Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Denyse requires intelligence to explain Mick Jagger

Denyse is at it again.  Doesn't her garden get a little crowded with straw-men?  In her latest post she takes on sex, as in "Can Sex Explain Evolution?".  That's pretty silly because by itself, the answer is no, but it's part of a much larger process that certainly does have a part in explaining evolution, and rather well.

She first redefines evolution again:

"The mere process of eliminating unfit examples of a type in a given environment builds up information over time, resulting in huge new layers of complexity."
I would rather not go over it again, can we just say that I think Denyse skipped 6th grade science class and leave it at that.

Here is where I think Denyse loses it.
"But if no one can say what is fit or unfit according to natural selection, because nature has no direction, why must we pay attention to claims about natural selection? "
She seems to assume there has to be something directing traffic, and assumes it must be goal-oriented for some reason because it has to decide fitness.  She can't except the reality of Natural Selection, so she tries to use Sexual Selection to create her strawman of needing an intelligence.  Then when she shows there is no intelligence, she dismisses it as impossible.  The economist who described 'survival of the fittest' was not describing evolution, and even though biologists don't use that term, at least not without a lengthy explanation, Denyse can't seem to grasp that evolution does not equal survival of the fittest in it's barest form.  Come on Denyse, you should be more familiar with your subject by now, shouldn't you?

But what does the selecting?  As it has been explained over and over again, the environment an organism exists within.   It's not that hard to understand, well that is if you actually want to understand.  Another thing Denyse tends to forget is that the process of evolution can be summarized in three sentences: Genes mutate. Individuals are selected. Populations evolve.

We've discusses genes mutating several times.  The simplest example is this, look at a child and look at that child's parents.  Without doing a genetic analysis, you can easily see that a child is not a carbon copy of one parent, but an amalgamation of the two.  But you will most likely see traits that don't exist in either parent.  If you do the genetic analysis you can see the differences more clearly.  This is an example of mutation.  Unlike the comic version, mutations are rarely large scale changes like 4 hands, but most are small differences that have little impact on much of anything.  There are many, many examples of genes mutating, Prof. Richard Lenski's long-term evolution experiment is another excellent example, and one well documented.  Of course about now Creationists like to trot out the odds argument, but in humans there are an average of 150-200 mutations per offspring, when compared to the parents.  That's not 150-200 mutations per generation, but per off-spring.  So when you look at an entire generation of people, there are 150-200 mutations times the total number in that population, a staggering number.  In the US in just one year an estimated 3.8 million babies are born.  That's about 600 million mutations, in one year.   Suddenly the odds argument makes even less sense than usual.

Here is where Denyse gets hung up, 'individuals are selected'.  She seems to think that means literally selected!  Someone has to line 'em up and point to the ones that survive and let the others just drop dead.  Sorry, Denyse, doesn't work that way.

When talking about evolution, we aren't talking about an pointing finger selection, nothing like the life guard at the gene pool, "Hey, you outta the pool, you aren't allowed to procreate!"  We are talking about genes that affect survival and reproductive opportunity.  Genes that increase either, or both of these, will show a demonstrable increase within the population.  Note -- within the population!  Genes that negatively affect either of these will show a decrease.  That's not to say an individual cannot or will not procreate, but that over time the allele frequency within a population will change based on the environment.  In her own example there is nothing in evolutionary theory that says Tom, Dick, or Harry will or will not procreate.  There isn't even anything determining their fitness.  Her view of sexual selection is rather limited, isn't it?

She tries to use 'sexual selection' as a mechanism for major evolutionary changes, yet it is only one of the mechanisms for evolutionary change.  Whether or not it's a major change depends on many factors that Denyse doesn't seem to mention.  For example, I've talked before about Elephants and how for years, if not centuries, large tusked males had an evolutionary advantage and subsequently had more offspring.  The alleles for large tusks increased with the population until it was at something like 90%.  Then along came hunting and poaching.  and now the alleles for large tusks are a disadvantage (a change in the environment).  Suddenly when mating season starts, there are fewer and fewer tusked males, so the tusk-less males, are the only game in town.  Now it's 90% tusk-less offspring.  Can you better see the 'selection' now, Denyse?  Yes, I bet if you ever read this, you'll claim since man is doing the selection for tusks, it's an intelligence.  Although I would debate the use of the word intelligence for hunting a species to the point this happens, but the environment is still doing the selection, regardless of the reason for the decreasing population of tusked elephants.

My favorite example of sexual selection was a joke "Why do rock stars marry super models?  Because they can!"  Think about it and look at some of the rock stars.  Ugly human beings, take Mick Jagger for example!  If he weren't the front man of Rolling Stone, do you really think he would have had 7 children with 4 different women (multiple super models!) if he were not the front-man for the Rolling Stones?  His oldest and youngest are 29 years apart!  That's sexual selection!  His genes have spread further in the human population than my much more modest efforts, but then I can't sing a note.  Well that's not true.  I can sing one note, it's when I try and piece two or more together that people start running from the room.

The reality is the concept of sexual selection has expanded a great deal since Darwin first postulated it.  But of course Denyse can't seem to get the idea that Darwin is not the end-all of evolutionary theory, can she?  It also looks like Denyse is using a common Discovery Institute tactic, demanding a complete and absolute answer or she dismisses anything less.  We've talked about that before.  They offer nothing and expect acceptance, but if a real scientists can't be 100% absolute, they are in the wrong.  Science doesn't work that way, but is anyone surprised that Denyse may be lacking in basic science methodology?

Her last line:
"We are still stuck for a mechanism that replaces intelligence."
Why?  Since intelligence wasn't in the mix to begin with, we don't need to replace it.  Denyse, you haven't made an argument that intelligence is required or even necessary.  All you did was to toss out an argument that you find it impossible to accept that intelligence isn't a requirement and seeing if your argument sticks.  Nope, it slid to the floor like under-cooked spaghetti. All in all, it looks like one large argument from incredulity, that is since Denyse believes intelligence is required, she demands there must be intelligence, regardless of a lack of evidence.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Does the Pope really support Kim Davis?

Reported on Why Evolution Is True, "Pope implicitly supports Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gays" the Pope made a few comments that appear to support the Kentucky embarrassment Kim Davis.  I think he messed up here!  Here is his comment:

"I can’t have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objection … but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."
Aside from the whole "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and give unto God what is God's" argument, let's look at this realistically.  The Pope just gave his consent for anyone who conscientiously objects to anything carte blanche to do whatever they want and cite their conscientious objection as justification.  While I would normally say something like 'he screwed the pooch', but I don't think that wording is appropriate for the Pontiff.  In any event, this is just too wide open, but I am sure someone will be mentioning it in a future case.

What's my objection to it?  I have no problem with a conscientious objector voicing their opinion, but what I have a problem with is their total freedom to avoid responsibility.  One example, obviously, is Kim Davis.  Her objection is noted, but does her objection give her the right to fail in carrying out her duties?  No it does not.  She should have quit her job, but that would require a certain level of moral courage.  But let's look at it from another point-of-view.  During coverage of the Kim Davis idiocy, the owner of a bake shop stated that he would not do a wedding cake for a gay couple because he felt it was against his religion.  Ladies and gentlemen, that's called discrimination and it sounds like the Pope just put his papal stamp of approval on it.  What's next, a racist who conscientiously objects to serving minorities?  A misogynist who refuses to provide a service to women? I had hoped we were past this foolishness, but I guess we are not.  We appear to have an infinite capacity to hate other human beings and are perfectly willing to use religion to foster that hatred through discrimination.

There are already laws in place to accommodate conscientious objectors, the military is an excellent example. But it is not left to the individual to make their own determination.  Back in the mid-to-late 80's two young airmen assigned to Nellis AFB refused to salute the flag or to salute and obey the orders of female officers (The Spokesman-Review) claiming a religious objection.  They were held responsible for their actions.  Imagine trying to run a military based on the Pope's comments?  Or a fire department, police, or any government agency.  What about a business?  Does a business have a right to discriminate based on the business owner's religion?  Up until recently the answer was no!  But everyone now has papal approval.

Are my examples far fetched?  Then let's dial it back down a bit.  Should a parent be able to refuse a vaccination for their child on religious grounds?  Even knowing how that can affect not just their child, but the other children they interact with?  That's legal in two states, it will be interesting to see the illness rates of preventable diseases will be in the future.  How about refusing medical care for a child?  That happens much more often than it ever should.  Anyone who uses their religion to avoid their responsibilities is wrong, regardless of what those responsibilities are, whether it's issuing marriage licenses or raising children.

