Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jack Gohn of the Maryland Daily Record sees the light about Intelligent Design.

Turns out some of the things I thought were open issues really weren’t, most notably the extent to which ID was passable science. ID, in case you’ve tuned in late, is the theory that we can best account for “irreducible complexities” that appear in the course of evolution by inferring the activity of an intelligent designer, most likely God. Irreducible complexity would exist when an organism manifested a combination of features which seemed too complicated to have arisen simultaneously as mere products of random mutation.

As the Kitzmiller trial revealed, however, there were only three “exhibits” in this theory, the flagellum (a feature of cell biology), a “clotting sequence” in certain animals, and the immune system. And for each of them, the evidence at trial showed that science does after all have plausible explanations of how they arose from ordinary random mutation. Their complexity was not irreducible after all. Moreover, there is no peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting the ID theory. So at least for now, ID is bad science. There simply isn’t enough substance there yet for it to be recommended for serious consideration by any science teacher.

Where Kitzmiller left me unconvinced was the finding that ID isn’t science at all — as opposed to merely being bad science, which I now think it must be.

This is the persistent problem when people start digging into the ID literature--there isn't any.

A statement from the Association for Science Education on Intelligent Design.
Did Neandertals and modern humans interbreed? Maybe or maybe not say Jeffrey Wall and Sung Kim, who argue in PLoS Genetics that two prominent studies involving Neandertal nuclear DNA are flawed. Their online article is available here. The abstract states, in no uncertain terms:

Two recently published papers describe nuclear DNA sequences that were obtained from the same Neanderthal fossil. Our reanalyses of the data from these studies show that they are not consistent with each other and point to serious problems with the data quality in one of the studies, possibly due to modern human DNA contaminants and/or a high rate of sequencing errors.

If your data is flawed, it doesn't matter how good your study is.
A finding on a hox gene pushes common ancestry back even further. According to the story in Foxnews:

"[Zerina] Johanson and her colleagues found that the genes involved in creating the Australian lungfish's fins made proteins in a nearly identical pattern as in tetrapods by acting on the small fin bones but not the rest of the limb.

"Because of the similarities, we can say that fish fins have similar structures to tetrapod digits, [and that] tetrapod digits are no longer unique to the group," Johanson told LiveScience.

Further evidence of evolution in the works.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

According to a new Science study, there was no interbreeding between Neandertals and early modern humans.

The findings are based on a new DNA study, which involved Italian, Spanish and German scientists, who examined fossilised bones found in the northern Italian mountains near Verona and a cave in Asturia, Spain.

I'll believe it when I see it. The Science article is not out yet, but I will check on it when it does come out.
There will be a creation/evolution debate in Dothan, Alabama on November 29 at the Dothan Opera House, as reported in the Christian News Wire.
Sadly, Ming is dead.
Well, this is certainly a different take on evolution. According to an article in the Daily mail:

The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

100,000 years into the future, sexual selection could mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed. The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000.

Similarities to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine did not go unnoticed by the Daily Mail writer, who waxes at length about it. Funny, the recent version of the film with Guy Pearce got panned, but I rather enjoyed it. Curry, himself, is part of the Evolutionary Moral Psychology Group, which, based on their web page, looks like sociobiology on steroids.

Monday, October 29, 2007

As B.C. would say: " A quahog is a quahog is a quahog!!!" Ming the quahog is over 400 years old. Or as Shel Silverstein put it:

"You may leave the Clam on the ocean floor
It's all the same to the Clam.
For a hundred thousand years or more,
It's all the same to the Clam.
You may bury him deep in mud or muck,
Or carry him round to bring you luck.
Or use him for a hockey puck.
It's all the same to the Clam.

You may call him Frank or Jim or Nell
It's all the same to the Clam.
Or make an ashtray from his shell.
It's all the same to the clam.
You may take him riding on a train
or leave him sitting in the rain.
You'll never hear the Clam complain.
It's all the same to the Clam.

