NTS LogoSkeptical News for 1 January 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Thursday, January 01, 2009

12 Elegant Examples of Evolution


By Brandon Keim December 31, 2008 | 1:19:05 PMCategories: Evolution

In preparation for Charles Darwin's upcoming 200th birthday, the editors of Nature compiled a selection of especially elegant and enlightening examples of evolution.

They describe it as a resource "for those wishing to spread awareness of evidence for evolution by natural selection." Given the continuing battles over evolution in America's public schools — and, for that matter, the Islamic world — such a resource is most welcome.

However, I'd like to suggest another way of looking at the findings below, which range from the moray eel's remarkable second jaw to the unexpected plumage of dinosaurs. They are, quite simply, wondrous — glimpses through an evolutionary frame of life's incredible narrative, expanding to fill every possible nook and cranny of Earth's biosphere.

After all, it's hard to stir passion about the scientific validity of evolution without first captivating minds and imaginations. And this is a fine place to start.

Almost, But Not Quite, a Whale. The fossil record suggests that whales evolved on land, and intermediate species have been identified. But what of their last terrestrial ancestor? In 2007, researchers showed that Indohyus — a 50 million-year-old, dog-sized member of the extinct raoellidae ungulate family — had ears, teeth and bones that resembled whales, not other raoellids.

Out of the Soup. Whales represented a mammalian return to the water, but an even more extraordinary transition was made by the first creature to venture onto land — and that was made possible by Tiktaalik, discovered in 2004 on Ellesmere Island. Tiktaalik had a flexible neck and limb-like fins suitable for shallow waters, and, before long, land.

Dinosaurs of a Feather. Archaeopteryx, found in 1861, was long thought to be the first bird. Then it was recognized as something closer to a dinosaur with feathers — but still unique for that. In the 1980's, however, paleontologists digging in deposits more than 65 million years old in northern China found feathered dinosaurs which very definitely did not fly. Some dinosaurs, it appeared, may have looked far different from our traditional conception — and feathers may first have served an insulating or aesthetic, rather than aerodynamic, purpose.

A Toothy Finding. In 2007, University of Helsinki evolutionary biologist Kathryn Kavanagh showed that molars emerge from front to back, with each tooth smaller than its precedent. Fodder for geeked-out dentists? Far from it: Her model predicted tooth development of rodents with different diets — a perfect confluence of a small mechanical observation and observed evolutionary trajectories.

The Beginnings of Bones. Neural crest cells originate in the spinal cord before diffusing through our developing bodies, forming face and neck bones as well as sense organs and skin. The fossil record, nearly bereft of embryos, provides little direct insight into these critically important stages. But technologies that let researchers track cells during embryo development finally allowed them to watch the neural crest's development, culminating in the attachment of head to the body at its front, while the back attachment springs from the mesoderm tissue layer. With that established, scientists can decipher shared evolutionary histories from muscle attachments: the cleithrum, for example, a bony girdle found in fishes, lives on in humans as the shoulder blade.

Natural Selection in Speciation. That differing selection pressures will cleave one species into two is a simple principle expressed in complex ways. One of these is reproductive isolation — when, for example, one species of stickleback fish live in freshwater streams, and the other goes to sea. Scientists found that stream-bound sticklebacks prefer larger mates, and genetic analysis confirmed that their populations are indeed diverging.

Lizard Games. Take an island in the Bahamas, add a predatory lizard called Leiocephalus carinatus, and the results are immediate. Males among the lizard's favorite prey, Anolis sagrei, soon became longer-legged, so as to better flee after drawing predatory attention during mating displays. In contrast, more sedentary females became larger, making them harder to ingest — a neat display of sex-specific selection pressures.

An Evolutionary Arms Race, Frozen in Time. Predator and prey evolve together; the adaptations of one driving adaptations in the other. But how can one study this over time, in detail? Biologists from Belgium's Catholic University of Leuven used water fleas and parasitic mites that had been preserved in the mud of a lake's bottom. The sediments were precisely dated and their inhabitants revived, allowing researchers to mix species from different eras and directly measure their developing capacity for infection and escape.

Gene Flow, With Purpose. If dispersed by random animal migration, genes flowing across a region ought to dilute local pockets of genetic adaptation. But migration isn't as random as it seems: As seen in a population of great tits (the bird!) tracked in Oxfordshire, England since 1970, genes flow along channels of opportunity. Individual birds picking nesting spots best-suited to their particular traits, producing local adaptations in tiny parts of the same small forest. (These birds, incidentally, belonged to the same population that have shifted breeding times to match a changing climate.)

Selection Finds Its Own Level. Since natural selection favors traits that increase fitness, it seems that populations should eventually become genetically homogeneous. But evolution isn't so one-dimensional: When researchers adjusted the color frequencies of wild guppy populations in Trinidad, they found that unusual variants — regardless of color — had higher survival rates. This is called frequency-dependent survival: selection favoring the rare and disfavoring the common, preventing a long-term homogeneity that — no matter how beneficial in the short term — might someday prove disastrous.

Making Do. Though so often elegant, evolution can also be jury-rigged and provisional. Witness the Moray eel, whose body is so long and narrow that — unlike other fish — the suction created when it opens its mouth is too weak to catch prey. The solution: a second set of jaws and teeth that sprout from the skeleton around its gills. It's not pretty, but it works.

The Genes of the Finches. The Galapagos finches whose beak adaptations were described by Darwin — and later tracked, over decades, by Peter and Rosemary Grant — are poster animals for evolution. In 2006, researchers found a genetic unit underlying their oft-described progress: calmodulin, whose expression during embryonic development changes beak shape.

A Partisan Affair (Part 4): False Attacks on Traipsing Into Evolution in Edward Humes' Pseudo-History of Kitzmiller, "Monkey Girl"

In his book Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, Edwards Humes says that, "if the evolution wars are to continue, let the combatants be armed with facts, not fiction." (pg. viii.) Yet as discussed in my previous post, it seems that Humes is more interested in mud-slinging against intelligent design (ID) proponents than providing a balanced discussion of the facts. In particular, Humes engages in name-calling in response to Traipsing Into Evolution, our rebuttal to the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling, calling it the "rant of a sore loser" and claiming it was an "an adaptation of angry Internet postings" wherethat we "just made [things] up" and engaged in "complete fabrication." But I agree with Humes that what matters most are the facts. If the facts are on his side, why must Humes resort to such name-calling? This post will therefore compare the facts with many of the false claims that made during...

Humes' Attacks on Traipsing Into Evolution:

My first hint that Humes was stretching for ways to attack our book Traipsing Into Evolution came when he complained about the definition we gave for the word "traipse" (a word Judge Jones used in his ruling) at the beginning of the book. Our definition came from a 1982 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary as "[t]o walk about idly or intrusively." Apparently for Humes, that definition is too old, and the definition of "traipse" has changed in the past 25 years. For the record, the definition of "traipse" hasn't changed. The 2006 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary uses a near-identical definition ("To walk or tramp about; gad") and Random House Unabridged Dictionary, published in 2006, defines "traipse" as "to walk or go aimlessly or idly without finding or reaching one's goal." It seems that Humes was a little too eager to attack our book.

Humes then develops much harsher attacks against the book, claiming that Traipsing Into Evolution made a "complete fabrication" by claiming that Judge Jones tried to "conflat[e] ID with fundamentalism." Since Humes apparently doesn't want to acknowledge how Judge Jones tried to connect ID to fundamentalism in the Kitzmiller ruling, I'll trace the connection clearly and show that our claim was not "fabricated" at all. In the Kitzmiller ruling, Judge Jones wrote that "opposition [to evolution] grew out of a religious tradition, Christian Fundamentalism," and he then went on to show that creation science was tied to Fundamentalism, stating, "The terms 'creation science' and 'scientific creationism' have been adopted by these Fundamentalists as descriptive of their study of creation and the origins of Man." He then tried to explicitly tie ID to Genesis-based creationism, stating that "ID is a form of creationism [because] ID uses the same, or exceedingly similar arguments as were posited in support of creationism … the words 'God,' 'creationism,' and 'Genesis' have been systematically purged from ID explanations," and therefore "ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism," and "ID is a form of creationism." The connection is simple: Judge Jones tied fundamentalism to creation science, then he tried to tie ID to creationism. He did this for legal purposes because he wanted to conclude that the Dover School Board's promotion of ID arguments would, in the eyes of Dover community members, endorse "fundamentalism." Thus, Jones specifically argued that under the endorsement test, Dover's ID policy would ''communicat[e] to those who endorse evolution that they are political outsiders, while communicat[ing] to the Christian fundamentalists and creationists who pushed for a disclaimer that they are political insiders."

The word "conflate" means "to bring together" — and that's exactly what Judge Jones tried to do with respect to ID and fundamentalism. He did it for legal purposes so that supporting one could be seen as endorsing the other. Humes' harsh attacks on Traipsing Into Evolution are false, and it certainly cannot be fairly argued that our claim was a "complete fabrication." Can that same charge be made against Humes' false accusations against the book?

Humes' one real substantive critique of Traipsing Into Evolution is his listing of about 4 or 5 different types of arguments to claim that ID requires supernatural creation, thereby arguing that Traipsing Into Evolution "fails to address" (pg. 344) the evidence Judge Jones cited on this point in the Kitzmiller ruling. In contrast, it is Humes and Judge Jones who are "failing to address" the evidence and arguments we raised in Traipsing Into Evolution — evidence which was also put before Judge Jones.

Humes' weak examples include: (1) Out-of-context quotations from Michael Behe where Humes tries to switch philosophical implications of ID with the actual scientific content of the theory; (2) Comments by Behe about the definition of science which had NOTHING to do with claiming ID was supernatural; (3) False claims that Scott Minnich said that the ground rules of science had to be changed for ID to be considered science; (4) Irrelevant comments by Steve Fuller and William Dembski attacking methodological naturalism, and (5) Irrelevant comments about Of Pandas and People (Pandas) that ignore what Pandas actually said. I'll treat each one of these arguments separately:

1. Humes' Out-of-context quotations from Michael Behe: Humes observes that Behe said that it is "implausible that the designer is a natural entity," but this small snippet is a quotation that is taken grossly out-of-context. Behe is writing in a PHILOSOPHY journal about the philosophical implications of ID, where he is arguing that, on a philosophical level, there must be a regress back to some non-natural designer. Behe thinks such a regress can be made on a philosophical level, but he's not making a scientific argument, nor is he discussing the actual scientific conclusions of ID. In fact, Humes ignores that Behe's same article leaves open the possibility that, philosophically, humans were directly designed by a natural designer, as Behe states: "I should add that there is nothing in the previous reasoning to rule out the hypothesis that we terrestrials were designed by a natural designer which was itself designed by a supernatural designer, or that there was a series of designers between the supernatural one and us, or some variation of this. It simply means that at the beginning of the chain, input from beyond nature was required." In his response to the ruling, Behe explained that the court blatantly misrepresented his views, and the theory of ID, because this quote was simply looking at the philosophical implications of ID:

"Again, repeatedly, the Court's opinion ignores the distinction between an implication of a theory and the theory itself. If I think it is implausible that the cause of the Big Bang was natural, as I do, that does not make the Big Bang Theory a religious one, because the theory is based on physical, observable data and logical inferences. The same is true for ID."