The Pope said when asked if this principle applied to government officials carrying out their duties, he replied:
“It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”
Sure, a government official can object, but their objection doesn't give them the right to avoid carrying out the responsibilities of their office.  That's what we are talking about, not someone's conscience, but their responsibilities.  When the two are in conflict, you either carry out the responsibilities in spite of your objection, or you resign your position on principle.  If you cannot resign, as in the military, you can either carry out your responsibilities or be held legally responsible, just like anyone who refuses to do their job! 

Anyone else remember Nathanial Abraham?  How about Jean Camara? Nathanial was hired at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as an evolutionary biologist.  AFTER being hired he revealed that his religion didn't believe in evolution so he couldn't 90% of his job.  After some efforts at negotiation, Woods Hole fired him.  He sued . . . he tried everything, but lost in the end.  Yes, he tried religious discrimination. 

Jean Camara is a new one, earlier this year.  Apparently he was hired by Costco as a cashier's assistant.  His religion said he couldn't handle pork or alcohol, even though he knew Costco sold such items.  Costco transferred him to wrangle the shopping carts in the parking lot.  Two weeks later he was fired for insubordinate conduct.  He's currently suing for  . . . wait for it . . . religious discrimination.

In both cases I think Nathanial and Jean are guilty of fraud, accepting a job knowing full well they were not going to be able to fulfill the job requirements.  Yet in each case accommodation was discussed and apparently rejected in some form.  Nathanial refused to accept 10% of his salary for only being able to do 10% of his duties, and Jean allegedly became insubordinate. 

But I guess the Pope might give each of them more ammunition.  Who's next Guillermo Gonzalez?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Science Teachers Under Fire for Saying Creationists Are “Trying to Mislead” Students

A blog I had read a few times had an interesting post.  It's from the Friendly Atheist:  "Science Teachers Under Fire for Saying Creationists Are “Trying to Mislead” Students".  A middle school in Florida sent home a reading assignment that included this paragraph:

"Next time someone tries to tell you that evolution is just a theory, as a way of dismissing it, as if it’s just something someone guessed at, remember that they’re using the non-scientific meaning of the word.  If that person is a teacher, or minister, or some other figure of authority, they should know better.  In fact, they probably do, and are trying to mislead you."
Apparently some folks got uptight about the last line, angry at the implication that ministers and parents were purposely deceiving kids:
When parents such as Jennifer Flinchum first read those lines, “the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” she said.
“It’s not so much the evolution aspect of it, it’s just the way they phrased those few sentences how they were kind of taking the rights away from the parents,” said parent, Lisa McNeil.
 Three thingsome to my mind:
  • Isn't that exactly what they are doing?  Deceiving children!  While some may be doing it out of ignorance, the reality is they are in fact deceiving children. 
  • Do parents and ministers have the right to deceive children? I don't think so!  I guess pointing that out isn't very politically correct, regardless of how accurate it is.
  • So instead of putting it in a reading assignment, parents will be up in arms when a student asks the teacher about it in class and the teacher gets to inform the child that parents and ministers who say 'evolution is only a theory' are lying.  No, the teacher won't use those words, but that is the lesson kids will pick up.  Can't you see it?  "Teacher says this, Mom says this, Teacher says that's not factual.  Mom isn't telling me the truth!"  Oh yea, that won't get anyone uptight, now would it?
The principal did send home a letter of apology and I guess they plan on re-wording the statement.  I would be curious to see the newly worded reading assignment.

So There is Nothing Religious About Intelligent Design (Part VII)

Press release announcing a talk by the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, you know the one that writes those philosophy books they try and pass off as science.  Now it seems to me that if Meyer and his cohorts were actually trying to distinguish themselves from their religious underpinnings they might  . . . oh I don't know . . . maybe talk to audiences that aren't just as inherently religious as they are?  But that's just me, I guess.  I have discussed this a bit (here, here, here, here, here, and here)

This talk at at Trinity Classical Academy, which is defined by their own website as:

Their Mission: "  The Mission of Trinity Classical Academy is to offer a challenging education grounded in the Christian faith and the Classical tradition to produce young men and women of virtue, wisdom, purpose, and courage."
Their Statement of Faith have nine statements including:
"We believe the Bible to be the only inerrant, authoritative Word of God."
 Of course the press release says all sorts of nice things about Meyer.  It does say a few hilarious things [My comments in braces and italics]
  • ". . .Meyer will share his vast knowledge of the evidence-based scientific theory that certain features of living systems can only be explained by an intelligent cause" [So I guess you have to already be a believer before he will share his vast knowledge.  How long have we been asking for any actual science when it comes to ID and none can be found.]
  • ". . .Meyer was best known was an Aug. 2004 controversial review essay in the Smithsonian Institution-affiliated peer-reviewed biology journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington." [Better known as the Sternberg Peer Review Controversy, but they forgot to mention to results of the controversy and how the journal repudiated the article.  I wonder why?  I guess it would be less than flattering to bring up that particular abject failure.]
  • "In 2008, he appeared with Ben Stein in the theatrical-released documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." [Yes, he appeared, but do they discuss how that particular mockumentary was received?  No, too embarrassing, but you can read an interesting review here, it's nothing for Meyer to brag about!]
I really have no argument if any school wants Meyer to come and talk.  I just wish his talk would be framed is such a way to place it within context.  Passing it off as science is inappropriate.  It is , at best, philosophy and theology.  He'll be preaching to a captive audience and reinforcing the religious aspects of Intelligent Design.  Guess I really can't complain about that.  After all the more he has talks like this, the harder it is for them to sell any distinction between ID and Creationism.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Denyse O'Leary is certainly not allergic to Strawmen

Denyse O'Leary, the recently prolific mouthpiece for the Discovery Institute, tries her hand at 'explaining' a few things, but she certainly does Charles Darwin a disservice.  What she does is build several straw-men, proceeds to demolish them and then pats herself on the back with a conclusion based on her demolition.  Funny how it works.  Make an unrealistic claim, destroy it, the declare victory.  You know, how did she make it through school anyway?  Oh wait, she's some sort of journalist.  OK, that makes more sense.  Someone at the DI tells her to write up something, and I guess she gets creative writing credit from the powers-that-be.  Her post is "Natural Selection: Could It Be the Single Greatest Idea Ever Invented?" is an example, although she needs to work on her creative writing skills.  I was always taught that even creative writing requires a modicum of credibility to be successful.

Here is her opening paragraph:

"Information, according to Darwin's idea (natural selection), can exist without intelligence. Nature produces intelligent designs, just because some life forms survive and others don't. That's it. That's all it takes. How odd that no one noticed."
First of all, Darwin did not mention information, certainly not how she puts it.  The whole 'information argument' is nothing more than one of the many smokescreens put out by Intelligent Design proponents.  Check out the Talk Origins site for more on this particular inanity.  As for the rest of this, Nature does not 'produce' designs, and claiming that they are 'intelligent designs' is pretty foolish.  By using the word 'design', it assumes something not in evidence.  At best the phrase should be 'nature produces the appearance of design', but that would require a level of honesty also not in evidence.

Now, the second sentence shows mainly that little Denyse doesn't really understand evolution very well.  To paraphrase for brevity:  'some life forms survive and others do not'.  If she understood the actual theory she would know that survival is a result, but not of evolution -- the Theory of Evolution (TOE) doesn't determine survival, it discusses and explains populations and alleles within a population.  Some of those alleles aid in survival and reproductive opportunity, others do not, and still other are benign on the subject.  Survival isn't determined by the TOE and painting it as such gives Denyse a target to shoot at, no matter how unrealistic it might be.

And as for no one noticing, if she was talking about 'Natural Selection', someone apparently did.  His name was Charles Darwin.  If she was commenting that no one noticed 'intelligent designs', it's hard to notice what only exists in the wishful thinking of certain stripes of theists, like Denyse.  Throughout history the appearance of design was noticed, and noticed well before Darwin ever walked the Earth.

