Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jerry Coyne on the Intersection of Science and Faith

LGF points out a review of two books on science and faith by Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago, who concludes that the two cannot be reconciled. Let's see why. The two books in question are Karl Giberson's Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution and Kenneth Miller's excellent book Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul.
He starts by pointing out somethin somewhat sobering that most of us know even we try not to think about it:

Throughout our country, school boards are trying to water down the teaching of evolution or sneak creationism in beside it. And the opponents of Darwinism are not limited to snake-handlers from the Bible Belt; they include some people you know. As Karl Giberson notes in Saving Darwin, "Most people in America have a neighbor who thinks the Earth is ten thousand years old."

He rejects Miller's idea that populism is to blame for the rejection of evolution in this country:

The resistance to evolution in America has little to do with populism as such. Our ornery countrymen do not rise up against the idea of black holes or the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. It is evolution that is the unique object of their ire, and for this there is only one explanation. The facts are these: you may find religion without creationism, but you will never find creationism without religion. Miller and Giberson shy away from this simple observation. Their neglect of the real source of creationism is inexcusable but understandable: a book aiming to reconcile evolution and religion can hardly blame the faithful.

This has led me to wonder about a challenge that was raised by someone, don't remember who, to wit: find me one person, just one, who does not believe in God but is convinced that the earth was created in the last ten thousand years based solely on the evidence. I think you would be looking a long time. He begins his conclusion thus:

Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people's religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.

I think that this sidesteps the role of the Spirit. For many of us who believe in God (and yes, it is belief, because we cannot prove it) the Spirit plays a more important role in our mental/theological lives than in our physical lives. The classic Christian construction is that our hearts and minds should be saved. It says nothing about our bodies. Those will die and decay.

Coyne also states one other thing that is perhaps true, perhaps not:

Unfortunately, some theologians with a deistic bent seem to think that they speak for all the faithful. These were the critics who denounced Dawkins and his colleagues for not grappling with every subtle theological argument for the existence of God, for not steeping themselves in the complex history of theology. Dawkins in particular was attacked for writing The God Delusion as a "middlebrow" book. But that misses the point. He did indeed produce a middlebrow book, but precisely because he was discussing religion as it is lived and practiced by real people. The reason that many liberal theologians see religion and evolution as harmonious is that they espouse a theology not only alien but unrecognizable as religion to most Americans.

Most protestant denominations and Catholics do not have a problem with evolution. It is only the very hard line evangelical community that dismisses it. As Conrad Hyers and others have taken pains to write, this proceeds from an untenable, literal reading of scripture that was simply not meant to be taken as a scientific guide to the creation of the universe.

Coyne is certainly right about how different people practice theology but he mistakenly dismisses all Christians who accept evolution as being "liberal theologians" when some of us aren't anything of the sort.
Sick as a dog at home with a fever of 101.3. Boo Hiss. On the other hand, A Flock of Dodos arrived in the mail yesterday so at least I will have something to watch.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More Evidence of Dinosaurs With Feathers

The Liaoning shale fossil beds, which Donald Prothero mentions extensively in his chapter called "Dinosaurs Evolve—And Fly!" in his book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, have yielded the remains of a dinosaur that had feathers over almost all of its body. In a story for Foxnews by Jeanna Bryner, the emergence of feathers has now been pushed back to 125 mya.

These feathers had a central shaft with veins branching out from either side, paleontologists said. Other feathers on the head, neck and trunk were long and broad, with no branching.

They were not for flight, but might have kept the dinosaurs warm and looking good, said Xing Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

This is the first of several steps that some of these theropods underwent in their transformation to birds.

A Biochemist Speaks Out:

At the PoliGazette, a biochemist, who identifies herself only as "Claudia" has written a post explaining how evolutionary theory can seem controversial to someone on the outside but is, in fact, not controversial within the biological community. She writes:

But is there a scientific debate with regards to evolution? Yes, there is, but it bears absolutely no resemblance to the one being waged on the ideological front in school boards across the country. The actual debates within evolutionary biology can be roughly divided in two branches: sequential and mechanistic (this is my terminology, not particularly official).

The sequential debates regard phylogenetics, which can be very simply described as how living organisms relate to one another with regards to evolution. Very simply put, it is the debate about our biological family tree; who came from who, whether organism A and organism B share a common anscestor or are similar because of convergent evolution, who came first in the evolutionary tree etc.

The mechanistic debate is a much more fiercely fought one amongst evolutionary biologists, a debate that is not at all aided by its exploitation and mischaracterization by creationists. The debate involves which mechanism or mechanisms are mainly responsible for the evolution of life; whether one mechanism works or not, how well different mechanisms account for recorded events in evolution and whether one mechanism is more dominant than another. The two sides can be (again, very roughly) divided between those who believe that gradual neo-Darwinian evolution is chiefly or solely responsible for the evolution of life and those who believe that gradualist explanations are insufficient and that other mechanisms capable of introducing very fast changes in organisms must be taken into account or even considered dominant.

Both Neil Shubin and Donald Prothero devote sections of their books to this topic and both are highly worth reading. It is, however, dense stuff. The classic model explains the mechanisms of evolution as being selection, genetic drift, gene flow and mutation, which all work in concert to produce new species and alter population gene frequencies. Even reading anyone writing during the heyday of the new synthesis in the 1940s through the 1980s (George Gaylord Simpson, J.B.S. Haldane, Sewall Wright, Ernst Mayr and so on) one can see that there is a huge amount of evidence and theory underlying these basic tenets.

Things have moved along nicely since then with the advent of evo-devo and it is hard to stay current if you don't eat and breathe this stuff.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Texas: How Some Parochial Schools Teach Evolution

The San Antonio Express-News has an article on how some parochial schools are handling the teaching of evolution. It is an object lesson for the Texas State School Board:

Teachers at two of San Antonio's better-known institutions said there is less friction over how they approach the delicate religion vs. science question.

Rob Friedrich, co-chairman of the science department at TMI — The Episcopal School of Texas, said it's not that hard.

“One of the wonderful things about TMI is we don't have any problem with teaching science in science classes and religion in religion classes,” said Friedrich, who is a member of the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. The theory of evolution is “the cornerstone of teaching biology,” he said. Without it, it would be “like teaching chemistry without teaching atomic theory.”

But that doesn't mean there's no room for talking about intelligent design and creationism, which, Friedrich argues, are not scientific theories. If students have a genuine religious objection to evolution, Friedrich said he takes the time to talk it out. “I have no problem with that,” he said. “But I impress on them that it is a religious conflict, not a scientific conflict.”

Yes, it is. Refreshing news. Read the whole thing.

Open Letter to Barbara Cargill

Also in the Houston Chronicle story, one of the SBOE members was quoted as saying:

“There are many, many gaps that don’t link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other’s opinions,” said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, a former science teacher.

I have written Ms. Cargill the following letter:

Dear Ms. Cargill,

You were quoted in today's Houston Chronicle thus:

“There are many, many gaps that don’t link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other’s opinions,” said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, a former science teacher.