(Michael Behe, "Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District")

Additionally, Humes ignores the fact that Behe has clearly explained in multiple places that the scientific theory of intelligent design does not require the supernatural:

"The conclusion that something was designed can be made quite independently of knowledge of the designer. As a matter of procedure, the design must first be apprehended before there can be any further question about the designer. The inference to design can be held with all the firmness that is possible in this world, without knowing anything about the designer." (Michael Behe, Darwin's Black Box, pg. 197.)

"The most important difference [between modern intelligent design theory and Paley's arguments] is that [intelligent design] is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley's was. I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument for design in biology does not reach that far. Thus while I argue for design, the question of the identity of the designer is left open. Possible candidates for the role of designer include: the God of Christianity; an angel--fallen or not; Plato's demi-urge; some mystical new age force; space aliens from Alpha Centauri; time travelers; or some utterly unknown intelligent being. Of course, some of these possibilities may seem more plausible than others based on information from fields other than science. Nonetheless, as regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton's phrase hypothesis non fingo.

(Michael Behe, "The Modern Intelligent Design Hypothesis," Philosophia Christi, Series 2, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2001), pg. 165, emphasis added.)

"most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God--based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made--I did not claim that the biochemical evidence leads ineluctably to a conclusion about who the designer is. In fact, I directly said that, from a scientific point of view, the question remains open. ... The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was"

(Michael Behe, "Philosophical Objections to Intelligent Design: Response to Critics," http://www.arn.org/docs/behe/mb_philosophicalobjectionsresponse.htm)

So Behe has been very clear that intelligent design itself does not require a supernatural designer. In fact, he gave clear and direct testimony at the trial, which Judge Jones ignored, explaining that ID does not require the supernatural:
Q. So is it accurate for people to claim or to represent that intelligent design holds that the designer was God?
Behe: No, that is completely inaccurate.
Q. Well, people have asked you your opinion as to who you believe the designer is, is that correct?
Behe: That is right.
Q. Has science answered that question?
Behe: No, science has not done so.
Q. And I believe you have answered on occasion that you believe the designer is God, is that correct?
Behe: Yes, that's correct.
Q. Are you making a scientific claim with that answer?
Behe: No, I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors.
(Behe, October 17 AM testimony, pgs. 94-95.)
Thus, Judge Jones (and then Edward Humes) misconstrued the actual theory of ID — which Behe makes clear does not require the supernatural — with the philosophical implications that Behe has drawn from the theory.

2. Humes' misconstrual of Behe's definition of science: Humes' comment about Behe's definition of science (with respect to ID and astrology) is again grossly out-of-context because this segment of Behe's testimony had absolutely nothing to do with whether ID required supernatural intervention. In fact, evolution fits under Behe's definition of science, but that doesn't mean that evolution requires the supernatural any more than it means that ID requires the supernatural.

3. Humes' uncritical misconstruals of Scott Minnich's testimony: Humes parrots Judge Jones (who copied and pasted from the ACLU) quoting pro-ID biochemist and Kitzmiller expert witness Scott Minnich out-of-context, stating that "Professor Minnich testified that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened so that supernatural forces can be considered." No, Dr. Minnich NEVER said anything like that and in fact testified that ID does not require the supernatural. The citation is to page 97 of Minnich's Nov. 4th AM testimony. I was in the courtroom when Minnich gave this testimony and I remember clearly what he said. Here's the relevant segment of what Minnich actually said, as it was recorded by the court reporter:

Q. Well, the answer to my question, and I understand you had a qualification, was true. For intelligent design to be considered science, the definition of science or the rules of science have to be broadened so that supernatural causes can be considered, correct?
A. Correct, if intelligent causes can be considered. I won't necessarily -- you know, you're extrapolating to the supernatural. And that is one possibility.
Thus, Minnich's comment about changing the definition of science (which they claimed was methodological naturalism) is conditional — science only has to be redefined if one defines mere intelligent causes to be supernatural. But Minnich isn't saying ID necessarily postulates a supernatural cause because the supernatural is "one possibility" and, as he points out, the hostile attorney was "extrapolating to the supernatural," but Minnich won't "necessarily" do that. Minnich, however, made it clear that he was not "extrapolating to the supernatural," as will be seen by looking at various excerpts from Minnich's testimony:
Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether intelligent design requires the action of a supernatural creator?
A. I do.
Q. What is that opinion?

A. It does not.

(Minnich November 3 PM testimony, pgs. 45-46, 135.)

Q. Is it -- does intelligent design tell us how many designers there are? Is it just one or could it be more?
A. It could be more.
Q. So it could be a whole family of designers, right?
A. I suppose so.
Q. It could be competing designers? We could have one designer who's designing good things and another designer who's designing bad things, right?
A. I don't -- yeah, what's your point?
Q. Well, does intelligent design tell us whether there could be –
A. No, no.
(Minnich, November 4th AM testimony, pg. 94.)

Q. Now, the conclusion that something was designed, does that require knowledge of the designer?
A. No. Absolutely not.
Q. Why not?
A. Well, I mean, we can infer design, but the science isn't going to tell us anything about the designer unless it's, you know, signed on one of these components, and we haven't found that yet.
Q. So is it accurate for people to claim or to represent that intelligent design holds that the designer is God?
A. No, absolutely not.
Q. Has science answered this question, the source of design --
A. No.
(Minnich, November 3 PM testimony, pg. 57.)

Again, during cross-examination, we see that Minnich says that ID permits a supernatural creator, but doesn't require it:

Q. Would it be fair to say that intelligent design does not exclude the possibility of a supernatural cause as the designer?
A. It does not exclude.
Q. And, in fact, a designer could be a deity, correct?
A. It could be.
Q. And that would clearly be supernatural, right?
A. Right, but that's -- that would be a philosophical addition to that science isn't going to take, isn't going to tell us. I think I made that clear.
(Minnich, November 4 AM testimony, pgs. 95-96.)
Thus, Minnich makes it clear that the science of ID cannot tell you if the designer is natural or supernatural. Here, again, is most relevant exchange, which comes soon after this last quote given above:
Q. Well, the answer to my question, and I understand you had a qualification, was true. For intelligent design to be considered science, the definition of science or the rules of science have to be broadened so that supernatural causes can be considered, correct?
A. Correct, if intelligent causes can be considered. I won't necessarily -- you know, you're extrapolating to the supernatural. And that is one possibility.
(Minnich, November 4 AM testimony, pg. 97.)
In his answer, Minnich makes it clear that methodological naturalism only excludes ID to the extent that it excludes "intelligent causes" by considering them to be "supernatural" — this is why he says "correct, if intelligent causes can be considered..." He attributed the extrapolation that ID requires a "supernatural cause" to the Darwinist attorney, Mr. Harvey, because Dr. Minnich had already made it clear that the science cannot tell you if the designer is natural or supernatural. It is "one possibility" that the designer is supernatural, but Minnich makes it clear that the scientific theory does not tell you that. The implication of Dr. Minnich's logic is that if methodological naturalism does NOT exclude merely intelligent causes then, the Mr. Harvey's answer is incorrect — if intelligent causes cannot be considered excluded.

Minnich also makes it clear that ID goes no further than inferring intelligence, stating, "So we're looking at the empirical evidence. We find irreducible complex systems. When we find these in any other context they're the product of intelligence, we infer by standard scientific inference or reasoning that these systems are also the product of intelligence, and we leave it at that." (Minnich, Nov. 3rd Testimony, pgs. 49-50.) In one final exchange from his direct testimony, Minnich makes it clear that methodological naturalism doesn't exclude ID because ID doesn't require supernatural action:

Q. Does intelligent design require the action of a supernatural creator acting outside the laws of nature?
A. No.
Q. Does intelligent design rule out a natural explanation for design foundation?
A. It doesn't.
Q. We heard quite a bit of testimony during the course of this trial about methodological naturalism, and I believe you indicated in your deposition you see that as placing limits on intelligent design, is that correct?
A. It does. It can. In the sense that it limits explanations it can be advanced, but it has the same kind of stricture on other avenues of scientific research as well.
Q. Does methodological naturalism necessarily exclude intelligent design from the realm of science?
A. No, it doesn't.
Q. Why not?
A. Again, I mean, there could be a natural cause for the systems we're trying to explain.
(Minnich, November 3 PM testimony, pgs. 135-137.)
Thus, Minnich once again makes it clear that methodological naturalism does not exclude design unless design is appealing to a supernatural creator. But he has made it clear that intelligent design is not an explanation to the supernatural, so it isn't excluded by methodological naturalism. Dr. Minnich's position should now be clear: he doesn't think that methodological naturalism excludes ID unless you (a) wrongly extrapolate that ID requires a supernatural explanation, or (b) classify all intelligent causes as "supernatural" such that methodological naturalism would exclude any intelligent causes. This is because Minnich was clear that "we infer by standard scientific inference or reasoning that these systems are also the product of intelligence, and we leave it at that." Humes, following Judge Jones, misrepresented Minnich's testimony.

4. Humes cites irrelevant discussions from Steve Fuller and William Dembski: Humes quotes Steve Fuller and William Dembski bashing methodological naturalism, but we explain in our book (in a section that Humes apparently ignores) why, even if methodological naturalism is a correct criterion of science, that it does not disqualify ID from being science:

Whether methodological naturalism is really a foundational ground rule for the operation of science has been sharply disputed by historians and philosophers of science. Assuming ad arguendo that Judge Jones is correct [that science should be defined by methodological naturalism], his argument proves far less than he believes. Intelligent design, properly conceived, does not need to violate methodological naturalism, a point that expert witness Scott Minnich made clear at trial. To understand why this is the case, one needs to understand how a design inference is drawn. Intelligent design theory assumes that intelligence is a property which we can understand through general observation of intelligent agents in the natural world. An intelligent agent exhibits predictable modes of designing because it has the property of intelligence, regardless of whether or not the agent is 'natural' or 'supernatural.' Thus, the theory of intelligent design does not investigate whether the designing intelligent agent was natural or supernatural because it assumes that things designed by an intelligence may possess certain perceptible properties regardless of whether that intelligent agent is a natural entity, or in some way supernatural. Contrary to Judge Jones, intelligent design is clearly based upon an explanatory cause whose behavior is understandable and yields predictable evidence that it was at work. … Intelligent causes can be inferred through confirmable data. The types of information produced by intelligent causes can be observed and then measured. Scientists can use observations and experiments to base their conclusions of intelligent design upon empirical evidence. Intelligent design limits its claims to those which can be established through the data. In this way, intelligent design does not violate the mandates of predictability and reliability laid down for science by methodological naturalism (whatever the failings and limitations of methodological naturalism).

