November 24 is Origin of Species Day 2014

November 24, 2014

November 24, 2014, marks the 155th anniversary of a day that quietly changed all of science, should have changed much of theology, and brought much of the world into the future, though many people don’t know it yet.

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s book was published, On the Origin of Species.

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - University of Sydney/Wikimedia image

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species – image from the University of Sydney via Wikimedia image

How to celebrate?  You could read a summary of Ernst Mayr’s shorthand version of Darwin’s theory, and understand it really for the first time  (I hope not the first time, but there are a lot of people who really don’t understand what Darwin said — especially among critics of evolution):

Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on key facts and the inferences drawn from them, which biologist Ernst Mayr summarised as follows:[3]

  • Every species is fertile enough that if all offspring survived to reproduce the population would grow (fact).
  • Despite periodic fluctuations, populations remain roughly the same size (fact).
  • Resources such as food are limited and are relatively stable over time (fact).
  • A struggle for survival ensues (inference).
  • Individuals in a population vary significantly from one another (fact).
  • Much of this variation is inheritable (fact).
  • Individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce; individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce and leave their inheritable traits to future generations, which produces the process of natural selection (inference).
  • This slowly effected process results in populations changing to adapt to their environments, and ultimately, these variations accumulate over time to form new species (inference).
Darwin's original sketch of a "tree of life," from Darwin's journals

Charles Darwin’s 1837 sketch, his first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837) on view at the the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Interpretation of handwriting: “I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation” (next page begins) “to ancient types with several extinct forms.”  Wikimedia image

This is mostly an encore post — hey, it’s a history blog — with tips of the old scrub brush justified to Larry Moran and P. Z. Myers, and especially the recently retired Eugenie Scott, and the National Center for Science Education.



Oh, look: EPA ordered DDT to be used to fight malaria in 1972!

October 29, 2014

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not start a “worldwide ban” on using DDT to fight malaria. EPA instead lifted a court imposed ban on use of the pesticide to fight disease.

At least a couple of times a week I run into someone who claims that environmentalists are evil people, led by Rachel Carson (who, they say, may be as evil as Stalin, Hitler and Mao put together), and that their hysteria-and-n0t-fact-based “worldwide ban” on DDT use led to tens of millions of people dying from malaria.

Each point of the rant is false.

air pollution control activities in the Four Corners area of the U.S., in the 1970s -- soon after the agency completed its hearings and rule making on the pesticide DDT.  EPA photo.

EPA Administrator William Rucklshaus during an airplane tour of air pollution control activities in the Four Corners area of the U.S., in the 1970s — soon after the agency completed its hearings and rule making on the pesticide DDT. EPA photo.

But lack of truth to claims doesn’t stop them from being made.

Serious students of history know better, of course.  Federal agencies, like EPA, cannot issue orders on science-based topics, without enough hard science behind the order to justify it.  That’s the rule given by courts, inscribed in law for all agencies in the Administrative Procedure Act (5 USC Chapter 5), and required of EPA specifically in the various laws delegating authority to EPA for clean air, clean water, toxics clean up, pesticides, etc.   Were an agency to issue a rule based on whim, the courts overturn it on the basis that it is “arbitrary and capricious.”  EPA’s 1972 ban on DDT use on certain crops was challenged in court, in fact — and the courts said the science behind the ban is sufficient.  None of that science has been found faulty, or the DDT manufacturers and users would have been back in court to get the EPA order overturned.

Reading the actual documents, you may discover something else, too:  Not only did the EPA order apply only to certain crop uses, not only was the order restricted to the jurisdiction of the EPA (which is to say, the U.S., and not Africa, Asia, nor any area outside U.S. jurisdiction), but the order in fact specifically overturned a previously-imposed court ruling that stopped DDT use to fight malaria.

That’s right: Bill Ruckelshaus ordered that use of DDT fight malaria is okay, in the U.S., or anywhere else in the world.

Quite the opposite of the claimed “worldwide ban on DDT to fight malaria,” it was, and is, an order to allow DDT to be used in any disease vector tussle.

How did the ranters miss that?

Here are the relevant clauses from the 1972 order, from a short order following a few pages of explanation and justification:

Administrator’s Order Regarding DDT

Order. Before the Environmental Protection Agency. In regard: Stevens Industries, Inc., et al. (Consolidated DDT Hearings). I.F.&R. Docket No. 83 et al.

In accordance with the foregoing opinion, findings and conclusions of law, use of DDT on cotton, beans (snap, lima and dry), peanuts, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, tomatoes, fresh market corn, garlic, pimentos, in commercial greenhouses, for moth-proofing and control of bats and rodents are hereby canceled as of December 31, 1972.