As a scientist keenly interested in how this debate is resolved I am curious: what is your evidence for the above quotation? Are you familar with Donald Prothero's book "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters?" If not, please avail yourself of an opportunity to pick up a copy and read it. It is extraordinarily informative and addresses exactly the issue you raise. Thank you so much for your time.


James Kidder, Ph.D.

I am curious to see if I get a response.

The Texas Science Standards: Not Taking No For an Answer

According to a story in the Houston Chronicle, several members of the Texas State Board of Education are trying to do an end run around the new science standards:

The new proposals came just one day after the board — in a move celebrated by many scientists — narrowly agreed to delete a provision in current curriculum standards that requires teachers to instruct students in weaknesses and strengths of evolution theory.

The “strengths and weaknesses” standard has been a staple in the curriculum for about 20 years.

On Friday, however, the board looked again at the issue and decided students should have to evaluate a variety of fossil types and assess the arguments against universal common descent, which serves as a main principle of evolution — that all organisms have a common ancestor.

The board’s effort to undermine “universal common descent” in public schools will make the state’s science standards “an object of ridicule,” said Steve Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science.

“It’s really unscientific. It promotes creationism. It says that students will be required to learn arguments against common descent or ancestral connections,” Schafersman said. “The only alternative to common descent is creationism in their minds.”

This has raised the hackles of some:

They are asking students to explain something that does not exist, said David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winner.

“This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single science expert,” Hillis said.

They've got persistence, I'll give them that.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Answers in Genesis and the "Mess in Texas"

AIG has an article on the science standards battle down in Texas. Here is their take:

The board of education in Texas took testimony this week on revising the state’s science standards. According to the recent standards, students have been required to critique all scientific explanations and explore their “strengths and weaknesses.” On Thursday, the board voted on the advice of evolutionary scientists to reject an amendment that would have retained the phrase “strengths and weaknesses.” Those who wanted the phrase stripped say that the wording allows the teaching of creation or intelligent design in science classes. Interestingly, however, it should be pointed out that the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” is used several times in the science curriculum and applies to every science field, not just biological origins. But the evolutionists are stressing the phrasing of the biology curriculum to the news media, and that’s how the dispute is being largely represented to the public.

This is a bit of a smokescreen. The idea that the strengths and weaknesses language was designed for all sciences is belied by the fact that all of the promoters of the language were creationists who are opposed to evolution. See this post for more information. Even the above statement singles out "evolutionary scientists." It is being presented to the public largely because that is how it played out. A cursory trip to AIG yields this banner at the top of the page.

If they aren't about evolution, what are they about? That is why this SBOE ruling is so important to these guys.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The New Scientist and the "Tree of Life"

Ecographica has an article castigating the New Scientist for its cover stating that "Darwin was Wrong" and the accompanying article by Graham Lawton. Here is the cover.

I have to agree with his assessment. Here is the article in question, which is, if somewhat sensationalized, fairly tame. It focuses on the concept of Horizontal Gene Transfer and the idea that Darwin's original "Tree of Life" idea does not fit modern evolutionary thought:

As more and more genes were sequenced, it became clear that the patterns of relatedness could only be explained if bacteria and archaea were routinely swapping genetic material with other species - often across huge taxonomic distances - in a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT).

A bit later:

As it became clear that HGT was a major factor, biologists started to realise the implications for the tree concept. As early as 1993, some were proposing that for bacteria and archaea the tree of life was more like a web. In 1999, Doolittle made the provocative claim that "the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree" (Science, vol 284, p 2124). "The tree of life is not something that exists in nature, it's a way that humans classify nature," he says.

Thus began the final battle over the tree. Many researchers stuck resolutely to their guns, creating ever more sophisticated computer programs to cut through the noise and recover the One True Tree. Others argued just as forcefully that the quest was quixotic and should be abandoned.

Of course, this discussion in no way impugns evolutionary theory. It is roughly analogous to the revelation that evolution does not always proceed slowly beneficial gene by beneficial gene, but sometimes through developmental leaps by way of hox genes. Hence the study of evo-devo.

It has become clear that evolution proceeds much more in the form of a bush rather than a tree and that is how most palaeontologists view things. The problem is that this is the cover of the newsstand copy and people that look at it will think that Darwin was wrong, therefore evolution was wrong. This is a colossal blunder. A statement should be released immediately explaining what the cover means, not that anybody will read it. The creationists will have a field day.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Steven Schafersman Liveblogging the Texas SBOE Meeting

Here is Steve Schafersman's blog of the meeting at the SBOE in Texas that wound up (by one vote) stripping the "strengths and weaknesses" verbiage from the standards. It is amusing. He is the standards writer who lambasted several members for their deception here. Here is an example:

Mercer [board member?] says he and his colleagues have received 6,500 emails in the last two days from citizens that want S&W retained. He considers the S&W a matter of academic freedom and freedom of speech. He again used the bogus and misleading examples of Piltdown Man, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo drawings, the peppered moths that were glued to tree trunks, and the half-bird, half-dinosaur that were all "evolutionary frauds." Mercer's complete and total ignorance of science is just spellbinding. Three of these were not frauds. We now have excellent legitimate fossils of feathered dinosaurs that are on the lineage to become birds; the peppered moths are in no way a fraud but are still today accepted as good scientific research; the most recent interpretation of Haeckel indicates that he was not engaging in a fraud but used the best data he had. The Piltdown Man "fraud" was just a joke gone bad; it was not widely accepted by scientists and its hoax was revealed by scientists.

In actuality, Piltdown probably was a fraud, perpetrated by Charles Dawson, who had perpetrated a series of frauds on the art and scientific community for some thirty years. That doesn't change the lack of scientific knowledge on the part of the board member. What scares me is that he is probably representative of how much the average person knows about science.

Board Votes Against "Weaknesses" Language

Pop the corks. The Texas State Board of Education voted against the inclusion of the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Earth and Space Science Standards. As the article in the Dallas Morning News reports:

In a major defeat for social conservatives, a sharply divided State Board of Education voted Thursday to abandon a longtime state requirement that high school science teachers cover what some critics consider to be "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution.

Under the science curriculum standards recommended by a panel of science educators and tentatively adopted by the board, biology teachers and biology textbooks would no longer have to cover the "strengths and weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory that man evolved from lower forms of life.

Somewhat awkwardly put, but that is gist of it. There was one wrinkle, however:

Evolution critics did score a minor victory, as the board agreed to an amendment that calls for students to discuss the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of Darwin's tenet that living things have a common ancestry.

That change was proposed by board chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, who also supported the defeated strengths-and-weaknesses requirement.

As I have noted before, it is difficult to understand how someone like McLeroy can become the head of the board, since he evidently knows so little about evolution and biology in general.

More on the Board Vote Today

My San Antonio has an article on the SBOE vote today on the Earth and Space Science standards. They note:

Science and religion collide today when the State Board of Education takes a preliminary vote on curriculum standards that could affect the teaching of evolution in Texas public schools for the next decade.