(Traipsing Into Evolution, pg. 37.)
5. Humes' Misrepresentations of Pandas: Humes claims that the Pandas textbook shows that "ID is a supernatural, religious idea." (pg. 344.) But Humes somehow misses that Pandas makes precisely the opposite claim — that the science of ID cannot determine whether the intelligence behind life is natural or supernatural, as these excepts from Pandas demonstrate:
"If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause. But what kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy. But that should not prevent science from acknowledging evidences for an intelligent cause origin wherever they may exist. This is no different, really, than if we discovered life did result from natural causes. We still would not know, from science, if the natural cause was all that was involved, or if the ultimate explanation was beyond nature, and using the natural cause."

(Of Pandas and People, pg. 7, emphasis added.)

"Surely the intelligent design explanation has unanswered questions of its own. But unanswered questions, which exist on both sides, are an essential part of healthy science; they define the areas of needed research. Questions often expose hidden errors that have impeded the progress of science. For example, the place of intelligent design in science has been troubling for more than a century. That is because on the whole, scientists from within Western culture failed to distinguish between intelligence, which can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural, which cannot. Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science."

(Of Pandas and People, pgs. 126-127, emphasis added.)

"The idea that life had an intelligent source is hardly unique to Christian fundamentalism. Advocates of design have included not only Christians and other religious theists, but pantheists, Greek and Enlightenment philosophers and now include many modern scientists who describe themselves as religiously agnostic. Moreover, the concept of design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs and normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God. All it implies is that life had an intelligent source."

(Of Pandas and People, pg. 161.)

Indeed, at one point, Pandas even seems to adopt methodological naturalism, stating that "intelligence . . . can be recognized by uniform sensory experience, and the supernatural . . . cannot." (pg. 126.) Somehow Humes must have missed those passages where Pandas makes it clear that ID does not require the supernatural. For more details on Pandas, see "Response to ACLU ID FAQ: Part 1" and "Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover."

Posted by Casey Luskin on January 1, 2009 2:00 AM | Permalink

How The Spider Spun Its Web: 'Missing Link' In Spider Evolution Discovered


ScienceDaily (Jan. 1, 2009) — New interpretations of fossils have revealed an ancient missing link between today's spiders and their long-extinct ancestors. The research by scientists at the University of Kansas and Virginia's Hampden-Sydney College may help explain how spiders came to weave webs.

The research focuses on fossil animals called Attercopus fimbriunguis. While modern spiders make silk threads with modified appendages called spinnerets, the fossil animals wove broad sheets of silk from spigots on plates attached to the underside of their bodies. Unlike spiders, they had long tails.

The research findings by Paul Selden, the Gulf-Hedberg Distinguished Professor of Invertebrate Paleontology in the Department of Geology at KU, and William Shear, the Trinkle Professor of Biology at Hampden-Sydney College, were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Selden and Shear first discovered the fossils almost 20 years ago. At that time the specimens were thought to be the oldest spider fossils known, dating back to the Devonian Period, about 380 million years ago. Unearthed in upstate New York, the fossils were among the first animals to live on land in North America.

New finds near the same location, in Gilboa, N.Y., caused the paleontologists to reinterpret their original findings. The new fossils included silk-spinning organs, called spigots, arranged on the edges of broad plates making up the undersides of the animals. The researchers identified parts of a long, jointed tail not found in any previously known spider, but common among some of the spiders' more primitive relatives.

"We think these 'tailed spiders' represent an entirely new kind of animal, not known before from living or fossil examples." Shear said. "They were more primitive than spiders in many ways, and may be spider ancestors." Besides having tails and spinning silk from broad plates, the animals also seem to lack poison glands.

Selden added, "This new information also allows us to reinterpret other fossils once thought to be spiders, and this evidence suggests these Uraraneida, or pre-spiders, existed for more than 100 million years, living alongside real spiders, which evolved later."

The paleontologists think that Attercopus developed silk-spinning spigots in order to line burrows, make homing trails and possibly to subdue prey, but were not capable of making webs because of the limited mobility of the spigots. True spiders may have arisen when the genetic information for certain appendages was "turned back on" and the spigots moved onto them. The appendages became the modern spiders' spinnerets, which can move freely and create patterned webs.

Selden is director of KU's Paleontological Institute at the Biodiversity Institute, one of eight designated research centers on campus that report to the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

Adapted from materials provided by University of Kansas.

Final draft on science standards pleases scientists, watch groups


By MATT FRAZIERmfrazier@star-telegram.com

The final proposal for the state's science curriculum pleases scientists and watch groups, who say it will help protect Texas public school classrooms over the next decade from what they call "watered-down science" — specifically during the instruction of evolution.

Much of the concern over earlier versions of the proposed curriculum centered on a requirement that students be able to analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, a phrase which some say is being used by creationists — including some members of the State Board of Education — to subvert the teaching of evolution.

But with the "weaknesses" requirement removed and a new definition for science, the new plan makes it clear that supernatural explanations like creationism and intelligent design have no place in public classrooms, said Dan Quinn with the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based nonprofit group that opposes religious influence on public education.

"The old standards were so vague, people can interpret them any way they want to," Quinn said. "It's a very important move forward that says teachers and curriculum writers are unanimous in wanting our kids to get a 21st-century education."

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

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

The old definition — which included phrases like "a way of learning about nature" and "may not answer all questions" — has been replaced with a definition from the National Academy of Sciences. It states that science involves using evidence to form explanations and make predictions that can be measured and tested. It also warns that questions on subjects that cannot be scientifically tested do not belong in science.

Don McLeroy, the state board's chairman, has said that science should admit the possibly of the supernatural when natural explanations fail. But he has also said that he is not trying to put creationism in public schools.

Board members who supported teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In the end, the wording in the final draft may not matter because the board is not required to use it. In May, the board threw out a teacher-suggested language arts curriculum in favor of another that some board members have said they had only an hour to read before voting on it.

The state board will hold a second public hearing Jan. 21 and is scheduled to take a final vote on the new science standards in March.

MATT FRAZIER, 817-685-3854

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Major teen suicide cause found; Discovery Institute nowhere to be found


Category: Brain and Behavior • Culture Wars

Posted on: December 30, 2008 5:02 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Several of the blogs have pointed to the Disco. Inst.'s shameful abuse of the suicide of Jesse Kilgore in an end-of-year fundraising pitch. Kilgore, a college student who had recently returned from military service in Iraq, had been challenging aspects of his upbringing, and his father (a fundamentalist pastor) concluded that reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion inspired Jesse to kill himself. The Disco. Inst. decided that the best thing to do was to glom onto that father's grief in order to drum up end-of-year donation.

Given that the suicide rate for Iraq veterans keeps rising, I'd look past Jesse's reading list before claiming that reading about evolution and atheism results in suicide. Perhaps I'm just overly squeamish about treating anecdotes as data.

But Disco.'s concern for teen suicide (Kilgore was 22, but we'll expand the boundaries for the teenage years) seems quite limited. They certainly haven't been talking about the importance of mental health care for veterans, and they seem to be silent on a new study showing that:

Young gay people whose parents or guardians responded negatively when they revealed their sexual orientation were more likely to attempt suicide, experience severe depression and use drugs than those whose families accepted the news …

Among other findings, the study showed that teens who experienced negative feedback were more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly six times as vulnerable to severe depression and more than three times at risk of drug use.

More significantly, [San Francisco State University's Dr. Caitlin] Ryan said, ongoing work at San Francisco State suggests that parents who take even baby steps to respond with equanimity instead of rejection can dramatically improve a gay youth's mental health outlook.

One of the most startling findings was that being forbidden to associate with gay peers was as damaging as being physically beaten or verbally abused by their parents in terms of negative feedback, Ryan said.

The Disco. Inst. writes that "Ideas have consequences," which certainly seems to be the case here. The idea that homosexuality is evil and to be avoided has consequences for how parents treat their gay children, and that substantially impacts their children's likelihood of suicide. If Disco.'s talk about suicide-prevention mattered for more than raking in cash and taking cheap shots at hardworking scientists, they'd be urging their members and associates to stop demonizing gay people and to adopt a healthier attitude toward the range of human sexualities.

It's worth noting that Jesse was struggling with the status of gays and lesbians in society. His (still active) MySpace page points out that "Christians, or proponents against gay marriage have lost the gay marriage ban debate. Christians lack a substantial secular reason to block gay marriage. … A good secular argument may exist, but if it does, no one has successfully found it. If proponents against gay marriage do not find a powerful secular argument that proves gay marriage must be banned, they will not maintain the support of the masses." On another of his blogs, "I have a lot to say on this issue, and I mean a lot." We'll never know what that might have been.

His other writing shows Jesse to have been a sensitive young man, trying to understand how people could be so cruel to one another. His death diminishes us all, as do the deaths of so many veterans and so many gay youths. I don't know what could have been done to save Mr. Kilgore, but I do know what could prevent more veteran suicides, and the suicides of thousands of gay teens.

For veterans, shorter tours and longer stays stateside are key. Then, better counseling as veterans exit the service and better access to mental health care in and out of uniform. By all accounts, the VA has gotten stingy about what sort of care it provides to veterans, and has been especially unwilling to recognize and treat the full range of mental health problems that can result from the sorts of combat our troops are facing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For gay teens, it's all about access to supportive adults and parents and friends willing to follow PFLAG's advice. Easier access to mental health care wouldn't hurt, either.

Indeed, requiring insurance companies to provide access to mental health care would be an exceptionally good idea in general. Depression of the sort that leads to suicide is generally treatable, but the stigma associated with admitting to depression and the cost of treatment keeps people from getting the help they need.

Saying that doesn't advance any front in the culture wars, and it doesn't help creationists raise money. But it has the advantage of not predating upon a family's grief, and if enough people stood together on that front, it might even save some lives.

I will, however, agree with Disco. Inst. boss Bruce Chapman's call for blood donations. I give every 8 weeks or so, and encourage everyone else to follow suit. Also, be sure to talk to your family about organ donation. There's a severe shortage for many organs, and even if you've checked the box on your driver's license, doctors can't harvest your organs unless your next of kin (usually a parent or spouse) signs off. Make sure they know what you want. That conversation can fit nicely into a discussion of New Year's Resolutions.

A Partisan Affair (Part 3): Biased Treatment of Ad Hominem Attacks in Edward Humes' Pseudo-History of Kitzmiller, "Monkey Girl"


For someone who boasts a Pulitzer Prize and claims to be objective and neutral journalist, Edward Humes' book Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul is an incredibly partisan and inaccurate portrayal of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. At many points it simply parrots Darwinist talking points and retells many of their patently false urban legends about the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, leaving out crucial facts which contradict common Darwinist claims. Humes says in his book, "if the evolution wars are to continue, let the combatants be armed with facts, not fiction." (pg. viii.) That sounds good to me. But Humes' book comes off more like advocacy than an objective evaluation of the facts. Humes' intent to write Monkey Girl as a polemic against intelligent design (ID) and ID proponents is especially seen in...

Humes' One-Sided Attacks and Double-Standard Used against ID proponents Regarding Name-Calling:
Humes tries to paint the Darwinists as if they are the only ones who are victims of personal attacks in the debate over ID and evolution. Anyone who even remotely follows this issue on the internet realizes that namecalling can be a problem on both sides, but that Darwinists are the ones who overwhelmingly participate in personal attacks against ID proponents.