Use of DDT for control of weevils on stored sweet potatoes, green peppers in the Del Marva Peninsula and cutworms on onions are canceled unless without 30 days users or registrants move to supplement the record in accordance with Part V of my opinion of today. In such event the order shall be stayed, pending the completion of the record, on terms and conditions set by the Hearing Examiner: Provided, That this stay may be dissolved if interested users or registrants do not present the required evidence in an expeditious fashion. At the conclusion of such proceedings, the issue of cancellation shall be resolved in accordance with my opinion today.

Cancellation for uses of DDT by public health officials in disease control programs and by USDA and the military for health quarantine and use in prescription drugs is lifted. [emphasis added]

In order to implement this decision no DDT shall be shipped in interstate commerce or within the District of Columbia or any American territory after December 31, 1972, unless its label bears in a prominent fashion in bold type and capital letters, in a manner satisfactory to the Pesticides Regulation Division, the following language:

  1. For use by and distribution to only U.S. Public Health Service Officials or for distribution by or on approval by the U.S. Public Health Service to other Health Service Officials for control of vector diseases;
  2. For use by and distribution to the USDA or Military for Health Quarantine Use;
  3. For use in the formulation for prescription drugs for controlling body lice;
  4. Or in drug; for use in controlling body lice – to be dispensed only by physicians. [emphasis added]

Use by or distribution to unauthorized users or use for a purpose not specified hereon or not in accordance with directions is disapproved by the Federal Government; This substance is harmful to the environment.

The Pesticides Regulation Division may require such other language as it considers appropriate.

This label may be adjusted to reflect the terms and conditions for shipment for use on green peppers in Del Marva, cutworms on onions, and weevils on sweet potatoes if a stay is in effect.

Dated: June 2, 1972

William D. Ruckelshaus

[FR Doc.72-10340 Filed 7-6-72; 8:50 am]
Federal Register, Vol. 37, No. 131 – Friday, July 7, 1972 pp. 13375-13376

Here is the entire order, in an image .pdf format.


Peppered moths, evidence for natural selection and evolution

September 20, 2014

In 2007, as part of the continuing series explaining evolution and how it should be taught in public schools, I wrote this piece on the controversy over peppered moths as part of the basic information pages for this blog.  With modest edits, I repeat it here, both to re-emphasize the importance of the examples, and to make it easier for internet search engines to index the material.

Among creationists, in the past decade or so it has become popular to claim that much of evolution is less than sound science. In order to support that claim, specific points of evolution theory are often distorted, and specific evidence that strongly supports the theory are questioned and denied.

In a famous hoax, Jonathan Wells wrote a book, Icons of Evolution, in which he claimed ten popular stories about evolution were false.

Wells spent a chapter denying the work of H. B. Kettlewell — the famous peppered moth research, in which Kettlewell discovered a classic case of natural selection at work over a 150-year period in England. When air pollution darkened the bark of trees, peppered moths in industrialized areas with the darkened trunks, also darkened. Kettlewell ran several experiments to see whether predation by birds might be a driver of this selection event, and concluded that the lighter moths stood out on darkened tree bark, and that it was likely that predation by birds or other moth predators pushed the rise of the darker moths.

Kettlewell’s conclusions were spectacularly borne out when cleaner air lightened the trunks of the trees, and lighter moths reappeared. The selective pressure ran back toward lighter moths.

The two most common variants of the peppered moth, the one on the left showing how it got is name, and the one on the right showing the variant that became more common when air pollution darkened the bark on trees where the moth rests.  BBC image

The two most common variants of the peppered moth, the one on the left showing how it got is name, and the one on the right showing the variant that became more common when air pollution darkened the bark on trees where the moth rests. BBC image

Kettlewell’s research was groundbreaking in its pioneering of new ways to study evolution in the wild. But because he was at the cutting edge, questions arose about the exact nature of his conclusions. Kettlewell tried several different methods to count moth predation, finally settling on a system of release and recapture, and counting the moths that were not recaptured as casualties to the predator. Kettlewell released moths in the presence of English titmice, who promptly found moths colored wrongly to hide, and ate them. Tits are not the chief predators of these moths, some argue, and critics wondered whether Kettlewell could accurately conclude what the predator was. Ultimately, it has become clear that Kettlewell’s conclusions are accurate regardless the predator. Scientists like Majerus and Jerry Coyne — fierce rivals now, showing the unanimity of science support for Kettlewell’s conclusions across the spectrum of science views — urge more research to refine what we know about the moths.

Critics claimed some of the steps in some of the experiments as faulty, and extrapolated that the entire conclusions are faulty. In reality, because Kettlewell got similar results with different methods, his conclusions are more robust.

