NTS LogoSkeptical News for 10 December 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Evolution education update: December 9, 2011

A preview of Richard Dawkins's The Magic of Reality, a reflection by Steve Jones on creationism in British higher education, and creationism in a case going to trial in California.


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Richard Dawkins's book for children The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True (Free Press, 2011). The preview consists in the bulk of chapter 3 -- "Why are there so many different kinds of animals?" -- in which Dawkins, after discussing various answers to the titular question offered by myth, introduces the idea of speciation. Species, he writes, form "a family tree: a tree with many branches, each branch having sub-branches, and each sub-branch having sub-sub-branches. The tips of the twigs are species. The other groupings -- class, order, family, genus -- are the branches and sub-branches. The whole tree is all of life on Earth."

Lawrence Krauss writes, "I am often asked to recommend good books on science for young people. From now on, I will not have to hesitate. The Magic of Reality provides a beautiful, accessible and wide ranging volume that addresses the questions that all of us have about the universe, separating often too-little known facts from too-frequently believed fictions. For this reason, it should be a powerful resource for people of all ages, written with the masterful and eloquently literate style of perhaps the best popular expositor of science, Richard Dawkins, and delightfully illustrated by Dave McKean. What more could anyone ask for?"

For the preview, visit:

For information about the book from its publisher, visit:


Writing in The Telegraph (December 3, 2011), the geneticist Steve Jones reflects on his experience in teaching university students who reject evolution — and refuse even to learn about it — because of their religious objections. "At University College London we have numbers of Islamic students, almost all dedicated, hard-working and able. Some, unfortunately, refuse to accept Darwin's theory on faith grounds, as do some of their Christian fellows," Jones reports.

Referring to the Islamic creationist literature distributed under the name Harun Yahya, Jones observes, "Much of their propaganda has been lifted from Christian fundamentalism and there is a certain irony in where it has ended up." Jones adds, "I have had plenty of verbal complaints from undergraduates of both persuasions that I am demeaning religion, while others ask that they be excused lectures on my subject, or simply fail to turn up."

"Anyone, of course, is free to believe whatever they wish," Jones continues. "But why train to become a biologist, or a doctor, when you deny the very foundations of your subject? For a biology student to refuse to accept the fact of evolution is equivalent to choosing to do a degree in English without believing in grammar, or in physics with a rooted objection to gravity: it makes no sense at all. The same is true for doctors. How can you put a body right with no idea as to why it is liable to go wrong?"

For Jones's column, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events abroad, visit:


"A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has opted to let a jury decide whether NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory discriminated against a former employee who claims he was fired for discussing intelligent design," according to the Pasadena Star-News (November 30, 2011). The initial complaint, filed on April 11, 2010, alleged that JPL discriminated against and unfairly demoted David Coppedge because of his discussion of "intelligent design" as well as religious and political issues in the workplace. After Coppedge was laid off from his job in January 2011, the complaint was amended to add a claim of wrongful termination, although JPL replied that Coppedge was laid off as part of a natural attrition.

The Star-News described Coppedge as "[a] well-known figure among proponents of 'intelligent design'" and noted that he operates the Creation-Evolution Headlines website, but overlooked the fact that he is on the board of Illustra Media, which produces "intelligent design" films such as Unlocking the Mystery of Life, The Privileged Planet, and Darwin's Dilemma. It was, in part, Coppedge's distribution of such films to his coworkers that prompted JPL to take disciplinary action against him. Coppedge's attorney, William J. Becker Jr., represented the American Freedom Alliance in its recent suit against the California Science Center over the cancellation of a screening of Darwin's Dilemma.

With the judge's decision to allow the case to go to trial, a spokesperson for JPL told the Star-News, "The suit is completely without merit, and we intend to vigorously fight the allegations raised by Mr. Coppedge." Shortly after the filing of the suit, Gary Williams, a professor of law at Loyola University, told the Star-News (April 18, 2010) that Coppedge's prospects for success were dim: "If an employee is talking about anything in the workplace that is not related to work, the employer is entitled to say that 'I don't want you to do this,'" Williams said. "You're not protected." The trial is expected to begin on March 7, 2012. Documents from the case, David Coppedge v. Jet Propulsion Laboratory et al., are available on NCSE's website.

For the Pasadena Star-News's story, visit:

For documents from the case, visit:

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

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Evolution education update: November 25, 2011

Sad news of Lynn Margulis's death. And the contents of Evolution: Education and Outreach are freely available on-line through the end of the year.


The eminent biologist Lynn Margulis died on November 22, 2011, at the age of 73, according to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Born Lynn Alexander in Chicago on March 5, 1938, she enrolled in the University of Chicago at the age of fourteen. She received her A.B. in liberal arts from the University of Chicago in 1957, a joint master's degree in zoology and genetics from the University of Wisconsin in 1960, and a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1963. After a stint as a post-doctoral researcher at Brandeis University, she spent twenty-two years in the Department of Biology at Boston University before moving to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she was Distinguished University Professor. Among her honors and awards were membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement from Sigma Xi, the Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society, and the National Medal of Science. A prolific writer (often in collaboration with her son Dorion Sagan), her books include Origin of Eukaryotic Cells (Yale University Press 1970), Origins of Sex (Yale University Press, 1986), Microcosmos (HarperCollins, 1987), Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis, and Evolution (Springer, 1997), Symbiotic Planet (Basic Books, 1998), and Acquiring Genomes (Basic Books, 2002).

Margulis was perhaps most celebrated for her advocacy of the endosymbiotic theory of the origin of organelles, starting with her paper "On the origin of mitosing cells," published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology in 1967. The endosymbiotic theory is now generally accepted for mitochondria and chloroplasts, if not for all of the organelles that Margulis thought. She was also known for her advocacy of the Gaia hypothesis and symbiogenesis, the idea that speciation is driven largely by symbiosis. Her proclivity for such unconventional evolutionary mechanisms allowed her to be steadily misrepresented by antievolutionists hoping to convince the public that evolution is a theory in crisis. But Margulis firmly rejected creationism, writing, for example, "Anthropocentric writers with a proclivity for the miraculous and a commitment to divine intervention tend to attribute historical appearances like eyes, wings, and speech to 'irreducible complexity' (as, for example, Michael Behe does in his book, Darwin's Black Box) or 'ingenious design' (in the tradition of William Paley who used the functional organs of animals as proof for the existence of God). Here we feel no need for supernatural hypotheses. Rather, we insist that today, more than ever, it is the growing scientific understanding of how new traits appear, ones even as complex as the vertebrate eye, that has triumphed" (Acquiring Genomes, p. 202). She was a Supporter of NCSE.

For the obituary from the University of Massachussetts, Amherst, visit:


Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- will be freely available through December 31, 2011, thanks to the generosity of its publisher, Springer. Edited by Niles Eldredge (who received NCSE's Friend of Darwin award in 2011) and Greg Eldredge, Evolution: Education and Outreach quickly became a hub for thoughtful discussion of evolution education, with a host of scientific articles, curriculum and education articles, editorials, viewpoint articles, and reviews of books and other media. And now you can access it all -- for the rest of the year.

NCSE is amply represented, of course: NCSE's regular column, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education; Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates's "Why Science Standards are Important to a Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up"; Mick Wycoff's interview of NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott; Steven Newton's review of Ralph O'Connor's The Earth on Show; and the special issue, edited by Glenn Branch, of the journal commemorating Eugenie C. Scott's sixty-fifth birthday, including essays by Brian Alters, Barbara Forrest, Robert M. Hazen, Lawrence M. Krauss, Kenneth R. Miller, Kevin Padian, and Robert T. Pennock.

For the contents of Evolution: Education and Outreach, visit:

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

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

A Reader Counters Weird Anti-Evolution Claim Regarding Human Flaws


Friday, December 9, 2011

Several weird comments followed this post about women promoting evolution education. Reader Jerrold Alpern wrote to say he wanted to make a comment to dispute the other comments. It didn't post so I'm posting it for him.

First, let's look at an excerpt from one of the comment he'd like to dispute. This writer seems to be arguing that flaws in the body and the human genetic code show that evolution didn't happen, or isn't happening. This was an argument I'd never seen before:

Humans have over 4600 genetic defects resulting in genetic diseases. There are only 4 "thought to be" positive mutations in the human genome. The mDNA has lost over 1200 complex genes in humans and you think there is evolution?

You are sick and have a genetic disease. All humans are degraded and have genetically caused diseases.

1 in 7 women have breast cancer a genetic disease.

1 in 12 humans have genetically caused diabetes and the numbers are rising every year.

There are over 1200 single point mutation diseases that are called rare.

Humans are degraded from a condition of far more fit, far more intelligent and way stronger. We are more primitive in thoughts than ever and even more controlled by our emotional and tribal compulsions, and we think we are evolving?

If you believe in evolution then you are supporting the continual degradation of our species and are willing to our descendants a short miserable fearful life full of low IQ ignorance even more than the rampant ignorance we have now.

There is nothing redeemable about teaching children magical , faith based religious mythological nonsense, and calling it "science". Using the word "science" does not make it science. That is the oldest academia trick there is.

Here's Alpern's rebuttal:

Our genetic history happens to be one of the salient proofs of evolution. DNA comparative analysis of our genomes and those of other vertebrates shows clearly which are our closest relatives (chimpanzees), which are more distant and when we diverged from each. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming from every area of science. Modern medicine and agriculture, to name just two fields, would simply not exist without evolutionary principles to guide them. The theory of evolution and the scientific method explain the natural world and produce practical, beneficial results in our lives daily. Alternatives such as creationism and intelligent design do not. You would not have had a flu shot to take this year without an understanding of evolution. Thousands of incarcerated violent felons would still be on the streets robbing and killing without the forensic DNA techniques based on evolution to convict them. The price of all foods would be much higher without a knowledge of evolution to guide the cultivation practices that result in our current disease-resistant, high-yielding crops.

You seem to think that defects in our bodies disprove evolution. On the contrary, they are conclusive evidence of our common ancestry with other animals. Recently I had to undergo a hernia repair. Why are hernias in men so common? Well, in our cold-blooded fish ancestors the gonads were in the center of the body, a nice, safe place to be. But as our lineage gradually evolved from fishes, shifted to dry land and became warm-blooded, the center of the body grew much too hot for sperm to survive. So the gonads gradually moved outside the body to reside in a sac where a more equable temperature could be maintained. But structural constraints forced the spermatic cord to follow a rather tortuous route, finally stretching the abdomen like a hand pushing through a balloon and leaving a weak spot where hernias occur. Read Neil Shubin's' "Your Inner Fish: A 3.5 Billion-Year-History of the Human Body".

Let me put it another way. Have you observed that all organisms reproduce themselves? Have you observed that there is variation among these offspring? Have you observed that not all these offspring survive to reproduce in turn? Then you have also observed evolution. Evolution is the inevitable, unavoidable consequence of these three processes that everyone notices daily. You can no more deny evolution that you can deny that the sun shines or the rain falls or the wind blows. See Cameron M. Smith's "The Fact of Evolution".

See also Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution is True" and Donald Prothero's "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters." Evolution is not a religion. It is science. It grew out of observations and experiments leading to a hypothesis that has been confirmed probably millions of times over the past 150 years by experiment, observation, confirmed predictions and much other evidence. There is no evidence against it. Science accepts only natural, testable, falsifiable evidence and hypotheses. It does not accept the supernatural. I don't think that fits the definition of a religion.

He's right that apparent design flaws in the human body reveal our evolutionary past. Our ancestors were fish. That's indeed explained very well in "Why Evolution is True" and "Your Inner Fish".

However, I'm not sure that an understanding of evolution was required for the invention of DNA forensics. That was a brilliant piece of applied science, and relied on the realization that some parts of human DNA are extremely variable. Evolution helps explain why that's the case, but sometimes you don't need to understand things deeply to make clever use of them. I leave this open as a point of discussion.