The argument hinges on a single word: weaknesses.

A panel of science experts has recommended that teachers no longer be required to present the “strengths and weaknesses” of various theories, including evolution.

Instead, the proposed science curriculum standards would encourage students to use critical thinking, scientific reasoning and problem solving to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations.

As I have noted before, the "weaknesses" ruse is only aimed at evolution. Let's see how the vote turns out!

Human Habitation in England Pushed Back to 600k

An article in the Somerset News is reporting on research done at the caves at Mendip Hill that has pushed back human habitation of the region to c. 600 000 years ago. That story notes:

The re-examination of animal bones and artefacts unearthed in the 1980s has shown evidence of a human settlement much earlier than previously thought.

The revised date is being hailed as one of the most exciting developments in British archaeology and paleontology since prehistoric human remains were unearthed at Boxgrove, West Sussex, in 1993.

The bones found at Westbury-sub-Mendip came from rhinoceroses, hyenas, wolves, bison and cave bears, and showed straight cut marks that could have been made only by butchery with a sharp cutting implement, along with shaped flints that have now been identified as hand axes.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Misrepresentation at the Texas SBOE

Josh Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas has an amazing article on how the work of Nobel Prize winner Werner Arber was completely misrepresented by the ICR and by Texas SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The ICR paper, by Jerry Bergman is here. The conclusion of that paper is:

Arber concluded that the genetic mechanisms that produce variation are designed and are not products of Darwinian evolution. Furthermore, this variation--often called microevolution--has clear limits and is unable to produce macroevolution. Arber stressed that the knowledge of the "molecular basis of biological evolution" impacts not only "our worldview" in the areas of origins, but also has implications for the possible risks of genetic engineering. It is for this reason that Arber affirmed that only the existence of a Creator God is a satisfactory solution to the problem of biological origins.

Arber responded thus:


I recently got aware of an article entitled "Werner Arber: Nobel Laureate, Darwin Skeptic" that was published in September 2008 by the Institute for Creation Research and that is authored by Jerry Bergman, Ph.D. This article completely misinterprets my general conclusions that I base on several decades of studies in microbial genetics. A number of citations are taken out of their original context and surrounded by comments and misinterpretations by the author of the article.

The truth is that I have contributed to advance scientific knowledge on biological evolution by studying molecular mechanisms of genetic variation. Genetic variation is clearly the driving force of biological evolution. A number of different specific molecular mechanisms contribute to spontaneous genetic variation. Together with non-genetic elements specific gene products are thereby involved as variation generators and as modulators of the rates of genetic variation. These are established facts that are based on experimental evidences and that are valid for the course of biological evolution as it works today in living organisms. Theoretically, one can extrapolate into the past history of life development on Earth. One can, e.g., postulate how the genes involved in biological evolution may have become fine-tuned to insure to living organisms a comfortable genetic stability and at the same time to the populations of living organisms an evolutionary development, including adaptability to changing living conditions and an expansion of biodiversity. In contrast, there is, so far, neither satisfactory scientific knowledge nor theory on the origin and early evolution of life on our planet.

On solid scientific grounds one cannot expect to discover if a Creator as defined by religious beliefs and sometimes referred to as intelligent design or God's Will, could be responsible for the origin and subsequent evolution of life. Serious scientific investigations can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God or a possible impact of God on evolutionary processes. In our civilization, both scientific knowledge and religious beliefs contribute essentially to our orientating knowledge, but these two sources of our worldview should not be intermingled.
In conclusion, I am neither a "Darwin skeptic" nor an "intelligent design supporter" as it is claimed in Bergman's article. I stand fully behind the NeoDarwinian theory of biological evolution and I contributed to confirm and expand this theory at the molecular level so that it can now be called Molecular Darwinism.

Werner Arber
Professor emeritus for Molecular Microbiology,
University of Basel.
Nobel Laureate Medicine/Physiology 1978

Another creationist paper, another misrepresentation of mainstream science. Sigh. Bergman will probably claim that Arber is back peddling when his decades of research reveal that he is doing nothing of the sort.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi...

A Republican state representative has drafted a bill that will require a disclaimer in the front of all science textbooks in the state. Here it is, passage by passage:

The State Board of Education shall require every textbook that includes the teaching of evolution in its contents to include the following language on the inside front cover of the textbook:

"The word 'theory' has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.

There are so many things wrong with this disclaimer, one doesn't know where to start. The word "theory" has only one meaning to any working scientist: a broad statement of relationships describing a particular set of phenomena that are well supported by scientific hypotheses. That's it. When someone like Ronald Reagan says "Well, its only a theory," he really means he doesn't know what a theory is. This is true over and over again in dealings with creationists—they have no idea what the word "theory" means. It sure as Hell doesn't mean "speculative idea or plan."

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered a theory.

Evolution is only controversial to creationists. To 99% of practicing biological scientists, it is established science. Consequently, the statement "some scientists present" is a complete fabrication. Only someone completely ignorant of the biological sciences would write this.

Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things. There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion); the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record; the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record; and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things.

This is out of the creationists playbook. The Cambrian "explosion" is only an explosion if you think that 50 million years is a rapid period of time. Also, many new groups of animals appeared after this period—dinosaurs, anyone? To creationists, there are no transitional forms because they define transitional form in such a way that none would ever be found.

Study hard and keep an open mind."

As long as you are not thinking about evolution! Hat tip to LGF and Ed Brayton.

Deception, Texas-Style

According to LGF, there have now been attacks on the other areas of the Texas science standards because they deal with the age of the earth and radiometric dating. Steven Schafersman, a professional geochemist and a member of the panel that crafted the Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) standards has written an open letter to the Texas State Board of Education that encapsulates the deceptions on the part of the creationists. It is a bit lengthy but is an eye-opener in terms of how these groups operate. The focus of the paper concerns the efforts of two of the ESS members who circumvented the rest of the ESS standards writers to go directly to the SBOE by sending them a minority report in which they disagreed with the wording of the standards and expressed disappointment that the "strengths and weaknesses" clause had been taken out:

The minority report was sent in secret to the SBOE without the knowledge of the other ESS panel members. Secret minority reports are especially reprehensible, since the scientist panel members, the "majority," did not have a chance to respond to or forestall the minority report by more discussion and possible compromise. Also, minority reports are supposed to be written after all the work of the panel is completed and the two sides are at an impasse, which was not the case here. This minority report was written on November 6, soon after the Oct 30-Nov 1 penultimate meeting of the ESS panel. The last meeting was scheduled for Dec 4-6, so there was plenty of time to deal with issues contained in the minority report and make changes that might be agreeable to all. [Roger] Sigler and [Tom] Henderson sent the minority report was sent [sic] to all the SBOE members--the ultimate decision-makers--without any context or forewarning to their colleagues on the ESS panel. The majority on the ESS panel never had an opportunity to respond to or even read the minority report, and have never had the opportunity to write a rebuttal to the SBOE. For almost two months, the minority report was the only ESS report that the SBOE had--the de facto ESS report--which is extremely destructive and unfortunate.

