NTS LogoSkeptical News for 3 December 2006

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Once more into the breach - the Intelligent Design debate continues


Things have been a little quiet around here lately... a little too quiet. The deluge of creationist objections to my posts seem to have abated for the moment, but I did notice a new blog here on ProgressiveU today about Intelligent Design. I attempted to comment, but for whatever reason it did not go through so I thought I would dissect it here, being this is a public forum after all. The post entitled "Intelligent Design is Leading Edge Science" by Homunculus is posted below, with my comments dispered throughout, but I would reccomend looking at the original article and give the poster some reads as well (it's only fair right?) Anyway, here we go again...

"It is hard to understand how individuals who fancy themselves progressives are so closed minded to seeing the truth about Darwinian evolution."

Oh deary me, I appear to be non-progressive. It'll be interesting to finally hear the truth about evolution everyone's been talking about.

"Yes, it began several centuries ago as a theory that seemed reasonable. Man's scientific technology at that time was little better than stone age."

The idea of evolution can be traced as far back as some Greek thinkers like Artistotle, but Darwin's theory of natural selection was not proposed until On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Stuggle for Life was published in 1859 (only about 150 years ago). Granted, we have advanced much in the past 150 years but I wouldn't say we were just barely beyond the discovery of fire either.

"But in the 21st century we know better. Today we have really good microscopes, telescopes that view the cosmos from space and computers that can do calculations impossible by the old methods. The reality, no matter how much it galls secularist, is that Darwinian evolution (and the "neo" form for nit-pickers) is flat-earth science; or maybe the example of the homunculus is better."

Just to clarify, the new evolutionary synthesis (often called Neo-Darwinism) was an attempt to merge Mendel's discoveries about genetics, Darwin's theory of natural selection, the role of random mutation, and mathematical population genetics. This new synthesis was in the making between the time Darwin published and the 1940's, and we have come a long way since that time. More than dogma, it was an attempt to integrate interrelated fields like anatomy, population studies, genetics, etc. to get a fuller picture of evolution. Even so, there are parts of agreement and disagreement, but it would be foolish to lump all scientists together under the name neo-Darwinists as this is misleading unless you provide the proper background on the evolutionary synthesis.

"The homunculus was considered to be the proper explanation of how sexual reproduction in humans worked; there was a "little man" inside the sperm. At fertilization, the little man entered the sanctity of the female egg, grew into a baby and was born into the world. Leading edge scientists believed this many moons ago. But obviously science has proven otherwise. Science is full of countless other firmly believed theories now on the ash heap of history."

There have been various forms and interpretations of homunculi over time, including a golem-like creature thought up by an alcehmist or sensory/motor homunculi. The one you're referring to here was conjoured up in 1654 by Nicolas Hartsoeker and has long since been rejected. If anything this shows us that science should NOT invoke the supernatural when we don't understand something and it applies more to the pseudoscience of ID than to evolution.

"So why is Darwinism so hard to shake? Because it is not just about science; it is because it carries with it metaphysical ramifications that stir the cultural pot; theism versus atheism. And in today's world, once you start down the road of "religion", politics is not far behind. So unlike the days of decorum, when polite company did not discuss religion or politics, discussions on evolution inevitably lead to a culture war food fight."

This is a pretty muddled statement, but once again, evolution does not make any demand of atheism. You can be a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever you like and still agree with evolution. Evolution is a natural explanation that does not require one prior belief or another. If it didn't have anything to do with mankind, it would be a non-issue, but man has always been trying to elevate himself about the rest of life on the planet and believe he is a special creation. I do not have a problem with calling such a belief philosophy, but it is not science.

"Darwinism has more problems than it has proofs."

Ok, I'll bite. What are some of the many problems? What are the proofs? Why are the inconsistent? This is a blind statement with nothing to back it up unless you provide some examples.

"Just read Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells."

I have, and I'm still apologizing to my brain for it. The book is one of the worst polemics against science I've ever seen, with Wells essentially claiming that all evolutionary scientists are stuck in the late 1800's. Also, it's important to keep in mind Wells has stated that he decided to make destroying evolution his life's work because of the crazy church he goes to; The Unification Church (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unification_church) Just a preview of the craziness that goes on there from their leader Sun Myung Moon

"In early July I spoke in five cities around Korea at rallies held by the Women's Federation for World Peace. There, I declared that my wife, WFWP President Hak Ja Han Moon, and I are the True Parents of all humanity. I declared that we are the Savior, the Lord of the Second Advent, the Messiah." -- Reverend Moon, Unification News

Yes, that's the same Rev. Moon that raised money to send Wells to get his PhD with the specific aim of using the three letters after his name to give him credibility and attempt to "destroy evolution."

"Regardless of the bile and vitriol spouted by those gored by Well's proofs of Darwinian hoaxes, his book is untouched by relevant criticism. In other words, it is true, and has been acknowledged as such even by terrorist evolutionists like Richard Dawkins."

Wells has been thoroughly discredited again and again. I would suggest checking out the latest dissection of Wells' new piece of garbage at The Panda's Thumb (www.pandasthumb.org)

"Ultimately the point is this: Darwinism is bad science, full of errors. These problems are called "gaps" by evolutionary apologists."

What are the errors? Also, I assume you're talking about the fossil record here. Well, guess what? 99% of anything that ever lived has gone extinct, and we're lucky to have fossils as it is. We will never have a 100% complete fossil record of every creature that ever lived, but we work with what we've got and DESPITE the gaps we can still make connections and see evolution occurring. Perhaps the best contemporary example is the evolution of tetrapods, as in the last 20 years scientists have filled many gaps (and are continuing to do so as we speak!)

"But for open-minded scientists without a metaphysical axe to grind,"

Hahaha, that's too funny. ID advocates don't have a metaphysical axe to grind? Just read the Wedge Document put out by the Discovery Institute. It's full of statement about destorying materialism in order to change the philosophy of America (and then, the world).

"the problems with Darwinism are proofs of its failure. If the "Theory of Evolution" were new science today, it would never get past the metal detectors at the peer review board, so great are its errors. Again, Darwinism survives today because it is the last platform for naturalism and ultimately atheism."

Once again, you offer no proof and this is blind assertion. Science is always up to resteting and verification. We're not obligated to keep anything that doesn't work, and guess what? As we get more information the ground for evolutionary change keeps getting firmer. It's not going anywhere.

"Meanwhile, two years ago the worlds most influential atheist, Antony Flew, renounced his 50 plus years of atheist beliefs in favor of...Intelligent Design! Flew's rationale is the same as that of all open-minded people (true progressives)."

Who are you to define who is or isn't progressive? Is it possible to have an open mind and (gasp) disagree about things? Also, I have not previously heard about Antony Flew, but he now seems to be a deist more than anything else, doubting supernatural intervention. How is this compatible with intelligent design? I shall look into this further, but just because Antony Flew changed his mind about the existence of God doesn't mean ID is any better off.

"Flew follows Aristotle in "going where the evidence leads". Flew changed the forward of his seminal work God and Philosophy last year, explaining that Intelligent Design scientific analysis had demonstrated the necessity of an intelligent designer that he described as "god". He states in the forward that God and Philosophy must now be viewed from an historical perspective, given atheism's demise and the necessity of a Creator.

Those blinded by their paradigms of naturalism will not see the empirically clean work of the scientists working in the field of Intelligent Design."

Um, they haven't done any emprically clean work and they refuse to tell scientists if there is any. It's emprically dirty because it's basing its findings on a God of the Gaps philosophy, expecting to find complex structures and then not explain them.

"Intelligent Design is about identifying design in nature that cannot possibly be a product of neo-Darwinian mechanisms and theory."

Nature made such designs, and scientists are trying to explain how through natural means. I have yet to see any ID argument that does not refer back to something we KNOW is designed (like Mt. Rushmore, a car, a motorcycle, etc) as an example. It's a philosophical assertion with an intended philosophical end; just because they throw some big words around doesn't mean there's real science to back it up.

"In the real world, such design only comes from an intelligent source. Flew calls the designer "god". ID scientists call it "designed by an intelligent source". Paradigm-bound political zealots shout "creationists", then cover the proven hoaxes of evolution shamelessly (see Icons of Evolution)."

You're right that ID doesn't name a designer, and that's one of its biggest weaknesses. Could it be aliens? God? Scientists in the future with a time machine? Your mother? Nobody in the ID camp knows, all they can say is that intelligence is involved at some point (we can't say at which point). It's also ironic that the major ID advocates are all Christians or Jews of one denomination or another and that creationists have co-opted ID arguments. ID is useless as it says that we are designed, so we should feel better about ourselves, but without a paradigm of religion to pair ID with it's utterly useless.

"Open minds will allow ID to have its say and let it stand or fall of the veracity of its science, instead of being shouted down by ideologues."

