Evolution education update: January 13, 2012

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FROM: Glenn Branch

NCSE files a friend-of-the-court brief in the Freshwater case. Two
antievolution bills in Missouri: one that would encourage teachers to
emphasize “the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of
evolution and one that would require equal time for “intelligent
design” in the state’s schools and universities. Protestant pastors in
the United States reject evolution, according to a survey conducted by
the research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Over a third of
K-12 educators who teach about climate change have been influenced to
teach “both sides,” according to a NESTA survey. And a reminder about
NCSE’s Grand Canyon expedition in 2012.

NCSE FILES AMICUS IN FRESHWATER CASE

By providing a friend of the court brief (PDF) to Ohio’s Fifth
District Court of Appeals on January 10, 2012, NCSE is supporting a
local school district that fired a middle school science teacher over
his inappropriate religious activity in the classroom — including
teaching creationism. NCSE’s brief argues that the teacher’s
materials and methods concerning evolution “have no basis in science
and serve no pedagogical purpose.” The case is John Freshwater v.
Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education; NCSE’s amicus
curiae brief was prepared pro bono by Richard Mancino, Samuel M. Leaf,
and Anthony Juzaitis of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Christopher
S. Williams, Colleen M. O’Neil, and Jeffrey J. Lauderdale of Calfee,
Halter & Griswold LLP.

In 2008, a local family accused Freshwater of engaging in
inappropriate religious activity and sued Freshwater and the district.
The Mount Vernon City School Board then voted to begin proceedings to
terminate his employment. After thorough administrative hearings that
proceeded over two years and involved more than eighty witnesses, the
referee presiding over the hearings issued his recommendation that the
board terminate Freshwater’s employment with the district, and the
board voted to do so in January 2011. Freshwater challenged his
termination in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas in February 2011,
but the court found “there is clear and convincing evidence to support
the Board of Education’s termination of Freshwater’s contract(s) for
good and just cause.”

Freshwater then appealed the court’s decision to the Fifth District
Court of Appeals. With respect to his teaching of creationism, his
appeal brief argued, “Freshwater sought to encourage his students to
differentiate between facts and theories, and to identify and discuss
instances where textbook statements were subject to intellectual and
scientific debate,” claimed, “his encouraging students to think
critically about scientific theories … cannot be rendered illegal
based solely on the presumption that Freshwater’s personal beliefs
happen to align with one of the competing theories considered,” and
accused the board’s actions of constituting “an outright hostility to
religion that … violates the Establishment Clause.”

NCSE’s brief addresses “[w]hether there is any pedagogical or
scientific merit in John Freshwater’s teaching of ‘alternative
theories’ to evolution, including theories that are ‘consistent’ [as
Freshwater’s appeal brief described them] with Christian religious
beliefs, and whether there is pedagogical or scientific merit in his
specific approach to ‘encouraging students to think critically’ about
evolution” and argues that Freshwater’s “materials and methods serve
no legitimate pedagogical purpose in a public school science class,
are scientifically unsound, and serve only impermissibly to advance a
sectarian purpose, namely to teach creationism in its traditional
version of creation science or its modern incarnation of intelligent
design.”

For NCSE’s amicus brief (PDF), visit:
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1716
For documents associated with Freshwater’s termination, visit:
http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/freshwater-termination-hearing

A SECOND ANTIEVOLUTION BILL IN MISSOURI

House Bill 1276, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives
on January 11, 2012, and not yet referred to a committee, is
apparently the fifth antievolution bill of 2012 — and the second in
Missouri. The bill would, if enacted, call on state and local
education administrators to “endeavor to create an environment within
public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to
explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop
critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully
to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including
biological and chemical evolution” and to “endeavor to assist teachers
to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it
addresses scientific controversies.” “Toward this end,” the bill
continues, “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand,
analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific
strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and
hypotheses of chemical evolution.”

Andrew Koenig (R-District 88) is the main sponsor of HB 1276; its
cosponsors are Rick Brattin (R-District 124), Charlie Davis
(R-District 128), Todd Richardson (R-District 154), Sue Allen
(R-District 92), Kurt Bahr (District 19), Brent Lasater (R-District
53), Darrell Pollock (R-District 146), Doug Funderburk (R-District
12), Bill Reiboldt (R-District 130), Bill Lant (R-District 131), Casey
Guernsey (R-District 3), Dwight Scharnhorst (R-District 93), and
Kathie Conway (R-District 14). The text of HB 1276 is identical to the
text of HB 195 in 2011; Koenig, Davis, Bahr, Pollock, Funderburk,
Reiboldt, Scharnhorst, and Conway were among its sponsors. HB 195 died
in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee without
receiving a hearing. In the present legislative session, Brattin,
Davis, Koenig, Allen, and Pollock are also among the sponsors of HB
1227, which if enacted would require “the equal treatment of science
instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design” in both public
elementary and secondary schools and introductory science courses in
public institutions of higher education in Missouri.

For the text of Missouri’s HB 1276, visit:
http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills121/biltxt/intro/HB1276I.htm

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/missouri

“INTELLIGENT DESIGN” BILL IN MISSOURI

House Bill 1227, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives
on January 10, 2012, would, if enacted, require “the equal treatment
of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design,”
according to the legislature’s summary of the bill. The equal
treatment provision would apply to both public elementary and
secondary schools and to “any introductory science course taught at
any public institution of higher education” in Missouri.

HB 1227’s text is about 3000 words long, beginning with a declaration
that the bill is to be known as the Missouri Standard Science Act,
followed by a defectively alphabetized glossary providing
idiosyncratic definitions of “analogous naturalistic processes,”
“biological evolution,” “biological intelligent design,” “destiny,”
“empirical data,” “equal treatment,” “hypothesis,” “origin,”
“scientific theory,” “scientific law,” and “standard science.”

Among the substantive provisions of the bill, applying both to public
elementary and secondary schools and to introductory science courses
in public institutions of higher education: “If scientific theory
concerning biological origin is taught in a course of study,
biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be
taught. Other scientific theory or theories of origin may be taught.”

For public elementary and secondary schools, HB 1227 also provides,
“If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught in a
textbook, the textbook shall give equal treatment to biological
evolution and biological intelligent design.” After the bill is
enacted, new textbooks purchased for the public schools will have to
conform to the equal treatment requirement. A committee will develop
supplementary material on “intelligent design” for optional interim
use.

HB 1227 is apparently a descendent of HB 911 in 2004, which was also
dubbed the Missouri Standard Science Act, began with a glossary of the
same eleven terms (and also “extrapolated radiometric data”), would
have required equal treatment of “intelligent design” in the public
elementary and secondary schools (although not in public higher
education), and would have required textbooks to conform to the equal
treatment requirement.

