Monday, December 31, 2007

What if?

OK, let's get a little Sci-Fi-ish and ask a question: What if we could travel to another planet and witness the actual start of life from non-living material to living material through development and growth at billions of times the rate that biology theories tell us it happened on Earth?

Aside from all the Schroedinger's Cat comments I am just thinking about the responses from Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents when news of that comes back the Earth. The most fun would be listening to the crashes outside the Discovery Institute as their Spin machines went out of control. But I can hear some of the diehards now:

Conspiracy Theory nuts would say "It's a conspiracy, we never went there and saw it. It's like the Moon Landing the Government says we did in the 1960's. It's all faked!"

Evolution bashers would say "Just because it happened that way on another planet doesn't mean that's how it happened that way here! I mean look at the time frame so that has to be completely different!"

Religious fanatics would try and co-opt the whole thing: "Well obviously God (or maybe an intelligent agent) did it for reasons we will never understand."

The ones who refuse to believe in fossil evidence would say "Well obviously the Devil did it to trick you into still believing your atheistic ways just like he maintains a factory to create fossils to fool you."

The Discovery Institute would gather all of these up and create their own theory and ask the conspiracy nuts, the evolution bashers, religious fanatics, and anti-fossil groups to support their idea of "Not-On-Our-Earth-ism"

I know, silly, but as I was writing and reading comments about that article it just occurred to me and I decided to have a little fun with it. I wonder what else I can "What If" about?

"Belief" article comments

Unprovable (#117367)
by K*** A*** P*** on December 31, 2007 at 12:21 PM
The test of any scientific theory is that it can be proven by observable, repeatable tests. Until we have time travel, how can anyone know how the world began or how or whether we evolved? How can anyone KNOW any of it? All of this is a matter of conjecture and interpretation of available evidence, which is necessarily incomplete. Therefore, both sides make leaps of reason based on prior belief, to cover gaps of knowledge. The faithful admit this as an act of faith while the scientific community does not.

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Re: Unprovable (#117372)
by Ted H in Ohio on December 31, 2007 at 1:45 PM
I disagree. I think you are demanding a level of proof (100%) that truly doesn't exist. While there are some things that will never be able to be tested directly , e.g. observing the birth of life on Earth, the inferences made through how life behaves and is modified generation to generation gives a much higher level of acceptability to Evolution than Intelligent Design. Don't believe me, check out and see what 11,000 Christian Clergy think of Evolution and teaching it in school science classes.
We didn't see the breakup of Pangea ( to accept Continental Drift as a major part Geological theories.
One day we may actually witness life developing on another world and I am sure some responses to that will be "Well just because it happened like that on another planet, doesn't mean that's how it happened on Earth!" Some people just refuse to accept the evidence.
As I have said before, science works whether you believe or not and some people are demanding absolute perfection because they do not understand how science works and refuse to become knowledgeable.

What is Science?

Since I did a "What is Intelligence Design" post it only seems fair to put down what I consider science as well. I think I'm going to approach this more as a how I see science working than just a definitional explanation. Hold that thought, I guess I should define things first. Science, to me, is a collection of explanations about the world around us. That doesn't sound very strong, so let me add that science is like a snapshot in time. The explanations are the BEST explanations based on what we know right now! Science is based on a number of things including observations, experiments, and inference based on the evidence. To better understand, here is how I think it works:

You get up one morning and there is a tree down in your yard. That's a FACT, it is observable, something that no one can deny, there is a tree down in your yard. The question for science isn't to confirm there is a tree down but to EXPLAIN why there is a tree down. Again, remember this is a snapshot in time, so my first explanation is to look a tree. No sign of cutting, no car tracks or crash signs in the tree, it just fell over. So it didn't look like it was acted upon by man, so how about by nature. You remember the storm that came through late last night and your first HYPOTHESIS is the storm blew down the tree. This is a pretty good hypothesis, because you have seen both trees and branches blown down in other storms. You look around the neighborhood and don't see any other trees down, so you question why did your tree go down and no others. SO far it's storm = tree falling.

Since you have other trees, some of which the same type and age as the one that fell down, you are concerned, so you call in an expert. The expert does a little testing and determines there was a problem with the trees roots, weakening them, which made it more susceptible to the storm. Your hypothesis gets confirmation from the expert and you now have formed a theory about how the tree fell down. You start with a phenomena and you investigate to determine explanations! Your original idea about the storm is still correct, but as you learn more, you refine the explanation. Weak roots plus the storm = tree falling -- case closed, or is it?

Later that day your neighbor comes by and mentions the tree down. He goes back into his house and several minutes later comes back. "Look, my security camera caught your tree falling, you might want to see this. SO you go over and he replays a scene caught off to the side by his motion sensor security camera and lighting system. You see a large area of cardboard or Styrofoam flying in the precursor winds to the actually storm. It flies up and gets caught in the upper branches of your tree. You slowly watch the winds increase and push against the Styrofoam and after a while the tree falls. The time stamps jumps to an hour later and the video reveals the storm. New evidence, a new snapshot. It wasn't the actual storm, but a combination of pre-storm winds, weak roots, and something acting like a sail in the tree that all contributed to the tree falling. While you are satisfied with the answer, you still have the tree expert check all your trees to make sure the root problem doesn't exist in the rest of them. You consider the case pretty well closed, but you also know there might have been other contributing factors. Soil density, depth of planting, even drainage issues that could have helped, but for now the explanation is enough for you to work with.
That is how science works to me. You make an observation, investigate and even experiment, and as you learn more, your explanation becomes either stronger or actually changes. This is science! I guess I could also plan an experiment and get a Styrofoam panel and wait for the next storm, but I think the answer is good enough for me without losing any more of my trees. If it wasn't, I guess I could experiment on my neighbors trees . . . naw, his security system might catch me :-)

One of my friends claims that obviously God wanted the tree down and while I wasn't planning to address religious issues here, I can't let that comment go because he might be right! Maybe God sent the storm, the root rot, the Styrofoam knowing my tree would be damaged. Can I prove or disprove any of that? Not in the slightest. Maybe God reached down and flicked his finger at my tree and knocked it down, the winds, sail, and disease were just coincidences. Who knows, but I can't disprove it -- I also can't prove it, well not until I ask God himself after I pass away. Since I have no plans on dying right now I do plan on acting on what I see as the best explanation, the wind, the sail, and the disease. While I cannot prevent the wind or even something like the sail from happening again. I did fertilize the roots of all my trees to make sure they are strong enough to not fall down in the same way.

When I do pass on, I hope I'll remember to ask God about my tree. Who knows, maybe at that time I'll know all the answers. In the meantime I will have to keep thinking, investigating, and forming answers, answers that fit all the evidence at my disposal!

My answer fits the evidence better than my friend's. I asked him how God knocked down my tree and he couldn't offer any details. I didn't bother getting him into a discussion on which God did it -- he doesn't like those type of questions. But I did try and press him for details. He threw up his hands and pointed to the tree, the video clip of the sail, and last nights weather report and said all the evidence of God's handiwork was right there. You know he's right, it may very well be -- but I can't prove the hand of God, I can only theorize on wind, sail, and disease. One fits the evidence, and the other requires belief. You tell me, which one is science?

Great article on "Belief in Evolution"

You gotta read "Is the Theory of Evolution Really a Matter of Faith?" By Leonard Steinhorn and Charles Steinhorn posted on the History News Network. It addresses some of my earlier posts and does it in a very succinct manner. I wish I could write this well! It addresses the marketing tactics of "Belief in Evolution", "Evolution is just a Theory", and takes a broader look at how "belief" is impacting more than just science. Plus how the press gives it an unearned legitimacy by treating it like it was actually a theory rather than what it really is, a mask over religion. Thank you Professors Steinhorn!

As I have always believed (pun intended) science works whether you believe in it or not. If religion worked the same way, how many different belief systems would exist?

I am not doing this to knock religion, since I know most of the Christians in the world agree with me on what Intelligent Design really is and hate the way the Discovery Institute is trying to use them to advance their very fundamentalist agenda. One of my friends was furious about an article that equated belief in God with being anti-science and pro-Intelligent Design. I sent him a link to this article, I can't wait to hear his comments!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What is Intelligent Design?