Like I said, I philosophically have no problem with ID and I read every new thing they come out with, but I'm still not convinced. Keeping an open mind doesn't mean accepting every ill-formed criticism someone comes up with because of their worldview.

"If the science is good (as it has been to this point), people will follow where the truth leads. If it is problematic, those will be exposed. If it is false, it will be rejected."

It's already been thoroughly rejected by biologists, genetecists, paleontologists, geologists, mathematicians, etc. I would encourage ID researchers to try and come up with some REAL data if they think they're right, but ID is by no means on equal footing with any real science.

"Of course, evolution must be held to the same high standard; to date evolution gets a pass on empiricism. Progressive minds should always want to know, never to cover simply for the case of ideology. I recommend everyone to follow the long-established principle of genius and insight: learn the facts and change your straight-jacket paradigm to line up with them. That is progressive and that is reality."

And I would reccomend that you research both sides of the argument rather than just go along with Wells or Behe or Dembski or anyone else because the idea appeals to you. Until you can read something by the other side of the argument and say why it's wrong, then what good is your opinion? You are certainly entitled to it and I urge people to speak out about what they're passionate about, but it doesn't seem like you've done your homework on this debate and just made some assertions based upon prior assumptions from your worldview. In any case, the debate will continue I'm sure, but just because I don't accept the condescending paternalism of ID as science doesn't mean I'm not "progressive" either.

Evolution and Altruism


The War of All Against All

By Chuck Colson Christian Post Guest Columnist

In the new novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, an unnamed catastrophe has wiped out most of humanity. What remains is a colorless, lifeless shell where "long lines of charred and rusting cars," filled with incinerated corpses, sit "in a stiff gray sludge of melted rubber."

The survivors find themselves living in what Thomas Hobbes called "the war of all against all": scrounging for food while avoiding their fellow men, many of whom have turned to cannibalism.

Among the survivors are the unnamed protagonists of the novel: a man and his 10-year-old son who was born after the catastrophe. As the father tells his son, "I was appointed by God to [take care of you]. I will kill anyone who touches you." At the same time, he wants to preserve his son's goodness, which is next-to-impossible in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. In the novel's world, the boy's survival depends on his father eradicating his altruistic impulses. The man must teach his son that being willing to "give that little boy half of my food" is a bad idea.

McCarthy's protagonist isn't the only one who has trouble reconciling our survival instinct with our capacity for altruism. As the philosopher David Stove pointed out, altruism—the willingness, that is, to sacrifice for others—is obviously disadvantageous in what Darwin called "the struggle for life." In a world where the goal is to pass on your selfish gene, helping someone else pass on theirs makes no sense.

While Darwin himself never acknowledged the difficulty posed by altruism, his acolytes and disciples did. Their responses led to the creation of the discipline known variously as "evolutionary psychology" or "sociobiology."

Whatever it's called, the evolutionary "explanation" for altruism is basically the same: It's really selfishness in disguise. When the son offers to give away half of his food, it's not goodness—it's a kind of enlightened self-interest. We do what we perceive as "good" for others so that they, in turn, might do the same for us and, thus, increase both of our chances for survival.

Of course, the transaction being described isn't "altruism" at all; it's called "cooperation." It's the stuff of zebras and baboons, both of which live in large groups for mutual protection and neither of which would knowingly sacrifice its life to save another's.

But in the Darwinian scheme, true altruism "has no place in nature." When you start from the assumption that our behavior is the product of "selfish genes," then you must agree with the sociobiologist who wrote "scratch an 'altruist' and watch a hypocrite bleed."

Little wonder that Stove called Darwinism, especially sociobiology, a "ridiculous slander on human beings." Darwinism not only cannot account for what is most essentially human—that is, things like altruism and music—it insists on denigrating them, as well.

In contrast, Christians understand that while we are born with the capacity for selfishness and even cruelty, we are also capable of caring for others. Because we are created in the image of God, we not only don't have to be at war with our neighbors, we can willingly die for them, as well.

From BreakPoint®, November 28, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

N.La. board policy "next wave of attack by anti-evolution forces"


12/1/2006, 3:42 p.m. CT The Associated Press

MONROE, LA. (AP) — The new science policy for public schools in one north Louisiana parish is "an underhanded way to undercut the theory of evolution" now that courts have barred both creationism and intelligent design from school courses, says the head of a national group.

"This is, I think, the next wave of attack by anti-evolution forces to get their materials into public schools," Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Friday.

The policy adopted Wednesday night for Ouachita Parish was enthusiastically backed by officials with the Louisiana Family Forum, which gives its mission as "to persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking."

It does not mention either creationism, which holds that God created life, or intelligent design, which accepts evolution as a source of variety in life but contends that life itself is too complex to be anything but the creation of some vast intelligence.

What it does, said Lynn, is open the way for teachers to discuss them as reasonable alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

The policy states that the district "understands that the teaching of some scientific subjects such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning, can cause controversy and that some teachers may be unsure of the district's expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects."

To that end, it says, "teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

Its introduction includes a statement which Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., failed to get written into the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001," but did get into a conference committee report filed with it.

"Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution)," it says, "the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society."

That is based on a false premise, Lynn said: "That is, that there's a scientific controversy about evolution. There isn't a scientific controversy. There's a religious one. There's no need to invite teachers — as I think this does — invite teachers to talk about creationism, talk about intelligent design as if they were alternatives to evolution, which they are not."

Much of the debate is based on the word "theory". In general speech, it's used to mean something that isn't proven; the assumption is that therefore evolution is still just a guess.

But a scientific theory must be based on a hypothesis that can be tested to show whether it is true or false. A theory is considered reliable if it can be tested through experiments and used to predict something that actually occurs.

Creationism and intelligent design both are based on an assumption that is outside of science because it cannot be tested, proved or disproved: That, at its beginning, life was created, whether by God or some unknown intelligence.



2 December 2006

CHILDREN are being put at risk by alternative medicine, it was claimed yesterday.

Doctor James McLay dismissed homeopathic remedies as "magic" and insisted their use could lead to under-treatment of kids.

According to the first national survey, almost two-thirds of GPs hand out homeopathic treatments.

And it found that the most vulnerable group - children under 12 months - were also the most likely to have them prescribed.

Yesterday, Dr McLay, an Aberdeen University academic, said: "The unthinking use of these medicines can lead to, or has the potential for, harm.

"There is no good database on their use - the whole thing about homeopathy is totally illogical."

The study of prescribing data for almost two million patients from 2003-04 was carried out by Aberdeen University.

Local Louisiana School Board Praised for Adopting Policy Protecting Teachers Who Teach Evolution Objectively


Friday December 1, 8:14 pm ET

MONROE, La., Dec. 1 /PRNewswire/ -- The Ouachita Parish School Board in Louisiana drew praise this week for adopting a Resolution on Teacher Academic Freedom to Teach Scientific Evidence Regarding Controversial Scientific Subjects. The policy states in part that "teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

"We're very happy to see them take a stand protecting the academic freedom of teachers to answer student questions and discuss scientific issues in the classroom," said Casey Luskin, an attorney and education policy specialist with Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "Teachers are the real winners in this case because they now have clear protection to help their students analyze all aspects of controversial scientific issues without worrying whether or not they will be fired or censored by their school district."

The policy was passed after teachers expressed a desire for clarification of their rights. Ouachita Parish supported those teachers by noting that the Board "understands that the teaching of some scientific subjects such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning, can cause controversy and that some teachers may be unsure of the district's expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects."

"There is a disturbing trend of teachers, students and scientists coming under attack for questioning evolution," said Luskin. "Free speech and academic freedom are cherished principles in America and too important to be sacrificed to the intolerant demands of extremists on any issue."

Discovery Institute is the nation's leading public policy center that defends the rights of teachers and students to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. The Institute has a national program to defend the rights of scientists, teachers, and students who are being threatened because they dare to raise critical questions about evolution. For more information, visit www.discovery.org/csc .

About Discovery Institute

Discovery Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, public-policy, think tank which promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Current projects include: technology, the economy, science and culture, regional transportation, and the bi-national region of "Cascadia." http://www.discovery.org/ .

Source: Discovery Institute

Friday, December 01, 2006

Fanatics in the classroom


28 November 2006

Read Peter Hitchens only in The Mail on Sunday

The left-wing Guardian newspaper is in a state about what it calls "creationist teaching materials" being used in British schools. What is this row really about? What does "creationism" mean? Why does hardly anyone discuss it honestly?

The cause of the controversy is a concept called 'Intelligent design' (ID). Unlike most British journalists, I have spent some time in the parts of the USA where this idea is popular, and have talked to its supporters as well as to its opponents. I touched on this a few months ago when Archbishop Rowan Williams came out against ID, and I'd like to go into a bit more deeply now.