When I took Wells’ chapter on moths and tracked down the citations, I discovered that each person he cited disputed Wells’ conclusions — some quite violently.  The hoax, it turns out, is Wells’s claim that the story is false.

Over the past decade, while Wells and the Discovery Institute have continued their assault on science, some of the refutations of his work have fallen by the wayside.

In this page, I hope to preserve the arguments showing Wells’ work’s problems, and preserve some of the publications that have become difficult to find.

Creationism controversy in Pratt, Kansas

In 1999 the school board in Pratt, Kansas, considered biology curriculum and book changes. In what now appears to be practice for future fights, the Discovery Institute of Seattle, Washington, descended on Pratt with Jonathan Wells and others , urging the school board to dilute evolution in the curriculum or eliminate it, and using a variety of unusual arguments on the science to buttress their claims that the science of evolution was somehow in question.

Specifically, Wells introduced his claims on Kettlewell’s work. When they heard of the incident, some researchers scrambled to present the view of science. Bruce Grant of William and Mary College, and Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, wrote letters to the local newspaper, The Pratt Tribune, defending Kettlewell’s work and questioning Wells’ tactics and conclusions. Evolution is solid science, they said, and should be taught undiluted to students.

These letters were available on the internet at the time, but have recently become difficult to find. I reproduce them here:

Dr. Jerry Coyne is professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago.

The Pratt Tribune, December 06, 2000

Original: Accessed in 2003

Jerry A. Coyne: Criticism of moth study no challenge to evolution

I have learned that the Pratt school board, apparently responding to creationist pressure, has recently revised its tenth-grade biology curriculum to include material that encourages students to question the theory of evolution. In reading the standards, I see that one of my articles – an article constantly misrepresented by creationists – is included as a supplementary reading used to cast doubt on evolution.

Dr. Jerry Coyne's Skeptic Trump card.  He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Jerry Coyne’s Skeptic Trump card. He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Except for a few creationist dissenters, the community of professional biologists has long accepted evolution as an essential theory supported by innumerable pieces of evidence. To make students think otherwise is as harmful as urging them to question the value of antibiotics because there are a few people who believe in spiritual healing.

My article appended to the Pratt standards is a re-evaluation of a classic evolutionary story in which rapid changes in the proportions of color forms of peppered moths occurred in only about 100 years. This evolutionary change is thought to be a response to air pollution, changes in the colors of trees, and increased bird predation. My only problem with the peppered-moth story is that I am not certain whether scientists have identified the precise agent causing the natural selection and evolutionary change. It may well be bird predators, but the experiments leave room for doubt.

Creationists such as Jonathan Wells claim that my criticism of these experiments casts strong doubt on Darwinism. But this characterization is false. All of us in the peppered moth debate agree that the moth story is a sound example of evolution produced by natural selection. My call for additional research on the moths has been wrongly characterized by creationists as revealing some fatal flaw in the theory of evolution.

In reality, the debate over what causes natural selection on moths is absolutely normal in our field. It is not uncommon for scientists to reexamine previous work and find it incomplete, or even wrong. This is the normal self-correcting mechanism of science. Textbook examples may be altered as additional data are found. Creationists, on the other hand, neither air their disagreements in public or admit that they were wrong. This is because their goal is not to achieve scientific truth, but to expel evolution from the public schools.

It is a classic creationist tactic (as exemplified in Wells’ book, “Icons of Evolution”) to assert that healthy scientific debate is really a sign that evolutionists are either committing fraud or buttressing a crumbling theory. In reality, evolution and natural selection are alive and well, with new supporting evidence arriving daily.

I strongly object to the use of my article by the Pratt school board to cast doubt on Darwinism. And I feel sorry for the students who are being misled by creationists into doubting one of the most vigorous and well-supported theories in biology.

Jerry A. Coyne
Professor of Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago

Dr. Bruce Grant was professor of biology at William and Mary University, now emeritus.

The Pratt Tribune, December 13, 2000

Accessed 2003

Bruce Grant: Charges of fraud misleading

In recent weeks your newspaper has printed letters debating revisions in high school biology curricula. Some of the correspondents have leveled charges of fraud directed at evolutionists for attributing changes in the colors of peppered moths to natural selection. As I am one of the evolutionary biologists who study peppered moths, I feel obliged to comment. Charges of fraud cannot be left unchallenged.

Some background about peppered moths is necessary. The common form of this moth species is pale gray. About 150 years ago, a black specimen was discovered near an industrial city in England. Over the years, the black (melanic) form became ever more common as the pale form became rare. By 1900 the black form exceeded 90 percent in peppered moth populations throughout the industrialized regions of England. The phenomenon was dubbed industrial melanism.