I am probably not the right person to ask this question, but since it was put to me, I'll lay out my thinking about Intelligent Design. I will not ask the obvious experts, the Discovery Institute, because their point of view isn't mine. If you want to hear their point of view read Ann Coulter's book "Godless". She asked the question of the Discovery Institute and three of its 'fellows' filled her mind with all their arguments and she spat them back out like a good little unthinking convert. She didn't ask anyone else about it, nor did she attempt to learn anything about Evolution or science. She just used her bombastic style to regurgitate whatever pap the Discovery Institute told her. I refuse to make that mistake.

My description of Intelligent Design is simple: "It is an attempt to explain the unexplained by invoking the inexplicable. " You can quote me on that one! Now let me explain my viewpoint. By the way where I got inspiration for this line was an old joke defining Physics as "explaining the unexplainable by observing the unobservable."

"Explain the unexplained" -- So far almost all I have been able to actually learn about Intelligent Design are attacks on evolution. Some of it are valid points about evolution that science hasn't fully explained to date. Much of it are outdated arguments that science has explained, but they just don't like the explanations. So the only parts of Intelligent Design that makes any sense are their identifying already known gaps in scientific knowledge. Now this does little to advance the cause because any weakness in evolution they point to is already a known weakness and scientists are working to fill in those gaps (just ask Michael Behe how well his examples stood up). Any information supporting Intelligent Design seems to have been developed by William Dembski and Michael Behe. but their efforts are mostly marketing to sell the idea of Intelligent Design rather than any details of how it was accomplished.

"Invoke the inexplicable" -- Here is the real fun part of Intelligent Design and the reason they will never successfully divorce themselves from Creationism. Rather than offer any real explanations of how things happened, they state that an Intelligent Designer did it! What chafes my shorts is that is where their explanations stop. "What Intelligent Designer did it? Who is the designer? Are their more than one?" are questions religiously (pun intended) avoided by Intelligent Design proponents. They refuse to formally name "God", and the Christian God at that, because they think they will get more acceptance by not naming who they believe the designer is. I love the fact in voice they name the designer, but in print they never do! But they also refuse to address other questions, like "How did the Intelligent Designer do it?" They have offered no explanations on how the designer did anything, what they like to do is co-opt evolutionary explanations. Do you realize they accept the fact that evolution happened, but when pressed for details they hold up their designer and stop answering questions. They have no clue the "How" and have offer nothing in the way of answers. They love to point to the Cambrian explosion as a sticking point for evolution, but isn't it also a sticking point for Intelligent Design? Did "the designer" just decide to erase the canvas and kill off all the earlier life and start with new models? Doesn't sound terrible omnipotent to me.

So trying to explain the unexplainable by invoking the inexplicable is the primary reason Intelligent Design does not belong in a science class! It cannot be taught except through faith, it cannot be tested, except through faith, and it cannot be taken seriously, except by faith. I have nothing against faith, I think it is a needed part of what makes us human, but it isn't something that belongs in a science class.

Just for fun let's take a brief comparison with what is Evolution? By definition evolution is "change over time", something I think we can agree has happened, even the Discovery Institute agrees it happened. When I usually use the word 'evolution' I am really talking about Biological Evolution which is best defined as "Descent with modification". The Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution is an explanation of how descent with modification happened in the past, happens in the present, and will happen in the future. The theory offers many detailed explanations supported by large volumes of evidence, experimentation, and proof. Like any scientific theory it will never reach the absolute certainty of a religious faith, but then science doesn't work that way and never will.

So one is an idea that leaves it all in the hands of an intelligent agent and offers no explanations of what and how it happened. The other is a scientific theory that offers a great deal of detail all backed up by proof, is testable, and can be witnessed today. I know which belongs in science class to me!

Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee

These Four politicians have guaranteed my personal position that the Republican Party has lost it! Each have questioned evolution, some more strongly than others. I was annoyed when Little Bush made his comment that Intelligent Design should be taught in schools. I was happy that he didn't bother and 'clarify' his lack of thinking. But these four are being truly ridiculous! The Republicans are becoming the Fundamentalist Party of America! The religious right has been making inroads in politics and these four, supposedly educated, individuals pander so nicely to that crowd that it makes me ill.

Now I wish Little Bush had been put on the spot and made to explain what he meant by 'teaching intelligent design in schools." I gave him the benefit of the doubt by allowing the possibility he was talking about a philosophy class and not as science, but I think that was my wishful thinking.

I have never thought of myself as a one-issue voter, but I guess this time I am a one-issue non-voter. Any supposed educated politician who refuses to support science is the enemy and will not get my vote. Period, end of statement. I no longer care what else these four yahoos stand for, their arguments against science would be a serious disservice to our country and education. Some are a bit more scary than others, but I will not be voting for any of them. Either they have let their personal religious interfere in leading this country, or they have bought into the Discovery Institute marketing schemes and either one is unforgivable. I fear the damage what people like Kirstin Maguire of South Carolina and Robert Scott of Texas can do with such political top cover!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I am not a Scientist!

I was recently accused of not being a scientist in general terms. I want to clarify here -- I am not a scientist in specific terms either. I am not a trained scientist, but what does that have to do with not wanting Intelligent Design in the science classroom?

Seriously, why is that important? Can only a scientist understand Intelligent Design or its negative impact on science education? Do I have to be a scientist to understand evolution? I fully admit that there will be details of biology I will never understand, I am not trained in it, but I want to see a biologist normalize a 3,000,000 record database or build a secure web-based application. I have my expertise and they have theirs. I bet many of them use computers, but that doesn't make them a computer programmer -- just like I use many aspects biology but it doesn't make me a biologist.

Does this prevent me from appreciating what I do know of evolution or trying to understand Intelligent Design? I certainly hope not. In fact if being a scientist was a requirement for understanding Intelligent Design why are the only books about it published in the popular press? I put to you that the target of the Discovery Institute is not the scientist but the layman. They want us to take their battles to our school boards, post support for them in blogs, write letters to editors with our opinions. Of course they only want believers to respond and wish the rest of us would just shut up. To bad!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ms. Kristin Maguire strikes

I have posted a little on Ms. Maguire before and of the upcoming South Carolina school board meeting where they will be decided about a recommendation on two textbooks under criticism by Creationists. What I didn't know is apparently Ms. Maguire set this up! Read here. She contacted two Young Earth Creationists (YEC) to do their own review, links to their review are in the article. Apparently since the textbooks deal with Evolution and not YEC they have objections. What a surprise! Apparently Ms. Maguire isn't to ashamed to do her best to stack the deck in favor of her personal beliefs.

My question is to the people of South Carolina? Is this the direction you want to go? Ms. Maguire and friends are re-treading the direction other states have tried and failed, sometimes in embarrassing and expensive ways. Do you want your Biology teachers teaching religion to your kids? Do you want a narrow fundamentalist Christian viewpoint from determining the contents of your textbooks? Do you want to star the process of removing science from your curriculum?

I am not a South Carolina resident, although I do have many memories of visits. One of my favorite places is Sesquicentennial State Park in Columbia. I remember a Park Service Intern named Debbie who introduced us to some of the local flora and fauna. I would be very surprised if Debbie didn't have an understanding of evolution based on her lecture to all of us. I certainly hope South Carolina sends the critics away disappointed and sooner or later send Ms. Maguire her walking papers. I believe anyone who resorts to such tactics cannot be trusted in determining curriculum for our children. Her point of view is to focused on her own personal religious beliefs and not on the welfare of ALL of South Carolina's children.

Kudos to Time Magazine

I remember the original article on the use of a new dating technique on a skull discovered in 1952. The reason I am giving kudos to Time Magazine can be embodied in a quote from the lead investigator, Dr. Fredrick Grine, : "I am very pleased that TIME has identified our work as one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of the past year," says Professor Grine. "Given the growing influence of the creationism movement that is threatening the teaching of evolution in public schools, I am equally delighted that such a widely read magazine has chosen to highlight the scientific basis of research in human evolution in this way."