Yes the world may stop or the world may spin
It's all the same to the Clam.
And the sky may come a fallin' in
It's all the same to the Clam.
And man may sing his endless songs,
of wronging rights and righting wrongs.
The Clam just sets - and gets along.
It's all the same to the Clam."
The Guardian's Steve Jones extols the virtue of comparative skeletal anatomy to show the beauty of natural selection.

Friday, October 26, 2007

At least some Neandertals had red hair. According to the story:

An analysis of the DNA revealed that the ancient hominids carried a mutation in the MC1R gene that codes for a protein involved in the production of melanin -- a substance that gives skin its color and also protects skin against ultraviolet light.

In modern humans, primarily of European descent, mutations in the MC1R gene are thought to be responsible for red hair and pale skin by dampening the activity of the protein.

This lends credence to the idea that skin and hair color variations are older than modern humans, which makes sense.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Josh Rosenau ruminates on Panglossian creationism. In some senses, the modern ID movement is "argument from personal incredulity"-driven. Without saying as much, Rosenau suggests this weakness.

According to a widely circulated story, a new study on Saint Bernards casts doubt on creationism. The story notes:

Biologists at The University of Manchester say that changes to the shape of the breed’s head over the years can only be explained through evolution and natural selection.

The team, led by Dr Chris Klingenberg in the Faculty of Life Sciences, examined the skulls of 47 St Bernards spanning 120 years, from modern examples to those of dogs dating back to the time when the breed standard was first defined.

They go on to note:

“Creationism is the belief that all living organisms were created according to Genesis in six days by ‘intelligent design’ and rejects the scientific theories of natural selection and evolution.

“But this research once again demonstrates how selection – whether natural or, in this case, artificially influenced by man – is the fundamental driving force behind the evolution of life on the planet.”

Here's the problem: This is microevolution. The vast majority of creationists do not doubt or argue against microevolution. They are perfectly content with changes within "kinds." Those changes could span a thousand years and it wouldn't matter. So the title of the story is erroneous.
Mrs. Ples gets a makeover--an extreme makeover!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More on the story from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Florida has new evolution standards for the classroom, according to a story in the Bradenton Herald. This is the paragraph of the story that will raise the most stink:

Proposed standards for seventh-graders, for example, would require that students should be able to "recognize and describe that fossil evidence is consistent with the idea that human beings evolved from earlier species."

Most creationists can handle little bits of evolution here and there, but there will be howling about this one.
A local push for hominid status for Orrorin tugenensis as well as a run-down on its discovery.

Happy Birthday to Us!

Today the world turns 6 011 years old, according to the Ussher/Lightfoot chronology. Sing happy birthday at least once today.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Vitter yanks the money.
There is now a concerted effort to ask that the funding for the Louisiana Family Forum be yanked. It is quite possible that had the Forum not make its viewpoint on evolution public, this would have gone unnoticed.
Neandertal speech makes a comeback!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oldest footprints in Europe restored:

Archaeologists have restored and opened to the public, footprints made between 325,000 and 385,000 years ago on the slopes of an extinct volcano near Roccamonfina, north of Naples.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Creationism in Canadian churches. The Toronto Star interviews traveling creationist Tas Walker as he makes his way across Canada with the following message:

When Tas Walker hits the stage, he focuses on the geological evidence that supposedly supports creationist belief that the Earth was created on Sunday Oct. 23, 4004 BC, and that this event was soon followed by a global flood that only Noah's family survived in the Ark.

Walker, himself, is quoted as saying:

"Creationists accept the same science that evolutionists do," he says. "Creationists and evolutionists have the same set of facts. The difference is all about the starting assumptions and the interpretation of those facts."