HB 911 was widely criticized, including by the Science Teachers of
Missouri. A sequel bill, HB 1722, also introduced in 2004, contained
the same language as HB 911, but omitted provisions that would have
required the text of the bill to be posted in high school science
classrooms and that would have enabled the firing of teachers and
administrators who failed to comply with the law. Both bills died when
the legislative session ended.

Rick Brattin (R-District 124) is the main sponsor of HB 1227; its
cosponsors are John McCaherty (R-District 90), Charlie Davis
(R-District 128), Andrew Koenig (R-District 88), Sue Allen (R-District
92), and Darrell Pollock (R-District 146); Davis, Koenig, and Pollock
also cosponsored the antievolution HB 195 in 2011. HB 1227 is the
fourth antievolution bill of 2012, joining Indiana’s Senate Bill 89
and New Hampshire’s House Bills 1148 and 1157.

For the text of Missouri’s HB 1227, visit:
http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills121/biltxt/intro/HB1227I.htm

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/missouri

POLLING PASTORS ON EVOLUTION

A poll of Protestant pastors in the United States found that they
“overwhelmingly believe that God did not use evolution to create
humans and think Adam and Eve were literal people,” according to a
press release (January 9, 2012) issued by LifeWay Research. LifeWay
Research is a division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern
Baptist Convention, a denomination not conspicuously sympathetic
toward evolution, as a 1982 resolution illustrates.

Presented with “I believe God used evolution to create people,” 12% of
respondents strongly agreed, 12% somewhat agreed, 8% somewhat
disagreed, and 64% strongly disagreed; 4% were unsure. Respondents in
the northeast were more likely to strongly agree (25%) than
respondents in the west (13%), midwest (12%), and south (8%); Mainline
Protestants were more likely to strongly agree (25%) than Evangelicals
(8%).

Presented with “I believe Adam and Eve were literal people,” 74% of
respondents strongly agreed, 8% somewhat agreed, 6% somewhat
disagreed, and 11% strongly disagreed; 1% were not sure. Evangelicals
were more likely to strongly agree (82%) than Mainline Protestants
(50%); respondents with graduate degrees were most likely to strongly
disagree (16%) than respondents whose highest degree was a bachelor’s
degree (2%).

Presented with “I believe the earth is approximately six thousand
(6,000) years old,” 30% of respondents strongly agreed, 16% somewhat
agreed, 9% somewhat disagreed, and 34% strongly disagreed; 12% were
unsure. Respondents age 18-44 were less likely to strongly disagree
(24%) than respondents age 45-54, 55-64, and 65 and older (33%, 38%,
38%); those with a graduate degree were more likely to strongly
disagree (42%) than those with only a bachelor’s degree (18%).

Presented with “Most of my congregation believes in evolution,” 10% of
respondents strongly agreed, 9% somewhat agreed, 13% somewhat
disagreed, and 62% strongly disagreed; 5% were unsure. Asked how often
they taught in their church “on the subject of creation and
evolution,” 3% of respondents said several times a month, 4% said
about once a month, 28% said several times a year, 29% said about once
a year, 26% said rarely, and 8% said never; 1% were not sure.

The poll was conducted by telephone in May 2011 among 1000 Protestant
pastors. According to LifeWay Research, “The calling list was randomly
drawn from a list [unspecified] of all Protestant churches. … Each
interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of
the church called. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic
distribution of Protestant churches. The sample provides 95%
confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +/- 3.2%.”

For the press release, visit:
http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Research-Poll-Pastors-oppose-evolution-split-on-earths-age

For the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1982 resolution on evolution, visit:
http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amResolution.asp?ID=967

And for NCSE’s collection of polls and surveys, visit:
http://ncse.com/creationism/polls-surveys

NESTA POLL ON CLIMATE CHANGE EDUCATION

The National Earth Science Teachers Association released the executive
summary of its 2011 on-line survey on climate change education, which
examines the responses of 555 K-12 educators in the United States who
teach about climate change. These teachers generally accept the
scientific consensus on climate change, with 89% agreeing that global
warming is happening and only 13% attributing it mainly to natural
changes in the environment. Only 63% of the general public in the
United States agree that global warming is happening and as many as
35% attribute it to natural changes, according to a 2011 report from
the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Over a third of respondents to the NESTA survey — 36% — reported
that they “have been influenced in some way (directly or indirectly)
to teach ‘both sides’ of climate change.” Although only 5% reported
that they were required to teach “both sides” of climate change, 47%
reported that they taught “both sides” because they thought that
“there is validity to both sides.” About 38% of respondents agreed
that “students have misconceptions about climate change that are hard
to address”; about 25-30% reported that students, parents,
administrators, or community members have disputed with them that
climate change is happening or is the result of human activity.

A full report of the NESTA survey responses from active K-12 climate
change educators is expected to be released in early 2012. NESTA’s
survey was informally conducted on-line, as was a similar survey
conducted among the members of the National Science Teachers
Association in 2011. (The NSTA survey found that 82% of respondents
reported having faced skepticism about climate change and climate
change education from students, 54% reported having faced such
skepticism from parents, and 26% reported having faced such skepticism
from administrators.) A rigorous survey of the prevalence and nature
of climate change skepticism in the classroom apparently remains to be
performed.

For the executive summary for the NESTA survey (PDF), visit:
http://www.nestanet.org/cms/sites/default/files/documents/ExecutiveSummaryClimateChangeEducationSurveyDecember2011.pdf

For the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication’s report (PDF), visit:
http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/American-Teens-Knowledge-of-Climate-Change.pdf

For NSTA’s story about its survey, visit:
http://nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=59035

NCSE AND THE GRAND CANYON 2012

Explore the Grand Canyon with NCSE! Seats are still available for
NCSE’s next excursion to the Grand Canyon — as featured in the
documentary No Dinosaurs in Heaven. From July 16 to 24, 2012, NCSE
will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand
Canyon river run conducted by NCSE’s Genie Scott and Steve Newton.
Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically
grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating
natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious
meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique “two-model” raft
trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of the Grand
Canyon (maybe not entirely seriously) and the evolutionist view — and
let you make up your own mind. To get a glimpse of the fun, watch the
short videos filmed during the 2011 trip, posted on NCSE’s YouTube
site. The cost of the excursion is $2625; a deposit of $500 will hold
your spot. Seats are limited: call, write, or e-mail now.

For information about the trip, visit:
http://ncse.com/about/excursions/gcfaq

For information about No Dinosaurs in Heaven, visit:
http://www.nodinos.com/

For NCSE’s YouTube site, visit:
http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd

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

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com
http://ncse.com

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http://reports.ncse.com

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Special Republican Primary Edition

This is from my “I told you so” department.

Since about last August, maybe even back several more years, it’s been apparent the only candidate who could beat Barack Obama this coming November has been Mitt Romney. I told you so about January 4th. In a few days the Republican contenders will go at it again in Florida. I should have said the remaining Republican contenders. That’s because, since last August, the dominoes have fallen where they were always destined to fall.