It's sorrowful a scientist feels to need to highlight the political battle over teaching evolution in his comment. But I certainly understand the sentiment. I doubt you would see similar recognition by the Discovery Institute, or one of their publication groups. They are probably looking for a way to spin this work to 'prove' it supports Intelligent Design. That seems to be a developing tactic, make comments about how a scientific idea or technique shouldn't be used to justify evolution because it can be used to prove Intelligent Design as well. If so many things can prove Intelligent Design rather than talk about it, they ought to just go do the leg work and prove it. But I think that's too much to ask of them. They are much better talkers than researchers.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Arguments VIII - Critical Analysis

Here is yet another attempted end run by the Discovery Institute. Rather than push directly for Intelligent Design, they try and run around the school boards by pushing for a critical analysis of Evolution. They do this with their artificially sweet smiles claiming this is good science and good for science and normally intelligent school board members and politicos fall for this line. But it is a line! You see it just sounds like a good idea and in an attempt to be politically correct or appearing like you are not advancing a personal belief, you push for it. But either you are pushing a personal agenda or you are falling for a line!

Here is what is wrong! All science is about critical analysis! It is central to science and central to most school standards to teach it embedded in the entire curriculum. So there should be no reason to call for critical analysis against any one scientific theory. If the school standards include this as part of the curriculum and if a teacher isn't teaching critical analysis of all theories, that is ground for firing a teacher. It might also be grounds for changing the standards if they do not include critical analysis of the entire curriculum. One aspect of teaching science should be working on HOW the theories came to be, not from a historical perspective, but from the methodological, and you can't teach scientific methodology without critical thinking and analysis!

So if that's true, why would groups like the Discovery Institute be pushing a critical analysis of evolution? It's actually quite simple. A science has proved, nature abhors a vacuum. So if they can weaken the teaching of evolution, they believe they can use that as a wedge into the science classroom. "Oh look, you are critically analyzing evolution, well to do that well, you have to include alternatives -- like Intelligent Design. Oh you don't need to change the standards, since it's part of critical analysis!" You see the end run attempt?

As found in the Dover trial pointing out such special 'attention' to a single subject also has the result of weakening any discussion about the theory in the eyes of the students. So they not only get a wedge into the class, but they can further weaken any discussion of Evolution. I guess they would call it a "two-fer".

South Carolina is one of the next battlegrounds

Poor South Carolina! I believe they are being poorly served by some members of their school board. They are 'revisiting' their science standards and textbooks and one of their members, Charles W. McKinney, is allowing an airing of things previously settled in other venues. Kansas and Ohio went this way, as did Dover PA. I hope they remembered what happened to the members of the school board who did it . . .most of them were voted out and the school boards removed the 'changes' they had made. So far I like the odds!

I figured this was coming and I had hoped I was wrong. I am looking to hear about the 9 Jan school Board meeting. Apparently Kenneth Miller, a co-author of the text Mr. McKinney is complaining about. He's already addressed it in writing to the school board and he's going to be present in person. I wish I could be. I'll have to find out if the school meetings are televised and I might find it on YouTube!

So Intelligent Design has nothing to do with Religion?

So why is it being vigorously defended by Grant Swank, pastor at New Hope Church in Windham, Maine. Read this article of his, it makes a common argument that evolution is a religious belief. Thankfully science works whether you belief it or not. His arguments do more damage to the position of the Discovery Institute than any damage he thinks he's doing to Evolution.

The Cristian Post is doing the same here, World News (Christian Views) here, and the Conservative Voice [The Conservative Voice is dedicated to Faith, Family, Freedom] here. You know in perusing these websites I can't find much interest in any scientific theories, so I have to assume their interest has nothing to do with science. But they are repeating Discovery Institute mantras over and over again. "Teach the controversy", "Evolution is another religion", "It's just a theory", Academic freedom and free speech" . . . you get the point.

I have only listed 4 here, but there are plenty more. Submit a Google agent for "Intelligent Design' and look at the results. You'll be surprised how many religious and faith-based web sites preach the Discovery Institute line. So Discovery Institute keep on lying to us. Sooner or later the small community of adherents might figure it out for themselves. In the meantime the rest of the world, including the vast majority of Christians, will continue to enjoy laughing at your transparent tactics and enjoy your defeats.

Coexistence IV - Religion

I just saw an interesting program about Religion and Washington DC. It was hosted by Newt Gingrich, and normally that would make me change the channel but the subject matter was interesting, in particular to many of my own posts here in this blog.

I have said that I think the ACLU and groups who are trying to remove every aspect of religion from public life are making a mistake, but I never expounded on that, so I guess I should here and now. First of all I want to reiterate my primary objection to Intelligent Design, since that is and has been the focus of this blog for the past 43 posts. I have a number of objections, but my primary one is simply that Intelligent Design is not science and as such does not deserve to be taught in a class where the subject is science.

This would do two immediate things, in my mind. First it would take valuable class time away from subjects that are science. I think with the limited amount of time a teacher has with their students, something I deal with every semester, it should be spent on the subject of the class. Second I think it would offer a level of scientific validate for subjects that have not earned it. I would be making many of the same arguments if a school board planned to introduce Astrology to an Astronomy class.

I am also concerned about long term impacts to our students and scientific investigation in the future. How can we seriously expand the edges of medicine, astronomy, or any science when the basics of the scientific method can not be taught. How seriously would students take the scientific method if we short cut it in biology class? What type of doctors will we turn out. "Yes, Mr. Smith, I understand you have a pain there, but God did it and it would be unethical of me to interfere." How soon would that type of 'explanations' move beyond science to other classes? Engineering, chemistry, even social studies and mathematics! I believe it is wrong, no matter what the source of Intelligent Design!

Now as for it's source I will admit to being anti-Intelligent Design because of how the Discovery Institute treats it. Do they believe I am an idiot! The Dover Trial and Professor Barbara Forrest showed its relationship to Creationism. I hate being lied to, and the Discovery Institute is doing just that. The former members of the Dover School Board lied about their motivations. A School Gym teacher in Tejon California lied when trying to pass off a class on Intelligent Design as a Philosophy class. The Texas School Board, the South Carolina School Board, and even the Ohio and Kansas School Board members who subscribe to the tactics and strategies of deceit in order to push their religious agenda. This offends me on a personal, professional, and theological level and I refuse to be silent about it.

I do believe groups like the ACLU have gone overboard in removing religion from the public eye, but I do not agree that Intelligent Design in the classroom is one of those times. The religious underpinnings of Intelligent Design are obvious and using the current law to prevent it from entering into the science classroom and exposing the lies and deceit being used as tactics is fine with me. If Intelligent Design was science I would support it wholeheartedly, I would even be more generous in my comments if they [proponents] were honest in their religious roots and refused to stoop to gutter tactics. But since neither of those seem to be on the horizon, I am pretty comfortable in my position.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Arguments VII - Perfection required

This will be a short one. I finished looking at the Discovery Institutes rebuttal slides about the Nova show "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" and I noticed a trend I have missed until this. Why does Evolution, in fact why does Science, have to have 100% of every answer with stacks of absolutely perfect evidence before you ID'iots will admit it's true? You refuse to hold up your own pet ideas to the same yardstick!

Science never claimed perfection, and your poster children like Behe and Dembski know it. So you stand up on your very shaky soapbox and ask for perfection knowing full well that science will never show absolutes. You then twist that with word games and lies and do lots of marketing and declare yourself as better.

So what yardstick do you hold up to Intelligent Design -- None! You haven't bothered with a yardstick of any length because the only people who agree with you are already on your side. You publish nonsense in popular press because there is no level of proof required. ID'iots like Dembski just spout off and just put down anyone who disagrees with as not being smart enough. Behe at least admitted to his own failings, and the failings of Intelligent Design and his pet idea of irreducible complexity, but he still wasn't man enough to face the evidence presented during the Dover Trial.

