Ernst HaeckelErnst Haeckel

I’ve been meaning to write about William Bell Riley (1861–1947), a Baptist preacher who was as responsible for the flourishing of the antievolution crusade of the 1920s as anyone.

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W. N. P. Barbellion, via Wikimedia Commons

In his pamphlet “Monkeyshines: Fakes, Fables, Facts Concerning Evolution” (1926), the creationist Harry Rimmer claims that he studied “under men who were strong believers in the theory of monkey ancestry of man,” yet “it is quite common today to meet folks who will say that the evolutionists never claimed that man was descended from the monkey family at all.” To refute these folks, as I explained in part 1, he cites “a noted authority, W. P. Barbellion,” who in fact is W. N. P. (for Wilhelm Nero Pilate) Barbellion, born Bruce Frederick Cummings (1889–1919), famous for his authorship of a diary he kept from the age of thirteen, eventually published as The Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919). What he was disappointed by was the fact that his early death loomed.

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W. N. P. Barbellion, via Wikimedia Commons

Not so long ago, when I was writing about the original Science League of America’s essay contest in 1925, I digressed in order to discuss a lawsuit launched in 1940 by William Floyd, the freethought writer who proposed the topic of the contest (“Why Evolution Should Be Taught in Our Schools Instead of the Book of Genesis”) and provided a prize of $50 for the best essay. The creationist Harry Rimmer, I explained, had offered first $100, and later $1,000, to anyone who could demonstrate a scientific error in the Bible. Floyd tried to claim the prize, citing five or fifty-one (accounts vary) such errors, but the case was dismissed on the grounds that Floyd had failed to prove that the advertisement with the challenge to which he responded was placed or approved by Rimmer.

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At the Creation Museum in Kentucky, a miniature diorama shows the last few people on Earth clinging to a craggy spit of rock as Noah’s Ark bobs mockingly in the distance. As if the situation of these last few sinners (soon to be swimmers) was not bad enough, there are tigers on the rocks attacking people. One can only imagine the anguished laments of these unfortunates, who if they kept their iPhones dry might have tweeted: “Really, dude? Were the tigers really necessary? #drowning.”

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Chances are, if you’ve been in the same house or apartment for many years, you’ve probably accumulated stuff that you don’t need. NCSE is like that, so before I retired, I promised to return to help sort out archival materials—helping to decide what to keep and what we no longer need.

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Josh, Steve, and I just returned from spending 8 days with a group of 21 NCSE members on NCSE’s Grand Canyon raft trip. Steve regaled us with the actual geological history of Grand Canyon, and Josh supplemented with a tongue-in-cheek presentation of the creationist view – with me helping a bit around the edges. Josh also kept up the natural history side of things as he introduced us to a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate varmints along the trail.

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The Garden of Eden, from Les très riches heures du duc de Berry

A friend recently drew my attention to a newly reposted essay from Answers in Genesis’s Ken Ham, asking, “Where was the Garden of Eden located?” No answers, alas: according to Ham, Noah’s Flood so transformed the geography of the earth that there’s no telling where the Temptation of Eve and the Fall of Adam occurred. Faced with the fact that the Bible identifies two of the rivers of Eden as the Tigris and the Euphrates, Ham asserts—without evidence—that the present rivers were named after antediluvian rivers, just as the Thames in Connecticut is named after the Thames in England.

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I have no expectation that televangelist Pat Robertson cares what I think. It’s even possible that, when it comes to creationism, his interests and mine may not be in full alignment.

But I think he should take Answers in Genesis and noted Ark enthusiast Ken Ham up on this offer:

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About two thousand students in the eighth grade in California’s Rialto Unified School District—outside San Bernardino, in what Californians like to call the Inland Empire— were recently asked to “read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based on cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you [accept the view under discussion].” Students were reminded to “address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim.” Evidently the teachers who devised the assignment wanted to encourage critical thinking, to teach the controversy, to expose the students to all sides of the evidence, to present the strengths and weaknesses. A member of the school board explained, “Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship.”

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Last Sunday's Cosmos took on the related concepts of extinction and climate change, topics I’ve had on my mind since reviewing The Sixth Extinction and interviewing author Elizabeth Kolbert.

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