First, Michele Bachmann got to thinking that the Tea Party was a real political influence in The United States, and she felt that, being the Tea Party hawker with the loudest voice, she was a sure shot for the nomination and the presidency. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Bachmann. A review of her public statements in this primary run-up and even months prior resounds with her assertion that only she deserved this high office. Somewhere along the way, and also in her upbringing, she came to overlook the fact that actual ability might be a requirement for the public’s trust and the highest office. It’s easy to understand Bachmann’s confusion. Did we not just eleven years ago put into office an individual lacking any ability and also lacking the wisdom to realize this fact? Initially her candidacy was a quick ride to the top before reality set in, then in enough time it was “Bye, bye, Bachmann.”

And who could forget Herman Cain’s rise and fall. Like Bachmann, Cain is completely clueless on some basic facts of the world as manifested by his belief that Intelligent Design better explains modern biology than does, well, modern biology. Like Bachmann, a sudden rise to the top repeating his “9-9-9” mantra and completely unable to answer basic questions about his policies and his plans for running this country. Amazingly, it was something so superficial, so ordinary that brought Cain down to Earth. A few moments (maybe longer) allowing his gonads to make his decisions in his past planted a time bomb that was easily exploded by anybody who would look and also by a parade of women who came forward to remind us. Then Cain was out, blaming “the media” as every soiled politician can rightly do.

Rick Perry, figuring that since he got a free ride into the governorship of one of the finest states in this United States, decided there must be another free ride waiting for him once he condescended to announce his candidacy. And sure enough, the free ride seemed to be there as a war chest of many millions of dollars suddenly appeared on his doorstep the moment he dropped his hat. Zoom! right to the top. Right back up there where he belonged. Perry to the rescue, to save the country from liberalism, Obama, and also from those other pesky Republican candidates. What a feeling it must have been for that brief moment. “The top of the world, ma!” Then something happened. Something nobody ever expected. Somebody turned on the lights. There stood Perry for all the world to see. The complete incompetent and empty shell that was this fake. If only they had talked to us first.

Yes, Jon Huntsman has (almost) come and (really) gone. What was he thinking? You cannot win an election by telling the truth, and that’s what Huntsman was unable to escape. Not only did he remind people that Intelligent Design was fake science, but he also mentioned that Barack Obama really was a United States citizen born in the state of Hawaii. Republicans (at least the Tea Party variety) do not want to hear that. Maybe Jon can get a job as an intelligence analyst for the government. God knows, we can use some good people in that department.

That leaves Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Former senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum just did not have the staying power. He was clearly out of his league. His only strong suit was his appeal to the evangelicals, especially with his promotion of Intelligent Design as science in the public schools. His previous involvement in bizarre political intrusions into the real world (see the Terry Schiavo case) exposed him as an operational misfit and encouraged Pennsylvania voters to cast him out of office by a wide margin. The Republicans do not see him as a winner, and they are done with him.

Republicans previously rejected Newt Gingrich and cast him out from his job as Speaker of the House. This was due to some ethics improprieties, which embarrassed even the Republicans. His preference for open-door marriage is not sitting well with Republicans, either. Maybe he should run for governor of California. Anyhow, Republicans are coming to the hard reality that Gingrich cannot beat Obama in a national election. He probably could not beat me in a national election, but I have not chosen to run this time around.

That leaves Mitt Romney. Actually recent national polls show he is the only candidate in the Republican field who comes close to Obama. The Republicans are going to have to swallow hard and nominate a M….n, someone the evangelicals do not consider to be a true Christian. Jesus Christ! If they had listened to me a long time ago they would have ditched these religious nut cases and stuck to campaigning on a program of pragmatic government that will work for all Americans. But, of course, the Democrats have already taken over that high ground.

My projection: In a few weeks it’s going to be all over. Romney is going to be the candidate, and the Republicans are going to be able to stop beating up on each other and get down to the serious business of beating up on Barack Obama and the liberal atheists.

So, what has been the purpose of these past seven months and all the millions of dollars spent destroying the Republican Party? Did I previously mention gonads?

Hello, Newty

Hey, folks. I was just down to South Carolina, and Newty’s back!

Hello Newty!
Well, Hello Newty!
It’s so nice to have you back where you belong
You’re looking swell, Newty,
We can tell, Newty,
You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’
You’re still goin’ strong.
We feel the room swayin’
For the band’s playin’
One of your old fav’rite songs from ‘way back when

So here’s my hat fellas
I’m stayin’ where I’m at, fellas
Newty will never go away again

Welcome back, Newty. We really missed you here at Comedy Central.

Stomping Through Pandas

This is Overview Section 6: “Biochemical Similarities,” and it is arguably the most obviously wrong section so far. That’s not good, because there are many other sections yet to go.

Ow! This has got to hurt. When you write something, and then you publish it in a book, and you try to push that book on science classes throughout the United States and even into some civilized parts of the world, and what you wrote is so obviously wrong, and everybody knows it and are making fun of you, where do you go from there? You go to the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), that’s where you go. And that’s where Dean Kenyon (author) and Charles Thaxton (editor) of the creationist text Of Pandas and People now are twenty years after the original publication of the book. Both are listed as fellows of the CSC, and it’s something I guess they have to live with. Percival Davis is the other author besides Kenyon, and he is currently visiting professor of biology at Clearwater Christian College in Tampa, Florida.

In a previous section the authors discussed homology-similarity between diverse life forms. In that section the discussion related to morphological homology, similarity of form or body plan. In this section the discussion relates to chemical homology. On page 34:

Homology Writ Small

We all intuitively regard a horse as more similar in general structure to a cow than to a bird, but there is no way of measuring the difference between them in mathematical terms. Deciding which organisms should be classed together based on comparative anatomy and homology is always plagued by an element of subjective judgment. The revolution in molecular biology changes all that. It provides a new way to compare organisms based on the structure of their proteins and DNA.

One of the important procedures of biochemical taxonomy is the determination of amino acid sequences in protein, and the sequences of triplets in DNA. Researchers employ DNA and protein sequence analyzers to determine these sequences. Many proteins are used in a variety of organisms. It has been found that the sequence of a given protein, say cytochrome c, is not fixed but varies from species to species. Usually cytochrome c is composed of a string of one hundred and four amino acids. Though it performs the same function and is similar enough to be recognized as the same protein, it nevertheless differs among the various taxa. The amino acid sequences from two different organisms can be compared by aligning the two sequences and counting the number of individual amino acids that differ. Similar comparisons can be made between two strands of DNA. As an illustration, consider the two series of letters below:

These two series consist of ten letters each and differ in the three positions numbered. The measure of the difference is therefore 30 percent; if they diverged in two positions the difference would be 20 percent, and so on.