So this also drives the reason for my little blog. I don't care if none reads it, but I am going to keep reading, exploring and if you ever do raise up a real yardstick, I will be the first one to say so. In the mean time stay the HELL out of the science classroom, tell your ID'iots infiltrating school boards to drop this agenda because you and I know how hollow it is. The best you will do is damage science education and do a disservice to the education of our young. Unless that is one of your objectives as well!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Judgement Rebuttals Continued (Slides 8 abnd 9)

OK, time for some more humor. Slide 8, sexual selection. Aside from once again misrepresenting sexual selection, I'm not sure the purpose of this slide. Maybe they are trying to narrow evolution to one mechanism because they have too much trouble addressing multiple mechanisms? I really don't know what their motive is here. But let's look at it.

Sexual selection is the theory that some characteristics give certain members of a population an advantage over others. I have little trouble understanding this on a real and personal level, but enough about my limited high school social life. The Discovery Institute stated ". . . sexual selection has been invoked to account for the evolutionary origin of humanity's most cherished abilities, including art, literature, music, mathematics, religious belief, and even scientific genius. Once you define something as 'beautiful' or 'attractive,' the magic wand of sexual selection can produce virtually anything an evolutionary biologist wants." Well I don't know about a magic wand, but anyone should be able to see how many activities can tie into sexual selection. Let's keep it simple and ask the question -- Why do Rock Stars date Supermodels? Because they Can! They have access and opportunity that their success gets them. Do we need to keep rubbing this lesson in the faces of those of use who aren't rock stars?

So why do they whine on about sexual selection is the fact there are two sexes at all. They don't believe evolution can account for the development of two sexes. What kills me is the source for this quote:

"The very existence of sexual reproduction presents a problem for Darwin�s theory. The easiest way for an organism to reproduce is simply to divide asexually� to make a copy of itself. Bacteria are very successful at this. An organism that reproduces sexually, however, must divert precious energy into making sperm or egg cells; in the process, gene combinations that were quite useful beforehand are sometimes destroyed through 'recombination.' Then the organism must find a member of the opposite sex and mate with it successfully. From an evolutionary perspective, sex incurs considerable costs that must be offset by advantages to the organism."
They forget to mention the source fully. Oh they call it "the critical response to the PBS Evolution series, Getting the Facts Straight" but guess who published that response? You guessed it, the Discovery Institute Press. They buried the link in the small print, I am surprised it was even there. Sounds like a very familiar tactic, "We say it can't happen and for proof we say it can't happen." Anyone else see a tautology here?

As for their arguments, they may have trouble seeing how and why two sexes evolved doesn't seem to cause scientists to lose sleep. Because many of them have put forth theories as to how and why it happened. Explanations include: Sex creates genetic variation among siblings, Sex helps the spread of advantageous traits, and Sex helps the removal of deleterious genes. Science is working on the details and once again the Discovery Institute just ignores all that information.

Slide 9 starts on shaky ground. In the first paragraph they discuss common genes among organisms they make the following statement: " . . . but it must be noted that intelligent agents commonly re-use parts that work in different designs." OK, where and when was this proven? They make the statement and assume it's true. The passing of genes is proven by science, so called macro-evolution is also a proven extension of evolution, the idea of common ancestry is a logical extension of that. What proof is there of the existence of intelligent agents, let alone their ability to re-use genes? None! So this makes the rest of their discussion a confirmation of the theory of common ancestry rather than an indictment as they attempted.

More Judegement Rebuttals (Slides 6 and 7)

Slide 6, I'm not sure what to make of this one. Science has never claimed other than naturalistic explanations. Their objective has always excluded supernatural explanations and they have made no bones about it. Evolution is a naturalistic explanation and it's currently the only explanation that fits the observed facts and evidence. Every other explanation requires to either bring in the supernatural or disregard facts and evidence to be even the slightest bit plausible. The problem is once you start tossing facts and evidence to the side, you have no credibility -- case in point the Discovery Institute.

What I do see in Slide 6 is another attempt to equate belief in a religious philosophy with belief in a scientific theory. Once again my argument is that the two are not the same thing! Belief in science is acceptance. As Dr. Kay said (dean of University of California, San Diego's Division of Biological Sciences) " . . . it is more accurate to type that they are convinced or adhere to the body of evidence, rather than "believe" in it."

Slide 7 starts off with a very common error on their part. Darwin didn't use Haekel's drawings. It would have been rather hard since Darwin published the "Origin of the Species" in 1859, and "The Descent of Man" in 1871, whereas Haeckel's embryo drawings did not appear until 1874. But since when did facts get in the way of the Discovery Institute's writings. It is a common fallacy that many who seek to tear up Evolution use this as ammunition, too bad it's like firing blanks. OK, learn how to read a calendar!

It continues with an attempt to claim part of evolutionary biology as it's own. I guess when you can't convince people you are right because the evidence doesn't support you, change your tune and co-opt the evidence.

While intelligent design is certainly compatible with common ancestry, PBS ignores the possibility that such recurring fundamental genetic programs across species could also be explained as the result of common design, i.e. the re-usage of genetic programs that fulfill the functional requirements of animal development.
While I agree God is omnipotent we have one theory that traces genetic evidence and it includes experimentation that can show the track of gene flow . . .and then you have ID which says God/Designer did it with no evidence. Which one is science going to accept? As Homer Simpson would say "Doh!"

The rest of slide 7 is a reiteration of the God and the Gaps story. There are gaps in evolutionary knowledge, so evolution must be wrong. I have to salute a group that can keep saying the same things over and over again and refuse to see the direction things are going. Yes there are gaps, but fewer gaps than there was a decade a go, and many fewer than there was in Darwin's day. The number and size of the gaps keep getting smaller and smaller. You keep trying to force God into those gaps, where does your argument go when the gaps disappear?

I can see it in the near future. The fossil record is complete, we have traced the gene flow from the earliest single-celled organism to modern man, we have established the Theory of Evolution is correct in every particular and the Discovery Institute will still be on the sidelines saying "Well the designer created Evolution like he did everything else, so we're still right -- so there!"

Judgement Day rebuttal Continued

After laughing uproariously at slides 1 through 3, I started my day today with a look at slide 4. Is the Discovery Institute going into stand-up comedy?

They are accusing evolution of a "bait and switch"? Remember the stories about the pot calling the kettle . .oh never mind. Their comment: “Evolution” Bait-and-Switch, using evidence for small-scale changes and then over-extrapolating to claim that such modest evidence proves Darwin’s grander claims. Since evolution has been proven to have occurred, and the processes for evolution have been described in the theory, and speciation is part of the evolutionary theory, what bait and switch has occurred?

Oh the artificial dichotomy over micro and macro evolution? I've already discussed this so here is the nutshell version. Micro-evolution is the study of genetic evolutionary changes. Take micro-evolution and add in 3-4 billion years and you have what is now being called macro-evolution. Intelligent Design proponents hold that micro-evolution has happened, but belief macro-evolution, better known in science as speciation -- the evolutionary process by which new species arise -- can only occur by the hand of God/Designer. Macro-evolution and micro-evolution are exactly the same thing, the same processes! The dividing line came about when Creationists/Evolutionist found they couldn't easily ignore all the evidence for evolution.

By getting back into the gaps idea, they are just rehashing old arguments. The God is in the Gaps. They are ignoring the macro-evolution experiments on generations of fruit flies and bacteria, but then we all know they are good at ignoring that which they disagree with.

My favorite item on this slide is the closing "According to UC Berkeley law professor and Darwin-critic Phillip Johnson, “When our leading scientists have to resort to the sort of distortion that would land a stock promoter in jail, you know they are in trouble."

What possible motive could the Discovery Institute have for not mentioning that Phillip E. Johnson is one of the co-founders of the Discovery Institute and the apparent designer of the Wedge strategy for gaining popular acceptance for Intelligent Design as the first step in "reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions" and to "affirm the reality of God." Its goal is to "renew" American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian, namely evangelical Protestant, values."

Why would they only mention that he is an evolution critic and not mention he's a founding member? Why only mention his UC Berkeley ties? Well to give his words more validity that if the reader knew the deck was stacked once again. Gotta love consistency in their approach, but then it's all documented in their Wedge Document so they do have a game plan to follow.

