Rob Asher of the University of Cambridge Department of Zoology has an interesting post up at HuffPo on “Did Arabic Scholars Discover Evolution in the Ninth Century?” Here’s the beginning:

One thousand years ago, when the United States of America did not exist and Oxford and Cambridge were backwaters of ignorance, the light of human reason shone brightly in places like Tunis, Cairo, and Baghdad. During the Abbasid caliphate for much of the 8th through middle 11th centuries, and also sporadically thereafter, tolerance of certain non-Muslim groups was enshrined in law. This was not as extensive as the constitutionally guaranteed religious (and non-religious) freedoms we enjoy in the West today, but it did mean that non-Muslims such as Musa Ibn Maimun (also known as Maimonides), Hunayn ibn Ishaq, and Yuhanna Ibn Bukhtishu, could not only practice their Judaism or Christianity, but could also make enduring contributions to the social and intellectual life of the then-dominant Muslim culture.

It may not be a coincidence that many aspects of our understanding of the world have roots in this age. Arab and Persian scholars (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) not only translated the writings of the Greeks, but also made original contributions about mathematics, medicine, and social science (among other topics). Regarding biology, one of the more interesting claims that surfaces from time to time concerns evolution:

Go here for the rest!

References

Asher, Rob (2016). “Did Arabic Scholars Discover Evolution in the Ninth Century?” Huffington Post, July 28, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rober[…]1165778.html

Curious article Is scientific research flawed? on the AIG website. The author, Callie Joubert, is identified only by name and has no bio. The article correctly enumerates some of the problems with science, particularly medicine, and blames conflict of interest, competition, and so on – the usual suspects.

The author also notes two papers in physics, the Bicep2 experiment in Antarctica and the “superluminal neutrinos at the Swiss-Italian border.” Both papers apparently had drawn erroneous conclusions and were retracted. The author fails to note the significance of the fact that the papers were retracted – that when science makes a mistake it admits that mistake and tries to correct itself.

Nevertheless, the article is not half bad until it gets to this point:

There is another “background assumption that almost all practitioners in the biomedical sciences agree upon and that is naturalism.” Naturalism is problematic because human problems are often reconceptualized and subsequently described in terms that are consistent with the evolution story but otherwise in conflict with alternative perspectives.

And:

[Scientists] refuse to accept that the scientific method is only one source of truth among others. What need serious reevaluation are the naturalistic materialist and the biological reductionist worldview that dominates the academia; it is a wholly misguided conceptual framework for the articulation and explanation of human origins, personal and interpersonal problems, and how it [sic] may be rectified.

I want to make two brief points: This article outlines some serious problems with Big Science and makes a great deal more sense than any of the material I have read on AIG to date. It fails to stress that the problems have been discovered by the scientists themselves, and the scientists are trying to correct the problems. Unfortunately, the article is to some extent an ad hominem attack, in that the problems of Big Science, while very real, have absolutely nothing to do with science’s adherence to naturalism, which I take to be the main point.

The author is in good company, but I also object to his or her use of reductionism as an epithet; reductionism is what scientists do when they discover that gas laws can be reduced to molecular physics, molecular physics can be reduced to atomic physics, atomic physics can be reduced to nuclear physics, and so on. Reductionism is not a dirty word, or at least it ought not to be.

Finally, I will be more impressed by articles like this one when I see creationists finding problems with their own thinking and working to correct them. Or even correct problems that others point out.

Here are the finalists of the 2016 photography contest. We received 38 photographs from 14 photographers. We had considerable difficulty choosing a half-dozen finalists – most of the pictures were excellent, as you will no doubt see during the coming months. We finally enlisted our wife to help with the choices, which are displayed below the proverbial fold. Unfortunately, the submissions did not lend themselves to being divided into categories, so we present one general category (which includes as much variety as we could muster). The text was written by the photographers and lightly edited for consistency.

The finalists are presented in alphabetical order of last name. Please look through their photographs before voting for your favorite. You will have to be logged in to vote in the poll. We know it is possible to game these polls. Please be responsible and vote only once. If we think that the results are invalid, we will cancel the contest.