Alpern also offered a rebuttal of another comment that started with the accusation that I'm a "libpuke" or some such thing. I'm saving that for another post in the interest of space.

Posted by Faye Flam @ 1:34 PM Permalink

Evolution and Miss USA: Science Role Models Explain Why Evolutionary Biology Is So Important [Video]



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations Home

By Philip Yam | December 9, 2011

Remember the Miss USA pageant earlier this year, when contestants were asked if evolution should be taught in schools? Only two of the them fully supported Darwin; thankfully, the pageant winner was one of them.

Recognizing that these young women often serve as role models for teens, and concerned about their lack of awareness of one of humanity's greatest insights, a group of scientists and science bloggers banded together to make this video, "Let's Talk about Evolution." In it, scientists describe why evolution is important, how it has driven advances in science and medicine and why it belongs in the classroom. I learned of the video at last night's Science Online NYC discussion, part of a monthly series organized by Ars Technica, Nature and Rockefeller University.

This six-minute video was produced by Matt Shipman, David Wescott, Jamie Vernon, Kevin Zelnio and Andrea Kuszewski—great job, folks!

About the Author: Philip Yam is the managing editor of ScientificAmerican.com. Follow on Twitter @philipyam.

Evolution censored in Turkey?


December 9th, 2011 International Anti-Evolution 2011

Evolution "ranks alongside pornography and terrorism as topics that the Turkish government's controversial new Internet filtering scheme keeps out of the hands of children," according to a post on the ScienceInsider blog (December 9, 2011). The Hürriyet Daily News (December 8, 2011) reported that a website explaining evolution was blocked for children by the new filtering scheme." Users choosing the "children profile" for their internet connection are able to access "only several types of web pages such as public and educational websites," the newspaper explained.

Acknowledging that the block was subsequently lifted, ScienceInsider observed that nevertheless, "science advocates and Internet freedom activists say it's a worrying sign of the government's attitude toward evolution." Aykut Kence, a biologist at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, told the blog that the censorship "shows the mentality of people censoring the websites ... Apparently they thought that this was deleterious for kids." Kence added that the creationist websites operated under the Harun Yahya name were available "without any restriction."

Darwin censored by the Turkish government's porn filter


By Tom Chivers Science Last updated: December 10th, 2011

Tom Chivers is the Telegraph's assistant comment editor. He writes on science, culture and anything that crosses his mind. Follow him on Twitter @tomchivers. Read older posts by Tom here.

Worrying news from Turkey, where a government body has moved to block sites that mention evolution or Charles Darwin.

The Council of Information Technology and Communications (BTK) released the "Secure Internet" filtering system on 22 November. Sites that includes the words "evolution" or "Darwin" are filtered if parents select the child-friendly settings on the filter, as though it's porn. Among the sites banned, according to Reporters Without Borders, is Richard Dawkins' website richarddawkins.net. The homepage of Adnan Oktar, an Islamic creationist, is still accessible. The system has already attracted controversy: apparently it bans terms linked with the Kurdish separatist movement, and Reporters Without Borders has accused the Turkish government of "backdoor censorship".

As New Scientist reported in 2009, Turkey is something of a centre for Islamic creationism. The editor of a popular science magazine, Bilim ve Teknik, was sacked that year after trying to run a front-page article celebrating Darwin's 200th birthday. The aforementioned Oktar, under his pen name of Harun Yahya, claims in large, lavishly illustrated books that evolution is a "disproved" theory (just for the record: it isn't. It's the absolute cornerstone of everything in biology, without which nothing makes sense) imposed by Western imperialists to keep Muslims in their place. A 2006 survey of 34 countries put Turkey 34th, just behind the US, in the rate of popular acceptance of evolution.

This is seriously concerning. Turkey is in many respects the most secular of Islamic countries, so it is sad and disturbing to see its government undermine science. It's not alone, either: as our own Steve Jones reports, a growing number of Islamic medical and biology students in this country seem to be rejecting the theory which underpins their subjects, in favour of a borrowed version of Christian antiscientific creationism, or "Intelligent Design", which is the same thing but wearing Clark Kent spectacles. (I'm sorry to sound like I'm blaming it on Christianity – I'm really not, it's just an apparent historical fact that most of the ideas and propaganda have been lifted from their Christian counterparts.) Prof Jones sighs: "Why train to become a biologist, or a doctor, when you deny the very foundations of your subject? For a biology student to refuse to accept the fact of evolution is equivalent to choosing to do a degree in English without believing in grammar, or in physics with a rooted objection to gravity: it makes no sense at all." The influence of the creationist movement in mainstream US politics, of course, is well documented already.

I've moaned about this before, but it is completely baffling to me why evolutionary biology, and not cosmology or plate tectonics or radio-carbon dating, has become the whipping boy for science-denying creationists. Those other three are just as solid in their refutation of a literal reading of religious works. Maybe it's a visceral dislike of the idea of sharing a common ancestor with apes. But whatever it is, the education of millions of children, in Turkey, in Britain and around the world, is being harmed by people – parents, teachers, government officials – with a simple-minded interpretation of their religion. Evolution is a fact, like gravity (and a theory, like gravity). Some parts of some holy books might seem to disagree, but then a part of the Bible seems to imply that p=3. It's a real shame to see the Turkish government, and British students, go down the route of believing a book of metaphors over the evidence of the world.

Energy healing sparks debate


NCCAM balks at further study

December 11, 2011

Energy healers say they can detect and channel a "universal energy" and even manipulate this energy within another person.

Science has not proved that this energy exists, that anybody can detect it or manipulate it, or that it has anything to do with disease. In fact, proving the existence of such energy would require a dramatic transformation in what is known about disease and how the human body works.

Yet the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has funded studies of energy healing for everything from fibromyalgia (a $300,000 grant) to prostate cancer (a $370,000 grant) to rats stressed out by white noise (a $370,000 grant).

In fiscal years 2005-2007, NCCAM spent $104,000 on a grant that led to a study of "energy chelation" as a treatment for fatigue in breast cancer survivors.

In an "energy chelation" session, the healer places his or her hands 5 or 6 inches away from the body "to see if they could tell any difference in pressure or texture in your local atmosphere," said the Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere, of the Healing Light Center Church. Bruyere is a California healer who invented the technique.

The healer then scans the body, starting at the foot and working up to the head, eventually treating problems by channeling energy, said Bruyere, a co-author on the study, published this year in the journal Cancer.

Seventy-six fatigued breast cancer survivors were divided into three groups. One group received eight "energy chelation" sessions from healers trained in Bruyere's technique.

Another group received mock "energy chelation" sessions from skeptical scientists who were told to think about studies and grants during the sessions.

At the end of the study, those receiving "energy chelation" felt less fatigued, but so did the placebo group receiving sham sessions from the preoccupied skeptics. (A third group was put on a waiting list and felt no improvement.)

Dr. David Gorski, a breast cancer surgeon with Wayne State University in Detroit, called the study "brain-meltingly bad."

Energy chelation is "magic, faith healing," he wrote in an email. "The whole thing, from a scientific standpoint, is laughable."

Bruyere agreed that the study was flawed, but not for the reasons mentioned by Gorski. The problem, she said, was that the skeptical scientists probably were healing the patients despite their best efforts.

"The sham is not really a sham," Bruyere said. "You can tell me to think about research and a grocery list, but my energy is going to fill them. It's human nature."

Dr. Josephine Briggs, director of NCCAM since 2008, wrote in an email that the center has not awarded any new grants to study practices like distant prayer or other energy healing for several years.

Trine Tsouderos

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

Ontario college beats retreat on alternative therapies


December 9, 2011
View PDF

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has retreated on a controversial draft complementary medicine policy after substantial backlash from physician groups who feared it would require them to advise patients about quack therapies.

The updated Complementary/Alternative Medicine policy statement reaffirms the primacy of physicians' duty to act in their patients' best interests and only recommend therapeutic options "informed by evidence and science" (www.cpso.on.ca/uploadedFiles/policies/policies/policyitems/complementary_med.pdf).

"The College focused on ensuring the new policy is congruent with the core expectations of professional conduct that are applicable to all members of the medical profession, and addressed the perceived frailties of the existing policy (i.e., that it was too permissive and did not explicitly prohibit unacceptable conduct)," Kathryn Clarke, the college's senior communications coordinator, writes in an email.

Physician groups balked at the lower evidentiary bar an earlier draft of the policy had set for measuring the safety and efficacy of complementary therapies, arguing that its requirement that physicians propose complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) options would force them to breach their duty to provide patients with the best possible care (www.cmaj.ca/lookup/doi/10.1503/cmaj.109-4004).

That requirement has been axed in the updated policy, which gives precedence to the expectation that physicians act in their patients' best interests, whereas the original gave first rank to respect for patient wishes, "even those which physicians deem to be unfounded or unwise" (www.cpso.on.ca/uploadedFiles/policies/consultations/non-allopathic-consultation-draft.pdf).

A stipulation that physicians "must refrain from expressing personal non-clinical judgments" has also been removed, and "new language has been added to make it clear that we expect physicians to demonstrate respect for patient choice but also to comply with their professional obligations," Clarke writes.

To wit, the updated guidelines now affirm that "it is a principle of good practice that physicians provide their professional opinion in an accurate and objective manner, substantiated by fact and sound clinical judgment. Clinical concerns must always be highlighted."

Moreover, "the explicit expectation that decision-making and physician practice must be informed by evidence and science has been interwoven into the policy in a number of key areas, for example: in the introduction, and in the section relating to expectations of physicians when practicing CAM (i.e., when physicians are performing clinical assessments; reaching a diagnosis; presenting therapeutic options; and obtaining informed consent)," Clarke writes.

The updated policy states that "all patient assessments and diagnoses must be consistent with the standards of conventional medicine and be informed by evidence and science," and that "any CAM therapeutic option that is recommended by physicians must be informed by evidence and science."

It also requires that alternative therapies proposed by physicians must:

The earlier iteration of the guidelines had only required rigorous evidence for alternative therapies "that pose greater risks than a comparable allopathic treatment or that will impose a financial burden."

Vague terminology, such as the use of the terms "allopathic medicine" and "non-allopathic medicine" to refer to conventional and complementary therapies, respectively, has also been scrubbed from the updated document, Clarke writes.

However, the draft policy's hotly-contested recommendation that physicians refer patients to alternative therapy practitioners "where patients seek care that is beyond the physician's clinical competence," essentially remains intact.

During public consultation on the draft policy, the British Medical Association argued that the notion that physicians should collaborate with, or refer patients to, alternative practitioners "is not compatible with the doctor's duty to provide care that is consistent with the best available information."

Clarke, however, contends that the College "carefully reviewed the feedback we received and considered what policy revisions might be warranted in response to input from stakeholders."

But "given the diversity of and polarity of the views expressed, it was unlikely that the final version of the policy would satisfy all stakeholders, regardless of the nature of the revisions undertaken," she writes. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.109-4075 — Lauren Vogel, CMAJ

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A. L. Hughes's New Non-Darwinian Mechanism of Adaption Was Discovered and Published in Detail by an ID Geneticist 25 Years Ago


Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig December 7, 2011 1:39 PM | Permalink

Editor's Note: ENV is pleased to welcome the comments of Dr. Lönnig, Senior Scientist, Department of Molecular Plant Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (retired).

Although not affiliated with Discovery Institute or the Center for Science and Culture, I was kindly invited to comment on Austin L. Hughes's 2011 paper in Heredity, "Evolution of adaptive phenotypic traits without positive Darwinian selection." P. J. Levi has aptly given the gist of the article here as follows:

Hughes now proposes a model he refers to as the plasticity-relaxation-mutation (PRM) model. PRM suggests that adaptive phenotypes arise as follows: (1) there exists a phenotypically plastic trait (i.e., one that changes with the environment, such as sweating in the summer heat); (2) the environment becomes constant, such that the trait assumes only one of its states for a lengthened period of time; and (3) during that time, deleterious mutations accumulate in the unused state of the trait, such that its genetic basis is subsequently lost.