Slide 5 confused me a bit. But then I remembered that Behe is an ID poster Child. I seem to recall his testimony was less than positive for the Intelligent Design part of the table, but here they expound on their point of view forgetting that Behe admitted his idea did not attack natural selection and that all of the "irreducible complexity" examples he used in his book, like bacterial flagellum, human blood clotting factor, and the immune system have had much more research done to show the evolutionary pathways their formation may have taken. "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" showed a reenactment of an attorney placing a pile of research on the desk where Behe was sitting about all the science behind the evolution of his examples and he simply decided to ignore it. In the trial transcripts his words were that he didn't find them persuasive. They forgot to mention that!

But even after all of that they still find time to wax poetic on his ideas. Idea which has had no science behind them, that no one is performing experiments to prove -- again, his admission under cross-examination. I guess they might be less happy with Behe now, but he's still a shining example of Intelligent Design marketing at work!

More slides later, I have to get some real work done. Can't spend the day having only fun!

Discovery Institute Words Games

Two years after receiving a crushing blow in Dover PA, the Discovery Institute is still trying to spin the damage as best they can. Once again they take their own favorite tactic, playing word games, and try and convince people that Judge Jones created some logical dilemma that render's all he says moot.

I have read the entire transcript of the trial and the 139 page decision and while it is full of legalese, it also lays things out pretty clearly. The decision not only said what he [the judge] determined, but his own thought process and the evidence and testimony that led him there. I wish all legal decisions were as complete.

In a recent response posted on the Discovery Institutes's web site, they claim the Judge created a logical conundrum in the way he described Irreducible Complexity. What they really did was try and create a logical conundrum by using the wrong definition of scientific falsification.

Without getting into a huge lecture on Falsifiability, you can read the Wikipedia article here. But in a nutshell there is Naïve falsificationism, which is an unsuccessful attempt to prescribe a rationally unavoidable method for science. Naïve falsification considers scientific statements individually. Scientific theories are formed from groups of these sorts of statements, and it is these groups that must be accepted or rejected by scientists. Science is evolved by the successive rejection of falsified theories, rather than falsified statements. Falsified theories are to be replaced by theories that can account for the phenomena that falsified the prior theory, that is, with greater explanatory power.

Taking his statements and dissecting them in a vacuum is just the sort of word smithing I have come to expect from the Discovery Institute. Bottom line for me here is pretty simple. A scientific THEORY, not just a statement but a theory, must be falsifiable, which means even hypothetically a scientist can envision an example where the theory may not be true. Charles Darwin himself did this for evolution by his discussions of the eye. His statement along the lines that if even one biological construct can be found where it would be impossible to have formed through evolutionary means, his theory would be rendered false. By the same token just because someone is falsifiable, doesn't make it a scientific theory! Rejecting something also doesn't make it a theory! There is a lot more to being a scientific theory than just falsification!

Judge Jones words "Even if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design." were not his own. He sat there and listened to Michael Behe, one of the Discovery Institutes's own fellows, admit to the problems with his own ideas and the lack of science behind them.

Oh they can word smith with the best of them, but it still doesn't do much to make Intelligent Design science and permit its teaching in the public school science classroom. I believe this spin doctoring is more a way to make the faithful feel better about themselves more than convert anyone else. Since recently they've also put out a call for contributions, I bet making the faithful feel better is more important than converting new ID'iots.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Judgement Day rebuttal from your 'friends' and mine, the Discovery Institute

It took long enough, but as per their usual knee-jerk reaction, the Discovery Institute has responded to criticisms in the Nova episode "Judgment Day" which is about the Dover PA trial on Intelligent Design.

They pulled together a slide show they claim refutes claims made in the show and after looking at the first one I started to laugh. I'll look at each one, but this one was the killer. The Discovery Institute, that bastion of misdirection, lying, and ignoring of evidence is whining about the precise definition of the word evolution as it pertains to how it was used in the show. First of all when does the Discovery Institute ever define their terms when telling people "Evolution is JUST a theory" and "Teach the Controversy" to name two. Their marketing muscle and spin doctors use this exact tactic and now they claim it was used against them? Actually what appears to be happening is that they are using the same tactic to try and refute what Nova said.

How can they get away with this? Anyone remember from a psych class from years ago -- at least years ago for me -- a defense mechanism called "Projection". If memory serves it describes how someone takes their own personality traits and projects them into the behavior of other people in order to rationalize a reason for their behavior. The idea that you can't swindle a con artist because they expect everyone to be acting the way they act so they are more watchful over it. That type of thing. Well I think we are seeing a prime example of Projection here when the Discovery Institute said . . .PBS confidently instructs us that “evolution happens.” But should that matter? Even Darwin’s scientific critics agree that evolution happens. PBS is introducing equivocation into the discussion by failing to clearly define “evolution.

Sure, when someone else uses a term that disputes what you say you demand an immediate definition and claim foul when it's not provided. But when you do it, it's Science!

And that's just the first slide in the slide show, let's move on to slide 2.

I think we are seeing a trend here. The Discovery Institute says "PBS urges viewers to believe that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Such a statement reverses the scientific process by putting conclusions ahead of empirical observations of nature. PBS also quotes evolutionary paleontologist Niles Eldredge, stating, "Nothing that we have learned in the intervening 175 years has contravened Darwin's basic description of how natural selection works," and asserting that the data “unequivocally” support Darwin’s view. Such dogmatic statements fly in the face of the scientific spirit, which opposes dogmatic attachments to theories and promises to follow the evidence wherever it may lead."

The Discovery Institute, in marketing a pseudo-science is using scientific inquiry to argue against PBS' statements. They don't state any objection to the content, because they know it's a true statement, they are just whining that making such statements fly in the face of the scientific spirit. When in the Discovery Institute does this spirit live? We haven't seen any evidence of it. What they say about Newton in the beginning of the second slide is true, but misleading. "Yet despite the long-lasting success of Newton’s ideas, technological advancements in the early 20th century overturned Newtonian physics and replaced them with Einstein’s theories. If history is to be our guide, science must always be open to following the evidence where it leads, even if that means challenging orthodoxy." Science is completely open to inquiry and even hypotheses that challenge orthodox thinking, if not then many idea would have never become accepted scientific theories. But this requires effort, time, and investigation the Discovery Institute hasn't been willing to undertake. Marketing should come after scientific discovery and exploration, not before it. Look at Plate Tectonics and even look at Evolution itself and the orthodox view it overturned. This is science in action, take notes and do the leg work!

Slide 3, tries to raise the idea of this scientific controversy. "Indeed, over 700 doctoral scientists have signed a public statement proclaiming their agreement that, "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life." It's funny, normally they use this line to show the support for Intelligent Design, for a change they are using it correctly and show that a small group of scientists are skeptical. In their own words, "So What?" This doesn't' address other parts of evolutionary theory, only a small part. It doesn't say they actually alternative theories, it only says they are skeptical.

How many scientists are not skeptical? Over 300 science organizations, representing thousands of scientists support Evolution. Over 11,000 clergy support it as well. Sure, keep waving your list of 700 and keep misrepresenting what they say to indicate a firestorm of controversy.

Lynn Margulis' quote is another example of quote mining by the Discovery Institute. She is a scientist who did the work and brought what was considered a fringe theory into the accepted and now orthodox thinking about evolution today. Funny how she's not one of the 700 the Discovery Institute likes to brag about. She is critical of Neo-Darwinism -- but not that I could find of Evolution as a whole, I wonder what her opinions of the Discovery Institute and Intelligent Design are?

Damn, that's only the first three. I need a break and I'll post my comments about the rest later. But for now, take a look for yourself. They are a riot!

Is "Evolution is JUST a theory" a lie

This question was raised by someone reading my blog and in my mind the answer is Yes!

When you deliberately word something make someone believe something different than what is actually true, I define that as a lie. This particular example was held up during the Dover trial as misleading. Well I was always taught that misleading someone is a form of lying.

My favorite example happened when I was 16. I asked my Mom if I could attend a party at a friends house. The obvious question was "Will there be an adult present?" My immediate answer was "Yes!" Now that was the literal truth, but since the adult in question was the 18 year-old boyfriend of my friend's 17 year old sister and not the 'parent' my Mom assumed it to be . . .well you get the picture. While I didn't say anything that wasn't true, I deliberately misled and encouraged her belief that at least one of my friend's parents would be there. I'm sure you all understand why I did it and maybe you did similar things at that age. But, as I learned later, even allowing her to have that impression was an form of a lie.