Henderson and Sigler agreed to withdraw the minority report if their concerns were addressed, and, according to Schafersman, they were. Subsequently, however, a second minority report appeared. According to Schafersman:

Needless to say, this is appalling. They had promised to withdraw the minority report if we carefully addressed their concerns, which we did, and then they broke their word. We did accept some of their suggestions that were not scientifically debilitating, and modified a few sentences that had the effect of making some statements less certain or exact, and all these changes are documented in the comments. We never promised to make all the changes they wanted, and we couldn't have done this, since many of the changes were unscientific and would have had the effect of confusing students rather than educating them about science. The behavior of Sigler and Henderson makes me certain that the purpose of the minority report is what I suspected from the first: a device to sabotage the scientific quality and integrity of the ESS standards by giving some unscrupulous SB members a hook to attack them.

...The worst part of this experience is that Henderson and Sigler duplicitously misled the ESS workgroup's members into believing that their cooperation would remove the minority report. I believe they intended to sabotage our group's efforts from the beginning with a minority report, and never planned to withdraw it after we made the changes in their favor. Also, I don't believe that Sigler and Henderson acted alone, but in my opinion conspired with Terri Leo and David Bradley to create a provocative report that could be used by the two SBOE members to convince the others to vote to censor the ESS standards in favor of removing offending requirements (fossil evolution, ancient age of Earth, origin of life) and inserting other language that would weaken the document (uncertainties with radiometric dating, global warming, and of course "strengths and weaknesses").

As we saw from the Dover School Board trial, it apparently is not above YEC supporters to deceive and lie to get what they want. That is sad.

Monday, January 19, 2009

It Snowed Today...

Knoxville's relationship with snow is fleeting at best, but today, against the forecast of "cloudy," it snowed some two inches.

This town used to do snow quite well. Even as late as the mid-90s, there were some nice snows. Last year was the first one that I can remember in which there was no snow at all. Onward toward the Jurassic!!

Evolution: Multiple Beneficial Mutations in One Generation

The Science Examiner is reporting that out of Texas A&M is coming research indicating that evolution is more dynamic than originally thought:

Working with populations of yeast cells, which were color-coded by fluorescent markers, Katy Kao, assistant professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, and Stanford University colleague Gavin Sherlock were able to evolve the cells while maintaining a visual analysis of the entire process.

Their research, which appears in the December edition of Nature Genetics, shows the evolutionary process to be much more dynamic than initially thought, with multiple beneficial adaptations arising within a population. These adaptations, Kao explained, triggered a competition between these segments, known as “clonal interference.”

Beneficial mutations have always been thought to arise sequentially, with selection acting on each one in turn. Further, it was found that some beneficial mutations do not survive in successive generations. In hindsight, this seems reasonable since in any given generation of an organism, a wide variety of variation is present, each to be acted on independently. It is just neat to see it in action.

Hat tip to LGF.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Texas Redux

On January 2, I posted that the new Texas science standards passed without the "strengths and weaknesses" language that was so desired by some members of school board, including Don McLeroy, the head of the board. I also noted that the board did not have to use the standards but that they were highly recommended. Wellllll...Houston Press Blogs reports that the standards are to be debated:

The SBOE is holding a public hearing January 21 on science standards, and the people at the Discovery Institute, who think Intelligent Design blows away that whole stoopid "evolution" theory, are happy as unevolved clams.

"We're very pleased that in this Darwin bicentennial year Texas has invited scientists on both sides of the evolution debate to testify about the scientific status of Darwin's theory," said Dr. John West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, in a statement released today.

It is telling that the DI is so out of touch with what evolutionary theory is that they continue to call it "Darwin's theory" as if there have been no advancements since his time. Time to drag in the Dover ruling.

Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Louisiana: A Few More Unanswered Questions

A story on reveals a bit more about the angst that the science teachers are feeling about the new Board of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines in Louisiana regarding "academic freedom":

Before Thursday's vote, Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said the guidelines don't include enough detail about the procedure for challenging supplemental materials introduced into science classes.

Esman said questions also remained about whether challenged materials could be used by teachers until the objection was heard by education leaders.

"Nobody under these provisions will know what to do, not the parent, not the teacher, not the school," she said.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said the education department has detailed plans for how to handle objections."We spent a great deal of time with our lawyers," he said.

Pastorek offered the department's lawyers to meet with Esman. He said if she has further problems, she can present those to BESE at a later meeting, and Esman agreed.

Opponents of the law have predicted it likely will result in a lawsuit.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

More on the Louisiana Ruling

The Times-Picayune has an additional story on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's decision to strike a passage keeping creationism and ID out of science classrooms. Some found the ruling positive and some didn't:

"The children of Louisiana were well served by this action," said the Rev. Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum and an original advocate of the bill. Mills said the law is not about advancing the Judeo-Christian version of creation but encouraging students and teachers to engage in open discussions.

Louisiana State University biology professor Kevin Carman said that already occurs in science classrooms but is only productive when the methodology sticks to empirical evidence. "I don't believe in evolution," he said, emphasizing the word "believe." "I am convinced by the supporting facts."

The statement by Gene Mills is a smokescreen. He doesn't want students engaged in open discussions, he want evolution out of the classroom. A check of the LFF's web sites reveals papers presenting science from only one perspective. Some are written by members of Answers in Genesis.

Learning from Macaques

New Kerala reports on a study of Japanese Macaques that has yielded insights into human evolution, say researchers from the Primate Research Institute in Tokyo. The story notes:

Primatologists Michael A. Huffman, Charmalie A.D. Nahallage, and Jean-Baptiste Leca from the Primate Research Institute in Kyoto, Japan, assessed social learning exhibited by these macaques during stone-handling, a behavior that has been passed down from elder to younger since it was observed in some of the troops in 1979.

Stone-handling, in this study, included rubbing and clacking stones together, pounding them onto hard surfaces, picking them up, and cuddling, carrying, pushing, rolling and throwing them.


Louisiana School Board Rolls Over

A story in the Louisiana Advocate reports that language was stripped from the new state law intended to "promote critical thinking" involving creationism. Stripped was the following paragraph:

Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.

Some people were not happy:

Patsy Peebles, of Baton Rouge, a veteran biology teacher, pleaded with the committee to leave in the wording, which was recommended by the state Department of Education.

Peebles was a member of the advisory panel that made policy recommendations earlier.

Peebles said specific bans on creationism and intelligent design materials were needed so that teachers are “very clear on what they can and cannot do.”

But state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa and sponsor of the bill, said the wording should come out.

Nevers noted the law did not single out creationism or intelligent design and that state regulations should not either.

Nevers has been responsible for several bills promoting creationism or ID. I see lawsuits on the horizon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Doubting Darwin?