Bruce Grant, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, College of William and Mary

Bruce Grant, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, College of William and Mary

Because people knew that birds eat insects, scientists as early as 1896 suspected that birds were eating the different color forms of peppered moths selectively based on their degree of conspicuousness in habitats variously blackened by industrial soot. Extensive experimental work supports this view, although questions remain. Other scientists proposed that moths responded to the presence of pollutants by developing darker body colors. We now know from genetic analysis that the colors of adult peppered moths are determined by genes; thus, the changes in the percentages of pale to black moths over generations reflect changes in the genetic makeup of moth populations.

As industrial practices have changed in many regions, we have observed black moths plummet from 90 percent to 10 percent in the just the past few decades. Once again, we have observed significant genetic changes occur in moth populations. Evolution is defined at the operational level as genetic change over time, so this is evolution. Of the several factors known to produce evolutionary change, only natural selection is consistent with the patterns of the changes we see occurring in moth populations. Evolution examined at this level is as well established as any fact in science.

We still have work to do. We do not all agree about the relative roles of contributing factors, such as the flow of genes between moth populations in different regions, the importance of lichens on trees, where on trees moths might hide from predators, how important is differential predation, and so on. As in any branch of science, participants endlessly debate interpretations. Such wrangling is the norm, and it stimulates additional research. That is how we make progress.

Our debates have never been secret. For recent overviews of the controversies, please see [now at] or [ now, subscription required]. Yet, unwarranted charges of fraud, fakery and cover-ups repeatedly appear in letters printed in newspapers. In your paper, Ms. Katrina Rider “asserts” the peppered moth story is a hoax. She conveys the impression that dead moths were glued to trees as part of a conspiracy of deception. She seems unaware that moths were glued to trees in an experiment to assess the effect of the density (numbers) of moths on the foraging practices of birds. Taken out of the context of the purpose of the experiment, the procedure does sound ludicrous.

But, should we blame Ms. Rider for her outrage upon learning that moths were glued to trees? No. Instead, I blame Dr. Jonathan Wells, who wrote the article she cites as her source of information. While he has done no work on industrial melanism, he has written opinion about the work. To one outside the field, he passes as a scholar, complete with Ph.D. Unfortunately, Dr. Wells is intellectually dishonest. When I first encountered his attempts at journalism, I thought he might be a woefully deficient scholar because his critiques about peppered moth research were full of errors, but soon it became clear that he was intentionally distorting the literature in my field. He lavishly dresses his essays in quotations from experts (including some from me) which are generally taken out of context, and he systematically omits relevant details to make our conclusions seem ill founded, flawed, or fraudulent. Why does he do this? Is his goal to correct science through constructive criticism, or does he a have a different agenda? He never mentions creationism in any form. To be sure, he sticks to the scientific literature, but he misrepresents it. Perhaps it might be kinder to suggest that Wells is simply incompetent, but I think his errors are by intelligent design.

Bruce Grant
Professor of Biology
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, Virginia


Update, September 2012: Creationists appear never to learn. The hoaxed “controversy” on peppered moths continued well after these exchanges back in 2000, which I collected when creationists tried to block science in textbooks in the great Texas State Board of Education Wars of 2003. Even after losing that fight, creationists continued to carp.

Publication of Of Moths and Men, nominally a history of Kettlewell and his experiments, revived the creationist claims of error — without evidence, as the author of the book noted, but since when have creationists ever changed course because of evidence?

In the midst of the flap, Michael Majerus went back to basics. He re-ran Kettlewell’s experiments, essentially. Of course, he discovered Kettlewell was right. I blogged about it earlier, but I failed to update this post. See these other posts at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

Also, WordPress has improved since 2007; it finds relevant links, and related stories through Zemanta. I’ve added links above, and related articles below.

More, and Further Reading:

Go read, “The Enduring Relevance of Rachel Carson”

September 3, 2014

Seriously, go read this whole essay — especially if you’re looking for some snarky way to complain about the ban on DDT.

It is tough for a single publication or its author to have an impact across nations, cultures, genres, and disciplines. It is tougher still for their appearance on the world stage to spark a social movement, rekindle human values and awareness, and create new mandates for action. And toughest of all is when the author is a woman, a scientist, who must overcome the prejudices of her time−of gender, of notions of progress, of the omnipotence of untrammelled industry−to articulate a clear-eyed, renewed vision of a better world, a cleaner environment, where people do not merely live, but flourish.