Yes, lawyers make huge money doing this exact thing is court. "If the Glove doesn't fit, you must acquit!" and lunacy like that. But that doesn't make it right!

Telling someone "Evolution is JUST a theory" is the same thing. A deliberate attempt to mislead someone into not realizing that evolution is a fact and that biological evolution is one of the most widely used and accepted theories in science today. But then saying "Evolution is JUST one of the most widely used and accepted theories in science today!" doesn't have the same ring to it!

Ever Read Non Sequiter

Non Sequiter is a comic strip, that along with Dilbert, I try and read daily. It's not only amusing, but many days hits really close to home. Today's strip was no exception. The girl Danae was excited about history class because " . . it's as much fun as science class! . . .Now we just make up our own facts, and if anyone refutes it, we brand them as a hate monger." Her reaction to a letter home from the principal, "Hey, you're the one always telling me to try acting like an adult . . ."

It would be much less funny if it weren't so true. Many of the families involved in the Dover PA lawsuit can tell you from personal experience. How can anyone take a Christian Family, who attend services regularly and are raising their children in their Christ faith, and brand then an Atheist because they disagree with Intelligent Design. There is something wrong when the judge in the case has to get bodyguards and security because he received death threats because of his ruling. Advocates of Intelligent Design claim to support Free Speech, well some of you apparently think Free Speech means agree with me or die.

For my postings here and in response to other news articles and blogs I have been accused of Atheism, Agnosticism, and being the Anti-Christ. Now all of these accusations came without anyone actually asking me about my beliefs. The simple fact I disagreed with them made me some sort of heathen in their eyes. While I haven't had death threats, when people respond in such a way it just convinces me that there is an American Taliban! We claim to be a country of freedoms, yet when someone is expressing themselves opening and freely, they get threatened?
I have never, nor will I ever threaten the life of someone who supports Intelligent Design. I will however strongly object to any attempts to have that idea taught as legitimate science in a science classroom. I will do my best to attack your arguments verbally and in print. I will try and expose your arguments as lies, when I believe you to be lying (evolution JUST a theory), I will call your arguments vaporware when I believe them to be completely vacuous (Intelligent Design is science), and I will laugh at your efforts to defend yourself when even you have to know how indefensible your position currently is (The Discovery Institute as a believer in academic freedom). But I will lay down my life to defend your ability to have such an indefensible position -- as I committed to during my time in the US Military.

I expect the same respect and courtesy that I am giving you. But I know which one of us makes use of the hate mongering. It's the side that has no other recourse than threats and labeling because they have no choice given what they are trying to sell to the American People.

Who is South Carolina's Kristin Maguire?

I came across a great Blog "Not Very Bright" and enjoyed perusing it. What drew me to it was a comment about South Carolina's Kristin Maguire. She is the chairwoman-elect of the South Carolina State Board of Education. It was a shame to see an avowed Intelligent Design supporter in such a position. She is also the co-founder of a website "Parents Involved in Education" and from it's website her stand on Intelligent Design shows she has swallowed the whole "Teach the Controversy" marketing scheme of the Discovery Institute hook, line, and sinker. Here are my comments posted about the Not Very Bright's blog "Who is Kristin Maguire":

Kristin Maguire proves a couple of things. First the qualifications to be on a school board have nothing to do with education. The second that people will push their personal agendas, even to the detriment or our school children, in every arena.

More specifically I didn’t take Not so Bright’s comments on Ms. Maguire’s lack of engineering background as a slight to engineering. I saw the point made that she calls herself an engineer, but doesn’t seem to have done another other than get a degree. I am an educator and also work in a highly technical field and have learned the hard way that a piece of paper with a degree is nice, but in order to really be considered an engineer in any field, you need the practical experience of working in that field! I’m not talking a summer internship, I am talking working! I believe Ms. Maguire does a disservice to the engineering profession by calling herself an engineer.

I feel sorry for the people of South Carolina if she, and her PIE group, gets their hands on the science curriculum. She typifies the favorite target of the marketing department of the Discovery Institute, aka the Center for Science and Culture, loves to find. A true believer who doesn’t let fact or a lack of scientific study get in their way, in a position of power to influence science curriculum, and who can be convinced to use any tactic to achieve her personal agenda. Look how Dover PA turned out for the members of that school board who pushed Creationism and then pushed Intelligent Design!

Like Texas recently, I hope the people of South Carolina don’t fall for the “Teach the Controversy”, “Free Speech” and the recent “Academic Freedom” marketing ploys being worked insidiously by the Discovery Institute. They should recognize there is no scientific controversy, that Free Speech doesn’t mean you get to say anything you want when you want, and that academic freedom doesn’t apply to pseudo-science.

Look at not only Dover, but the reverses the Discovery Institute has suffered in Ohio, Kansas, and New Mexico to realize that when they gain some level of acceptance, eventually smarter head prevail and they get tossed back out. If not I hope South Carolina has lots of extra money they really don’t need for education to pay for the coming lawsuits!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Let's all 'help' the Discovery Institute

Oh this is a good one! "Help Support Academic Freedom by Suppporting Discovery Institute". You have to love the sheer unmitigated gall of some people. According to this press release, the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute needs your financial support to continue: [by the way -- the typo in the title is not my error, but theirs when I cut and paste the title from their website on 19 Dec about 2:30PM]

  • scientific research and publications that meet the Darwinists on their own turf, forcing them to respond to the growing scientific evidence for design; [aside form the fact there HASN'T been any such research of publications]
  • training for top graduate students in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities through our summer mentoring program; [Let's training these graduate students how to ignore science and preach and market pseudo-science]
  • this online news service (Evolution News & Views), which has received over 2.25 million page views in 2008; [I would have thought this would be labels more appropriately as Propaganda than News]
  • our internet radio show ID the Future, publicizing information censored by the establishment media, and which has over 25,000 subscribers.; and, [Censored, in other words laughed at, not taken seriously, and pretty much ignored by anyone other than the faithful]
  • practical help for teachers, scientists, and students who are facing indoctrination or persecution at their schools or colleges. [Sure practical help for Professor Gonzales and the former Dover PA school board. That kind of 'help' cost him tenure and them over $1,000,000]
Am I against Academic Freedom, no I am not! I am a teacher and I understand what Academic Freedom really is. It is not license for a teacher to say anything they want about any subject. Just like Free Speech there are practical limits and responsibilities associated with Academic Freedom that the Discovery Institute ignores.

This is another tactic to gain popular support. Is Intelligent Design an example of Academic Freedom? Not in the science classroom of a public school it isn't! In other classes it may very well be, like Philosophy or Sociology. I would expect Intelligent Design to be well remembered in Marketing classes of the future. But as a scientific theory, it is not Academic Freedom to express pseudo-science in a public school science class. What it is . . . is against the law!

My suggestion, if you really want to help is donate to a cause that supports something useful. Give to a food bank, shelter, or other charity where you can not only help people, but get a tax write-off. Giving to the Discovery Institute is a waste of perfectly good money.

The "Eyes" have it

The human eye has been used many times as proof of the impossibility of evolution. Recently an this article discusses the evolution of the human eye "One in the Eye for Intelligent Design"

Now the normal attack on the Eye and Evolution usually quotes Charles Darwin himself who easily admitted the human eye would be challenging to explain through evolution, but usually his comments are taken out of context, quote mining, something Creationists/Intelligent Design proponents are very good at! The Panda's Thumb reminded me of his entire discussion on the eye:

To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.

Creationists/Intelligent Design proponents tend to leave off this part:
Yet reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real. How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but I may remark that several facts make me suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light, and likewise to those coarser vibrations of the air which produce sound. (Darwin 1872, 143-144)
There is more and you can read it here if you like.