This is nothing short of ignorant. It is the same nonsense peddled by Ken Ham, who is also famous for asking the question "Were you there?" No, Ken and neither were you. If 9 999 people come to the same conclusion about some phenomenon, the one person who doesn't is likely wrong, not just coming to "a different interpretation" of the facts.
While no one was looking, Answers in Genesis erected signs telling people how to get to the new creationism museum in Petersburg. According to the story in the Cincinnati Post:

Answers in Genesis simply took advantage of a benefit available to any other major Kentucky tourist attraction. If you want signs for your attraction, you have to persuade a state committee of transportation and commerce cabinet officials. You must have some kind of cultural, historical, recreational, agricultural, educational or entertainment center.

This, apparently, AIG did, paying 5 000 dollars for each sign. Barry Lynn is not happy.
So, it is the lack of sex that causes speciation. Who knew?

Friday, October 12, 2007

The National Council for Social Studies has released a position statement on the teaching of Intelligent Design in the classroom. They state:

Although the National Council for the Social Studies believes in the open and thoughtful discussion of ideas, public school classrooms are not the place for the teaching of religious beliefs. Social studies is the forum for open analysis and discussion of historical, social, economic, geographic, political and global issues. Thus our recommendations seek to include the study of intelligent design within that framework.

Within this framework, they give some very good advice on how ID could be taught. Interestingly, no attempt is made to distinguish between ID and recent earth creationism. This gives the impression of equivalence between them. ID is no science, YEC is bad science.
Nova will air a special called “Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial” on November 13, 2007. Here is the link.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Eugene Volokh discusses a poll about college professors and their philosophical affiliations. The money quote:

According to the survey of academics' ideology linked in my previous post, "creationist identity was also low, but with less identifiable shift by age group (the range was 3.9 to 4.7 percent) and with the strongest disciplinary support in the social sciences (17.6 percent) and humanities (5.0 percent), with negligible support elsewhere.

I am not surprised.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The oldest footprints in Europe.

Italian scientists have dated the marks, which appear to include hand prints, at more than 350,000 years ago, making them part of the genus Homo.

Footsteps of pre-human hominids have been found in Africa, dating back millions of years, but the Italian ones are the oldest traces of human steps - the most exciting discovery in years.

It doesn't mean they belonged to Homo sapiens, modern man, but probably European Homo erectus (also called Homo heidelbergensis), who was around well before the Neanderthals.

Whereas twenty years ago there was scant evidence for Homo erectus in Europe, now it is popping up all over the place.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Militant Atheists are Wrong." So says LA Times columnist Lee Siegel. Although I could quibble with some of his points, this paragraph seems particularly on-target:

Voltaire and his colleagues attacked the dominant values of their day, at great risk to themselves. By almost comical contrast, the new anti-religionists are safely needling the dominant liberal culture's favorite bete noire. They are publishing their books in an atmosphere of complacency and self-congratulation; they preach to the secular converted, who are buying the books in droves. I'm not a particularly religious person. These arguments don't offend me or my beliefs. But they make me concerned nevertheless, because I think they strike a blow against something more important (at least to me) than belief in God. In their contempt for any belief that cannot be scientifically or empirically proved, the anti-God books are attacking our inborn capacity to create value and meaning for ourselves.

Read the whole thing.
The Daily Mail gets into it.
Europeans can't seem to get worked up about radical Islam, but they sure can get their bowels in an uproar about creationism.
Josh Rosenau is having more fun with the Discovery Institute.
Professor Michael Reiss of London University's Institute for Education thinks that creationism should be taught in public schools. He takes a unique approach:

In a book published yesterday which collates the views of various academics about the controversy, he argues: "I am not convinced that something being 'non-scientific' is sufficient to disqualify it from being considered in a science lesson."

I have long thought that if YECs really thought long and hard about it, having their ideas about the creation of the earth and Noah's flood would be the last thing they would want taught in public schools in science class. It would open them up to rigorous evaluation, which would expose them for the pseudoscience that they are. Given that the public schools are already hostile to Christian teaching (of any kind, it seems), this would have a disastrous effect.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The makers of Expelled fight back.

"I've never seen a bigger bunch of hypocrites in my life," said [Mark] Mathis, who set up the interviews for EXPELLED. "I went over all of the questions with these folks before the interviews and I e-mailed the questions to many of them days in advance. The lady (and gentleman) doth protest too much, methinks."

