Thursday, January 31, 2008

More on the Odds argument

Just read an interesting article, Dr. Olivia Judson, Biologist and columnist for the NY Times, wrote a column called "The Repeater". I recommend her work to anyone! Not only well thought out, but entertaining as well -- something you cannot always say about science columns, articles, and books. In fact her book "“Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex,” is unbelievably creative!

But back to this article. What is discusses is the evolutionary differences between a species of fish that was trapped in isolated lakes by the retreating glaciers. The differences between the fish are pretty spectacular. My take is that this article shows that there are more forces than just mutation going on in Evolution. When a Creationist/Intelligent Design supporter whines about the odds of evolution, random mutation and chance, or similar comment, they fails to realize that many of the evolutionary changes we have seen are not all the result of mutation, but simply in how a specific gene is expressed. This means that the odds, for those who are trying to calculate, or life evolving are even lower than you think because many of the changes you calculated as mutations are in fact already built-in functions of the existing gene. Differing environmental factors cause the gene to be expressed in different ways. You really need to read the article!

What the article also does is support common ancestry. By examining the genes across species, Dr. Judson discusses how the same gene does some of the same work in multiple species. Until genetics this wasn't recognized as common because we didn't know the mechanism. But when the same gene is found in human beings and stickleback fish, and in each one the gene is part of the system to regulate skin pigment. Sure doe make one think!

Thanks to the Dr. J of Biology!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Humor III

I was hurting because this one had me laughing so hard -- well it was trying to, but I was looking at it while in a meeting and I guess I pulled something form smothering my laughter. Just imagine if science turned the tables and used the same tactics on Creationist/Intelligent Design proponents that like to use on us. You have to read the latest from Unconfirmed Sources.

(Jackson County Florida) Ucs News : Supporters of Intelligent Design, the new Creation Science, were dealt a major set back by the 5th circuit court. According to a court decision released today, Judge Davis Smith ruled that Evolution must be taught in church Sunday schools. The case of Moore vs. the Church of the Holy Moment is a landmark, The judge ruled that the science of evolution must be given equal time with the myth of creation. According to the 58 page decision "If creationists want to infiltrate public schools they better be prepared for scientists to visit their churches.

Church members are torn over the controversy, while many believe the schools should be teaching creationism in biology classes they are themselves disgusted the ruling of the court. "These judges can't tell us what to teach our children! they can't decide to push their view point in our church!" Stated an angry Sunday school teacher.

The court ruling also requires the Church to attach a sticker to their bible covers.

"This Bible Contains material on creation. Creation is a theory, not a fact, regarding the Origin of Species. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered in the light of modern science."

Oh yea, like we would get a chance at affixing sticker to their Bibles! Oh but the mental imagery is the best! Their tactics in Dover, PA, and Atlanta, GA, and other areas turned back on themselves! I love the irony.

We could augment this by voting to not allow the use of the Bible during services, just like Ms. Maguire tried to do in South Carolina, or even arrange to fire a clergy person because they sent off an email about an Intelligent Design speaker in Texas. Oh I Love it! Now I am going to get a wrap for my ribs before I do any more damage!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Arguments X - The Odds

OK, let's talk about odds, because that seems to be a recurring theme in arguments against Evolution. Now let me be straight, just because someone is arguing against evolution, that doesn't mean they are in any way supporting Creationism or Intelligent Design -- but sometimes they think that. I don't. I see them as two separate discussions, as you would know if you have been reading my blog.

So the odds. The argument goes something like an email sent to me by Barbara Price:

Perhaps you can tell what the odds against humans forming by “random mutations" is?
Then tell me the odds of this happening with 150 million living creatures?
On a planet that is located in just the right distance from the right type of star?
I suggest that you see the video Privileged Planet.
If, after answering the above questions accurately, you still believe that we are the result a chance happening, I suggest that you go to Vegas. You will find the odds of getting rich at the roulette table very believable.

Not sure why the email address was from Barbara Price, but the letter was signed by Dan, but that was neither here nor there.

The basic bottom line here is a typical argument from personal incredulity. In other words someone refuses to accept evolution as an explanation so it must not be true. Extended that if evolution isn't true, how do I justify that to myself -- well let's concoct some explanation that makes evolution not possible and then I can prove it to myself. This is also a form of tautology, but again arguments from logical fallacy are really a side note in this discussion.

Let's talk odds, what are the odds of life forming? I'll be honest with you, I have no idea! What are the odds of non-living matter forming into living and reproducible matter. Oh sorry, the main hypothesis of Abiogenesis says that nonliving matter may have been reproducing first and then the living part came later. But whatever the hypothesis, the odds aren't something I feel anyone can calculate. Here's the good part, I don't have to! Here is the one logical part of the whole odds argument folks like Barbara/Dan here forget. It doesn't matter how long the odds were, it happened! Even if Abiogenesis was the most far fetched, illogical, highest odds concept in the universe. I don't care if Las Vegas would bet the entire planet against it happening. The truth is, it happened! Odds are irrelevant because as low as the odds might be, they can still happen! I've drawn to an inside royal flush and got it -- talk about long odds!

William Dembski likes to throw out odds for various biological events, but his numbers haven't made it past the giggle test. I mean he loves to spout off of the odds of something like a bacterial flagellum appearing all at once and fully intact, ready to do it's motor-like job. But evolutionary theory has explained that parts of the flagellum existed previously and had a different function. When you take that into account, the odds drop down to something even he says are reasonable. Of course he bases his work on Michael Behe's work of irreducible complexity, so you know he will never admit that something came into being over a long period of time and as pieces and parts.

The other parts of the odds argument usually being out how slim the idea that human life could have formed at all. They point to things like a single evolutionary change and say the odds of that change happening are astronomical. Here is the other area their argument falls flat. Is there something about the human form that is so perfect you think evolution was heading in this direction on purpose? Touching the metaphysical wine a bit I think. So what if a specific change occurred and that is the change that propagated throughout a population. There is nothing that says that it is the best change, only a change. So if different evolutionary changes were made, life could be very different than it is today. But it would still be life. Someday we might find life on another planet, intelligent or not. We might find life that looks and acts very different than we do. Are they not life ? Or will our belief system relegate them to some lesser-life category? You see the odds are again meaningless because things could very well have happened a different way. Even most doctors agree we are still evolving to walking upright and many of our changes are still more adapted to being less on our feet.

BTW, if you watched the video he was talking about, it's another red herring. The number 150,000,000 is supposedly the number it would take to have a large enough gene pool to be able to reproduce to what we have today. He asks how 150 million creatures could have all mutated to DNA all at the same time and I guess all in the same geological area. Of course his argument doesn't recognize that DNA came well before the need for such a large gene pool. In fact if the theory is correct, RNA and DNA were formed before multi-cellular organisms. So again his odds argument is meaningless.

OK, so to me any discussion of odds is irrelevant. The odds may be long, but under evolutionary theory they aren't as bad as Dembski and company want you to think. And when you factor in a time frame of millions and billions of years, the odds aren't so slim at all. Let us also not forget that evolution is going on today. In a few thousand years we might not recognize the human race. It certainly would be interesting to see if we are still having this argument then.

Friday, January 25, 2008

OMG, you are going to love this one! A 'science' experment in Creationism

The Creation Ministries has a little web page they call "Creation Based Science Projects" I've listed the first one here.

What you need for the experiment:
a large wing flight feather (find at a hobby store or on the ground at a park where ducks live)
a tack or small nail
a wooden stick
a clay base
a portable hair dryer

What you do:
Tack or nail the feather to the stick with the shorter barbs pointing down. Ensure that the feather can swivel around on the nail/tack. Push the stick into the clay base. Use the hair dryer to blow air toward the feather from different angles.
What are the results of the experiment?
You now have a working model of how a feather aids flight. When the air moves over the feather, in the normal position, it will lift upward.

