NTS LogoSkeptical News for 2 May 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Creating an insult to intelligence

http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/3573761/creating-an-insult-to-intelligence.thtml

Wednesday, 29th April 2009

Listening to the Today programme this morning, I was irritated once again by yet another misrepresentation of Intelligent Design as a form of Creationism. In an item on the growing popularity of Intelligent Design, John Humphrys interviewed Professor Ken Miller of Brown University in the US who spoke on the subject last evening at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. Humphrys suggested that Intelligent Design might be considered a kind of middle ground between Darwinism and Creationism. Miller agreed but went further, saying that Intelligent Design was

nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.

But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.

Whatever the ramifications of the specific school textbooks under scrutiny in the Kitzmiller/Dover case, the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science. Creationism, whose proponents are Bible literalists, is a specific doctrine which holds that the earth was literally created in six days. Intelligent Design, whose proponents are mainly scientists, holds that the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter, which could not have developed spontaneously from nothing.

The confusion arises partly out of ignorance, with people lazily confusing belief in a Creator with Creationism. But belief in a Creator is common to all people of monotheistic faith – with many scientists amongst them -- the vast majority of whom would regard Creationism as totally ludicrous. In coming to the conclusion that a governing intelligence must have been responsible for the ultimate origin of matter, Intelligent Design proponents are essentially saying there must have been a creator. The difference between them and people of religious faith is that ID proponents do not necessarily believe in a personalised Creator, or God.

As a result, both Creationists and many others of religious faith disdain Intelligent Design, just as ID proponents think Creationism is totally off the wall. Yet the two continue to be conflated. And ignorance is only partly responsible for the confusion, since militant evangelical atheists deliberately conflate Intelligent Design with Creationism in order to smear and discredit ID and its adherents.

On Today, Humphrys perfectly reasonably pressed Miller further. If ID was merely a disguised form of Creationism, he asked, why were so many intelligent people prepared to accept ID but not Creationism? Miller replied:

Intelligent people can sometimes be wrong.

Indeed; and it is Prof Miller who is wrong. Creationism and Intelligent Design are two completely different ways of looking at the world; and you don't have to subscribe to either to realise the untruth that is being propagated -- and the wrong that is being done to people's reputations -- by the pretence that they are connected.

Swine Flu, Viruses, and the Edge of Evolution

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/05/swine_flu_viruses_and_the_edge.html#more

A few years ago, the media was abuzz over the scare of the avian flu virus, which led me to write a post titled Avian Flu: An Example of Evolution?. At the time, it wasn't clear whether the avian flu would evolve and "jump" into a highly virulent form that easily infected humans. Had the avian flu virus made the jump, then we would have witnessed a sort of evolution where viruses swap genetic material in a process known as "reassortment" and can then more easily infect new hosts, such as humans. As I explained at that time:

So our fight to combat the Avian flu is undoubtedly a fight against evolution. The question is, has there been a net increase in genetic information through this "evolution"? The Avian flu is essentially the swapping of genes--but its genes probably came from other pre-existing viruses.

If you've read the news lately, you're aware that many are presently concerned about the threat from the swine flu virus. In this case, we're looking at precisely the same type of evolution: As an article on Physorg.com explains, this new virus has bird, pig and human components:

Pigs are well-known crucibles for mixing viruses, able to harbour strains of flu that normally are specific to pigs, birds and humans. When present in the same animal, these viruses are able to swap genes as they replicate, which can result in a new strain and leap the species barrier to humans.

At best, the origin of this new swine flu virus represents a virus that is composed of pre-existing genes that have been swapped into a new "mixture" in the swine flu virus. This is of course "evolution," when we understand evolution as "change over time," but it involves the origin of no new genes.

After All This "Evolution," It's Still a Virus
In his 2007 book The Edge of Evolution, Michael Behe observed that after our attempts to kill disease-causing bacteria and viruses, some can evolve via Darwinian selection to evade our disease-fighting strategies. Yet despite this evolution, they remain bacteria and viruses — with very little net change. As Behe writes:

Indeed, the work on malaria and AIDS demonstrates that after all possible unintelligent processes in the cell--both ones we've discovered so far and ones we haven't--at best extremely limited benefit, since no such process was able to do much of anything. It's critical to notice that no artificial limitations were placed on the kinds of mutations or processes the microorganisms could undergo in nature. Nothing--neither point mutation, deletion, insertion, gene duplication, transposition, genome duplication, self-organization nor any other process yet undiscovered--was of much use. (Behe, The Edge of Evolution, pg. 162)

Similarly, we wrote in response to David Hillis that the evolution of certain influenza viruses entails a trivial degree of evolution:

To further show the alleged utility of evolution, Hillis discussed how mutations in one particular protein of the influenza virus allow it to escape detection by our immune system, stating "phylogenetic analysis … is a critical tool for developing flu vaccines every year," and asserting that "knowledge of evolution helps millions of human lives be saved every year." While there is no doubt that influenza "evolution" is a real phenomenon, we must ask the crucial questions: What degree of evolution is this? And can this sort of "evolution" be legitimately extrapolated to explain large-scale evolutionary changes? In other words, if we were teaching students about this type of "evolution," should we teach them that it implies large scale macroevolutionary change that could explain the origin of complex biological features, such as new body plans?

The answer is clearly no. The truth is that the mutations in the hemagglutinin molecule testified about by Dr. Hills represent small-scale changes in a limited number of amino acids in one domain of the protein that do not change the virus's function for this protein (it resides on the surface of viruses and its function is to bind the flu virus to the infected cell).3 Nothing in Dr. Hillis's comments alters the fact that the flu virus remains a virtually identical virus after the microevolutionary changes he describes. Lives may be saved by studying functionally trivial amino acid changes in this protein, but it is not due to knowledge of any kind of evolution that can explain the origin of new species or body plans.

An Analysis of the Expert Testimony of Prof. David Hillis before the Texas State Board of Education on January 21, 2009

Indeed, as soon as one's immune system produces an antibody that can successfully target the hemagglutinin molecule in a flu virus, that virus can be effectively targeted by its host. Because it is readily recognized by our immune system, there is a tremendous amount of selection pressure on the hemagglutinin protein that makes it a huge liability to the virus. The cat-and-mouse game between the adaptive immune systems of higher vertebrates and viral hemagglutinin proteins has been going on for near-countless generations. If viruses could function without the hemagglutinin protein, evolution would have jettisoned it long ago. Long, long ago. But it hasn't. There are limits to evolution, and we see that in constraints upon viral evolution.

And it's a good thing that there are limits to evolution, because our flu-fighting strategies rely on it remaining a flu virus. This allows preventative measures that work to be implemented, vaccines to be developed using standard flu virus culture techniques in eggs and the treatment of patients suffering from infection with drugs like Tamiflu. In other words, the incredibly trivial changes that Dr. Hillis was commenting on are of some significance, but clearly don't make the point he was trying to make: We rely on the limits of evolutionary processes to fight the flu, not the purported ability of evolution to generate new biological features.

The Evolutionary Origin of Viruses? "Forever Obscure"
Evolution appears tightly constrained, yet we see a suite of complicated micro-killers like viruses. How did viruses arise in the first place? After reviewing some of the speculative, vague, and detail-free ideas about how viruses might have arisen, an article in Scientific American admitted last year, "At the end of the day, however, despite all of their common features and unique abilities to copy and spread their genomes, the origins of most viruses may remain forever obscure."

Let's just hope that a cure for the swine flu virus is less obscure than its ultimate origin.

Posted by Casey Luskin on May 1, 2009 9:10 AM | Permalink

Intelligent Design or the Dreaded "Creationism"?

http://blog.beliefnet.com/kingdomofpriests/2009/05/intelligent-design-or-the-dreaded-creationism.html

Friday May 1, 2009

On the Darwin debate, minds are opening in England in some very prominent places. First, A.N. Wilson affirmed the Darwin-Hitler connection. Now at the London Spectator, Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan, rebukes Darwinists for deceiving the public by persistently conflating intelligent design with Biblical literalist creationism.

She quotes Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller's statement that ID is

nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.

Replies Phillips:

But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.

Whatever the ramifications of the specific school textbooks under scrutiny in the Kitzmiller/Dover case, the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science.

She concludes:

Creationism and Intelligent Design are two completely different ways of looking at the world; and you don't have to subscribe to either to realise the untruth that is being propagated -- and the wrong that is being done to people's reputations -- by the pretence that they are connected.

Melanie Phillips, who is very smart, doesn't with her testimony alone prove anything at all about whether ID theorists are right. But her example does suggest that there's room for fair-mindedness on the issue.

Meanwhile in the U.S., many of us still have not received this particular memo. Maybe we are more intimidated by the social disgrace that goes along with being accused of being a "creationist" than we are interested in getting at the truth of what other people actually believe, whether we might agree with them or not.

Thus a somewhat well known American journalist responding to this blog queries me in an email edged with contempt, "Do you really believe that the earth (and the universe) is roughly 6,000 years old?"

I answered, "Now [name excised], this is very interesting. Why would you think that I think this about the age of the universe? I'm trying to get to the bottom of a mystery here."

Of course, he never replied.

Isn't this just the way it always goes? When a bunch of commenters demanded my midrashic source for same-sex marriage in ancient Canaan, strongly implying that I must be making it up, and then in a subsequent post I gave the precise source and its context, what was their response? Silence.

High school teacher found guilty of insulting Christians

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/corbett-religion-court-2387684-farnan-selna

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mission Viejo history teacher James Corbett violated the First Amendment, a federal court rules.