Polling will close Friday, July 29, at approximately 12:00 CST.

Reed Cartwright contributed to this post.

One thing I’ve loved about living in Australia this past year is how much more generally pro-science the culture seems to be (PT blogmeister Reed Cartwright was just in Canberra to visit collaborators, but sadly he forgot Prof. Steve Steve). We have the annual Australian National Science Week coming up next month – can you even imagine having a National Science Week in the United States?

2016-04_Australasian_Science_cover_373.jpgAnother thing I’ve loved is how there seem to be many independent media outlets interested in science. I got to write a short popular article on the Evolution of Antievolutionism paper, which ended up on the cover of Australasian Science, for instance, and participate in several other talks or radio shows.

The most recent radio show was:

… and Ark Park responds predictably.

More specifically, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a “warning” to more than 1000 school districts in Kentucky and neighboring states, advising them against field trips to the Ark Park. The Ark Park, says FFRF, is a Christian ministry (as opposed to an educational museum), and they quote Ken Ham as having penned a letter, “Our Real Motive for Building Ark Encounter,” in which he writes:

Our motive is to do the King’s business until He comes. And that means preaching the gospel and defending the faith so that we can reach as many souls as we can.

FFRF says,

Taking public school students to a site whose self-professed goal is to convert children to a particular religion and undermine what is taught in public school science and history classrooms would be inappropriate.

And they add that courts have summarily rejected arguments that making the field trip “voluntary” makes it constitutional.

Ark Park today responded predictably, if a bit hysterically:

The atheists are on the rampage again, and this time their target is our just-opened Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky.

Their lawyers crafted a response, which is largely pabulum, but the gist of which is

If classes are coming to the museum or Ark in an objective fashion, however, to show students world-class exhibits and one group’s interpretation of the origin of man [sic] and earth history, then the field trip is just fine as an exceptional and voluntary educational and cultural experience.

I suppose that would be true if that group’s “interpretation of the origin of man and earth history” were not a purely religious interpretation. The author of the article, Mark Looy, goes on to say that the atheists “can’t handle the truth” and accuses them of being “secularists,” which I suppose is true, and of being specifically anti–[fundamentalist] Christian, which I rather doubt. Mr. Looy repeats the pretense that the Ark Park is an educational museum:

Such antireligious zealotry causes secularists to grossly twist the First Amendment and then scare educators with a misinterpretation of the First Amendment. To repeat: as long as a school trip fits an educational, recreational, or historical purpose, for example, it would be constitutionally appropriate.

The secularist religion of humanism and naturalism is being taught in the public education system without challenge in most schools. This false teaching is deceiving many young people. Students are being taught that there is no God and that they are merely the products of random processes. [Italics added]

The FFRF letter provides chapter and verse, if you will pardon the expression, to explain why “it is unacceptable to expose a captive audience of impressionable students to the overtly religious atmosphere of Ham’s Christian theme parks” and concludes that

Ham is free to erect monuments to his bible, but public schools are not permitted to expose the children in their charge to religious myths and proselytizing.

Fortune magazine CLAIMS that Barack Obama is the first president to publish a scientific article. Obama_2016.png They are referring to:
Obama, Barack (2016). "United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps." The Journal of the American Medical Association. Published online July 11, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.9797 http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2533698
See also JAMA's Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/JAMA_current?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

Ark Park on opening day

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The Ark Park opened July 7, and our colleague Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, attended and provided us with these photographs.

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The “Ark” on opening day. Mr. Phelps observes, “I suspect there is moisture getting under some of the laminated veneer on the side of the Ark. Note the darker splotches and discoloration. It has rained a lot here recently.”

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Queue to enter the “Ark.” Mr. Phelps writes, “When you arrive, you have to stand in line even if you already have a ticket, board a bus, then go to the Ark, where you again stay in a long line watching an incredibly dumb film about Noah.” Mr. Phelps said that there were a “[h]uge crowd and long line when I got there at ~9:30 am. Rather thin by 3 pm. Probably 3000+ there early in the morning.” Channel 5 in Cincinnati revealed that over 4000 people had entered the facility by mid-day, and “Ark” employees estimated that the total attendance for the day would be approximately 6000.