Next straw-man:
"That distinction can prove relevant if one thinks civil liberties matter. Many of us live in countries where the invocation of a supreme being is a basis for civil liberties (though those liberties may not extend to mosquitoes)."
Civil liberties are based in law, not the invocation of one deity or another.  Now I know various theists like to think their particular religion is the basis for so many things, but most legal systems draw from many sources.  If a Christian wants to point to the 10 Commandments, they really should look more at the historical source for those, as opposed to the stories.  But then, most theists rarely like the look past the stories, I think they are too afraid they might learn something.  So claiming that civil liberties are based on invocations of one deity of another is just another straw-man.

Here's my personal favorite:
"Darwin's theory of evolution (natural selection acting on random mutations) is a cultural icon, like the Big Bang, or e=mc2. One needn't know anything specific about any of these ideas. Indeed, media professionals can be passionately devoted to Darwinism without knowing anything about it at all.
That makes sense. Professed loyalty to Darwin is an admission to good parties. And Darwinism's relationship to modern warfare and eugenics is drowned out by cultural support."
Did little Denyse forget that it is not Darwin's Theory of Evolution (TOE).  I know, I know, I have mentioned it before, but vilifying a man is so much easier than refuting a scientific theory, especially when you and your group never seems to produce anything scientific.  Vilifying a man makes it  so much more personal.  If Denyse was serious about damaging the TOE, she might do the science that could over . . . Oh wait, we are talking about the DI here, what was I saying, plus Denyse is a journalist.

Now, Since when is any scientific theory a cultural icon?  Darwin might be considered one, but the scientific Theory of Evolution is not.  Oh, we all know how much the DI wishes it was so.  Cultural icons come and go, but scientific theories are not so easily dismissed.  As for 'professing' such helps get you invited to good parties, how foolishly dismissive can Denyse get?  Really?  Good parties?  Is that the best she has?  So now we know the real reason the folks at the Discovery Institute refuse to accept the Theory of Evolution.  It's not their religious beliefs as we all thought and even as they explained in their own documentation.  They are blaming not 'believing' in Darwin is the reason they never got to go to the 'good' parties.  Denyse, and the rest of your ID'iots, might look for other reasons you never got invited . . . but then self-examination is harder than rationalization, isn't it.

Little Denyse also needs a history lesson.  Only the DI, and other Creationist groups, are claiming Evolution's relationship to modern warfare and eugenics.  People who actually study this stuff, unlike the DI, know better.  I think she's been reading Michael Flannery (DI fellow who purports to be a historian).  Apparently Flannery is a good a historian as Denyse is a journalist.

Here is her definition of the TOE:
"Here it is: Information can be created without intelligence. That is, natural selection acting on random mutation explains the order of life we see all around us. What can't survive won't, and that explains how very complex life forms and structures -- including the human mind -- get built up.
True: Things that can't survive don't. But why would that fact alone drive nature to produce anything as simple as a kitten, let alone a math genius?"
Once again, with feeling, the TOE does not address 'information' and claiming that it can be defined as 'Information being created without intelligence' is mostly a whole lot of drivel.  Part of evolutionary theory, I will emphasis 'part', is Natural Selection.  Another part is Random Mutation, but little journalist-wanna-be Denyse is leaving out one hell of a lot of what the theory actually says.  But then how can she whine about it, if she actually understood it, she couldn't keep her job at the DI.

As for her play for cuteness, using a picture of a cute and cuddly kitten.  Kittens are not simple.  Have you seen the genome for a cat?  Obviously Denyse hasn't, 20,285 genes, and we humans share something like 90% of them, oh, and Denyse, that includes math geniuses.

Little Denyse does say one sentence that I have to agree with:
"Ideas have consequences."
Yes, ideas have consequences.  Darwin's ideas, and those who have expanded on his ideas, have opened up the biological world in a way that has led to places undreamed of in Darwin's day.  Evolution impacts us all, in food production, medicine, ecology and the environment, just to name a few.  Pretty impressive set of results/consequences!  The Discovery Institute's ideas have consequences as well . . . and their results are listed where exactly?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Dan Rather: Ignoring science isn't just a Republican problem. It's an American problem.

I was working on how best to build my own response  to some of the foolishness said by the Republican candidate wanna-bes and caught this from Dan Rather: "Ignoring science isn't just a Republican problem. It's an American problem."  Everyone should read it.  What he does isn't try and solve the issue, or even identify all the root causes -- although he does mention quite a few (loss of faith in authority, suspicion of big corporations, a general political balkanization).  He focuses on one of the reasons the anti-science feelings seem to be so prevalent, the one he knows intimately, as you would expect, journalism and how the press covers science.  He identifies some of the problems:

  • Hyping certain "advances" that are more PR than science
  • Shying away from covering important stories because they're "too complicated." 
  • Don't even do a good job explaining how scientific research works
  • Scientific issues don't lend themselves to simple soundbites for TV

He does mention one of my pet peeves, which got my attention [I added the underlines for emphasis]:
"And then there is the danger of false equivalency. Not every issue has two sides, or certainly two equal sides. Yet when you put two people on screen to tell both “sides” of the story, in the viewer's mind it immediately connotes 50:50, even if you say it doesn't. Giving someone equal time to explain their side doesn’t mean there is equal data, research and science behind their view. Often times, the “other side” of the story has very little data to support its very big exceptions to the rules." 
You might recall I have mentioned this a time or two, usually in regards to the Discovery Institute's lack of science and kennie ham's lack of anything.  He also had a link to a John Oliver video, which is a personal favorite.
I wonder if Oliver has done a show about Evolution?  I'm going to have to look!  Hang on a second . . . no, he hasn't addressed Evolution or Creationism, however his take down of Televangelism is a classic.  I would love to see his take on the Discovery Institute!  OK, back to Dan, who says:
"This is not to say that every science policy question has an easy or correct answer. There is a lot to weigh in how we should employ science and what we should fund. But it is not a debate we can afford to shy away from. I think that any politician who doesn't take those questions seriously is not fit to lead our country in the 21st century."
We need to ask our potential leaders more questions about science!  One of the things that has to be important is not only what the candidate says, but where are they getting their information -- from people who are actually doing the work or from folks with a philosophical axe to grind.  Trump failed badly on vaccines, Carson failed on so much!  You just have to love that last line 'I think that any politician who doesn't take those questions seriously is not fit to lead our country in the 21st century.'

I understand they are pandering for votes, but why are they pandering in such a way that makes them seem positively uneducated!  I thought Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry was bad, but Ben Carson and Donald Trump?  It's crossed the pandering line and reached epic stupidity.  Is Donald Trump or Ben Carson fit to lead us in the 21st century?  They certainly haven't shown it yet, have they?  I wonder which candidate kennie or the DI will back?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hey Discovery Institute, there is a difference between Criminal and Unethical

Davey 'klingy' Klinghoffer is at it again, trying to make it sound like we should feel sorry for Intelligent Design (ID) proponents.  Sorry, klingy, it's not going to happen.  Here's link to his post:  "Prosecute Darwin Skeptics Under RICO Act?"  Like he has done before, he's drawing an imaginary parallel to gain some level of sympathy. Do you feel sorry for ID proponents? I certainly do not.

First the article he quotes, he does quote, but then he blows it all out of proportion, at least that's how I see it.  Look at his own quotes:

' . . . prosecute groups that "have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America's response to climate change." ' 
Look at the quote carefully.  No one was advocating prosecuting climate change deniers, but those who are using such denial as a means to forestall our responding to it.  Whether you agree with it or not, Climate Change is a potential danger, and, again whether you agree, some effort should be going into examining that danger and developing plans to deal with it.  Anyone who knowingly is taking actions to 'forstall' a response is not acting in a particularly wise fashion.

A parallel is made, in the original article, to the use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) is helping to deal with the issues around tobacco and dealing with the actions the tobacco industry undertook to forestall any response on the dangers of tobacco, actions they successfully delayed any organized response for decades.  Would anyone deny that their actions were detrimental to the American public, yet it was certainly good for their profits.

Another example, leaded gasoline.  In the 1920's the dangers of lead as a gasoline additive was known, but the industry that produced the lead additives fought any changes.  They even funded a prominent scientist to stall any serious examination of the dangers of lead.  It took 50 years before the United States finally acted.  Guess who funded most of the research into the dangers of lead additives?  The lead industry, of course.  Again, their actions delayed dealing with a serious problem for decades and yet that industry profited greatly during those decades.

See a trend?  Even when something currently common is found to be a significant danger, there is a core element that continues to profit from it . . . and they fight any changes that will cut into their profits.  Sounds like the current Climate Change arguments, doesn't it.