For what I noticed (as I have also observed over the global warming controversy) is that the people on one side of this dispute tend to misrepresent the other side. Rational scientists who are doubtful about Darwinism are abused. And expressions such as 'Creationism' are used to suggest that a complex, nuanced position is in fact a crude Hillbilly superstition.

I think this form of intolerance is always a bad sign. For instance, it is the fury of the pro-MMR people against the MMR sceptics, and the way they try to stoke up unjustified panics about measles, that has always made me suspect that there might be a problem with this injection.

If you cannot give an honest account of your opponent's position, then you cannot argue properly against him. If you lose your temper with him, and seek to shut him up, then you are revealing your weakness, not his.

Now, there is no doubt that some of the people behind the campaign for 'Intelligent Design' are passionately religious. Well, so what? Religious belief is a legitimate position of choice, held to by many of the greatest minds who have ever lived (including many scientists) and in my view religion is the foundation of all morality, art, literature and culture. The Darwinist theory of evolution seems to me to knock religion on the head. If Darwin is right, the realm of nature was produced out of random, undirected chaos, in which case we have invented God, and there is no reason why any idea, action or work of art should be considered superior to any other.

I am sure some supporters of ID do so for tactical reasons, and actually believe (but keep quiet about their belief) that the Genesis account of the creation of the world is literally true, and is an accurate and factual description of events - that the Earth was made in six days and is only a few thousand years old. This I, and many other Christians, do not agree with. I think the scientific evidence on the age of the planet simply contradicts this view.

But what's interesting is that many of the Genesis people, who control large funds, will not support the campaign for ID - because ID refuses to endorse the 'Young Earth' Bible literalist position. Now, when people turn down the possibility of generous cash aid, that seems to me to suggest that principle is involved.

ID, whose opponents haven't bothered to find out much about it because they already know it's balderdash, is not in fact an all-embracing theory about the origin of species. Darwinists seem to have thought they needed to have such a theory, since they had overthrown centuries of Christian orthodoxy. So, rather than just sticking to their basic and unquestionable point, that the Church could no longer claim that certainty was on its side, they developed a complete explanation of everything, which has been under constant revision ever since as new facts have come to light or - just as important - failed to come to light.

Perhaps this is why evolutionists assume that their opponents also have an all-embracing theory that explains in detail how the realm of nature came to be as it is. Well, they used to, but they mostly do not any more. The original opponents of Darwin tried to stick to the Biblical theory. But they were defeated not by Darwin but by the growing body of scientific proof that the Earth is far too old for the Bible account to be literally true. Many ID supporters concede all that. What they say is much more subtle.

They examine various organisms in the light of the latest science, and argue that it is highly improbable that such organisms could have evolved as Darwinists believe. This is the theory of 'irreducible complexity;' advanced by the microbiologist Michael Behe (pronounced 'Beehee').

Behe cannot be certain that his chosen examples were not produced through natural selection, but he maintains that - for this to happen - an extraordinary number of changes would have needed to take place simultaneously. This is because of the interdependence of the parts of the organism, pointless on their own, all of which would have had to alter at once to have any evolutionary purpose. Behe' has written a book 'Darwin's Black Box', which goes into this theory. Darwin was unaware of this problem because in his lifetime the scientific knowledge did not exist. The question is one of probability, rather than certainty (and in fact all evolutionary theory can only be about probability or improbability, since the process - in the majestic form suggested by Darwin - has not been, and cannot be observed, and therefore cannot be tested against the theory or used to predict events).

Behe and his supporters are not trying to produce a mirror image of Darwinism, in which the hand of a Creator can be observed at work - as you might think from the rage and fury of the liberals who complain when schools propose to include 'ID' in their classes. All they are doing is casting doubt on the supposed certainties of Darwinism, and using advanced scientific knowledge to do so. If Darwinists are as secure in their beliefs as they claim to be, they should easily be able to see off the ID proponents, in school or out of it, without suppressing, abusing or misrepresenting anyone. And surely the fact that some scientists question Darwin's theory is itself an interesting fact, which any inquisitive mind ought to be informed about. What good does it do to hide the existence of a scientific disagreement from the young?

Yet the evolutionists trumpet and bellow about this small, modest challenge, like an enormous elephant panicking over the presence of a mouse. I wonder why.

28 November 2006 | Permalink

British Writer Sees Darwinism as "Enormous Elephant Panicking Over the Presence of a Mouse"


Some of the recent reporting on the evolution debate in the UK has been less than accurate. Looks like we're not the only ones to notice. Peter Hitchens had an insightful op-ed in The Mail last Sunday looking at why it is that some many in Britian are up in arms about the possiblity of schools teaching criticisms of Darwin as well as the argument for intelligent design. He rightly points out that proponents of ID are, for the most part, misrepresented in recent reporting.

For what I noticed (as I have also observed over the global warming controversy) is that the people on one side of this dispute tend to misrepresent the other side. Rational scientists who are doubtful about Darwinism are abused. And expressions such as 'Creationism' are used to suggest that a complex, nuanced position is in fact a crude Hillbilly superstition.

I think this form of intolerance is always a bad sign.

He goes on to point out that ID is not a theory of everything, but rather a theory that challenges one key aspect of Darwinism, namely the claim that it can account for the complexity of life and the universe through natural selection and random mutation alone. According to Hitchens:

All they are doing is casting doubt on the supposed certainties of Darwinism, and using advanced scientific knowledge to do so. If Darwinists are as secure in their beliefs as they claim to be, they should easily be able to see off the ID proponents, in school or out of it, without suppressing, abusing or misrepresenting anyone.

He sums it up nicely at the end.

Yet the evolutionists trumpet and bellow about this small, modest challenge, like an enormous elephant panicking over the presence of a mouse. I wonder why.

Read the whole piece here.

Posted by Robert Crowther on November 30, 2006 1:33 PM | Permalink

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Marine Life Leaped From Simple to Complex After Greatest Mass Extinction


By ANDREW C. REVKIN Published: November 28, 2006

At least five mass extinctions, most presumably caused by asteroids that struck the earth, have transformed global ecology in the half-billion years since the emergence of multicelled life, lopping entire branches from the evolutionary tree and causing others to flourish.

Moreover, it happened quite suddenly, according to the study, which was led by scientists at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and published in the current issue of the journal Science. The shift to complicated, interrelated ecosystems was more like a flip of a switch than a slow trend.

The researchers detected the change by analyzing records of marine fossils from 1,176 sites around the world, which are part of a new international archive, the Paleobiology Database (pbdb.org).

They found that marine life before the biggest global die-off, the Permo-Triassic extinction, was evenly split into two types of communities: simple ones, in which most species were anchored in place and got by without interacting with neighbors (like eating them or being eaten by them), and complex ones, with many interrelationships.

But since then, complex communities filled with grazers, scavengers, predators, burrowers and other mobile creatures have been three times as common as simple ones, said Peter J. Wagner, the lead author of the study.

The shift essentially took the oceans from a norm in which anchored (or sessile) creatures, including brachiopods and sea lilies, filtered food carried in currents to one dominated by roaming (or motile) fauna like snails, urchins and crabs.

Dr. Wagner said it was not clear why this particular extinction spasm had this permanent effect on the character of communities, while others did not.

A 2002 study led by Richard K. Bambach, an emeritus professor at Virginia Tech, found the general shift to a higher abundance of motile fauna from the early Triassic Period onward, but it did not examine patterns in individual communities.

But Dr. Wagner said motility was an enduring characteristic of the more variegated biological webs.

"The increased diversity of mobile species would have contributed to more complex ecological communities," he said. "With sessile guys, everybody is just living next to one another and that's it. With mobility and higher metabolism, you bump into each other more often, both literally and figuratively, and you end up with a greater number of potential interactions."

Wolfgang Kiessling, a paleoecologist at Humboldt University in Berlin who assessed the study in an accompanying article in Science, said it represented "a major step forward," particularly in finding a reliable way to distinguish simple ecosystems from complex ones through 500 million years of life history.

Who are Truth in Science?


James Randerson
Monday November 27, 2006

Truth in Science (TiS) is a UK-based private organisation funded by donations from individuals. The group would not say how many individuals have contributed funds or what its total budget is, however Andy McIntosh, a professor of thermodynamics at the University of Leeds, who is on the TiS board, said the organisation was in the process of applying for charitable status.

The pro-evolution group the British Centre for Science Education estimates that TiS has spent around £116,000 to date including employing a full-time administrator for 18 months. The group has four board members including a scientist, a businessman, a teacher and a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. They also have a three-member scientific panel and a seven-member council of reference.

