Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Half Full or Half Empty?

There is a new Gallup poll surveying American's belief in evolution. The bad news is that 40% of Americans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. The good news is that the percentage of people who believe this has fallen to its lowest level since the first such survey in 1982. Also the pace of decline seems more rapid since the year 2000.

Check out the survey at

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Religious Discrimination or Mere Whining?

An astronomer is suing the University of Kentucky alleging that he was refused a position because of his religious beliefs. Martin Gaskell was supposedly the top candidate for a new observatory position but didn't get it. Dr. Gaskell is an evangelical who has written and lectured on science and his faith. Apparently this got people nervous that his religious beliefs might influence his science.

This statement in particular from an essay Dr. Gaskell wrote seems to have caught people's attention:

"The main controversy has been between people at the two extremes (young earth creationists and humanistic evolutionists). “Creationists” attack the science of “evolutionists”. I believe that this sort of attack is very bad both scientifically and theologically. The “scientific” explanations offered by “creationists” are mostly very poor science and I believe this sort of thing actually hinders some (many?) scientists becoming Christians. It is true that there are significant scientific problems in evolutionary theory (a good thing or else many biologists and geologists would be out of a job) and that these problems are bigger than is usually made out in introductory geology/biology courses, but the real problem with humanistic evolution is in the unwarranted atheistic assumptions and extrapolations. It is the latter that “creationists” should really be attacking (many books do, in fact, attack these unwarranted assumptions and extrapolations)."

However on the surface I am not sure his views are that much different from theistic evolutionists such as Ken Miller. But looking more closely I am bothered by his inclusion in a positive light of groups like "Leadership U" which try to push ... "Intelligent Design".

Also as noted here his attorney refers to Gaskell as an "openly Christian man". Seems like a clever appeal for sympathy in spirit of diversity promoting acceptance of GLBT people. If so this strategy is not going to garner much support from me. I have seen attempts to use this strategy by whiny conservatives whose only motivation is to use the rhetoric of diversity to silence discussion of diversity.

Related Links:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ah for the good old days!

...when convictions were convictions and martyrs were martyrs. Apparently William Dembski, has had to recant some of his moderate views on creation. In his latest book, End Of Christianity, he had the temerity to admit that he believes that scientists ARE right-the Universe really IS around 14 billion years old and that "the Flood" was NOT world wide. I guess that didn't set well with his overlords (I mean bosses) at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. According to Michael Zimmerman writing in the Huffington Post, Dembski was called on the carpet for his writings. Since the inquisition is long gone, presumably his bosses used less drastic means than hot pokers or racks to get him to recant. Maybe they water boarded him- I don't know.

At any rate Dembski has at least partly recanted claiming that his statement about the flood NOT being universal was based on incomplete reflection:

"Before I write on this topic ( the Flood) again, I have much exegetical,
historical, and theological work to do. In any case, not only Genesis 6–9 but also
Jesus in Matthew 24 and Peter in Second Peter seem clearly to teach that the
Flood was universal. As a biblical inerrantist, I believe that what the Bible teaches
is true and bow to the text, including its teaching about the Flood and its

quoted in:

Intelligent design advocates have long claimed that their beliefs about intelligent design are NOT Biblically motivated but I wonder how we are to take an advocate of intelligent design placing the Bible above empirical data.

To be fair, Dembski does not entirely recant but argues:

"My book The End of Christianity is a work of speculative theology. It
assumes that the earth and universe are old and, given that assumption, attempts
to answer how the Fall of humanity could be responsible for natural evil, such as
animal suffering. Since, on the assumption of an old earth, animal suffering
precedes the arrival of humans, the challenge is to explain how the effect (natural
evil) can temporally precede the cause (human sin and the Fall). My solution is to
argue that just as the effects of salvation at the Cross of Christ reach both forward
in time (saving contemporary Christians) and backward (saving the Old
Testament saints), so the effects of the Fall reach forward in time as well as
backward. What makes my argument work is the ability of God to arrange events
at one time to anticipate events at a later time."

OK so Dembski argues that the Fall was an actual event whose affects rippled both into the present and also into the past. So I guess all those veggie eating dinosaurs in the Creation Science museum mysteriously got transformed into evil T. rexes.

Speculative theology indeed!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oh rats!