The instructions to form a bird's feather are found in their DNA. This information is different from genetic information which forms fingernails on people or scales on snakes. Feathers are extremely complex. For a great Science project research and discuss the extreme complexity of the feather's structure, various types of fliers (birds, insects, mammals, reptiles); the DNA code barrier; and the mathematical impossibility of these different kinds of flying motions "evolving" by random chance.

Talk about intelligent design!!

OK, Now I hope you read it carefully. It's a cute little experiment that shows a little of how air moving over a feather is part of what makes a bird fly. You can repeat the same experiment with your hand out a car window, just cup and angle your hand to feel the different forces acting on it. But that's not the good part. I am trying to figure out how this is project is Creation-Based? Then I read the second to last line: "For a great Science project research and discuss the extreme complexity of the feather's structure, various types of fliers (birds, insects, mammals, reptiles); the DNA code barrier; and the mathematical impossibility of these different kinds of flying motions "evolving" by random chance." Can you believe this? The Creation Ministries leaves it to the person doing the experiment to go forward and do a "Great Science Project". How incredibly stupid is this? Here we have the Creation-Based science project for you to do that really has nothing to do with Creation, but Aerodynamics, and then we tell you to go off and do the research yourself to turn this into something Creation-based! If I paid money for this, I would be looking for a serious refund!!!!

Read the rest of them, you will find they are all like that. Simple experiments that have nothing to do with Creation. But at the end they make a leap and tell you to go forth and preach the gospel according to the Creation Ministries. It's hilarious!

Intelligent design sans religion in the debate editorial

Another article, another person who refuses to separate their belief from actual science. In the Daytona Beach News Journal Online, "Intelligent Design sans Religion in the Debate" is a nice try, but a pretty obvious ploy. The Author, Mr. Daniel Price, does a Discovery Institute trick and claims to remove the idea of religion from the debate and then expresses his facts covered in his belief, or in this case his disbelief of evolution. Nothing new here, but it does show you how some people can convince themselves of just about anything.

My posted response to the article:

The reason the 'debate' still rages is because a small segment of mostly Christian fundamentalist want the Bible treated as a biology/Astronomy/Cosmology/Geology/Physics textbook. The very idea that Evolution is correct damages their frail egos! 11,000 Christian Clergy have signed a letter stating Evolution is an accepted fact and not teaching Evolution is a disservice to our young ( Every major scientific organization in the world has accepted Evolution as a valid and compelling scientific theory and that it is the basis for much of Biology. The only people who disagree are fighting against it for religious reasons, no matter how they try and hide their arguments in scientific sounding terms. Just look at this article and the wording: "So let's remove the issue of religion from this discussion . . .", "Let's look at some cold hard facts.", and "The fact is we are too complicated to not have a creator." sounds like rational arguments, but they are all arguments from personal incredulity. In other words "I do not agree, thereby it cannot be true!" That is what is known as am argument from fallacy, and a pretty poor one at that.

But when one's world view is upset, one tends to fight back. They tried for decades and were pretty successful keeping Creationism in the classroom, until recent years. Did you know the Butler Act, the law John Scopes was convicted of violating in the 1925 Scopes Monkey wasn't repealed until 1967? In the 60's and 70's many states required Creationism be taught alongside Evolution -- if Evolution was taught at all. It wasn't until the 80's when science got the upper hand in public school classrooms. And that has been like a sharp needle to avowed Creationists.

We will have to keep fighting this battle, luckily it is a political battle and not one in the science community. But we will have to keep fighting if we want a real education for our children! I for one plan to keep at it!

Luckily there also seems to be plenty of people who don't want a group like the Discovery Institute, or any narrow fundamentalist viewpoint from contaminating education.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ben Stein thinks Guns kill people, not people kill people

At least that's what I have to believe after reading "Why Darwinism is so Dangerous" in the Christian Post. I mean what else would you think after a line like "Stein pointed out that Darwinian teaching on natural selection and random mutation "led in a straight line to the holocaust and Nazism." Darwin wasn't alive at this point and that anyone can take any theory they like and use it to justify the worst actions in human history. How many acts of evil have been perpetrated by people for religious reasons? The belief that "God is on my side" can do, and has done, tremendous damage throughout history. Does anyone really think Darwin's theories drove Nazi behavior?

"Darwinism taught that "you owe it to the superior race to kill the inferior race," he told reporters." is another line! Darwin never taught that, NEVER! Darwin taught that any change in an organism that could enhance survival could propagate throughout a species. He explained what had happened and started the ball rolling on how it happened. He never advocated wholesale murder! Damn the depths people will go to protect their little narrow view of the world!

Plus he also has not clue what Evolution really is, in this statement he confused Abiogenesis for Evolution. "Stein said he finds it problematic that Darwinism, which he feels leaves a lot of questions unanswered, is being touted in the academic and scientific circles as the only rational explanation on how life began." No, Evolution is the BEST explanation for what we have learned about how changed over millions and billions of years. That's all it is. It has held up under 150 years of scientific scrutiny and has been supported by a multitude of other scientific disciplines. Abiogenesis is a hypothesis, not a theory, and it is not part of the Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution. But let's not get confused by the facts as we read on.

"Who created these laws that keeps the planets in motion?" asked Stein. "These are fundamental questions" where Darwinism lacks explanations." No, first he starts with an assumption, that there is a who. Science only cares about the how and the what. Darwin never tried to answer his question and science has no plans to answer it.

Apparently his film supposedly focuses on Free Speech, which after reading the first part of this article I sincerely doubt. "The current system doesn't allow open dialogue, according to the makers of “Expelled.” The film highlights a number of educators and scientists who are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired in some cases for the fact that they believe there is evidence of “design” in nature or challenging the Darwinian orthodoxy." Are they being ridiculed, sure why not! I laugh at Michael Behe and William Dembski and their arguments all the time. Are some being denied tenure, sure are! Like Professor Gonzales, at Iowa State, because he FAILED TO MEET THE REQUIREMENTS OF TENURE! If his support of Intelligent Design caused him to fail in fulfilling his obligations, it's not free speech that is an issue, it's Professor Gonzales' own fault for not making the grade. Now let's look at the opposite side of the coin. Chris Comer in Texas, got fired for forwarding an email about a presentation by Barbara Forrest. Sure, slap an FYI on a presentation about a subject within your job description and you get canned by the Christian Fundamentalist Creationist who head your state school board. Oh, but will Ben Stein mention that? Chris Comer was doing her job and got fired, Professor Gonzales wasn't doing his and he gets denied tenure. No parallels there.

I have little to no respect for Ben Stein if this is how he supposedly explores a potentially interesting subject. He apparently doesn't understand Free Speech, or he would have picked a different subject. Yea, He'll be in that line, the one with folks waiting to get into heaven. I'll wave as I go past.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Talk about an upset worldview

"Understanding Intelligent Design Theory", an article in the Conservative Voice by Babu Ranganathan was an interesting read, but it also completely illustrates a point made by many people. scientists and theologians alike, that the main argument against evolution is an emotional argument because the very idea of Evolution completely upsets some fundamentalist religious believers view of themselves and their special relationship with their Deity. Not only does he completely misunderstand the role chance plays in evolution but is convinced that a natural process could account for life. In a single sweeping statement "Chance physical processes can produce some level of order but it is not rational to believe that the highest levels of order in life and the universe are by chance." he disregards all scientific evidence, explanations, and experimentation.

His also disregards the physics involved in amino acid bindings and falls on irreducible complexity, even if he doesn't use the term by saying "If the cell had evolved it would have had to be all at once. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years to become complete because it would be highly unstable and quickly disintegrate in the open environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane." No one is saying the cell was partially created and just sat around for millions of years. There is no such thing as 'partially evolved'. The theory of evolution says that pieces and parts were forms and served other purposes and eventually formed a cell. That would be an example of mutation. When the cell reproduced, now we are getting to the actual evolutionary part. He is assuming that the cell is some complete and perfect biological organism, but as evolution says, all current forms are an intermediary between the past and the future. Who knows someday the cell might be replaced by a different type of biological mechanism. At least science is open to the idea.