By SCOTT MARTINDALE
The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA – A Mission Viejo high school history teacher violated the First Amendment by disparaging Christians during a classroom lecture, a federal judge ruled today.

James Corbett, a 20-year teacher at Capistrano Valley High School, was found guilty of referring to Creationism as "religious, superstitious nonsense" during a 2007 classroom lecture, denigrating his former Advanced Placement European history student, Chad Farnan.

The decision is the culmination of a 16-month legal battle between Corbett and Farnan – a conflict the judge said should remind teachers of their legal "boundaries" as public school employees.

"Corbett states an unequivocal belief that Creationism is 'superstitious nonsense,'" U.S. District Court Judge James Selna said in a 37-page ruling released from his Santa Ana courtroom. "The court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context."

In a December 2007 lawsuit, Farnan, then a sophomore, accused Corbett of repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating "irreligion over religion" in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause.

The establishment clause prohibits the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion" and has been interpreted by U.S. courts to also prohibit government employees from displaying religious hostility.

"We are thrilled with the judge's ruling and feel it sets great precedent," said Farnan's attorney, Jennifer Monk, who works for the Christian legal group Advocates for Faith & Freedom in Murrieta. "Hopefully, teachers in the future, including Dr. Corbett, will think about what they're saying and attempt to ensure they're not violating the establishment clause as Dr. Corbett has done."

Chad Farnan and his parents did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but released a prepared statement through their attorney: "We are proud of Chad's courageous stand and thrilled with the judge's ruling. It is a vindication of his constitutional rights."

Fees, injunction to be determined

Farnan's original lawsuit asked for damages and attorney's fees. These issues – plus a possible court injunction prohibiting Corbett from making hostile remarks about religion – will be considered in court at a future, undetermined date, Monk said.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom does not have an estimate yet of the legal fees the group incurred, she added.

Selna said that although Corbett was only found guilty of violating the establishment clause in a single instance, he could not excuse or overlook the behavior.

"To entertain an exception for conduct that might be characterized as isolated or de minimis undermines the basic right in issue: to be free of a government that directly expresses disapproval of religion," Selna said.

Farnan's lawsuit had cited more than 20 inflammatory statements attributed to Corbett, including "Conservatives don't want women to avoid pregnancies – that's interfering with God's work" and "When you pray for divine intervention, you're hoping that the spaghetti monster will help you get what you want."

In an April 3 tentative ruling, however, Selna dismissed all but two of the statements as either not directly referring to religion or as being appropriate in the context of a class lecture, including the headline-grabbing "When you put on your Jesus glasses, you can't see the truth."

"We're happy that the court saw 99.9 percent of the case our way, but we're disappointed obviously with regard to finding against Dr. Corbett on that one statement," said Corbett's attorney, Dan Spradlin.

Corbett, who has declined all requests to be interviewed about the lawsuit, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Lemon test applied to statements

Selna applied a three-pronged legal analysis known as the Lemon test to determine whether the establishment clause had been violated.

The Lemon test, developed during a 1971 federal court case, asks whether a statement has a secular purpose, whether it advances or inhibits religion as its principal or primary effect, and whether it fosters an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

Corbett made his "superstitious nonsense" remark during a class discussion about a 1993 court case in which former Capistrano Valley High science teacher John Peloza sued the Capistrano Unified School District, challenging its requirement that Peloza teach evolution.

Corbett's attorney said Corbett simply expressing his personal opinion that Peloza shouldn't have presented religious views to students. Selna, after reviewing an audio-taped recording of the discussion, decided that wasn't the case and that Corbett crossed a legal line.

For the other disputed statement – in which Corbett was accused of saying religion was "invented when the first con man met the first fool" – the judge ruled in Corbett's favor, arguing Corbett may have been simply attempting to quote American author Mark Twain.

Corbett's full statement was, "What was it Mark Twain said? 'Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.'"

The Capistrano Unified School District, which paid for Corbett's attorney, was found not liable for Corbett's classroom conduct.

Corbett remains in his teaching position at Capistrano Valley High. Farnan, who dropped out of Corbett's class after filing the lawsuit, is now a junior at the school.

"The court's ruling today reflects the constitutionally permissible need for expansive discussion even if a given topic may be offensive to a particular religion or if a particular religion takes one side of a historical debate," Selna said in his written decision.

"The decision also reflects that there are boundaries. … The ruling today protects Farnan, but also protects teachers like Corbett in carrying out their teaching duties."

Contact the writer: 949-454-7394 or smartindale@ocregister.com

Copyright © 2009 Orange County Register Communications

Judge Finds Both For and Against OC Teacher of "Jesus Glasses" Fame

http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/jesus-glasses-teacher-found-gu/

Friday, May. 1 2009 @ 5:31PM
By Daffodil J. Altan

The headline-grabbing lawsuit filed in 2007 by Chad Farnan, a senior at Capistrano Valley High, against history teacher James Corbett for allegedly expressing hostility towards Christianity in class, came to a close today, and it's still a little unclear who really won. The federal judge who issued the ruling found that there were dozens of instances where Farnan's First Amendment rights were not violated by Corbett's statements, and one instance in which they were.

So essentially, Judge James Selna ruled in favor of Farnan and in favor of Corbett, and he ruled against Farnan, and against Corbett. We were confused too. Here's how it broke down: Of the dozens of transcribed comments submitted in the lawsuit from hours of secret recordings made by Farnan in Corbett's classes when he was a sophomore, (including the now-famous "Jesus Glasses" statement), only one was found to have violated the Establishment Clause for expressing a "disapproval" of religion. And it wasn't the comment about the Jesus glasses.

That comment was tossed out: "One cannot say that Corbett's primary purpose here was to criticize Christianity or religion," Judge James Selna says in today's ruling. "The court finds that, given the context, Corbett's primary purpose was to illustrate the specific historical point regarding the peasants in the discussion and to make the general point that religion can cause people to make political choices which are not in their best interest... the Court notes that these views are not necessarily hostile to religion and are relevant concepts for discussion in an AP European history course." (A point Corbett made repeatedly in this exclusive interview with the Weekly last year).

Other statements made by Corbett in class (and submitted by Farnan in his suit)--about the Boy Scouts and Christian universities and contraception--were scrutinized by the judge and given similar rationales for why they did not violate the Establishment Clause once placed in context. With regard to the more than 20 statements, Selna issued a summary judgment against Farnan and in favor of Corbett and the school district.

The single statement that moved Selna to find that Corbett had violated the Establishment Clause had to do with a previous lawsuit involving a former Capistrano Valley teacher who taught creationism as fact and evolution as a fraud in his biology classes back in the early 1990s. The teacher, John Peloza, sued the district, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated when he was forced to teach what he called "the religion" of evolution. Corbett was included in the suit because he was the adviser to the student newspaper at the time, which Peloza alleged had run an article suggesting he was teaching religion rather than science.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 1992, after a U.S. district judge agreed with the school district's position that Peloza improperly violated state-mandated science curricula by teaching creationist theory. When Corbett explained the suit in Farnan's class, he made a statement with regard to Peloza teaching "religious, superstitious nonsense," according to the suit.

"The court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context," Selna writes. "The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause."

The Farnans' lawyer, Jennifer Monk, told the Weekly that the single ruling against Corbett was enough for them to consider the suit victorious. "The judge determined that Corbett violated the Establishment Clause with the statement. From my perspective, that's all we need, whether it was one statement or a lot of statements, from my persepective it was favorable and we're ecstatic," she said.

Corbett, who has declined to speak with all media except for the Weekly, said he was still thinking about and digesting the ruling, and had no further comment. The case could continue if Corbett and the district decide to file an appeal with the 9th Circuit District Court, which Corbett has indicated may be a possibility.

Helping Christians Reconcile God With Science

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1895284,00.html

By Amy Sullivan Saturday, May. 02, 2009

For many young Christians, the moment they first notice discrepancies in the Biblical tales they've faithfully studied is a rite of passage: e.g., if Adam and Eve were the first humans, and they had two sons — where did Cain's wife come from? The revelation that everything in the Bible may not have happened exactly as written can be startling. And when the discovery comes along with scientific evidence of evolution and the actual age of planet Earth, it can prompt a full-blown spiritual crisis.

That's where Francis Collins would like to step in. A renowned geneticist and former director of the Human Genome Project, Collins is also an evangelical Christian who was the keynote speaker at the 2007 National Prayer Breakfast, and he has spent years establishing the compatibility between science and religious belief. And this week he unveiled a new initiative to guide Christians through scientific questions while holding firm to their faith. (Finding God on YouTube)

After his best-selling The Language of God came out three years ago, Collins began receiving thousands of e-mails — primarily from other Evangelicals — asking questions about how to reconcile scriptural teachings with scientific evidence. "Many of these Christians have been taught that evolution is wrong," Collins explains. "They go to college and get exposed to data, and then they're thrust into personal crises of great intensity. If the church was wrong about the origins of life, was it wrong about everything? Some of them walk away from science or faith — or both."

Collins, 59, who with his mustache and shock of gray hair looks like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton's cheerful twin, seems genuinely pained by the idea that science could be viewed as a threat to religion, or religion to science. And so he decided to gather a group of theologians and scientists to create the BioLogos Foundation in order to foster dialogue between the two sides. The name — combining bios (Greek for "life") and logos ("the word") — is also what Collins calls his blended theory of evolution and creation, an approach he hopes can replace intelligent design, which he derides as "not a scientific proposal" and "not good theology either."