Wm_Dembski.jpgOn checking out the specs for Ken Ham’s replica of Noah’s Ark, I came across this claim on the About Page:

The Ark Encounter, opening phase one on July 7, 2016, is a one-of-a-kind, historically themed attraction. In an entertaining, educational, and immersive way, it presents a number of historical events centered on Noah’s Ark as recorded in the Bible. As the largest timber-frame structure in the US, the 510-foot-long full-size Ark is designed to be family-oriented, historically authentic, and environmentally friendly.

Well, that claim is just plain false. We New Mexicans get the chance to see an even larger timber-framed structure, visible from aircraft close to the Albuquerque International Airport.That 600-foot-long-plus structure is called ATLAS-I, also known as the TRESTLE. It is made entirely of wood - even the bolts are wooden or dielectric. Its purpose was to support large airplanes under strong antennae used to simulate ElectroMagnetic Pulses (EMP), strong radio impulses produced by nuclear weapon explosions. Since any metal supports would have affected these types of tests, the wooden platform allowed even very large aircraft to be suspended high above ground, and immersed in strong fields, just as if they were in the open air. Electromagnetically speaking, they were in the open air.

Geology for evangelicals

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In honor of the opening of Ken Ham’s nefarious Ark “replica” today – you know, the one made out of gopher steel and wood – I decided to post this piece about a book written by evangelical scientists who know better than to treat the book of Genesis as history or science, for evangelical laypersons who either know better than to treat the book of Genesis as history or science, or can be taught to know better.

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The book is called The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth, and it is an anthology written by competent people and directed at evangelical Christians. Indeed, the subtitle is, “Can Noah’s Flood Explain the Grand Canyon?” The book, which I have not seen, appears to be lavishly illustrated, with 255 photographs and 104 diagrams and sketches, according to Church & State magazine. It is being sold in all 8 bookstores in the Grand Canyon National Park.

I am getting virtually all my information from an article in the latest issue of Church & State magazine. They note that the book has 11 co-authors, 8 of whom are evangelical Christians, and 3 are agnostics. The authors’ specialties include geology, biology, and paleontology. Church & State quotes Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education to the effect that the book “does a great job of explaining the science of Grand Canyon’s spectacular geology, as well as helping readers understand how the creationist misuse of Grand Canyon finds no support from science.”

Importantly, the publisher of the book is an evangelical firm, Kregel Publications, which, according to co-author Tim Helble, “was a good match for us because they have … published other books dealing with origins issues and would be able to sell the book in venues where evangelicals can be reached.” The last seems very important to me.

The bulk of the Church & State article is an interview with Mr. Helble, a retired hydrologist with the National Weather Service. Mr. Helble states explicitly that the “11 authors wanted to help counter the misleading information being disseminated by the young-Earth creationist (YEC) ministries.” He recognized the problem in 1994 when he found a book, Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, edited by PhD geologist Steve Austin, and apparently chock full of errors. Here are a few snippets from the interview:

Three things we agreed to before we started writing were (1) our target audience is people who are uncertain about the age of the Earth, (2) a Christian reader shouldn’t feel like he/she is being ridiculed and (3) a college science degree shouldn’t be needed to understand it. …

Of course the Bible has tremendous value – I just think the young Earthers over-globalize the flood account, fail to see the worldview of the ancient Near East people and miss out on the rich poetic devices used in the early parts of Genesis. …

I think those claiming censorship misunderstand how the scientific process works. You can’t write an article about something like a geologic formation that basically says “the Flood did it,” and expect to have it accepted by a scientific journal. There has to be a quantitatively realistic mechanism consistent with the laws of physics behind what you are proposing. …

Creationism is a third rail in public schools, but there are some ways to inoculate students against it without directly addressing the subject. Schools could to do a better job of teaching how we know the Earth is old. For example, instead of just teaching that sedimentary rocks are made of sediments like sand and silt, students can be shown how fossils are found in such rocks of things that take a long time to form like intact reef systems, termite nests, forest communities and orderly nests of unhatched dinosaur eggs. …

By the way, when a student brings up young-Earth arguments, the worst thing to do is attack his or her faith. All you’re doing then is reinforcing the “us-vs.-them” mindset and helping the young-Earth ministries keep a lifetime follower. …

It certainly seems like there is a clash [between science and religion] if you focus on the extremes – the “new atheists” at one end and the YECs at the other. It’s interesting that both of them insist on a wooden, literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11.