My favorite quote is one he takes out of context form a Newsweek article, "What if we should find evidence of life on Mars? Wouldn't that prove evolution? No. It wouldn't be proof that such life had evolved from non-living matter by chance natural processes. And even if we did find evidence of life on Mars it would have most likely have come from our very own planet - Earth! In the Earth's past there was powerful volcanic activity which could have easily spewed dirt containing microbes into outer space which eventually could have reached Mars. A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions exactly this possibility." I said in another post that if life were seen on another planet and even if we were there to observe the actual formation of primitive life from non-living matter, someone like Mr. Ranganathan would say something like "Just because it happened there, doesn't mean it happened here." Well what if life on Earth is the result of life coming about on another planet. Just one organism, it doesn't have to be a cell, maybe just a replicating collection of amino acids. How would that upset your view of the world, Mr. Ranganathan?

Obviously, from the rest of the article and links Mr. Ranganathan is one that places his faith at the forefront of any rational thought. He links to ICR, a Creationist organization, he quotes Duane Gish, another with the same world view. To them evolution is impossible and they make sure they believe it by piling on argument after argument that mean absolutely nothing. To them the only way to prove it is if there was someone standing there watching life form and then watching evolution in action over the billions of years. And from what I heave read of his writings, Mr. Ranganathan would only believe it if he was the one standing there.

The most fun thing about this article was that it did nothing to advance the understanding of Intelligent Design 'Theory" as the title says. It was another attack on not only evolutionary theory but other disciplines as well. My suggestion is to leash your toothless attack dogs, quite repeating the same old tired rhetoric and go back to the lab and prove your case. Just because you don't accept evolution doesn't mean you have advanced the cause of Creationism/Intelligent Design one little bit.

Sorry to upset your world view, but you have done nothing to prove your narrow view of Creationism. You do little more than put a box around your Deity that says that he is not omnipotent, but limited to flash-bang magic tricks to have created life. Luckily science will keep working and explaining the How and the What and theologians with a much more open mind and clearer view of the Cosmos will continue to help Man understand the Why.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Evolution is a matter of Fact, not Belief!

In a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel, Eric Reinhold said "Evolution is a matter of belief, not fact" I made a few comments on the article and decided to send my own letter to the editor. Not sure it will make it, but here it is for your enjoyment, criticism, or just print it and throw darts at it:

In a letter to the editor from Jan 22 "Evolution a matter of belief, not fact" , Eric J. Reinhold stated "Evolution is not observable, repeatable or refutable, and thus does not qualify as either a scientific fact or theory. " I couldn't disagree more. If you want to see an example of evolution in action take at look at your children, or someone else's. If you have ever once said "Little Eric looks just like his Daddy", you are seeing evolution! It is observable in the world around us, the entire science behind crop improvements and breeding animals for specific characteristics are also evolutionary. If you need repeatable, you need look no further than a good biology text that describes one of the multitude of evolutionary experiments with bacterial, colonies of fruit flies, and other organisms what have much faster generations that we slow-poke humans. Evolution has been other observed and observed repeatedly over the years. It is also quite refutable! Like any scientific theory, it is a snapshot of our knowledge at a given time. As we learn more, the theory changes. The Modern Synthesis Theory of Evolution is considerably different than Darwin's theories. This new knowledge didn't invalidate Darwin's work, but it proved many of the mechanisms that his theories predicted. Darwin had no idea of genetics, but genetics has proven to be one of the mechanisms by which evolution occurs.

To answer your three questions Mr. Reinhold, "What are evolutionists so scared of?", "Why are they so close-minded?", and "Why can't they study creationism?" I put to you that biologists who study evolution are not afraid of Creationism, or its little brother Intelligent Design. When such religious ideas attempt to be passed off as science, scientists became active in preventing a travesty in education! They are not very close-minded, unless you are referring to not willing to share the scientific classroom with unscientific ideas. At that point I want them to close ranks and prepare to repel boarders. If you want Creationism in science class, then why are you also not promoting Astrology in Astronomy class, Alchemy in Chemistry class, and Numerology in Mathematics class? Science dismiss all of these as pseudoscience, as well they should. Now if you think scientists are close-minded about valid scientific ideas, then you need a better science education yourself. Look at the changes in scientific theories over the past 100 years, or look even at the last 20. The rate of change has been remarkable! As we learn new things, the theories change and sometimes are replaced. But they are replaced by new scientific theories, not religious beliefs! As to your last question, the answer is that they can study Creationism, and many do. Many scientists are deeply religious people and have stated that the more they learn, the deeper their faith becomes. The only difference is they do it in a forum better suited for the study of Theology than today's public school science class. Theology doesn't belong in a science class just like biology doesn't belong in a theology class. My Biology teachers never whipped out the Bible to make a point and my parish priests never needed a biology text up there in the pulpit!

The Florida Science standards being voted on next month do not present the Theory of Evolution as a fact. They do present it as an important theory that underlays much of biological science. Evolution has been part of Florida science teachings for years, the word "Evolution" is finally being returned to it's rightful place in the new standards.
Nothing really new here, just trying to make the points and keep the conversation centered on what we teach our children in science class. That to me is the crux of the whole issue. Many people who are commenting against the new Florida science standards haven't actually read the standards. They are just reacting to the word "Evolution." Read them, see what they actually say, and then make your case. Don't try and use the inclusion of the word evolution as a reason to reject the standards. You [Florida] have taught evolution for years, you just avoided using the word.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Knee Jerk II - More on DI reaction to NAS book

The Discovery Institute is blanketing the news with their press release "The Facts about Intelligent Design: A Response to the National Academy of Sciences’ Science, Evolution, and Creationism" They [The DI] have published a new pamphlet about the subject. OK, you know when someone lies to you, as the DI is known to do, how many people are willing to listen to them a second time? Do they get more truthful with time? Not to my knowledge. Let's see how they do, shall we?

They are off to their usual start, only this time they do agree with part of how the NAS defined irreducible complexity:

"The NAS accurately defines irreducible complexity — “If one component is missing or changed, the device will fail to operate properly”—but then promotes a false test of irreducible complexity, wrongly claiming that if one part of the flagellum can perform some other function, then irreducible complexity is refuted."

But they are in denial over the evidence. Do they offer more than than just their own explanation? No, but they are perfectly happy to demand a full and complete accounting from Science. They want the complete evolutionary path, but are unwilling to describe the complete path on how the 'designer' did it. " . . .some sub-components of the flagellum can perform other functions is not sufficient to demonstrate a Darwinian explanation for the origin of the flagellum . . ." I like their new pet phrase "indirect Darwinian evolution" I wonder how many times that will come up in new press releases. OK, so far one denial over evidence and one demanding for a 100% answer. Yup, typical DI word play. They consider the challenge to irreducible complexity unresolved because science hasn't explained the entire path. What a double standard! So just what entire path has Intelligent Design laid out? "The Designer Did It!" Now we all clap our hands and sing "Kumbaya!"

I have news for them, This is a perfect use of falsifiability in science. If one little tiny piece of a mechanism that is supposedly irreducibly complex -- by their own definition --can exist and serve another purpose then the mechanism in question is not and cannot meet the definition of being irreducibly complex. Of course the DI doesn't go into what would make irreducible complex organism falsifiable, they just ask for complete and 100% perfect answers. By the way, the person offering the critique is William Dembski, whose own supposed mathematical support for Intelligent Design rests squarely on irreducible complexity, so we know why he's bleating like a sheep.

Let's move on.

Keeping with the irreducible complex stuff for a moment, you have to appreciate this line "Contrary to the NAS’s assertions, Behe never argued that irreducible complexity mandates that sub-parts can have no function outside of the final system." Here we have co-opting at the highest level and building new arguments for the future. Now when anyone points to a reason why a mechanism isn't irreducibly complex, the DI will just say they never said a mechanism had other uses. However, let me remind you that Behe's book "Darwin's Black Box" makes no mention of other uses, but implies that something used in an irreducibly complex mechanism can only have the one use. Sure, he doesn't say it, but that's the implication of his idea. Just look at his examples! So we have one example of denial, one of example of demanding a 100% answer, and now one of co-opting. They sure are consistent, aren't they.