Through the Washington-based foundation, Collins says he and his colleagues hope to support scholarship that "takes seriously the claims of both faith and science." Its online component, biologos.org, is designed to be a resource for skeptics and nonbelievers who are interested in religious arguments for God's existence. But the primary audience for BioLogos is Collins' own Evangelical community.

As he read through the thousands of e-mails he received from readers of his book, the former NIH scientist noticed that there were 25 or so common questions that his mostly Evangelical correspondents raised. How should Christians respond to Darwin? If God created the universe, who or what created God? Does believing in science mean one can't believe in miracles? What is up with Noah's Ark and the flood? The new website offers answers to these vexing questions and, through those responses lays out the BioLogos theory that God chose to create the world by way of evolution. (Collins plans to build on that work by developing a home-schooling curriculum that can serve as an alternative to the literalist creationism materials widely used by many conservative Evangelical parents.)

A large slice of the questions deal with Genesis, the first book in both Christian and Jewish Scriptures, and the text that explains the creation and population of Earth, and well as the relationship between God and man. Some answers are straightforward, as with the mystery of where Cain's wife came from. "The scientific evidence suggests a dramatically larger population at this point in history," conclude Collins and his colleagues. One possible explanation they offer — an idea that was embraced by C.S. Lewis, among others — is that human-like creatures had evolved to the point where they had the mental capacity to reason; God then endowed them to distinguish between good and evil, and in that way they became "in the image of God."

But on other topics, such as whether Adam and Eve were real people or when humans became creatures with souls, BioLogos offers several possible answers — an approach that is either refreshing or unsatisfying, depending on one's need for certainty. "We cannot say that Adam and Eve were formed as acts of special creation," Collins explains. "That is a troubling conclusion for many people."

"Science can't be put together with a literalist interpretation of Genesis," he continues. "For one thing, there are two different versions of the creation story" — in Genesis 1 and 2 — "so right from the start, you're already in trouble." Christians should think of Genesis "not as a book about science but about the nature of God and the nature of humans," Collins believes. "Evolution gives us the 'how,' but we need the Bible to understand the 'why' of our creation."

Study: High School Teachers Influence Students' Evolution, Creationist Views

http://christianpost.com/Education/Creation_evolution/2009/05/study-high-school-teachers-influence-students-evolution-creationist-views-02/

By Lawrence Jones
Christian Post Reporter

Sat, May. 02 2009 09:34 AM EDT

What college students learned from their biology teachers in high school influences whether they accept evolution or creationist views, according to a recent study by professors at the University of Minnesota.

University students whose high school biology class covered creationism – in some cases alongside evolution – were more likely to accept creationist views upon entering college, the study found. Those whose high school biology teachers taught evolution but not creationism were more likely to accept evolution in college.

The study, "Rejecting Darwin: The Occurrence & Impact of Creationism in High School Biology Classrooms," is published in the May issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).

Co-authors Randy Moore and Sehoya Cotner, professors at the University's College of Biological Science, surveyed 1,000 students enrolled in introductory biology classes at the University of Minnesota to examine whether biology majors were more likely than non-majors to encounter evolution and/or creationist views in their high school biology classes. They also wanted to find out how the inclusion of evolution and/or creationism in those classes affect students' views on the subject when they enter college.

Respondents were asked state their opinions on several statements dealing with evolution and creationism, including whether humans are the product of evolutionary processes that have occurred over millions of years and whether the theory of evolution cannot be correct since it disagrees with the Biblical account of creation. The statements were borrowed from an instrument called the "Measure of the Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution."

Results showed that regardless of their major, University students shared similar views on evolution and creationism.

Around two-thirds of respondents said high school biology class included evolution and not creationism while only 1 to 2 percent has classes that covered creationism and not evolution. About 6 to 13 percent said their teachers did not cover either evolution or creationism. But 29 percent of majors and 21 percent of non-majors said their high school biology class covered both evolution and creationism.

The study found that the material covered during the students' high school biology class affected their views on evolution and creationism.

For example, 72 to 78 percent of students exposed to evolution only agreed that it is scientifically valid while 57 to 59 percent of students who were exposed to creationism agreed that evolution can be validated.

"I've long known that many biology teachers teach creationism, but was surprised to learn they have such a strong impact," says Moore, professor of biology and lead author of the study.

For nearly 30 years, Moore has taught biology based on evolution as the subject's unifying theme. However, he strongly opposes the teaching of creationism in science classes, saying it goes against science and the law.

"It's unfortunate that so many teachers think their religious beliefs are science," says Moore. "Teachers who don't teach evolution deny students the understanding of one of the greatest principles in history."

Moore was a founding member of the Minnesota Citizens for Science Education, a grassroots organization that defends the teaching of evolution in local schools. Last Fall, he was named the winner of the National Association of Biology Teachers' 2008 Evolution Education Award, which was co-sponsored by AIBS.

Moore and Cotner, an associate professor of biology, have discussed their research on a radio talk show led by Minnesota Atheists.

According to a news release on the study, the authors are interested in working with high school biology teachers – and particularly with college students who plan to teach biology – to improve their understanding and teaching of evolution.

The study comes a month after the Texas Board of Education adopted new standards that require science teachers to encourage students to "critique" and examine "all sides" of scientific theories. The new science curriculum standards will take effect with the 2010-2011 school year.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Evolution education update: May 1, 2009

A legal dispute between two creationist organizations is settled, while the lawsuit against the University of California system is continuing on appeal. And it's not too late to enter Florida Citizens for Science's cartoon contest!

CREATIONIST LEGAL DISPUTE RESOLVED

Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International have agreed to settle their legal dispute, issuing a joint statement reading, "Each ministry is now focused on its respective mission, having put this dispute behind them." As the Cincinnati Enquirer (April 27, 2009) reported, "The dispute arose more than four years ago as the American ministry, Answers in Genesis, grew more wealthy and influential than the original group in Australia, Creation Ministries International. The one-time allies waged court battles in both countries and accused one another of mishandling donors' money, using 'gutter tactics' to discredit their opponents and threatening the creationist movement with 'ruthless' business decisions."

The Australian (April 30, 2009) quipped, "Ken Ham [of AiG] and Carl Wieland [of CMI] believe the world was created in six days, so the four years it has taken Australia's most prominent creationists to conclude a civil case that began ... in 2005 must seem an eternity." Neither ministry was willing to comment to the press on the terms of the settlement, and CMI, which previously provided a host of documents relevant to the dispute on its website, is now providing only the text of the joint statement. For background on the dispute, see Jim Lippard's report for Reports of the NCSE, Lippard's updates on his blog, and Michael McKenna's report for The Australian (June 5, 2007).

For the report in the Cincinnati Enquirer, visit:
http://nky.cincinnati.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/AB/20090427/NEWS0103/904280359/7

For the report in The Australian, visit:
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,25406907-17044,00.html

For the background, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/rncse/26/6/trouble-paradise
http://lippard.blogspot.com/search/label/Answers%20in%20Genesis%20schism
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21848726-28737,00.html

WHAT'S NEW IN ACSI V. STEARNS

The appeal of Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al. is wending its way through the appeals process, with the University of California system submitting its responsive brief, and a number of organizations submitting amicus curiae briefs, in April 2009. The case, originally filed in federal court in Los Angeles on August 25, 2005, centers on the University of California system's policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The plaintiffs -- the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school -- charged that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college. The defendants prevailed on August 8, 2008, but the plaintiffs promptly appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although creationism is not the only issue in the case, it is a prominent part of it. The plaintiffs object, inter alia, to the university system's policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use creationist textbooks -- Biology: God's Living Creation, published by A Beka Books, and Biology for Christian Schools, published by Bob Jones University Press -- as "inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community." Michael Behe, a proponent of "intelligent design" creationism, served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, although his defense of the creationist biology textbooks was unavailing. Wendell Bird, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, is a former employee of the Institute for Creation Research; he defended Louisiana's 1981 "equal time" act all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled to violate the Establishment Clause in the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).

In its appeal of the August 2008 decision, filed on January 26, 2009, the plaintiffs asserted that the University of California system "has rejected a large number of biology courses because, despite their standard content, they added a religious viewpoint" (p. 21), which "constitutes viewpoint discrimination, content discrimination, and content-based regulation, which conflict with the First Amendment" (p. 24). In their reply, filed on April 10, 2009, the defendants replied that the courses were rejected because they used the creationist textbooks as their primary texts, and a review of those textbooks "concluded they were inappropriate for use as primary texts in college preparatory science courses due to their characterizations of religious doctrine as scientific evidence, scientific inaccuracies, failure to encourage critical thinking, and overall un-scientific approach" (p. 21) -- a judgment with which Donald Kennedy and NCSE Supporter Francisco Ayala, experts for the defendants, concurred.

Two amicus curiae briefs -- one from the American Center for Law and Justice, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the Common Good Foundation, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council; the other from the National Legal Foundation -- have been filed on behalf of the plaintiffs; neither discusses creationism. Four amicus curiae briefs -- from the American Historical Association & Organization of American Historians, the American Association of University Professors, the California Council of Science and Technology, and the California State University system and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas -- have been filed on behalf of the defendants. Of these, only the California Council of Science and Technology's brief discusses creationism, which is perhaps not surprising, since the brief was coauthored by attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP who were part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case over "intelligent design" creationism.