If I had to pick one exemplary work from the environmental canon that does this and does it well, it would be the one that burst on the scene on this day, 16 June, all of 52 years ago, in the United States of America and then swiftly encompassed, in its scope and sweep, the rest of the world. The book, Silent Spring, and its author, marine biologist Rachel Carson, are widely credited to be the sparks that lit the fire of the global environmental movement. Carson, whose 107th birth anniversary came and passed quietly on May 27, with little fanfare other than a commemorative Google Doodle, died fifty years ago after a battle with breast cancer. Why should we bother to remember Rachel Carson and Silent Spring? What could a woman, a book, from over five decades ago have to do with the enormously changed world we live in today? Yet, over the last few weeks, during fieldwork and travels in India’s northeast and the Western Ghats mountains, I thought frequently of Rachel Carson and her prescient words in Silent Spring.

Google Doodle on Rachel Carson's birthday, 27 May 2014 (Courtesy: Google)

Why no one believes in evolution, why faith in creationism isn’t Christian doctrine, and why we know Noah’s flood is false

September 2, 2014

I keep forgetting.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub was born in 2006.  That was three years after my first great forays into education policy in Texas, working to make sure science stayed in the science books — and probably about a decade after I started explaining evolution to creationists, patiently at first, and then with a great deal of snark, on the internet.  A lot of that discussion, and some good posts, died when AOL pulled the plug on archiving discussion threads (the schmucks!).

Another sign of AOL’s doom, perhaps.

From time to time I run into an earnest creationist, and rather than re-explain, I start looking for my old explanations here at this blog . . . and then I remember.  The explanations largely do not exist here.

Heck, 2006 was even after the decision in the Dover, Pennsylvania case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. (Read the decision in the case here, key documents and a chronology, here at the venerable TalkOrigins.)

We saw an uptick in creationist activity recently, in 2012, continuing into 2013.  We’ve seen eruptions of ignorance, blind faith and malice, sometimes, that warrant having explanations of evolution around.  So, even though it’s repeating stuff from elsewhere, even though this discussion should have been over by 50 years ago, here we are trying to establish a trail of information explaining why evolution is hard science, and needs to be taught in public schools (and all other schools, too), and why creationism and its mutant clone “intelligent design” are not science, but are instead religious beliefs that have no place in school science classes (nor any classes, IMHO).

There are good sites living in the tubes of the ‘net these days that didn’t exist even nine years ago — but creationists won’t find them quickly or willingly, and they will dismiss them if they do find them at all.   You can find good stuff there, and I highly recommend writings on evolution at these sites:

Recently I provided a brief correction to a post I fell across in some search or other, at a blog by a guy named Daniel Lovett.  He urged that we reject science with regard to evolution.  I responded, and he responded at a greater length.  I had hoped to point him quickly so something I’d written here, and found I hadn’t written it here.

These issues are simmering even in Texas again; I want to create a record.  Here’s a step.

Three points need to be made to the neo-creationists:

  • Evolution is not a faith, it’s based in science and observations of nature.  Consequently, one does not “believe” in evolution; one follows the evidenceThe old creationist snark that “it takes more faith to believe evolution than to be a Christian” is only a statement that one refuses to look at or acknowledge evidence, how evidence works.  It is a confession that one is biased against evidence in reality.
  • Creationism cannot be found in scripture, nor in most Christian tradition.  Creationism is a mostly-American invention falling out of a rather new form of scriptural interpretation called “literalism” which refuses to recognize scripture as documents written by humans about human history.  Creationism starts with an assumption, contrary to tradition and scripture, that God dictated much of the Bible.  In this way it confuses Moslem and Mormon doctrine with traditional Christian doctrine.  This is a long discussion that will only be touched on here even if it seems long.  Creationism claims incorrect authorship of scripture, inaccurately claims only one creation story is told, and assumes as Christian doctrine that the age of the Earth is of importance to the faith, and that contrary to scripture’s claims, one can determine how old the Earth is by following one family tree in the Bible.  Or maybe another family tree.  Serious students of the Bible know that at no place is there anything close to a statement that says, “God created in the Earth in a rush, in six days of slap-dash whim, and one must ignore science in order to be Christian.”
  • Noah’s flood, if it occurred at all, was regional, and not worldwide; assuming a greater cataclysm should not be a point of faith, when it requires one to deny physical reality.

With those preliminaries out of the way, I can answer Mr. Lovett’s arguments specifically, I think.  I stumbled into his blog, and I provided a very brief response to a post of his that makes several erroneous claims about science, about evolution and Christianity, and concludes that creationism is superior to evolution, scientifically.  Mr. Lovett responded, and called me “friend.”

Dear Friend Daniel, you wrote:

I am of the opinion that the Bible is true and accurate in every respect, scientific and otherwise. It can be trusted because Jesus can be trusted. Though I don’t pretend to know “how” God accomplished the creation in 6 days, I know that he did because he revealed that to us (see my other blog post:

Let’s be clear that the credibility of Jesus is not on the line here.  Jesus didn’t write any of the books we know as “the Bible” today.  So far as we know, Jesus wrote nothing that survives, no text at all.  Could Jesus write?  We don’t know.