Humes quotes a couple ID proponents who apparently said nasty things about Darwinists, such as one legislator who apparently "offered a chilling comment likening anyone who thought differently to the murderous terrorists of 9/11." (pg. 207) While it is terrible, to be sure, when anyone engages in such personal attacks, Humes fails to observe the fact that ID proponents are subjected to personal attacks that vastly outweigh those received by Darwinists. In fact, ID proponents are also regularly compared to terrorists, or the "Taliban," by Darwinists who make such comparisons with a straight face. Such comparisons come not just from hyperbolic politicians with an agenda (like the example Humes gives) but from serious academics and journalists. Even a front page New York Times article in 2005 acknowledged that Discovery Institute "is also fending off attacks from the left, as critics liken it to... the Taliban." The article had good reason for making that claim, because many ID critics compare ID proponents to terrorists or the Taliban:

University of Texas law and philosophy professor Brian Leiter calls Darwin-skeptics on the Texas State Board of Education the "Texas Taliban" who are "committed to making the law of (their) God the law of the land."

On PandasThumb, University of Minnesota, Morris biologist P.Z. Myers (whose book endorsement Humes once boasted about on the Monkey Girl website) calls the current head of the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy, a "deranged creationist" with a URL that reads "fire-don-mclero." This led to outcries among readers that McLeroy is part of the "Texas Taliban theocrats in action ... the difference between the Texas crowd and the Afghani Taliban or the Ayatollohs of Iraq, Sudan, or Saudi Arabia is…not much. They haven't beheaded anyone in Texas. Yet. The first one will be either a biology teacher or a lawyer from the ACLU."

Austin Cline of About.com follows Leiter's lead, asking, "Texas Taliban Becoming a Role Model?"

Ohio Citizens for Science, a pro-Darwin-only activist group in Ohio, boasts a letter from Reverend Mark Belletini of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus where he states that critical analysis of evolution is "quasi-religious pap that legalized church terrorism conducted by leaders of our local Ohio 'Taliban' permits teachers to teach." He argues that those who supported Ohio's critical analysis policy are "religious terrorists."

A Slate.com reporter commenting on Ohio even noted that, "According to scientists, teachers, and civil libertarians, the Taliban has invaded Ohio."

When there was a political battle over teaching evolution in South Carolina, an award-winning blogger stated, "The American Taliban is at it again, pressuring lawmakers to teach creationism alongside bona fide, indisputable, solid science." Similarly, a commenter at Pandasthumb said that intelligent design is "the American version of the Taliban in action." Another commenter said that the only difference between Osama Bin Laden and a creationist is that "Osama is relatively honest." Another commenter called Howard Ahmanson "a mentally ill bigot who was born with a $300 million platinum spoon in his mouth" and "a religious lunatic of the sort that would make Osama bin Laden look reasonable." It should be noted that Humes' website for Monkey Girl recommends PandasThumb as "The leading evolution (and Intelligent Design criticism) blog."

Perhaps nowhere, however, have the terrorist and Taliban comparisons been more common than in the battle over the 2005 Kansas Science Standards that critiqued evolution. A user at the Physorg, a prominent physics news website, warned that "[t]he American Taliban is on the march in Kansas and if the scientific community does nothing they will take over our childrens education." Similarly, at the popular science website Bad Astronomy, one user rejoiced, "In a week, the Kansas Science Taliban loses its majority on the State Board of Education, and life will return to something like normalcy." A commenter at Newscloud.com stated, "American taliban on Kansas school board pushed out in elections." Another blogger discussing Kansas' evolution education said, "The know-nothings are really on the march, in so many ways.... but that doesn't mean deliberately turning our schools into another arm of the American Taliban's war on reality."

On a personal note, I am familiar with these kinds of attacks. In one single forum at Antievolution.org, created and owned by a former National Center for Science Education staff member, I have been called no less than "Bizarre ignoramus," "retarded," "suck-up," "Pathetic Loser," "attack mouse, gerbil, rat, or clockwork powered plush toy," "an orc," "Annoying," "a miserable loser with no life," "an idiot," "dishonest," "ignorant cheap poxied floozie," "fanatic and lunatic," "A proven liar," "incompetent," and many other far more colorful attacks which are probably best left unprinted here on Evolution News and Views.

I don't list this example to complain — I happily forgive those who have attacked me, and in fact my main response to this behavior is sadness for how it brings the ID-evolution debate down into the gutter. Rather, I raise this example to point out that this example alone finds no counterpart anywhere in the ways that ID proponents have treated Darwinists. The internet Darwinist track record of name-calling against ID proponents speaks for itself, and Humes has portrayed the nature of personal attacks in this issue exactly backwards from reality.

It is a travesty when anyone — whether a supporter of evolution or ID — is attacked in a mean-spirited fashion in this debate. Humes aims to shock his readers with how evolutionists are treated, while taking no interest in reporting how ID proponents are treated--which is dramatically worse than the treatment of Darwinists. This shows his partisan bias against ID proponents.

Hypocritically, Humes himself engages in much mud-slinging against ID proponents and Discovery Institute, calling them "combativ[e], "running scared," "angry," "cocky," "co[y]," and "masters of anti-evolution spin." In particular, Humes engages in name-calling in response to Traipsing Into Evolution, our rebuttal to the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling, calling it the "rant of a sore loser" and claiming it was an "an adaptation of angry Internet postings" where we "just made [things] up" and engaged in "complete fabrication." (He never identifies the "angry Internet postings," so it's hard to take this attack seriously, and it seems that he makes this claim to gloss over the Traipsing's scholarly nature, which contains 50+ citations to legal cases, 30+ citations to pro-ID scientific references, 25+ citations to non-ID scientific references, and about 30 citations to transcripts and briefs related to the Kitzmiller case.) Another false claim was Humes' statement that our book says that "[Judge] Jones has an oversize ego." Where did we say this in our book? We made no such claim. My next post in this series will further explore Humes' false attacks upon Traipsing Into Evolution.

For a very small sampling of just some of the attacks we at Discovery Institute received post-Kitzmiller, see "For Many Darwinists, It's Always Winter and Never Christmas."

Posted by Casey Luskin on December 31, 2008 1:07 AM | Permalink

Richard Dawkins and Michael Baum talk about alternative medicine

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/264223 Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned biologist and ethologist and the first Charles Simonyi professor in the public understanding of science. His major contribution to science is the concept that genes, the basic level of the genetic material of living things, do not only have an influence on the organisms in which they reside (the phenotype), but also on the world around those organisms (the extended phenotype).

In his two-part documentary, The Enemies of Reason, Professor Dawkins talks about several different types of superstition and the differences between superstition and the scientific method. For this documentary, he talked at some length with Professor Baum about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in general, and homeopathy in particular, and about how the scientific method can very easily be used to test these alternative systems.

Unfortunately, documentaries, by their very nature must be superficial, short, and -hopefully- entertaining, and only a tiny part of this interview has made it into the documentary. Fortunately, the full unedited interview has now been released on YouTube for all to see.

I mention some of the points in this article, but because the interview contains so much information and lasts a bit more than 50 minutes, I have had to leave out quite a bit. I can only encourage you to view the interview by clicking on the link above. It is worth it, and, who knows? It may one day save your life or that of a loved one.

This interview contains a lot of very important information, regardless of how one feels about CAM. Professor Baum starts by explaining the difference between complementary and alternative medicine. For him, complementary medicine is everything that improves the quality of life of a patient undergoing medical treatments, possibly for life-threatening diseases such as breast cancer. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, seeks to replace scientific medicine. Says Michael Baum:

I'm obviously against alternative medicine, because to me, alternative, by definition, means it does not work. If it works, we would use it.

As an example of that, he cites a few medicines of herbal origin that are being used for cancer therapy such as vinca alkaloids form periwinkle and taxanes from yew trees.

Richard Dawkins then switches to the main subject of the interview, homeopathy. He mentions that homeopathy uses ultra-diluted substances that are said to become more potent, the more they are diluted, and how -on the face of it- this sounds like plain bonkers. Yet, so many people swear by it on the basis of anecdotal evidence.

Prof. Baum reacts by stating that homeopathy is a system of beliefs into the nature of evidence and anecdotal evidence that is very hard to shift. What is meant by anecdotal evidence?

1. I have a problem
2. I did something
3. The problem went away
4. Therefore, what I did, works

This can be a powerful experience for the individual, and Baum says that a compassionate, caring medical practitioner must now ask the question if this could simply be the normal history of a self-limiting condition(1) that would have got better anyway or if it could be a placebo effect(2). And of course, it is also possible that this anecdote might hint that there is something active that might be worth exploring, for example, if there would be a lot of anecdotal evidence. However, an anecdote in and of itself is not evidence.

Michael Baum gives a nice example. If you would be standing in court to be judged for murder, you would probably prefer this evidence to be somewhat stronger than just anecdotal, circumstantial evidence. He goes on to say that we accept this for the judiciary and that his patients, who are often facing a life sentence (because of breast cancer) also deserve treatments for which the evidence is stronger than mere anecdotal, circumstantial evidence.

Richard Dawkins then asks how he would go about to test the validity of homeopathy. Baum says that the gold standard of testing is the randomized controlled trial. He explains that the homeopaths always advance two objections to that. First, he says, the homeopaths claim that their administrations cannot be patented and that they therefore do not have the money necessary to do these tests.

Baum says this is just not true. The homeopathic industry is hugely profitable and testing their remedies in controlled trials is simply not very expensive, one reason being that these remedies hardly cost anything. He says that a decent trial could be done for about 30,000 British pounds a year and that this is cheap, especially for an industry that makes millions. He goes on saying that he actually advised the Blackie Foundation at the Royal Homeopathic Hospital on how to design and conduct these trials. They refused.

The other argument homeopaths are always advancing is that they individualise their treatments and that therefore, clinical trials are not appropriate for testing their treatments. Baum says that this is a very poor argument, and he gives two reasons. When one buys a homeopathic remedy over the counter, it is not individualized. One asks for a remedy, say for a cold, and goes away with an off-the-shelf product, so there simply is no individualization. "So, "he says, "they speak with forked tongues." The second reason he advances is that modern testing methodology is perfectly able to accommodate for individualized treatments, and he gives an example on how to organize a four-armed trial.

Professor Baum also explains that he is quite upset with the way that alternologists hijack perfectly good words of the English language and pervert them into meanings they do not have. He gives the example of "holistic," and says that alternologists have debased this word by hijacking it without knowing what it means and that while they think that it means "whole" but that, in fact, holism is about the hierarchical organization of the human subject up to and beyond the family unit where at each level the sum is greater than the parts.

Prof. Dawkins and Baum also talk about the wisdom of allocating NHS (the UK National Health Service) money to homeopathy. Baum says that this is currently a minor problem, but that there is a fundamental principle at stake, namely that now, in the UK, there are two standards for medical products. Proper pharmaceuticals are to be tested rigorously and must show their efficacy, while homeopathic products do not have to show that they are effective. "It makes you weep," says professor Baum.