I think religion and science can coexist if they don’t tread on each other’s turf where it’s not appropriate. I’ve seen new atheists use some pretty bad theology, and I think religious people should accept that there are some things that you just have to take on faith – stop trying to find “ultimate proofs” of difficult theological ideas like creation.

I am an old atheist (or, as I prefer to put it, a strong agnostic), and I do not know what is wooden about my interpretation of Genesis, but we will let that go. I think that among Mr. Helble’s most important remarks are that people should not feel that they are being ridiculed (yes, I know it is difficult at times, and the line between gentle satire and ridicule is sometimes uncertain), students should not think their faith is being attacked, and religion and science can coexist if they do not “tread on each other’s turf.” That is, as your local accommodationist, I think he is right that we have to accept religious people as they are, but only as long as they do not make claims that are flatly contrary to scientific fact.

Nerodia sipedon

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Nerodia sipedon – northern water snake, with an unfortunate fish in his mouth, Goose Creek, Boulder, Colorado, June 29. According to the clock in my camera, the topmost picture was taken at 10:37:23, the center picture at 10:37:39. By 10:38:21, less than 0.5 min later, there was no sign of the fish (not shown). The bottom picture was exposed at 10:39:07. I trust that some herpetophile will correct me if I have misidentified the snake; snakes are not within the domain of my pattern-recognition system.

Dan Phelps tells us that Barry Lynn of Americans United will appear alongside Ken Ham (I do not know whether in series or in parallel) on radio station WEKU in Richmond, Kentucky.

Ken Ham, President of Answers in Genesis will be joining us live via Skype for the show; as well as Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United. Jay Hall from Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts, and Humanities will be live in the studio.

We’re interested in your questions and comments on the park before and during the show at [Enable javascript to see this email address.]. You can leave a voice message at 859-622-1657 or call in when you tune in for EST Thursday morning from 11 to noon on 88.9 WEKU. [Eastern Daylight Time = UTC - 4 h.]

Feel free to tweet about the topic @wekuEST and post to the WEKU facebook page.

Confusingly, Eastern Standard is the name of the show, but Richmond is on Eastern Daylight Saving Time. I am listening to Haydn’s Symphony No. 90 on WEKU right now, so I assume the program will be streamed. If you listen to it, please feel free to comment here.

David MacMillan sent the following e-mail to me and a handful of others. He directed us to this article from the Sacramento Bee, which describes how a biologist, Michel Milinkovitch, discovered a bearded dragon that lacked both scales and beard. He bought the reptile from a breeder and, with his graduate student, Nicolas Di-Po, sequenced its genome and discovered that the same gene codes for scales in reptiles, feathers in birds, and hair in mammals. The only sensible conclusion that may be drawn is that reptiles, birds, and mammals share a common ancestor. Herewith, Mr. MacMillan’s e-mail, reproduced with permission:

A bearded dragon was born without any scales, leading to what may turn out to be one of the most exciting evolutionary discoveries of the decade.

Can’t wait to see how creationists – particularly the ones at Answers in Genesis – try to spin this.

This lizard was found by a biologist in a pet store. Curious, he decided to buy it and have its DNA sequenced. By comparing its DNA to “normal” bearded dragon DNA, they were able to locate the gene that is typically responsible for the formation of scales in reptiles. Big surprise: it’s the exact same gene responsible for the formation of feathers in birds and hair in mammals.

It was already known that the gene for feathers in birds matched the gene for hair in mammals. Because common descent requires that birds and mammals both evolved from reptiles, this commonality represented a major limitation on the origin of scales. If the gene for scales didn’t match, it would seriously challenge a major framework of common descent.