The summary of the argument from the California Council of Science and Technology's amicus brief (pp. 3-4) deserves full quotation:

***

As a public institution of higher education, UC has the responsibility to produce college graduates who have satisfied its rigorous academic standards in all relevant disciplines, including science. In order to fulfill this responsibility, UC must be allowed to choose among applicants for admission into the UC system based on the applicants' demonstrated understanding of important foundational concepts. In the area of science, two such foundational concepts are the nature of science and the theory of evolution. UC acted appropriately in not giving "d" credit to certain high school science courses that used the Biology for Christian Schools and Biology: God's Living Creation textbooks because these textbooks do not teach either concept in an appropriate manner and in fact advance fundamental misconceptions about both concepts. Students educated with these textbooks will not be adequately prepared for science courses at UC.

The need for high-quality post-secondary science education has never been greater, either in California or the United States as a whole. Science and technology are recognized as key economic drivers. Unfortunately, both California and the United States are losing ground in these critical areas, in large part because of the inability of colleges and universities to produce enough highly qualified science and technology graduates. The prosperity of the state and nation in the 21st century depends on the reversal of this trend and the production of more university graduates well educated in science and technology. In light of this critical need, UC should be encouraged to take all reasonable measures to ensure that the students admitted into the UC system have a solid grounding in foundational scientific concepts upon matriculation.

***

The brief, along with all of the documents mentioned here, is available on NCSE's website, in a special section devoted to ACSI v. Stearns.

For information about the case, visit:
http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/asci-v-stearns

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://www.ncseweb.org -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

--
Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncseweb.org
http://ncseweb.org

Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition!
http://ncseweb.org/evc

Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
http://ncseweb.org/nioc

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!
http://ncseweb.org/membership

Storming Young-Earth Creationism

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/april/33.63.html

But is Genesis 1 the only text at issue?

Review by Marcus R. Ross | posted 4/30/2009 10:00AM

The Bible, Rocks and Time
by Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley
IVP Academic, September 2008
510 pp., $21.99

In The Bible, Rocks and Time (IVP Academic), geologists and Reformed Christians Davis Young and Ralph Stearley try to convince young-earth creationists (YECs) to abandon their position. First, they argue that the Creation account in Genesis 1 need not be understood as a historical narrative documenting the creation of the universe and its inhabitants in six normal (rotational) days. Second, they argue that the data from geology point unwaveringly to a planet of exceedingly ancient age.

I particularly appreciated Young and Stearley's historical overview of church beliefs on Genesis and Creation. Their careful documentation puts to rest the claims of other old-earth proponents that the church fathers held views compatible with an ancient earth. They likewise present the origins of modern geology well, particularly within the broader historical backdrop of Christian influences on scientific thought.

But BR&T is essentially a negative critique. Theologically, the authors seek to show that Genesis 1 need not be understood as describing six rotational days. But if so, which competing view should we adopt? They clearly dislike the "ruin-reconstruction theory" or "gap theory" (there was a large gap of time between the first and second verses of Genesis), and display reservations about the day-age view (the six days were much longer periods). The authors favor some kind of allegorical view (e.g., the "framework hypothesis"), but are steadfast that they will not make a positive case for any of these. The result is that the authors do not present their own views clearly enough for critical evaluation.

The authors' discussion of Noah's Flood is similarly vague. They argue strongly against the Flood as a global, geologically formative event in history. But what are Christians to make of Genesis 6-9? BR&T makes no case for what the Flood actually was, or whether the authors even believe it occurred.

BR&T, though rigorously argued and well-documented, is too limited. It is not that the arguments do not hit hard against YEC—they do. The YEC community should learn from this work. But a robust concept of the Creation cannot be articulated when Genesis 1 is evaluated in near isolation from other relevant Scripture (e.g., Gen. 2, 3, 6-11; Rom. 1 and 8; 2 Pet. 3). Were Adam and Eve historical individuals? Where was the Garden of Eden? Was the Fall an actual event? And how does this relate to evil? These and many other questions are never addressed.

Young-earth creationism is a complex system. YEC's conception of history includes not merely a six-rotational-day Creation, but also a young age of the earth, miraculous creation of plant and animal life, a commitment to a historical Adam and Eve, a historical Fall with universal spiritual and physical consequences, and a global catastrophe.

This comprehensive framework fosters understandings of sin, the problem of evil, divine nature, judgment, Christ as the Second Adam, salvation, and eschatological redemption. A full view of the Creation can only be acquired from the whole of Scripture—from Genesis to Revelation—not by focusing, even intently, on but one chapter.

Marcus R. Ross, assistant professor of geology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia

Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today.

Intelligent Design is warmed-over creationism

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/04/intelligent_design_is_warmed-o.php

Posted on: April 30, 2009 12:03 PM, by PZ Myers

Melanie Phillips is irate. Why? Because Ken Miller says Intelligent Design is nothing but creationism relabeled. Miller is right, Phillips is once again raving in ignorance.

In an item on the growing popularity of Intelligent Design, John Humphrys interviewed Professor Ken Miller of Brown University in the US who spoke on the subject last evening at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge. Humphrys suggested that Intelligent Design might be considered a kind of middle ground between Darwinism and Creationism. Miller agreed but went further, saying that Intelligent Design was
nothing more than an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable.

But this is totally untrue. Miller referred to a landmark US court case in 2005, Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District, which did indeed uphold the argument that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism in its ruling that teaching Intelligent Design violated the constitutional ban against teaching religion in public schools. But the court was simply wrong, doubtless because it had heard muddled testimony from the likes of Prof Miller.

No, the court testimony was crystal clear, and it wasn't just Miller who demonstrated the fact that Intelligent Design was a false front laid over old-school creationism. The lawyers demonstrated, among other things, that a) the textbook in question had been crudely revamped from a creationist text by simply substituting "design" for "creation" (with revealing errors — anyone remember "cdesign proponentsists"?); b) that the books were bought with money collected by a conservative church, and that the defendants lied about the source; c) that the people who tried to introduce ID into the Dover schools were motivated entirely by their religious goals (Bill Buckingham to the school board: "Nearly 2,000 years ago someone died on a cross for us; shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?"); and d), that the instigators didn't have the slightest clue what ID was. We can also go directly to the words of the big names in ID, like Bill Dembski ("Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory") or Phillip Johnson:

I have built an intellectual movement in the universities and churches that we call The Wedge, which is devoted to scholarship and writing that furthers this program of questioning the materialistic basis of science...Now, the way that I see the logic of our movement going is like this. The first thing you understand is that the Darwinian theory isn't true. It's falsified by all of the evidence and the logic is terrible. When you realize that, the next question that occurs to you is, well, where might you get the truth?...I start with John 1:1. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning was intelligence, purpose, and wisdom. The Bible had that right. And the materialist scientists are deluding themselves...

In summary, we have to educate our young people; we have to give them the armor they need. We have to think about how we're going on the offensive rather than staying on the defensive. And above all, we have to come out to the culture with the view that we are the ones who really stand for freedom of thought. You see, we don't have to fear freedom of thought because good thinking done in the right way will eventually lead back to the Church, to the truth-the truth that sets people free, even if it goes through a couple of detours on the way. And so we're the ones that stand for good science, objective reasoning, assumptions on the table, a high level of education, and freedom of conscience to think as we are capable of thinking. That's what America stands for, and that's something we stand for, and that's something the Christian Church and the Christian Gospel stand for-the truth that makes you free. Let's recapture that, while we're recapturing America.

Or how about this from Johnson?

My colleagues and I speak of "theistic realism" -- or sometimes, "mere creation" --as the defining concept of our movement. This means that we affirm that God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology. We avoid the tangled arguments about how or whether to reconcile the Biblical account with the present state of scientific knowledge, because we think these issues can be much more constructively engaged when we have a scientific picture that is not distorted by naturalistic prejudice. If life is not simply matter evolving by natural selection, but is something that had to be designed by a creator who is real, then the nature of that creator, and the possibility of revelation, will become a matter of widespread interest among thoughtful people who are currently being taught that evolutionary science has show God to be a product of the human imagination.

Intelligent Design creationism is all about hiding Jesus under a blanket of pseudoscience and smuggling him into the public schools. Nothing more, nothing less.

Melanie Phillips clearly knows nothing about the case. So what possible reason could she have for claiming ID is distinct from creationism?

Whatever the ramifications of the specific school textbooks under scrutiny in the Kitzmiller/Dover case, the fact is that Intelligent Design not only does not come out of Creationism but stands against it. This is because Creationism comes out of religion while Intelligent Design comes out of science. Creationism, whose proponents are Bible literalists, is a specific doctrine which holds that the earth was literally created in six days. Intelligent Design, whose proponents are mainly scientists, holds that the complexity of science suggests that there must have been a governing intelligence behind the origin of matter, which could not have developed spontaneously from nothing.

Intelligent Design creationism does not come out of science. The initial founders of the Discovery Institute were lawyers, philosophers, venture capitalists, businessmen, and theologians, with a scarce few recruits who were once scientists, like Michael Behe. Science emerges from evidence, not ideology, and these gomers had none, and still have none. They have a claim that there is a "governing intelligence", but have shown no evidence for such a being, nor have they even speculated openly about the nature of that intelligence…because when they do, they have to admit that they believe it was the Christian god. Again, without supporting evidence.

This is why Miller is completely correct to say Intelligent Design creationism is "an attempt to repackage good old-fashioned Creationism and make it more palatable". Overt admission that their ideas are based on religion means they are non-scientific, and gets them excluded from science classes. By lying and concealing their motives, they hope to sneak it in past people who are too stupid to recognize the obvious, or who share similar underhanded motives for denying the truth. I wonder which of those two alternatives best fit Melanie Phillips?