A new book is out called Doubting Darwin? Creationist Designs on Evolution by Sahotra Sarkar. BioOne has a review. The reviewer makes an important point that was often made in the past about the Young Earth Creationists:

The power of the ID creationist arguments is not that they are convincing, coherent, or compelling; it is that they are presented with a veneer of complexity that is taken as a sign of authority—namely, scientific authority. Dismantling these arguments requires a certain level of technical proficiency, but it is not altogether effective. The risk of providing ID creationists with the cover of legitimacy is often greater than any payoff would be in confronting the arguments directly. It is, after all, legitimacy that they are typically after. Politically, it can be more valuable simply to air your ideas in debate without much regard as to how such debates play out. Nonetheless, exposing the absurdity of the seemingly technical ID creationist claims is a vital component in the push back against creationism. For as much as what is at stake concerns a political or ideological debate, it must be underwritten by good science.

This is what is behind the "teach the controversy" movement. If no controversy exists, create one. Overall, a good review with a qualified thumbs-up.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Top 10 Signs of Evolution in Modern Man

The List Universe has a top ten list of evolutionary holdovers in modern humans. These are often vestigial and range anywhere from junk DNA (nonfunctional vitamin C genes)to the appendix and are interesting in that they truly show how cobbled together we really are.

Here is an interesting example:

The plantaris muscle is used by animals in gripping and manipulating objects with their feet - something you see with apes who seem to be able to use their feet as well as their hands. Humans have this muscle as well, but it is now so underdeveloped that it is often taken out by doctors when they need tissue for reconstruction in other parts of the body. The muscle is so unimportant to the human body that 9% of humans are now born without it.

Evolution works with what it has. This has often led those of us that believe in God to wonder why He has such an odd sense of humor.

What Difference Does Evolution Make?

The Times Online has a story by Bryan Appleyard called For God’s sake, have Charles Darwin’s theories made any difference to our lives?
The article highlights the differences between the American and British acceptance of how important the man is. For example:

“Darwinism,” says Dr David Menton of Answers in Genesis, which built the Creation Museum, “is what you have once you have denied the existence of God.”

I would really love for someone to actually define "Darwinism." Anyway, contrast that with this:

In Westminster Abbey, parties of schoolchildren walk over the marble slab on which is inscribed simply, “Charles Robert Darwin. Born 12 February 1809. Died 19 April 1882”. There’s also a black plaque depicting a mightily bearded Darwin in old age.

The focus of the article is how we have failed to wrap our brains around the "descent from a common ancestor" argument. Appleyard goes on:

For John Gray, the philosopher, this all points to a fundamental oddity of the conflicts and anxieties generated by Darwin. He says: “Darwinism appeared in the context of a monotheistic religion that assumed a categorical distinction between humans and other animals. In any religion that didn’t assume that, it wouldn’t have produced these unending conflicts.”

If Darwin had been Japanese, Chinese or Indian, then his primary insight – our deep connection to nature – would have been seen as unremarkable, if not self-evident. But in the Judaeo-Christian or Muslim worlds, in which man is seen as the God-elected pinnacle of creation, it is dynamite. This is why, as Darwin so clearly saw, his idea represents a fundamental moral challenge to our western world-view.

This is a tough one because it brings into sharp relief questions about original sin, historical Adam, existence of the soul and other questions for which no two Christians agree on the answers.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Year of Darwin: A Creation Perspective:Part III

The third article, Do Species Change by Paul Garner, is a puzzler. It begins by contradicting cherished dogma of the ICR that species do not vary outside of their "kinds." He states:

To his credit, Darwin corrected a popular misunderstanding. Species do change. Since Darwin’s day, many observations have confirmed this. In fact, new species have even been shown to arise within a single human lifetime. For example, one study gave evidence that sockeye salmon introduced into Lake Washington, USA, between 1937 and 1945 had split into two reproductively isolated populations (i.e., two separate species) in fewer than 13 generations (a maximum of 56 years).

Okay, when's the other shoe going to drop? Ah, here it comes:

The church’s compromise on Scripture’s authority had dire results. While Darwin was right to argue that species change, he went too far. He should have gone back to Scripture to see what it really said. Instead, he ignored the biblical data and assumed that all creatures descended from a single common ancestor over millions of years.

Although he never comes back to address this point, he does go on to say some pretty negative things about his fellow creationists, concluding:

Modern creationists need to challenge both the unbiblical essentialist ideas that underlie species fixity and the naturalistic ideas that underpin evolution from a common ancestor. The truth lies somewhere between these two extremes: yes, species change, but variation has clear limits (see “The Discontinuity of Life,” p. 88). In the twenty-first century, we face the exciting challenge of re-thinking the history of life from a truly biblical perspective.

Not dead sure what means but he has gone further than other creationist has dared to go. For that he should be commended.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Evolve...

WWL-TV has a story detailing the recent activities of the Louisiana state education officials:

A new law that promotes what its backers call "critical thinking" about evolution and other science topics is about to come up for discussion again in Baton Rouge -- this time before state education officials charged with deciding how it should be implemented.

While the law maintains a requirement that public school science teachers use state approved science textbooks, it also allows local teachers and school boards to introduce "supplemental materials" in science classes on topics including evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.

It is clear from instances around the country that supplemental material often means things like Of Pandas and People. On the bright side:

Proposed for discussion at the December meeting were requirements that any information in the supplemental material be "supported by empirical evidence." The proposed language also said religious beliefs "shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking" and that materials "that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited in science classes."

Predictably, that got this reaction from some quarters:

Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative Christian group that supported the law, said Thursday that he was unhappy with some of the policy language prepared for discussion at a December meeting of the BESE committee. That discussion was postponed until Tuesday.

Mills declined to discuss his specific objections.

"I would just summarize it this way," he said. "I would think that it left religious neutrality and took a tone of religious hostility. Or at least it could be interpreted by some to have done that."

I would interpret it as being science-friendly instead of science-hostile. But that's just me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Mutation, Natural Selection and Exaptation in Action.

Health officials are concerned that the dominant flu strain cropping up this year seems to be Tamiflu resistant. The story in the Herald Tribune notes:

Last winter, about 11 percent of the throat swabs from patients with the most common type of flu that were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for genetic typing showed a Tamiflu-resistant strain. This season, 99 percent do.

"It's quite shocking," said Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, director of infection control at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "We've never lost an antimicrobial this fast. It blew me away."

The single mutation that creates Tamiflu resistance appears to be spontaneous, and not a reaction to overuse of the drug. It may have occurred in Asia, and it was widespread in Europe last year.

It has undergone selection and will become the dominant strain until we find something to combat it. Now the kicker:

The mutation conferring resistance to Tamiflu, known in the shorthand of genetics as H274Y on the N gene, was actually, he said "just a passenger, totally unrelated to Tamiflu usage, but hitchhiking on another change."

The other mutation, he said, known as A193T on the H gene, made the virus better at infecting people.

This is a classic example of a genetic mutation that codes for a protein that does something else being co-opted by the virus' defense mechanism to ward off Tamiflu. Evolution in action!

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds. Stay Healthy!!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Incredibly Off-Topic: Something New from Todd!!