Not only did the discovery allow scientists to verify this prediction, but it also gave them the information they needed to find and observe scale development in reptile embryos. Sure enough, it too matched the time of hair development in mammals and feather development in birds. Well-informed readers will not that this is not embryonic recapitulation; rather, it is a common developmental cycle resulting from common ancestry. This product of evolutionary science enables new understanding of life in the here and now.

How will Answers in Genesis respond? I’m not sure – but I can make some educated guesses.

“This is a clear example that mutations are always harmful.”

“This lizard, rather than progressing upward, has lost information (an example of microevolution) and has not changed ‘kinds’ (as required by macroevolution).”

Of course these miss the point completely; this particular lizard’s mutation merely allowed for another discovery.

“The belief that this gene can be used to trace common origins of reptiles, birds, and mammals is an evolutionary assumption based on the naturalistic presuppositions of secular scientists.”

“Even if it is proven that this same gene does control scales, feathers, and hair, this would be a demonstration of common design within the Biblical worldview.”

These miss the point that this is a necessary prediction of the evolutionary model.

Any other possible answers?

Micropterus salmoides

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Micropterus salmoides – large mouth bass, Chester, N.Y. I am a little late with this picture, but 10 days ago I visited my brother Michael Gilman in New York. The upper picture is a large mouth bass guarding his eggs. Mike told me that they usually hatch on Father’s Day. Sure enough, he sent me the lower picture, the bass fingerlings, on June 19, Father’s Day. Fish, unfortunately, are not very bright, and (having guarded the nests for who knows how long) they eat their own offspring. Mike said that they saw a few fingerlings on Monday, and none since; presumably, some of the survivors are hiding. I have been a little slow on the uptake, and I decided to run these pictures on Sunday, one week after Father’s Day.

Trolley problem, again

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I ran across two articles today on the trolley problem as it applies to driverless (or self-driving) cars: one in Science by Joshua Greene and one in the LA Times by Karen Kaplan. Both are based on this article by Jean-François Bonnefon and colleagues in today’s issue of Science. We discussed the trolley problem briefly here at PT last October. More precisely, we discussed an extended trolley problem wherein you are in a driverless car and the choices are to kill 5 people, kill 1 person, or kill yourself.

The current research also concerns driverless cars. Not surprisingly, the researchers found support for driverless cars choosing to kill one person rather than five, but they also found that such support withered when you were the one. Their result in fact is completely consistent with the research of April Bleske-Rechek, which I outlined in my talk on the evolution of morality. Professor Bleske-Rechek found that people’s willingness to sacrifice one person in favor of five decreased with, for example, increasing relatedness of the one person.

Professor Bonnefon and his colleagues employed a survey, similarly to Professor Bleske-Rechek and hers, and found that people’s enthusiasm for a “utilitarian” car – a car that will sacrifice the driver in favor of a larger number of pedestrians – decreased as the driver became closer related to the respondent. Professor Greene asks whether driverless cars should indeed be programmed to be utilitarian in that sense; or programmed to behave in some other way, say, to save the driver; or simply be programmed to avoid a crash, come what may. He notes,

Manufacturers of utilitarian cars will be criticized for their willingness to kill their own passengers. Manufacturers of cars that privilege their own passengers will be criticized for devaluing the lives of others and their willingness to cause additional deaths.

Professor Bonnefon and colleagues similarly conclude,

Although people tend to agree that everyone would be better off if AVs [autonomous vehicles] were utilitarian (in the sense of minimizing the number of casualties on the road), these same people have a personal incentive to ride in AVs that will protect them at all costs. Accordingly, if both self-protective and utilitarian AVs were allowed on the market, few people would be willing to ride in utilitarian AVs, even though they would prefer others to do so. … [M]ost people seem to disapprove of a regulation that would enforce utilitarian AVs. Second–and a more serious problem–our results suggest that such regulation could substantially delay the adoption of AVs, which means that the lives saved by making AVs utilitarian may be outnumbered by the deaths caused by delaying the adoption of AVs altogether.

This question – whether to design utilitarian cars or to let the chips fall where they may – is precisely the trolley problem which, as I showed in my talk, is very real and not simply a philosophical exercise.