Next item: Splitting hairs, they are so good at this sometimes you don't even realize they are doing it. Check it out:
"None of this compares to the NAS’s most egregious error regarding the flagellum: the NAS states that “there is no single, uniform structure that is found in all flagellar bacteria.” While technically this statement may be true if one looks at the fine-grain of the amino-acid sequence of every single protein among flagellum-bearing bacteria, there most certainly are highly conserved flagellar parts and there is an identifiable core set of structures to the flagellar machine. In this regard, the NAS’s statement is extremely misleading and inaccurate."

This does remind me of one of their own critiques of evolution, they are saying the NAS is being too fine-grained in their explanation. Now where does that get us. I guess it means that the designer didn't use the exact same mechanism for the multitudes of bacterial flagellum. Hmmm, but in their critique of the PBS Nova show "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" The DI said "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. Indeed, common design may be the best explanation for the many instances where these master genes control the growth of analogous body parts in widely diverse organisms where it is even not thought that the common ancestor even had the body part in question." So when they claim that commonality exists because of common design, that's OK. But if anyone looks deeper and realizes what we are looking at is common function, not common mechanisms, they are splitting hairs.

In another part of their critique of the show, they say "PBS asserts that “shared amino acids” in genes common to many types of organisms indicate that all life shares a common ancestor. Intelligent design is not necessarily incompatible with common ancestry, but it must be noted that intelligent agents commonly re-use parts that work in different designs. Thus, similarities in such genetic sequences may also be generated as a result of functional requirements and common design rather than by common descent." See how neatly they try and co-opt the genetic answer for one of their own. Of course they have to say this because Michael Behe, the daddy of Irreducible Complexity accepts common ancestry, so I guess their best bet is to steal it. But once again do you see the theme? I see the appearance of design, so that must mean there is design. Bacterial flagellum is an example of design, see they are all functionally similar and the designer just re-used pieces and parts. Oh you mean they really aren't all identical and there are differences, well those differences aren't important, you are just being hyper critical!

Here is my favorite part:
“In all irreducibly complex systems in which the cause of the system is known by experience or observation, intelligent design or engineering played a role [in] the origin of the system. . . . Although some may argue this is a merely an argument from ignorance, we regard it as an inference to the best explanation . . . given what we know about the powers of intelligence as opposed to strictly natural or material causes.”
and this one
"The flagellum is a self-assembling, irreducibly complex microscopic rotary engine that contains parts known from human technology—such as a rotor, a stator, a propeller, a u-joint, and an engine—yet it functions at a level of efficiency that dwarfs any motor produced by humans. In any other context we would immediately recognize such an information-rich, integrated system as the product of intelligence. The NAS can only dismiss the scientific case for the design of the flagellum by distorting the facts about the structure."

Yes, this is not only an argument from ignorance, but an argumentum ad hominem, that is an argument by attacking evolution rather than supporting their own position. It's also an argumentum verbosium, in other words if you keep saying the same thing over and over again you will convince some people.

This is clearly an argument by assumption, I assume it to be true, therefore it is true. They, the DI, want to see evidence of the designer that they will put forth any argument, they will mislead, misdirect, and out and out lie to maintain their point of view. Think of another logical argument, the argument from personal incredulity, "I cannot believe something so it must not be true". Well the Discovery Institute plays on that with a "I believe something so it must be the truth!" I have no problem with them wanting to believe it, but in their role as professional creationists, they insist of forcing their way into the science classroom -- and that I object too!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Who determines School Curriculum Standards?

I've started a little posting back and forth with someone who also reads editorials in Texas newspapers. His stand is interesting . .here, read it for yourself.

Robbie: " . . . The solution is simply to disband the chokehold the TEA [Texas Education Agency] and the US Department of Education has over the curriculum presented in the classroom by allowing parents the right to send their children to the school of their choosing and having individual school boards and PTA's set the agenda and curriculum for their individual school districts. Lets make the education of our young minds an individual community effort instead of the federal and state political wild card that it has become." another comment from Robbie: "While I am unaware of anyone suggesting the earth is flat, I do find it contrary to our country's design to allow a federal agency to dictate the curriculum of the classroom. School boards and PTA's should have the authority to design a curriculum based upon the needs of their students in relation to their communities and the standards that particular community upholds. Parents should be given the choice of sending their children to a school that upholds the particular standards of that family. It is quite arrogant of some people to take it upon themselves, in adherance with their particular beliefs, to push an education agenda upon other people's children. This is exactly what both sides of this arguement are doing, and the US Dept. of Education and the TEA have become politcal wild cards for each agenda. School choice and the design of their own curriculums will resolve this particular conflict and take the politics out of our children's education."
My response

Robbie, sSo it would be OK with you if a child attends one school and learns Astronomy and then moves to another and they teach Astrology? Because that is what you are saying. Let's create a PhD in Numerology for people to take. Feng Shui replaces Architecture, Alchemy for Chemistry.

I disagree! There has to be some leveling set of standards, or else nothing we teach will actually prepare our students for the future. Science should be taught in science class, and what determines science? Science has a huge community of people working in scientific fields. They have developed, over time, a methodology for what is science and what is not. Is it unanimous, no, but what developed by a committee ever is? But the vast majority of members of that community agree that Creationism/Intelligent Design does not belong in Science class. So rather than listen to the tens of thousands of scientists, you want to put it to a community vote to decide what is science? Sure, and when your kids go to school in another state they have to play catch up to learn things other states teach in elementary school?

Yes, the Discovery Institute can wave a letter signed by 700 Doctoral 'scientists' who say they dissent from Darwin. Only 700? Plus if you look at the list you will find only 128 biologists, and none of them are working in any field of evolutionary studies. Plus if you look deeper you will find the signers are Evangelical Christians, so their dissent has nothing to do with Science, but religious belief.

Ask the National Academies of Science what they think and what their members (over 2,100 members and over 200 Nobel Prizes between them) clearly support. They support science and when they say Biology, they include Evolution! Look up the requirements for membership, this isn't something you just call up and send in a check to join! These members are recognized for their contributions in Science!

So if Texas wants to teach science, they need to remove things like Creationism/Intelligent Design from curriculum consideration. Put them in a Philosophy class, or Sociology. You could use the Discovery Institutes's marketing campaign in a marketing class. But it is not Science and no PTA vote should have the power to make it so.
So his point of view is to allow local school boards and PTA associations to determine what we teach our children. To a point I agree. Local boards and PTA's should have input. There are things that might be endemic to a location that the school system could help. If an area has a lot of manufacturing, then I think courses in those areas would make a great deal of sense. Detroit probably has many automotive courses, perfect sense!

But there has to be a line to the power of the school board and PTA when you are advocating allowing them to re-define a discipline. Should they have to power to stretch the definition of science to include Metaphysics? How about let's redefine the value of Pi because the idea of a irrational number is just too hard for our students? Wasn't that tried somewhere? I forget. But let's redefine Mathematics to what suits us. Pythagoras, who was he? How about English? Remember the outcry when Oakland CA tried to institute teaching Ebonics?

I hope I have made my point. Input from local organizations are critical to the education of our young, but standards addressing things like the definition of science are equally as important. A PTA vote should not have the power to change what is science for one locality! HC SVNT DRACONES (Here be Dragons!)

Coexistence VI - Professional Creationists

Terrific editorial, "When science and faith find common ground", by Steven Andrew mulls over what a waste of time and resources this entire debate is. His focus is Texas, a place I have blogged repeatedly about and I like his lead point "Instead of arguing about fossils, radiometric dating methods or constitutional law, I'd ask those skeptical of evolution what better natural evidence for the brilliance of a Creator could there be than myriad complex processes unfolding over billions of years through countless steps in exquisite order spanning the entire cosmos?" I certainly cannot, not would I think of arguing that!

When a scientist says that "The more they learn, the deeper their faith!" this is what they mean! How can one question the existence of God when faced with the wonders of science! Science can show it, explain it, even learn the details of exactly what it is, but the wonder is something that only be explained by faith!