I will be curious to see it.
Winning over the masses, one scientist at a time, Hillary Clinton backs the teaching of evolution in schools in an NYT article somewhere on their site. Too bad the rest of her is so scary.
European parliamentarians demonstrating that, while they might know creationism when they see it, have no idea what "human rights" are.
Troy Patterson over at Slate is even less kind toward the show:

Our cavemen are diligent upper-middle-class consumers. Note the mentions of cognac and panini presses and caramel biscotti, and check out the scene on the squash court, and then wonder what is up at ABC. One suspects that Cavemen will be gone from the schedule soon enough, but how long will the network's zany experiments in packaging yuppie-male anxiety grind on?

The show does seem to be in keeping with Hollywood's generally jaded view of men.
A bad review for ABC's Caveman, even if you don't buy the racial complaints.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The October issue of First Things has an article called "God and Evolution" by Avery Cardinal Dulles, in which he addresses the different theoretical constructs commonly known as atheistic naturalism, theistic evolution and Intelligent Design. Although he is somewhat sympathetic to the notions of I D supporter Michael Behe's "irreducible complexity," he notes the same thing that Kenneth Miller notes:

As a matter of policy, it is imprudent to build one’s case for faith on what science has not yet explained, because tomorrow it may be able to explain what it cannot explain today. History teaches us that the “God of the gaps” often proves to be an illusion.

He also has a wonder rejoinder for people like Dawkins and E.O. Wilson, who think that religious belief is a human construct that has "evolved" over time:

Some evolutionists contend that morality and religion arise, evolve, and persist according to Darwinian principles. Religion, they say, has survival value for individuals and communities. But this alleged survival value, even if it be real, tells us nothing about the truth or falsity of any moral or religious system. Since questions of this higher order cannot be answered by science, philosophy and theology still have an essential role to play.

It is a good article.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Josh Rosenau asks "Is it a lie if you ought to know better, but don't?"
Eric Cline of the Boston Globe states that Biblical archaeology is too important to leave to the "enthusiast" crowd. His is a pretty good run-down of recent "discoveries" that turn out to be nothing of the sort. I don't remember who said it but one of my favorite quotes is "there is enough wood from the original cross of Jesus lying around to build an ark." Cline notes:

Biblical archaeologists are suddenly finding themselves in a position similar to the evolutionary biologists fighting intelligent design - an entire parallel version of their field is being driven by religious belief, not research principles. The biologists' situation makes the risk clear - they did not deign to mount a public refutation of the "science" of intelligent design for years, until it was almost too late, and thus anti-evolutionary science began making its way into the public schools.

The problem seems to be lack of engagement:

When most archaeologists and biblical scholars hear that someone has (yet again) discovered Noah's Ark, they roll their eyes and get on with their business. This can leave the impression that the report might be true.

The problem is, as John Derbeyshire noted in reference to evolution, debating these "reports" is like playing whack-a-mole. Read the whole thing.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Reason Online takes aim at Ben Stein for the recent ID film dust-up. While it appears that Ben Stein has bought into the nonsense that evolutionary theory leads to racism, violence and the possibility of the Cubs winning the World Series, Ron Bailey's argument is largely unpersuasive.
Neandertals as far east as China? That is what a new study is suggesting. eNews reports :

Geneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and colleagues compared mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from bones found from two sites -- one in Teshik Tash, Uzbekistan and the other from the Altai Mountains in Siberia -- with those of specimens from different European sites.

Scientists looking at the morphology of the remains from the central Asian sites have long disagreed as to whether they came from Neanderthals or Homo sapiens sapiens, the species name for modern man. Paabo's results settle the debate. The study, published in the British journal Nature, confirms that the adult fossils -- about 40,000 years old -- from Okladnikov Cave in Siberia genetically match the European Neanderthal.

The thought then, is that if they got to Siberia, they most likely got further south, into China.