How a Brilliant Philosopher Annoyed People Who Don’t Like Science

Thomas Nagel is a brilliant atheist. I have only had the pleasure of reading two of his books (The View from Nowhere and The Last Word). In addition, I recall reading only one of his essays (“Reductionism and Antireductionism” from The Limits of Reductionism in Biology), but it was a top-notch look at the philosophy of biology. While I disagree with much of what he says, he possesses a keen intellect as well as the ability to express that intellect in an enjoyable way.

Not only is Nagel brilliant, he is accomplished in his field. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Like me, he has also received support from the National Science Foundation. Probably his greatest award is the International Balzan Prize, which is given to those who do outstanding work in the humanities, natural sciences, culture, and the peace process. He was given that prize for:

…his fundamental and innovative contributions to contemporary ethical theory, relating to both individual, personal choices and collective, social decisions. For the depth and coherence of his original philosophical perspective, which is centered on the essential tension between objective and subjective points of view. For the originality and fecundity of his philosophical approach to some of the most important questions in contemporary life.

Clearly Nagel is a leader in his field. However, he has gone and done the unthinkable, and it has really annoyed a lot of people – especially people who don’t like science.

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Those Nasty Footprints are Still Causing Problems

The Laetoli G footprints have always been a problem for evolutionists. Reported in 1979 by Dr. Mary Leakey1, these fossil footprints were made in volcanic ash, and they have always seemed to be the kind of footprints you would expect from unshod modern humans. So what’s the problem? Well, according to scientifically irresponsible dating techniques, the ash is somewhere between 3.6 and 3.8 million years old. According to evolutionary assumptions, modern humans didn’t exist back then, so obviously, the tracks couldn’t have been made by modern humans.

The only thing that would make an evolutionist think that, however, is the supposed age of the ash. Indeed, Russell Tuttle of the University of Chicago has studied the footprints in detail. In a 1990 article, he said:

In discernible features, the Laetoli G prints are indistinguishable from those of habitually barefoot Homo sapiens…If the G footprints were not known to be so old, we would readily conclude that they were made by a member of our genus, Homo.2

So even though they are “indistinguishable” from modern human footprints, evolutionists say they clearly can’t have been made by modern humans, because they are simply too old.

Because of the supposed age of the prints, many evolutionists assume they were made by Australopithecus afarensis or a closely-related species, since A. afarensis is assumed to be the most “human like” animal living at the time. The problem is that even with the most modern analysis to date, this makes no sense.

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Some Evolutionists Just Never Learn

You would think by now that even evolutionists would finally admit that there is very little (if any) DNA in a living organism that could be described as “junk DNA.” However, they are still out there doing it. For example, in a rather pathetic attempt to refute Dr. Stephen C. Meyer’s book, Signature in the Cell, evolutionary biologist Dr. Francisco Ayala made the following statement:

There are also lots and lots of DNA sequences that are nonsensical. For example, there are about one million virtually identical Alu sequences that are each three-hundred letters (nucleotides) long and are spread throughout the human genome. Think about it: there are in the human genome about twenty-five thousand genes, but one million interspersed Alu sequences; forty times more Alu sequences than genes. It is as if the editor of Signature of the Cell would have inserted between every two pages of Meyer’s book, forty additional pages, each containing the same three hundred letters. Likely, Meyer would not think of his editor as being “intelligent.” Would a function ever be found for these one million nearly identical Alu sequences? It seems most unlikely.

But the fact is that functions have been found for these Alu sequences and other sequences like them. It is amazing that an evolutionary biologist doesn’t seem to know this.

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99%? 95%? 87%? 70%? How Similar is the Human Genome to the Chimpanzee Genome?

I recently got an E-MAIL from a student who heard a “university professor” say that the human and chimpanzee DNA are 99% similar. She asked whether or not the professor was correct and, if not, how similar is human DNA to chimpanzee DNA?

Well, the answer to her first question is quite easy. The professor was horribly wrong. The nonsensical idea that human and chimp DNA are 99% similar comes from misinterpreting a 1975 paper by Mary-Claire King and A. C. Wilson. 1 This groundbreaking (for its time) article compared several proteins in chimpanzees to their equivalent proteins in humans.