The article is NOT planning on prosecuting just any climate change deniers, but those who deliberately take actions designed to delay a response.  Now, why would any group want to delay a response?  Guess who funds a great deal of climate change research?  The oil companies, of course.  So the real thrusts of the possibility of legal actions isn't someone who is expressing an opinion, but a coordinated group action designed to profit by America's inaction.  Remember, it was the action of the tobacco and oil companies that eventually led to their legal issues, not simply an opinion.

So now let's get to klingy's whine.  Would anyone put intelligent design proponent actions in the same category?  Not by a long shot.  The main reason is how much impact have they really had?  They are an annoyance more than a danger.  So trying to draw a parallel at this point in time would be ridiculous.  While their actions are self-serving, they haven't reach a point where their danger is more than theoretical.  Again, it's their actions that could lead to some sort of action to censure them, and to date their actions have been pretty minor league compared to the oil or tobacco companies.

Is it possible at some time in the future their actions could present a danger to the point of legal action?  I have to say yes.  Since their actions are motivated by religion, have there been examples, recent examples, where religion was used to interfere with medical services?  If you need a few examples, I posted these last month: Ian, Neil, Matthew, Austin, Amy, Robyn, Andrew, Harrison, Nancy, Dennis, Arrian, Zachery, Troy, Shauntay, and Rhett.  So until the DI's efforts start having a much greater negative effect on biology, medicine, or other sciences to the point where lives are endangered, they will keep being more a mosquito bite than a significant problem.

Climate Change deniers, specifically those funded by the oil industry, have a lot in common with those who denied the dangers of tobacco and lead while continuing to profit from them.  It was their actions and the impact of those actions that caused the various responses.  To date, the DI hasn't done anything that I think could be considered illegal.  Think it through -- when you know tobacco is dangerous and you claim otherwise so you can continue profiting from it . . . that's illegal, hence the use of the RICO Act.  In my opinion the DI's actions fall more into unethical.  For example is it ethical to change the definition of the word Theory when trying to contrast a scientific theory with just an idea?  Or to deny the religious underpinnings of ID?  How about to try and change the explanation of real scientific work, claiming it in some way supports ID?  Or claiming Evolution's imminent demise?  No, these things are not illegal.  Foolish, certainly, and I believe unethical, but not illegal.  You might by what standard of 'ethical behavior' am I using to judge.  ID is a religious proposition, and when asked 'unofficially', ID proponents like to identify the intelligent designer as the Christian God.  Well I was brought up in that particular faith and guess what one of the sins you would confess every week?  Lying, of course.  So when I look at the actions of the DI, I can only call them unethical, because it's not up to me to call what they do as a 'sin'.  I guess they are more like little kennie ham (AiG and Creation 'Museum' infamy) than they would like to admit, especially when it comes to lying for Jesus.

One last comment by klingy:
"I hesitate to even articulate this, for fear of putting an idea in someone's mind. On the other hand, Darwinists don't need me to help them cook up schemes for striking out against dissenters."
Don't worry klingy, no one outside of your little circle of science deniers pays much attention to your ideas.  The real scientists working in evolutionary biology have no problem with dissenters.  Ones who are working with actual science often lead to changes in evolutionary theory (evo-devo, punctuated equilibrium . . .).  Dissenters who push pseudo-science, like the Discovery Institute, tend to get ignored.  It's when they impact science education that they get any attention.  Why do you think they target high schools?  You would expect they to take aim at science, but for that they have to do science.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Anyone else remember the name Emile Zuckerkandl? A reminder from Larry Moran

Larry Moran has a great post over on Sandwalk, "Emile Zuckerkandl and the 50th anniversary of the birth of molecular evolution".  He tells a little of the story of Emile Zuckerkandl, a name I had heard of many years ago but unlike one of his publishing partners, Linus Pauling, his wasn't a name I had heard of much at all.  Luckily for me, Larry not only reminded me of the name, but some of the things Zuckerkandl did, especially when it came to Intelligent Design.

Yes, I am sure folks at the Discovery Institute didn't like anything he said, but to me it was a nice lesson.  Thanks Larry!

Here's a few quotes, but I really recommend you head over and read the whole post.  [I added a little]

  • "To give themselves an edge, the “creationists"—the dominant stripe of anti-evolutionists in the United States—have decided some years ago (Pennock, 2003) to dress up in academic gear and to present themselves as scholars who rise in defense of a legitimate alternative scientific theory, intelligent design. "  [I usually refer to their 'gear' as an ill-fitting lab coat.]
  • "The two biased characterizations [Evolution is just a theory and equating the theory of evolution as nothing but a philosophy, an 'ism'] are cherished by nearly every proponent of intelligent design, because desirably one of the points, evolution as a theory, reduces science to incertitude, and the other, evolution as an "ism," reduces it in practice to an unscientific belief. " [Love it]
  • "The basis of an established scientific field is not questionable: too many competent, critically minded people working in a number of subfields and analyzing phenomena at a number of levels have contributed to it, with their results supporting one another within a large body of scientific knowledge. A field would have collapsed long since, were it not based on extant phenomena. The flood of creationist references to a particular scientist rather than to a field of science conveniently tends to hide this fact from view. "  [How many times, especially recently, have we been subjected to posts that attempt to denigrate Darwin and his accomplishments.  Here are a few: DI's Denyse O'Leary sounds puzzled!, Discovery Institute upset that Darwin didn't have a Crystal Ball, and Sorry Darwin, it isn't your Evolution anymore? Are you kidding?.]
The one quote you really need to read take a different view of Intelligent Design vs Natural processes, and it deals with complexity.  One of the issues frequently raised when anyone objectively looks at ID is the fact the so-called designer was pretty bad at his job.  Seriously, look at the human body, tell me how that is optimal?  We can barely stand upright and anyone who gets back pain knows what I mean.  How about the number one source of germs (the nose) positioned right above the main air intake (the mouth), or one poster put rather indelicately, the playground located between two sewers (think about it :-)) It's not just humans, but life in general, how many different flight mechanisms exist in nature?   Three that I know of: birds, bats, and insects . . . why?  Why would a 'designer' need three different mechanisms to perform the same task?

Zuckerkandl raised an interesting point.  When you look at things actually intelligently designed, you know the type of things folks at the DI like to point to an say "See, we can recognize design, so biology must be designed."  Simplicity is the hallmark of design, not complexity.  Think about it, the best design is usually the simplest design.  Over time simplicity increases, not complexity.  But what do we find in nature?  Increases in complexity over and over again.  Here is the quote:

"Consider something designed by an intelligence: what would its general distinctive character be, as contrasted with products of nature? Would it be increased complexity? No, it would on the contrary be increased simplicity! This pertinent remark, made and discussed by Glenn Ross (2005), removes a basic misunderstanding that is traditionally cultivated by creationists and intelligent designers. Though relative simplicity does occur in nature at certain levels (e.g., in crystals)—if we consider the hierarchical plane of phenomena encountered in every day life it is simplicity that is much of the time a hallmark of actual intelligent design....What should surprise us is not the universally present complexity of natural structures and processes; it is the fact that the human mind can cut through extremely high interaction complexities by showing that they conform to relatively simple relationships, which the connoisseurs experience as “beautiful”."
Can't argue much with that.  Like I said earlier, I am sure the folks at the DI don't like any of this, but then they don't like much of anything that doesn't start and end with an appropriate 'deitification'.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Casey Luskin and Deepak Chopra, brothers under the skin?

Recently I wrote a bit about a post by little casey luskin and how pissed off he is about Wikipedia daring to enforce their policies about Pseudoscience topics, like Intelligent Design.  Wikipedia policy on fringe science and pseudoscience is this policy.  My post (Wikipedia deserves an Award! They Annoyed the DI! Yea!) discussed this.  Little casey, of course, whined a great deal because such a policy makes it difficult for the DI, and other folks, to publish their pseudoscience as if it was actual science.  What they are after is the ability to use Wikipedia not as an encyclopedia, but as a way of marketing their pseudoscience and selling their ideas.  Don't enough people buy into their crap?  I mean the DI certainly isn't spending their own money pushing their religion, are they?  One of the points I made was for anyone curious to examine the history of edits on Wikipedia and see what pseudoscience supporters keep trying to have added to various pages.  That was the focus of little casey's whine.