Later on, they talk about what Baum politely calls "post-modern relativism," the idea that everything is but an opinion. I have an opinion, but you have read some other books and you have therefore another opinion and both opinions are equally valid. As a result, we have now alternative medicine, alternative teaching methods, alternative legal advocates, "but," he says "we haven't yet come up with an alternative Boeing 747 pilot".

He links this to the MMR vaccine crisis where people are being told by alternologists and are convinced that there is a conspiracy of the medical establishment and the government that, in order to protect themselves, they were willing to sacrifice countless children to autism. "This is simply a lie," he says, and he adds that even among his closest friends, there are people who are not immunizing their children and that these children are now unprotected as a result.

Baum goes on giving another example of young women backpacking around the world who are taking homeopathic anti-malarials and as a result, are coming back to the UK with malaria.

Dawkins asks Baum if he can cite a few examples of complementary/alternative therapies for which he does have time. Baum cites art therapy as an example of complementary therapy in which he has invested quite some time. He also cites acupuncture, which is bonkers as an alternative complementary medicine belief system but which does have some value as a complementary therapy, for example in pain management. Still, his belief doesn't seem to go very far.

He goes on giving an example of the importance of clinical trials and tells a story about how he was chairing a meeting in Florence, Italy on the role of CAM in the treatment of breast cancer. He was in serious pain at the time, so much so that he was limping. An acupuncturist offered him a treatment. The next day, he was completely without pain, and even visited the Uffizi gallery for a few hours. The interesting part is that she offered the treatment, but that he didn't accept it. Had he accepted it, the result would have been so spectacular that he would have become a convert. A nice illustration of the importance of controlled trials.

Baum is also telling Dawkins about how many alternologists always go back to some "golden age" of medicine, and argues that there is no such thing as a golden age of medicine in the past, that the golden age is now, and that it will become more golden if only science can continue. He gives the example of Victorian England where life expectancy was not much more than about 40 years and where 30% of the children died shortly after birth whereas now most children survive, and that we now have life expectancies of close to 80 years, leading us to work longer than in the past.

Dawkins and Baum talk about the importance of science education. Baum tells Dawkins that we have a scientifically illiterate population, a scientifically illiterate house of commons and, worse, that they actually take pride into their scientific illiteracy. Scientists have an important task here, he says, and children should be taught the scientific method from early secondary school in order to have a scientifically literate population.

(1) Self-limiting condition: a condition that will go away without doing anything. Colds are a good example. They go away, regardless of what we do or don't do.

(2) Placebo effect: a condition improves as the direct result of a treatment, even though this treatment does not actually do anything to remedy the condition. A good example is a parent giving a child a kiss on its knee after it fell, to make the pain go away.

Stephen Jay Gould's view of life


Category: Books • History of Science
Posted on: December 30, 2008 1:23 PM, by Brian Switek

Shortly after my wife and I were married in the summer of 2006, but before our apartment was lined with overstocked bookshelves, we used to make at least one weekly stop at the local public library. While she browsed a wide array of sections, I invariably scaled the back staircase to the science section on the second floor. The question was not whether I wanted to read a science book, but which one.

One of the first I picked up was Stephen Jay Gould's essay collection The Lying Stones of Marrakech. Rightly or wrongly, I recognized him as the voice of evolutionary science, a topic that had gained my rapt attention, and so it seemed as good a place to start my evolution education as any.

I was enthralled by Gould's writing from the first page. The history of human attempts to understand nature, in particular, revealed a view of science that was far more engaging than anything my high school teachers had tried to cram into my skull. Gould's writing not only fed my curiosity about evolution, but sparked a new interest in the history of science, and it suddenly became important to read whatever original sources I could find for myself. Shortly after I returned the book to the library, I ordered a copy of The lying stones of Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer, in addition to checking out Gould's Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms from the library.

I owe a lot to Gould. Not only have his explanations of the evolution influenced my own understanding of the subject, but his approach to history and prose have shaped my own interests and writing style. For one reason or another, though, not everyone is a fan of Gould, and I have sometimes heard my peers lament that they wish there was one single book they could read to understand Gould and be done with him.

Personally, I think this view is rather shortsighted, if not stupid. If you want to understand the work of a particular scientist, especially if their ideas are controversial, why intentionally limit yourself to just one book? I personally don't care much for the writing and some arguments of Richard Dawkins, but that makes it all the more important for me to read a variety of his work to understand what he's trying to get at. It would be idiotic for me to base any criticisms of Dawkins entirely upon The Selfish Gene, and it is the same with any other scientist with contentious views.

If you really do not have the time or patience to dive into Gould's work, however, there is hardly a better "primer" on Gould than the recently-published Stephen Jay Gould: Reflections of His View of Life. This is not a biography (even though one is due out soon), but rather a collection of papers and essays on different aspects of Gould's work by friends and colleagues. From his work on the snail Cerion to his lack of appreciation for ecology, the book traces the development of many of Gould's "big ideas" in various facets of his career.

Gould was an unusual scientist, indeed. He closed the gap between popular essays (in which he sometimes presented scientific arguments or information for the first time) and technical reviews (which were more like the essays of naturalists of centuries past than modern reviews). As several of the contributors to the volume point out, though, it was this style that attracted criticism. In terms of species sorting (or selection), Gould seemed to come up with the hypothesis but did not carefully and quantitatively lay out how it might work like other forms of selection. His intellectual opponents wanted something short, simple, and to the point; the sort of thing that would have been uncharacteristic of Gould! Indeed, Gould left details supporting his notions to be supplied by others, and in the case of species sorting, there is still much work left to be done.

There are a few aspects of Gould's career that I wished received greater attention in the book, as well. First is his opposition to sociobiology/evolutionary psychology, which is mentioned but not examined in detail. The second is why Gould seems to have said little (if anything) about intelligent design. It seems that Gould saw creationism as a primarily American phenomenon that was held by a minority of fundamentalists, and after the 1981 legal victory of scientists over creationists in Arkansas, he seems to have thought that creationism was on the retreat. Given that ID as we now know it was on the rise in the 1990's (i.e. Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box was published in 1996), I have always found it strange that Gould did not have much to say about it. (Perhaps I have missed something.) Third, a detailed analysis of Gould's thoughts on "hopeful monsters" and saltations would have been useful, particularly given the persistent confusion between saltation, punctuated equilibria, and Gould's interest in development. Finally, I would have liked to see the debate between Gould and E.O. Wilson on the relationship of science and the humanities analyzed (see Gould's The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox and Wilson's Consilience for their respective views).

The problem with Gould's legacy is that some of his ideas, like punctuated equilibrium, have been integrated into evolutionary theory and receive little special comment. (It is either treated as something that has been known all along, or, like in Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True, speciation is said to proceeded both in gradual and punctuated patterns with no mention of the recent debate about this.) Other ideas, like species sorting, are tantalizing but require more evidence than is presently available to confirm. This presents a few scenarios about how Gould's involvement with species sorting might be remembered. If Gould is wrong, this idea will be mainly of interest to historians of science. If he is right, then his contribution to this area of research might be forgotten, misinterpreted, or (hopefully) properly attributed when or if that vindication comes.

The fact that his magnum opus, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, is a ponderous and nearly unreadable tome does not help matters. His refusal to let an editor touch the product of his 20+ years of effort provides an unobstructed view of Gould, but there is more to take in than is possible for many (if not most) readers. Indeed, the sheer volume of his writing and the public debates he was engaged in might make it easy for scientists and authors to present a textbook cardboard version of Gould, which would be most unfitting given how often he railed against this problem!

Gould's scientific ideas will stand or fall by their own merits as we continue to interrogate nature, but the influence of his writing on me has stretched beyond the minutiae of evolutionary theory. His work has stirred me to look more deeply into history, be more critical of cherished stories, and even to pick up the pen myself. If it were not for Gould, I find it doubtful that I would be striving to become a science writer, and I always find inspiration by reading his reflections on natural history.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

False equivalence


Category: Creationism
Posted on: December 29, 2008 11:21 AM, by PZ Myers

I've been seeing this argument a lot lately: it's a brand of exceedingly indiscriminate relativism that is being prominently peddled by Answers in Genesis.

Creationists and evolutionists, Christians and non-Christians, all have the same evidence--the same facts. Think about it: we all have the same earth, the same fossil layers, the same animals and plants, the same stars—the facts are all the same.

The difference is in the way we all interpret the facts. And why do we interpret facts differently? Because we start with different presuppositions; these are things that are assumed to be true without being able to prove them. These then become the basis for other conclusions. All reasoning is based on presuppositions (also called axioms). This becomes especially relevant when dealing with past events.

It's true, I do have some presuppositions. I think that explanations should deal with as much of the evidence as possible; they should avoid contradictions, both internal and with the evidence from the physical world; they should be logical; they should make predictions that can be tested; they should have some utility in addressing new evidence. It's not too much to ask, I don't think. "Darwin" is not one of my presuppositions, however. Charles Darwin provided a set of explanations that, after some modification, meet my criteria. I am quite prepared to throw Darwin out, however, if a better explanation came along or if evidence that contradicted his ideas were discovered.

I am not prepared to throw out logic and consistency. The creationists are.

Their cartoon version of equivalence highlights their problem. If we all have the same facts and just different interpretations based on what book we use as a starting premise, how do we discriminate between better interpretations? Are they all equally valid? Imagine "Darwin" replaced with "Koran" — do they really want to argue that the Islamic vision of the world is just as useful as the Christian view? (I would, of course, but that's because I think both are foolish and narrow.) Swap in the Book of Mormon: that does not mean that suddenly there is truth to the notion of pale-skinned Hebrews warring across the New World in bronze chariots. The existence of Lord of the Rings does not imply that Tolkien fans should believe the world really was populated with elves and orcs, once upon a time.

There are presuppositions, and then there are presuppositions. We should at least try to test our premises, and I think we can all agree that it is possible to rank different presuppositions on the basis of how well they describe reality. Most of us can recognize that Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars are fictions, that what they describe doesn't exist, and that they probably aren't very good filters to use in evaluating paleontological evidence. That someone who has accepted The Force as his one true religion does not mean that his claim that Homo erectus is a Wookie requires recognition as a reasonable interpretation.

Similarly, the Bible does not hold up well as a rational presupposition. Its descriptions of how the world works (and, as every rational person knows, it was not intended as a science textbook) are inadequate and full of errors. The portions of the book of Genesis that creationists use as their sole source for the origin of life on Earth is only a few lines of vague poetry, with two self-contradicting accounts of the sequence of events…and it's a sequence that does not correspond at all well to the observed record of events, and that blithely lumps fish and birds into one useless catch-all category. If this is their lens for viewing the world, it's a cracked one that is almost entirely opaque.

And no, the fact that the Bible contains one line that mentions a mythical creature called Behemoth does not mean it adequately accounts for all of large animal zoology, nor can one simply claim it is equivalent to a dinosaur, and therefore the Bible is a complete account of the history of life. Dinosaurs were diverse. And shouldn't it be a greater omission that the Bible fails to mention anything about bacteria?