Of course this won't settle the whole discussion because William Dembski, in response to some other material about the evolution on the eye just cracked me up with his response. Now before you read this please remember that the Discovery Institute doesn't accept the fossil record as being a valid source of scientific information. They love to point at gaps, whine about radiological dating, and generally ignore anything about fossil they dislike. So what does one of their poster child say here on his own website? "Urbilateria — more biological constructs of the imagination. Where is the actual fossil evidence for these?" Does anyone else see the humor of asking for fossil evidence after spending so much time denigrating it. Plus, as anyone who has actually LEARNED anything about fossils knows that soft tissue fossils, such as an eye, are nearly impossible to find because the eye isn't part of the body that tends to become fossilized. So not only is he asking for something he will ignore if someone dropped it in his lap, but he should know that it's a rhetorical question anyway.

What I did enjoy as well, on Dembski's Uncommon Descent blog was the link to the article by Arthur V. Chadwick used to refute even the remote possibility of the eye evolving according to current theories. Dembski doesn't mention Chadwick by name, but here are a couple of things you might like to read:

This is form the very first paragraph of his paper:
"In the absence of physical evidence for the evolution of complex systems and in the absence of evidence for any increase in the information content of existing complex systems, a belief in the theory of organic evolution remains a matter of pure faith. Lacking physical evidence for increase in information content of any complex system, another theory of explanation of origins - Special Creation - has scientific precedence because it does offer an explanation for origins that comports with the data."
Hmmm I think we have a prime example of someone who has already made up his mind and will fit the evidence to his singular point of view regardless of minor details like facts. Here is part of his closing:
"To argue that they came from Precambrian forms that were not preserved because they had no hard parts is to argue again from the ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE. The absence of evidence, in science has to be construed as the evidence of absence. There is no Precambrian evolutionary sequence because there was no Precambrian evolution. Evolution as an explanation for the existence of complex living systems is a religious view held by those who wish the world to have no Originator (meaning – Huxley 1937, p. 312). Trilobites and all other forms appear on the scene as fully formed, fully competent organisms, period. It is past time to replace the theory of organic evolution with a theory that can explain the data. The only theory with explanatory value for the origin of information is the theory of Special Creation. I make no apology for choosing to place my faith in the existence of a Master Designer, a position that is consistent with the clearest interpretation of the evidence available in the Geologic Record, consistent with the clearest reading of the Book of Genesis, and a faith that is positive, uplifting and full of hope for the future."
Gotta love the consistency. Not only does Chadwick use a 1937, and highly suspect, definition of evolution, but he declares his theory as the only theory with explanatory value. Bold statements from someone whose paper doesn't seem to prove his position in any way.

By the way Urbilateria, if you were wondering, is the hypothetical last common ancestor of protostomes and deuterostomes. yes, hypothetical, which of course means it hasn't been proven. But rather than say it's a construct of the imagination, I believe it's better to say this is a hypothesis that is undergoing further research. At one time the Earth going around the Sun was hypothetical. Personally I just think Dembski is jealous because his pet imaginary construct, Specific Complexity, and its overarching construct, Intelligent Design, hasn't yet reached the plateau of being hypothetical. Right now it's just an idea, a concept, a thought. At least the Urbilateria is being investigated by real scientists, you know the ones that do real science work and publish in real scientific journals.

More support for Evolution from other Disciplines

Interesting article on how Tectonics, the movements of the Earth's crust, may have played a role in human evolution! For the past 25 years or so it's been believed that changes in the environment in Africa may have been what caused our distant ancestors to evolve walking upright on two feet. This article discusses a possible hypothesis on how that could have happened.

I've said it many times, and I'll repeat it here. The evolution of life, as described in the Modern Synthesis is Evolution Theory, has found support across a wide variety of scientific disciplines and here is another example. Walking upright may have become a necessity to forage for food as climate change caused by tectonic earth shifts, turned lush jungle into dryer steppes and plains. There would have been an obvious survival advantage to be able to travel and forage in open areas. Fun stuff to read!

Arguments VI -- Gaps in the fossil record

I hadn't thought about this one recently, until someone reminded me of it. There are gaps in the fossil record. Now when I first learned this, way back in my first dinosaur class in elementary school, I wasn't a happy camper. I mean back then dinosaurs were Cool and anything that didn't directly tie back to dinosaurs was not! I guess I was all of 8 or 9 years old and anything that was missing, like fossils, were crimes against nature -- to my thinking back then.

Nowadays I understand a lot more and I think even later in elementary school when I learned how fossils formed I understood why there weer gaps and some of the gaps might never be filled. But back then I still didn't like it!

The only thing I don't like today about the gaps is how Creationists/Intelligent Design supporters have tried to use them as rationale for the failures of science to answer questions. What i hope you understand is that the gaps were expected and predicted by paleontology theories. The reason is quite simple, the formation of fossils is a rare event. The conditions that allow a fossil to form are pretty exact and specific. The right materials, moisture content, even pressure and other conditions must be there in order to form a fossil. Most organisms never have the opportunity.

Of course Creationists/Intelligent Design proponents point to the thousands of fossils and claim how can this be, there are tons of fossils. Well when you look a the age of the Earth and the billions of years involved, translate that to how many organisms have lived upon this planet? Only a very tiny percentage of them will die and eventually form a fossil.

Then of course some of the Creationists/Intelligent Design proponents claim the Earth is only between 6,000 and 10,000 years old, depending on which group of them you happen to be talking to, and attempt to steer the whole conversation away from the gaps.

So, as I said science not only knows about the gaps, but expected there to be gaps. It would be totally amazing if there was an unbroken string from the original organism through modern day man of fossilized remains. In fact that would cause paleontologists to be more concerned over the validity of their finds than having gaps. You can read more about fossils here.

But Creationists/Intelligent Design proponents will continue to point to the gaps as evidence of the weakness of science. What they tend to forget is that a gap can one day be filled. We are still finding fossils and learning. They prefer to put their God/Designer in the gap and say, see God/Designer did it. The problem I see with the God of the Gaps story is that what happens when we find a fossil to fit one of the gaps? What will their story become then?

Of course Creationists/Intelligent Design proponents have more issues with the fossil record than the gaps. I've mentioned a few in other posts, like their disbelief in transitional fossils and their claim that radiocarbon dating isn't accurate, and their general disbelief in thermodynamics. Like the fossil gaps they like to point at science and make wide claims about its inaccuracy and inapplicability. I wish they would focus more on the science of their own ideas. Tearing down science doesn't mean as much when they use science to try and validate their own pet ideas. Oh there are gaps in the fossil record -- but here is Intelligent Design -- yea that makes sense.

I will close by saying once again that there are gaps in the fossil records expected gaps, explained gaps, and predicted gaps. I would really like to know how that advances Intelligent Design because from what I have read, including books by Behe, Johnson, Dembski, and Coulter, there are gaping fissures in Intelligent Design that no one seems interested in filling.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kansas and Ohio Look back

Someone asked me about Ralph Seelke, someone I mentioned in a recent post. He was one of the people involved in that wonderful, and completely ridiculous, adoption of new science standards in Kansas. You know the one, it was in all the news. If you missed it, here are the highlights courtesy of Wikipedia.

  • The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 August 9, 2005 to include greater criticism of evolution in its school science standards, but it decided to send the standards to an outside academic for review before taking a final vote. The standards received final approval on November 8, 2005. The new standards were approved by 6 to 4, reflecting the makeup of religious conservatives on the board [I disagree with this for a simple reason, this one scientific theory is singled out for special criticism. Proponents claim this makes better science, but the Dover trial also found the reality is this weakens any discussion of the topic in students minds]
  • On August 1, 2006, 4 of the 6 conservative Republicans who approved the Critical Analysis of Evolution classroom standards lost their seats in a primary election. [I think the Kansas school board evolved, much like the Dover school board did just before the results of the trial were announced]
  • On February 13, 2007, the Board voted 6 to 4 to reject the amended science standards enacted in 2005. The definition of science was once again returned to "the search for natural explanations for what is observed in the universe." [Damn, Astrology returns to the realm of pseudo-science, again]
This was yet another defeat for the organizations, like my favorite target the Discovery Institute, in their quest to control what gets taught in science class. Kansas corrected a mistake and learned a lesson I hope other states will remember when letting their personal beliefs get in the way of doing their job!