Well, lil' casey is not alone.  Recently Jerry Coyne wrote a take down of Rupert Sheldrake, which included a small take down of another pseudo-scientist, Deepak Chopra.  It's a great article, "Pseudoscientist Rupert Sheldrake Is Not Being Persecuted, And Is Not Like Galileo".  Apparently Sheldrake made whines about 'militant atheists' editing his bio page.  Basically his whine sounds like: 'Those bullies who edit Wikipedia pages are being mean to me.'  Translated what it means is Wikipedia is following their policies and not allowing unsupported nonsense to be claimed as science.  Sound familiar?  Exactly!

Well Deepak Chopra didn't take it too kindly either and wrote a rebuttal.  It's hilarious!  "Deepak Chopra Responds to Pseudoscience Allegations. Jerry Coyne Fires Back.".  At no time did he try and defend his ideas or even his arguments.  He tries a logical fallacy argument called an "Argument from Authority", not that he is actually an authority, but he tries to sell his credentials to demonstrate that he should be taken seriously.  One of his comments struck me:

"These facts should be enough to convince an unbiased reader that Coyne's pose as a defender against arrant charlatans doesn't pass even the most basic test of fairness and objectivity."
One of the common claims of pseudoscientists is that their ideas should be treated as equal, after all that's fair, isn't it?  How often have we heard similar complaints from groups like the DI?  So, Deepak thinks that voicing unsupported ideas, ideas that have no basis in reality and since Jerry Coyne is painting him with the same brush as one would paint 'arrant charlatans' that is somehow unfair.  Really?

Journalism tends to make that mistake.  We've discussed it before as well, the last time was in the same post about Wikipedia.  Journalists error in thinking just because two ideas are opposite, that they are equally valid and give each idea equal coverage, claiming this is some sort of journalistic neutrality.  My point is that in an effort to be neutral the result is that often journalists tend to inflate pseudoscience by giving equal coverage.  What should be the deciding factor isn't equal time in front on a camera or equal inches in a newspaper article, but the validity of their ideas.  Journalists should do what Wikipedia does and check things out.  When you discover their ideas are made up more of conjecture and wishful thinking, coverage should reflect that.  That would be a better definition of fair and objective, not Deepak's.

The facts are Jerry Coyne represented Sheldrake and Chopra in ways that are honest, but unflattering and it might impact their ability to sell their pseudoscience.  That probably bothers them more than anything, it might impact sales.  They make a very good living pedaling the modern version of 'snake oil'.  As you can tell by the title, Jerry Coyne responded to Chopra and if you enjoy a good take down, you should read it all the way through.

So what it sounds like is two group, one the Discovery Institute, and the other Deepak and his buddy Rupert, are certainly philosophical brothers when it comes to how they feel about Wikipedia.  The basic problem is Wikipedia has standards, and those standards include something the DI, and Deepak and Rupert seem to refuse to understand.  What they want is free rein, but the real question is what have they done to deserve it?  Absolutely nothing!  They are being held to the same standard, not a different standard, but the SAME standard as actual scientific topics on Wikipedia, and that's something they can't seem to handle. 

It would be different if Wikipedia held actual scientific ideas to a different standard, but that's not true.  Wikipedia desired valid references, not pie-in-the-sky foolishness.  Just look at the edits yourself, don't take my word for it at all!  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

DI's Denyse O'Leary sounds puzzled!

The Discovery Institute's Denyse O'Leary is at it again, claiming that it's not Darwin's world.  This is nothing more than a classic straw-man argument.  For those of you not sure of what that means, it's when you build a nonsensical argument, destroy it, and then claim some sort of victory.  Sorta like pseudo-voodoo, which explains Denyse perfectly.

Her latest whine "Natural Genetic Engineering? Natural Popcorn? Or Something More Important?" over on the DI's Evolution News and Views site, or is that Views and News?  Since they rarely report any actual news without putting their own spin, it's hard to tell the difference between the 'news' and the 'views'.  I wonder if Denyse also writes for Fox Pseudo-News?  Anyway, she's busy trying to marginalize Darwin once again by naming a few of the things we have hard the temerity to learn since Darwin first published.  Her straw-man is pretty obvious.  She's trying to marginalize Darwin as a key figure in the history of Biology.  She's not the only one at the DI trying this foolish tactic.  How often have various DI talking heads posted about Darwin being the root of Racism or how Darwin caused WWII.  All an effort to marginalize Darwin so they can try and slide their own pseudo-scientific ideas into a perceived vacuum.

Yes, Denyse, since 1861 the science of Biology has moved well ahead of where Darwin was.  Charles Darwin and Natural Selection is at least one chapter in any decent biology text (I would recommend 'Biology' by Ken Miller and Joe Levine), but it's not the only chapter.  It's one piece of many pieces, a key piece, but not the only piece.

Have you ever assembled a puzzle, for example one of those 1000 piece puzzles of the intricately colored garden.  You tend to work at it for hours and hours and at some point you find one particular piece and suddenly a large part of the puzzle comes together.  That's what Charles Darwin did.  He didn't finish the puzzle, but he found a piece that brought meaning to many other pieces.  Since then a great many pieces have been added by other scientists.  Unlike a puzzle, when it comes to science, you have no idea how many pieces there are or what the finished product will look like. 

Since Darwin's day there are a number of things we have learned.  First of all, there are a hell of a lot more than 1000 pieces in Biology.  We also learned that for every piece we do find, it seems to expand the puzzle as new knowledge not only answers some questions but tends to cause more questions to be asked.  Perfectly fitting pieces are pretty rare, most pieces start out quite provisionally (hypotheses) as as support builds they fit better and better (theories). 

To continue the puzzle analogy, what Denyse, and her masters at the Discovery Institute, have been trying to do is remove Darwin's piece, or pieces, in hopes that the rest of the puzzle will simply collapse.  What they have found that removing a piece isn't as simple as claiming it no longer fits, or trying to paint Darwin into roles that do not apply -- they have to be able to back that up . . . which they have failed repeatedly.  And Denyse, pointing out things that have been learned since Darwin does not diminish Darwin's contributions in any way.

One of the things they fail to understand is that their desire to remove Darwin's piece and substitute one of their own is not workable without their piece's ability to fit as precisely as Darwin's does today.  To date, their piece is like a broken tinker toy connector and they are trying to force it to fit into a 1000 piece puzzle of a garden scene.  Forcing it with school boards and politicians doesn't work, not that they will ever admit that.  What they are missing is science.  Biology has changed a lot in 150+ years, Intelligent Design arguments have not changed much since William Paley's famous use of the Watchmaker analogy.  Maybe Denyse will make more sense next time, but I expect her to meet my already low expectations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Every time a bigoted 'Christian' opens their mouth, another Atheist is created!

In a recent post (Paul Nelson on Will Provine) I said the following:

"I have found Christians, as a group, to be remarkably close-minded, many quite intolerant, and still others as absolutely hateful."  
I am sure some Christians who read it disagreed with me, as is your right to do so.  But I wouldn't be too proud yet.  Take a look: "Shannon and Carmen Wampler-Collins apply for marriage license in Rowan County" and listen to the  . . . bigots  . . . in the background.  I can't even say what's running through my mind right now, it's making me sick!

I saw a picture of what was purported to be a sign outside of a church, I can't find the image again, but I remember the words:
"If you think your religion allows you to discriminate, you are doing it wrong!"  
These bigoted morons better hope they lose Pascal's Wager, because if they win, they are up hell's creek without a paddle! 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Will the Discovery Institute start petitioning the Louvre?

This post is kinda convoluted.  It started as a response to a conversation and ended using a quote from the Wedge Strategy document.  I spotted something I hadn't noticed before, so I have re-arranged the post a bit, to lead with that item because . . . well you just have to see it.

 . . . The American Education System has problems, but we are not going to fix them by substituting real science with pseudo-science.  Plus, if you have been reading some of the material from the DI, you know that science is just a start.  After all, one of the 20 year goals from the famous, or infamous, Wedge Strategy Document is:

"To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts."
I do have to question . . . fine arts?  What the hell does that mean?  Let me guess, someone at the DI will start painting and they will immediately start demanding it be included at the Louvre!
Here is the original post . . . that will place the end comment in context, but I couldn't resist leading with it.  The down-side is I could picture the DI doing exactly that . . . more's the pity.