Intersections, my blogroll is gone. So if you are looking for blog links I am not being antisocial it's just that Google ate my blog links. When the heck did that happen and how?

Jupiter and Uranus

The 23rd of September was the harvest moon, which was pretty spectacular but I was more interested in the close approach of Jupiter and Uranus being easy to spot. Here is my first attempt to get a picture of Jupiter...and as an added bonus, Uranus. Click through to my Flickr site to see the notes.


I don't have a tracker-just my Canon rebel and my not so hot 300mm telephoto lens, so the trick is to get a long enough exposure to render the planets and Jupiter's 3 visible moons and not get any streaking from the Earth's rotation. Also the moon was just off picture at the top.

Thursday night was rainy but last night and early this morning I went out again and got this shot:

jupiter2 copy

The moon was much further in the sky from Jupiter so I didn't have to do any post processing to this image. Also the moon's are much sharper.

Of course I didn't ignore our moon but full moons don't make good shots if you are interested in lunar detail-but I did have fun taking pictures of the wonderful shadows cast by our moon on the 23rd.

By the light

Note there was enough light to get color from the plants and pots.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

At the base of Saunder's Mount

At the base of Saunder's Mount
Originally uploaded by pdecell

The sky was so blue it was holding hands with the trees.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hanging around

Originally uploaded by pdecell
Saw this wonderful mantid at Prairie Park this afternoon. Just hanging out reminding me it's time to check up on climate change.

First off in California we have a voter initiative called Proposition 23 which attempts to roll back California's ambitious goals in the area of reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Who are main backers funding this proposition? If you guessed oil would be right according to this source:

By the way remember that Western Kansas representative that said global warming will be good for plant growth? Makes sense since more carbon dioxide leads to more photosynthesis, right? Well not so fast according to research reported on NASA's web site:

Apparently between 2000-2009 over all net plant growth world wide has been negative. Gains in plant growth in some areas are offset by losses due to drought in other areas. So like so many things in our grand uncontrolled experiment on enriching the atmosphere with extra carbon dioxide the outcome is a bit murky.

Speaking of murky, seemingly subtle changes in ocean characteristics may have big effects. A couple of interesting papers point out how the ocean's color and murkiness may relate to ocean temperatures and indirectly the severity of hurricanes. In a study reported in Science (, scientists fortuitously found that areas of the ocean with less phytoplankton in surface waters seem to have fewer hurricane type storms. This is believed to be because phytoplankton absorb light and raise the temperature of the surface waters which in turn affects the development of tropical storms. In the absence of phytoplankton light can penetrate deeper into the ocean so the surface waters don't heat up so much.

Now there may be a complex tie in with climate change. Another study discussed in Scientific American ( at long term trends in phytoplankton abundance using a long term global data set suggests that phytoplankton abundance has declined by 40% since 1950. The scientists suspect that the decline is linked to warmer ocean temperatures because warmer surface temps reduce the exchange of water between the surface layers where the phytoplankton grows and cooler nutrient rich layers. To me this seems plausible since exactly this type of "stratification" is extremely well documented in the scientific literature.

The disturbing thing about this apparent reduction in phytoplankton abundance is that much of the oxygen in our atmosphere is produced by phytoplankton and phytoplankton are the base of oceanic food chains.
There is an interesting blog entry on the Accuweather web site ( looking at global temperature trends and decrying cherry picking of data by all sides in the climate change debate. Lots of graphs so you can judge for yourself.

By the way, Accuweather presents an analysis of the data for July 2010 in terms of how that fits in with long term climate trends: The conclusions seems to be that July 2010 was the fifth warmest on record. To me this suggests that the much anticipated cooling trend has not been happening. Other researchers ( are reporting that the first 6 months of 2010 are the warmest on record.

The NASA report says:

"The 12-month running mean of global temperature achieved a record high level during the past few months. Because the current La Niña will continue at least several months, and likely strengthen somewhat, the 12-month running mean temperature is expected to decline during the second half of 2010."

Note that they draw this conclusion from the 12 month running mean which includes the last five months of 2006 along with the first seven months of 2010. But again no suggestion of a long term cooling trend.

By the way, remember climate gate? Well the scientists involved have been basically cleared of any wrong doing by a British panel as explained in this article ( from the NY Times.

There were some problems noted by the panel that cleared the scientists.