Explaining BioLogos

http://blog.beliefnet.com/scienceandthesacred/2009/04/explaining-biologos.html

Thursday April 30, 2009

On April 28th, The BioLogos Foundation celebrated the launch of its new website (www.biologos.org) with an evening event held in Washington DC. As described in Tuesday night's presentations, as well as yesterday's inaugural blog entry, the original inspiration for biologos.org was to provide responses to the most frequently asked questions about science and faith.

The first of these entries gives a brief description of the BioLogos perspective, and its differences from Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism. Where Intelligent Design argues that biological evolution is scientifically challenged, and where Young Earth Creationism argues that the book of Genesis must be interpreted as a scientific textbook, BioLogos sees no reason to believe that the findings of modern science are incompatible with a theistic worldview. To read more about BioLogos, and to take advantage of the website's many resources, visit us as www.biologos.org.

Question 1: How is BioLogos different from Theistic Evolution, Intelligent Design and Creationism?

http://biologos.org/questions/biologos-id-creationism/

Introduction

Chapters 8 – 10 of The Language of God, by Dr. Francis Collins, contain brief descriptions of Theistic Evolution, Intelligent Design and Creationism. Below are definitions of each term and clarifying points to distinguish them from BioLogos. (For a distinction between Theistic Evolution and Darwinism see Question 3 on BioLogos, Darwinism, and Social Darwinism.)

BioLogos

BioLogos is most similar to Theistic Evolution. Theism is the belief in a God who cares for and interacts with creation. Theism is different than deism, which is the belief in a distant, uninvolved creator who is often little more than the sum total of the laws of physics. (For more on God's involvement with creation, see Questions 11 and 14 about Miracles and Divine Action.) Theistic Evolution, therefore, is the belief that evolution is how God created life. Because the term evolution is sometimes associated with atheism, a better term for the belief in a God who chose to create the world by way of evolution is BioLogos. (For more about the definition of evolution, see Question 2 on What is Evolution?) BioLogos comes from the Greek words bios (life) and logos (word), referring to the gospel of John:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 1

Intelligent Design

Contrary to some interpretations, Intelligent Design, or ID, makes no specific theological claims. Proponents of ID only argue that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."2 This definition can be confusing because Theistic Evolutionists also believe an intelligent being created the world. Theistic Evolutionists, however, also believe evolution by natural selection is the process God used to create. Although advocates of ID do not disagree that evolution is change over time, they deny the biological process of evolution by natural selection could account for the present complexity of life forms on Earth. (See Question 2).

Intelligent Design proponents argue evolution cannot explain certain aspects of creation. In particular, ID claims certain features of the world are irreducibly complex and could not have evolved from less complex predecessors. Although ID supporters believe that such findings refute evolution, Theistic Evolutionists —along with the vast majority of mainstream scientists — do not see these examples as a threat to the theory of evolution by natural selection. Collins writes about several popular examples of irreducible complexity in chapter nine The Language of God. (More information about ID can be found at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture.)

Creationism

BioLogos and ID agree the Earth and the universe were created. Creationism, however, generally refers to the belief that life on Earth is a result of a direct act of intervention on God's part. This act cannot be explained by science but is described in the early chapters of Genesis. There are several versions of Creationism, two of which are Young Earth Creationism (YEC) and Old Earth Creationism (OEC).

Young Earth Creationism

Young Earth Creationism is often referred to as Biblical Creationism, although it is not the only view held by those who believe the Bible. Young Earth Creationism is both a theological and scientific belief about the world. It states the God of the Bible created the world in six 24-hour periods, as understood by a literalist interpretation of the first and second chapters of Genesis. With this theory, the Bible provides a scientific account of human origins. Theistic Evolution, however, does not contend the first two chapters of Genesis were written as historical documentation of God's creative process. (For more on this topic, see Question 7 about Interpreting Scripture.)

Although Young Earth Creationism is currently popular in the United States, this was not always the case. (For more on the history of Young Earth Creationism, see Question 6 on The Christian Response to Darwin. More about Young Earth Creationism also can be found on the Web sites of its two largest supporters: Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research.)

Old Earth Creationism

Unlike Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationists do not necessarily believe God created everything in six 24-hour periods. However, Old Earth Creationists do believe that intervened in creation for certain key stages. Because there are many options for how and when God acted in the creation process, there are several approaches to Old Earth Creationism. The most popular perspectives are called Gap Creation and Progressive Creation. Old Earth Creationism also allows for many different interpretations of Genesis including the Day-Age perspective, the Gap theory and the Framework interpretation.

Although members of other faiths might believe in an Old Earth Creationist viewpoint, the term is generally used to refer to the Christian perspective. Because BioLogos includes belief in a creator, it is sometimes thought to be a version of Old Earth Creationism. However, because BioLogos does not require that God miraculously intervened in the process of evolution in the sense of working outside the laws of nature, and because BioLogos also claims logical evolution is the way by which God created the world, it is not a form of Old Earth Creationism.

Notes
1.John 1:1 (NASB)
2.Discovery Institute, "Top Questions," Discovery Institute: Center for Science and Culture, http://www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php (accessed 12/26/08).

The Genesis Flood

The Genesis Flood, published in 1961, is credited with launching the modern anti-evolutionary movement known as scientific creationism.

Creationism rears its head in Texas schools

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2009/apr/30/texas-school-creationism-textbooks

The Texas State Board of Education is using its powers to ensure that textbooks give a nod to creationist theories

Susan McCarthy guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 April 2009 20.30 BST Article history"In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made school boards."

Mark Twain wrote that in 1897, and Americans still quote it, with feeling. It comes to mind for many observers of a current battle over science education in Texas.

Texas's school board, the State Board of Education (BOE), has been fighting about standards for science textbooks the state buys. Since March, clamorous attention has focused on a proposal to require that texts discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory. Everyone knew this was a ploy to get creationist ideas into the classroom. The scientific community was relieved when the BOE finally voted not to include that language – and dismayed when it then voted for amendments that mandate the same thing. The BOE's exuberant chair says he's not afraid to "stand up to the experts."

"One day they slammed the door on creationism, and the next day they ran around opening the windows to let it back in," says Dan Quinn, communications director at the Texas Freedom Network, an organisation that works for "a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties."

The strategy may ultimately fail. When the eyes of Texas finally fell upon the BOE's antics, when scientists thronged to testify against the standards, when BOE chairman Don McLeroy declared his anti-expert stance, when a White House official called it "a step backward" – opposition began to stir among state lawmakers.

Unhappiness was more than statewide. Texas is hugely influential in textbook publishing, not just because it buys books for 4.5 million kids. It's one of 20-odd "adoption states", which compile lists of approved books. Publishers want their books on these lists, so they heed state standards. Texas spends $500m a year on approved textbooks.

Publishers create textbooks to meet state standards. They self-censor in advance and rewrite when pressure groups complain about the depiction of religious or ethnic groups, gender roles, or historical events. To appease social conservatives, health science books stopped mentioning contraception.

Some fear publishers will tailor textbooks to the new Texas standards. David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas (and a MacArthur Prize recipient who raises longhorns at his Double Helix ranch) has battled the new BOE standards. No reputable scientist would be associated with textbooks written to these standards, he says. Indeed, "I think no reputable publisher is going to soil their name with such textbooks."

The BOE's actions might seem odd for a educational entity, but the explanation lies in its origins. The right has been taking an interest in school boards. "There were vicious campaigns in the last elections," Quinn says. Flyers showed "half-naked men kissing, pictures of needles..." Moderates were accused of wanting to teach about "needle exchange, and condoms, and same-sex marriage, and assisted suicide."

In Texas, the governor appoints a BOE member as chair. Republican governor Rick Perry selected Dr Don McLeroy, a dentist and young-earth creationist. Perry is running for re-election. "Social conservatives are very important to the governor," Quinn says. McLeroy, appointed between sessions, has yet to be confirmed by the state senate.

McLeroy gloats over the idea of textbooks using the Texas standards to discuss the fossil record or the complexity of the cell. "I'm curious to see how they'll cover these subjects. I think the science behind those things is pretty weak." He runs through some creationist favourites – the Cambrian explosion, the flagellum. "They haven't come up with an explanation of the eye. They haven't. They haven't!"

"So you want to see them fail to come up with scientific explanations for these things?" I ask. "Absolutely! That's what I think will happen. The kids can sit there and judge for themselves." Children are intuitively skeptical about evolution, he says.

Where does this leave science education in Texas? McLeroy's confirmation is looking chancey, and bills have been introduced to attack the situation from different angles. Two Houston Democrats propose transferring authority over textbooks from the BOE to the Texas Education Agency. "Those people are much more qualified," says David Hillis. "I'm hopeful that it will become much less political and much more focused on educating."

Hillis says Texas's high school curriculum is already behind. "We have some excellent high schools in Texas and some excellent teachers. And we have high schools where they're teaching 18th or 19th century science." If the new standards prevail, more entering students will be unprepared. "If students don't have any evolutionary biology, that means even more remedial education we have to do."

Often, you don't have to believe in science to benefit from it. You don't have to believe in photons to flip a switch and get light. You don't have to think geologists understand fossil fuel origins to fill a tank of gas. You don't have to believe in natural selection to take a new antibiotic for bronchitis.