As a geneticist, I have been "preaching" exactly this non-Darwinian kind of evolution and speciation since 1986, backed up by many genetic facts and arguments (see the list of references below).

Well, to a certain extent Hughes's unawareness may be understandable. For the free flow of scientific theories and discoveries, the language barrier often poses a basic problem. Whatever has not been published in English but only in such "long-forgotten languages" as German, French or Spanish has a good chance of simply being ignored or overlooked (even if it is available on the Internet).

Nevertheless, one wouldn't argue that Mendel did not discover the basic laws of heredity because they were first published in German (and only 36 years later in English by Bateson), not to mention the theories and discoveries of German Nobel Laureates like Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg and many others.

So what did I discover? In our peer-reviewed paper on "Biodiversity and Dollo's law: to what extent can the phenotypic differences between Antirrhinum majus and Misopates orontium be bridged by mutagenesis?" (Bioremediation, Biodiversity and Bioavailability 1, 1-30 (2007)), I summed up Stubbe's rule, which he had formulated after some 40 years of intense mutation research especially with Antirrhinum majus (snapdragon) as follows:

All alterations due to different environmental factors (modifications) have also been detected as mutants, but not all phenotypes due to mutations can be replicated by environmentally elicited modifications.

In agreement with my own work on more than two million plants at the University of Bonn and the Max-Planck-Institute for Plant Breeding Research, almost all mutations in plants are recessive and Stubbe himself had described some 500 such mutants. In genetic terms, what does recessivity mean? James D. Watson wrote in 1976 (p. 190; similarly 1897, p. 222; more details and quotations in Lönnig 1986, pp. 122 ff., 334 ff., 362-372, see also the version of 1993):

Most mutant genes are recessive with respect to wild-type genes. [...] The recessive phenotype often results from the failure of mutant genes to produce any functional protein (enzyme)."

See also Fincham in his textbook Genetics (1983, p. 350), and many other authors documented by Lönnig 1986. Goldschmidt (1935, 1961) came to the same results on modifications and mutant phenotypes as did Stubbe especially in connection with his studies on phenocopies in Drosophila.

Here is a translation, with some help by Professor Granville Sewell, of my 1986 text, relevant to the question of non-Darwinian speciation referred to above (from Lönnig 1986, p. 473; when I say "all possible" please don't take that too literally):

The original species had a greater genetic potential to adapt to all possible environments. In the course of time this broad capacity for adaptation has been steadily reduced in the respective habitats by the accumulation of slightly deleterious alleles (as well as total losses of genetic functions redundant for a habitat), with the exception, of course, of that part which was necessary for coping with a species' particular environment....By mutative reduction of the genetic potential, modifications became "heritable". -- As strange as it may at first sound, however, this has nothing to do with the inheritance of acquired characteristics. For the characteristics were not acquired evolutionarily, but existed from the very beginning due to the greater adaptability. In many species only the genetic functions necessary for coping with the corresponding environment have been preserved from this adaptability potential. The "remainder" has been lost by mutations (accumulation of slightly disadvantageous alleles) -- in the formation of secondary species.

These points are elaborated in the 539 pages of the 1986 book and in later editions in 624 pages with reference to adaptation, evolution and species formation due to losses of gene functions without positive Darwinian selection (in all editions with many biological examples, also in several peer-reviewed papers in such journals as Gene, Annual Review of Genetics and Advances in Botanical Research: see Kunze et al. 1997, Lönnig et al. 2007, Lönnig 2010, Lönnig and Saedler 1997, 2002). Michael Behe too has exhaustively treated the subject on the molecular level in microorganisms, while to a certain extent also reviewing examples of positive selection (Behe 2010).

Please compare the quotation/translation given above with the following sentences from Hughes's Abstract (2011, p. 1):

Recent evidence suggests the frequent occurrence of a simple non-Darwinian (but non-Lamarckian) model for the evolution of adaptive phenotypic traits, here entitled the plasticity-relaxation-mutation (PRM) mechanism. This mechanism involves ancestral phenotypic plasticity followed by specialization in one alternative environment and thus the permanent expression of one alternative phenotype. Once this specialization occurs, purifying selection on the molecular basis of other phenotypes is relaxed. Finally, mutations that permanently eliminate the pathways leading to alternative phenotypes can be fixed by genetic drift.

I also argued (and thus agree with Hughes) that what he calls the PRM mechanism is widespread and that there is

evidence that phenotypic plasticity has preceded adaptation in a number of taxa and [that there is] evidence that adaptive traits have resulted from loss of alternative developmental pathways. The PRM mechanism can easily explain cases of explosive adaptive radiation, as well as recently reported cases of apparent adaptive evolution over ecological time.

For example, I explained the relatively recent radiation of the cichlids by virtually the same PRM mechanism as Hughes did on p. 6 of his 2011 paper, but with more detail and of course without using the same term "PRM" (Lönnig and Saedler 2002, Lönnig 2003; see also Lönnig 2002 for typolysis on the Galapagos Islands). I have also discussed examples of "closely related taxa, some of which show phenotypic plasticity with respect to a given trait, whereas others show apparent fixation of just one of the alternative phenotypes" (Hughes, p. 5).

Thus, non-Darwinian adaptation and evolution by the loss of gene functions seem to have been discovered and published by at least three different biologists, working independently of each other: Hughes (2011), Behe (2010), and Lönnig (1986, 1993, 2003, 2011 and in the peer-reviewed papers referred to above).

Although Hughes is correct in stating that "Relatively few authors have suggested that adaptive phenotypes might arise in the absence of positive Darwinian selection" (p. 2), I would like to point out that more biologists have done so than he was aware when he wrote that.

Finally, I would add that Richard Dawkins recently wrote the following about positive Darwinan selection and adaptation:

I have written many times that natural selection is NOT the only mechanism of evolution. I have said it is the only known mechanism of ADAPTIVE evolution. And I'll say that again. Natural selection is the only known mechanism of adaptive evolution, meaning the evolution of complex adaptations carrying the illusion of design. If you have another candidate not involving selection, let's hear it.

If Dawkins checked the points on adaptation without positive Darwinian selection mentioned above, he would probably object that natural selection nevertheless first evolved the originally greater genetic adaptability potential. However, this is at least a scientifically open question as shown by, to take a few recent examples, Axe (2010a, 2010b), Gauger et al. 2010, Gauger and Axe (2011).

Also, there are good scientific reasons to argue by concrete examples that the primary adaptability potential points to the reality of teleology and intelligent design (Lönnig 1986/1993, 2003, 2010). For, among other things, "Short-term benefit has always been the only thing that counts in evolution; long-term benefit has never counted" (Richard Dawkins in a discussion with Jaron Lanier 2008). The initially more extensive/comprehensive genetic adaptability potentials of species and genera clearly surpass short-term benefits. More research is needed to establish a series of biologically and molecularly detailed examples for this long-term benefit model of specified complexity and ingenious design.

References Cited

Axe DD (2010a) The limits of complex adaptation: An analysis based on a simple model of structured bacterial populations. BIO-Complexity 1, Issue 4, 1-10. http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/index.php/main/article/view/BIO-C.2010.4

Axe DD (2010b) The case against a Darwinian origin of protein folds. BIO-Complexity 1, Issue 1, 1-12. http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/index.php/main/article/view/BIO-C.2010.1/BIO-C.2010.1

Behe MJ (2010) Experimental evolution, loss-of-function mutations, and "the first rule of adaptive evolution." The Quarterly Review of Biology 85:419-445.

Dawkins R (2011) http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/rip-lynn-margulis-ctd/

Dawkins R and J Lanier (2008) http://richarddawkins.net/articles/2581?page=1

Gauger A and DD Axe (2011) The evolutionary accessibility of new enzyme functions: A case study from the biotin pathway. BIO-Complexity 2, Issue1, 1-17. http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/index.php/main/article/view/BIO-C.2011.1/BIO-C.2011.1

Gauger AK, Ebnet S, Fahey PF and R Seelke (2010) Reductive evolution can presevent populations from taking simple adaptive paths to high fitness. BIO-Complexity 1, Issue 2, 1-9. http://bio-complexity.org/ojs/index.php/main/article/view/BIO-C.2010.2/BIO-C.2010.2

Hughes AL (2011) Evolution of adaptive phenotypic traits without positive Darwinian selection. Heredity, advance online publication. doi:10.1038/hdy.2011.97

Kunze R, Saedler H and W-E Lönnig (1997) Plant transposable elements. Advances in Botanical Research 27, 331-470.

Levi PJ (2011) No positive selection, no Darwin: A new non-Darwinian mechanism for the origin of adaptive phenotypes: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/11/no_positive_selection_no_darwi052941.html

Lönnig W-E (1986) Artbegriff und Ursprung der Arten (Species Concepts and the Origin of Species; 540 pp, second revised printing also in 1986). Im Selbsverlag, Köln. As for my work in Bonn and Cologne, see also http://www.weloennig.de/CurriculumVitae.pdf

Lönnig W-E (1987, 1988 and 1993) Second (1987) and third edition (two impressions), the latter with the new title Artbegriff, Evolution und Schöpfung, (622 pp. the translated text again on p. 473 with additional material on pp. 586/587). Naturwissenschaftlicher Verlag Köln. ISBN 3-9801772-0-3. Internet edition 2002: http://www.weloennig.de/Artbegriff.html Chapter VII: http://www.weloennig.de/AesVII.html. See also the book review in Theoretical and Applied Genetics 79, 431 (1990): http://www.weloennig.de/AesBook.html (in English).

Lönnig W-E (2002) Galapagos als Evolutionsmodell: http://www.weloennig.de/NeoB.Ana2.html

Lönnig W-E (2003) Mutationen: Das Gesetz der recurrenten Variation: http://www.weloennig.de/Gesetz_Rekurrente_Variation.html#anhang

Lönnig, W-E (2010) Mutagenesis in Physalis pubescens L. ssp. floridana: Some further research on Dollo's law and the law of recurrent variation. Floriculture and Ornamental Biotechnology 4 (Special Issue): 1-21. http://www.globalsciencebooks.info/JournalsSup/images/Sample/FOB_4(SI1)1-21o.pdf

Lönnig W-E (2011) Die Evolution der karnivoren Pflanzen (pp. 30 and 169): http://www.weloennig.de/Utricularia2011Buch.pdf

Lönnig W-E and H Saedler (1997) Plant transposons: contributors to evolution? Gene 205, 245-253.

Lönnig W-E und H Saedler (2002) Chromosome rearrangements and transposable elements. Annual Reviews of Genetics 36: 389-410.

Lönnig W-E, Stüber K, Saedler H. and J H Kim (2007) Biodiversity and Dollo's law: to what extent can the phenotypic differences between Antirrhinum majus and Misopates orontium be bridged by mutagenesis? Bioremediation, Biodiversity and Bioavailability 1: 1-30. http://www.weloennig.de/Dollo-1a.pdf

Stubbe H (1966) Genetik und Zytologie von Antirrhinum L. sect. Antirrhinum. VEB Gustav Fischer Verlag Jena. (Hans Stubbe was professor and director of the Institute of Genetics of the University Halle-Wittenberg; see http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Stubbe.)

Maligning Phil Johnson, with Lots of Rhetoric but Little Substance


Jonathan M. December 6, 2011 2:53 PM | Permalink

We recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the publication of Phillip Johnson's groundbreaking book, Darwin on Trial. Phillip Johnson's meticulous skill in scrutinizing the metaphysical assumptions undergirding much of evolutionary naturalism launched the modern intelligent design movement and set in motion a chain of events that must inevitably lead to the toppling of Darwinism in scientific academia.