I have been a Todd Rundgren fan for 35 years and he now has a new album out and an interview on CNN. From the interview:

"The thing that makes it different -- the thing that makes it interesting every once in a while -- is when someone comes along and you think that they're not simply using this as a marketing tool for themselves," he continued. "You see them, and obviously music is the thing that redeems them. ... That to me is what makes music exciting, is when suddenly you see someone and you realize they were meant for music."

And Rundgren? He's still meant for music, too. He's preparing to produce a new New York Dolls album, 36 years after he produced the group's debut. There's also talk he'll perform his 1973 album "A Wizard, A True Star" live. It's a full schedule doing something he loves, even if there's virtually no chance he'll be topping the charts.

I would pay to see that. His new album is called Arena. Time to go to the local "record" store.

Expelled!: The Mask is Off!

The producer of the movie Expelled! now says never meant to make a movie that presented a fair treatment of the case for the academic dismissals of supporters of Intelligent Design but, rather, wanted to get people charged up about the cause. The interview with Walt Ruloff, which appears in the Vancouver Sun reveals this:

In Expelled, Stein, with his trademark monotone, takes on the role of a Michael-Moore-like muckraker bent on exposing the allegedly closed minds of scientists who champion Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The documentary links such scientists to Nazis. The reaction was what one would expect.

"We wanted to generate anger," Ruloff said.

"We always knew we'd get extreme anger on the one side and extreme support on the other. We also think we got extreme interest in the middle."

There is also this:

Its harsh tone mocked and almost demonized opponents, especially the anti-religious scientist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion.

The documentary also interviews several ID proponents who say they lost academic positions because of their views. However, defenders of the scientific community have countered that Expelled's claims of academic persecution are misleading, if not false.

Ruloff says the film is accomplishing its goals, nevertheless. "What we really wanted to do was give scientists more courage. Science is in such lockdown. The only way we can give scientists courage is if we deal with the issue head-on -- in kind of an American style."

So the object of the film was never to present the case that the dismissals were unfair, but rather to "demonize" evolution supporters, to promote ID in the colleges and universities and provoke people to anger. Hardly a scientific endeavor. On par for something connected to the Discovery Institute.

Dr. Dino To Stay in Jail

ReligionNewsBlog has reported that the tax evasion convictions of Kent Hovind and his wife have been upheld:

Kent Hovind, 55, is serving a 10-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Edgefield S.C.

He was found guilty in November 2006 of failing to collect and pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes, obstructing tax laws and structuring transactions to avoid financial reporting laws.

Jo Hovind, 53, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison on 45 counts structuring transactions to avoid financial reporting laws.

Apparently, the future of Dinosaur Adventure Land is still being decided.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Year of Darwin: A Creation Perspective Part II

Roger Sanders also writes the second article on Charles Darwin, Darwin's Personal Struggle with Evil, although a more appropriate title would be "Darwin's personal struggle with Grief."

The article recounts a story known to most who have studied the life of Charles Darwin, the death of his daughter Anne. It is largely surmised (as Sanders does here) that it was this event that led Charles Darwin away from God. Here is what Sanders has to say:

Darwin’s faith was not in Jesus Christ, only in what he could see, touch, and understand. Perhaps more than any other scientist of his time, this hurting father came to understand the evil that really exists in the natural world—“red in tooth and claw” as the poet Lord Tennyson described it. The death of Anne just made the evil touch him personally. As far as we know, it also made him turn away from God once and for all.

This is at variance with other accounts. The Darwin Correspondence Project, for example, has this to say:

Darwin and his family had a lifetime involvement with the Church of England, and various dissenting establishments. In the Darwin and Wedgwood households, formal adherence to the Anglican Church was often combined with Unitarian belief. Unitarianism was a form of Protestant non-conformism that departed from the Anglican Church in its denial of the Trinity and the doctrine of eternal damnation. Unitarian congregations were comparatively small, well-educated, and allowed for a greater variance of belief (and doubt) than many non-conformist denominations.

In a letter to John Fordyce in 1879, Darwin writes:

Dear Sir

It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.— You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point— What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.

It seems that he possessed no belief in the salvation of Jesus Christ and drifted further away from the faith the older he got but never rejected God completely. Sanders ends the column thus:

Darwin proposed a new natural law—natural selection—which assumed that death has operated from the beginning. With this naturalistic, impersonal force of natural selection, he found a substitute for the God of the Bible, who is the Creator of all life-forms, the eternal Judge of sin, and the only possible Redeemer of fallen mankind and of our corrupted world.

This assumes that natural selection only came into the world as sin entered the world through
Adam and that Charles Darwin simply named it, an evil that already existed. This is also at variance with what we know from the natural record of the last 650 million years.

The problem of original sin is a vexing one for most Christians, let alone those that adhere to an evolutionary history of the planet. It seems, however, that natural selection, which was surely built into the fabric of the world by God, should not be viewed as evil but rather as a means by which God worked out his plan over the course of time.

Automotive Darwin Awards

I have always had a fondness for the Darwin Awards, the ridiculous means by which people remove themselves from the gene pool. The Truth About Cars has a version of this "contest" involving cars. Witness the following:

The telephone company had been burying lines. To allow traffic to pass, they dug up half the road at a time and put up warning barriers with flashing lights to direct traffic to the safe side. After they laid the cable half way, they’d fill in that side and then do the same on the other side. Pranksters had moved the flashing lights to the good side of the road.

Speeding late at night and way over the legal blood alcohol limit, [two] ranch hands drove straight into the hole and died. Because of the moved lights the Sheriff’s accident analysis turned into a criminal matter. Crime scene analysis of tire tracks and footprints on the dirt road revealed that the pranksters were the ranch hands themselves, on their way to the bar.

Yup. Too stupid to breed.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Kenneth Miller on Smoke and Mirrors and the DI, Part III

Kenneth Miller's last post on the Loom deals with why the Discovery Institute has not let the Dover decision go and moved on. Here is his rationale:

If ID surrogates in Louisiana, Texas, and other states are to argue that evolution is a controversial idea with serious scientific flaws, they’ve got a problem. They know that the parents and educators backing genuine science education for American students will pick up the Dover decision and cite chapter and verse from its ringing indictment of everything that Casey and the Discover Institute stand for. They also know that state legislators and school board members will consider the legal troubles that beset Dover and decide to pass on Discovery’s persistent offers to guide them along the path of undermining evolution. In short, if Kitzmiller v. Dover stands, they’re done for.

Methinks he is premature. These people have resilience, as the "academic freedom" bills have shown. They will continue to argue their case in one venue or another. The rest of the piece is primarily recap but worth a read.

Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.

Kenneth Miller on Smoke and Mirrors and the DI, Part II

Kenneth Miller's second post on the Loom is a continuation of his first, a take-down of Casey Luskin's arguments of irreducible complexity. In his second post, Luskin argues that just because one cascade is reducible, another may not be—a shaky argument at best. Along the way, he makes the following peculiar argument:

For example, consider again the bicycle. Bicycles have two wheels. Unicycles, having only one wheel, are missing an obvious component found on bicycles. Does this imply that you can remove one wheel from a bicycle and it will still function? Of course not. Try removing a wheel from a bike and you'll quickly see that it requires two wheels to function. The fact that a unicycle lacks certain components of a bicycle does not mean that the bicycle is therefore not irreducibly complex.