I also liked one of his closing points "The Roman Catholic Church accepts the age of the universe and the validity of evolution. Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the American Jewish Congress, the United Presbyterian Church, and many others. Most importantly, these Christians find enormous inspiration for their beliefs in the mysteries science reveals and resolves." The Intelligent Design/Creationism movement is not a wide-held Christian belief, but one held by a small vocal minority with a marketing machine packed with "professional creationists." I Love that term! That's exactly what the Discovery Institute is, professional creationists! It's their job to push their agenda on other unsuspecting Christians. It's their job to lie and mislead people. It's their job to run away when the court case turns against them. Not overly professional, but that's them! Mr. Andrew hit the nail square on that one.

His closing comment is downright poetic: "But despite what creationists may say, the choice is not between science and religion, or belief vs. atheism. If faith is an integral part of one's life and science is an interest, the question of how the Creator went about Creating is worth contemplating. And for the faithful who carefully and honestly study the fascinating bounty of scientific evidence, there can be only one liberating conclusion: God is one hell of a scientist, and He's not exactly a bad engineer either."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why should it matter is a president doesn't believe in Evolution?

In a couple of previous posts I declared that I would not vote for a presidential candidate that didn't 'believe' in evolution. A few people took offense and asked why was this important. In my opinion the United States of America is facing a number of problems. War, terrorism, global climate changes, energy, medicine, to name a few. Who is going to fix all this? Not a leader who doesn't profess is accepting science! How can we improve science education is the person at the top doesn't agree with it? I believe GW Bush did serious damage to our education system when he stood up at a speech and said "Look what being a 'C' student can get you!" How many students lost the will to try when they realized a 'C' student got elected President? We cannot had someone at the top who doesn't understand or accept science!

Science education is the start of how to fix many of the problems facing us. We need scientists, scientists who know how to think, scientists who know how to track down a solution to the problems facing us. Prayer is a wonderful avenue, but I want something more proactive to introduce change.

Personally I think half of the candidates who profess to not believing in evolution are just pandering for votes. But the other half are pretty scary. They are repeating many of the marketing mantras of the Discovery Institute. I will not vote for either type. I hate panderers and I really cannot stand someone who wants to replace science with religion! I am making no bones about it, Intelligent Design is a religious point of view and has failed any effort to be considered science! It matters and one day you will think so as well when the Doctor overseeing your care is clueless on how to help you because his medical school didn't teach evolution!

Debate on Proposed Science Standards Continues

The Florida Baptist Witness published a pretty fair article "Debate on Proposed Science Standards Continues" about the current debate over the new science standards. I was proud of how they represented both sides of the debate, particularly about the part where one of the teachers who helped develop the new standards explained that Evolution is not taught as Dogma, and that the current and proposed standards encourage students to think critically.

I do disagree with statements implying that the fact scientific theories can change automatically means they are dogmatic in nature. The changing of a theory is not a non-trivial exercise. Since a theory is the best explanation of a given phenomena at a given time, they have to be subject to change in order to be useful. Did all study of Gravity stop when Newton put forth his theories? No, of course not. For the majority of people, Newtons theories and his mathematical laws still apply. The theory has been expanded by Einstein in order to fill in gaps in planetary motion Newton's theories couldn't explain. Has all work in Biology stopped due to Darwin? Certainly not, his theories form much of the basis of Evolution, but his work does not stand a lone. In fact many of his details have been expanded as we learn new things.

Science, by nature, is not dogmatic or we would never have advanced in the ways that we have! A science teacher who teaches any subject as if any new learning cannot happen is doing a severe disservice to their students. This is one of the arguments against teaching Intelligent Design. Once you decide a "Designer" did it, where do you go? By it's nature it is not a predictive area of study, no matter what the Discovery Institute claims it to be.

While one of the people interviewed in the article is encouraging folks to contact their school boards, that person has spoken out against the standards and is looking for more people to do so. I would like to add my voice to encourage the people of Florida to contact your school boards, and the State School Board and also show your support for teaching Science in Science class and adding the word 'Evolution' to your curriculum!

Slogans II

Orlando Sentinel: Mike Thomas Blog: Top 10 reasons supporting evolution

10) John McCain is 6,002 years old.

9) Imagine if you are God trying to explain random mutations to a guy transcribing with a chisel and slate.

8) Using primitive nucleic acids and amino acids, scientists now can create a Fox News analyst.

7) John Madden may be long-sought transitional species.

6) Tribe of gorillas in Rhodesia observed using YouTube debate instead of chest thumping to select leader.

5) An intelligent designer would have stopped at dolphins.

4) The International Fight League.

3) Lassie really was saying that Timmy was trapped in the Old Bronson coal mine east of town.

2) Researchers at Yerke Primate Institute have taught chimpanzee to pass the LSAT.

1) Goosebumps.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Should Intelligent Design be Taught in sclass?

The education reporter of Florida Today, Megan Downs, is looking for input. She wants to know if we think Intelligent Design should be taught in schools. If you want a chance to response, drop her a line at

Here is the mail I just sent off, for your reading pleasure:

Short answer is no!
Long answer is not in science class, however possibly in Philosophy, Sociology, Theology, Comparative Religions, or even a Marketing class.
Reasoning: Intelligent Design is not science. While the Discovery Institute of Seattle likes to think so, they have not yet even attempted to do any scientific research nor publish any scientific papers to make any valid argument. They publish in popular books, not scientific journals, and make their case before school boards and the press rather than in the scientific community.

How much support would you like? During the Dover PA Trial, Professor Michael Behe, a Lehigh University Biochemistry teacher, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, and proponent of Intelligent Design admitted to not having done any scientific work to prove his ideas and that he knew of no one doing any actual work. He had lots of excuses but hadn't done the work. He espouses an idea called "Irreducible Complexity" where he says there are biochemical mechanisms that are too much a complex and complete system to have formed through any evolutionary process. All of the examples he listed in his book, "Darwin's Black Box," have been refuted by scientists and the evolutionary processes well documented. When faced with this evidence during the Dover trial, his response was "It wasn't enough!" Over 50 examples of research describing how things like bacterial flagellum, the human immune system, and blood clotting factor evolved as described by multiple scientists and it wasn't enough for him. His error is simple, he expects a mechanism to appear whole and fully functional and refuses to admit small changes over time could create the mechanism. He sees the appearance of design and is trying to justify it, but has so far failed.

William Dembski, another senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, was scheduled to testify at the Dover Trial, but later refused. His work is a mathematical concept based on Michael Behe's work. He basically says biochemical mechanisms could not have formed through evolutionary means because the odds of such a mechanisms being developed are too high. He makes the same error Behe makes in forming the odds based on a completely intact mechanisms. The odds fall dramatically when you look at incremental changes over time, in other words, evolved. His mathematics have also been pretty well raked over the coals by other mathematicians and his only response is to claim that his critics aren't smart enough to understand it.

Now you tell me, is this a idea you want in any science class? It is not a valid scientific theory, it is only an idea. It has no actual science behind it beyond the wishful thinking of people who already want to believe. The Dover Trial also determined that Intelligent Design is a restatement of Creationism with references to God removed. Even the textbook in question during the trial showed where the word Creationism was removed and Intelligent Design was inserted. This is not something we want in science class, it is not legitimate science.

Now if you examine the Marketing campaign the Discovery Institute is actively pursuing, it would make a wonderful example for a marketing class. The tactics they use include trying to weaken Evolutionary Theory by calling "Evolution just a Theory", forgetting to tell folks that there are a number of definitions for the word 'theory' and they use the most ambiguous one, not the one used by the scientific community. They are also calling for "Teach Evolution and intelligent Design and let students make up their own minds", how many other curriculum areas do we let the students determine what gets taught? None that I know! The most fun arguments I hear is "Academic Freedom" and "Free Speech" as if a teacher is required to teach areas outside the curriculum in support of Academic Freedom and Free Speech. These are just tactics that they have adopted following their constant failure in the Courts and reversals in school boards in Ohio, Kansas, New Mexico, California, and South Carolina -- to name a few.