Phillip Johnson has now come in for criticism from mathematician Jeffrey Shallit and biochemist Larry Moran. Both criticisms concerned this video, featuring an interview with Johnson on topics pertinent to design and evolution.

Jeffrey Shallit writes,

The most significant misunderstanding Johnson repeatedly exhibits is that he thinks modern evolutionary biology is synonymous with his understanding of the meaning of the term "Darwinism": all biological change is due to mutation and natural selection. The fact that other mechanisms, such as genetic drift and endosymbiosis, are now an essential part of the picture seems to have escaped him completely. Ignorance or dishonesty? I'm not sure; maybe it's a mixture of both.

This is the type of condescending rhetoric that is so prevalent in anti-ID writings. Does Shallit really think that we haven't heard of processes such as genetic drift and endosymbiosis?

I think it is legitimate to use the word "Darwinism" provided that one is clear on what one means by it. Like the words "evolution" and "creationism," "Darwinism" can be construed to mean a variety of different things. Most ID proponents use the term to refer to the common scientific view that all of life is explicable by mechanisms of unguided chance and necessity. The most frequently cited examples of such processes are random mutations and natural selections -- but we recognize that there are other mechanisms at play as well (such as symbiosis and genetic drift). The key point is that the mechanisms undergirding the evolution of life, according to Darwinism, are non-intelligent.

Shallit subsequently quotes Phil Johnson's statement that Charles Darwin (trained in medicine and theology) and Charles Lyell (a lawyer) were amateurs in the field in which they are renowned. Shallit writes,

Very deceptive. Science as an institution at the time of Darwin and Lyell was quite different from modern science. It is extremely hard (although not impossible) for an amateur, untrained in science, to make a significant contribution to science today.

As for Lyell, it is quite misleading to just say that he was a lawyer and not also mention that at Oxford, Lyell attended lectures by Buckland; at Edinburgh, by Jameson; and he was a colleague of Mantell. Lyell gave up law, travelled extensively and did geological research on the ground in many locations, publishing his papers in scientific journals. If Phillip Johnson ever did any geological research on the ground, and published papers on his research in geology journals, he might be accorded some respect. As it is, he's just a laughingstock.

Phillip Johnson is trained as a lawyer. He's got a very sharp mind for analytic philosophy and the evaluation of the logical structure of arguments. Indeed, many philosophers have become involved in this debate, many of whom take the Darwinian side (e.g., Michael Ruse, Daniel Dennett) -- are they out of their element as well?

With the advent of the Internet age and readily accessible print media, it is now possible to train oneself to master a discipline without formal academic training simply by reading textbooks and the relevant primary literature. One can be a well-educated layperson in an area, even if lacking in professional expertise, and I would place Phillip Johnson into this category. I suspect that most of what Jeffrey Shallit, as a mathematician, knows about biology is also self-taught. After all, according to Wikipedia, his professional interests are combinatorics on words, formal languages, automata theory and algorithmic number theory.

In the video, Phil Johnson states that "There aren't really any specialists in evolution; it's a generalists' country." In response, Jeffrey Shallit writes, "This is simply false. Any evolutionary biologist is a specialist in evolution. There are, ferchrissakes, many annual conferences on evolution." Actually, most evolutionary biologists are "specialists" in a very narrow area of evolution. Because it covers such a wide range of material, evolutionary biology is one of the most difficult subjects in which to acquire a broad knowledge base. In the context of my postgraduate education in the subject, I interact with evolutionary biologists virtually on a daily basis, and I can attest that there are very few people who have a good handle on the literature across the span of the discipline.

Shallit quotes Johnson's statement from the interview that,

[I'm] explaining to them [evolutionary biologists] what they overlooked. That in fact, their books are not convincing because they're assuming at the beginning of the inquiry the point that they claimed to have demonstrated at the end, and so there's a thinking flaw. So instead of responding to that, naturally they say, "Oh, why don't you shut up? And leave us alone, so we can continue to get away with this."

In response, Shallit writes,

This is just the usual Christian martyrdom lie. No scientist has said anything remotely like the quote Johnson gives. Biologists have laughed at Johnson's ignorance, that is true. But scientists have also written detailed rebuttals of Johnson's bogus claims. Also, the implication that biologists know they are being deceptive is an outrageous slander. But that's not the only slander Johnson casually tosses off.

No scientist has said anything remotely like this? Really? I suspect that the minds of most readers are, at this point, going to the controversial book of the atheist philosopher Jerry Fodor and cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong. In the prologue to their book, they write,

We've been told by more than one of our colleagues that, even if Darwin was substantially wrong to claim that natural selection is the mechanism of evolution, nonetheless we shouldn't say so. Not, anyhow, in public. To do that is, however inadvertently, to align oneself with the Forces of Darkness, whose goal is to bring Science into disrepute. Well, we don't agree. We think the way to discomfort the Forces of Darkness is to follow the arguments wherever they may lead, spreading such light as one can in the course of doing so. What makes the Forces of Darkness dark is that they aren't willing to do that. What makes Science scientific is that it is.

Shallit further quotes Johnson's statement about the conservative nature of natural selection, complaining,

Johnson seems completely confused here. One kind of natural selection, stabilizing selection, does indeed act against extreme changes. But to imply that this is all that natural selection can do is either extremely ignorant or extremely deceptive; there is, for example, directional selection that is very good at producing change. And, of course, I hardly need point out that natural selection does not act to remove neutral mutations, as Johnson claims.

I think Phillip Johnson is, in fact, referring to stabilizing selection (in response to a question concerning whether there exists any mechanism which serves to prevent extreme changes). I'm sure Phillip Johnson is aware of the various kinds of selective process: balancing selection, stabilizing selection, disruptive selection, directional selection to name just a few. In any case, strictly speaking, even in the case of directional selection (where selection favours a particular phenotype and thus causes a change in allele frequency to result in the advantageous gene variant becoming fixed), natural selection is not a creative process. It is the variations in the population (generated by mutations) that provide the potential for genetic novelty. Natural selection merely preserves the most successful phenotypes.

The next statement from Johnson to be quoted by Shallit is the assertion that "Some creatures become extinct, some species become extinct, and others come into existence somehow -- no one knows how." Shallit responds,

Another lie. Maybe Johnson doesn't know how speciation occurs, but biologists do. All Johnson has to do is pick up a biology textbook or, for example, Coyne and Orr's book, Speciation (admittedly not yet published when the video was made). Mechanisms of speciation include geographic isolation, founder effects, sexual selection, polyploidy, hybridization, and others. We may not know all the causes of speciation yet, and scientists argue about the relative importance of the mechanisms I've mentioned. But to say "no one knows how" is a gross misstatement.

Indeed, the mechanisms underlying the process of speciation are very well documented. But I don't think this is what Johnson was talking about here. I think Johnson is referring to the mechanisms that underlie evolution more generally. As we have argued countless times here at ENV, there is no reason to think that unguided mechanisms based on chance/necessity possess the necessary causal power to account for many of the features we find in living systems -- particularly when multiple non-adaptive mutations are required to facilitate some innovation in function which can then be conserved by selection.

Johnson also states in the video that "The fossil record hasn't gotten any better, in the intervening century and a third... [since 1859]." In response, Shallit writes,

Another blatant lie. Archaeopteryx was discovered in 1861. Since then, we have thousands and thousands more discoveries that add significantly to our understanding of evolutionary history: Diplodocus, Maiasaura, Paranthropus, Australopithecus, Ardipithecus, Pakicetus, just to name a few.

So we do. But Phillip Johnson discusses many such examples -- including Archaeopteryx and Australopithecus -- in Darwin on Trial. Has it not crossed Jeffrey Shallit's mind that Phillip Johnson is aware of those examples but doesn't find the case for the intermediate or transitional nature of those fossils very convincing? See my discussion of the fossil record here for more information.

Larry Moran's remarks are in a similar vein. He writes that,

Phillip Johnson's understanding of evolution is inferior to that of the average high school student in Canada. His friends at the Discovery Institute don't recognize this because their understanding of science is no better. They think there's still a debate about the science when, in fact, that debate was lost a long time ago.

Such rhetoric -- pervasive in Moran's writings in general -- continues throughout the duration of his comments. He repeatedly makes assertions such as that Johnson "is way out of his element," calling him an "IDiot." But he does not provide any real substantive scientific or philosophical rebuttal to Johnson's stated position.

ID critics like Shallit and Moran have grown very fond of the routine ridicule and insults. But just look below the surface, at the actual content of their argument. As you'll see, it reveals that their grounds for dismissing ID are fundamentally lacking in scientific substance. Their rhetoric may be impressive to some, but for those of us who are earnest seekers of truth, the repeated substance-free name calling and insults of many members of the anti-ID lobby will continue to confirm the merit of the ID enterprise.

Doctors furious over uni 'quackery'


Emily Blatchford | 8th December 2011

IT appears the great debate regarding alternative medicine is far from over.

This week, 34 of Australia's most prominent doctors, medical researchers and scientists voiced their concern that the public are at risk of being misled about health treatments.

This outcry arose from the announcement that another Australian university announces plans to teach an "Alternative" medicine course as if it were science.

In August, Central Queensland University announced their decision to offer a chiropractor degree at their Mackay campus from 2012.

The decision met mixed reviews, with many doctors and scientists writing to CQU in protest over what they regard as a trend to offer courses in the sciences and health that are not supported by valid scientific evidence.

They maintain such initiatives diminish the academic reputation of participating institutes and Australian science as they give credibility to pseudoscience or blatant anti-science.

Professor Marcello Costa from Flinders University said, "It encourages the spread of quackery within the Australian Health System, misuses the public's health dollars, encourages unnecessary treatments' and may delay effective treatment when true disease is present."

Proof is in the pudding for Doctor


Emily Blatchford | 8th December 2011


According to general practitioner Dr John Bird, that is the general rule that all medicines and treatments should adhere to.

"There is a standard. You should be able to prove the effectiveness of any medical treatment," he said.

"The definitive between alternative medicine and traditional Western medicine is the latter suggests we should be able to prove that treatments work."

The doctor said his view of alternative treatments depended largely on whether they were supported by scientific evidence that consolidated their usefulness.

"I have no problem with alternative methods that have been proved to be effective," he said. "For instance, there is some evidence that supports the effectiveness of acupuncture."

"Iridology, on the other hand, one would have to be exceedingly suspicious about."

Another concern Dr Bird harbours about alternative treatment is people may believe they are dealing with a health issue when in fact, they are not.

"Australians spend billions of dollars per year on alternative medicines, most of which probably aren't harmful," he said. "But the harm can lie in the fact a person may be distracted by these treatments when in fact they really need to seek alternative advice."

"I think all of us ought to be under the same criteria. Medicines and treatments need to be proved to be of demonstrable benefit for people to trust them."

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Nigeria: White People Created HIV/Aids to Kill Blacks - Researcher


Eyo Charles

6 December 2011


Calabar — Eket-born Anietie Ikott, an alternative medicine researcher and practitioner, speaks to Health Insight on his claim to cure HIV/AIDs, his knowledge on healthy living, dangers of GSM radiation, among other issues.

You studied to become a mechanical engineer. How did you divert to alternative medicine?