Quoting from the Times article:

"But the panel also rebuked the scientists for several aspects of their behavior, especially their reluctance to release computer files supporting their scientific work. And it declared that a chart they produced in 1999 about past climate was “misleading.”

Personally I think there are some major issues that need to be addressed about the management and access to large data sets of all sorts, not just those related to climate change but that's a whole other topic!

cross posted from

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Syrphid 2
Originally uploaded by pdecell
Got this wonderful syrphid at the Ernie Miller Nature Center in Olathe KS. on Saturday. Click on the picture to see larger images.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Transgenderism and Catholicism

There has been an interesting thread on my local transgender support group's discussion board about Catholicism and how someone who is transgender or transsexual can support a Church that is not at all friendly to transgender folk. This whole thing started because on of the group's other members (call her C) has recently gone back to the Church and has been sharing some of the Church's events, for instance a recent fiesta on the support group's list.

The list owner, B is a dear friend of mine and she raised a number of standard objection's to the Church's position about transgender and more specifically transsexuals. She wrote in response to a post by C:

"If you believe the Vatican is right, then you're between the rock of TS inner identity, and the hard place of a church that would, if they knew you to be TS, consider you to be a grotesque, mutant, sinner. That can't be a good feeling."

And B cited a grotesque analysis of the Church's position by a Father Saunders discussed here:

Father Sauders drawing on Church documents and the Catechism concludes that sexual reassignment surgery is:

"... a radical and grotesque mutilation of the body....To destroy organs purposefully that are healthy and functioning, and to try to create imitation organs which will never have the genuineness and functioning of authentic organs is gross and lacks charity. Such surgery which purposefully destroys the bodily integrity of the person must be condemned."

Pretty heavy stuff and B rightfully wonders if this doesn't leave C in a really hard place between her faith and her desire for SRS. Fair question but C has been quiet about it. Maybe she's just decided to let sleeping dogs and bad theology lie, but being Catholic and really interested in these sorts of issues because of my own gender issues I had to step in it so to speak.

My initial response was to point out that the Church's position is a bit more complex than that and does allow some wiggle room for transgender folk. In particular I noted:

"The most recent Church documents-Fr, Saunders and even the Pope are merely giving their personal opinions not official Church teaching. The Church actually studied the issue of transsexualism and released a
document to instruct the Bishops back in 2000.

A report about the document is on Lynn Conway's site..scroll down a bit to find

The document is certainly not friendly to TS people but interestingly has the
following according to the report:

-- An analysis of the moral licitness of "sex-change" operations. It
concludes that the procedure could be morally acceptable in certain
extreme cases if a medical probability exists that it will "cure" the
patient's internal turmoil.

-- A recommendation of psychiatric treatment and spiritual counseling
for transsexual priests. It suggests they can continue to exercise
their ministry privately if it does not cause scandal.

So the issue is not so clear cut as one might think even though the Church is
relying on faulty information about transsexuals and transgender people.


"Am I happy with the general attitude toward transgender folk in the Church? Of
course not and I don't have any illusions about the sorts of hurt than can
happen to transgender Catholics who are outed. But the Church is a lot more than
the silly old men who are running it today and their lame justifications for
certain outmoded Church doctrines and practices."

Well I guess B isn't happy with my nuanced response since she has since written:

"I'm not Catholic. After reading this article, which would say I'm too unstable to marry ANYONE, and that they can tell if I have/had a "transsexual disposition" now or in the past, prior to marriage, well, I'm not a happy camper.
"No offense meant, to Catholic members, dears. I'm not upset with you. Just a theology which throws the first and second stone at me."

Obviously I have struck a nerve here- Be that as it may, the issue she implies does remain-how can a transgender person be Catholic? Here is my quick response to B slightly edited to protect the innocent:


Of course no offense taken and what you say deserves a much longer response than
is possible here. Now I can't speak for the other Catholics here, just myself,
but you are not saying anything that I haven't wrestled with and other
progressive Catholics regardless of their gender identity don't wrestle with at
various levels. And this is perhaps particularly true with the current pope
whose election was met with groans from many of my friends.

The short answer is to why I persist as Catholic has to do with the central
institution of the Church which is NOT the Pope but rather the sacrament of
communion, and the Church's rituals and sacred traditions all point to the
central tenet of the Incarnation and Resurrection. The emotional impact of the
Church's rituals and liturgy are hard to explain intellectually, especially to
those more familiar with my generally empirical stance.