In case you don’t know, proteins are complex molecules that are composed of many smaller molecules (called amino acids) linked together. The primary structure of a protein is simply the order in which its amino acids link up. King and Wilson showed that in many, many proteins, the difference in the primary structures of chimpanzee and human proteins was about 1%. Since DNA determines the order of amino acids in each protein an organism makes for itself, they made the reasonable inference that for the portions of DNA that code for those proteins humans and chimpanzees are 99% similar.

However, the genes that code for these proteins make up a tiny, tiny fraction of the human or chimp genome, and only SOME of those proteins were studied. Thus, the idea that one can extend that number to the entire genome and say that human and chimp DNA are 99% similar is just absurd.

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Still more on the AP article

Apologia has gotten all sorts of E-MAILs and calls regarding the AP article, and they are overwhelmingly positive. Apologia has sent me some of the E-MAILs, but I thought I would post excerpts from one of them, because it shows how even state-certified teachers understand the effectiveness of the biology book I co-authored.

The E-MAIL started off pretty normally:

I am a home schooling ninth grader currently using Apologia’s Biology book and looking forward to Chemistry next year.

The student went on to say what other Apologia courses she had taken and how much she enjoyed them. However, this was the part that was really interesting:

As my homeschool education is also state approved, my books must be looked over to ensure that they meet state standards, and my work must be also graded by state teachers. The teachers who looked over my Biology curriculum were “extremely impressed” with the quality of the material and the assignments that reinforce the material. They were also very pleased with the Physical Science curriculum and easily gave me an A for the work. I currently have an A in Biology as well.

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Dr. Coyne Won’t Debate

The AP article that tried unsuccessfully to discredit the biology text I co-authored as well as the biology text published by Bob Jones University Press is still causing a bit of a stir. This morning, a radio talk show host name Adam McManus sent an invitation to both me and Prof. Jerry Coyne to be on his show to debate the merits of the article. Of course, I agreed right away, since I have no fear of debating anyone on the creation/evolution issue. After all, the facts are on my side. Why wouldn’t I want to debate them?

Well, Dr. Coyne refused to be on the program with me. Mr. McManus then wrote him back trying to convince him that he should do the debate. Mr. McManus even implied that Dr. Coyne seemed afraid to debate. Dr. Coyne still refused, claiming that it wasn’t fear. He said he would be glad to appear by himself, but not with me, because that would give me an air of legitimacy that he does not want to give me.

I find that attitude very interesting. I am not sure why debating someone gives him or her an air of legitimacy. In fact, I think not debating someone gives him or her an air of legitimacy. After all, if you are willing to publicly debate someone, it generally means you think you have the ability to show that the person’s position is wrong. If you refuse to debate someone, it looks more like you are afraid of that person’s arguments. To me, that makes the person’s case look more legitimate and, in fact, superior to yours.

So….even though it is not going to be nearly as interesting, I will be on by myself on March 24th at 5:00 Central time. Dr. Coyne might be on after me or at some other time. I don’t know. The station is AM 630, KSLR.

Drawing Conclusions

I recently received an E-MAIL from a student who attended a March, 2009 debate between me and Dr. Robert A Martin. It reminded me of something that happened in that debate. During one of my rebuttals, I brought up Pakicetus, a supposed ancestor of modern whales. Its fossils were first found in 1983, and the researchers published their findings in the journal Science. The find consisted of parts of the skull, including some teeth. 1

The journal editors thought that the find was incredibly important, because it helped us understand the supposed evolutionary history of whales, so they put the artist’s conception of what Pakicetus looked like on the cover of that issue of the journal:

Cover from Science

This picture was the standard, accepted picture of Pakicetus until 2001, when a more complete skeleton was published. 2 The more complete skeleton showed that the “accepted” picture of Pakicetus wasn’t even close to correct.

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Monty Hall and Evolution

The “Monty Hall Dilemma” is a classic probability problem that stumps most people. Named after the original host of “Let’s Make a Deal,” it begins with three curtains. Behind one curtain is a car, and behind the other two curtains are goats. The participant chooses one curtain, and then one of the two curtains not chosen is lifted, and it always reveals a goat. The participant is then asked whether he or she wants to stay with the original choice or choose the other unlifted curtain. What should the participant do? Does he or she increase the chances of winning the car by switching or should the participant hold on to the original choice? Does it even matter?