What pushed me into the field of health were the challenges I used to have regarding my health. It was like every six weeks I would get admitted into the hospital. At a point, I no longer liked the idea of visiting hospitals and I was always monitoring myself, yet I was still going down. Then, I realized that there was really something wrong somewhere. I asked my doctors what really could be the matter. Why was it that some people were relatively okay but I wasn't? I reasoned that with knowledge one could solve certain problems. I delved into several researches for what I could do to be free from the health conditions that plagued me. I started with orthodox medicine. As a voracious reader, I read numerous books on health. I soon realized that for what I was looking forward to, orthodox medicine had no answer. I delved into alternative medicine. I started to put what I read into practice. Thereafter, I began my own research to see how the body was designed to operate. What is the kind of fuel required to keep it working harmoniously such that one can live 120 years and above. I am proud to say that over seven years now, I have not experienced anything called sickness: no malaria, no typhoid fever, no stomach ache, nothing. I embarked on the research for personal use but as the years passed by I realized that this knowledge had become too much for just me. I reasoned that it should benefit the rest of mankind.

So, how are you imparting this knowledge?

I move round conducting workshops. The urging of those who attend the workshops pushed me to compile two volumes of books. Thousands of people flocked to me, but I would insist that I wasn't a medical doctor. It was my wife that prevailed on me to go ahead and apply my knowledge. I say with humility that there are numerous ailments which hospitals considered incurable which God has used me to cure. Everything is possible. All we need is application of the right knowledge.

But medical experts insist that cancer, HIV/AIDS, and so on are incurable...

I dare say that these have been effectively cured. Let me tell you emphatically that HIV/AIDS virus was deliberately fabricated to eliminate black people. When I realized this, I had to understudy how they did this. What were the principles involved; what were their own solutions to it? They have the solution but will never release it because of the billions of profit they garner from Africa and the rest of the Third World. Ironically, although they sought to eliminate only the black race, humankind as a whole is no longer spared! Fortunately, I have discovered that this HIV/AIDs virus can be countered. The virus has its ways of operation. I have also created a potent antidote to avert what favours it to thrive. Let me convince you with a particular testimony. Two months ago, a lady in Nigeria who went for prenatal check-up came to me and was confirmed positive. I asked the husband to run a test which also proved positive. What did we do? We went for CD4 counts. And the husband was in the range of 220 while the wife was 331. I applied the advance principle. I used some technology and natural materials I developed courtesy of my engineering background. Seven weeks after, I asked them to do another tests. The results showed that the husband was now 741 and the wife 975! The viral load was zero. What am I trying to say? We should not allow our people to die from what people have deliberately fabricated to kill us and are making huge profits from anti-retroviral drugs.

What other conditions do you 'cure'?

I have also studied the ways of cancer. Before cancer manifests in the human body, there are conditions that favour it. For instance, it is practically impossible for cancer to manifest in a body that is free of toxic and has a balanced alkaline. When you have a high percentage of alkaline in your body, you will have greater chances that oxygen will freely flow throughout your system which helps to prevent unwanted foes. But where you are over-relying on acidic foods, toxic food and 'dead food', you create a toxic environment in your body that invites 'enemies'. Most of the processed foods we eat are acidic. So when the level is too high in an acidic environment it does not allow free flow of oxygen in your system. And when the living cells are deprived for two long that part of the body will be infected. If you understand the whole process and know how to reverse it, you will surely reverse it. On October 5, a lady with very advanced cancer came to me. We applied advance knowledge and exactly October 31 she testified that the cancer that was so big had disappeared.

What alkaline foods do you say is so good for health?

One of them is lemon fruit; lemon juice. Fat people have high level of acidic build-up. I advise them to always go for alkaline foods and within six weeks they can be certain that they would lose enormous weight.

Did you say one could live longer with certain mode of feeding?

With knowledge, many would not die young because we can now run our body to live beyond 100 years. With humility, I boast that sickness has long left me. I work a lot, sleeping barely four hours a day. This is because with the knowledge at my disposal I am able to stabilize my system and remain calm such that if I lie down here for just 30 minutes, for instance, when I wake it would appear as if I slept for eight hours. With knowledge, you will know the kind of food to eat and run your system properly. I have spent time and resources doing seminars, travelling all over the country to educate our people not to waste our money to travel abroad in search of cure to diseases that are now easily cured and cheaply too in Nigeria. Advanced research has revealed a lot, so that Nigerians should not necessarily die young anymore. Let me repeat with emphasis that HIV/AIDs is curable. Generally, people need to check those things they did that altered their body system. We have the device we use to check body parameters to see what have been altered. When you are able to balance these parameters, sickness will disappear. Like I said in the beginning, I used to have ailments and was even using reading glasses but I have been able to reverse all that and do not read with aid of magnifying glasses anymore. It is written in the Bible, "My people perish because of lack of knowledge". It is also written: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free".

Many indulge in drinking...

It is dangerous! Look at somebody drinking what they call soft drink or mineral. Why? A bottle of it would require you to take, say 30 glasses of water to neutralise the high level of acidic properties it contains. When you are young you eat whatever you see and feel you are on top of the world, but as time goes on your body cannot handle it anymore. The body is such that when you run it well by learning to reject certain foods, beer, and other chemicalized drinks, you will hardly be sick.

Talking specifically, what basic things does one need to do for good health?

Eat live foods. Eat raw or fresh foods, including fruits. Do not wake up in the morning to bread and tea. They are dead foods which do not have live enzymes and no live vitamins because they have been burnt in the process of cooking, frying or baking. The richness in live foods is lost when they are unduly processed or cooked. And when you take in dead foods your body labours much for hours to digest them. And they serve little or no purpose anymore. In our researches we realized that the body sees dead foods as poison. They incapacitate the white blood cells, as against live foods. This is deep information I am transmitting. As much as possible, avoid any form of processed milk. It creates a fertile environment for parasites to operate. My children grow up completely without artificial milk and people wonder how robust and healthy they are. People doubt that we solely depend on natural products.

Copyright © 2011 Daily Trust.

Are evolution and religion compatible?


In the UK, Muslim biology students have walked out of lectures on evolution.

A growing number of Muslim biology students are walking out of lectures on evolution, according to a genetics professor in the United Kingdom. The students claim the course material is incompatible with their religious beliefs in creationism.

University College London professor Steve Jones recently told The Sunday Times that in previous years, most objections to his classes came from fundamentalist Christian students. He says the dissent now comes overwhelmingly from Muslim students.

"Occasionally, my colleagues lecturing in universities lament having undergraduate students walk out of their classes when they talk about evolution — this is almost entirely Muslims," British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins told the The Sunday Times. "I think there's a very, very pernicious influence that is lasting up to the university years."

The debate over teaching evolution is not only heard between Muslims and their non-Muslim counterparts, but also within Islam itself. According to the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University, many Muslim-majority countries teach evolutionary principles in schools while placing emphasis on supporting material from the Koran.

The same study also found that Muslim students attending religious schools in Western countries were more likely to doubt evolution than their counterparts in countries such as Indonesia or Pakistan.

While some might see this as a reaction to Western scientific values, others, such as Muslim intellectual Edip Yuksel argue that Darwin's own theories of evolution were influenced by the work of Muslim scientists. Rational thinking and scientific methodology, Yuksel claims, is necessary for Muslims according to the Koran.

In this episode of The Stream, American Islamic scholar and Imam Joe Bradford discusses the relationship between Islam and evolution. Also on the programme is Salman Hameed, a professor of science and humanities at Hampshire College.

What do you think? Can religion and science be reconciled? Send us your thoughts and comments on Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #AJStream.

These are some of the highlights from the conversation around the web:

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Creationism in British higher education


December 5th, 2011 International Anti-Evolution 2011

Steve Jones

Writing in The Telegraph (December 3, 2011), the geneticist Steve Jones reflects on his experience in teaching university students who reject evolution — and refuse even to learn about it — because of their religious objections. "At University College London we have numbers of Islamic students, almost all dedicated, hard-working and able. Some, unfortunately, refuse to accept Darwin's theory on faith grounds, as do some of their Christian fellows," Jones reports.

Referring to the Islamic creationist literature distributed under the name Harun Yahya, Jones observes, "Much of their propaganda has been lifted from Christian fundamentalism and there is a certain irony in where it has ended up." Jones adds, "I have had plenty of verbal complaints from undergraduates of both persuasions that I am demeaning religion, while others ask that they be excused lectures on my subject, or simply fail to turn up."

"Anyone, of course, is free to believe whatever they wish," Jones continues. "But why train to become a biologist, or a doctor, when you deny the very foundations of your subject? For a biology student to refuse to accept the fact of evolution is equivalent to choosing to do a degree in English without believing in grammar, or in physics with a rooted objection to gravity: it makes no sense at all. The same is true for doctors. How can you put a body right with no idea as to why it is liable to go wrong?"

Noel Singleton: Belief in evolution a litmus test for intelligence


Noel Singleton lives in Abilene.
Posted December 4, 2011 at 3 a.m.

"It's a theory that's out there. It's got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution, because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one's right." — Governor Rick Perry

"I support intelligent design ... putting all science on the table and then letting students decide ... (since) there is reasonable doubt on both sides." — Michele Bachmann

"Well, then I'm going to say creationism is a science, intelligent design is a science. If you say my faith isn't a science, I'm going to say yours isn't ... Darwin ... cannot explain the Origin of the Species ... Nor can Marx, and nor can Obama." — Rush Limbaugh

"We found in 2007 that a whopping 68 percent of Republicans did not believe in evolution ..." — Frank Newport of the Gallup poll

Ever since that chemistry set in third grade, we have appreciated the value of a litmus test.

Suppose we were rating presidential politicians for brain power, smarts, sophistication. "College education" or facsimile would go in the plus column, while negatives would have to include such things as "Bible creationism" and "wears overalls." (And to be clear, bleating platitudes about "both sides" only gives aid to the creationist dream of having a leg to stand on.)

As we have noted time and again, the liberal position or philosophy is a mark of intelligence while conservatives are, frankly speaking, not so bright.

This would be why leftist thought and sentiment distill on major university campuses, while the opposing view fares best in rural venues and trailer parks.

If such a correlation has long been suspected, today our neighbors on the right have mobilized to remove all doubt.

Having a Democrat of the progressive persuasion in the White House has been too much for some folks — confounding to processors that were hardly state-of-the art to start with.

To paraphrase the commander in chief, idiots are frustrated. Be it on the Internet, evening radio or out at the fairgrounds, we've never far to go to get a load of their madcap manifesto, seething with hate and spelling errors.

For some blue-ribbon boneheadedness, you can't beat a news network that exists to serenade and reassure the right wing.

FOX flunked geography; it's not likely they fare any better in science.

Certainly, four more years of intelligent administration are preferable to a resurgence of the numskull kind, but is it reasonable to hope that the side with the much higher IQ will win? History has shown that sometimes societies degrade and put anti-intellectual demagogues in charge, ushering in a nightmarish period.

© 2011 Abilene Reporter-News

Doctors warn uni on alternative medicine


15:31 AEST Tue Dec 6 2011

A group of 34 medical researchers, scientists and doctors has written to a Queensland university urging it to reconsider plans to offer a course in alternative medicine.

The professionals are concerned at a decision by Central Queensland University (CQU) to train chiropractors in courses which they say are not supported by valid scientific evidence.

The group, which includes Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Steve Hambledon, say some of the medical claims of chiropractors are better suited to the Middle Ages than to the 21st century.

"It is difficult to counter the massive amount of misleading, often fraudulent, information provided to consumers through the media and internet," the group said in its letter.

"The task becomes very much harder, however, when tertiary institutes give to unacceptable practices an undeserved imprimatur by including them among the courses they offer for study."

The professionals have stated that the reputation of science in general may be tarnished if courses such as the one offered at CQU are taught as though they were based on science.

"It is increasingly difficult to encourage patients to accept only evidence-based treatments for their problems when some universities and indeed private health insurers, provide unacceptable, often dangerous practices with undeserved credibility," Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of NSW, John Dwyer said in a statement.

The group has invited the tertiary institution to engage in dialogue with it about the course.

CQU has defended its chiropractic course.

Dean of Medical and Applied Sciences Professor Grant Stanley said the university has its own "rigorous internal accreditation processes."