But to do medical research, it helps to understand natural selection. To get good scientists, it helps if they don't have to play catch-up for half their college years. And to get informed voters, it helps not to teach them that science is a matter of personal intuition. Or fundamentalist faith.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fossils Don't Lie: Why Darwinism Is False

Note: This is Part 3 in a series reviewing Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Coyne goes on to discuss several "transitional" forms. "One of our best examples of an evolutionary transition," he writes, is the fossil record of whales, "since we have a chronologically ordered series of fossils, perhaps a lineage of ancestors and descendants, showing their movement from land to water."9

"The sequence begins," Coyne writes, "with the recently discovered fossil of a close relative of whales, a raccoon-sized animal called Indohyus. Living 48 million years ago, Indohyus was… probably very close to what the whale ancestor looked like." In the next paragraph, Coyne writes, "Indohyus was not the ancestor of whales, but was almost certainly its cousin. But if we go back 4 million more years, to 52 million years ago, we see what might well be that ancestor. It is a fossil skull from a wolf-sized creature called Pakicetus, which is bit more whalelike than Indohyus." On the page separating these two paragraphs is a figure captioned "Transitional forms in the evolution of modern whales," which shows Indohyus as the first in the series and Pakicetus as the second.10

But Pakicetus—as Coyne just told us—is 4 million years older than Indohyus. To a Darwinist, this doesn't matter: Pakicetus is "more whalelike" than Indohyus, so it must fall between Indohyus and modern whales, regardless of the fossil evidence.

(Coyne performs the same trick with fossils that are supposedly ancestral to modern birds. The textbook icon Archaeopteryx, with feathered wings like a modern bird but teeth and a tail like a reptile, is dated at 145 million years. But what Coyne calls the "nonflying feathered dinosaur fossils"—which should have come before Archaeopteryx—are tens of millions of years younger. Like Darwinists Kevin Padian and Luis Chiappe eleven years earlier, Coyne simply rearranges the evidence to fit Darwinian theory.)11

So much for Coyne's prediction that "later species should have traits that make them look like the descendants of earlier ones." And so much for his argument that "if evolution were not true, fossils would not occur in an order that makes evolutionary sense." Ignoring the facts he himself has just presented, Coyne brazenly concludes: "When we find transitional forms, they occur in the fossil record precisely where they should." If Coyne's book were turned into a movie, this scene might feature Chico Marx saying, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"12

There is another problem with the whale series (and every other series of fossils) that Coyne fails to address: No species in the series could possibly be the ancestor of any other, because all of them possess characteristics they would first have to lose before evolving into a subsequent form. This is why the scientific literature typically shows each species branching off a supposed lineage.

In the figure below, all the lines are hypothetical. The diagram on the left is a representation of evolutionary theory: Species A is ancestral to B, which is ancestral to C, which is ancestral to D, which is ancestral to E. But the diagram on the right is a better representation of the evidence: Species A, B, C and D are not in the actual lineage leading to E, which remains unknown.

It turns out that no series of fossils can provide evidence for Darwinian descent with modification. Even in the case of living species, buried remains cannot generally be used to establish ancestor-descendant relationships. Imagine finding two human skeletons in the same grave, one about thirty years older than the other. Was the older individual the parent of the younger? Without written genealogical records and identifying marks (or in some cases DNA), it is impossible to answer the question. And in this case we would be dealing with two skeletons from the same species that are only a generation apart and from the same location. With fossils from different species that are now extinct, and widely separated in time and space, there is no way to establish that one is the ancestor of another—no matter how many transitional fossils we find.

In 1978, Gareth Nelson of the American Museum of Natural History wrote: "The idea that one can go to the fossil record and expect to empirically recover an ancestor-descendant sequence, be it of species, genera, families, or whatever, has been, and continues to be, a pernicious illusion."13 Nature science writer Henry Gee wrote in 1999 that "no fossil is buried with its birth certificate." When we call new fossil discoveries "missing links," it is "as if the chain of ancestry and descent were a real object for our contemplation, and not what it really is: a completely human invention created after the fact, shaped to accord with human prejudices." Gee concluded: "To take a line of fossils and claim that they represent a lineage is not a scientific hypothesis that can be tested, but an assertion that carries the same validity as a bedtime story—amusing, perhaps even instructive, but not scientific."14

Next time, I'll address Coyne's mistakes on embryos.

Notes
9 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, p. 48.
10 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 49-51.
11 Kevin Padian & Luis M. Chiappe, "The origin and early evolution of birds," Biological Reviews 73 (1998): 1-42. Available online (2009) here. Wells, Icons of Evolution, pp. 119-122.
12 Coyne, Why Evolution Is True, pp. 25, 53. Chico Marx in Duck Soup (Paramount Pictures, 1933). This and other Marx Brothers quotations are available online (2009) here.
13 Gareth Nelson, "Presentation to the American Museum of Natural History (1969)," in David M. Williams & Malte C. Ebach, "The reform of palaeontology and the rise of biogeography—25 years after 'ontogeny, phylogeny, palaeontology and the biogenetic law' (Nelson, 1978)," Journal of Biogeography 31 (2004): 685-712.
14 Henry Gee, In Search of Deep Time. New York: Free Press, 1999, pp. 5, 32, 113-117. Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2006). More information available online (2009) here.

Posted by Jonathan Wells on April 27, 2009 3:18 PM | Permalink

When "Junk DNA" Isn't Junk: Farewell to a Darwinist Standard Response

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/when_junk_dna_isnt_junk_farewe.html#more

In the Darwinist repertoire, a standard response to evidence of design in the genome is to point to the existence of "junk DNA." What is it doing there, if purposeful design really is detectable in the history of life's development? Of course this assumes that the "junk" really is junk. That assumption has been cast increasingly into doubt. New research just out in the journal Nature Genetics finds evidence that genetic elements previously thought of as rubbish are anything but that. The research describes tiny strands of RNA, previously thought to be junk, that now turn out to play a role in gene expression. Another finding by Dr. Geoff Faulkner shows that "retrotransposons," a further variety of "junk" as the dogma previously taught, play a similar role.

Nearly half of the mammalian genome (less than 45 percent) is comprised of DNA sequences thought for decades to be but evolutionary flotsam and jetsam or junk: retrotransposons. Found along every one of our chromosomes, retrotransposons mobilize within our cells via RNA copies, copies that are then converted into DNA and afterward pasted into different DNA sites. To be sure, the vast majority of these "jumping gene" duplicates, well over a million elements, appear to be little more than pseudogenes, defective images of master templates that merely drift by mutations into a phylogenetic oblivion.

Retrotransposons appear to fit the neo-Darwinian story perfectly. First, the master templates of these elements seem to serve no other purpose than to promote their own replication at the expense of the cell, and so, by the criteria of Richard Dawkins's 1976 book The Selfish Gene, retrotransposons are selfish genes par excellence. Second, the DNA progeny of such "endogenous viruses" are without a doubt marred in various ways, as just mentioned. Relative to the original, in other words, they are junk. Third, a retrotransposon inserted into a chromosome can disrupt normal gene functions, and mutations due to these sequences have long been detected. Fourth, only a comparative few retrotransposons are conserved across different groups of mammals, with most of the DNA families being restricted to certain families, genera, or even species. Humans and mice as well as mice and rats can readily be separated solely on the basis of their retrotransposon profiles. So the bulk of these sequences do not merit being retained by natural selection.

With such facts at hand, it is no wonder that retrotransposons and other "non-coding" DNAs are part of Exhibit A on the side of the neo-Darwinian prosecution, over and against the intelligent design defense.

But there have always been big holes in this tale of selfish, junk DNA. We have known since the late 1980s that retrotransposons are distributed non-randomly along chromosomes. Even though humans and mice and rats have different families of these sequences — ultimately a reflection, according to neo-Darwinists, of randomness — the linear pattern of placement of the elements is uncannily similar. Likewise, data accumulated throughout the '80s and '90s which indicated that normal gene regulation can be controlled by pieces of such mobile DNA. Evidence for other diverse regulatory roles of retrotransposons has also continued to mount till the present.

But it wasn't until recently that we learned just how extensive is the informational impact of retrotransposons on the mammalian genome. The recent study by Geoffrey Faulkner et al. (2009) is only the latest. Using the RNA expression profiles of the human and mouse genomes as a backdrop, a number of key facts were uncovered. For one thing, tens to hundreds of thousands of transcription start sites — the beginning points of RNA transcripts — occur in retrotransposons. According to the data they gathered, anywhere from 6 to 30 percent of RNAs in the two species arise from repetitive (aka "junk") DNA. For another, elements that reside in or near protein-coding genes provide alternative regions to initiate transcription, many previously unknown, and they allow for the production of various non-translated RNAs. The "start RNA production" signals conveyed by retrotransposons such as the mouse-specific VL30 retrovirus-like sequences are also markedly tissue-specific. Altogether, the results point to retrotransposons being "intrinsic components of the transcription forest regions of the genome" (Faulkner et al., 2009).

This is all rather awkward for the Darwinian side, obviously. Another standard weapon in their armory is to charge intelligent-design theorists with making a "God of the gaps" argument, where gaps in scientific knowledge are assumed to be evidence of design. The reality is that the case for Darwinian evolution is much more reasonably shown to depend on gaps — in our knowledge of what "junk DNA" does, for one thing. Hence a sobriquet for the view that evolutionists are saddled with defending: "Darwin of the gaps."

Posted by Richard Sternberg on April 28, 2009 8:20 AM | Permalink

Benjamin Wiker on the Problem of Evil

http://www.evolutionnews.org/

Logan Gage

This week Inside Catholic republished an absolutely brilliant essay by Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Benjamin Wiker on the problem of evil.