The answer is that the participant definitely increases his or her chances of winning by switching the choice. When all three curtains were down, the participant had a 1-in-3 chance of winning the car and a 2-in-3 chance of picking a goat. Thus, the participant is more likely to choose a goat. Once a goat is revealed, however, one wrong choice is removed. If the participant stays with the original curtain, the chance is still 1-in-3. Thus, the curtain that is still down but unpicked must have the remaining probability for the car, which is now 3-in-3 minus 1-in-3, or 2-in-3. So the remaining unpicked curtain is more likely to have the car behind it, and this means the participant should switch. I have explained this to many, many people, and most would not accept the explanation, which is correct. 1

Well, it turns out that one of the people who did not believe my explanation rather sheepishly sent me the reference to a great article demonstrating that pigeons are better at figuring out this dilemma than people.

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Updates on the AP Article

If you read the comments on my previous entry, you know that an AP article recently mentioned me and a textbook that I co-authored. Well, there have been a couple of developments you might want to know about.

First, I received an E-MAIL from the author of the story (Dylan T. Lovan). In my reply to his E-MAIL, I mentioned the fact that he truncated my quote about the demographic of homeschooling. He replied with the following:

I had your full quote on the question of why the homeschool materials industry is dominated by Christian-based texts. I especially wish your last clever line about natural selection would’ve made it in.

“If I’m planning to write a curriculum, and I want to write it in a way that will appeal to homeschoolers … I’m going to at least find out what my demographic is. And that demographic is, according to most research, 85 to 90 percent conservative Christian. I think in the end if I were an evolutionist looking at that market I’d say, ‘I’m not going to waste my time on that nonsense.’ ” “If I’m a creationist looking at that market I’m thinking this is a place where my views will be received very well. So I think this is sort of a ‘natural selection.’ ”

So it was not his decision to truncate the quote to make it sound like I was saying something I clearly was not saying. It’s nice to know that, because Dylan does seem like a great guy. It also makes me wonder how much of the AP’s dismal record when it comes to bias and inaccuracies is not the fault of the reporters who write for the AP.

The other interesting thing I received as a result of the article is yet another E-MAIL talking about the spectacular success of a student who used our curriculum. A mother (Lori P.) wrote to say:

I just read the AP article attacking Apologia Educational Ministries and I had to drop everything and pray for you. According to The Associated Press, Coyne argued your books may steer students away from careers in biology or the study of the history of the earth. He also said, “If this is the way kids are homeschooled, then they’re being short-changed, both rationally and in terms of biology.” My “case study” does not involve biology or the history of the earth, but does involve a hard science. My son studied several of your books and is now completing his second year in mechanical engineering at a large university. He received “Student of the Year” both years of his pre-engineering academy, received 5 on every AP test he took, including calculus and physics, and received multiple scholarships and honors. He has a 4.0 GPA. He was just elected officer in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers at his university and he is faithfully witnessing to the campus of the truth of the gospel. He was asked to give his testimony to the Point Man Conference, a national assembly of Navigators. He and I do not feel he was short-changed by Apologia. Instead we feel sorrow for the student who experienced “confusion” when she read your book which disputed Charles Darwin’s theory. Perhaps she is the one who was short-changed by not hearing the facts of the debate.

I strongly agree with this mother, and I am glad that the article inspired her to write to me to give yet another example of how successful a young-earth creationist education in the sciences can be. For more examples, you can go here, here, here, here, and here.

You might note that in the AP article, Dr. Jerry Coyne used his fervent faith in evolution to predict that my books “may steer students away from careers in biology or the study of the history of the earth.” Instead, the myriads of success stories clearly show that my books do exactly the opposite. Thus, while this is not a failed prediction of the theory of evolution itself, it is a failed prediction made by an evolutionist, based on his evolutionary faith. Not only does evolution produce lots of failed predictions, it seems that evolutionists do as well. Of course, that’s not surprising. If you base your view on unscientific ideas, you will come to unscientific conclusions!

Ida Thought They’d Have Learned by Now…

The history of evolution is filled with great pronouncements about how a new fossil find finally provides the “missing link” in some evolutionary transition. Of course, such missing links are generally found to be hoaxes or misinterpretations. Interestingly enough, however, the publicity related to the original announcement is generally significantly greater than the publicity of the fact that the original announcement was wrong. Darwinius masillae is probably the most egregious example of this general trend.

Ida, the fossil that created such a stir (from

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