Animals with a greater number of similarities in DNA or amino acid sequence are classified more closely taxonomically. The classification system that emerges from molecular biology to a large extent confirms classifications traditionally made by taxonomists from anatomy. That is, a horse is more like a cow than it is like a bird not only in obvious appearance but also in the sequence of amino acids of its proteins, and of triplets in its DNA.

I reproduced the explanation from Pandas, because the book did seem to get that part right. Almost immediately the discussion goes completely off track. Immediately the statement, “Animals with a greater number of similarities in DNA or amino acid sequence are classified more closely taxonomically” is misleading. Animals are not classified closely taxonomically because of similar amino acid sequences. They are classified closely taxonomically because they share a recent common ancestor. Davis-Kenyon continue, heading off into the swamp.

Scientists are attempting to make additional evolutionary trees through biochemical comparisons, to check the older ones. But when measurements of the similarities between proteins are put side, the pattern that emerges contradicts the expectations based on Darwinism. Let’s look at this pattern in detail. Table 1 shows the percent of difference in amino acid sequence in cytochrome c between several organisms. (Note that even when the percentages are identical for more than one organism, the actual amino acid positions where they diverge are not likely to be the same.)

Davis-Kenyon are flatly wrong in the sentence I have highlighted above. Their own Table 1 puts the lie to their argument.

For your convenience I have reproduced here Davis-Keynon’s Table 1. I do not have another source for this information, so what follows is based on the assumption the authors have gotten this right. Here’s how it works: For example, humans are number 1. Look at column number 1. It shows to nobody’s surprise that human cytochrome c differs from human cytochrome c by a zero amount. Now get serious. Davis-Kenyon are going to talk about the silkworm moth (item 15), which is an insect. Please notice that the first 14 items, humans through lamprey, are vertebrates. Recall from your high school biology that insects (arthropods) and vertebrates diverged from each other at the same time millions of years ago. Now look at column 15 (moth). The first 14 differences are 28, 28, 25, 27, 24, 26, 26, 25, 26, 27, 30, 25, 30, 30. All the vertebrates differ from the insect by roughly the same amount. I emphasize the word “roughly.” This is biology, not rocket engineering. We are looking at a molecule that has changed from time to time in the last 500 million years, and God was not keeping score. Now see what Davis-Kenyon have to say:

Now look at the entry for silkworm moth (No. 15 at the top of the table) and this time go down the table from vertebrate class to vertebrate class. Notice that the cytochrome c of this insect exhibits the same degree of difference from organisms as diverse as human, penguin, snapping turtle, tuna, and lamprey. Considering the enormous variation represented by these organisms, it is astonishing that they all differ from the silkworm moth by almost exactly the same percent.

Well, that’s refreshing. I have not witnessed such naiveté on the part of educated scientists in quite some time. Actually, not since I last reviewed a creationist’s book advocating Intelligent Design. One of several possibilities has occurred: The authors have started to believe their own stuff and now think that the form of the cytochrome c molecule should closely track the form of the organism. That would be so puzzling, first because there is no reason the chemical makeup of the molecule should take a cue from body plan and vice versa. Second, the whole idea of tracking molecular differences is to trace the history of the evolution of the various species. For the past 500 million years the cytochrome c molecule has been passed down from generation to generation, and now I have my own copy. Only, along the way, due to accidental mutations in the DNA sequence that produces the cytochrome c protein, there have been changes to the molecule between consecutive generations, and the new molecule has been passed down to subsequent generations after each change. Arthropods and vertebrates went their separate ways over 500 million years ago, and the changes in arthropod cytochrome c and vertebrate cytochrome c have not tracked each other ever since. They have gone their separate ways, and differences have accumulated all this time-around 25 to 30% according to table 1.

The other possibility to consider is that Davis and Kenyon are deliberately lying to their readers, who are supposed to be high school students trying to make the decision whether to believe in the true God of Abraham or the false god of natural science. I am thinking that lying to students is not the way to win hearts and minds. I mentioned Glen Morton in a previous post. He believes in God and creation, but he is also a real scientist, a geologist. At a creationist meeting in Dallas he cautioned creationists in attendance against teaching their children the false notions of so-called flood geology and a young (less than 10,000 years) Earth. He warned that when they later learned the truth they would lose faith in what they had been taught at home and at church.

I am inclined to go with the second of these two conclusions, and here is my reasoning:

Davis has an M.A. degree in zoology from Columbia University-no slouch of an academic institution. He also holds a Ph.D. in instructional design from the University of South Florida-by no means a diploma mill. Dean Kenyon received a B.Sc. degree in physics from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford. The editor of Pandas is Charles Thaxton, who has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Iowa State University. What I am getting at is that none of these people have any excuse for making a mistake like what they have written in this book. The only reasonable possibility is they set out in the morning to perpetrate a hoax on their readers.

I appreciate a liar more than I do a fool. Somebody once complained about my position on this, but my standard response is, “At least a liar will listen to reason.”

Whether or not the authors know what they are doing, they proceed to dig themselves deeper. On page 38 they provide additional “evidence.” Here I have reproduced their Figure 9, except without the nice artwork, including silhouettes of the various animals.

Figure 9. The sequence differences (percent divergence) between the cytochrome c molecules of the carp and several other vertebrates. Notice how close these percentages are to each other.

Please notice for yourself. All other vertebrates diverged from fish at the time of the emergence of amphibians (the frog), and all show about the same molecular differences from the carp (a fish). Quickly, before your lose consciousness from all this BS, please go back to Table 1 and see for yourself.

The carp is a fish, and it differs from other fish, lamprey, dogfish and tuna by 12, 14 and 8. Evaluate these differences in light of the fact that the carp is a boney fish with a jaw, like the tuna, and the dogfish is a kind of shark, a fish with cartilage instead of bone. Fish with jaws diverged from jawless fish a long time ago, and the carp is a jawed fish while the lamprey is a jawless fish. Assume the table is correct and see for yourself whether it correlates well with the hierarchy of life forms on this planet as explained by the modern theory of evolution.

What I find so amusing is that this argument involving molecular homology is the same one that young-Earth creationist Duane Gish used to make in his debates with scientists decades ago. Gish’s nonsense has been picked apart in public rebuttals all this time, and one debater used the term “bullfrog” instead of a similar word when the topic came up. I even published a review in the July 1998 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. There is more in the October 2001 issue.

The authors say a lot more along the same line as the arguments I have quoted, but I will not belabor the point. That would require me to post just about the entire chapter on-line. Please contact me if you need additional quotes but don’t have access to a copy of the book.

This is the last of the Overview sections in the book. The remainder of Pandas involves what the authors call their Excursion chapters, beginning with Chapter 1, “The Origin of Life.” They are going to take the same topics they covered in the first part of the book and elaborate on the discussion in greater detail. Stand by for more of the same. And may God have mercy on your soul.

How The Gingrich Stole Christmas

OK, maybe just South Carolina.

Informal polls out today show Newt leading Mitt by 40% to 26%. Could Newt pull of an upset and go on to take the nomination?