The patently incomplete nature of the Bible's descriptions of Earth's history led honest creationists to admit that further understanding of the Creation required evaluation of the physical evidence. You can't just claim that humans and dinosaurs coexisted 6,000 years ago: there is no fossil evidence that they were contemporaries, there is no sign of dinosaurs existing so close to the current time, and even within the period of the Mesozoic we can find evidence of faunal succession — the forms found in the Triassic are different from those of the Jurassic are different from those of the Cretaceous. It is not sufficient to simply claim the Bible is your presupposition, therefore you can freely invent facts to fit it — there ought to be some corroborating evidence that shows your interpretations are reasonable. There aren't any.

And please, when your presuppositions lead to ridiculous assertions, it's time to question your premises. One of the examples this silly AiG article uses to justify its peculiar relativism is the interpretation of dating methods. Can you see the glaring problem in this rationale from the disgracefully sloppy work of Russell Humphreys?

Consider the research from the creationist RATE group (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth) concerning the age of zircon crystals in granite. Using one set of assumptions, these crystals could be interpreted to be around 1.5 billion years old based on the amount of lead produced from the decay of uranium (which also produces helium). However, if one questions these assumptions, one is motivated to test them. Measurements of the rate at which helium is able to "leak out" of these crystals indicate that if they were much older than about 6,000 years, they would have nowhere near the amount of helium still left in them. Hence, the originally applied assumption of a constant decay rate is flawed; one must assume, instead, that there has been acceleration of the decay rate in the past. Using this revised assumption, the same uranium-lead data can now be interpreted to also give an age of fewer than 6,000 years.

Using their Biblical presupposition, they need to explain away the evidence of the accumulation of radioactive decay products by assuming that decay rates were roughly one million fold greater in the recent past. They are making a "revised assumption" that would mean that the planet should have exploded into a great glowing cloud of hot vapor a few thousand years ago! Shouldn't that sort of compel you to rethink your excuses? But no, these guys just sail past the glaring contradiction with empirical reality as if it didn't exist.

There's a good reason creationism is not regarded as a fair equivalent to the scientific point of view. It's because the former fails to pay attention to the physical evidence, while the latter is built, not on presuppositions, but on that evidence.

Academic freedom legislation is moving forward in several states


December 28, 2008

In the famous monkey trial for the freedom to teach evolution in the public schools, Clarence Darrow argued that it was "the height of bigotry" to teach only one view of the origin of life.

If so, then teachers today should have not only the freedom to teach evolution, but also to teach all relative scientific theories that contradict evolution. This is the argument behind academic freedom legislation now moving forward in several states calling for a science standard that would make "teaching the controversy" a required part of any science curriculum.

This would level the playing field and go a long way toward resolving the growing political and moral divide in our nation. Many see the teaching of only one aspect of chemical evolution as reverse bigotry. It allows the use of tax-supported schools to force the acceptance and social practices of a conflicting one-sided world view on society against its will and right. This is what is broken in America that must be fixed if unity and tranquility are to be restored to our nation.

Also, for the first time in our nation's history, academic freedom would provide a wholly neutral classroom environment free from religious or antireligious overtones. Students could then begin to think freely and objectively about all aspects of evolution and take informed positions for or against based on the evidence fairly and accurately presented. And they would do so with the conscience knowledge that science has neither proved nor disproved evolution.

This would put the possibility of moral accountability on the table for serious consideration. I believe this alone would precipitate a renaissance of moral conscientiousness and accountability resulting in a new regard for life and human relationships and restore honor, unity, and pride to our nation.

Academic freedom with its call for fairness and integrity in the classroom is a national cause whose time has come. Parents and clergy must begin to step up to the plate, become fully informed on the relevant theories being taught in school, and assume total responsibility for the moral and spiritual development of their children.

But they must be allowed to do so without fear of their children being wrongly and unfairly taught in school that science has proved their faith false and their religious beliefs archaic. Surely all fair-minded persons, religious or otherwise could agree to such a tradeoff to right what is wrong in America and reunite our estranged society.

Mr. President-Elect, I commend you on your desire to improve education, reduce abortions, and to bring this nation together again. I do believe these are changes that matter most. To fix what is broken in America and restore moral accountability to our nation from the Oval Office, to the halls of Congress, to Wall Street, to Main Street (and its classrooms), and everywhere in between, we must change the divisive and unfair way evolution is taught in our public schools and in higher academia.

This would change the debate over our First Amendment right of religious liberty that our founding fathers considered to be the cornerstone of freedom, and which at the price of blood they assayed to preserve for all posterity by the single greatest legislative document ever conceived by mortal men The Constitution Of The United States Of America.

America's social ills and a failing economy are but symptoms. The disease is a lack of moral accountability and the bigotry of circumventing the rights and will of the American people by any means for any reason by any person or any group.

Kenneth Riden is a Richmond resident and former clergyman.

Thinking critically


Minot Skeptical Society encourages critical investigation of beliefs

By DAN FELDNER, Staff Writer dfeldner@minotdailynews.com POSTED: December 30, 2008

With information so easily passed around thanks to the Internet, everything from the supposed wonders of magnet therapy to questions about whether the Holocaust actually happened can make the rounds around the world in a matter of seconds. In order to find the truth behind some of these "facts," a Minot man has formed a quickly-growing group of people to investigate various claims and debate their merits.

Steve Stripe, founder of the Minot Skeptical Society, said there is a growing skeptical movement in the United States that is quickly gaining momentum. Noted skeptics such as Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, and James Randi, founder of the nonprofit James Randi Educational Foundation, are asking people not to believe everything they see or hear without a little investigation into whether there is any validity to the claims being made.

"(Randi's) actually a magician and he's sort of like the godfather of skeptics (and) he's kind of in the same vein as Penn and Teller," Stripe said. "They're skeptics also."

Stripe said he was compelled to form the society because of all the misinformation he felt was being fed to the public from various sources, and the public's willingness to take that information at face value.

"I kind of saw a lot of questionable material that's in the media, that's on TV, that you actually see on Broadway and other places," he said. "And so I thought it was about time we needed to have some rational thought in Minot."

He was quick to note that being skeptical does not mean being cynical. Although the two might seem to be similar, Stripe said there is a key difference that is important for everyone not familiar with the skeptical movement to know.

"A skeptic is not a cynic. A cynic doesn't believe anything," Stripe said. "A skeptic will believe things but you've got to show the evidence."

The society was formed about three or four months ago and monthly meetings are held in a conference room at the Center for Family Medicine, 1201-11th Ave. SW, where Stripe is the assistant professor of family medicine and teaches, does research and sees patients. The next meeting is Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. and anyone with a thirst for critical thinking is invited to attend.

The society is free to join and includes people from a wide variety of disciplines.

"It includes physicians, some of my residents here, staff at Minot State University, some of their students, and everyday people that come off the street," Stripe said.

Stripe also has a blog at (minotskepticalsociety.blogspot.com) that allows those interested in the society to learn a little more about it and see upcoming meeting times.

The purpose of the society is to encourage people to apply critical thinking in their lives and society, and to encourage and support science and its sister disciplines such as history and ethics in the form of basic and applied research and education.

"The idea is that there is no idea, no claim, no device, no belief that's off limits. Anything is fair game," Stripe said. "The only thing that is off limits is attacking a person."

Stripe said people can get as passionate as they want to in discussing an idea at the meetings but they have to be able to go out and have a drink together afterwards.

Every meeting has a theme to discuss. The theme at the last meeting was alternative medicine and the theme at the January meeting will be intelligent design and creationism. Stripe said the point of these meetings is to get rational and critical thought into the community.

"Basically the idea is to kind of stir up some discussion," he said. "Let's get people talking. If we can get people talking then we make progress."

Critical thinking is not necessarily putting down something but applying evidence to whatever is being claimed to see if the evidence supports it, according to Stripe. He gave the example of magnet therapy as something that desperately needs some critical thinking applied to it.

He said a brochure he read on the subject stated that magnet therapy originated with the ancient Chinese.

"Well, the Chinese never had magnets," he said. "The first mention of magnet therapy was by a guy named Anton Mesmer in 1770. Anton Mesmer is where we get our word 'mesmerizing.' And he got it from a Franciscan monk named Maximilian Hell."

Stripe said that Mesmer found he could get rid of the magnets and a healing effect would still work. All of the magnetic therapies that claim they're good for arthritis, thyroid and heart problems, and diabetes, just to name a few, are completely bogus, he said.

"The first rule in critical or skeptical thinking (is) if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is," Stripe said.

He said another red flag to look out for is any remedy that relates itself to some sort of ancient wisdom.

"They say acupuncture is an ancient or traditional Chinese medicine. Guess who came up with that term? Mao Tse-tung (the former chairman of the Chinese Communist Party)," Stripe said. "He was the one that coined the term 'traditional Chinese medicine.' He himself didn't believe in acupuncture but he wanted a cheap way he could send his barefoot doctors in the 1960s during the cultural revolution to give health care to his population."

Stripe noted there's no archeological evidence to suggest acupuncture was around in China 2,000 years ago. On the contrary, he said it probably came from Europe and found its way into China.

He said these false medical miracles can be especially dangerous when they stop people from seeking valid medical treatments in favor of alternative medicine which can sometimes have deadly results.

Besides medicine, Stripe said skepticism also deals with revisionist history such as the completely false claims that the Holocaust didn't occur during World War II or that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were actually a conspiracy by the Bush administration.

Above all, Stripe encourages people to think for themselves and do a little digging to discover the truths behind many of the claims being made today.

"I heard of a saying recently where a person's reality is their own. That's not true. Reality is reality, no matter what you think it is," he said. "And we're going to get along better in the world and understand it better if we can understand what the real reality is. ... So that's what science tries to do, what history tries to do. Understand what the reality is, so we can better understand and prepare for the future."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Darwin exhibit in London describes intelligent design as 'pseudoscience'


by Trina Hoaks, Atheism Examiner

As it continues its one-year countdown to the opening of the highly anticipated Darwin Centre Cocoon, The Natural History Museum in London unveiled its Darwin exhibit, Darwin: Big idea, big exhibition. On their Web site, they boast that this "is the biggest ever exhibition about Charles Darwin. It celebrates Darwin's ideas and their impact for his 200th birthday in 2009." The exhibit, the first of its kind, was created in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum, London, the Museum of Science, Boston, the Field Museum, Chicago and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Martin Belam wrote about his experiences while visiting the exhibit, which opened in November, this month. He expressed that he learned a great deal about Darwin the scientist as well as Darwin the man.

In his article, Darwin: Big idea, big exhibition" at the Natural History Museum, he indicated that he was pleased by the straight forwardness of the exhibit. There is a placard as well as a video included in the exhibit that points unapologetically to the notions of creationism and intelligent design as "pseudoscience." The placard included the following, according to Belam: "'Certain expressions of creationism - for example, the view known as intelligent design - hold that Darwinian evolution is not sufficient to explain the origin of complex structures, such as the eye, or complex organisms, such as humans. They assert that such innovations must be the act of an intelligent designer. Creationism, including intelligent design, does not offer a scientific alternative to the theory of evolution.'"

I have searched for information as to whether this exhibit will be made available in the United States as it is described as a "temporary exhibit" that is scheduled to end April 19, 2009, but I have, thus far, found nothing about it. Hopefully, it will make its way here eventually.