The material sent out on September 18 to school science teachers included two DVDs called Unlocking the Mystery of Life, and Where Does the Evidence Lead? that are each around an hour long. The second has sections entitled What Darwin Didn't Know and The Design Inference: the scientific evidence for intelligent design.

The videos were produced in America and feature many key figures linked to the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a thinktank that has made concerted efforts to promote intelligent design and insert it into high school science lessons over there. Its stated aim is: "To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

Associated Press Regurgitates Darwinist Rhetoric


The Associated Press has a story on the Kansas Science Standards which repeats the rhetoric of Kansas Darwinists. It states, "While Kansas public schools are likely to get their fifth set of science standards in eight years, the officials who want to ditch the anti-evolution ones now in place aren't planning to act immediately." But the present standards are not "anti-evolution." The present standards teach more about evolution than do most statewide science standards and include extensive sections discussing the evidence both for and against evolution.

The article also wrongly asserts that the standards have a "tilt toward intelligent design," and the article mentions intelligent design 7 times. This focus on intelligent design is misleading: as we've repeatedly discussed, the Kansas Science Standards state they "do not include Intelligent Design" and the standards "neither mandate nor prohibit" teaching about ID. Why were these quotes left out of this article?

The article also claims that the new standards change "a definition of science that doesn't specifically limit science to the search for natural explanations of phenomena." As discussed here, the standards simply reset the definition of science back to a definition similar to how most states define science, including how Kansas did prior to 2001, and this was not an attempt to claim the supernatural is a part of science.

The article also claims that aspects of the standard which challenge common descent based upon paleontology and molecular biology are "intelligent design arguments, defying mainstream science." Firstly, it should be noted that the standards present both evidence for and against Neo-Darwinism and do not unilaterally criticize common ancestry. For example, they require students to learn that, "The presence of the same materials and processes of heredity (DNA, replication, transcription, translation, etc.) is used as evidence for the common ancestry of modern organisms." Of course the Darwinists and Associated Press omit mention of such statements in order to allege the standards are "anti-evolution."

But what about the aspects of the standards that do critique Darwin? As discussed here, many aspects of the Kansas Science Standards which critique Darwin, including those dealing with common descent and micro vs. macroevolution, have their roots in mainstream scientific publications. For example, W. F. Doolittle (a Neo-Darwinist) writes "[m]olecular phylogenists will have failed to find the 'true tree,' not because their methods are inadequate or because they have chosen the wrong genes, but because the history of life cannot properly be represented as a tree." The article is simply repeating Darwinist rhetoric and ignoring the fact that criticisms of Neo-Darwinism can be found in mainstream science.

Despite the fact that intelligent design was irrelevant to the article, the article does have a pretty good definition of intelligent design: "Intelligent design says an intelligent cause is the best way to explain some features of the universe that are complex and well-ordered." If by "complex and well-ordered," the reporter means "complex and specified," then I'd have to say this is one of the best definitions of intelligent design in the media. Nonetheless, given its repetition of Darwinist rhetoric, the article also provides an excellent example of the media bias on this issue.

Posted by Casey Luskin on November 27, 2006 9:01 AM | Permalink

Arctic scientists look to the clouds for clues to climate change



9:29 a.m. November 26, 2006

EUREKA, Nunavut Territory – Scientists are peering into the clouds near the top of the world, trying to solve a mystery and learn something new about global warming.

The mystery is the droplets of water in the clouds. With the North Pole just 685 miles away, they should be frozen, yet more of them are liquid than anyone expected.

Chefs, videos and Frisbee golf ease the isolation at an Arctic weather base

So the scientists working out of a converted blue cargo container are trying to determine whether the clouds are one of the causes – or effects – of Earth's warming atmosphere.

"Much to our surprise, we found that Arctic clouds have got lots of super-cooled liquid water in them. Liquid water has even been detected in clouds at temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 F)," said Taneil Uttal, chief of the Clouds and Arctic Research Group at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"If a cloud is composed of liquid water droplets in the Arctic, instead of ice crystals, then that changes how they will interact with the earth's surface and the atmosphere to reflect, absorb and transmit radiation," said Uttal.

"It's a new science, driven by the fact that everybody doing climate predictions says that clouds are perhaps the single greatest unknown factor in understanding global warming."

With NASA reporting that 2005 was the warmest year on record worldwide, the debate over global warming marches on, but not here. The American and Canadian scientists at the Eureka Weather Station in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut, like the Inuit who are seeing their native habitat thaw, are beyond questioning the existence of climate change.

"If we compare the debate over the theory of evolution with the debate over the theory of global warming – global warming's a whole lot more certain at the moment," said Jim Drummond, a University of Toronto physics professor and chief investigator for the Canadian Network for the Detection of Atmospheric Change.

"By and large," he said, "we are not now arguing about whether global warming is going to happen; the argument has turned to: How big is it going to be?"

Uttal, Drummond and other American and Canadian scientists recently visited Eureka, an outpost established jointly by Canada and the United States in 1947 and now equipped with instruments that sound like sci-fi inventions – the ozone spectrophotometer, for instance, or the tropospheric lidar. (A lidar, an amalgamation of "light" and "radar," uses laser light to detect atmospheric particles.)

The new technology helps to better understand the impact of clouds on Earth's surface temperature. The clouds being studied here range from six miles high to almost touching the ground.

"For a couple of decades we have known that super-cooled liquid water droplets could exist in clouds," Uttal said. "But the prevalence of it in Arctic clouds was not really known until these specialized sensors starting operating in the Arctic about eight years ago."

"The really exciting thing," she said, will be the ability to track an aerosol layer or an Asian dust cloud from their source and measure their effect on a cloud.

Uttal noted that water clouds are more likely to warm the Arctic atmosphere than ice clouds, since the liquid clouds retain more heat radiated by the Earth's surface. "This means that the ice-to-water ratios in clouds may be very important in controlling the Arctic surface temperatures and how it melts," she said.

In Nunavut, the melting is keenly felt. "In the old days, we used to have 10 months of winter; now it's six," said Simon Awa, an Inuit leader and deputy minister for the environment of Nunavut who was on the trip to Eureka. "Every year we're getting winter later and later."

For these 155,000 people of Canada, Greenland, Russia and the United States, it means less time to hunt caribou, walrus and polar bear. Studies show that average winter temperatures have increased as much as 7 degrees in the Arctic over the last 50 years. The permafrost – ground that is continually frozen for at least two years – is thawing, imperiling polar bears and forcing other animals to migrate farther north.

The walrus have moved farther away, said Awa. "So you're taking more time out, away on the land hunting." Meanwhile, families back home are forced to eat store-bought food that is costlier and less healthy.

"The majority of the world's population hasn't really felt the global warming," said Awa. "But right now in the Arctic and in Nunavut, we're really worried because it's already affecting us. We are a thermometer of the world for what could happen."

Russ Schnell, director of Observatory and Global Network Operations for NOAA, notes that climate change is cyclical – that the planet's vegetation, over millions of years, sucks in and spits out carbon dioxide.

"All the carbon dioxide in the coal and oil was once in the air. The plants took it and it went into the oceans or into the ground – and now we're taking it back out," says Schnell.

"The cycle is the same today, only you're taking something that took 100,000 years and doing it in one hundred years," he said. "There's a point where animals can't change fast enough, there's a point where plants can't change fast enough, so they'll either compete it out or go extinct."

AAAS Names Miller Fellow for Science Education and Advocacy


The American Association for the Advancement of Science has elected Kenneth R. Miller, a Brown University professor of biology, a fellow for his leadership role in defending evolution and how it is taught in public schools as well as for his efforts to educate and encourage science teachers across the United States.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, has been awarded the distinction of fellow from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Fellows are elected each year by their peers in AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society and the publishers of the journal Science. Miller was one of 449 members awarded the honor this year for distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

According to AAAS, Miller was selected for his "outstanding contributions to research, teaching, and the public understanding of science." In the lab, Miller studies biological membranes – what they're made of, how they work – but he is largely known as a science advocate and educator.

A staunch defender of the theory of evolution, and an eloquent explainer of the scientific evidence that supports it, Miller has for 25 years debated creationists and intelligent design advocates and presented pro-evolution arguments in interviews with outlets such as National Public Radio and The New York Times as well as essays in Discover, Technology Review and Cell.

Last year, Miller served as the first witness in the Pennsylvania court case filed to prevent the Dover school board from requiring high school biology teachers to read a statement to their students that attacks evolution. Miller also served as a witness last year in a federal trial in Georgia, where a group of parents were appealing a school district's decision to place stickers on a high school biology textbook, co-authored by Miller, which labeled evolution as "a theory rather than a fact." In both cases, the school boards' decisions were reversed.