Right now I am sure somewhere in the White House people are celebrating if only prematurely. The President would love to run against Newt. Newt has mentioned before that he is the exact opposite of the President. I am guessing that Newt means that he is white, stupid, overweight and runs around on his wife.

I was thinking that if Barack Obama decides not to run for the office this year I might jump into the race if Newt is the Republican nominee. I’ve been looking for a free ride all my life, and this may be my very last chance. If that ever comes to pass, and I do find myself up against Newt, I am going to have to change my ways to compete in his game. For example,  I need to think of a number of stupid things to say, and I will have to reveal a few pages from my sordid past, even if I have to make up some stuff (but not much). I will also have to hide the fact that I previously served in the military even though I was not drafted.

Anyhow, the South Carolina votes are not in yet for today. Come back this evening to see if the Newt surge is real and if our good citizens in South Carolina have decided to turn their backs on the only candidate with a hope of beating Barack Obama.

Treading Through Pandas

This is Overview Section 5: “Homology,” and as I promised in the previous blog, it’s a real page-turner.

The fact is, in the natural world there is a lot of similarity between what are known to be distinct life forms. People have four appendages-two arms, two legs-horses have four legs. People have a mouth. Horses, dogs, cats, sheep have mouths. And so on. The reason for this similarity is that we all descended from common ancestors by means of small changes from generation to generation. The separate life forms were not created, each from scratch, as the authors of Pandas and People would like the reader to believe. Please see the previous blog wherein Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon make that exact claim-all these separate life forms were created as we see them now and did not descend from a common ancestor.

Davis-Kenyon work their way through this chapter laying out a succession of off-base statements, and expect the conclusion to be the rejection of homology as an indicator of common descent. Page 28:

According to Darwinian theory, the larger the number of similarities between two organisms, the closer is their evolutionary relationship.

No, guys. It’s not the number of similarities, but the manner in which features of different species are similar that speak to their common descent. The authors speak of “Contradictory Similarities” (again on page 28):

Consider the marsupials-mammals that nurture their newborn in a pouch on the mother’s belly (in contrast to placental mammals, such as humans). Marsupials and placental mammals are sometimes strikingly similar… For instance, in skeletal structure, the North American wolf and the now-extinct Tasmanian wolf are very close-in some features, nearly indistinguishable. The behavior and life-style of the Tasmanian wolf was likewise similar to that of the North American wolf. Despite these close parallels, because the two animals differ in a few features, such as their jaws, dentition, and their mode of reproduction, the standard taxonomic approach is to classify them in widely different categories-the North American wolf with the dog and the Tasmanian wolf with the kangaroo.

Forget about differences in jaws and dentition, the mode of reproduction is the overwhelming factor in classifying the two animals separately. Also, it is difficult to imagine why Davis-Kenyon even went down this path of argument-talking of classifying the American wolf with the dog. Just a few pages earlier they were explaining to their readers that the dog is derived entirely from the gray wolf. The fact that the Tasmanian wolf is a marsupial and is considered more closely related to the kangaroo than to the American wolf hits upon one of Charles Darwin’s greatest inspiration for common descent. Until people brought them, there were few, if any, placental land mammals on the Australian continent. There were marsupials on the American continents and none on the European, African and Asian mainlands. The evidence is that what is now South America was once connected to Australia and that marsupials, which originally developed on South America, spread to Australia and finally to North America once the north and south became joined at Panama. Davis and Kenyon are keen to find problems with modern taxonomy, yet they skip entirely the significance of the subject of their argument.

What makes this chapter worthwhile is that here at last the authors get around to pandas, the inspiration of the book’s title. The giant panda and the red panda early on confused taxonomists. Were they related closely to bears or raccoons? Besides other similarities, both kinds of panda exhibit a version of the fabled panda’s thumb, and both use this appendage for similar purposes. The authors make much of the early confusion about pandas, seeking to show readers that evolutionists are confused about this and a lot of things. To relieve my own readers’ curiosity, the giant panda is a bear. The Pandas authors mention that the red panda is a raccoon, but they came to that conclusion without the benefit of recent research that indicates no relation to the raccoon.

The book really gets really weird toward the end of this section. Under a section titled “The products of Design” is the following (page 32):

Many things can be classified that are not derived from a common ancestor-things like cars and paintings and carpenter’s tools, in short, human artifacts. What makes all Fords look similar, or all Rembrandts, or all screwdrivers, is that they are derived from a common design or pattern in the mind of the person making them. In our own experience we know that when people design things-such as car engines-they begin with one basic concept and adapt it to different ends. As much as possible designers seek to piggyback on existing patterns and concepts instead of starting from scratch. Our experience of how human minds work provides an indication of how a primeval intellect might have worked.

We often accuse works like Pandas of being nothing more than arguments for the existence of God-that is the God of Abraham. If such an argument is what Davis-Kenyon had in mind, then they are blowing their chances with statements like this. This is supposedly the God that created the universe, the Earth and all living things in just six days, yet this God suddenly ran out of imagination and is now reduced to the level of human intellect and has to reuse old designs. The authors are also forgetting the source of human intellect. Our intellect, and what intellect any of our fellow species have, is derived from the need to survive on the planet Earth. It is bizarre to consider that a being that has never shared the human experience would think like a human and would suffer the same limits of the human mind.

“A Living Mosaic” (page 33):

Recall the puzzle of the marsupials. According to Darwinian theory, the pattern for wolves, cats, squirrels, ground hogs, anteaters, moles, and mice each evolved twice, once in placental mammals and again, totally independently, in marsupials. This amounts to the astonishing claim that a random, undirected process of mutation and natural selection somehow hit upon identical features several times in widely separated organisms.

Or take the problem of flight. The capacity for powered flight requires a tremendously complex set of adaptations, affecting virtually every organ of the body. Yet Darwinists insist that flight has evolved independently not once but four times, in birds, in insects, in mammals (bats), and in pterosaurs (extinct flying reptiles).

What such examples reveal is that similarities do not trace a simple branching pattern suggestive of evolutionary (genealogical) descent. Instead, they occur in a complex mosaic or modular pattern. Similar structures like the hemoglobin molecule appear here and there in the mosaic of living things, like a silver thread weaving in and out of a tapestry. Similarities may also be described as fixed patterns or discrete blocks that can be assembled in various patterns, not unlike subroutines in a computer program. Genetic programs each incorporate a different application of these subroutines, generating the diversity of biological forms we see today.

To use another analogy, similarities among living things are like preassembled units that can be plugged into a complex electronics circuit. They can be varied according to an organism’s need to perform particular functions in air or water or on land. Organisms are mosaics made up from such units at each biological level. In this view, the possession of similar structures implies nothing of evolutionary ancestry.

Talk about breathtaking inanity!