J (another member) is right the Catholic Church is frustratingly slow to change; also the
Church really really has not absorbed the theological implications of modern
science and our understanding of human evolution. But of course this is not
unique to my Church!

I have a lot more I could say, but will probably defer that to a post on my
academic blog since it will allow me to pick up a thread of discussion which has
lain fallow for several years.

As always your friend!

P "

Oh so now I have to put together a more detailed response...but here are some of my other writings related to the Catholic Church:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

12 Spot Skimmer

12 Spot Skimmer

This summer has been a great dragonfly season in my yard. Today I went out to get some shots and this wonderful 12 spot skimmer nicely cooperated and kept returning to its perch in my garden, letting me get pretty close before leaving. Click on the image to go to my Flickr stream for a larger view.

There are are also widow skimmers in my yard. I had forgotten just how much sexual dimorphism there can be in dragonflies.

First the male with a greyish bloom and the same sort of grey in the wings as the 12 spot:

Male widow skimmer

Next the female. Note she has no grey bloom at all.

Female widow skimmer

I always think of my mom when I think of dragonflies. She had this this notion the the big green darners around our house would sting and she told me to watch out for them.

These big green dragonflies are commonly called darners or darning needles. One day I found out why when I manged to catch one in my hand. The insect twisted its abdomen around and poked repeatedly at my hand. It started me but I hung on to the insect, the mystery of my mother's fear and the name resolved.

Alas, no darners in my yard.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dogbane Saucrobotys

Dogbane Saucrobotys

Found these lovelies on dog bane in my backyard yesterday. They make silken shelters by pulling leaves together and were really doing a number on the plants. Bug Guide shows these as the dog bane Saucrobotys moth.


and for the adult:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dead Fish Monthly

This is a fake magazine cover...I think but it was posted to a real Flickr group called Dead Fish which features pictures of, well, dead fish.

I actually like the flickr group. Fish skeletons are quite attractive as one of my colleagues can attest. In fact she turned me on to Flickr's Dead Fish group when I was looking for a place to post this picture of a dead fish.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fishing spider ( Dolomedes)

Fishing spider ( Dolomedes)
Originally uploaded by pdecell
Got this beauty at Baker Wetlands in Lawrence. And I almost fell in the water as I leaned over the edge of the board walk in the wetlands to get the shot.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Practical pantheism?

The movie Avatar must really be a great movie because it has struck so many nerves on the left and the right. My favorite (and I use that word advisedly) take is from the loony right by Phil Kline Kansas's former attorney general. I am not going to dissect his whole scree which you can read here:

Kline predictably thinks it is pro-environmental propaganda, for he writes:

"The natives are one with their native planet, including their mother-god Eywa. Eywa is the planet, and the natives reach oneness by entwining fibers from their bodies with the fibers of the planet. This representative sexual union allows them to hear their departed ancestors and gain rhythm with the planet — a séance orgy so to speak. All life on the planet is one, with one spirit and one energy."

Notice how nicely he works in the evil SEX into his rhetoric.

Later on we get the evil bugaboo of evolution:

"Such a prayer represents atheistic Hollywood's dilemma. The only way to reconcile a godless Darwinistic worldview with a deeply spiritual American culture is to convert environmentalism into religion. For what greater purpose for man than to save mother earth, or Pandora? And thus, our purpose in a purposeless world."

And he says that that culture of the Pandorans is Pantheistic. Well that is true I suppose but if Kline would take off his blinders a bit he would see that it is really a practical pantheism. After all, on Pandora evolution (sorry Phil that is the way the world works) has led to a system where the Pandorans can little plug into each other and indeed that is necessary for their survival. So it's not some really some sort of mystical new age Pantheism, but quite practical.

Now we don't have the same explicit connections to our environment that the Pandorans have but we are interconnected much more and need the rest of the biosphere a lot more than Kline seems to care about. At simplest level we are not even a single organism but a community of roughly 100 trillion human cells and 10 times that many bacterial cells that are symbiotic with us. And I don't think that includes the mitochondria which were believed derived from free living bacteria. And examples of how we are interconnected can be multiplied repeatedly at other levels of biological organization.

So Kline and company may scream but maybe we need a good dose of practical pantheism.