So, for all of those reasons which tell us Jesus had nothing to do with the authoring of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, but also the New Testament, putting trust in Jesus has nothing to do with scientific accuracy in the Bible.  If you’re trusting the Bible because you trust Jesus, you’re projecting where projection is not logically required, and where the faith doesn’t ask it.

Evolution is not faith - Global Secular Humanist Movement on Facebook

If the evidence is there, no faith is required. Faith is what we use to substitute for evidence, for things we cannot prove in any rational fashion.

While you say “I don’t pretend to know ‘how’ God accomplished the creation in 6 days,” you assume God worked in a fast slap-dash fashion, and your entire post is dedicated to denying that God could have used natural processes of chemistry, physics and biology.  So you do pretend to know how God did it; and you make pretense to knowing that all of science is in error, for theological reasons that escape me.  For Jesus to be right about philosophy, or sin, or any other topic expounded on in Christian scripture, it is not necessary that science be in error.

As with Jesus not being the author of scripture, so we know — in Christian tradition — that God is not the author of scripture, either.  The earliest books we know were written by Jews; the first five books of the modern canon, in both Judaism and most sects of Christianity, we attribute to Moses by tradition, but by the words of the books themselves not to God.  In those books we find the clear command from God to Moses and the Jews to ‘write it down’ with regard to their history and laws.  Nowhere, according to scripture, does God say, “This is what to write down.”  Nowhere does God say, “Here is what I have written.”  The Old Testament was not written by God, was not dictated by God, nor is it the biography of God.

In a few places in those texts is there a claim that God revealed the when and why of creation.  In no place is there a claim God revealed the how of creation.   There are several places where various, different and frequently conflicting creation stories are told, however.  We get the history of creation, though, perhaps like Billy Pilgrim it is “unstuck in time.”  Creation occurred sometime before each story is told — but how long before is never a topic of scripture.  Depending on the version of the Bible one chooses, especially Catholic versus Protestant, there are four to eight different creation stories in scripture.  In Genesis 1 and 2, we find two different, often contradictory creation stories.  In Job, we find a story that is wholly different from both of the Genesis stories — and this is the one that is said by the author to be from God’s lips, explaining to Job what happened at the beginning when God wrestled a dragon to see who would have control of the Earth — no six day creation at all, no day of rest, no Eden, no Adam and Eve.

How can you “know” God revealed something when scripture doesn’t support that claim?  Do you claim to be a prophet?

Wholly apart from what you don’t know about science, I fear you’re unfamiliar with scripture, or you’re hiding those parts that simply do not support your own beliefs.  If the Bible is “true in every respect,” one should respect it; I don’t think you do.  How can you be said to respect scripture, when you ignore all the other creation stories, and the actual instructions of scripture as you do?

Daniel Lovett wrote:

So why do we believe Jesus or the word of God? Short answer: Because Jesus has been proven to be the Son of God and the Messiah, having fulfilled over 300 prophecies, lived a sinless life, worked miracles (all of which went unquestioned – people could have verified the facts by interviewing eyewitnesses), and finally the clincher – he rose from the dead.

I see.  You believe that you are correct, not for any rational reason, but because you believe what you believe.  Faith is a powerful quality; its exercise can be a bold act of tenacity, or a foolish act of stubbornness.  We need to take care when resting on faith, that which can be fact checked, lest we become the poster child of the Dunning Kruger Effect.

We don’t need to contradict your claim that the Bible is correct, but instead we might observe that at no place does the Bible claim to provide a literal and scientifically accurate story of creation.  Your trust in the Bible may be well placed.  Your claim that it presents a creation story in scientific accuracy, however, is not correct on the Bible’s own terms.

You have stretched the Bible to cover material it does not claim to cover, to make claims it does not claim to make.  At no point does the Bible, read as a complete collection, deny evolution, nor an old Earth, nor physics, nor chemistry.

Title page of James Ussher's Annales veteris t...

Title page of James Ussher’s Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine — the text upon which 6-day creationism is based. No, it’s not in scripture. (Photo: Wikipedia)

For example, at no place does the Bible claim that the Earth is young.  That conclusion was misapprehended through a misreading of the work of an Irish bishop, in the 17th century.  Bishop James Ussher, who passed for a geologist in his day. Studying nature was believed to be a rather divine calling for people who claimed faith in God in that time. Learning about nature was learning about God’s creation from a testament unsullied by mistranslation, church politics, or language difficulties.  Nature provided a solid, irrefutably correct second testament of God, and direct from God with God’s fingerprints on it.  In short, Ussher, and Darwin 200 years later, studied nature because of their belief that God was the creating force behind it.