Through state teacher's associations and scientific societies, Miller delivers more than 20 major talks each year to public school science teachers across the country on the importance of, and challenges to, science education. Miller has received the Walter H. Annenberg Distinguished Professor of the Year Award given by Brown University, the President's Citation Award given by the American Institute for Biological Sciences, and the Public Service Award given by the American Society for Cell Biology.

After graduating from Brown with a biology degree, Miller earned his doctorate at the University of Colorado and went on to teach at Harvard University. In 1980, he returned to Brown, where he teaches Bio 20, an introductory undergraduate biology course. The course – which includes readings from Walt Whitman and James Watson – is one of the most popular on campus.

Miller is also the author of three biology textbooks for high school and college students. Together, the textbooks have sold nearly 4 million copies and are used in every U.S. state.

November 23, 2006
Contact: Wendy Lawton
(401) 863-2476


Metroplex Institute of Origin Science

Hear David Bassett Present

Gems Of Genesis

Treasures from the Book of Beginnings

Mr. David V. Bassett, M.S. in Geological Sciences and Science Dept. Head of Ovilla Christian School, will be your expeditionary leader in our treasure hunt for the hidden literary structures buried in the Hebrew text of Genesis. Valuable internal clues to the Creation Week, the Flood and Tower of Babel accounts, and the scriptural age of the Earth lie below the surface of the Bible’s introduction. Many discoveries that argue for Genesis as literal history and against compromises with evolutionism await those who seek and search with all diligence.

Don't miss this fascinating presentation.

Bucky Auditorium
Medical Office Building
2142 Research Row, Dallas, TX

Tuesday, December 5th, 7:30 PM

Monday, November 27, 2006

Science a la Joe Camel


The Washington Post

By Laurie David Sunday, November 26, 2006; B01

At hundreds of screenings this year of "An Inconvenient Truth," the first thing many viewers said after the lights came up was that every student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie.

The producers of former vice president Al Gore's film about global warming, myself included, certainly agreed. So the company that made the documentary decided to offer 50,000 free DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for educators to use in their classrooms. It seemed like a no-brainer.

The teachers had a different idea: Thanks but no thanks, they said.

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other "special interests" might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film; and they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs.

Gore, however, is not running for office, and the film's theatrical run is long since over. As for classroom benefits, the movie has been enthusiastically endorsed by leading climate scientists worldwide, and is required viewing for all students in Norway and Sweden.

Still, maybe the NSTA just being extra cautious. But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it. It has run ads in leading newspapers (including this one) questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming, and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere. The company spends millions to support groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that aggressively pressure lawmakers to oppose emission limits.

It's bad enough when a company tries to sell junk science to a bunch of grown-ups. But, like a tobacco company using cartoons to peddle cigarettes, Exxon Mobil is going after our kids, too.

And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.

So much for special interests and implicit endorsements.

In the past year alone, according to its Web site, Exxon Mobil's foundation gave $42 million to key organizations that influence the way children learn about science, from kindergarten until they graduate from high school.

And Exxon Mobil isn't the only one getting in on the action. Through textbooks, classroom posters and teacher seminars, the oil industry, the coal industry and other corporate interests are exploiting shortfalls in education funding by using a small slice of their record profits to buy themselves a classroom soapbox.

NSTA's list of corporate donors also includes Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which funds NSTA's Web site on the science of energy. There, students can find a section called "Running on Oil" and read a page that touts the industry's environmental track record -- citing improvements mostly attributable to laws that the companies fought tooth and nail, by the way -- but makes only vague references to spills or pollution. NSTA has distributed a video produced by API called "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel," a shameless pitch for oil dependence.

The education organization also hosts an annual convention -- which is described on Exxon Mobil's Web site as featuring "more than 450 companies and organizations displaying the most current textbooks, lab equipment, computer hardware and software, and teaching enhancements." The company "regularly displays" its "many . . . education materials" at the exhibition. John Borowski, a science teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Ore., was dismayed by NSTA's partnerships with industrial polluters when he attended the association's annual convention this year and witnessed hundreds of teachers and school administrators walk away with armloads of free corporate lesson plans.

Along with propaganda challenging global warming from Exxon Mobil, the curricular offerings included lessons on forestry provided by Weyerhaeuser and International Paper, Borowski says, and the benefits of genetic engineering courtesy of biotech giant Monsanto.

"The materials from the American Petroleum Institute and the other corporate interests are the worst form of a lie: omission," Borowski says. "The oil and coal guys won't address global warming, and the timber industry papers over clear-cuts."

An API memo leaked to the media as long ago as 1998 succinctly explains why the association is angling to infiltrate the classroom: "Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future."

So, how is any of this different from showing Gore's movie in the classroom? The answer is that neither Gore nor Participant Productions, which made the movie, stands to profit a nickel from giving away DVDs, and we aren't facing millions of dollars in lost business from limits on global-warming pollution and a shift to cleaner, renewable energy.

It's hard to say whether NSTA is a bad guy here or just a sorry victim of tight education budgets. And we don't pretend that a two-hour movie is a substitute for a rigorous science curriculum. Students should expect, and parents should demand, that educators present an honest and unbiased look at the true state of knowledge about the challenges of the day.

As for Exxon Mobil -- which just began a fuzzy advertising campaign that trumpets clean energy and low emissions -- this story shows that slapping green stripes on a corporate tiger doesn't change the beast within. The company is still playing the same cynical game it has for years.

While NSTA and Exxon Mobil ponder the moral lesson they're teaching with all this, there are 50,000 DVDs sitting in a Los Angeles warehouse, waiting to be distributed. In the meantime, Mom and Dad may want to keep a sharp eye on their kids' science homework.


Laurie David, a producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," is a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee and founder of StopGlobalWarming.org.

Alternative cures under microscope


Mark Metherell November 27, 2006

ALTERNATIVE medicines, which are bought by up to 75 per cent of Australians, face their toughest scrutiny yet under an investigation commissioned by the Federal Government.

Alternative or complementary medicines have been dismissed as a "great dupe" by a medical leader, although in some cases they have been found to be more effective than pharmaceuticals. They are believed to account for more than $1 billion in sales a year in Australia.

The National Health and Medical Research Council will oversee a $5 million project to investigate the use and effectiveness of hundreds of pills, potions and therapies that mostly have little standing in conventional medicine, the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has announced.

The funding follows an unprecedented meeting last week between the alternative therapy lobby and the council and has been welcomed by advocates and critics of alternative medicines.

"There is no reason why any therapy offered to the public should not be evidence-based," the chief executive of the research council, Warwick Anderson, said.

Professor Anderson said the targets of the research would depend on what projects won funding. There was increasing interest among medical researchers and the Australian move followed the development of a special research centre by the National Institutes of Health in the United States, he said.

The project flows from the inquiry triggered by the Pan Pharmaceuticals crisis in which hundreds of products were withdrawn from sale because of manufacturing irregularities.

The executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, Tony Lewis, said he was not concerned by the possibility that research would undermine the claims for alternative medicine. "If a therapy does not work, let's get the results to show that. But I think most results will be quite positive."

The shark fin extract, glucosamine, for instance, had been found in a US study to be more effective than Celebrex for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Among the biggest sellers in the complementary medicine range were multivitamins and multiminerals, fish oil for cardiovascular conditions and glucosamine, Dr Lewis said.

A former chairman of the Australian Divisions of General Practice, Rob Walters, described most alternative medicines as "a great dupe … they just don't work".

While most did no harm, some did have harmful reactions when people were also taking other drugs, he said.

Digital Darwinism: Evolution for undergraduates


Published November 26, 2006

By Matthew Miller Lansing State Journal

Professional scientists aren't the only ones who can experiment with evolution.

The researchers at Michigan State University's Digital Evolution Lab have designed a version of the lab's Avida software for use in undergraduate biology courses. It's being tested this year at MSU's Lyman Briggs School and is due for national release in the spring.

"It's going to let them observe evolution happening," said lab researcher Robert Pennock, who served as an expert witness in the 2005 Dover trial that stopped a Pennsylvania school board from teaching intelligent design.

"Students run this, and they say 'Wow, evolution works. You can see it happen.' That's the thing that before they couldn't see directly."

'Life' from robots

Hod Lipson has built a robot that designs and builds other robots, using evolution to drive the design process.

He has built robots that can self-replicate. The machines look like stacks of building blocks, but are capable of manipulating other cubes to put together copies of themselves.

In short, Lipson, a professor at Cornell University, designs robots that act in awfully lifelike ways.

He tries to build "better and more adaptive robotic systems by exploiting the principles of evolution instead of direct design," as he put it.

Though, in the case of the self-replicators, what he's done is bring a biological process, one of the processes that allows evolution to work, to the mechanical world.