This essay is one of the most thoughtful replies to the problem of evil—that the existence of evil evidences against God's existence—I've seen packed into a short essay. It is a must read.

Wiker describes how, in a feat of fuzzy thinking, evolution typically plays into dialogue on the problem of evil. Evolutionary answers to the problem, he argues, are more likely to do away with evil than explain it.

And among the many important questions Wiker poses is whether we really want all evil purged from the earth. Take a look to see his surprising answer.

Posted by Logan Gage at 2:15 PM | Permalink

What's new in ACSI v. Stearns

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/04/whats-new-acsi-v-stearns-004756

April 27th, 2009California

The appeal of Association of Christian Schools International et al. v. Roman Stearns et al. is wending its way through the appeals process, with the University of California system submitting its responsive brief, and a number of organizations submitting amicus curiae briefs, in April 2009. The case, originally filed in federal court in Los Angeles on August 25, 2005, centers on the University of California system's policies and statements relevant to evaluating the qualifications of applicants for admission. The plaintiffs — the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, California, and a handful of students at the school — charged that the university system violated the constitutional rights of applicants from Christian schools whose high school coursework is deemed inadequate preparation for college. The defendants prevailed on August 8, 2008, but the plaintiffs promptly appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although creationism is not the only issue in the case, it is a prominent part of it. The plaintiffs object, inter alia, to the university system's policy of rejecting high school biology courses that use creationist textbooks — Biology: God's Living Creation, published by A Beka Books, and Biology for Christian Schools, published by Bob Jones University Press — as "inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community." Michael Behe, a proponent of "intelligent design" creationism, served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, although his defense of the creationist biology textbooks was unavailing. Wendell Bird, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, is a former employee of the Institute for Creation Research; he defended Louisiana's 1981 "equal time" act all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was ruled to violate the Establishment Clause in the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).

In its appeal of the August 2008 decision, filed on January 26, 2009, the plaintiffs asserted that the University of California system "has rejected a large number of biology courses because, despite their standard content, they added a religious viewpoint" (p. 21), which "constitutes viewpoint discrimination, content discrimination, and content-based regulation, which conflict with the First Amendment" (p. 24). In their reply, filed on April 10, 2009, the defendants replied that the courses were rejected because they used the creationist textbooks as their primary texts, and a review of those textbooks "concluded they were inappropriate for use as primary texts in college preparatory science courses due to their characterizations of religious doctrine as scientific evidence, scientific inaccuracies, failure to encourage critical thinking, and overall un-scientific approach" (p. 21) — a judgment with which Donald Kennedy and NCSE Supporter Francisco Ayala, experts for the defendants, concurred.

Two amicus curiae briefs — one from the American Center for Law and Justice, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the Common Good Foundation, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council; the other from the National Legal Foundation — have been filed on behalf of the plaintiffs; neither discusses creationism. Four amicus curiae briefs — from the American Historical Association & Organization of American Historians, the American Association of University Professors, the California Council of Science and Technology, and the California State University system and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas — have been filed on behalf of the defendants. Of these, only the California Council of Science and Technology's brief discusses creationism, which is perhaps not surprising, since the brief was coauthored by attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP who were part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case over "intelligent design" creationism.

The summary of the argument from the the California Council of Science and Technology's amicus brief (pp. 3-4) deserves full quotation:

As a public institution of higher education, UC has the responsibility to produce college graduates who have satisfied its rigorous academic standards in all relevant disciplines, including science. In order to fulfill this responsibility, UC must be allowed to choose among applicants for admission into the UC system based on the applicants' demonstrated understanding of important foundational concepts. In the area of science, two such foundational concepts are the nature of science and the theory of evolution. UC acted appropriately in not giving "d" credit to certain high school science courses that used the Biology for Christian Schools and Biology: God's Living Creation textbooks because these textbooks do not teach either concept in an appropriate manner and in fact advance fundamental misconceptions about both concepts. Students educated with these textbooks will not be adequately prepared for science courses at UC.

The need for high-quality post-secondary science education has never been greater, either in California or the United States as a whole. Science and technology are recognized as key economic drivers. Unfortunately, both California and the United States are losing ground in these critical areas, in large part because of the inability of colleges and universities to produce enough highly qualified science and technology graduates. The prosperity of the state and nation in the 21st century depends on the reversal of this trend and the production of more university graduates well educated in science and technology. In light of this critical need, UC should be encouraged to take all reasonable measures to ensure that the students admitted into the UC system have a solid grounding in foundational scientific concepts upon matriculation.

The brief, along with all of the documents mentioned here, is available on NCSE's website, in a special section devoted to ACSI v. Stearns.

The Discovery Institute should try to publish this in one of the ACM journals

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/04/the_discovery_institute_should.php

Posted on: April 28, 2009 9:44 AM, by PZ Myers

I have to take back some of the mean things I've said about Intelligent Design creationism. They have finally made a significant contribution to a science…in this case, computer science. Behold the awesome power of the Intelligent Design Sort!

Intelligent Design Sort

Introduction

Intelligent design sort is a sorting algorithm based on the theory of intelligent design.

Algorithm Description

The probability of the original input list being in the exact order it's in is 1/(n!). There is such a small likelihood of this that it's clearly absurd to say that this happened by chance, so it must have been consciously put in that order by an intelligent Sorter. Therefore it's safe to assume that it's already optimally Sorted in some way that transcends our naïve mortal understanding of "ascending order". Any attempt to change that order to conform to our own preconceptions would actually make it less sorted.

Analysis

This algorithm is constant in time, and sorts the list in-place, requiring no additional memory at all. In fact, it doesn't even require any of that suspicious technological computer stuff. Praise the Sorter!



Sunday, April 26, 2009

Creationists' arguments against evolution, for intelligent design show dishonesty

http://media.www.dailytoreador.com/media/storage/paper870/news/2009/04/27/Opinions/Creationists.Arguments.Against.Evolution.For.Intelligent.Design.Show.Dishonesty-3726554.shtml

Jason Hoskin/ColumnistIssue date: 4/27/09

The Young Earth Creationists spearheaded by the Discovery Institute have scored a victory in dictating public policy with regard to how science education is taught in public schools.

Fortunately, the pro-science advocates were successful in preventing the adoption of the "strengths and weaknesses" clause with respect to the theory of evolution. This clause falsely implies there is scientific evidence in favor of intelligent design creationism or against evolution.

However, the Discovery Institute successfully lobbied the Texas School Board to revise the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills to include a clause requiring students to "analyze and evaluate" evolution, including to "analyze and evaluate" core evolutionary claims like natural selection, mutations and common ancestry according to Discovery Institute fellow Casey Luskin.

By casting unwarranted doubt on evolution, creationists have succeeded in leaving the door open to allowing the teaching of intelligent design creationism. This is a goal the Discovery Institute actively sought in its support of the teaching of intelligent design creationism in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Pennsylvania case. Nevertheless, conservative Judge John E. Jones III, a Bush appointee ruled, "(Intelligent design creationism) is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

This recent political lobbying is consistent with the institute's mission to seek "nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies." These legacies include "scientific materialism" which, according to the Institute's Wedge Document, has led to moral relativism and its consequent diminution of personal responsibility.

To justify this introduction of pseudoscience into the curriculum, creationists frequently use the refrain we should "teach the controversy" - that is to say give equal time to opposing points of view merely because there are people who hold them.

There are serious problems with a consistent application of this principle, as creationists are undoubtedly aware. There would in principle be no reason to bar the teaching of creation myths of Buddhism or Hinduism or any of the hundreds of minor myths, all during science education class.

This consequence is no doubt unpalatable to Christian creationists, as well as principled defenders of the Constitution.

Why not give a hearing to the Flat Earth Society who no doubt would love to require that students be made to evaluate "all sides of the scientific evidence" regarding the shape of the Earth? Why limit this relativism to the epistemic variety. Why not teach Nazism and communism as viable political systems or that cannibalism is just another preference.

Clearly, the "teach the controversy" refrain takes as its premise that all ideas and belief systems are equally valid in a sense, so long as there are people endorse them. We are thus faced with the startling prospect of a radical right-wing organization-endorsing relativism. It is ironic the same organization that claims to oppose the encroachment of relativism in culture depends on it to advance their agenda.

There are a number of criteria a given set of ideas must satisfy in order to be accepted as part of a scientific discipline.

First is a particular theory undergo examination by the peer review process. It is important to note there is not one peer reviewed article that has been published supporting intelligent design, either produced by the "scientists" at the Discovery Institute, or anyone else according.

By contrast, there is not one peer-reviewed article challenging evolution 150 years after Darwin published "The Origin of Species" according to philosopher Barbara Forrest.

As Theodosius Dobzhansky said, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Evolution has helped us understand genetics, microbiology, etc. It has led to the development of medical technology that has saved the lives of billions of people and extended the human life span from about 30 to 80 years in less than two centuries.

As Discovery Institute fellow Philip E. Johnson admits, the issue of intelligent design creationism "Isn't really, and never has been a debate about science. It's about religion and philosophy."

The historical record attests to this fact: Creationism, in any of its forms, has yet to produce one piece of empirical evidence that has increased the body of scientific knowledge, despite having an 1850-year head start on the theory of evolution.

More importantly, it has not led to a single instance of medical technology or saved a single human life from the ravages of disease. This is because evolutionary biology is a process of making inferences based on observations about the world, a process that intelligent design creationism proponents decry as "materialism."

By contrast, intelligent design creationism is little more than adherence to the arbitrary assertions of religious dogma, while ignoring the vast body of facts provided by observation.