Isn’t it ironic that, today, you reject the traditional Christian view of nature and its study, and instead adopt a more Pharisaic stance, that scripture written by men trumps God’s own creation?

Lovett wrote:

Jesus believed in creation:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’” Matthew 19:4

Now I grow concerned.  You say you put your faith in the Bible, but then you cite this passage as somehow evidence that Jesus disputed Darwin and geology and cosmology and biology.

Jesus was talking about divorce.  How in the world could you have missed the plain meaning of that passage, and how could you have confused it to say anything about science, and the science of creation of the planet?  In context, it’s clear Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for their clinging too strongly to scripture and not paying attention to reality; but at no point does Jesus pause and say, “By the way, the Earth was created in 6 days just a few thousand years ago.”  Jesus mentions a shorthand version of biological observation (I say shorthand because he ignores species with no gender, species with gender other that male and female, transgender, misgender, and species with more than two genders — if he’s relying on biology being accurate here, this passage would nullify all Abramic faith-based questioning of homosexual rights, since God also made them Adam and Steve, and Alice and Eve; but by now I’m digressing).  Jesus says mating is from God, and men shouldn’t create laws to undo it.

Jesus talks about divorce, and how it’s not part of the plan.  He says nothing against Darwin, and in fact appears to be relying on Darwin-style science, what we actually see in nature, to ground his argument against divorce.

I find it interesting that Jesus does not appeal solely to scripture here, but instead to nature.  If we stick to the words recorded, and the events, we get Jesus denying the religious laws of the day and saying, ‘Hey, Pharisees, haven’t you noticed that in nature things pair off; in humans, people naturally pair off in opposite-gender couples most of the time?  That’s an indication of God’s plan.  Divorce isn’t a key value of God’s scheme of marriage.  Don’t muck it up with a misinterpretation of scripture.’  You appeal to scripture, as the Pharisees did, to deny nature, where Jesus based his argument.  Plus, you do that on a topic that was nowhere mentioned in those 12 verses.

Let’s check the text.

In the King James version (so the fundies won’t squawk about mistranslations from Jesus’s English):

Matthew 19

King James Version (KJV)

19 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;

And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?

He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

10 His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.

11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.

12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Indirectly, Jesus bases his argument on creation; you stretch that to say He was putting his faith in creation, something that Jesus does not say there.  Then you stretch that farther to suggest it means He also believed in creationism.  We can fairly deduce a belief in the existence of creation and some natural order; but it’s adding much to the text, to claim that passage contradicts science.  I find that an unfair and unholy twisting of scripture.

At no place is there anything close to “Darwin goofed.”  At no place is there a testament from Jesus to the short slap-dash creation you insist.

Lovett said:

He also believed in the flood:
‘Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man.People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the Ark. Then the Flood came and destroyed them all.’ Luke 17:26–27

Again, I think you ignore what Jesus intended, and instead try to stretch a small part to say something else.

During the time Christians believe that Jesus lived and ministered, one of the divisions in Judaism broke over the issue of whether there is an afterlife, and what will be the signs of the Messiah’s coming, and later, of the end of the Earth.  Again, Pharisees try to hold Jesus to scripture, and again Jesus suggests different interpretations.  Notice that, again, neither side is talking about how the Earth as we know it was created.  That’s your add-on.

Again, from the King James Version, much of that chapter of Luke:

20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.

23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.

24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day.

25 But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.

26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.

27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;

29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.

30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back.

32 Remember Lot’s wife.

33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.

34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.

35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.

37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.

Jesus is reported to have referred to a flood here, the flood of Noah.  As we noted earlier, Jesus is not the author of scripture, particularly not the author of the scriptures of the Pentateuch, in which the story of Noah is found.

But he’s not talking about whether a flood actually occurred.  Jesus uses literary allusion here.  Jews had their scriptures (not yet bound into the Torah), and observant and non-observant Jews, including especially the Pharisees, would have been familiar with the story of the flood of Noah.  When challenged about which side of the dispute he was on with regard to afterlife, Jesus didn’t fall into the trap.  He said, just like in the story of Noah when most people had no clue about the pending disaster, no one can know when “the Kingdom of God” will come (let alone exactly what that means).

So Jesus wasn’t saying, “By the way, the whole world was covered by a flood that can be pinpointed in time.”  Jesus was saying, “You Pharisees know the story of Noah; here’s an analogy:  The Kingdom of God will come when people don’t expect it, and they will be caught by surprise, as in the story of Noah people were caught by surprise by the flood.”

Critically, Jesus nowhere claims that the story is wholly, scientifically accurate.