"Evolution is not an efficient way of searching for solutions," he said, "but it is open-ended. It's much less constrained than other methods. So you use it for problems where you're not necessarily looking for the optimal solution but you are looking for a new idea."

'Life' survives

When experimenting with digital evolution, you apparently get what you ask for. You just might not realize what you're asking for, according to Charles Ofria, director of MSU's Digital Evolution Lab. Take, for instance, an experiment in which Ofria and other researchers were trying to measure the effect of neutral and harmful mutations, as opposed to beneficial ones.

Every time a digital organism would mutate, they would stop the program, pull the organism out and run it in a test environment. If the mutation seemed to be beneficial, they would kill the organism.

But that didn't produce the expected effect.

"I'm watching what's going on, and I see their fitness continue to go up," Ofria said. "The organisms are replicating faster and faster and doing better and better, even though here I am thinking I'm removing all beneficial mutations."

It turns out that the creatures had evolved an unexpected way of staying alive. They'd learned to recognize the test environment and to play dead when they found themselves there.

"Basically, they evolved a form of predator avoidance," Ofria said. "When you think about it, that's what it is."

Aesthetic evolution

Karl Sims is an artist who has, on occasion, subjected his art to a process of aesthetic natural selection.

During the 1990s, the Cambridge, Mass., artist mounted evolving art exhibits at museums such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the InterCommunication Center in Tokyo, exhibits that measured how long visitors spent looking at various computer-generated images and allowed the most popular to survive and continue to mutate.

So what does art look like in an aesthetically competitive environment?

Many of the resulting images had an alien, almost organic quality to them, but Sims said the final products varied widely.

"I was pleased to see it depends on who's using it," he said. "Whatever the aesthetic tastes of the individual might be affect the outcome."

History of evolution


Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon, a French naturalist, puts forward an early form of the scientific idea of evolution, arguing that while life originally separated into distinct forms, organisms changed as they migrated to different regions of the planet.


French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck proposes the first full scientific theory of evolution, proposing animals could change to meet the demands of their environments and that those changes would be passed on to their offspring.


Charles Darwin publishes "On the Origin of Species," in which he lays out the idea of evolution by natural selection, now one of the fundamental ideas of modern biology. Natural selection is the process by which creatures with favorable traits are more likely to survive and pass those traits on to their offspring. With variations within species and occasional mutations, natural selection can drive evolution.


James Watson and Francis Crick discover DNA's double helix. Though scientists such as Ronald Fisher and Theodosius Dobzhansky had begun to integrate Darwin's ideas with the science of genetics decades earlier, Watson and Crick's discovery revolutionized evolutionary biology, making it possible for scientists to compare species' genetic codes.

Late 1980s

Advances in technology lead to an explosion in the study of DNA sequences. Researchers begin to rely more on these sequences to determine evolutionary relationships.

Copyright 2006 Lansing State Journal

Study finds evolution works swiftly, at speed of fleeing lizards


Last update: November 26, 2006 – 12:44 AM

Evolution can be seen in months rather than eons, according to a new study.

A team of evolutionary biologists, led by Jonathan Losos of Harvard University, observed significant physical changes in populations of Anolis sagrei lizards less than a year after predators were introduced to the tiny islands in the Bahamas where the lizards live.

The researchers introduced the predators, also lizards, on six small islands, while leaving six other islands free of them. Anolis sagrei lizards spend most of their time on the ground, but when a new predator arrives on the scene, they retreat to trees and shrubs. Researchers figured that, at first, longer-legged lizards were the ones most likely to make it to the trees and elude predators. But natural selection also suggested that, once the species made its home in the trees, lizards with shorter limbs would be favored, since they can more easily climb through narrow branches and twigs.

Sure enough, after six months, the Anolis sagrei lizard population on the islands with the new predators had dwindled by more than half, and those that survived tended to have longer legs than lizards on islands without predators. Six months after that, the lizards on the predator islands had shorter legs than their counterparts.

The findings, published in Nov. 12 issue of Science, illustrate that the behavioral flexibility of animals can lead to rapid shifts in evolution -- and that scientists can test and observe such shifts. They also can help scientists understand the origins of biological diversity.


©2006 Star Tribune.

New Genetic Discovery Debunks Evolution Theory


WDC MEDIA NEWS Christian News and Media Agency

By Bill Wilson , Daily Jot News Service Senior Analyst

2006-11-26 -- WDC Media News -- WASH—Nov 24—DJNS--The mystery of the human genome has come into clearer focus as scientists have discovered that each individual person is at least ten times more different than another person than scientists previously thought, discounting even further the theory of evolution so widely taught around the world. A group of scientists from 13 different research centers in the United States and Britain published their findings in scientific journals earlier this week. The results: previous concepts that all humans were 99.9% alike were blown apart by the research conducted on 270 people of various races that confirmed that 2,900 genes could vary within people, making over a million combinations possible.

This discovery means that of the nearly 30,000 genes in the human genome that can consist of nearly three billion genetic "letters," 10 percent of those genes can be multiplied in each different individual. Instead of being 99.9% alike, humans are more than ten times different from one another genetically. Instead of having two copies of each gene—one from each parent—humans have some genes that are multiplied several times. Scientists are excited about this discovery, which they say is the most revealing since Gregor Mendel's initial work with the genetic code in the 1860's. Scientists believe it will help them bring about curing individuals who have devastating diseases by using their own genetics.

The research also indicated that humans are far more different than what evolutionists call man's closest cousin—the chimpanzee. Downplayed in any writings about the discovery as covered by medical and scientific journals was the finding that instead of being 99% similar to chimpanzees, the human is only 94% similar. But given that humans are ten times different than one another, it would seem that a four percentage point difference between the chimpanzee and the human genome could mean hundreds of times differences between each individual human and each individual chimpanzee. And this difference would demolish any reasonable defense of evolution.

Surely, the debate whether the Biblical account of creation is true will continue among the scientific community. But the more scientists find, the more the Bible is proven. And in light of this genetic discovery, every person who has a child in a school that teaches evolution should rise up and demand that this so-called "Theory" be ripped forever from textbooks and be recognized for what it is: The secular humanists trying to teach a generation that God is an irrelevant myth. Believe it from the Bible or believe it when scientists prove it, but all roads lead to God the Creator.

"I will praise Thee for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are Thy works and my soul knows it right well." -- Psalm 139:14.

"Thus says the Lord your Redeemer, and He that formed you from the womb, I am the Lord that makes all things."-- Isaiah 44:24

Media Contact

Contact Bill Wilson at bill@dailyjot.com or visit www.dailyjot.com

The Idiot's Guide to Reconciling God and Darwin


I love those "Idiot" titles. So versatile. Well, before getting down to it, a short disclaimer: I'm probably going to miss something, or more likely forget it. The former, because I'm thinking of new things all the time; the latter, because that happens all the time, too. In other words, just be aware, these are my thoughts as of the moment.

So, for all the believers out there who have heard about evolution but aren't sure it can be reconciled with your faith—rest assured, you don't have to deny science in order to remain a Bible-believing Christian. As can be seen through the following steps…

Step #1: "Goo to you" Evolution.

Ardent anti-evolutionist Jonathan Sarfati calls the idea of some sort of primordial matter evolving into simple life, and then that life evolving and branching out until the human race is formed, "goo to you" or "molecules to man" evolution. (I don't believe he ever used the phrase "particles to people," but in my opinion, he should.) His point is that the whole concept is ridiculous. Here's my question to Mr. Sarfati: Well, God made man out of mud, didn't He? Mud sounds like primordial matter to me. After that, it's just arguing over schematics—how did God create us? Good question. The Bible just says God did. Who's to say he didn't use a process, the process we call evolution, to do just that?

Step # 2: Literally.

For literal Bible readers like Sarfati, the conclusion of Step # 1 is unacceptable, because it "clashes" with the Bible. The Bible says six days, and on the seventh day He rested—so what's all this talk about a billion-years-old earth?? Well, as a friend of mine pointed out not too long ago, elsewhere in the Bible—probably the psalms somewhere—it reads something like, ten thousand years is like a blink of the eye to God. And my friend added—just think how many times you blink in a day!

While I don't think the Eternal can be quantified—we who know neither the day nor the hour, how can we claim to know the length of God's day?—my friend makes a good point. Here's how I work it out:

The Bible is the inspired Word of God, yes? But it was written by humans. Your fallible, normal, sinful, everyday, run-of-the-mill humans. Very inspired, yes; very holy, quite possibly; but the fact is, they were only human. What does this mean? I'd like to use an excellent quote to make this point: "We see things not as they are, but as we are." As human beings, we can't comprehend Everything, and certainly not all at once. (Emily Dickenson: "The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind.") We write, we think, we know, only according to how much our understanding can hold. This is why human language is so fraught with metaphors, similes, figurative language, and symbolism. Why do you think Jesus taught in parables? We use stories to help ourselves understand the universe, and the truths we need to learn. Genesis doesn't have to be read in our modern, literal interpretation in order for it to be true.