A few weeks ago, I saw a person riding a bicycle down the road on the bicycle's back wheel (we used to call it a wheelie) because he thought he could get where he wanted to go faster. It wasn't just an up and then down motion. He rode that way for a sustained period of time. Maybe he wasn't using the bicycle exactly the way it was intended, but it was clearly functional. Exaptation. No matter. Onward.

Luskin tackles the differences between land-dwelling vertebrates and sea-going mammals:

Darwinists like Ken Miller view the dolphin's lack of factor XII as a case of convergent evolution, but we might also see it as evidence of a functional constraint or a case of common design. The fact that jawed fish lack factor XII is not necessarily evidence that their blood-clotting cascade was a "primitive evolutionary precursor" to the land-dwelling vertebrate blood-clotting cascade, but evidence of a functional constraint for water-dwelling vertebrates--a constraint which is confirmed in that dolphins also lack factor XII. This is an interesting issue that will require further research to sort out. In the mean time, any claims that Miller refuted Behe--or even Pandas--appear to be premature.

Miller replies:

Would you like to take a look and place a bet on the results of that “further research,” Casey? As much as I’d like to win a few bucks from my friends at the Discovery Institute, it wouldn’t be sporting, since such research was actually done more than a decade ago [Semba et al, 1998]. Whales possess a Factor XII pseudogene, an inactivated version of the very same gene carried by land-dwelling mammals. That pseudogene is a direct mark of their common ancestry with other mammals, and disproves any suggestion that constraints on cetacean “design” required the absence of Factor XII. Rather, ordinary genetic processes knocked out the gene, and today the pseudogene remains merely as evidence of their evolutionary ancestry.

As Glenn Reynolds would say: "ouch."

Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.

Kenneth Miller on Smoke and Mirrors and the DI

Kenneth Miller has some guest posts on the Discovery Magazine blog, the Loom. The first is called Smoke and Mirrors, Whales and Lampreys in which he discusses the claim by Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute that Intelligent Design was misrepresented at the trial in Dover, in 2005. The post centers around the claim that Michael Behe's treatment of the irreducible complexity of the blood clotting cascade is different in his book than it is in Of Pandas and People.

Luskin writes:

So according to Miller, the treatment of the blood-clotting cascade in Pandas is "essentially identical" to the treatment of the blood-clotting cascade in Darwin's Black Box.

The problem is that Miller's claim is false. Behe's treatment of the blood-clotting cascade in Darwin's Black Box is much more precise than the treatment in Pandas, and in fact Behe made it very clear that he was limiting his argument for irreducible complexity to a particular segment of the blood-clotting cascade that had been well-studied and was well-understood.

Miller responds:

First, there’s a perfectly good reason why I compared the clotting treatment in Pandas to Darwin’s Black Box (DBB). They are indeed nearly identical, and that’s because Behe himself wrote both of them. Second, Behe actually did state that the entire pathway is irreducibly complex in DBB. Casey might have skipped over those pages, but I didn’t. Third, as a result, the absence of any components of the cascade in any organism is indeed a direct contradiction of Behe’s formulation of ID. And finally, even Luskin’s “irreducible core” has fallen apart as the result of the most recent research findings on the system.

The argument is somewhat lengthy and delves into what Behe meant. Miller is taking Behe's ideas in both sources and castigates Luskin for the very focus behind his complaint:

But there is something very strange, and even distressing, about Luskin’s contention that the obvious failings of the arguments in Pandas are somehow less important than the ones in DBB. Why is it OK to give high school readers an argument about the irreducible complexity of the entire cascade that you know to be false (as Luskin admits), just as long as you modify that argument in another book?


Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Year of Darwin: A Creation Perspective Part I

Answers in Genesis has an end of the year site on the Year of Darwin: A Creation Perspective. They remark that "a deeper look might surprise you." The first dig comes, predictably, in the opening paragraph of the main page:

Throughout 2009 the world will be celebrating Darwin’s birthday (February 12, 1809) and the publication of On the Origin of Species (November 24, 1859). Meanwhile, Bible-believing Christians have had 150 years to reflect on Darwin’s life and work. What have we learned?

In other words, if you accept "Darwinism" you don't believe in the Bible. That's dichotomy for you. The site is largely an ad for their upcoming Answers issue dealing with the man. Nonetheless, there are some articles attached.

On this site, Roger Sanders writes a column called The Pursuit of Darwin on the life of Charles Darwin. The column largely tracks his early life and influences leading up to and including his voyage on the Beagle. In it, he states the following:

In particular, the majority of British clergymen and clerical scientists followed natural theology, a view of God that took root in the late 1600s. In Darwin’s youth, they held that we can discover God and His attributes from human reasoning alone without reference to the Scriptures.

That was never the intention of natural theology, a term made famous by William Paley, the originator of the concept of Intelligent Design. They simply intended to show that God's handiwork could be uncovered in the natural world. Part of the reason this happened is that scientists like William Buckland, Adam Sedgwick and Charles Lyell began to see that the six-day account in the scriptures could not be reconciled with what was being discovered in the geological column. Sanders carefully does not mention this. From the Darwin Correspondence Project:

In comparing the work of Paley, Buckland, and Owen, it becomes clear that natural theology was not a single, unified tradition. There were in fact different, and to some degree competing, versions of natural theology.

Natural theology was also not without its own controversies. These were especially evident in geology. Discoveries of the fossil remains of extinct creatures, together with other evidence of the age of the earth presented in the work of Charles Lyell and others, challenged the literal reading of the creation story in Genesis. One reading of Genesis, for example, assigned each day of creation to a different geological epoch. Creation was viewed by some as a progressive unfolding, rather than as a single event. Further questions were raised about the role of God in relation to the operation of natural forces and laws.

The rest of the column is somewhat predictable, in that Sanders says that when Darwin went aboard the Beagle and began to examine the fossils:

He saw species as the product of change but not change following the global Flood. He saw rock strata as the product of processes but not processes stemming from the biblical catastrophe. He saw diverse kinds of plants and animals but did not recognize the gulf between distinct “kinds” that God had originally created.

He didn't recognize the gulf because no such gulf existed. This had already been established by the naturalists of the day. This is an example of "There have to be created, immutable kinds. Darwin did not recognize them, therefore Darwin was wrong."

To be fair, he does poke holes in a lot of the traditional creationist misconception about Darwin, including the "deathbed recant." That is good. The rest, however, is a treatise on how if you don't accept the six-day model, every conclusion you come to is wrong. There is no hint of the massive problems that the scientists of the day found in adhering to that model.

