You can’t say we didn’t try.
As Stephen Colbert ends his long run as the bombastic, willfully ignorant television talk show host of The Colbert Report, I’m wistful that we never landed him as a Steve.
Let me start this post by admitting that looking to the work of the Understanding Evolution team for examples of excellent science writing is not unlike looking to Glenn Branch for examples of quote-mining in obscure Scopes-related reporting—it’s pretty much a fish-in-the-barrel scenario. As I have noted many times on this blog, Understanding Evolution is chock-a-block with quality materials for educators and evolution-minded people alike.
A generous member of NCSE recently offered to buy a few books from his local used and rare bookstore for us. Looking through the on-line catalogue of the bookstore, I spotted a couple of titles by the creationist Arthur I. Brown (1875–1947) that weren’t in our library (not even in The Antievolution Works of Arthur I. Brown, a reprint volume that Ronald Numbers edited in 1995): namely Footprints of God (1943)—the dust jacket illustration of which I just love—and Must Young People Believe in Evolution? (1937), the answer to which turns out, in Brown’s opinion, to be no. Brown modestly described himself as “one of the best informed scientists on the American continent.” Be that as it may, thanks to his medical degree, he at least “undoubtedly ranked among the top three or four scientific critics of evolution in the fundamentalism community,” as Numbers says in his introduction to the reprint volume. After taking a leave from his medical practice in 1925 to lecture on science and the Bible, he never returned to it.
BioLogos, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting evolution within evangelical circles, recently released a large survey examining how and why people develop their views on evolution. There’s a lot to mine there, though you can read the highlights in NCSE’s news item. I’m especially fascinated by the survey’s work to separate out different stances in the public conversation on how evolution and religion intersect.
This past week on Fossil Friday, I gave you a pile of dino teeth! But which dino? It was a Spinosaurus, of course. Good for Sean Wells, who called it first. According to National Geographic:
Last week, we discussed some of the ways paleontologists order events in Earth’s history—using the principles of original horizontality, superposition, and faunal succession—but we did not talk about actual dates. Let’s do that now.
Who’s up for some chemistry?
This week’s fossil comes from our Fossil Fan Dan Phelps! This is the description from Dan:
I recently received a copy of Theodore Graebner’s Essays on Evolution (1925). A Lutheran theologian who spent the bulk of his career at the Lutheran Synod of Missouri’s Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, Graebner (1876–1950) was a prolific author on a number of topics. On the topic of evolution he produced no fewer than three books. In addition to Essays on Evolution he also wrote Evolution: An Investigation and a Criticism (1921)—which, as Ronald Numbers comments in The Creationists (1992), he “erroneously regarded as ‘the first scientific work printed in America against the evolution theory’”—and God and the Cosmos: A Critical Analysis of Atheism (1932). I obtained a copy of Essays on Evolution for the purpose of identifying the source of a misquotation of a letter of Darwin’s, which I’ll discuss in a later post. For now, I want to talk about a fascinating tidbit that I discovered in a footnote of Graebner’s book. (So often the juiciest morsels are hidden in the footnotes!)
Climate change deniers often fancy themselves “skeptics.” For those of us active in movement skepticism, it’s flattering to see others try to ride our coat tails, but it’s also frustrating. Skeptics are known for debunking bogus claims (from ghosts to psychics to the Loch Ness Monster), for operating at the intersection of science and consumer protection, for standing up for the role of evidence and the rational in public discourse. Skepticism means something specific, and deniers just do not do the things that a skeptic does.
That’s what makes it so gratifying that dozens of the leaders of the skeptical movement joined together to state clearly: “Deniers are not skeptics.”