Had a conversation the other day and the gist of it was what gives me the right to be critical of folks like the Discovery Institute (DI) and Answers in Genesis (AiG), after all I am not a scientist.  My flippant answer was simply that I agreed that I am not a scientist, I'm certainly not a biologist, but then the majority of the folks at the DI, AiG, and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) aren't scientists either.  Yet they seem to feel criticizing science, scientists, and science methodology is OK for them to do it.  But there is more to it.  When you look at those organizations, are they really targeting scientists with all their press releases, publications, and posts?

No, they seem to be targeting everyone BUT scientists.  Seriously, if they were targeting scientists, wouldn't they do that with actual science?  Instead they are targeting people who vote for politicians, school board members, parents active in Parent-Teacher Associations, church-goers, really anyone but scientists.  In other words they are after anyone who can sell their ideas to influence and push other people, especially school boards and politicians.  Look at how many of the current crop of politicians love to pander to the Christian Right.  For them it's all about votes.  Two of them, Huckabee and Cruz, even have been supporting the latest Kentucky State Bigot, Kim Davis (Someone needs to tell Ken Ham that Religious Freedom is not a license to Discriminate and Ed Brayton's Facebook post).

Look what they tried to do down in Texas.  The extremely Creationist School Board Head, Don McLeroy, wasn't happy with scientists determining science curriculum so he formed a committee and invited the DI to 'help' (Texas regains some Sanity!).  Luckily the State legislature had enough to Don's antics that they finally ousted him.  The DI 'helped' the Dover school board, or I should say the former Dover school board.  The DI 'helped' the Louisiana Family Forum write what eventually became the poorly named 'Louisiana Science Education Act' (Louisiana Politics over Science and The Discovery Institute and Michael Engor are at it again).  The result, at State with the worst reputation of being pro-education to the point science groups are no longer considering Louisiana for their conferences and meetings.  The DI helped a California part-time soccer coach try and teach a 'Philosophy of Design' class that was remarkably lacking in philosophy (Coexistence III - Tejon CA).  Do you see them as 'helping' scientists?

What give me the right?  Nothing, really.  I don't see it as a right, I see it as an obligation.  After all,  if I am going to be a target, aren't I obliged to shoot back?

I am a person that folks like the DI and kennie ham (AiG) take aim at.  I am someone who has had children in school and have a grandchild and nieces and nephews currently in school.  I am a voter who elects people to represent me at the local, state, and national level and who votes on issues like school funding.  I support the local PTA and school board and have even attended meetings when certain things are on the agenda.  I have had letters to the editor published in the local papers and have also mailed/emailed my representatives to voice my opinion.  I blog and have several thousand posts around the Internet news site, like Topix.  Google my email ID and you might be surprised!  You might have noticed that I don't mind sharing my opinions.  I am not afraid to disagree, something my wife can tell you all the time.  But since I am one of the people that are being targeted by these folks, I figure I have obligation to respond to being a target, and this blog is one of the ways I respond.

It really is more a way for me to get my own head around ideas.  I like to capture elements of the arguments and write to clear my own thinking.  If that happens to be critical of the DI and AiG, and others, then so be it.  There are plenty of religious blogs out there critical of real science!

What I found funny when thinking about the conversation later is that I am doing something that gets paid a great deal of lip service by the DI.  I am engaged in critical thinking.  The DI advocates
'teaching methods that introduce intelligent design ideas (and textbooks) indirectly through a campaign to "Teach the Controversy" by portraying evolution as "a theory in crisis" and "presenting all the evidence, both for and against, evolution" and teaching "Critical Analysis of Evolution"'
For example the 'Teach the Controversy' campaign attempts to disguise itself as a way of improving education and increase critical thinking, the reality is they do not want critical thinking.  Here is an excerpt from the Dover decision:
"ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM [Intelligent Design Movement] is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID"
Teaching the controversy has been slammed so hard, they changed the name of the campaign to "Critical Analysis of Evolution".  Since they cannot teach the 'science' behind their ideas -- because they keep forgetting to do any science to support their ideas -- they are manufacturing artificial issues, like fomenting an artificial 'controversy' to portray evolution as a theory in crisis.

Anyone, and I mean anyone, who critically analyzes Intelligent Design will discover how bereft of science it actually is.  ID writings claim to be science, but at best they are philosophical mental meanderings.  The DI opened their own lab, and still no science.  Their ID campaigns are all dishonest because they cloud their intent in innocuous ideas.  We talked about the 'Teach the Controversy' and 'Critical Analysis of Evolution' campaigns.  We can add a few more:
  • Sternberg Peer Review Controversy -- they frequently mischaracterize what actually happened in order to continually paint Sternberg as a victim of imaginary discrimination.
  • Guillermo Gonzalez failure to be granted tenure -- he failed not because he supported ID, but because he failed in his responsibilities as a professor
  •  Academic Freedom Bills, which have absolutely nothing to do with Academic Freedom.  "They purport that teachers, students, and college professors face intimidation and retaliation when discussing scientific criticisms of evolution, and therefore require protection.  Critics of the bills point out that there are no credible scientific critiques of evolution.  Investigation of the allegations of intimidation and retaliation have found no evidence that it occurs." (from: Academic freedom campaign)
When faced with such tactics, everyone should recognize it and respond accordingly!  That's what I am doing and I certainly do feel an obligation to respond.  The American Education System has problems, but we are not going to fix them by substituting real science with pseudo-science.  Plus, if you have been reading some of the material from the DI, you know that science is just a start.  After all, one of the 20 year goals from the famous, or infamous, Wedge Strategy Document is:
"To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts."
I do have to question . . . fine arts?  What the hell does that mean?  Let me guess, someone at the DI will start painting and they will immediately start demanding it be included at the Louvre!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Discovery Institute upset that Darwin didn't have a Crystal Ball

I came across this phrase on a recent pot at the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and View "Life Continues to Ignore What Evolution Experts Say" and it made me do a little thinking.  I have previously said that the DI seems to live in a time bubble ("Sorry Darwin, it isn't your Evolution anymore? Are you kidding?") and have tried to narrow any arguments about evolution to about 1861 when Darwin originally published.  This article is a prime example.  Look at the author's continual use of the phrases 'Darwinian' and 'Non-Darwinian'.  Since she is speaking of parts of Evolution that also weren't covered by Stephen Jay Gould, why isn't she calling is 'Non-Gouldian Biology'? 

Since 1861 there have been many changes to the Theory of Evolution (TOE).  Often I've tried to remind people that the TOE isn't a single theory, but a large collection of theories, including (but not limited to) Natural Selection, Mutation, Gene Drift, Punctuated Equilibrium . . ..  Each theory brings clarity to the whole.  Biology includes the TOE, of which part is Natural Selection.

At no time do real scientists equate all of biology to just what Darwin contributed, not even any 'lay hearers' (see the quote below) who stayed awake in Jr High Biology class.  So Denyse builds a straw-man about contemporary biological knowledge and then seeks to demolish it.  In no way does that diminishes Darwin's contributions, but it shows that DI arguments always seemed to be aimed at Darwin, regardless of whether or not the critique is applicable.  Here is an example:

"One motif recurs: Darwinian evolution -- which most lay hearers assume to be "evolution" period -- assumes that evolution is vertical: Organisms take their form from genes inherited with slight modifications from their ancestors through their parents. And these slight changes add up gradually over time to immense and profound changes.
Non-Darwinian biology studies mechanisms for evolution that don't really work that way, including horizontal gene transfer and epigenetic change."
So, Denyse is complaining that in 1861 Darwin didn't foresee horizontal gene transfer or epigenetic change.  Does Denyse, in her apparently finite wisdom, remark that genetics started small with a paper that came out 4 years after Darwin published?  Did she completely ignore that the work of Gregor Mendel had been set aside and not re-discovered until the early 20th century?  I'm a little surprised that she isn't also complaining that Darwin didn't know the structure of DNA (1953).  Instead she picks on gene transfer (1968) and epigenetics (1942).  (Note: both gene transfer and epigenetics are older than that, but those years relate to the work Denyse is talking about and the impact on modern biology) See what I mean?  Biology has changed greatly in the last century and a half, but the DI is still whining about Darwin, what Darwin did, and especially what Darwin didn't know.  I guess she expects Darwin to have had a crystal ball?  She, and her bosses, can't seem to join the rest of us in the 21st century without finding some way to take a dig at Darwin.  Childish, isn't it?