Where to begin? I have highlighted passages of interest. For starters the authors want to say that natural processes without external, intelligent supervision accidentally hit upon identical features within creatures not closely related. Absolute proof against evolution. Well, not quite. First, the authors use the word identical only to help make their argument, not to speak the truth. The homologous features of, for example, the Tasmanian wolf and the American wolf are the result of a common ecological niche. Looking and acting like a wolf is a good way to feed on small herbivores that can’t defend themselves. A close examination of Tasmanian wolves and American wolves will show any similarities are superficial. Here the authors have crossed the line from exaggeration to fabrication. Later in the book they will step deeper into this quagmire. Stand by.

What were Davis-Kenyon thinking when they decided to make something of the evolution of flight, especially the evolution of flight in insects? The evolution of flight exhibited by birds, bats and pterosaurs is worth noting. All are vertebrates and have closely-related body plans, the pterosaurs to a lesser extent. In all three cases the two front appendages developed into tools for flight. Contrary to what the authors think or what they want their readers to think, the similarities end just about there. Nature solved the same problem three times for vertebrates, but not in the exact same way. The details are more than I can go into in this blog, but the University of California at Berkeley has a nice post on the topic. Read on.

Insects, in no way being closely related to vertebrates, solved the problem of flight in their own, unique way. With insects, nature did not solve again the problem of flight for vertebrates, it solve an entirely different problem. Here and throughout the book, Davis-Kenyon posit these ridiculous scenarios without delving into the known science behind them. By this means they want to deconstruct a vast body of real science in the hopes their readers will buy into their proposed superstitious explanation.

If Davis-Kenyon think they have trumped homology in the matter of flight, they have overlooked a couple of glaring examples of flight evolution. The first is the flying fish, which does not really fly, but leaps from the water and glides for long distances. You have to watch them to appreciate their capability. It is tempting to think you are witnessing the early stages of the evolution of a fish that can really fly, but that may never be. Flying fish fossils go back millions of years, during which a flying example should have had time to develop. In fact, the Muslim creationist book Atlas of Creation uses the example of the flying fish to push its argument against evolution using the same logic.

Flying squirrels are another possible example of the early stages of flight evolution. Like the fish, these squirrels never fly, only glide, and this line of flight evolution may never go anywhere. However, these two examples of nearly flying animals answer the question often asked, facetiously by creationists, of what use is a partial wing?

Where Davis-Kenyon really stepped into it is with the subject of hemoglobin. Real scientists, not the pretend scientists at the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), have found in the study of hemoglobin evolution compelling evidence for common descent. Contrary to what Davis-Kenyon want to promote in their book, hemoglobin morphology strongly tracks the morphology of animal body plans. Here are some links from the Internet for further study:

Ross Hardison published in 1999 (regrettably after Davis -Kenyon published Pandas) the following in American Scientist:

the evolution of hemoglobin.

by Ross Hardison

A comparative study of hemoglobin was conducted to explain how an ancestral single-function molecule gave rise to descending molecules with varied functions. Hemoglobin is the molecule in red blood cells responsible for giving blood its color and for carrying oxygen throughout the body. New functions of metallo-porphyrin rings or a kind of molecular cage embedded in proteins were developed with the appearance of atmospheric oxygen. The presence of hemoglobin in both oxygen-needing and non-oxygen needing organisms suggests the same evolutionary roots.

And…

The appearance of atmospheric oxygen on earth between one and two billion years ago was a dramatic and, for the primitive single-celled creatures then living on earth, a potentially traumatic event. On the one hand, oxygen was toxic. On the other hand, oxygen presented opportunities to improve the process of metabolism, increasing the efficiency of life’s energy-generating systems. Keeping oxygen under control while using it in energy production has been one of the great compromises struck in the evolution of life on earth.

You want to wonder whether the creationists who give books like Pandas to students to dissuade them from evolution also give them a glimpse of the real science that is available from the real world. The above quote addresses one of the supposed problems of natural evolution posed earlier in the book.

There’s more on hemoglobin. Here is a page from Brown University. The quote seems to be from Molecular Structure Of Genes And Chromosomes by N.S. Sharma:

Gene duplication is a minimalist version of repetitive DNA (figures 10.1-10.3, pgs. 257-259). Many genes in the genome are duplicated and when this happens one of the copies may be “freed” from constraints and evolve a new function. The best understood case of this phenomenon is the evolution of the globin genes myoglobin, a-hemoglobin, ß-hemoglobin. The existence of duplicated genes forces us to recognize different kinds of homology because there are two ways to have a common ancestor: by gene duplication and by speciation. When two genes share a common ancestor due to a duplication event we call them paralogous (a-hemoglobin and ß-hemoglobin in you are paralogous as are the a-hemoglobin in you and the ß-hemoglobin in chimps). When two genes share a common ancestor due to a speciation event we call them orthologous (a-hemoglobin in you and a-hemoglobin in chimps). Obviously when constructing a cladogram from molecular data one should use orthologous genes if one wants to build a tree of organisms.

Anyhow, there is a lot of real science that contradicts the story being pushed by this chapter of Pandas. Also, when I mention the pretend scientists at the CSC, I mean Dean Kenyon and also Charles Thaxton, the Pandas editor. They are both listed as fellows on the CSC Web site. Any perceived differences between Of Pandas and People and a pseudo scientific piece of creationist propaganda is purely illusionary.

If this section of the book seems do some damage to the thesis of Pandas, the next section, Overview Section 6: “Biochemical Similarities,” is going to be particularly embarrassing. See the following post on the Pandas saga.

Or take the problem of flight. The capacity for powered flight requires a tremendously complex set of adaptations, affecting virtually every organ of the body.

Wandering Through Pandas

This is Overview Section 4: “The Fossil Record” that I promised in the previous post. Here the authors of Pandas and People step a little further out on a limb, making a number of transparently absurd statements.

As a consequence of nature the fossil record is not nearly complete. It’s not as complete as Darwin would have hoped it was in his time, and it is not even as complete as modern paleontologists would like now. Still it’s way better than Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon would like readers to think. Like all creationists, they like to emphasize gaps in the fossil record. From page 22:

Although the fossils appear to form a rough sequence, the various taxa are not connected to one another. There is no gradual series of fossils leading from fish to amphibians, or from reptiles to birds. Instead, fossil types are fully formed and functional when they first appear in the fossil record. For example, we don’t find creatures that are partly fish and partly something else, leading gradually, in the dozens of characteristics which they exhibit, to today’s fish. Instead, fish have all the characteristics of today’s fish from the earliest known fish fossils, reptiles in the record have all the characteristics of present-day reptiles, and so on.

Picking this statement apart, I find the following:

“[T]he various taxa are not connected to one another.” This should really say, “Often times the various taxa are not well-connected to one another.” The authors will be pleased to note that only a single example of one taxon leading to another would undermine their entire attempt in this chapter to falsify the fact of biological evolution. The fact is there is more than one example of the progression of one taxon to another, and the authors mention it in this very chapter. Read further.