This is the reason why evolution has earned its place in the curriculum in its undiluted form and why creationism has no place in education.

Helping Students Answer a Professor's Challenge to "Find a Fact" That Supports Intelligent Design (Part 1)

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/04/helping_students_answer_a_prof.html

We've recently received a number of e-mails from students asking for help. A university biology professor has apparently challenged his class to "[f]ind a fact (observation, data) that supports" evolution or intelligent design. The students e-mailed us asking for help answering his challenge with regards to intelligent design. My response, which I've now sent to a few of the students in the course, has been, "Where to begin?" Below I post Part 1 or my reply to one student, with names and quotes removed to protect the innocent:

Dear [Snip],

Greetings and thanks for your email. I think that someone else from your class already emailed me with the same question. According to the document you sent me, your professor stated the following:

To qualify as a theory, ID must meet the following criteria:

1. It must be supported by a large amount of data (observations in the physical world) and it must have broad application to explain a wide range of phenomena.
2. It must provide a framework that allows the development of novel hypotheses (questions about nature).

He then challenged you to "Find a fact (observation, data) that supports" intelligent design. My response is, where to begin? Before we get into that, let's address your comment that you are struggling to clearly understand the proper definitions of theories and hypotheses.

First, I appreciate the difficulties you are having with the definitions of terms like "theory." I agree with your professor's definitions of "fact" and "hypothesis," and I partly agree with your professor's definition of "theory." For some details on these questions, I recommend that you read an article I wrote on this topic at: Is "Evolution" a "Theory" or "Fact" or Is This Just a Trivial Game of Semantics?

Here I explain that in practice, scientists use different definitions for terms like "theory," thus creating confusion. Here's a point I make in the article, modified to help answer your present concerns:

"Theory" can have multiple definitions. When I look up "theory" in my 1996 edition of Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (WEUDEL), the word "theory" has 7 or 8 different entries:

1. a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity.

2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.

3. Math. a body of principles, theorems, or the like, belonging to one subject: number theory.

4. the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from its practice: music theory.

5. a particular conception or view of something to be done or of the method of doing it; a system of rules or principles.

6. contemplation or speculation.

7. guess or conjecture.

According to entry #2, "theory" can mean "a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact." Similarly, entries #6 and #7 define "theory" as "contemplation or speculation" or "guess or conjecture" (what I'll call the "soft" of theory). The upshot of the soft definition of theory is that evolutionists who imply that the term "theory" can never mean that "conjecture or guess" are in fact wrong, because "theory" can in fact mean conjecture or guess. On the other hand, if you're a Darwin-skeptic who thinks that "theory" necessarily means "conjecture" or a "guess" and can never mean a verified scientific explanation, then you are wrong: After listing these entries, my 1996 edition of WEUDEL elaborates on proper usage of the word "theory" within the scientific community:

"1. THEORY, HYPOTHESIS are used in non-technical contexts to mean untested idea or opinion. The THEORY in technical use is a more or less verified or established explanation accounting for known facts or phenomena: the theory of relativity. A hypothesis is a conjecture put forth as a possible explanation of phenomena or relations, which serve as a basis of argument or experimentation to reach the truth: This idea is only a hypothesis."

Within technical scientific discussions, the term "theory" typically is understood to mean "a more or less verified or established explanation." We'll call this the hard definition of theory. But is this hard definition of theory the only way that scientists use the word "theory"?

When a Darwin-skeptic says "evolution is a theory, not a fact," evolutionists often pounce and assert that the authoritative scientists never use the word "theory" to mean conjecture or guess. For example, Ken Miller's 2007 edition of the textbook Biology bluffs by implying that there is a united front and complete conformity within the scientific community regarding proper usage of the word "theory." Miller's textbook states: "In science, the word theory applies to a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations." Such evolutionist claims of unanimity within the scientific community are not correct.

While scientists do typically imply the "hard" definition when using the word "theory," they don't always use it in that sense. If scientists always meant the "hard" definition of "theory," then scientists would virtually never use the phrase "new theory" because an idea does not attain the status of a theory until it becomes well-established and verified, withstanding many tests until it is no longer "a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural." Yet a quick search of PubMed for the phrase "new theory" reveals dozens and dozens of hits from the technical scientific literature where scientists offered "a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural" but called that explanation a "theory."

You can read my article for examples of where scientists use the term "theory" in the "soft" sense. The truth is that scientists can use both the "soft" or "hard" definition of "theory" when they use the term.

Regardless, this is a semantic debate, and if we accept your professor's "hard" definition as the only proper usage of "theory," then ID most definitely is "supported by a large amount of data (observations in the physical world)" and it does "have broad application to explain a wide range of phenomena" and "a framework that allows the development of novel hypotheses (questions about nature)."

I'll finish the rest of my response to this student in a subsequent post.

Posted by Casey Luskin on April 21, 2009 9:40 AM | Permalink

Evolution of human sex roles more complex than described by universal theory

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/cp-eoh041709.php

Public release date: 24-Apr-2009

Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press

A new study challenges long-standing expectations that men are promiscuous and women tend to be more particular when it comes to choosing a mate. The research, published by Cell Press in the April issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, suggests that human mating strategies are not likely to conform to a single universal pattern and provides important insights that may impact future investigations of human mating behaviors.

In 1948, Angus J. Bateman's performed some now famous studies in fruit flies that showed that males exhibit greater variance in mating success (the number of sexual partners) and in reproductive success (the number of offspring) when compared to females. In addition, Bateman demonstrated that there was a stronger relationship between reproductive success and mating success in males than females.

Bateman concluded that, because a single egg is more costly to produce than a single sperm, the number of offspring produced by a female fruit fly was mainly limited by her ability to produce eggs, while a male's reproductive success was limited by the number of females he inseminated. These studies supported the conventional assumption that male animals are competitive and promiscuous while female animals are non-competitive and choosy.

"The conventional view of promiscuous, undiscriminating males and coy, choosy females has also been applied to our own species," says lead study author Dr. Gillian R. Brown from the School of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews. "We sought to make a comprehensive review of sexual selection theory and examine data on mating behavior and reproductive success in current human populations in order to further our understanding of human sex roles."

Dr. Brown and colleagues examined the general universal applicability of Bateman's principles. To test one of Bateman's assumptions, they collated data on the variance in male and female reproductive success in 18 human populations. While male reproductive success varied more than female reproductive success overall, huge variability was found between populations; for instance, in monogamous societies, variances in male and female reproductive success were very similar.

The researchers also examined factors that might explain variations across human populations that are not in keeping with the prediction of universal sex roles. "Recent advances in evolutionary theory suggest that factors such as sex-biased mortality, sex-ratio, population density and variation in mate quality, are likely to impact mating behavior in humans," concludes Dr. Brown. "The insights gained from this new perspective will have important implications for how we conceive of male and female sexual behavior."

###

Brown et al.: "Bateman's principles and human sex roles." Researchers include Gillian R. Brown, University of St Andrews, U.K.; Kevin N. Laland, University of St Andrews, U.K.; and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, University of California at Davis, CA.

Cow Genes Elucidate Evolution

http://insciences.org/article.php?article_id=4548

Published on 25 April 2009, 07:33

A Simon Fraser University-led research team's analysis of the first genomic sequence of a mammalian livestock animal provides clues about cattle's evolution. The team's look at a Hereford cow's genome may also help scientists pinpoint which genes contribute to disease susceptibility, milk production and other traits.

Working with colleagues at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, the SFU-led research team was part of a more than 300-member international research consortium spanning 25 countries.

The Bovine Genome Sequencing Project mapped the genome of a Hereford cow—one of North America's primary breeds for beef production. An associated Bovine HapMap Project, which built upon the sequencing project, mapped the genetic diversity of 19 breeds of cattle worldwide.

The journal Science has published the results of both studies and the BioMed Central journal series has published companion papers about the work.

David Lynn, a postdoctoral research associate in SFU associate professor Fiona Brinkman's lab, led the analysis of adaptive evolution in the bovine genome. The team discovered that 70 of the cow's 22,000 genes evolved more rapidly than expected.

Ten of these genes control immune functions; the rest govern a number of biological processes, including milk production.

Scientists have long believed that organisms' immune-related efforts to overcome infectious diseases have led to adaptive evolution," explains Lynn, an Irish born geneticist. "Our research helps cement the theory that genes governing the immune system actually evolve more rapidly than other genes to help ensure a species' survival."

Lynn predicts that as analysis procedures improve, scientists may discover even more genes that have been subject to adaptive evolution. "This is a start," observes Lynn, "and informs scientists about which genes are most likely involved in increasing and diminishing cattle's disease susceptibility.

Our research could help the cattle industry breed livestock that are more resistant to infectious diseases, such as mastitis, a bacterial disease affecting the udder system. Such diseases are dramatically undermining milk production in a world with a rapidly increasing human population that needs food."

SFU faculty members, Fiona Brinkman, Steven Jones, Marco Marra and Rob Holt, and a graduate student in Brinkman's lab, Mathew Whiteside, were also involved in these projects. Jones and Marra led sections that involved assembly and analysis of the bovine genome sequence at Canada's Michael Smith Genome Science Centre in Vancouver.

Contacts:
Fiona Brinkman, 778.782.5646, fiona_brinkman@sfu.ca
David Lynn, 778.782.2061, david_lynn@sfu.ca (away until May 4)
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035, cthorbes@sfu.ca

Source: SFU, Simon Fraser University