the image of God, descendants of Adam through Noah.
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, New York Times or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard 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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