“There is no gradual series of fossils leading from fish to amphibians…” The following is by Glen Morton, who used to pop into meetings of the local Metroplex Institute of Origin Science (MIOS) in Dallas. Glen is a creationist, but he is also a scientist.

Copyright 1997 G.R.Morton. This may be freely distributed as long as no change is made to the text and no charge is made.

http://home.entouch.net/dmd/transit.htm

Creationists claim that there are no transitional forms. This claim is made over and over as if it were a mantra. The plain fact is that there are transitional sequences but they never discuss the details. This is a sequence of fossils which occupy the transition from fish to amphibian.

378 MYR ago- Panderichthys–These are lobe-finned fish. Panderichthys was a rhipidistian,osteolepiform fish. The skull bones of these fish are bone for bone equivalents to the skull bones of the earliest tetrapods. (Carroll 1988, p. 160). These are the only fish whose fin bones fit the tetrapod pattern of humerus, ulna and radius in the forelimb and femur, tibia and fibula in the hindlimb. (Thomson, 1991, p. 488), Yet these limbs still have fins on them (Coates, 1994,p. 174). Their brain case is so much like that of the earliest tetrapod, they were originally classified as tetrapods until a complete skeleton was found. Then is was proven that they were really still fish. (Ahlberg and Milner, 1994, p. 508). This fish also had lungs and nostrils (Vorobyeva and Schulze, 1991, p.87) but also had gills. These things really looked like tetrapods until you see the fins. The teeth had infolding enamel which is identical to that of the earliest tetrapods. Unlike all fish but like the tetrapods, the Panderichthys have lost the dorsal and anal fins, leaving 4 fins in the place where legs would be in the Tetrapods.(Ahlberg and Milner, p.508). This contradicts Gish’s claim that there is no fossil which shows loss of fins. (Gish, 1978, p. 78-79). Unlike fish, Panderichthys had a tail, like the amphibians with the fins stretched out along the top (Carroll, 1995, p. 389; Carroll, 1996, p. 19).

This is not a Panderichthys, but it is a related lobe-finned Devonian fish out of my personal collection. It gives some idea of what they looked like.

“…or from reptiles to birds.” The authors mention such a transitional fossil later on. It’s the Archaeopteryx.

“… reptiles in the record have all the characteristics of present-day reptiles, and so on.” See the transition from reptiles to mammals. From talkorigins.org:

This is the best-documented transition between vertebrate classes. So far this series is known only as a series of genera or families; the transitions from species to species are not known. But the family sequence is quite complete. Each group is clearly related to both the group that came before, and the group that came after, and yet the sequence is so long that the fossils at the end are astoundingly different from those at the beginning. As Rowe recently said about this transition (in Szalay et al., 1993), “When sampling artifact is removed and all available character data analyzed [with computer phylogeny programs that do not assume anything about evolution], a highly corroborated, stable phylogeny remains, which is largely consistent with the temporal distributions of taxa recorded in the fossil record.” Similarly, Gingerich has stated (1977) “While living mammals are well separated from other groups of animals today, the fossil record clearly shows their origin from a reptilian stock and permits one to trace the origin and radiation of mammals in considerable detail.” For more details, see Kermack’s superb and readable little book (1984), Kemp’s more detailed but older book (1982), and read Szalay et al.’s recent collection of review articles (1993, vol. 1).

The authors say this about Archaeopteryx:

The puzzle raised by Archaeopteryx has to do with the “avian complex” or adaptational package of characteristics making flight possible in birds. The feathers in Archaeopteryx are identical to those in modern birds, having the structure of a genuine airfoil. Yet in place of the “avian complex,” Archaeopteryx has eight reptilian features. No process capable of sculpting its feathers while leaving its other reptilian features untouched is known to current Darwinian theory. In fact, Archaeopteryx has only one bird-like feature, much like the duck-billed platypus … living in Australia today. The platypus has a bill like a duck and fur like a mammal, but has never been considered transitional. Most candidates for missing link status have fallen by the wayside.

Davis-Kenyon notwithstanding, the Archaeopteryx has other bird-like features, including claws which seem to be on their way toward evolving into modern bird claws and also a forelimb structure that’s beginning to look bird-like, a structure similar to a bird’s wishbone and a beak, with teeth.

Where should I stop?

The authors talk about stasis and punctuated equilibrium. The fossil record (probably accurately) depicts a history of life forms remaining static-little evolution-for long periods of time with new forms appearing almost suddenly (remember, this is geological time) in the fossil record. They provide this graphical representation.

The form on the left shows what you would expect from gradual evolution-a slow branching off from one line of descent. The form on the right shows what we often see in the fossil record-the abrupt appearance of a form never seen before. You might have difficulty being sure the first vertical line is the antecedent of the second one.

What the authors have to say about this is (starting on page 25):

The standard Darwinian interpretation is that fossils around the world were laid down in rock strata over vast ages. Organisms that appear as fossils in lower strata lived earlier than those in higher strata. The Darwinist concludes from this that the ones in the lower strata evolved into the ones in the higher strata.

This conclusion must be drawn, however, in the absence of empirical evidence of a chain of fossils leading from lower organisms, to higher ones. It is a conclusion shaped as much by philosophical commitments as evidence. If we see on organism followed by another, and we assume that only natural causes were at work, then we really have no choice but to conclude that the earlier organism evolved into the later one.

There is, however, another possibility science leaves open to us, one based on sound inferences from the experience of our senses. It is the possibility that an intelligent cause made fully-formed and functional creatures, which later left their traces in the rocks. We simply work backwards from the fossil to the creature to message text in DNA, to the intelligent cause… We are free to take the evidence where it leads. If there is evidence for natural cause, then we conclude descent. If there is evidence for intelligent cause, then we conclude design. On both sides, the decision one ultimately makes regarding the fossils rests on philosophical commitments as well as on empirical data.

That is so cool. If we can’t demonstrate to the creationists’ satisfaction that there is ample evidence for common descent, then we must conclude that a supernatural being created new life out of nothing. Where have I seen that before?

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning-the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

It is so cool.

Before going on, I take note of the authors’ wording: “If we see on organism followed by another, and we assume that only natural causes were at work, then we really have no choice but to conclude that the earlier organism evolved into the later one.” It is not only “one follows the other” that leads to the conclusion of ancestry, rather it’s also the sequence of fossils that show a progressive development from one form to another.

Recall in the first post of this series on Pandas I recounted that this book started out as a text preaching creationism. After the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creationism in the public schools amounted to proselytizing at the public expense, the Richardson, Texas, based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) went through the early drafts and put in references to Intelligent Design where there had been mention of creation, creationism, creationists and such. I now want to ask, “Why bother?” If you are going to talk about miraculous creation, why not just put an image of a crucifix on the fly page, and print “God Did It” at the bottom of each of the remaining pages?