There is plenty more ammunition but the bottom line for any parent should be whether or not science class should teach science. If you open the door for pseudo-sciences, like Intelligent Design, how long will it be before Astrology is being matched up with Astronomy, Alchemy with Chemistry, and Numerology with Mathematics. Once again I would like to look at Michael Behe's comments during the Dover Trial, paraphrased he said that the only way Intelligent Design could be considered science is to expand the definition of science to include supernatural causes. Enough said!

Ted Herrlich,
Weblog on Intelligent Design:

Climate caused evolution

For years it's been known that one of the triggers for evolution is an environmental change. Here is a link to an article on how that may have happened between man and our ancestors. And we might be able to blame Mother Nature and weather for it.

Think about it. Our distant ancestors were perfectly happy in a jungle setting. There was plenty to eat, we could probably spend years without actually touching the ground and suddenly, well geologically suddenly, tectonics pressures created a mountain range that changed the weather pattern. The jungle on one side of the mountains gave way to savanna. Fewer trees, grasslands, potentially less food and possible more predators. Our ancestors couldn't rely on swinging up into a tree for protection and actually had to go down to the ground and forage for food. Standing straighter made spotting both food and potential predators easier. Walking was required and it became important to think to not only gather food, but evade predators. The human race may have come out of those distant ancestors who had a significant change in their environment.

While some folks I know disagree with evolution and hate the idea we are related to apes. My own Mother-In-Law said "I don't believe in Evolution, it that were so why are there still apes?" This study answers that question. Once the mountain range was in place, the two groups were geographically isolated. One group had to change in order to survive, the other continued on. Fascinating reading.

You don't believe me, well even today look at any mountain range and look at the weather on each side. You can see the impact the mountain range has on weather patterns. Deserts are frequently formed by mountains stopping weather patterns from sending moisture to one side. Look at the animal life on each side and you will see significant differences. Would it be so far fetched to think of how a group of apes could adapt over time to survive in such place. The characteristics that would help survival, walking, upright stance, and smarter would certainly propagate through the population. Such a simple idea, one change causing many others, amazing!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Humor II

You find it when you least expect it! Thanks Stephanie for pointing these out to me.

Teach the Controversy

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Proving the rule

Who should learn Intelligent Design

Science made stupid

and finally Tom the Dancing Bug (You have to see a real short add before getting to the funny stuff.)


I have decided to Evolution and Intelligent Design type slogans, you know something perfect for tee-shirt imprinting. I'll be adding to it once in a while but in the meantime here are a few I think I thought up:

  1. "Please be patient, I'm evolving as fast as I can!"
  2. "Intelligent Design, does THIS body look intelligently designed to you?"
  3. "Evolution: The answer to a 4.5 billion year old mystery!"
  4. "Intelligent Design: The answer to . . .?"
  5. "Creationism, it's not just for Sunday any more!"
  6. "Dover, PA, 700+ days since ruling against Intelligent Design and still on the face of the planet! Take THAT, Pat Robertson!"
  7. "An example of Evolution in action: The continuing evolution of Creationism . . . Creation Science . . . Intelligent Design . . . "
  8. "Dover: 1, Intelligent Design: 0"
  9. "Who is South Carolina's Kristin Maguire?"
  10. "Forwarding Emails can be hazardous to your career, in Texas"
  11. "Professor Gonzales, you have to actually DO something to get tenure!"
  12. "Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute: Where people actually get fired for not doing their job!"
If you see any, or create one yourself, please drop me a line. All credit will be properly given! I know, some of the references are obscure, but it's buried somewhere in my blog.

Let's talk Dembski

I have tended to hit on Micheal Behe pretty hard, for his irreducible complexity idea. I know I've mentioned Dembski, but let's get a little more specific.

William Dembski is a proponent of Intelligent Design, a mathematician and apparently a philosopher. It's interesting to note that aside from his popularly published works on his idea of Specified Complexity, he doesn't seem to have done much. Now if you want to read about his problems at Baylor and other issues, read his Wikipedia biography. I want to focus on my understanding of "Specified Complexity."

Specified Complexity is defined as a property of living things that show the information contained is both specific and complex and cannot have come about through any natural process. In my layman's term he [Dembski] defined a point at which the mathematical patterns of a living organism, such as the arrangement of proteins in bacterial flagellum, could not have come to through natural means. He defined a probability number and says if the probability exceeds this, there had to have been a designer.

Let's see if I understand this. So if 40 elements exist in a biological mechanism that joined together to perform a specific function, the probability of those items coming together cannot exceed this level he's assigned. If it does, it must be designed, if not, then evolution might have played a part.

So far anyone else have a problem with this? So he drew himself a line in the sand, that has not been proven, and says that if you cross this line you must have been designed!

What was interesting was delving into some of his supposed proof. I do have on complaint . . .OK, many, but one to address here. I believe he bases his mathematics on Michael Behe's concept of irreducible complexity. Let me word it this way, he says this probability number is based on the collected probability of all the part coming together to perform a specific function. This is an artificial idea. If a biological mechanism is not irreducibly complex, then the pieces and parts would have come to being not in a single unified arrangement with an impossibly high probability, but in smaller pieces with much lower probability pieces. Without a mechanism being irreducibly complex, there can be no probability that appears to exceed evolutionary studies.

I think what he sees is a large picture and he computes, based on his suspect line in the sand, what it would take for the large picture to appear through evolutionary theory as a complete picture all at the same time. He doesn't seem to recognize a picture is made up of many parts that came about over time. It's like the monkeys and Shakespeare analogy, if you give a monkey a typewriter and let him type for an infinite amount of time sooner or later he will type a Shakespearean sonnet. In Dembski speak the only probability computed is where the monkey types out the entire sonnet in one shot, in perfect order. If the monkey typed it one stanza at a time, the probability would be less, but he discounts that as a possibility.

OK, so I see his work based on Behe's and since Behe has admitted his work isn't even a real attack on Evolution, what does that say about Dembski's? Critics have lambasted his mathematics, which hasn't seemed to result in a meaningful dialog. He doesn't seem to accept any criticism at all. The arguments address his math, his conclusions, and even his connection with irreducible complexity. These are not isolated critiques, but it seems everything he has wriitten has been pretty well torn apart!

Planetary Alert - Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya)

I think the writer of this work, "The Atlas of Creation" lives on a different planet than the rest of us. Adnan Oktar, nom de plume Harun Yahya, has set the calendar back centuries in his writings. I am posting this here so Americans can know that not all creationist movements are confined to the United States. After reading a bit more about him, his tactics make the Discovery Institute look like pikers. People are afraid of speaking out against him becuase they are afraid of being attacked by radical Islamists and the organization he founded, Science Research Foundation.

The author's comments, just in the introduction, really show his detachment from the world.

  • [Darwin's findings] could not be supported by any subsequent scientific findings [huh?]
  • By carrying out a great deal of research and investigation, and by establishing artificial environments in laboratories, they sought to come up with findings that would corroborate Darwin's theory. However, every piece of research and every new finding they obtained, only constituted evidence that refuted evolution rather than confirming it. [so apparently all biological science is false]
  • The fossil record is perhaps the most important evidence that demolishes the theory of evolution's claims. Fossils reveal that life forms on Earth have never undergone even the slightest change and have never developed into one another. [Never changed?]
  • We never underwent evolution; we were created. [standard creationist line here, but when tied with the rest -- disturbing]
  • the theory of evolution is a major hoax and deception in the history of science. [at least he is consistent]
Check out his bio on Wikipedia, he's scary!

Oct 2008 update. Someone sent me a link of a series of YouTube videos walking through the so-called 'Atlas of Creation" I've only watched the first one, but it was enlightening. I'll be looking at the rest over the next few days.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Humor I

Ever read "Unconfirmed Sources"? It's a web site that . . . well it's hard to explain. Go take a look at this article deals with the destruction of the town of Dover PA, just like Pat Robertson implied when the results of the "Kitzmiller et al, vs the Dover School Board" Trial hit the news. I love "The Keep America Safe From Gods Wrath Amendment" at the very end. You have to read this! God must have a sense of humor!