In the real world, no one studies 'Darwinian' Biology, or 'Darwinian' Evolution, it's Biology and Evolution.  They keep making this artificial distinction just so they can take cheap shots.  Darwin's work is a part of the whole, an important part to be sure, not one that should be trivialized like this.  What I find funny is that who is doing all this work on gene transfer and epigenetics?  Those fellows at the DI?  No, it's real scientists doing actual science, not armchair Creationists who keep trying to market that they aren't Creationists!  All the DI can do is try and put an anti-science spin on everything they touch.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Since when is Richard Sternberg known as an 'Evolutionary Biologist'?

You might criticize me for not listening to the audio, but I really triggered on the title: "Listen: Evolutionary Biologist Richard Sternberg on the Problem of Whale Origins".  Since when is Richard Sternberg known as an 'Evolutionary Biologist'?

Biologists at places like Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) refer to themselves as 'Creation Biologists', and while those two terms really don't work well together, that's their title.  Shouldn't Richard be calling himself a 'Intelligent Design Biologist'?  After all he works at the Discovery Institute's pet lab (Biologic) and is working on a 'research' project funded by the DI. 

Calling yourself an Evolutionary Biologist usually has meaning that involves an acceptance of the Theory of Evolution, not every nook and cranny, but the overarching theory.  The signatories of Project Steve put it well with this part of their statement (I added the underlining):

"Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. "

It doesn't seem to me that a signatory of the DI's dissent petition would agree with the Project Steve statement.  If I recall, Sternberg was also one of the many signatories . . . well you can read it here:
"Also, in early editions of the list [the dissent petition], Richard Sternberg was described as "Richard Sternberg, Invertebrate Zoology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution" though Sternberg was never a Smithsonian staff member, but an unpaid research associate. At the time of signing the list Sternberg was the outgoing editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a minor biology journal, where he played a central role in the Sternberg peer review controversy. Later versions of the list dropped mention of Sternberg's affiliation with the Smithsonian in favor of Sternberg's alma maters, Florida International University and Binghamton University. "
I don't know, but it all seems very misleading to me, but then I often feel misled when reading things from the Discovery Institute.  Maybe Richard just hasn't run out of business cards from one of his previous jobs, you know the ones before the peer review controversy?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Paul Nelson on Will Provine

You don't hear much from Paul Nelson (Paul Nelson Day), but he recently posted a bit about Dr. William Provine.  It had a lot of nice things to say, but one thing struck me as a bit off.  He referred to him at the most Christian Atheist he'd ever known.  Now I am sure Nelson meant it as a compliment, but I have a small issue with it, and only a small issue with it. 

What Nelson was talking about were the many positive aspects of Dr. Provine's character, how he had a mischievous smile, his scholarly encouragement and playful nature, how he never had any personal malice, and a winning smile.  Based on what I have learned about Dr. Provine, if he heard Nelson describe him 'as the most Christian Atheist', he would more than likely take it in the spirit he would assume Nelson meant.  My issue isn't so much with Nelson calling Dr. Provine a 'Christian Atheist', it's the assumption that the positive aspects of Dr. Provine's character are associated with Christianity?  Really?  Maybe Christian ideals, but then has any Christian, since the idealistic picture painted of Christ, lived up to many of those ideals?  It brings to mind the Ghandi quote:

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
To me, it is a huge assumption that positive character is somehow tied to someone's religious beliefs, particularly Christianity.  The implication, which theists love to claim, but never substantiate, is that to have such positive characteristics, you must be a theist of one stripe of another.  Which I find laughable because when you don't share the same specific church with most Christians, they look down on you and treat you like a second, or worse, class person.  If you tell them you are an atheist, they practically hold-up two fingers in a makeshift cross like you are a movie vampire,  Look at kennie ham for example.  He seems to think the only true Christians in the world are those that agree with him!  This assumption that being nice, pleasant, scholarly encouraging is somehow tied, at least in Neslon's mind, to being a Christian is what I can't buy.  I have found Christians, as a group, to be remarkably close-minded, many quite intolerant, and still others as absolutely hateful.  Remember the Ku Klux Klan claims to be a Christian Organization -- even though just about every Christian denomination eventually denounced them . . . probably one of the few cross-denominational agreements within Christianity.

This does tie to a common argument theists like the make about how theism is the source of all things positive in the world and how atheism is the source of everything evil.  We've discussed this before when theists try and claim to be the source of morality?.  Yet there doesn't seem to be much evidence to support this.  The single largest religion represented in US prisons is Christianity.  Everyone remember the whole pedophile priest issue?  Yea, I know many theists tried to play off that these priests weren't 'real' Christians, but reality disagrees!  Morality is based on behavior, regardless of the source of anything currently defined as moral.  Christians like to claim the moral high-ground simply because they are Christians, but there doesn't seem to be any rationale other than wishful thinking, certainly not most Christians behavior.  Yes, the Bible has a bunch of commandments listed, but did they originate within Christianity?  Study up before you answer!

A few years back my wife was having knee surgery.  We were in the surgical prep area for what they call day surgery.   It was a round area, the center was the nurse and technicians work area, around the circle were individual curtained off areas where each patient would wait until fully prepped for surgery.  All of the surgeries were considered routine affairs, non-life threatening stuff, like mole removal, arthroscopic knee surgery, even scoping.  You know, pretty basic stuff.  Well I was in with my wife and I was doing my best to keep things light.  We were laughing and marked a big 'X' on one knee with a note "The other one!".  They gave her a large bright green glass case that looked like a giant pill . . . if you know us, you could well imagine the comments we made about that thing.  Stuff like that.  Well, two spots down on the circle, someone else was in for minor surgery and they had many more people than could fit in their curtained area, so they spilled out a bit.  They were all praying, doing some hymns, and I guess they brought their preacher in with them.  If I hadn't known it was minor surgery, I would have thought a funeral was going on there.  After a while a nurse came in and said "The people down the way are complaining because they can hear you guys laughing.  It's disturbing their prayers."  I don't know what specific strain of Christianity they were, but apparently the kind that didn't have a sense of humor.  We thought about laughing harder and louder, but decided to remain at the level we were at.  I was there to maintain my wife's spirits, I did think it was rather rude of them to not allow me this freedom.  I was sorely tempted to complain about their loud depressing praying and especially their singing . . . which was pretty bad . . . but unlike my Christian neighbors, I was apparently raised better . . . . thanks Mom and Dad!

I had a conversation along these lines recently with a  . . . shall we say rabid . . . Christian.  When I attempted to make my point, he pointed to all the things Christian organizations have done, like feeding the hungry, opening up hospitals, running orphanages.  I asked if any other groups, theist and non-theist, do any of those same things?  He unhappily conceded that they do.  My point is that as a SOCIAL organization, theist or not, groups can choose to do a great many good things, but claiming some moral point because your group does some good things seems a bit of a reach to me. 

Dr. Provine's behavior was not a result of being a Christian, or even emulating a Christian, as Nelson seems to want to believe.  It is a result of the nature of his upbringing and decisions he made for himself when determining how he should behave under any particular set of circumstances.  Apparently Nelson's upbringing and decisions are to make assumptions about other people.  Wonder what he thinks of me?  LOL!

Monday, September 7, 2015

I think the Discovery Institute has been enjoying Washington's new Marijuana Laws

That's about the only explanation I can come with to explain this 'gem' "For Your Labor Day Weekend Consideration: Alfred Wallace Russel, Scientist and Working Man".  We all know that the DI likes to re-baptize folks as some sort of Intelligent Design proponents, of course well after they are safely dead so they can't possibly defend themselves.

If you want to learn more about Alfred Wallace Russel, I certainly do not recommend anything from the DI, especially their self-published bio by Michael Flannery.  An interesting blog post was done back in 2008 by Olivia Judson:  "Wallace Should Hang".  There are many great references for the contributions, a little Googling brings up tons.  I would suggest starting with a site that I am pretty much the DI dislikes, which is always a positive reference:  "Natural Selection:  Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace Russel".

OK, why do I always seem to stall before reading DI stuff.  I guess experience would be the best reason.  It's nice and late, just a few minutes before Labor Day, so I think a good belly laugh is a great way to end the day and get a little sleep, so here goes.  For some reason they open with "impact of labor on the development of evolutionary theory" . . . which has me scratching my head.  Russel spent years collecting samples and documenting his results, as did Darwin.  What does 'labor' have to do with it?  They both worked incredibly hard.  But let me guess, will to DI try and portray Russel as working harder than Darwin?  Maybe, since they tend to canonize one while vilifying the other.

