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A Skeptic Goes Inside Noah’s Ark

Two Gibbons on Noah’s Ark, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to humans.

Two Gibbons on Noah’s Ark, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to humans.

Evolution and Creationism in England

During the first week of February, 2009, on the occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday celebrations at various locals around England (including his birthplace city of Shrewsbury — see photo montage below), my hosts Andrew Kelly (a science writer who authored a gorgeous coffee-table book entitled Darwin: For the Love of Science) and Bruce Hood (a University of Bristol cognitive psychologist and author of the forthcoming book Supersense), arranged for a visit to Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol, run by a kindly creationist gentleman named Anthony Bush. (Yes, in addition to being a zoo for the public to tour, it is a working farm.) (continue reading…)

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Evolution Rocks! The Power of Deep Time & Change

On this, the 200th anniversary week of Charles Darwin’s birthday (12 February, 1809), we celebrate the power of deep time and nature’s processes to produce dramatic change, as Michael Shermer demonstrates how a solid hunk of lava rock can be ground down to fine grains of black sand, given enough time under nature’s power of erosion.

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Darwin Misunderstood

On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday two myths persist about evolution and natural selection
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On July 2, 1866, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection, wrote to Charles Darwin to lament how he had been “so repeatedly struck by the utter inability of numbers of intelligent persons to see clearly or at all, the self acting & necessary effects of Nat Selection, that I am led to conclude that the term itself & your mode of illustrating it, however clear & beautiful to many of us are yet not the best adapted to impress it on the general naturalist public.” The source of the misunderstanding, Wallace continued, was the name itself, in that it implies “the constant watching of an intelligent ‘chooser’ like man’s selection to which you so often compare it,” and that “thought and direction are essential to the action of ‘Natural Selection.’” Wallace suggested redacting the term and adopting Herbert Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest.” (continue reading…)

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Folk Numeracy & Middle Land

Why our brains do not intuitively grasp probabilities, Part 1
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Have you ever gone to the phone to call a friend only to have your friend ring you first? What are the odds of that? Not high, to be sure, but the sum of all probabilities equals one. Given enough opportunities, outlier anomalies — even seeming miracles — will occasionally happen.

Let us define a miracle as an event with million-to-one odds of occurring (intuitively, that seems rare enough to earn the moniker). Let us also assign a number of one bit per second to the data that flow into our senses as we go about our day and assume that we are awake for 12 hours a day. We get 43,200 bits of data a day, or 1.296 million a month. Even assuming that 99.999 percent of these bits are totally meaningless (and so we filter them out or forget them entirely), that still leaves 1.3 “miracles” a month, or 15.5 miracles a year (continue reading…)

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Expelled Exposed

A film challenging evolution, by game show host
and financial analyst Ben Stein, is a case study
in antiscience propaganda
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“Should I be worried about the Crips and the Bloods up here?” These were the first words out of the mouth of Ben Stein as he entered my office at Skeptic magazine, located in the racially mixed neighborhood of Altadena, Calif. I cringed and hoped that the two black women in my employ were out of earshot of what was perhaps merely Stein’s hamhanded attempt at humor before he began interviewing me for what I was told was a film on the intersection of science and religion entitled Crossroads. (continue reading…)

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