Australian geologists still oppose creationism


December 28th, 2008 International General 2008

The Geological Society of Australia recently updated its policy statement (PDF) on science education and creationism. A previous version of the statement (reprinted in the third edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution) from 1995 read, in part, "The Geological Society of Australia considers that notions such as Fundamental Creationism, including so called 'Flood Geology', which disregard scientific evidence such as that based on repeatable observations in the natural world and the geological record, are not science and cannot be taught as science ... The Society states unequivocally that the dogmatic teaching of notions such as Creationism within a science curriculum stifles the development of critical thinking patterns in the developing mind and seriously compromises the best interests of objective public education. ... the Society dissociates itself from Creationist statements made by any member." The 2008 update differs from the 1995 version only in specifying that the statement applies to "intelligent design" and in bearing the endorsements of all of the presidents of the society from 1994 onward. Established in 1952, the Geological Society of Australia is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote, advance and support the earth sciences in Australia.

A Partisan Affair (Part 2): False Attacks Upon Discovery Institute in Edward Humes' Pseudo-History of Kitzmiller, "Monkey Girl"


Any book with an icon of evolution on its cover — in this case, the fanciful diagram of ape-like skeletons transitioning into a human skeleton — is bound to be unfriendly towards intelligent design (ID). When I received my copy of Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, Edward Humes' book about the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, I expected no less. Humes' FAQ on evolution and ID on his website made the incredibly bold claim, "There is more scientific evidence ... to support evolutionary theory than ... gravitational theory." What I did not expect to find in Humes' book were dozens of inaccurate claims about the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial and extensive name-calling and ad hominem attacks against Discovery Institute, where he says we are "combativ[e], "running scared," "angry," "cocky," "co[y]," "masters of anti-evolution spin," "would-be giant killer[s]," and "sore loser[s]." This isn't upsetting--just surprising given that it comes from a book that is being touted as a true and correct historical treatment of this trial. This second installment will discuss Humes'...

Attacks upon Discovery Institute:

Humes attacks Discovery Institute by selectively quoting from the "wedge document" and making no mention of its scientific goals: "To see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research being done from the perspective of the theory," and "To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science." Humes also fails to observe the document seeks to end misuses of science to promote philosophical claims, and that leading Darwinists in fact have expressed their own ideological motives for promoting evolution. For a response on the "Wedge Document," see "The 'Wedge Document': 'So What'?." For details on why it is a fallacious argument for Darwinists to cite the alleged religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of ID proponents in an effort to attack ID, see "Any larger philosophical implications of intelligent design, or any religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of ID proponents, do not disqualify ID from having scientific merit."

Humes relies extensively upon the arguments of Barbara Forrest in her book Creationism's Trojan Horse, discussing the alleged religious motives and beliefs of ID-proponents. Humes fails to treat the issue fairly and he fails to recognize that Barbara Forrest's fallacious "Trojan Horse" insinuations could apply equally to his own side. For more information, please see "Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part III: Do Religious (or Anti-Religious) Beliefs Matter?," "Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part IV: The "Wedge Document," and "Response to Barbara Forrest's Kitzmiller Account Part V: Phillip Johnson and Of Pandas and People."

Through more free-association arguments, Humes tries to link Discovery Institute to fellows to theocracy. While discussing various Discovery fellows, he mentions some unrelated senator who allegedly "believes America should be transformed into a Bible-based theocracy" (pg. 144). In another section, Humes mentions a preacher who defended Dover and allegedly looked forward to a day where "there will be no separation between church and state" and "[w]e will live in a theocracy" (pg. 20). Humes' theocracy insinuations are flatly false conspiracy theories (for details, see "The Truth about Discovery Institute and Theoracy"), and his irrelevant discussion of the beliefs and motives of design-proponents reveals his usage of a double-standard: Humes never mentions the fact that many leading Darwinists have equal but opposite anti-religious beliefs and motives which would disqualify evolution from being science if his arguments were applied fairly. If Humes were to be fair, he would have to recognize that his side's own philosophical and ideological affiliations would disqualify Darwinian evolution from being scientific. For more details, see "Any larger philosophical implications of intelligent design, or any religious motives, beliefs, and affiliations of ID proponents, do not disqualify ID from having scientific merit."

Recapitulating Darwinist talking points and parroting Chris Mooney's rhetoric in The Republican War on Science, Humes claims that Discovery Institute has "manufactured an evolutionary scientific controversy that previously did not exist" (pg. 71). There are some glaring problems with Humes' conspiracy theory, namely that it's impossible to "manufacture" 700+ Ph.D. scientists who are skeptical of neo-Darwinism's central claims. Nor is it possible to simply "manufacture" books published by prestigious academic presses like Cambridge University Press, Michigan State University Press, or MIT Press, giving space to scientists and scholars to debate evolution and intelligent design. Nor is it possible to simply "manufacture" numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles challenging key aspects of modern evolutionary theory or supporting intelligent design. To give one of many examples, in 2004 pro-ID biochemist Michael Behe and physicist David Snoke published in the journal Protein Science the results of their evolution simulations showing certain protein-protein interactions could not evolve within normal eukaryotic population sizes. An evolutionary biologist then wrote a response to Behe and Snoke's article. (See Michael Lynch, "Simple evolutionary pathways to complex proteins," Protein Science, Vol. 14:2217-2225 (2005).) Behe and Snoke then responded to Lynch (see Protein Science, Vol. 14:2226-2227(2005).) If this isn't evidence of a scientific debate and controversy over evolution, what is? For the list of scientists who doubt Darwinism, see "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," and for a partial list of peer-reviewed pro-ID scientific papers, see "Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)." For a further response on the claim that Discovery Institute has somehow managed to "manufacture" a controversy over evolution, see "Whose "War" Is It, Anyway?: Exposing Chris Mooney's Attack on Intelligent Design."

Humes tries to paint Discovery Institute as having changed its science education policy since Dover, insinuating that prior to Dover, Discovery supported districts that would mandate ID. His example, however, is our support for an individual teacher who taught about ID — not a school district policy. This example does not challenge our policy, for Discovery's clearly-stated science education policy supports individual teachers who teach ID at their own discretion in a safe environment, as it states, "Although Discovery Institute does not advocate requiring the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, it does believe there is nothing unconstitutional about voluntarily discussing the scientific theory of design in the classroom." That's all this teacher did: voluntarily discuss ID without any requirement from his district. But as far back as 2002, when Discovery Institute got involved in its first major public policy battle, in Ohio, Stephen Meyer wrote: "First, I suggested--speaking as an advocate of the theory of intelligent design--that Ohio not require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design..." For more information, see "Discovery Institute's Science Education Policy." For a discussion of Discovery Institute's history of opposing attempts to mandate ID, see "Rebuttal to Irons," and see Stephen C. Meyer's "Teach the Controversy" (March 30, 2002).

Humes attempts to impugn the integrity of the Discovery Institute's former staff attorney Seth Cooper, who had communication with the Dover School Board before they passed their ID-policy, by insinuating that Cooper actually tried to convince Dover to push ID into its curriculum. Humes is confused about the facts and relying upon inaccurate and untrustworthy sources. Cooper explained what really happened: "I also made clear to Buckingham that Discovery Institute does not support the mandating of the theory of intelligent design. … In the hopes of persuading Buckingham away from leading the Dover Board on any unconstitutional and unwise course of action concerning the teaching of evolution, I sent Buckingham a DVD titled Icons of Evolution, along with a companion study guide. Those materials do not include arguments for the theory of intelligent design, but instead contain critiques of textbook treatments of the contemporary version of Darwin's theory and the chemical origin of the first life." Humes also explains that Cooper sent Buckingham the Icons of Evolution DVD, but fails to acknowledge that the Icons of Evolution video is not about intelligent design. To contradict Cooper, Humes relies upon Bill Buckingham, a Dover school board member who alleges that Cooper told Dover to teach ID and claims that later Cooper became "a rat jumping from a sinking ship." Humes tells the story so as to favor Buckingham's account, but he has no evidence other than Buckingham's inaccurate history. It should be noted that Humes is asking the reader to disregard the perspective of an attorney who has worked in this field for many years and instead trust a board member (Buckingham) whom Judge Jones said in his ruling "testified inconsistently, or lied outright under oath" and is therefore "not credible." For more details, see "Statement by Seth L. Cooper Concerning Discovery Institute and the Decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board Intelligent Design Case." Further discussion can be seen at "Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover" and "Rebuttal to Irons."

Humes tries to paint Discovery Institute as having changed its tune in Dover over whether Dover should mandate ID. But statements issued by Discovery Institute — before Dover passed its ID-policy, before the ACLU filed its lawsuit, and at the time the lawsuit was filed — each consistently opposed the mandatory teaching of intelligent design. The Institute was consistent in its position in Dover, and the picture painted by Humes does not fit the facts. For details, see "Intelligent Design will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover" and "Rebuttal to Irons."

Posted by Casey Luskin on December 29, 2008 12:43 AM | Permalink

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Partisan Affair (Part 1): False Claims About Intelligent Design in Edward Humes' Pseudo-History of Kitzmiller, Monkey Girl


In early 2007, I wrote a three-part series of blog posts where I discussed how Darwinist author Edward Humes misrepresented himself when trying to convince me to do an interview with him for his book, Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul (Harper Collins, 2007). (That series of prequels can be found at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) When Humes first contacted me in 2006, he declared his commitment to non-partisan and objective journalism (he later refused to give me permission to quote directly from his original emails). Humes' defensive posture immediately alerted me that something was awry, so I declined to do an interview. It turned out my instincts were correct: Edward Humes was not interested in non-partisan journalism regarding the evolution debate. He created a website about Monkey Girl, which had many inaccurate and highly partisan claims, like, "There is more scientific evidence, laboratory testing and direct observation to support evolutionary theory than virtually any other scientific theory, including gravitational theory," calling intelligent design (ID) a "form of creationism," and saying ID "posits a supernatural process." It would be hard to imagine a less-partisan treatment of evolution. At the end of that series of blog posts, before I received Humes' book, I wrote the following:

At this point, I've recounted Humes' glowing praise from only hardline Darwinists, his partisan and inaccurate FAQ, and the fact that he changed his FAQ in response to my emails and then did not disclose key changes while accusing me of misstating the FAQ. Yet Humes originally came to me soliciting an interview claiming to be fair and neutral.

Some readers may choose to believe that Humes developed his views while he wrote the book and was forthright towards me. Unsurprisingly, that is what Humes claims, and Humes' Darwinist reviewers will certainly take that line in his defense. And if that's the case, Humes could simply make his book proposal public, because that should reveal whether he really was non-partisan when he researched his book. That would certainly lay my suspicions to rest. But Humes continues to refuse to make his book proposal public. Other readers may wonder what Humes is hiding in the book proposal.

Regardless, there is no doubt that Humes is now a complete partisan (who believes evolution is better supported than gravity) and that he is promoting much false information about ID.