Which is good, because that would make Jesus out to be a liar — and in your schema, where your faith seems to rest on whether Jesus is trustworthy in all things, that would destroy the basis of your faith, right?

I think perhaps you don’t understand what Christians mean by “faith.”  That colors your reasoning, and it clouds your understanding of scripture, and it completely fogs your view of science.  We call it faith because we don’t have the evidence to back it up.

If we did have the evidence, none of us could be anything more than agnostics — the agnostic position is that belief will come when the evidence is sufficient.  Christians believe, despite that lack of evidence.  We call the process a “leap of faith.”  We call it “stepping out on the word of God.”  It’s risky.  It takes faith, which is why we call it that.  (Jews and Muslims also make such leaps.)

It must be faith, because the evidence is not there — as the Bible occasionally acknowledges (see 2 Corinthians 4.18, or Hebrews 11.1; faith is in the things “unseen,” as they are eternal).

Built around the story of the flood of Noah, there is a trap a lot of people of faith fall into, a false dichotomy that, if divinely inspired, surely was intended by evil forces to turn otherwise faithful people away from knowledge and science.  I fear you’ve fallen into it.

Daniel said:

So to cling to a belief that Creation or the Flood is not true is to say that Jesus was a liar.

Quite to the contrary, to claim that Jesus said creationism is true, or that Jesus vouched for the historicity of Noah’s flood, is false.  Jesus didn’t intend that, as we can see from the context, and stretching his meaning to topics way beyond what Jesus was discussing puts us in the uncomfortable and unholy position of adding words to scripture that are not there.

[Hmmm. There's supposed to be a brief explanation of the science that disproves the idea of a worldwide flood as many creationists believe the Bible describes . . . pending. Maybe later.]

Sorry if I offended you by saying your religion has blinded you, but my position is that a Godless scientific world view is a religion. An unbiased look at science will always reveal the Designer. The scandal of the Gospel is that this Designer then became the man Jesus who died for your sin and rebellion and to restore you to your loving heavenly Father. I pray you find him.

your friend Daniel

Then what is a godful scientific position?  As creationists are too often wrongly happy to remind us, many scientists of the past were faithful, often good Christians.  Darwin, for example, studied for the clergy, and stuck with the church to his death.

Claiming that science is godless, or Godless, is a biased and inaccurate view of science, and as we have seen here, a biased and inaccurate view of  Christian religion, too.

Scripture tells us that regardless how the universe, matter, stars, galaxies, planets and life were created, God is behind it.  The scandal of creationism is the denying that God can be behind what the universe shows us to be true and accurate.  Jesus died for your sin and rebellion, too, Daniel — even your rebellion against God’s creation and the science that explains how and why it works.  You can’t find God if you refuse to look.


Darwin's grave in Westminster Abbey

The grave of Charles Darwin, in the Nave of the Collegiate Chapel at Westminster Abbey. Darwin is interred near Sir Isaac Newton. Bishop James Ussher is interred in the St. Paul’s Chapel, a few dozen yards away. Photo via Graveyard Database.

(Yeah, this one’s kicked around in the draft file for a long, long time.)

If great scientists had logos . . .

August 11, 2014

These are quite creative.  I wonder who invented them?

Other possibilities?


Edison's logo?

Edison’s logo?

Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison (U.S. State Department bio)

August 4, 2014

Especially for international audiences, often distributed by U.S. Embassies in foreign nations, the U.S. State Department offers a wealth of information about the United States, our businesses and heritage, and our history and national heroes.

For several years State has made available a 20 page booklet on Rachel Carson, one of the great drivers of the modern conservation movement after 1960. It was created in 2007, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Carson’s birth.

Cover of the 20-page pamphlet, Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison

Cover of the 20-page pamphlet, Rachel Carson: Pen Against Poison

It keeps moving.  Today I’m unable to find it at the site of the U.S. State Department, except through our Embassy to South Korea.  I fear the document may go away, and I frequently refer people to it.

I’m making it available here, as insurance against its going away from State Department sites.

If you haven’t read it, take a look.  If you’re a teacher of literature, or biology or science, or history, consider this as a resource for your students.

Three extended essays make up the substance of the book.  Phyllis McIntosh wrote, “A Quiet Woman Whose Book Spoke Loudly.”  Michael Jay Friedman discussed the effects of Carson’s work and writings, “A Book That Changed a Nation.”  And distinguished entomologist May Berenbaum contributed an essay on the actual controversies about the hard choices involved in dealing with pesticide safety, “A Persistent Controversy, A Still Valid Warning.”  There is a photo essay covering 50 years, and a series of links and other sources, good for students.

If you find those links no longer work, please comment below — and maybe send me an e-mail.




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