He said the new chiropractic program "has been designed on the philosophical grounds of being evidence-based and wellness-focussed."

"CQ University is working to deliver the well qualified health professionals that Central Queensland communities are screaming out for," Professor Stanley said in a statement.

Monday, December 05, 2011

On Civility


Category: Creationism • Culture Wars • Policy and Politics
Posted on: December 4, 2011 10:48 PM, by Josh Rosenau

Just under a year ago, I quoted and endorsed Stephen Post's argument that lack of civility isn't the problem we face in society, that incivility is a symptom, not an end unto itself.

Civility matters, and there are good reasons to urge people to be more civil in their interactions, and to model that behavior ourselves. It's no accident that many uncivil styles of discourse are also informal logical errors. And there's a reason that deliberative venues - like the Senate floor - impose a standard of decorum and civility. Uncivil discourse often replaces substantive exchanges about ideas with personal reflections or even outright attacks, and that serves no one. As Post argues, incivility often reflects "a vicious ingroup-outgroup demonization that is entirely dysfunctional."

I'm reminded of that post because Casey Luskin - a staffer at the ID creationist Discovery Institute - has used the company blog to launch one of his periodic tirades about the supposed incivility of "Darwinists."

It's not always clear what code of civility is he's trying to enforce, or even if there is any clear standard at all. His public silence about the abusive, slanderous, malicious, and misleading language used by fellow staffers at the Discovery Institute undercuts any claim that this is simply an effort to elevate the entire debate. Rather, I think Casey's goal is to weaponize civility, to use these charges of incivility to silence criticism of his ideas. In his multi-post series, Casey attacks people by name for expressing ideas with which he disagrees. At times, he engages with the underlying substance of the claims (alas, getting it wrong, as we'll see below), but for the most part, he's simply trying to shame people into not saying mean-but-true things about the Discovery Institute or creationism.

I would argue that people are inherently worthy of respect and of being treated civilly (though they can lose that respect with concerted effort). With apologies to Mitt Romney, corporations like the Disco. 'tute are not people, and deserve no inherent respect or civility (though they can earn respect, and civility should be the default behavior); even if the Disco. 'tute did deserve respect at one time, they forfeited that respect long ago. Ideas (e.g. creationism) do not deserve inherent respect either, though certainly the people who hold those ideas do. An idea either proves itself useful or it falls by the wayside. Various scholarly and lay communities have developed tools for evaluating ideas and separating the wheat from the chaff: unbiased peer review and testability play key roles in the process used in the sciences.

In treating criticism of his corporate master and his pseudoscientific pseudotheology as "uncivil," Casey essentially tries to shortcircuit the normal processes by which we evaluate ideas and institutions. And in targeting a few of his critics by name and trying to use their allegedly uncivil behavior as an argument against evolution in general, he actually commits the uncivil acts which he wrongly accuses others of.

Let's talk specifics, particularly his post attacking me. In that case, the personal attacks begin in the title: "Josh Rosenau's 'Potemkin' arguments." He's replying to a paragraph I wrote 6 months ago, in which I was arguing against analogies some people were drawing between the Discovery Institute's pernicious effect on science and the effects they claim the John Templeton Foundation has had. Ophelia Benson had written: "one can see Templeton as in fact interfering with science just as the Discovery Institute does, but in a more subtle fashion." I responded:

There's no question that the Discovery Institute is ideologically driven, that their fellowships are wingnut welfare, a way to employ creationists and give them the gloss of respectability. Disco. 'Tute fellows seem to have lifetime appointments, while [Chris] Mooney's [journalism] fellowship from Templeton was a single event - a financial award and a series of lectures and discussion which, once ended, entail no ongoing obligation. That's not how DI fellowships work.

The DI does not fund external research. They have a Potemkin laboratory, and a house journal dedicated to publishing their own staff's "research." All of this is oriented towards creating a pseudoscientific infrastructure, the semblance of an active research program and academic community, so that they can convince schools to teach claptrap and can interfere with the administration of colleges and universities, the content of textbooks, and by such means to advance a narrow version of Christianity. Their fellows are chosen because of their support for this ideological agenda, just as papers in their pseudo-journal are selected for their adherence to the Disco. 'Tute agenda, and so forth.

By contrast, Templeton doesn't run its own journals. They do help fund societies which run journals, but no one has given any evidence of Templeton interfering in the editorial independence of those journals. They fund research projects, but no one has shown any evidence that they interfere with the research or the researchers' interpretation of it. While the Templeton folks did provide some funding for IDC-related work, they did so at a time in the 1990s when quite a few people held out hope that there might be some real research program spawned by the movement. In time, they learned better

At the time, I didn't bother filling those paragraphs with links because my point wasn't about the DI, it was about Templeton. Folks making an analogy between the Templeton Foundation and Discovery Institute generally already know that background, so I didn't feel the need to substantiate the claims there.

In Casey's eye, this post about the John Templeton Foundation was written because I "apparently felt the need ... to deal with the fact that Discovery Institute is funding scientific research that challenges neo-Darwinism, and is being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals." He claims I "suddenly became so concerned about this only in 2011 when he blogged about it." Both claims are false, the first from the context of the blog post Casey is addressing and quoting, and the second from his own knowledge of my work.

You see, in late 2009, Casey and I took part in a symposium on Intelligent Design and the Law. We both presented our papers at the University of St. Thomas Law School, and we both published papers in their law review. In my law review article, published almost 2 years ago, I wrote about the claimed scientific research from the DI, and even used the same "Potemkin" language (citations omitted here, but you can find them all in the PDF):

Intelligent Design advocates have struggled without success to achieve academic acceptance as scientists. For example, some attempts have been made to create ID-specific journals comparable to those of creation scientists, but they have all become moribund, and an academic society dedicated to ID is similarly defunct. Major academic ID goals set in a fundraising document in 1998 have gone unachieved, such as the promise of a major monograph by Discovery Institute fellow Paul Nelson, which has been reported as nearly ready to print for over a decade. The proceedings of a Discovery Institute conference held in the summer of 2007, supposedly highlighting "the very kind of research our critics say we don't sponsor," remain unpublished. William Dembski, once heralded on a book jacket as "the Isaac Newton of Information Theory," has been reduced to rewriting and analyzing toy computer programs originally written for a TV series and popular books in the 1980s by biologist Richard Dawkins as trivial demonstrations of the power of selection. Dembski explained his poor record of publication in peer-reviewed scientific literature by saying, "I've just gotten kind of blasé about submitting things to journals where you often wait two years to get things into print. And I find I can actually get the turnaround faster by writing a book and getting the ideas expressed there. My books sell well." Alas, they don't convince mathematicians of his mathematical arguments, prompting Dembski to reply to one critic: "I'm not and never have been in the business of offering a strict mathematical proof for the inability of material mechanisms to generate specified complexity." This, despite his claim to have developed a "Law of Conservation of Information" about which he states in one book: "The crucial point of the Law of Conservation of Information is that natural causes can at best preserve CSI..., may degrade it, but cannot generate it."

In 1998, the Discovery Institute explained to its donors that research was crucial stating, "Phase I [described as 'Research, Writing and Publication'] is the essential component of everything that comes afterward. Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade." Judges and others seeking to assess the merits of ID going forward need issue no harsher judgment than the Discovery Institute has presented here. By its own standards, ID is intellectually stagnant, and must be regarded as "just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade," in line with previous creationist movements.

The Kitzmiller ruling cited as "[a] final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant... the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory." The movement, however, did not take this as a call to return to the labs and produce novel results in readiness for future legal challenges [fn: Discovery Institute did create what amounts to a Potemkin laboratory - the Biologic Institute. ... Attempts to view the lab spaces or examine their research have been blocked. See Celeste Biever, Intelligent design: The God Lab, THE NEW SCIENTIST, Dec. 15 2006, at 8-11. According to one report, the only research finding offered by Biologic actually contradicts a central claim of ID. ..."We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information").]. Instead, the movement has produced a the third edition of Pandas (renamed Design of Life and no longer aimed at high schools) and a successor to Pandas, called Explore Evolution, which contains even less substance and scientific accuracy than its predecessor. The Intelligent Design documentary, Expelled!: No intelligence Allowed mangled interviews and the history of the Holocaust, and has been called "one of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time." In addition, Michael Behe published a successor to Darwin's Black Box, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, while still failing to address criticism leveled at the earlier work, even those he himself acknowledged.

I specifically considered a document drafted by Casey, claiming to show the strength of pro-ID peer reviewed scientific papers:

To understand a theory's impact and scientific validity, it is necessary to review how it fares when later researchers examine its claims, and how much new research is generated by insights from a given line of thinking. In the case of those few papers claimed as peer-reviewed defenses of ID, none has met any favorable response, or been cited as generating successful predictions for future researchers.* By contrast, the number of papers building on evolutionary theory and deepening our knowledge of the field has grown rapidly in recent years, due in part to the theory's ability to generate new insights into the burgeoning fields of molecular biology, genomics, and developmental genetics. This reflects a community-wide consensus among relevant scientists on the merits of evolution, a consensus further strengthened by assessments of scientific bodies. Groups including the National Academy of Sciences and its international counterparts, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and professional societies representing groups with special knowledge of evolution, including biologists of many sorts, geologists, physicists, historians, philosophers, and many others, have issued statements representing their members' agreement that evolution is foundational to modern biology, is well-supported, and belongs in science classes.

* DISCOVERY INST. THE COLLEGE STUDENT'S BACK TO SCHOOL GUIDE TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN (2009), available at http://www.evolutionnews.org/BacktoSchoolGuide_Sept2009 _FN.pdf. The pamphlet states, "Criticss [sic] often claim that intelligent design proponents do not publish peer-reviewed scientific papers or that they do not do scientific research." To rebut this claim, 6 papers are cited, none from later than 2004. One of those was discussed at length in testimony by Kitzmiller defense witnesses, with the court describing that paper as "The one article referenced [by defense's scientific witnesses]... as supporting ID .... A review of the article indicates that it does not mention ... ID. In fact, Professor Behe admitted that the study which forms the basis for the article did not rule out many known evolutionary mechanisms and that the research actually might support evolutionary pathways if a biologically realistic population size were used." Another proffered article was repudiated by the journal which published it, with the editors noting that it "represents a significant departure from the nearly purely taxonomic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 124-year history. ... We have met and determined that all of us would have deemed this paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings." A review of the other papers listed by the Discovery Institute in Science Citation Index finds two of the papers have no citations at all, and the few citations garnered by the remainder are either self-citation by the same ideologically driven group of authors, or are citations rejecting the paper's findings. For context, the 254 papers turned up in a search for the narrow topic "evolutionary developmental biology" published in 2004 have been cited an average of 13 times, compared to an average 7 citations for ID's top papers, some of which have had many more years to accumulate citations. The marketplace of ideas has spoken.

If Casey had read my paper (or paid attention during the symposium, when I read that last passage), he'd know that my interest in the purportedly pro-ID research literature far predates the blog post he cites.

I lay this out at length only to note that from Casey's first paragraph, he's trying to make this not about the substance of what I said or the merits of my case, but about whether or not I'm a good and nice person. And to paint as grim a portrait as possible, he's misstating obvious facts, and is imputing motives to me that are false and which he could have known were false by a) reading the blog post he was responding to, and b) familiarizing himself with the contents of a volume he himself contributed to. That isn't a pattern that speaks well of Casey's own civility.

Casey's submission to the law review ultimately bore the innocuous title "The Constitutionality and Pedagogical Benefits of Teaching Evolution Scientifically." We can certainly dispute that Casey's ideas of how evolution should be taught would be scientific, let alone pedagogically or constitutionally appropriate. But instead, I'll note that the working title for this paper was the rather spicier "Bluffed Into Dogmatism: How the Evolution Lobby Seeks to Block Perfectly Legal and Beneficial Policy Proposals to Teach Neo-Darwinism Scientifically." Civil? No!