The topic of this blog has also appeared in "Dilbert", "Doonesbury", and "Non Sequiter", to name a few. As I come across them, I'll link them here. I love a good laugh, which might also explain why I write this blog.

The testability of Intelligent Design

Now before I get into the real subject matter, I would like to point out that the author of the article is one Casey Luskin, a fellow over at the Discovery Institute and host of a weekly Podcast on Intelligent Design. So just be clear that this person is already a true believer. But I do have issues with his 'proof'. His article, "The Double Standard for Intelligent Design" points to two links that he claims shows the testability of Intelligent Design. You really need to look at the links because they go right back to the Discovery Institutes's EvolutionNews website. Now if that wasn't bad enough the second link is really a link to another paper, one written by . . . guess who . . . Casey Luskin. OK, does anyone else see a problem with this circular argument. "I tell you it's proven and to prove it I will tell you once again it's proven!"

Well now on to the basic discussion, first let's address the supposed double standard. In his own article he addresses the hypothesis of a 'Multiverse' and states that since this isn't testable, how can anyone say that Intelligent Design isn't science just because it's not testable. He is forgetting a couple of things. First of all the 'Multiverse', or multiple universe idea, is not a theory in science, it is a hypothesis. Intelligent Design claims to be a theory, which is not accepted by the scientific community for many reasons, only one of them is because it is not testable. It's also not falsifiable, it's not plausible, it's not been tested, and it has not been proven through any level of experimentation. Until it becomes a theory, it doesn't deserve to be taught in public school science class. I know of no high school text that discusses the "multiverse", at best it's probably a little side note as a hypothesis.

Is it conceivable that one day we can test the hypothesis of the Multiverse? Yes, I believe it is conceivable, we can also conceive of ways to falsify the theory, in other words prove the theory is false. Tossing out a hypothesis because we cannot test NOW, but we can conceive of ways it might be tested is not the same thing as tossing out an idea [Intelligent Design] which no one has conceived of a way to test and no one has conceived a way to make it falsifiable. You might be able to test for multiple universes, but how do you test for God? I know true believers, like Mr. :uskin, will go blue in the face of denying the connection between God and Intelligent Design -- but your loud protestations haven't been working for a while. Sure in print use the term "Designer" but only someone who already buys into it will wink and nod, the rest of us just laugh at you for such a transparent and obvious lie.

Let's go into some details, in one of his paper, Mr. Luskin listed what he calls examining the evidence and seems to believe that this evidence proves design.
Under Biochemistry, his evidence is "Natural structures have been found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information), such as irreducibly complex machines in the cell. The bacterial flagellum is a prime example. The specified complexity of protein bonds, or the simplest self-reproducing cell are other examples."

Then he says that Intelligent Design predicted this and that this proves design. My question is does it? These are Michael Behe's arguments that have been torn apart in so many places. All he's done is identify that there are complex natural structures. Evolutionary theory has many times traced the evolutionary pathways of such complex structures, including bacterial flagellum, protein bonds and self-reproducing cells. Science has proven these things are not irreducible complex, so Mr. Luskin is caught repeating an already discounted argument.

One that even Michael Behe admitted in "Reply to My Critics" that there was a defect in his view of irreducible complexity because, while it purports to be a challenge to natural selection, it does not actually address "the task facing natural selection." and that "Professor Behe wrote that he hoped to "repair this defect in future work" So the work Mr. Luskin is holding up to prove design doesn't even present a challenge to the established theory of Evolution, yet he persists on stating this is evidence of design. So, strike one, there is no proof that design that has been tested or experimented, you are only co-opting existing evolutionary proven systems and claiming they are designed.

For Paleontology, his 'evidence' is "Paleontology Biological novelty appears in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors. The Cambrian explosion is the prime example." While there are many scientist debating the so-called Cambrian Explosion, a period of hundreds of millions of years in which there was a great deal of diversity in the evolution of life. Evolutionary science predicted the level of complexity that Paleontology has discovered, imagine that. This argument is also a restatement of the old argument that there are gaps in the fossil record. Yes, we know there are gaps and your efforts to shove your designer theory into those gaps seems to falter every time a new fossil discovery is made. Evidence of gaps, yes, evidence of design, No!

In Systematics: "Similar parts have been found in organisms that even Darwinists see as
separated by more closely related forms that do not contain the similar parts in question. Clear examples include genes controlling eye or limb growth in different organisms whose alleged common ancestors are not thought to have had such forms of eyes or limbs." They may not have had eyes of limbs, but they could easily have the building blocks for those parts. Or if they are further down the evolutionary path, what do you call evidence of legs in the Whale? This is a similar argument where the Discovery Institute took evidence of evolution and claimed that it could have just been done as easily by an "Intelligent Agent". What proof of design is this? I also love the "alleged common ancestor" line. So he is using a theory he discounts as proof? Anyone else following this?

In Genetics: "Genetic research continues to uncover functions for “junk-DNA,” include functionality for pseudogenes, introns, LINE, and ALU elements. Examples of unknown DNA functions persist, but design encourages researchers to investigate functions, whereas Darwinism has caused some scientists to wrongly assume that non-coding DNA is junk." So what exactly is he saying here? That we don't know everything again? Thats what it sounds like to me. He's right, we don't know everything about DNA, and something once identified as 'junk-DNA' may serve unsuspected purposes. The theory of evolution isn't what classified some of the DNA as junk, it was scientists that hadn't found a use for the DNA who coined the nickname junk DNA. Again with the gaps, we don't know everything and when there is a gap, Mr. Luskin is more than willing to force his designer into the gap. And then, like an unwelcome house guest, the designer is forced out when the gap gets filled. Science is proving some of the previously identified DNA is not junk, but that doesn't mean Intelligent Design had anything to do with Genetics. Design proponents have furthered scientific investigation, I will give him that, but not in the way he seems to imply. When a design proponent, like Behe, identifies something as 'designed', it is like a call to arms and previously known gaps suddenly get attention. In a way that is furthering science, but they certainly didn't do anything but raise a finger and point to a gap.

So back to the original question, is there a double standard on testability. Intelligent Design hasn't been tested and no amount of playing gap-filler will make it so. The very idea of proving the existence or even disproving the existence of God is not within the realm of science, and that is why Intelligent Design, no matter how often you whine about not 'officially' identifying God as your Intelligent Designer, is not considered science -- get used to it.

Now if you want to talk about a double standard how about the one you [Mr. Luskin] used here? Science is expected to have all the answers, and if not you step in and try and cram your design stuff into the gap. But what answers is design supposed to have? Apparently None. Now that sounds like a double standard!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Congratulations South Carolina!

In an apparent surprising reversal today South Carolina approved two biology textbooks that had previously voted on to veto (9 to 7 against the books in Dec) to a 10-6 vote to approve! Read all about it here! January 9th 2008 is apparently a good day in South Carolina! My congrats and best wishes for the future of science education in your state! Ken Miller was there, along with about 20 members of "South Carolinians for Science Education"! I know I am not a resident of South Carolina, but I registered at your website so I can read all about it! I am also looking forward to the Videos? Tell me, Does Ms. Maguire make any statements?

Happy One Month Anniversay

I just realized this blog is all of one month old. What a month it has been! As I look back at my own posts and the source material linked from many of them I have come to a couple of Lessons Learned:

  1. Intelligent Design is not what the Discovery Institute keeps claiming it is.
  2. The tactics of Creationist/Intelligent Design supporters are criminal.
  3. School Boards are made up of people, people with an important job, but who cannot do that job in a vacuum.
  4. Politics will stick its hydra-like head in the most unlikely places and usually to the detriment of the people involved.
  5. Science is alive and well and starting to learn how to deal with Creationist/Intelligent Design supporters in a more proactive way.
  6. In just the past month I have seen activity in California, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and New Mexico so we know this is not a local problem, but one of National Importance!
  7. Politicians will say anything to get elected.
  8. People will do foolish things if they think it's in the name of fairness, academic freedom, or free speech. What people need to do is examine exactly what is meant by these terms! It is not fairness to give a pseudo-science the permission to be taught as a science, it is not academic freedom for a tenure seeking professor to ignore his curriculum area, and it is not free speech to allow any topic to be introduced in a classroom!
As I said an interesting Month and the rest of January looks like fun. So far no news from Texas on their science curriculum review. Anyone know who replaced Chris Comer?