I love the way Ivan L. Zabilka put it, in his book Scientific Malpractice: The Creation/Evolution Debate. He wrote not only about why ID isn't a science, but, for the discerning Christian, why the modern, fundamentalist, literal interpretation of the Bible is actually distorting Scripture. He writes:

"Unfortunately, Creationism is based upon an inappropriate, incomplete and at times even false hermeneutic. Hermeneutics is the logical ordering and identification of appropriate principles in the process of interpreting a document or biblical passage. The principles of hermeneutics have been frequently analyzed and largely agreed upon by biblical and literary scholars. In the process of interpretation three steps are necessary: determining the normative or basic (not necessarily literal) meaning of a passage, determining the author's reason or purpose for a passage, and establishing the implications of a passage. These must be held in balance, and none can safely be neglected."

But wait; it gets better. Zabilka says, "The general applicability of a passage of Scripture to the estate of Man is sometimes destroyed by universalizing a particular detail that was relevant only at a particular time and place….This does not mean that biblical statements should be ignored, but it does mean that they do not present a complete picture of the natural world."

Not to mention: "Related to the error of finding a complete system is the encyclopedic error in interpreting the Bible. This…assume[s] the Bible presents all that is necessary for one to know about a topic.

And: "While the biblical revelation is historical, as has been increasingly demonstrated by archaeological discovery over the past century, it is also progressive. God is not fully revealed in the Pentateuch."

This last bit is of particular interest to me. Although I am Catholic and Zabilka is Evangelical, he and my late pastor seemed to have shared the same view concerning the Bible. Zabilka called the Bible "progressive"; Father Jerry told me, "The Bible is like a ladder." This means that if you were to read through the whole Bible, you'd find it starts out small, simply—the bottom rung of the ladder—and then moves forward—up the rungs—with each increasing revelation God made for the people. It's symbolic not just of the human journey of sinlessness to fall to redemption, but of the increasing-in-goodness lessons learned along the way—like the progression from "an eye for an eye" to Jesus' message of "love thy neighbor and turn the other cheek".

What this means for the evolution question is, first, if you're going to interpret Scripture, do it properly, and don't say it says something just because your cultural background wants to interpret it that way, the author probably meant something totally different, considering his cultural background was vastly different from yours; second, don't make universalities out of specific points; and third, Genesis is a beginning, not a complete and full, all-you-need-to-know revelation and science handbook. The authors of the Bible weren't scientists; they were religious. Religious truths can take many forms, and often don't use literal language. That's why trying to compare the Bible and evolution in such ways is utterly disastrous.

And two quick last direct Zabilka quotes: "A second inadequacy of their exegesis that they are only selectively literal." That is, when it suits their purposes, a sure sign of the instability of their position; and second: "The Creationists want only one meaning in a passage, the historical—no double meanings, no complex layers, no beautiful matrices of interwoven thought. All this is collapsed into the "simple." This seems a most awkward allowing of culture to shape the interpretative methodology."

I have to disagree with Zabilka's choice of words here, although I do support his point. He says "historical," but the historical interpretation would be to see how the author meant it, how it was meant in that time. The Creationists are looking for a scientific meaning. And looking for hard science in a work of religious or psychological truth, as Zabilka points out, is folly.

A discussion on the literal verses figurative nature of the Bible could go on all day; however, there are more points to get to. Continuing, then:

Step # 3: The Monkey Myth

Ah, yes—"But we can't support evolution! It says we used to be monkeys!" This is a common misconception, and it goes something like this:

Evolutionary theory says everything started out as goop. Then, simple life; then animals, and this means monkeys; and then we evolved from monkeys. It's a straight line, from goo down to you.

Not quite.

The real theory is far more complicated, and anyone who's read Darwin would understand that Darwin was looking for a way to account for the diversity of life, for the different genus, phylum, species, and so forth, that start out looking totally different, but wind up with very, very similar characteristics between species. A straight line from goo to you simply isn't going to cover that. That's where the "tree of life" comes in. It's full of branches, like a family tree—the family tree of life.

We start with general matter. Then, simple life evolves in the oceans. When simple life begins diversifying, however, it didn't all become one particular type of animal. We found fishes, and amphibians, and reptiles, and eventually mammals; and each of these classes changed, and each split off into even more directions. A turtle and a snake are both reptiles, but not alike. A frog is an amphibian, and doesn't look like a reptile. Dolphins and monkeys are both mammals, but not the same. And humans are mammals—warm blooded, birth live young, feed young milk—but we evolved separately from monkeys.

Related, yes, but then all life on earth is related (and this will be explored more fully in the next step.) We got mammals, then and then we got all the different types of mammals—dolphins, monkeys, humans, cats, dogs, cows, whatever.

(I'm not an expert on this subject, by any means; if I've messed something up, please let me know, but I'm pretty sure that's how it goes, at least in general.)

Step # 4: We're All God's Creatures verses The Crowing Glory of Creation.

The Bible presents two different views of man. Well, three, but two are rather closely related, so I'll put them in the same category. One is the man is the crowning glory of all God's creation; and this is why man has control over the birds and the beasts and so forth. In other words, man is the self-aware creature of God's creation; the conscious, sentient, free-will-given, humans. The other view can be taken two ways, one nastier than the other, but both humbling. One is the, "we're all God's creatures" view; that used to be a real popular saying, used as a justification for kindness and such. The other view is the yes, we're all God's creatures, and man is the most wicked and sinful and lowly of them all view.

I think both of these views are important because they are part of a tradition much older than Christianity, the kinds of tradition that view all life as important, and interconnected. None of us are separate; we all connect with each other in the end. I probably got most of this from a life long obsession with the Lion King, and it seems to me such a beautiful and wonderful thing, that the earth—the universe—is such a brilliant, vibrant web of life, different, yes, but all the same because it's all Life. I'm sure you know the part in the movie I'm talking about… "We are all connected," said Mufassa, "in the great Circle of Life."

No, we're not descended from monkeys; but does it make us any less human because we're related to them?

Have you ever heard the phrase, everybody in the world can be connected through six people? (After some of my experiences, I tell you, it's probably true.) Well, all life can be connected through the Tree of Life metaphor used to explain how everything evolved and its relationships, through class and phylum and species and so forth.

Evolutionary biology talks a lot about homologous structures. That is, similar structures between species, with slight modifications. Evolution is a partial answer to this similarity, but so is, scientifically speaking, the idea of similar use. All birds have a similar type of wing, because they all need to be able to fly; a certain type of wing works best for flying, so they all have similar wings.

But based off the all-life-is-interconnected idea, here's how I like to look at it:

I think the evolutionary idea about all life coming from one source, and all being related, fits perfectly with the religious worldview. The religious viewpoint is simple: God created us. How He did that is something we don't know, can only guess at, but we're all created in God's image, yes? This is another bit not to be taken too literally. If all life tends to have the same homologous structures, then there must be a kind of blueprint for life. God took an essential idea, one simple bit of life, and from that made all of us. Maybe we are all created in God's image in the sense that we are the physical manifestation of it means to be Life. This also helps with the idea that God is an active God, involved and immediate and real everywhere in the world, a personal God, not a distant, overseeing, cold deity. I'm not wording this very well, I'm afraid, but I think it's a beautiful idea, and, until I come up with something better, my personal opinion.

But, to tie it all together: We are, in the sense that we are the conscious, sentient, self-aware creatures, the crowning glory of God's creation. We are lowly, however, because we are not perfect—we are sinners. And we are not angels, or even close to being Perfection, like God; we are a part of Life, and although Life is beautiful, because it is human, mortal, it is fallible. So really, the views, and evolution's scientific interpretation, work very well together.

Step # 5: Science Supports the Bible (or, William Bell Riley: What He Got Right)

William Bell Riley was a Baptist, and one of the most influential anti-evolutionary people around. He was born in 1861 and didn't retire from his active religious life until 1942; most of his activities were done in his 60s and 70s. And while many of his views are proven wrong as science proves creation science wrong, he had a few good points, and those are what I would like to share. (All of his quotes are taken from a volume that consists of nine pamphlets he wrote, collected to be an edition in a particular series.)

This is probably one of my favorite passages:

"There are mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis three creative periods relating themselves to life upon the earth, called the Third Day, the Fifth Day and the Sixth Day of Divine work. I consult my Dictionary and find it also recognizes three creative periods—Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Zenozoic. Is this a coincidence?"