While Casey did catch that title before it went out to the wider world, he did publish a paper with the uncivil, and inaccurate title, "Zeal for Darwin's House Consumes Them: How Supporters of Evolution Encourage Violations of the Establishment Clause." That's a reference to Psalms 69:9, a charge that "supporters of evolution" are idolators, worshipping Darwin (or maybe Down House), and falsely claiming that these groups advocate unconstitutional policies. Regular followers of the creationism/evolution battle know that Casey works for the only side which has actually found its policies declared unconstitutional in courts.

After his ironically uncivil opening, Casey attempts a substantive defense of Disco., of their purported research wing the Biologic Institute, and of their supposedly scientific journal BIO-complexity.

First, Discovery Institute does fund research conducted by people external to Discovery Institute. It funds research by Christians and non-Christians alike.

It's impossible to review every penny the DI has ever spent, but the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture does not advertise any program for merit-based grants. In official IRS filings, the CRSC's activities are described as "Production of public service reports, legislative testimony, articles, public conferences and debates, plus media coverage and the Institute's own publications in the field of Science and Culture." Nothing about research funding there.

According to DI's most recently published 990 form (an IRS form which nonprofits file, explaining where their money came from and how they spent it), the Discovery Institute spent about $17,000 on 10 of its fellows in 2009, and they itemize $274,000 in grants for "scientific research" to Biologic, and $11,592 in grants to Grove City College, home of DI Fellow and Biologic staffer Guillermo Gonzalez.

I don't think that the fellowships (or other funding of fellows) count as "external grants." Almost all DI fellows and senior fellows have held that status since the founding of the CRSC within the Disco. 'tute in the 1990s. While various of these fellows work outside DI's offices, many of their long-term activities were cited in a founding fundraising memo (the famous Wedge Document) as important DI activities, and DI fellows function in public like DI employees. And the Biologic Institute is almost entirely funded by DI (in 2009, their total intake was $317,770, of which $274,000 came from DI, $20,983 came from "rental income" and the remainder came in grants from unspecified sources), and DI staff serve on the Biologic Institute's board of directors, making it hard to claim that they're a truly external organization.

If the Discovery Institute funds truly external research, there's no evidence of it.

Casey adds, regarding Biologic:

Rosenau's attempt to ridicule the Biologic Institute laboratory as "Potemkin" of course intends to suggest the laboratory is fake. How, then, does Mr. Rosenau explain the multiple scientific papers published by Biologic scientists in the past few years that report research conducted at the lab? (Here's an impressive recent example.)

The "impressive recent example" is published in the Biologic house journal, BIO-complexity. If my contention is correct that this journal is "pseudoscientific infrastructure," then the example is irrelevant. Casey offers no other basis for judging Biologic's merits.

I referred to the Biologic Institute as "Potemkin" partly because if the difficulties Celeste Biever had in 2006 simply getting access to Biologic or anyone who worked there. When I was in Seattle a few years back, I also swung by the publicly listed address for the Institute, and found a few rented rooms in an office building, with the lights off and the windows shut in the middle of a work day. From outside, I saw an empty meeting room, but nothing resembling scientific laboratories, nor did anyone answer the door. Their online list of research publications lists nothing at all after 2008, which may reflect poor web management, but could also indicate a lack of productivity.

Certainly that list omits any of the publications in the house journal BIO-complexity. I don't emphasize that it is a house journal to disparage BIO-complexity, just to put it in context. NCSE has a house journal, too, and I think it's pretty darn good. But if I thought I had a paper that would revolutionize science, I wouldn't publish it in RNCSE, because an independent publisher would be a more trusted outlet than a journal run by my own employer.

Anyway, here's what Casey says about BIO-complexity in reply to my earlier post:

the journal Rosenau refers to, BIO-Complexity, is anything but "Potemkin." It has an editorial board with over two dozen PhD scientists and scholars in fields such as biochemistry, evolutionary computing, evolutionary biology, microbiology, cladistics, and physics, from respected academic institutions around the world. Yes Discovery Institute has obvious connections to the journal -- some of those members of the editorial board are also our fellows. But many of the editorial board members have no affiliations with Discovery Institute, though they share with us a common conviction that the debate over ID and neo-Darwinism needs to be fostered at the high level of peer-reviewed scientific journals. Thus, the journal invites submissions from both ID proponents and ID-critics, and isn't committed to publishing papers that only express one viewpoint. Whether affiliated with Discovery Institute or not, BIO-Complexity has an impressive body of scientists that run that show, and they impose high quality peer-review quality control.

First, note that I applied the adjective "Potemkin" not to the journal, but to Biologic itself. Casey didn't address that charge, instead misreading and misrepresenting my argument.

Second, he's not actually defending the content of the journal, merely arguing that because people with doctoral degrees are on the editorial board, it must be a legitimate journal. That makes no sense.

Third, the journal makes it clear that they do not "impose high quality peer-review quality control." Their website's "Peer Review Process" section explains:

The goal of pre-publication peer review should ... be to decide whether the work in question merits the attention of experts, rather than to predict the final result of that attention. BIO-Complexity uses an innovative approach to pre-publication peer-review in order to achieve this goal.

Basically, reviewers and editors are not asked whether the results are right, but whether others "would benefit from considering both the merits and the limitations" of a paper, a much lower standard than generally employed by science journals. There are legitimate reasons to prefer this laxer form of peer review, but Casey's claim that it's a rigorous sort of peer review is contrary to the journal's own stated policies.

Fourth, whether or not they "invite[] submissions" from opponents of creationism, they haven't published such papers. And it is far from clear that their editors could give pro-evolution (or anti-creationist) articles a fair shake. As Glenn Branch noted in 2010 in NCSE's house journal, all but two of the editorial board members have long histories of anti-evolution and creationist advocacy (including advocacy for intelligent design). A third pro-evolution scientist was offered a position on the board, but refused, explaining:

Publishing on this subject in mainstream journals is also better for ... the credibility of the eventual answer to this question, as well as for the integrity of the scientific process in general.

Fifth, the content of the journal more than justifies these concerns. In the 2 years the journal has existed, they've published exactly 7 papers, with 15 authors listed in the journal's archive. But Douglas Axe constitutes 3 of those 15 authors, since the editorial board's rigor apparently didn't extend to ensuring that author's names were entered consistently.

Analyzing each of the 7 papers is hardly worth it. Two of the 7 are "critical reviews," not meant to communicate new research results. Others appear to be minor contributions from graduate students and undergrads associated with Biologic Institute staff and fellows. Every paper has at least one author who is funded at least in part by Biologic or Disco.

I'll just dig into one of the papers, to point out that these papers are inadequate even by the authors' own standards. The paper in question is by Ann Gauger, Stephanie Ebnet, Pamela Fahey, and Ralph Seelke, and describes some experiments Seelke described in his testimony to the Kansas Board of Education in 2005.

John Calvert asked: "Can you describe to me a-- in more detail a campaign of unsuccessful evolution?" and Seelke replied:

Well, one of the things I'm doing now is one of the-- one of my other heroes is Michael Behe. And Behe said that if you have multiple independent events that have to take place you will simply not be able to observe evolution.

And so at this-- last year at this time I was a visiting scholar at Stanford University and I basically built some molecules. I made some changes in a gene and I put in one mutation, two mutations, three mutations, and four mutations all in different types of that gene. All mutations inactuate the gene. And so if this-- and then-- and now I'm in the process-- I only have ten-- I only have ten billion cells that I'm looking at which is whoosy in this field. I wouldn't publish this until I had probably 10 to 100 trillion, but-- so then I can take-- I can take these mutants that I know exactly what they need to do to evolve and I can ask them to evolve and put them in a medium where if they do evolve I would know overnight. Because the selective advantage of being able to make, in this case, the amino acid triptyline [sic, probably tryptophan] is so enormous that I would find that out overnight if that happens.

And so I can ask, what happens when you need two mutations and only get an advantage when you have both. At this point the answer is nothing. And that is actually supported by the literature. What's different about this is I am specifically asking these questions. Most cases people-- these are things that people discover are kind of on the side. You know, you don't do experiments to test the limits of evolution and particularly my work is designed to actually test that.

Emphasis added. As far as Seelke of 2005 was concerned, anything less than 10-100 trillion cells was "whoosy" and not worth publishing. Guess how many cells his BIO-complexity paper reports?

About 1 trillion. That's about a tenth of the lower limit Seelke set in 2005. Not only did Seelke of 2010 think it was worth submitting this "whoosy" research to BIO-complexity, but BIO-complexity's supposedly awesome editorial board agreed to publish this "whoosy" research. (All of this sets aside the fact that the premise of the research is fatally flawed, embodying a trivial misunderstanding of how evolution works, and what it takes to properly test the powers and limits of evolution.)

In short, BIO-complexity shows every sign of being exactly the sort of pseudoscientific apparatus that I said it was. As far as I know, it is now the only venue in which DI and Biologic Institute staff currently publish their supposedly pro-ID research, and it was the only evidence Casey offered for the existence of any research program at Biologic or the Disco. 'tute. His claims about the journal's quality control are falsified by simple reference to the journal's own stated policies, not to mention a look at the journal's minimal content and the poor quality of the content - poor quality by the authors' own standards.

Casey's attacks on me - failed attempts to divine my "design," false charges of inaccuracy, personal attacks charging incivility, etc. - all fail, and do so in ways that highlight Casey's incivility, and the underlying problem in Casey's view of the world.

Stephen Post talked about incivility arising from "a vicious ingroup-outgroup demonization." Casey certainly sees that distinction, speaking of his critics as if they formed some unified "Darwin lobby." This lobby, to his eyes, is a unified group who he seems to think worship Charles Darwin, and who he holds responsible en masse for the "incivility" of anyone he chooses to place into that outgroup. It's a view that's incoherent on its own terms, but that justifies him in these sort of pettifogging attacks. If he can paint all ID's critics as part of an organized "lobby," then he can write off that entire lobby by saying they're rude, and therefore unworthy of "dignifying ... with an evidential rebuttal."

Casey's goal here is not to elucidate the strengths of ID, and expresses a strong preference for addressing the motives, tone, and character of its critics instead of even try responding substantively. That's uncivil. Tone matters, civility matters, and indeed, character matters.

But which is less civil: saying mean things about the Discovery Institute, or creating a pseudoscientific apparatus so that one can subvert scientific norms and indoctrinate students?

I say "indoctrinate," because in 1998, the Discovery Institute stated that their first priority had to be research, because:

Without solid scholarship, research and argument, the project would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.

Since then, they've produced nothing of substance. But when people point that out, all we hear in response are accusations of incivility.

On Signature in the Cell, Robert Saunders Still Doesn't Get It


Jonathan M. December 5, 2011 6:00 AM | Permalink

At his Wonderful Life blog, geneticist Robert Saunders has responded to my recent take down of his "critique" of Stephen Meyer's arguments for intelligent design, offered and defended in Signature in the Cell. Of course, it wouldn't be an anti-ID article without its share of condescending rhetoric. Saunders claims that I "have absorbed a typical strategy beloved of Intelligent Design creationists: of devising neologisms that don't correspond to normally used science terminology, and combined this with ignorance of biology." I have no doubt that Dr. Saunders is informed about his discipline but the arguments he presents here are weak.

Saunders proceeds to quote what I wrote concerning the arbitrary nature of the ordering of nucleotide base pairs along the spine of DNA's sugar-phosphate backbone. Meyer observes that "there are no chemical bonds between the bases along the longitudinal axis in the center of the helix. Yet it is precisely along this axis of the DNA molecule that the genetic information is stored" (SITC, p. 242). On this, Saunders writes,

This paragraph just baffles me. [...] I'm not clear why this "fundamental property" bothers Jonathan M -- he seems to have a major comprehension failure at this point.

