Sunday, November 30, 2008

Understanding Evolution

Ran across an interesting site, Understanding Evolution, hosted by, which shouldn't be a surprise and one I am sure die-hard anti-evolutionists will ignore simply because of the host. But anyone who wishes to get a little better versed in Evolution, this one and my other favorite Evolution, from, are two places they can go. I know I visit them when I am looking for a different angle on explaining something.

For example a common question is "Why is Evolution important?" Now when asked by a die-hard anti-evolutionist no answer will be acceptable. I know that and I am sure you know that. But to anyone who is actually interested in the subject some parts of the answer might surprise you. I mean most folks, like myself, who address this question tends to think agriculture and medicine.

Those aren't the only answers, just two of the most obvious answers. Here is an interview with Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at State University of New York. He addresses agriculture and medicine, and he paints an even broader picture in those disciplines. In fact he reminded me of something I read years ago -- why did Darwin call "Natural Selection" by that term. He was contrasting it to "Artificial Selection", the specific breeding of plants and animals for preferred attributes. He also stressed that it's not just medicine, but the understanding and development of disease that demands understanding evolution. Some of the advances in evolution were made while studying disease and disease vectors, not just potential treatments.

But then he goes into other areas, including Conservation and Ecology, Biotechnology, and even understanding ourselves. Interesting article and anytime someone asks the value of evolution, you can be armed with much more to tell them. I know, nay-sayers will try and downplay the whole issue, but the irony just kills me. I mean how many times in recent months have I seen someone post anti-science rhetoric while using a computer -- a scientific development. I bet the person has no problem eating meat, vegetables, and fruits that are a direct result of evolutionary sciences as well.

I have a lot of fun when someone points to the Banana as proof of the existence of God, when the banana that we eat today is the result of artificial selection for centuries. In fact the modern yellow banana that many of us enjoy cannot exist in nature because without human intervention, it cannot reproduce on it's own any longer. Gotta love the irony in that. I saw a Cameron/Ray Comfort video that I first thought was a joke, but these two are serious -- they think the Banana is "The Atheist's Nightmare". Well here is a link that explains some of the problems with Kirk and Ray silliness.

In fact the banana is a great example of why Evolution is important us. But it also shows the lengths some people will go to to try and debunk Evolution. That's why I blog, to counter bad information with good!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kem Ham: "I am not a moron"

While The Discovery Institute is one of my favorite targets, another that I probably do not spend enough time laughing at is Ken Ham, or AnswersInGenesis and the Creation Museum of Kentucky fame. Here is part of a scathing commentary back to him because apparently little Kennie Ham thinks evolutionists pick on him:

You said that unicorns are real. You claim that the Beowulf story is evidence of human cohabitation with dinosaurs. You say that sometimes religious genocide is OK. You think that the government is training people to talk to aliens. You believe that evolution is a random process, a process of blind chance, which is just factually wrong. You target children because they can't defend themselves and trust you (talk about a cowardly act). You believe if a 2-year old understands it, it must be cutting edge science. You believe that observation and measurement cannot trump "common sense." You believe you do the type of science that you need "faith" to understand instead of, you know, "understanding" to understand. You believe...whatever the fuck this is. You employ the nanny-nanny boo-boo defense. Your ilk does not even try to publish outside of its little circle, and you set up a bogus journal to pretend that you were scholars, THEREBY AVOIDING THE DEBATE YOU CLAIM TO CRAVE. You stare at evolution, describe evolution, and then say, "It's not evolution."

And yet you wonder why someone with an education and responsibilities and a reputation would not talk to you? Despite this record of shame (I could have gone on and on just looking at my website alone), you have the balls to claim that you won something by being so catastrophically ignorant as to be not worth speaking to?


The links are all back to other blog posts. It's pretty much a no-holds-barred commentary. It's actually a lot of fun to read. But I'm not sure I could add anything to any description of kennie and his two annoying enterprises. I'm sure one of these days I will go to the Creation Museum myself. But not until I think I can make it through the whole thing without losing my lunch and maintaining a straight face. Right now I really believe I will get kicked out the first time I see a homo-sapien riding on the back of a dinosaur toward Noah's ark.

I picked up the trail for this piece on Pyaryngula. The link is right here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Arguments XV -- Strengths and Weaknesses

This is something that has gotten a lot of press lately. Rather than mandating Intelligent Design the current tactic from those less-than-stalwart fellows over at the Discovery Institute is to push for examining the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. In Louisiana they've put this into law, and Texas is doing the same thing. So on the surface, is this a bad thing?

Here is my thinking.

First of all I have no problem covering the strengths and weaknesses of any theory -- even ALL theories. But why only point to one, or even a handful. I do enjoy how Evolution is usually teamed up with Climate Change and Stem Cell Research as a controversial theory. But more on controversy later. Right now I wanted to discuss the strengths and weaknesses issue.

OK, Let's start with an allegory, a simple math problem. say 2(squared), that is 2 raised to the second power. The result is 4? Is there any problem with that? No, OK time to move on.

A much more interesting problem is the square root of -1 raised to the power of the square root of -1. In Math terms this is also known as 'i' raised to the 'i'th power. Do you know the answer? well I don't either. Now the real question is "is this a weakness"?

Here is my point. Just because we may not know all the answers, does that indicate a weakness in basic math? No! It is an indicator that we don't know something. It in no way invalidates what we do know. You see where I am going. There is the Theory of Evolution and it is filled with many things that have been observed over and again, confirmed by experimentation, evidence, and other scientific disciplines. it makes no pretense at being perfect, but right now, today, given the state of our understanding, it is the best explanation for how life has changed from generation to generation and over many generations.

Are there things we do not know? Yes! No one in science will claim that it is absolute 100% perfect. But that is not a weakness! It is not a weakness to admit to things you do not know. the readily agree that it's not perfection. That there is more to learn. In fact if you go back to Darwin's day he admitted a number of things that he didn't know and he wasn't sure we would ever know. But the work went on and many of the things Darwin didn't understand are well understood today. In the process we uncovered other things we do not know. And the work keeps going. Each new thing discovered has supported the things we previously understood and added to them. we know so much more than Charles Darwin did!

Now when I talk to one of these people who are pushing 'strengths and weaknesses' or I read their books and articles, they see anything that is not explained as 100% perfection a weakness. in other words there really isn't anything in the Theory of Evolution they accept.