Although Riley was definitely a literal interpreter of the Bible, I love how he makes that connection. This one is just as good:

"Proceeding now to the Acts of Creation we find a remarkable agreement between Genesis and Geology. They both begin with grass as the oldest form of life and come up through herbs, trees, fish, fowl, living things, and beasts of the earth to man as the last and most wonderful of God's creation." (Emphasis is in the original.)

Riley offers other examples of how what the Bible says is actually supported by modern science. Of course, modern for him is old hat stuff for us, but the point is made: difficulties arise only when we seek to find conflict, or think a certain reading of Scripture is the absolute and only unchangeable way in which it must be read.

In the same way "all roads lead to Rome", all of science can, for the true believer, be a joyous, outspoken testament to the genius and creative power of the Lord of the Universe.

Step # 6: Randomness and Dead Ends

One of the bits about evolution that bothered me at first was the emphasis on random genetic mutation, and the "dead ends" of evolution, the sheer blindness of the whole process. This is particularly troubling if you pay attention to the naturalistic atheists who are also evolutionists, like Sagan, Ruse, and Dawkins. But the answer to this particular riddle, is, of course, faith; and also one of my favorite words: ineffability.

Ineffable, ineffability—I just love that word, in all its forms. I'm really, really tempted to start quoting Good Omens here, because that's where I got that word, but—I'll refrain. There are undoubtedly those out there who haven't yet had the opportunity to read that excellent book, and I'd hate to give anything away. Suffice it to say this:

God is outside total human understanding, yes? He's got the big divine plan, and while we know bits of it, we know neither the day nor the hour… So, what looks like total chaos to us is probably just ineffable. We're like the blind men and the elephant. (I love this story. I can use it on anything.)

Thee (or was it five? No matter) blind men are all placed around an elephant. One's got the trunk, one the feet, one the tail, etc. When asked to describe the elephant, of course each of them gave a different description, and they began to argue among themselves. They couldn't see the whole picture; only the small bit of what they could reach.

Humans, as far as understanding evolution—or anything, for that matter—are in pretty much the same boat. Our understanding is greatly limited; we can only see one small part of the overall picture. So what looks like randomness, might very well be the working of God in mysterious ways; what looks like chaos could be a beautiful interwoven part of the overall Divine Pattern.

I would like to clarify that this is not a "We can't understand it so it must be supernatural" argument. This is the answer to the atheistic perspective that evolution is a completely unguided process. The atheist believes the goo we came from just appeared out of nowhere; the person of faith believes God created it, and through evolution, formed us from it. Sure, it might look random—but who are we, with our limited understanding, to judge? The point is to not let that be a persuasive atheistic argument. Because it isn't.

Step # 7: Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

More commonly known as G.K. Chesterton, he's definitely my favorite genius; or at least one of. I'd like to share a couple of his thoughts on science and evolution, because—well, there's a reason he's a genius.

First, the argument that the conflict doesn't need to exist:

"Unfortunately, 19th-century scientists were just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact, as were 17th-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation . . . . and this clumsy collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel of Science and Religion."

Second, the logic argument:

"It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into anything."

Gotta love Chesterton.

Step # 8: Conclusion

Well, there you have it: seven easy steps for reconciling the supposed contradictions between faith and science. Undoubtedly, more connections and conclusions can be drawn, and should I come up with or hear about some absolutely must-share thought, I'll probably add comments as updates, just to complete the picture a little more.

Oh, and if you want you could check my other evolution-related posts: Creationism and Evolution Don't Have to Be Mutually Exclusive (which you could consider the forerunner of this post, I guess) and Evolution verses ID: The Misplaced Debate. You could also check out A Question for Our Times, but I don't recommend it; it was my oratory sophomore year, and I edited it greatly—but never wrote the changes down, and honestly don't remember what I did with it. So it's still confusing and not quite how it should be.

Well, that's it—as if this isn't long enough. Thanks for reading.

Revealed: rise of creationism in UK schools


PR packs spread controversial theory

James Randerson, science correspondent Monday November 27, 2006 The Guardian

Dozens of schools are using creationist teaching materials condemned by the government as "not appropriate to support the science curriculum", the Guardian has learned.

The packs promote the creationist alternative to Darwinian evolution called intelligent design and the group behind them said 59 schools are using the information as "a useful classroom resource".

A teacher at one of the schools said it intended to use the DVDs to present intelligent design as an alternative to Darwinism. Nick Cowan, head of chemistry at Bluecoat school, in Liverpool, said: "Just because it takes a negative look at Darwinism doesn't mean it is not science. I think to critique Darwinism is quite appropriate."

But the government has made it clear that "neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories". The chairman of the parliamentary science and technology select committee, the Lib Dem MP Phil Willis, said he was horrified that the packs were being used in schools.

"I am flabbergasted that any head of science would give credence to this creationist theory and be prepared to put it alongside Darwinism," he said. "Treating it as an alternative centralist theory alongside Darwinism in science lessons is deeply worrying."

The teaching pack, which includes two DVDs and a manual, was sent to the head of science at all secondary schools in the country on September 18 by the group Truth in Science. The enclosed feedback postcard was returned by 89 schools. As well as 59 positive responses, 15 were negative or dismissive and 15 said the material was "not suitable".

"We are not attacking the teaching of Darwinian theory," said Richard Buggs, a member of Truth in Science. "We are just saying that criticisms of Darwin's theory should also be taught."

"Intelligent design looks at empirical evidence in the natural world and says, 'this is evidence for a designer'. If you go any further the argument does become religious and intelligent design does have religious implications," added Dr Buggs.

But leading scientists argue that ID is not science because it invokes supernatural causes. "There is just no evidence for intelligent design, it is pure religion and has nothing to do with science. It should be banned from science classes," said Lewis Wolpert, a developmental biologist at the University of London and vice-president of the British Humanist Association.

The DVDs were produced in America and feature figures linked to the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a thinktank that has made concerted efforts to promote ID and insert it into high school science lessons in the US. Last year a judge in Dover, Pennsylvania, ruled that ID could not be taught in science lessons. "Intelligent design is a religious view, a mere relabelling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," he wrote in his judgment.

It is not clear exactly how many schools are using the Truth in Science material, or how it is being used.

The government has made it clear the Truth in Science materials should not be used in science lessons. In a response to the Labour MP Graham Stringer on November 1, Jim Knight, a minister in the Department for Education and Skills, wrote: "Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum."

Andy McIntosh, a professor of thermodynamics at the University of Leeds who is on the board of Truth in Science, said: "We are just simply a group of people who have put together ... a different case."

Colleges tackle intelligent design debate


Religion, Humanities Conference: Four experts on both sides of evolution issue will share views at UVSC, Westminster

By Nicole Stricker The Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated:11/26/2006 03:32:29 AM MST

The intelligent design debate is returning to Utah in the form of the 11th annual Religion and the Humanities Conference on Friday at Utah Valley State College and Westminster College.

The four invited speakers include two fellows from the staunchly pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute and two authors who take a less antagonistic approach.

"We wanted to provide an opportunity for people to get together on the pro and con sides of the argument in the view of contemporary science," said Michael Popich, a Westminster philosophy professor who organized the conference with Brian Birch of UVSC.

Popich and Birch wanted the conference to tackle science and theology. They chose to focus the discussion on the debate surrounding intelligent design. Proponents reject Darwin's theory of evolution, the accepted basis for modern biology, saying the world is too complex to arise through the natural selection of chance mutations.

Arguments between the most extreme "IDers" and "evolutionists" tend to devolve into fights about the existence of God. Two of the conference panelists take a different tack.

John Haught, former theology chairman at Georgetown University and author of several books, makes the case that evolution points to the existence of God.

"I argue that instead of being afraid of Darwinian evolution, it can really be a great gift to theology," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Virginia. "Religious people should never be afraid of facing the truth. And if it requires some deepening of our perspective, then let it be deepened."

Co-panelist Michael Ruse, an author and philosophy professor at Florida State University, also disagrees with people who claim evolution is inseparable from atheism. The self-described nonbeliever and hard-line Darwinian points his criticism not at evangelicals, but at stalwarts in his own camp who argue evolutionary theory negates the need for belief in God.

"Frankly, I think [that] sort of knee-jerk atheism is sort of a kissing-cousin to creationism," he said from his home in Florida.

Ruse and Haught, who both accept evolution, will be paired for panel discussions with intelligent design researchers.

Paul Nelson is a philosopher who focuses on developmental and evolutionary biology. He is a fellow at the Discovery Institute and International Society for Complexity, Information and Design.

Robin Collins is a philosophy professor at Messiah College, a private Christian college in Pennsylvania. Also a Discovery Institute fellow, he focuses on the relationship between physics and religion.

"It's a good group," said Westminster's Popich. "Whatever side of the argument you're on, you're sure to hear something you agree with."

* Nicole Stricker can be contacted at nstricker@sltrib.com or 801-257-8999.

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