Michael Dowd: As Good As His Word

A few posts back, I questioned Rev. Michael Dowd's Christology pertaining to his book Thank God For Evolution. I was working off of an interview and had not read the book. Rev. Dowd got rightly upset and said that I should read the book before I formed an opinion. He has been nothing but gracious during our correspondences and, yesterday, as good as his word, I received a gratis copy of the book on my doorstep with a nice note inscribed on the title page. He also kindly threw in some DVDs of his lectures and study guides to boot. I look forward to reading it!

Friday, January 02, 2009

"12 Elegant Examples of Evolution"

Wired Online has a column called "12 Elegant Examples of Evolution" which has lots of neat illustrations and accompanying abstracts or stories. Read the whole thing.

Final Texas Science Standards Draft is a Winner

From the Star-Telegram:

Educators removed the "weaknesses" phrase in their first draft of the science curriculum. After a public hearing that attracted more than 200 speakers, the phrase was back in the second draft, but "weaknesses" was changed to "limitations."

The third and final draft says students should be able to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations. There is also a new requirement that students should be able "to evaluate models according to their limitations in representing biological objects or events," but it would take a mind-boggling leap for anyone to interpret that as applying to evolution, [Dan] Quinn said, particularly when viewed through the plan’s new definition of science.

The only catch is that, despite what the final draft says, the board is not required to use it. On the other hand, given all of the publicity this has raised, if they don't use it, they will have to explain why and that would just raise more questions about their competence. I still think McLeroy ought to be asked to step down since he clearly knows little about science.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Responding to a Comment about Marvin Lubenow's Book

A reader (Dr. T.) states the following in a comment:

I just wanted to leave a comment for visitors to this page. I truly appreciate the intellecual [sic] stimulation given by Lubenow in his book: Bones of Contention (2004, revised version). I truly enjoy the scientific and biochemical knowledge shared. It really does feel like I'm taking a college course! In fact, I am a graduate student studying clinical psychology, but I am first and foremost a Christian (raised a Christian by a grandfather who was a Pastor and mother who was a devout Christian) who fervently seeks well-supported information on creationism, religion and science, and God vs. "Lucy" or "African Eve."

Here is my response:

Dear Dr. T.
Thank you for your comments to this page. I also appreciate that you have read Marvin Lubenow's book Bones of Contention. Sadly, I cannot agree with your assessment of the book. During the course of reading it, I found an extraordinary number of errors that fell into several categories:
* Factual errors
* Logical errors
* Misinterpretations of theory and
* Use of out-of-date information.

For example:

Factual Error:
p. 80—“Simply put, evolutionists don’t know where the Neandertals came from or where they went. Just a few years ago, their beginnings were said to extend back only as far as 200,000 years. Now, thanks to a striking discovery in a cave in Spain (see chapter 20), the Neandertals may go back 800,000 years on the evolutionist time scale. Equally mysterious is their alleged rapid disappearance at about 34, 000.

The idea that evolutionists don’t know where Neandertals came from is false. We have fossil remains from the sites of Saccopastore, Arago, Steinheim, Swanscombe and Petralona which predate the classic Neandertal remains of Europe and for which it is easy to clearly see incipient Neandertal characteristics and it is reasonably clear that Neandertals came from one of these groups.

The Gran Dolina material (800 kya) does not show Neandertal characteristics. In fact, it is the lack of Neandertal characteristics that have led some researchers to hypothesize that Neandertals were an offshoot. The last Neandertal does not date to 34 kya, but to 27 kya at the site of Zafarraya. Lubenow has his information incorrect.

Logical Errors:
P. 34—“All experiments performed with present-day animals, plants, or biological molecules are equally flawed. They cannot prove or even support the alleged evolutionary processes of the past. The extensive use of present-day experiments to try to demonstrate evolution reveals that evolutionists do not understand the difference between scientific and historical evidence.”

The wrong-headedness of this statement is breathtaking. It completely wipes out the study of geology, palaeontology, astronomy, palaeoclimatology and other legitimate areas of science. It assumes that there is no uniformity to present and past processes. This is EXACTLY how these sciences work. This is a critical logical flaw in Lubenow’s thought processes. Current experiments are the key to the past because by doing current experiments, we can predict what will be found in the past. If we find it, we know we are on the right track.

An example would be a ballistics expert. He fires different kinds of bullets into different types of material to determine ballistic patterns. When a crime scene is examined, if any of these patterns appear, they investigators have a pretty good idea of what gun was used and how. He didn't have to be there to know this.This is how predictive science works. To dismiss this out of hand is ridiculous. It is difficult to believe that someone such as Lubenow has practiced science for as many years as he has and has not figured this out.

Misinterpretation of theory:
p. 215 par. 4—“Evolutionists insist that the evolutionary process is nondirectional. This is because mutations, the raw material of evolutionary change, are random. However, if you look at an evolutionary chart of the history of life, that chart is clearly directional

This is a fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. No practicing evolutionary biologist has ever stated that evolution is non-directional. While mutations are random, selection is not. It is directional, stabilizing or disruptive. That is a fundamental tenet.

Use of out-of-date information:
p. 81—“If Amud I was buried into layer BI, it follows that he cannot be older than layer BI but could be younger. The radiocarbon date for Upper B1 is just 5, 710 ya.”

Lubenow has missed a particularly important citation here. In an article by Rink, et al. in 2001, ESR and TL dating on six animal teeth recovered from the site yield ages of between 53 ± 7 kya for the B1 layer to 70 ± for the B4 layer. This firmly places the Neandertal at Amud in the range of Neandertals in Europe. Lubenow has gone out of his way to use the oldest date for this Neandertal that he can find. A revision means you go out and get the most up-to-date information.

The book is also astounding in its lack of accompanying citations. Numerous passages that attack evolutionary theory or the fossil record contain no citations to back up their claims. Here is an example:

p. 216 par. 2—“I discovered a number of well-documented cases of reversals in the fossil record of insects, worms, ammonites, fishes, mammals and humans. There were cases where organisms had seemingly gone from a specialized to a more generalized condition. Because the paleontological literature is so vast, I suspect that the results of my research were just the tip of the iceberg. I have no doubt that further research would reveal many more well-documented cases of reversals.

They are so well documented, he doesn’t bother to cite them. Where is this research? I've never seen it. Why is it not cited?

There are many, many, many other examples of these kinds of errors in the book and I do not have the space here to document them all. Hopefully, I can do that later. It was, quite frankly, difficult to get all of the way through it without throwing it down in disgust. Many times I could not tell if he was simply ignorant of the literature and the theory, intentionally selecting out-of-date information to bolster his (nonexistent) case, or being dishonest. I would like to not think the last option but there were many instances, notably in his lack of citations, where it was hard to conclude otherwise.

Sadly, this book is an example of what I have seen in recent creationist literature and it is no wonder that mainstream scientists do not take them seriously.

Just When I had Almost Given Up...

I had a conversation with a friend of mine from church tonight at a New Year's Eve party in which he expressed sympathy for the theistic evolutionary perspective. I honestly thought I was the only one at my church. I just don't talk about it.