Oh for pities sake, they are claiming that since Wallace came from the middle class and Darwin had family money, OBVIOUSLY that makes Wallace better for some stupid reason.  They have a video, but is it really worth watching?  They quote their in-house 'historian' Flannery, so this looks like nothing special, just stuff they have been saying before.  One of the many negative reviews about Flannery's book was:

"If you're looking for a creationist take on evolution and Wallace, this is the book for you. This is not an in-depth biography of a complicated, wonderful person but a short treatise on why evolution must have had an intelligent designer behind it."
Under the Alfred Wallace Russel website, Flannery's book is listed not under the biographies, or scholarly work, but under the heading of 'other'.  Plus Flannery is identified as an ID proponent on the site, which would certainly be a red flag to anyone who wants to know more about Wallace.

At the end they take a swipe at a Disney movie coming out that features a young Charles Darwin.  I have to assume the movie will present Darwin in a positive light, which would annoy the DI to no end.  Since I don't expect historical accuracy from Disney movies, my expectations for such a movie would normally be pretty low, but if the DI wants to start whining about it months/years before it's released, I have to raise my expectations.  I mean anything that makes the DI act as if someone pissed in their cornflakes has got to have many redeeming features!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Ed Brayton's Facebook post

Ed Brayton had a great Facebook post:

"Everyone who supports Kim Davis and this notion that government clerks should be allowed to refuse to provide government services based on their "sincerely held religious beliefs" should have to answer a couple of rather obvious questions:
1. Would you take the same position if the clerk claimed a right to deny a marriage license to an interracial couple? This is not merely a hypothetical, this exact claim was made following the Supreme Court's ruling in Loving v Virginia.
2. Would you take the same position if the clerk was Muslim and claimed a right to deny driver's licenses to women? Or a Quaker and claimed a right not to issue any gun permits because of their pacifism?
All of those examples are absolutely identical legally. They can't try to argue that those examples are different because God doesn't *really* oppose those things but he really does oppose same-sex marriage because the government cannot make such a distinction. And they damn well know it because if the government did try to make that distinction and declare that a belief other than Christianity is the only true belief and therefore the only basis for such an exemption, they would lose their minds over it.
As always, they are engaged in special pleading and will refuse to apply their arguments consistently and coherently. Because when they say they want religious freedom, what they really want is Christian privilege. They want Christians, and Christians only, and only their particular type of Christians in fact, to be allowed to violate the law at will."
Gay marriage is NOT an attack on Christianity, but the restoration of civil rights that should have never been removed in the first place! 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Someone needs to tell Ken Ham that Religious Freedom is not a license to Discriminate

I guess I will try, but I doubt he's listening.  He's all about discrimination!  Didn't he once blame discrimination on Evolution?  I'll have to find the reference, but I recall kennie blogging something about witnessing discrimination in the 70's and feeling horrified, of course he never mentioned anything about it until recently when he jumped on the DI bandwagon and started blaming discrimination on Darwin.  But now we all know, religion is the cause of discrimination.

Little kennie ham just had to weigh in on the Kentucky clerk situation, what a shock.  I'm not going to link to it, mainly because do you really need to read it?  You know what he's going to say.  I haven't read it yet, but I did see the title "Another Religious Freedom Case in Kentucky".  Is this case really about religious freedom?  In a way, but I doubt in the way kennie treats it.

Historically, kennie has been trying to sell the idea that the whole world is turning against Christians and any time anyone says anything negative, it's an attack on Christianity.  I have several issues with that.  First of all, kennie and his minions [not the cute yellow ones] do not represent Christianity.  They are a small, but vocal, sect of Evangelical Christians that I prefer to call 'Hamians', mainly because they certainly do not reflect Christianity in much else but name.  Another issue is with his idea of religious freedom, and I have said this several times, in my opinion he defines religious freedom as:

"The freedom for me [kennie] to believe as I wish and the freedom to make you believe as I wish as well."
That, to me, is not religious freedom.  I have been to the Creation Museum, I have been on AiG's site for years.  I have laughed hilariously as Kentucky finally wised up to what kennie has been up to with his discriminatory hiring practices for the Ark Park.  Everything he does is designed to force the rest of the world to his viewpoint, whether we want to or not makes little difference to him.

I am sure you know about the Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to give marriage licenses to gay couples because it was against her religion -- she refused up and just today went to jail.  She also ordered the other clerks not to do it because it was against HER religion, obviously their religion beliefs do not matter to her.  She was not jailed for her religious beliefs, but for contempt of court for her refusal to do her job as ordered.  You can find many links to this all over news sites.

You can probably guess my take on it.  She was voted into office to be the clerk, she was not voted into office to practice her religion.  It is illegal for her to use her religion as a reason to discriminate.  The clerkship is an office, not a person.  She has no right to discriminate!  She isn't issuing marriage licenses for herself, but for the county.  She should have resigned her position -- that would have made this a matter of principle -- and while I would still disagree with her and her principles, I would at least respect her.  As it is, I don't think she deserves any respect, and whoever is giving her legal advice even less.  But I bet kennie just loves her, I wonder how many times she'll be speaking at his 'museum' once she's released.

Actually kennie didn't have much to say, but he did try and sneak something in, did you catch it?  It's right in the title:  "Another . . .", what does he mean by 'another'.  What he did at the end of his little commentary was put a plug . . . oh here, you read it, I added the underlining:
"I also encourage you to learn more about a religious liberty case involving AiG and our Ark project that we have filed against the state of Kentucky."
Yes, supposedly kennie and his crack legal team are suing the State of Kentucky to get the state sales tax exemption back after Kentucky pulled it following the notice of his discriminatory hiring practices.  I've posted about it here, here, and also here.  In a nutshell, kennie had some help from Kentucky after promising to follow state hiring practices because the ark park wasn't a non-profit ministry.  Then after posting job openings that were discriminatory, blatantly discriminatory, the state pulled their support.  Little kennie is claiming the state is discriminating against him and wants his exemptions back.

You know, now that I see both issues side-by-side so to speak, I can see the parallels, no wonder kennie loves the clerk.  She discriminates and when held accountable, claims her religion as her shield.  He did exactly the same thing!  She took an oath to perform her duties, and kennie promised abide by state hiring practices.  She went to jail and kennie went . . . well . . . to a lawyers office to sue.  OK, the parallels only go so far, but it is interesting.

It will be 'fun' when he comes back from inflicting his point on view on Northern Ireland and hear what he says about her being in jail.  My only question is will he put her up for sainthood or martyrdom?  I do predict kennie will make an analogy of Jesus on the cross and the clerk in her jail cell.  Only time will tell.

Here is an interesting editorial cartoon:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

If Evolution is ever replaced, it won't be by the Discovery Institute!

I hadn't run in this before, which is not surprising since I took a bit of time away from blogging, but after it being pointed out to me on Facebook, I just have to add it to my collection.  It's from "Evolution's Refusal to Die".  It ties well into things I like to say, like science's self-correcting nature.  I do love this line:

"Evolution is no more ill than heliocentricity, atomic theory or quantum mechanics is ill."
and his closing:
"The historical lesson is clear, even if the anti-evolutionists can't see it: Science is open to correction. In the event that evolution does become a "theory in crisis," we will read about that in Scientific American, Nature and Science, not the blogs of the anti-Darwinian culture warriors." 
I, and many others, have said time and time again that when you look back at all the things Creationists like to point out as weaknesses in science, like Piltdown Man or Cold Fusion, you will find that it certainly wasn't the armchair Creationist that discovered the problem, but other scientists replicating the work.  When you see the advancement of science from Newton to Einstein and beyond, again the armchair Creationist were nothing but a nay-sayer and the actual work was again done by real scientists, not folks like those at Answers in Genesis (AiG), the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), or the Discovery Institute (DI).  I have asked and no one has bothered answering, what scientific advancement can you point to that had Creationism at its core?  Not a single one!  Pointing out historical scientists that may or may not have been theists is not the same thing.  What scientific advancement can you lay at Creationism's door, not a single one!  Should make you think, shouldn't it?

If ever the current Theory of Evolution is replaced by a better, more encompassing explanation, it's not one dreamed up by theists as a way to bolster their own faith in their particular religion, but by real scientists, doing actual science, in accordance with methodology that doesn't require the actions of a deity.