Because Discovery Institute was unable to obtain a review copy of Humes' book, I had to order it off Amazon, and I have not yet received the book (somehow many Darwinist bloggers already have copies, as they've reviewed [it] for Humes on his blog). Perhaps after the book arrives, further commentary can be made about it. Meanwhile, I'm sure Edward Humes won't complain too much about the free publicity we're giving him. After all, you know what they say...

(Is Edward Humes, Monkey Girl Author, a Partisan? (Part III): Glowing Endorsements from Darwinists)

Soon after that posting, I received my copy of Monkey Girl from Amazon and started working on a fairly lengthy review of the book. Because the book had so many inaccurate statements, what started off as a review soon became a time-consuming rebuttal. Unfortunately, in the middle of working on that review/rebuttal of Monkey Girl, my hard drive severely crashed (an IT friend told me it was the worst hard drive meltdown he'd seen), and I also got extremely sick. For a while this project fell by the wayside. But recently I've had a couple people e-mailing me, citing Monkey Girl as a supposed objective, authoritative source of information on intelligent design. People behave as if the fact that its author won a Pulitzer prize (for a different work, mind you), suddenley makes Monkey Girl an impartial and inerrant book. As someone who has been closely involved in the ID movement for years and who observed much of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in person, it would be a grave mistake to cite Monkey Girl as a non-partisan -- or even accurate -- source of information on ID or the Kitzmiller v. Dover case.

In response to some of these e-mails about Monkey Girl, I decided to dig up my prior review of Humes' book, shorten it, and highlight some of the main points of my review. Because most of Humes' inaccurate claims about ID have been answered in various other writings, my review of Monkey Girl will consist primarily of short descriptions of his false claims combined with links to articles that address his false statements. I will publish my review of Monkey Girl in a series of six posts dealing with various problems with the book. This first installment will discuss some of Humes'...

Problems Related to Intelligent Design:

Repeating the rhetoric of ID-critics like Eugenie Scott, Humes implies that ID proponents try to deceitfully hide their true views about the identity of the designer. He states, "There is a bit of a nod and a wink to this, as everyone involved knows that they're talking about—or more precisely, not talking about—God…" (pg. xiii) In true conspiracy-theorist fashion, Humes contends that "[i]n private, and among true believers, however, the 'wedge warriors' admitted that the designer virtually all of them were referring to was the Christian God." (pg. 71 ) Such claims and insinuations that ID proponents lie about their actual views about the identity of the designer are betrayed by the facts. For details on refutations of this common but false claim, see "Principled (not Rhetorical) Reasons Why Intelligent Design Doesn't Identify the Designer" and "ID Does Not Address Religious Claims About the Supernatural."

One of the most pernicious aspects of Monkey Girl is its extensive use of caricaturing, consistently indulging stereotypes that portray Darwin-skeptics as "yahoos, religious zealots, and scientifically suspect charlatans" (p. 28) while portraying evolutionists as interesting, intelligent, and cool scientists. I have no objections to Humes' positive portrayals of evolutionists, but it's difficult to believe Humes' complaints about stereotyping when his selection and portrayal of pro-ID characters encourages the reader to accept those negative stereotypes about Darwin-skeptics. For example, Humes contrasts a favorable description of a theistic evolutionist geologist with a fundamentalist preacher who preaches that it's "a sin (not to mention tasteless, unpatriotic, and downright rude)" (p. 21) to accept evolution. Humes characterizes the preacher as close-minded, saying, "the devil with Charles Darwin. Literally." (pg. 22) Humes gives inordinate amounts of print-space to discussing other extremist examples like the "creationist evangelist" Kent Hovind. Humes admits that Hovind is "probably the last person with whom advocates of design at the Discovery Institute would wish to see their cause associated." (pg. 67) That may be true, which makes it highly suspicious that Humes spends so much time to discussing Hovind in a book about intelligent design. For details on these "Inherit the Wind Stereotypes," see Phillip Johnson, "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds," and for commentary about Monkey Girl's use of stereotyping, see Reasonable Kansans blogs at http://reasonablekansans.blogspot.com/2007/03/just-thinking.html and http://reasonablekansans.blogspot.com/2007/03/finished-reading-monkey-girl.html.

Humes claims that ID "requires a belief that the empirical evidence ... shows that the complexity of life cannot be explained without the intervention of some sort of master designer" (p. xiii) and supports the view that "ID is a supernatural, religious idea." (p. 344) He also insinuates that intelligent design evolved from "creationism" after the Edwards v. Aguillard ruling, ignoring the actual history of intelligent design, which shows that it is a project that has always been distinct from creationism because it aims to make its case entirely within the empirical domain. Each of these claims by Humes' are false recapitulations of typical Darwinist talking points against ID. For more details, please see "ID Does Not Address Religious Claims About the Supernatural."

To further his stereotyping and encourage the reader to follow his free-association arguments, Humes engages in tenuous and irrelevant discussions of young earth creationist leaders to try to tie Michael Behe and Discovery Institute to creationism. After discussing Behe, Humes immediately writes that "Henry Morris, a civil engineer with a preacher's heart, who would later found the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, blazed the trail for Behe with a first attempt to establish 'creation science.'" (p. 133) But Behe and the vast majority of leaders in the ID movement are not young earth creationists. Humes tries to get around that fact by thinking that if he mentions young earth creationism (YEC) and ID enough times in the same sections, that somehow the reader will be gullible enough make free-association connections between the two groups, even if Humes offers the reader no actual logical connections. If only Humes were forthright enough to admit, Eugenie Scott did, that "most ID proponents do not embrace a Young Earth, Flood Geology, and sudden creation tenets associated with YEC."

As another example of his free-association arguments between ID and YEC, Humes tries to connect Henry Morris to Discovery Institute, saying that both claim "that scientists are engaged in a vast conspiracy to prop up evolutionary theory and to conceal divine origins." (p. 136) Where does Humes get this false idea that we promote such a "conspiracy" theory? He doesn't say. This seems to be more imaginative journalism on the part of Humes, who gives no documentation whatsoever to back up his claim that Discovery Institute postulates such an outlandish "vast conspiracy" theory. For details on Behe's actual views on creationism, see his article, "Intelligent Design Is Not Creationism."

Posted by Casey Luskin on December 26, 2008 11:25 AM | Permalink

New study sheds light on evolution of malaria


December 26th, 2008 - 1:21 pm ICT by ANI -

Washington, Dec 26 (ANI): In a novel study, scientists have revealed that malarial parasites found in tree-dwelling rats share a close evolutionary relationship with Plasmodium falciparum, the deadly form of malaria for humans.

The new analysis from the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History has found that malarial parasites found in African thicket rat share a close evolutionary relationship with P. falciparum in humans and Plasmodium reichenowi in chimpanzees.

"This is the first time that a relationship has been found between human and rodent malaria," said Susan Perkins, Assistant Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Museum.

"In all past studies, P. falciparum seemed to not be closely related to anything else but the chimpanzee parasite. But this study places it in a sister group of parasites from rodents," she added.

During the study, the researchers amplified the entire mitochondrial genome of malarial parasites in a single piece via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and then sequence it to reconstruct the whole genome.

They found that the malarial parasites found in African thicket rats, P. chabaudi, P. berghei,, and P. yoelii,, as a sister group of human and chimpanzee P. falciparum, and P. reichenowi,.

This is interesting and surprising because the parasite found in African thicket ratsthe only malarial parasite to be discovered first in mosquitoes and only later in a vertebrate hostis the most common laboratory model for human malarial research.

The P. falciparum-rodent group is most closely related to malarial parasites that infect humans and primates in Asia and other primates in Africa.

"The link between human malaria and rodent malaria is exciting because, if they really are that closely related, our laboratory models might be more powerful for helping to study how to fight the disease," said Perkins.

She also believes that this link may include more than these species: as-yet unpublished data collected earlier in her lab found a closely related form of, Plasmodium, in bats from the same area, and it may be that the most virulent form of malaria jumped into humans from these other arboreal animals.

The new paper is published in the early online edition of Mitochondrial DNA. (ANI)

Scientific illiteracy all the rage among the glitterati


By Steve Connor, Science editor
Saturday, 27 December 2008

When it comes to science, Barack Obama is no better than many of us. Today he joins the list of shame of those in public life who made scientifically unsupportable statements in 2008.

Closer to home, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith faltered on the science of food, while Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all get roastings for scientific illiteracy.

The Celebrities and Science Review 2008, prepared by the group Sense About Science, identifies some of the worst examples of scientific illiteracy among those who profess to know better – including top politicians.

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns. "We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate," said President-elect Obama. "Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it," he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain. "It's indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what's causing it," he said. "There's strong evidence that indicates it's got to do with a preservative in the vaccines."

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

Sarah Palin, Mr McCain's running mate, waded into the mire with her dismissal of some government research projects. "Sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not," Ms Palin said. But the geneticist Ellen Solomon takes Ms Palin to task for not understanding the importance of studies into fruit flies, which share roughly half their genes with humans. "They have been used for more than a century to understand how genes work, which has implications in, for example, understanding the ageing process," she said.

Hollywood did not escape the critical analysis of the scientific reviewers, who lambasted Tom Cruise, for his comments on psychiatry being a crime against humanity, and Julianne Moore, who warned against using products full of unnatural chemicals.

"The real crime against humanity continues to be the enduring misery caused by the major mental illnesses across the globe, and the continuing lack of resources devoted to supporting those afflicted," said the psychiatrist Professor Simon Wessely.

In answer to Moore, the science author and chemist John Emsley said that natural chemicals are not automatically safer than man-made chemicals, which undergo rigorous testing.

"Something which is naturally sourced may well include a mixture of things that are capable of causing an adverse reaction," Dr Emsley said.

Other mentions went to the chefs Nigella Lawson, who said "mind meals" can make you feel different about life, and Delia Smith, who claimed it is possible to eliminate sugar from the diet. The dietician Catherine Collins said that Lawson's support for expensive allergy foods is a wasted opportunity and too costly for those on limited incomes, while Lisa Miles of the British Nutrition Foundation said that sugars are part of a balanced diet.

Kate Moss, Oprah Winfrey and Demi Moore all espoused the idea that you can detoxify your body with either diet (scientifically unsupportable) or, in the case of Moore, products such as "highly trained medical leeches" which make you bleed. Scientists point out that diet alone cannot remove toxins and that blood itself is not a toxin, and even if it did contain toxins, removing a little bit of it is not going to help.

But top prize went to the lifestyle guru Carole Caplin for denouncing a study showing that vitamin supplements offer little or no health benefits as "rubbish" – it is the third year on the run that she has been mentioned in the review. Science author and GP Ben Goldacre pointed out that the study Ms Caplin referred to was the most authoritative yet published. "Carole should understand that research can often produce results which challenge our preconceptions: that is why science is more interesting than just following your nose," Dr Goldacre said.

Talking sense: Two who got it right

*The writer Jilly Cooper gets nine out of ten for making a stab at why alternative treatments might work: "If you believe them, then they work." That describes the placebo effect, where a harmless but useless remedy seems to work because the patient feels as if it is working.

*The vocal coach and singer Carrie Grant is applauded for raising the profile of Crohn's disease without abusing the science. "There are so many therapies available, but none of them are going to cure you," she said.