Electing Anti-Evolution President Will Lead Nation to Ruin

I feel another huge "Amen" coming on. The Christian Post published this article and it should be a must read for voters! Sure, let's elect a president who doesn't seem to understand science, that's a way to get things done! What other things does he not believe in? How will that color his/her presidency? Potential scary times ahead! Some of the lines in this article I liked include:

"The logic that convinces us that evolution is a fact is the same logic we use to say smoking is hazardous to your health" Could you imagine what would happen if a candidate said smoking wasn't a health hazard? The voters would tear them up! But we seem to be pretty complacent about a candidate who says they don't believe in evolution.

Francisco Ayala, a professor of biological sciences at the University of California, Irvine, however, says creationism should not be taught in schools at all. “We don’t teach astrology as an alternative to astronomy, or witchcraft as an alternative to medicine. We must not teach creationism as an alternative to evolution,” he said.

The article reported that Mike Huckabee is" . . . against restricting students to learning only one idea when others exist." I can agree with this in principle, but since there are no scientific alternatives to evolution it should be a moot point -- but it isn't. He feels Evolution is just a theory, and he stated that he doesn't expect Creationism to be taught in school, just what alternatives is he talking about?

So either we are running a risk of electing someone who is against science, or we are running a risk of electing a pandering politician. I have so much trouble telling them apart these days! I wonder what they would say in a speech to the National Academies of Science about their 'feelings' on evolution? I am pretty sure that giving a speech as a Baptist church would have a very different message!

Florida heats up

In a recent article one of the Florida State School Board members was at least honest enough to make her position clear. Donna Callaway has already indicated she will vote against the standards. By the way the new standards being voted on Feb 19 include the word Evolution, something they had previously referred to as "Change over time."

What I would like to know is why she is voting this way? Are her personal religious beliefs interfering with the trust she was given when elected to the school board? Was her position on this subject clear when the people of Florida put her in this position of trust? A long time attendee of First Baptist Tallahassee, Callaway "acknowledged [Intelligent Design] as a theory which many people accept along with others. Students need to have any proof, scientific evidence that is there. But the face that there are other theories about certain parts, at least needs to be pointed out, footnoted."

This also shows her that she buys into the Discovery Institute (DI) marketing campaign for Intelligent Design. That is the only explanation that a trusted member of the school board refers to a pseudo-scientific concept as a theory. She is doing DI's work for them. Someone needs to educate her on both her responsibilities as a member of a a school board and also what is science! At least she did say that students would need to see proof, since there isn't any for Intelligent Design, it makes it easy to skip past without mention it in the classroom. I can see it now, a student filled with religious fervor asked their biology teacher about alternatives to evolution and the teacher replies honestly, "Since the school standards say I can only discuss theories with proof, I can say there are no alternative theories of evolution with any proof!"

In the same article Oscar Howard Jr., Superintendent of Taylor County FL school district,stated "We're in opposition to teaching evolution as a fact. Evolution continues to be a theory." In fact just Last month Taylor County School Board unanimously approved a resolution saying the district is opposed to teaching evolution as a fact. Howard says he's heard from hundreds of parents who promise to pull their children out of the school system and put them in private schools, if the state approves the changes regarding evolution. I think more education is needed here as well, evolution is a fact and the Theory of Evolution is sciences explanation of how that fact works. Does his statement strike you as some form of blackmail? "If the school doesn't teach what I believe to be true, I'll take my kids and go elsewhere!" People have always had that option and I am glad they do. If they are so afraid to learn actual science that they feel the need to remove their kids from school, I say let them! Mr. Howard, just how far are you willing to water down a school curriculum to make everyone happy who might attend? You are either letting a vocal minority drive the curriculum or you are allowing your personal religious beliefs to interfere with your responsibilities!

The people of Florida need to look out for some of the other tactics used by Creationists/Intelligent Design proponents. Whether the vote on Feb 19 accepts or rejects the new standards, you will soon be hearing the "Teach the Controversy", and "Why don't we have free speech", and "Aren't alternative protected by academic freedom" mantras. If the school board rejects the new standards you can also anticipate a new level of marketing to push Intelligent Design into the science classroom. Please know you aren't alone. Other school systems, at the local and state level, have faced this challenge and many have successfully faced it down! Talk to your friends in South Carolina over the push to reject biology texts because they cover Evolution and not Creationism/Intelligent Design. More power to you!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Misguided request to merge Science and Metaphysics

A Cincinnati Enquirer article calling for a theory that includes both Evolution and Creationism is heartfelt, but misguided. The merging of science and metaphysics cannot result in any form of scientific theory. They are and will remain isolated from one another for sound reasons. The only way for science to advance is for science to explore and discover natural reasons for the phenomena in the world. Attributing any action to the world of metaphysics would invalidate science! The realm of the metaphysical is not within science's purview, nor should it. It remains within the realm of philosophers and theologians to put in the 'Why' behind the 'How' of science. Science doesn't attempt to discover why we are here, only how we came to be here.

The recognition of "design" is a metaphysical manifestation, not a scientific one. There has been no science proving the existence of design, only recognition of the similarities between biological and biochemical mechanisms and those we know to be designed by man. While there are claims of advances in this area, there hasn't been any science to prove the connection between appearance of design and actual design.

Many scientist will agree their explorations into the enormous complexity of life has strengthened their personal beliefs, but Mr. Dressman's attempt to imply that the complexity is an automatic recognition of design is not appropriate. The author is falling into a trap where he confuses the appearance with the actuality. Science can appreciate the appearance, but cannot and has not proved the actuality of design.

The closing "Bringing metaphysics and science together in the process of developing chance-free theory in the classroom is not only appropriate, it is the only legitimate basis for biological studies." The implication that the only way to proceed is to merge both scientific theory and metaphysical explanations is false and wishful thinking on his part. Scinece has made many advances without having to resort to metaphysical claims.

The main thrust of Mr. Dressman's argument argument is the inability to accept "chance" in his view of biology. In logic this is referred to as an error based on personal bias. Just because the author has trouble accepting the role chance has played in evolution doesn't mean chance had no role! While he overemphasizes the role of chance, it is not the only mechanism at work. There are many other mechanisms that do not rely on chance. Evolutionary mutation may occur by chance, but it is by many other mechanisms that propagate a mutation into the rest of the genetic pool. Individuals mutate, but populations evolve -- and the mechanisms are becoming more understood today than they were just 50 years ago, all without including metaphysics. When I want to know how I came to be, I consult the scientist. When I want to know why I came to be I consult my parish priest. The answers are complimentary and not at all conflicting, unless I choose to be conflicted and refuse to accept either, or both, answers.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Coexistence V - There is no conflict

For a while there seems to be a huge push that if you 'believe' in evolution you obviously cannot believe in God and that if you believe in God, you cannot 'believe' in Evolution. This dichotomy, as I have said in other posts, is something I believe to be not only false but an artifice designed to shore up support for the Creationist/Intelligent Design point of view.

Today a brief editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer seems to agree with my basic premise that there really isn't a conflict between the two. Many of the greatest scientists in the world, including many of today's scientists are also deeply religious people. In fact many claim the science they have learned have deepen their religious faith.

As the article says there "There are also scientists who reject religion, and believers who reject science." But the article finishes by returning the focus to where this debate requires to be and that is what should we be teaching our schoolchildren in the public school science class: "But public schools have a responsibility to teach science as it is, not as what someone may want to believe is science." Science curriculum should not be based on any populist movement, but on the practicalities of science!