Photography Contest VIII

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Polish your lenses, dust off your tripods, search your archives (and, if you have entered before, remember that you are not limited to 3 good pictures per lifetime) – the eighth Panda’s Thumb photography contest, begins – now!

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Pierce extinction meter, still-camera version. They sold for $1.95 in 1946.

We will accept entries from 12:00 CST, Monday, June 20, through 12:00 CST, Monday, July 4. We encourage pictures of just about anything of scientific interest. If we get enough entries, consistently with Rules 11 and 12, we may assign entries to different categories and award additional prizes, presuming, of course, that we can find more prizes.

The first-place winner will receive a signed copy of Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails), which has been donated by one of the authors. The National Center for Science Education will donate copies of Sahotra Sarkar’s Doubting Darwin: Creationist Designs on Evolution and Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross’s Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design to the second- and third-place winners.

Avida-ED is educational software that provides an accessible presentation layer on the Avida artificial life platform. The first version was released nine years ago, and today marks Prof. Rob Pennock’s release of version 3, with a formal presentation at Evolution 2016. Avida-ED is geared toward the needs of undergraduate and advanced high school curriculum use.

The new version, Avida-ED Web 3.0, is a web application: it runs in your browser (Firefox or Chrome currently; Safari, Internet Explorer, and Edge have some compatibility issues). To get it, visit the canonical Avida-ED site, or the mirror site. As a web application, Avida-ED Web 3.0 lowers the barriers to use, restoring the ability for those running Linux to use Avida-ED, and giving Windows users access to the latest feature set. While installation is not required, there are installers for MacOS and Windows that set up a local HTTP server and launch a local copy of Avida-ED Web in the default browser. This latter option may be useful for people who expect to be without internet access when they want to use the program. More discussion below the fold.

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Brandon Haught at Florida Citizens for Science does a deeper dive on the educational assessments coming out of the Florida Department of Education (DOE). The DOE says that student performance in science improved by a percentage point this past year. Haught shows that they redefined science performance in order to have an improvement, no matter how slight.

Chrysomela sp.

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Chrysomela sp. – leaf beetle. Thanks to a volunteer at BugGuide for the identification.

Media Matters reports that talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said on his May 31st, 2016 show

By the way, you know there’s another factor in this, Snerdley? A lot of people think that all of us used to be apes. Don’t doubt me on this. A lot of people think that all of us used to be gorillas. And they’re looking for the missing link out there. The evolution crowd. They think we were originally apes. I’ve always – if we were the original apes, then how come Harambe is still an ape, and how come he didn’t become one of us?

This was also a topic on Huffington Post.

Well, this was covered in detail years ago right here on The Thumb - Why are there still Monkeys? February 25th, 2005.

Folks, this is just another example: if creationists evolve at all, it’s very, very slowly.

Discuss.

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On May 30, 2016, Bill Dembski announced:

I had the opportunity at the end of this month (May 2016) to update an interview I did four years ago at TheBestSchools.org.

What I was dealing with in The End of Christianity is a more narrow problem, namely, how to account for evil within a Christian framework given a reading of Genesis that allows the earth and universe to be billions, rather than merely thousands, of years old. I’m an old-earth creationist, so I accept that the earth and universe are billions of years old. Young-earth creationism, which is the more traditional view, holds that the earth is only thousands of years old.

The reason this divergence between young-earth and old-earth creationists is relevant to the problem of evil is that Christians have traditionally believed that both moral and natural evil are a consequence of the fall of humanity. But natural evil, such as animals killing and parasitizing each other, would predate the arrival of humans on the scene if the earth is old and animal life preceded them. So, how could their suffering be a consequence of human sin and the Fall? My solution is to argue that the Fall had retroactive effects in history (much as the salvation of Christ on the Cross acts not only forward in time to save people now, but also backward in time to save the Old Testament saints).

In this long interview, chock full of surprising comments on his fellow Christians, Dembski mentions Panda’s Thumb, and quotes our own Andrea Bottaro extensively, saying he “got it exactly right.”

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