Who said I was "bothered" by it? The point here is actually quite simple, and it surprises me that Saunders still doesn't get it, despite my explaining it to him in my previous blog post. It is the arbitrary nature of nucleotide sequencing that allows DNA to have information-bearing properties. The nucleotides do not align by virtue of some sort of chemical affinity. As I stated previously, any sequence is possible but only some sequences are biologically meaningful.

Saunders subsequently quotes my rebuttal to the charge that ID is a "god-of-the-gaps" argument. He responds

Oh, for goodness' sake, this ( "x is complex; therefore, x is designed,") is exactly what Meyer is saying. He cannot envisage a mechanism giving rise to the genetic code, so he invokes a supernatural entity.

But I explained in the very section he quotes why this is emphatically not the case. ID is based on standard principles of scientific methodology. When dealing with past events, scientists conventionally use the historical (abductive) method of inference to the best explanation. In order to reconstruct what happened in the remote past, scientists allow their present experience of cause and effect to guide their search for the best explanation. Thus, it follows that intelligence is the best -- most causally adequate -- candidate explanation for the information intrinsic to the hereditary molecules of DNA and RNA. I am having difficulty seeing how this can possibly be construed as a "god-of-the-gaps" argument.

Saunders continues,

And, yes, we have clearly demonstrable mechanisms by which genetic information can grow in both quantity and complexity. I even see this happening in the lab in experimental timescales. Jonathan is ignorantly regurgitating ID creationist neologisms, to invoke a supernatural entity.

If Saunders were to provide specific examples, we could talk about those. Furthermore, Stephen Meyer's book is concerned with the origin of life. Processes of mutation, gene duplication, polyploidy, genetic drift, natural selection, etc., by definition only occur after the emergence of the first life. So such mechanisms can be ruled out as candidate explanations for the event in the history of life with which Meyer's book is concerned.

Saunders subsequently quotes what I wrote regarding the irrelevance of polyploidy to the origin of the first life. He writes

This is Jonathan wiffly-waffling around a subject he doesn't seem to have a strong grasp of. It's often stated in ID creationist circles (such as the C4ID) that there is no known source of "information" other than from an intelligent mind. This is clearly nonsense, as Simon knows: gene and genome duplication provides the raw material for whole families of diverged genes to arise. What is "specified complexity"? Is it the genetic code itself? The mere existence of heritable material? Is this the same as Meyer's undefined "specified information"?

Specified complexity can be defined as an extremely improbable phenomenon (factoring in the probabilistic resources at one's disposal) which conforms to an independently given pattern. Millions of bases in a sequence-specific order qualifies as specified complexity, as does the molecular machinery under-girding flagellar assembly, as do the carvings on mount Rushmore. The crystal lattice structure of an ice crystal, on the other hand, would not qualify as specified complexity.

And gene duplication does not provide new genetic information. Sure, duplicated gene copies subsequently mutate and diverge and explore combinatorial sequence space in search of novel utility. But it is not at all clear that a blind search can find the bases of those functional fitness peaks within a plausible time frame -- especially when multiple non-adaptive mutations are required to facilitate an innovation in function. And this problem is only further accentuated when regulatory sequences also have to be altered.

Regarding my points about ID's predictions, Saunders writes,

OK, here is why I think this is just so much nonsense:

"it predicts the presence of complex and functionally specific information in the cell" -- This is a quite bizarre claim. The Intelligent Design variant of creationism arose in the 1990s. At that time, the presence of large amounts of genetic "information" in cells was well known. In what way is the presence of information a sensible prediction? And as far as I can tell, this whole "complex and functionally specific information" remains remarkably ill-defined ... and in particular is inconsistent with conventional information theory. If we're now going to think of the origins of life and the genetic systems we see around us today, all ID creationists are saying is that they cannot understand how it happened, and in their religiously motivated world-view prefer to fall back on supernatural intervention rather than taking a genuinely scientific approach to the problem. How is complex and functionally specific information defined?

Okay, let's explain this one more time. ID provides an explanatory filter for detecting the products design in nature. If feature x is designed, says the theory of ID, we expect to find specified complexity associated with the system -- because specified complexity is one of the effects that intelligent agents often leave behind as indicative of their activity. I have already explained what ID theorists mean by "specified complexity." And the concept of "specified complexity" is not unique to ID proponents. Indeed, the concept has been entertained by information theorists such as Hubert Yockey. As Bernd-Olaf Kuppers has observed, "the problem of the origin of life is clearly basically equivalent to the problem of the origin of biological information."

Saunders continues,

"it predicts the already-alluded-to rarity of functional protein folds in amino acid sequence space." This is quite interesting, particularly given Axe's background as a post-doc in Alan Fersht's lab in Cambridge. But as far as I can see, this boils down to the usual incredulity argument. For Axe, with a pedigree of working in a prestigious lab in Cambridge, I would have thought a more prestigious outlet for this review might have been possible. As it is, he's reduced to publishing in the Biologic Institute house journal, with the not-so-impressive archive of 7 papers over its two years of existence, all authored by members of the editorial board (all of whom appear to be creationists of one variety or another).

Actually, the demonstration of the rarity of protein folds in sequence space reveals that a quantity and quality of information that meets the definition of "specified complexity" is necessary in specifying innovation in enzymatic domains. So, if proteins are detectably designed, this is exactly what we should be expecting to see.

Regarding Bio-Complexity, the quality of people on the editorial board is top-notch and could compete with just about any other journal out there. And not all of those who review the papers submitted to the journal are advocates of ID. Bio-Complexity is a quality journal.

Saunders also doesn't get my point about patterns of the fossil record and, specifically, the pattern of morphological disparity preceding diversity. Neo-Darwinian evolution conversely predicts that the major distinct animal body plans will arise after numerous small-scale speciation events -- that is, we ought to observe small scale differences adding up to big differences. The actual fossil record, however, reveals the exact opposite of that -- with the major taxonomic groups (phyla) appearing first, and the minor taxonomic groups (e.g. genus, species) arising only later.

Saunders further raises questions regarding the notion that ID predicts function for so-called "junk DNA." Indeed, this is one area where I think ID offers significant heuristic value. Where Darwinian thinking expects us to find junk and waste wherever we look in the cell, ID predicts the opposite -- that is to say, we should expect to find function and meaning. It seems unlikely that a designer would fill our genomes with millions of bases of nonsensical "filler." If ID is correct, therefore, it is to be expected that much of this "filler" will be found to be functional (though granting that various scenarios may well have resulted in the accumulation of some level of genuine junk).

On the issue of fine tuning, Saunders appeals to the famous anthropic argument, noting,

The fine-tuning argument has always seemed to me to be somewhat tautologous. Had the constants been different, we would not be here to look at the Universe and its physical constants. We have a sample size of 1. Exactly 1.

William Lane Craig has effectively countered this argument:

[S]uppose you are dragged before a firing squad of 100 trained marksmen, all of them with rifles aimed at your heart, to be executed. The command is given; you hear the deafening sound of the guns. And you observe that you are still alive, that all of the 100 marksmen missed! Now while it is true that

5. You should not be surprised that you do not observe that you are dead,

nonetheless it is equally true that

6. You should be surprised that you do observe that you are alive.

Since the firing squad's missing you altogether is extremely improbable, the surprise expressed in (6) is wholly appropriate, though you are not surprised that you do not observe that you are dead, since if you were dead you could not observe it.

To conclude, Saunders has offered us nothing substantive and demonstrates an apparent lack of familiarity with the arguments employed by proponents of ID. As Casey Luskin recently observed, if anti-ID advocates had any more substantive objections to make, you can bet that we would have heard them by now.

Alfred Russel Wallace, in Anticipating Intelligent Design, Did Not Reprise Paley


Michael Flannery December 4, 2011 5:57 PM | Permalink

Editor's Note: Discovery Institute Fellow Michael Flannery spoke on November 30 at the Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati, one of the most distinguished private libraries in the United States with important collections in the natural sciences. Flannery delivered a slide presentation on the life and legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of natural selection. Chronicling Wallace's contributions to biology, biogeography, anthropology, and cosmology, the lecture was followed by a screening of John West's documentary Darwin's Heretic, and the evening concluded with a Q&A session followed by a book signing of Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life and the recently revised Alfred Russel Wallace's Theory of Intelligent Evolution. ENV asked Mike for his comments on the event, especially the Q&A.

Hello, ENV readers. Well, my audience at the Lloyd Library was certainly attentive and there was a sizeable contingent of faculty from area universities. While most were appreciative and even fascinated, some faculty registered dismay and consternation at Wallace's adherence to intelligent design. The usual conflations of ID and creationism came up as well as the all too typical use of Darwin as a synecdoche for all of science. One charge was leveled against Wallace that deserves some extended comment. At one point a particularly exercised biologist in the audience accused Wallace of simply reverting to the "old Paley argument."

The accusation misses the mark. William Paley's natural theology reigned supreme as young Charles Darwin attended Cambridge and Darwin claimed devotion to Paley even as he began his voyage on the Beagle. I pointed out that Paley in fact drew a logical inference: that a watch discovered in the wilderness suggests the existence of a watchmaker. This inference to design was echoed by authors of the Bridgewater Treatises, published between 1831 and 1837. Paley (and his colleagues) argued for special creative acts in which each species was uniquely and wonderfully made, perfectly adapted to its environment and circumstance.

The argument seemed sound and reasonable to many at the time, but it did not really address the problem of imperfections in nature. Also, natural theologians of this period had a tendency to see intelligent design everywhere in nature. Of course today we know, as William Dembski has demonstrated, that in inferring design complexity is not enough: it must specify something, as in the genetic code. And if Paley and the Bridgewater writers were unable to draw the line between those features of the natural world explicable by self-acting natural processes and those requiring intelligent design, we must realize that they had no access to the molecular biology that would allow Michael Behe to establish a clear Edge of Evolution.

As Cornelius G. Hunter points out in Darwin's Proof: "Natural theology [under Paley and the Bridgewater authors] was lopsided. Yes, the world is amazing, but the natural theologian's happy view of nature could hardly be justified in light of the real world. It is easy to see why this version of natural theology supplied a ready source of material for its opponents." Indeed, its most formidable opponent became Darwin himself.

So I told my audience that Darwin's wholly naturalistic theory was able to triumph at least in part not because of "good" science but because of bad theology. Forgetting what Paul wrote in Romans, Paley and his colleagues overlooked the fact that nature had been "subjected to futility," that it "groans" for deliverance. In short, nature is imperfect.

Not being a Christian, Wallace was not interested in reconciling nature with Genesis or any part of Scripture, and he was fully aware of the special creation argument. Nevertheless, he was also keenly aware that natural selection was incapable of explaining the orders of magnitude of complexity he found in the natural world. Wallace openly rejected Paley's notion of special creation and argued instead for common descent that was directed, detectably designed, and purposeful. He gave specific examples from nature that he felt reflected this intelligent evolution, examples presaging Michael Behe's observations of irreducible complexity.

Wallace also recognized the need to explain a benevolent teleological world in the face of pain and suffering. He therefore devoted an entire chapter of The World of Life to the question, "Is Nature Cruel? The Purpose and Limitations of Pain." In the end, Wallace offered a refurbished natural theology capable of handling any challenge from modern evolutionary theory, the very theory he helped establish. It was instrumental in influencing a number of theologians such as James Orr and John Magens Mello. Whatever else may be said of Wallace, his intelligent evolution was no reprise of William Paley. From the very beginning evolutionary theory never demanded the materialism of Darwin. Wallace gave a real and convincing alternative.

I don't know that I answered the charge to my questioner's satisfaction, but it must have satisfied many. Book sales were happily brisk with at least half of the audience purchasing copies of both books. I am very appreciative of my hosts at the Lloyd Library who allowed Wallace's story to be told.