Ohio went through something similar, voted to critically analyze Evolution and backed out of it later. Didn't Intelligent Design proponents submit 40 references for Intelligent Design to the Ohio State school board when Ohio was debating a change to the school standards. After the vote it was discovered that more than 90% of the references mention Intelligent Design only to call it in question and the other 10% don't discuss the subject at all. And we all know the Ohio standards were returned to their pre-ID form and the fight continues as new and different changes are being proposed that do the same thing -- call into question evolution and encourage the teaching of their pet idea.

Science eduation in the US Lacking

Seriously interesting article to make you think! Why are we lagging in 25th place for science education out of 57 countries? Why does a country like Poland beat us? Even our neighbors to the North kicked our collective butts! This is an interesting read and asks the question that if we are so rich, so powerful, and so smart -- why aren't we better educated?

I know there are many reasons, but one of them recently reared its ugly head in Texas and Florida, as you hopefully realize from my other posts. We are so busy regulating education and working to either inject our personal beliefs or preventing others personal beliefs from being injected that we sometimes forget the object of the whole exercise is the education of our young. We are missing the boat in science and we will continue to miss the boat as long as we allow organizations like the Discovery Institute and people like Lizette Reynolds and Donna Callaway to push their personal agendas!

The country in the lead, Finland, doesn't seem to have an issue with Evolution, interestingly enough. They also seem to have fewer issues with education in general since they also ranked first in Math and second in Reading.

I know as soon as I mentioned Finland some of you probably thought of some disparaging joke. But remember, I recall jokes against Poland and recently have seen jokes about Canadians on American TV. All three of them beat out our scores. I think the joke is on us!

Evidence of Evolution and Selection

The dull-toothed piranha of the Discovery Institute are at it again. A press release about Dog breeding and how evolution works and makes a disparaging comment about Creationism and Intelligent Design bring out a knee jerk reaction that misrepresents what the article said. They [The Discovery Institute] are so defensive!

The press release discusses how changes in the shape of St. Bernard's skull over the last 120 years were the result of selective breeding for certain specific desired characteristics. Here is the Discovery Institutes's take:

"And what is their evidence for “evolution and natural selection”? You have to see this to believe it: “over time … breeders selected dogs that had the desired physical attributes. … we can be confident that they have evolved purely through the selective considerations of breeders.” “Breeders selected” and “the selective considerations of breeders” sure sound a lot like intelligently-guided artificial selection, not natural selection. But these scientists don’t let little distinctions like that get in the way of finding support Darwinism. In fact, they claim their research demonstrates the grand Darwinian narrative: “this research once again demonstrates how selection - whether natural or, in this case, artificially influenced by man - is the fundamental driving force behind the evolution of life on the planet.” "
Our 'friends' at the DI obviously didn't get the point of the press release. Yes, there was no natural selection involved, that was readily admitted in the article. But there certainly was Evolution involved. The science of evolution predicted what would happen when you selectively breed for specific characteristics. Dog breeders have been doing it for year, as have any domesticated animal. You breed out unwanted characteristics and breed for specific ones. Sure Frank Purdue's large breasted chickens might look funny, but they taste delicious!

They trot out a quote from Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers, 2007). What they forget to mention is it is co-authored by three Discovery Institute members, Stephen C. Meyer, Scott Minnich and Paul A. Nelson, as well as illustrator and creationist author Jonathan Moneymaker and Kansas evolution hearings participant Ralph Seelke. Hill House Publishers Pty. Ltd. (London and Melbourne), headed by creationist and butterfly photographer Bernard d'Abrera, is the publisher of Explore Evolution.

So what we have is the replacement for "Of Pandas and People", the text that inadvertently helped make the case against Intelligent Design during the Dover Trial, being used by the same people who co-authored it to support their position. Talk about stacking the deck!

But the best part of the quote they use is: "Darwin’s theory requires that species have an immense capacity to change, but the evidence from breeding experiments shows that there are definite limits to how much a species can change, even when intelligent agents (the breeders) are doing the selection intentionally, trying to maximize certain traits. … Darwin’ theory requires that species exhibit a tremendous elasticity—or capacity to change." Any breeder will tell you that the change happens slowly over the course of generations. The theory of evolution doesn't say there is a 'tremendous elasticity', all it says is that if the characteristics are present, you can breed to emphasis them. Evolution says it and to dog breeders proved it. The Discovery Institute just didn't like it!

The DI tries to use this as support for Intelligent Design with this comment: "In the end, this study doesn’t demonstrate anything about natural selection. Rather, it demonstrates that some Darwinian scientists are following the evidence to Darwinism, even when it leads to intelligent design."

Of course there was intelligence behind the selection for the animals to breed, we know that just like we can point to a manufacturer of mouse traps! This in no way supports their pet idea that the universe was formed by an Intelligent Designer. If that was so the St. Bernard would have always had the characteristics that have been bred into them, something we know is not true. Purdue wouldn't have gone on to chicken fame and the breeding of race horses wouldn't be so lucrative.

I think what really drove the DI crazy was this line from the press release: "“Creationism is the belief that all living organisms were created according to Genesis in six days by ‘intelligent design’ and rejects the scientific theories of natural selection and evolution." Nothing seems to bring on a lame attack than tying Intelligent Design to Creationism. Gotta love knee-jerk reactions!

Concern in Texas

Texas Biology teachers, in fact all Texas science teachers should be banding together for the upcoming science curriculum review scheduled for next month. This follows the appointment of a fundamentalist Christian to the head of the school board who recently opposed science texts because they didn't teach creationism. This same School board head didn't oppose forcing out the director of the science curriculum a month before the review starts for sending out an email FYI people about a presentation by one of the key witnesses in the Dover PA Intelligent Design trial. You have to wonder that if the witness has been for Intelligent Design if Ms. Comer would have been forced out? The timing is quite interesting. Do you smell a rat? I certainly do!

I also learned something that makes me even more nervous. The size and population of Texas has an impact on textbook publishing I hadn't realized. If Texas succeeds in adding Creationism, or its subordinate concept Intelligent Design, to the science texts, other states may be impacted because it's possible the only texts some smaller states might be able to buy are the ones being printed because of the volume done for Texas! Apparently so goes Texas, when it comes to textbooks, so goes many other states.

Now is the time to make sure the science curriculum review stays the course and focuses on SCIENCE. Keep pseudo-science where it belongs, in circus side-shows and on those late night infomercials. While I do get a kick out of a sign on a building in a small town in Ohio which advertising the psychologist on the top floor and the Psychic on the bottom floor. I guess if one can't help you, the other might. There is a serious difference between science and pseudo-science and I hope the people of Texas know that to keep a world-class science education pseudo-science is not the right direction. Ask the people in Pennsylvania, Kansas, Ohio, and Georgia how well pseudo-science went over there.

Once again I am not saying don't teach Creationism/Intelligent Design, I am saying it doesn't belong in science class! I believe Texans will make me proud and decide to keep science in the science classroom and religion in church and home!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Clergy Letter

In an effort to aid in the discussion area of whether or not a Christian can support evolution, I offer 11,000+ signatures of American Christian Clergy of many denominations who support evolution. Head to this website to look for yourself. Look at the list of names and you might find your own clergy person!

The letter they signed wasn't vanilla like the letter all 700 . . . wow, 700 . . . scientists signed that the Discovery Institute claims shows the firestorm of controversy over Intelligent Design. Take a look at the clergy letter:

Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

and here is the Discovery Institute's letter:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

Not much to compare is there. One letter is very specific, the second is pretty vague. One specifics support for evolution and the other claims that it supports Intelligent Design. Read it for yourself: "Advocates of Intelligent Design theory such as Dr. Michael Behe, Dr. William Dembski, Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, Dr. Jonathan Wells, Dr. Steven Meyer, and Dr. Paul Nelson have quite real PhD’s, and over 700 scientists with real PhD’s have signed a statement dissenting from Darwinism." Notice how they blend their pet Intelligent Design PhD's and imply support for ID even though all they did was dissent from Darwin -- which doesn't even imply dissent from Evolution because Darwin is only part of the Modern Synthesis of Evolution Theory.

So over 11,000 clergy support evolution and only a die-hard Christian Fundamentalist would even question their religious beliefs. Each year they offer special sermons to their members on Evolution. It's called Evolution Sunday!