Anyhow, in this chapter what the authors think they have done is to demolish the theory of common descent, but here’s what’s comical. Jon Buell is founder and leader of the FTE, and he was with Phillip Johnson, the godfather of the modern Intelligent Design movement, at the symposium “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference?” held on the SMU campus 20 years ago. When asked bluntly whether he accepted the notion of common descent, Johnson readily agreed, and Buell did, as well. Now it’s entirely possible that Buell did not want at the time to conflict with his invited speaker, so we may give him some leeway if he now wants to repudiate that position. Somebody needs to ask him. Notice that the second edition, which is being reviewed here, came out the year after the SMU symposium.

Next up: Overview Section 5: Homology. I swear to God, people, it’s a real page-turner.

Perry Under Water, Again

I’m trying to get all the facts straight here. I did not catch the news live as it was happening, but this we know. Some U.S. Marines in Afghanistan killed some enemy fighters, which they were supposed to do. Then they peed on the dead bodies, which they were not supposed to do. And they photographed the whole episode. Yep, the same jar heads I used to know so well.

What I am trying to catch up on is what our governor, and presidential hopeful, Rick Perry  said about it.

Here is what I got from Reuters News Service:

Texas Governor Rick Perry, scrambling to keep his U.S. presidential bid alive, accused the Obama administration on Sunday of over-reacting to a videotape that shows four Marines appearing to urinate on dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

“These kids made a mistake. There’s not any doubt about it. They shouldn’t have done it. It’s bad,” Perry told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

“But to call it a criminal act, I think, is over the top,” said Perry, who faces a possible make-or-break performance in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary on Saturday.

First, Perry is going after the wrong people. The people he should be speaking to are those in the Marine Officer’s Corps. They are the ones who told their soldiers not to do this kind of stuff. They are the ones these marines are going to have to face. What these guys did can amount to disobedience of a lawful order in a field of battle.

My experience in the Navy Reserve is many years in the past, but I seem to recall being instructed regarding my conduct should I ever be in contact with enemy fighters. One instruction, obviously, was that I was supposed to do them great harm. But another instruction was that I was supposed to not do anything that would bring disgrace on my outfit and on my country. Hopefully nobody has forgotten all of this somewhere along the way.

OK, we know Perry wants to be president, and if he goes around making like he agrees with the current administration all the time, then why would people think we need him for president instead of the person we already have? So he has to be disagreeable as much as possible. He also has to be right much of the time. The problem is he tends not to be right a lot of the time, and he tends not to be right on issues that really matter.

Today blogger Taylor Nye opened with “GOP Washes Its Hands of Perry in Texas Primaries.”

Perry also routinely veers off topic and away from issues, and his peers are starting to notice. It was no mistake that the RPT has set Perry up for failure with its primary date decision and ongoing redistricting struggles. Texas GOP members are tired of supporting a candidate drawing unfavorable attention to them, especially when they believe redistricting can help them gain a substantial presence in the legislature in the upcoming election. In this way, Perry’s political career will end as it began– only this time, the good ole boys aren’t letting him into the fraternity.

The 2012 presidential nomination show has thrown light on a mess that has been festering in Texas for over ten years. It’s possible we may soon get some relief.

Traipsing Through Pandas

In recent posts I have been going through the creationist propaganda book Of Pandas and People and pointing out why it deserves to be so characterized. Pandas is published by our very own Richardson, Texas, based Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), and is actually produced in nearby in Mesquite, Texas, by the Haughton Publishing Company. Things may have changed since I last checked, but at the time Pandas was their only book. The company usually prints catalogs and other materials for the horticulture industry. Early on I purchased four copies of Pandas, two of each edition by driving over to the company. I gave all my copies away to people who could use them, and I purchased my current review copy of the second edition from Amazon. You can get yours, too. Just click on the link and place your order. The North Texas Skeptics will get a sales commission.

My previous post dealt with Overview Section 2, “Genetics and Macroevolution.” Next up is Section 3, “The Origin of Species.”

The authors of Pandas are Percival Davis and Dean Kenyon, both with real Ph.D. degrees and both creationists. As such they readily agree with what they call microevolution. This is the variation within species due to slight differences in the genetic makeup of individuals in a population, but they want to argue strongly against the idea that a novel body plan can develop by means of natural genetic variation. A significant quote starts on page 19:

The appearance of reproductively isolated populations represents microevolution, not macro evolution. It is one of the ways in which horizontal diversification can occur. To use our earlier illustration, it is a mechanism for the flowering of a branch in the evolutionary tree, not for establishing new branches. Vertical change-to a new level of complexity-requires the input of additional genetic information. Can that information-the ensembles of new genes to make wrens, rabbits and Hawthorne trees be gleaned from random mutations? Thus far there appears to be good evidence that the roles mutations are able to play are severely restricted by and within the existing higher level blueprint of the organism’s whole genome. To go from a one-celled organism in a human being means that information must be added to the genetic messages at each step of the way. Mechanisms for the loss of genetic information cannot be used as support for a theory requiring vast increases of genetic information.

The authors make their argument for this position in a number of ways.

Speciation has been found to occur when a small population becomes isolated from the main body of a species and is subjected to adaptive pressure or experiences genetic drift. Davis-Kenyon do not consider adaptive pressure at all, likely because that smacks to much of natural selection. They consider genetic drift to comprise the exhibition of variations in a subset of the original population’s genetic variation.

Davis-Kenyon do not get into the finches of the Galapagos Islands, one of the observations that helped get Darwin to thinking about speciation and natural selection. The islands are 600 miles west of the coast of Ecuador, and there are several of them. These islands are volcanic in origin, and they formed in place in the middle of the ocean, obviously without an initial population of land animals. The only land animals present when people first visited the island were animals that could get there over the water, such as tortoises and iguanas. And there were birds and insects that could fly over.

Darwin did not know finches from mockingbirds at the time, but he brought back dead samples of several species he found on the separate islands. In England noted ornithologist John Gould identified the birds as separate species of finches-species unknown to science up to that time. There are now known to be 14 species of the finches on the islands, and yet another species lives on Cocos Island to the northeast. The island birds are closely related to finches on the American mainland, and it became apparent they were all the offspring of a small number of mainland birds that had made the flight to the islands. But, whence the variation?

Subsequent studies strongly enforce the conclusion that the different species developed as a result of selective pressure due to the different environments on the islands. In particular, there are multiple sources of food on the islands, and the finches diverged into separate species specialized for each food supply. The creationists, as they often do, have made premature proclamations without waiting for answers from science. A 1999 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that real science is interested in getting to the bottom of the matter rather than propagandizing school children.

This chapter of Pandas does not make a lot of Darwin’s Finches, but it does discuss the Hawaiian Honeycreepers, which have an experience similar to the finches. The Hawaiian Islands popped up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a few million years ago, and their bird population, before people arrived, comprised descendents of birds that had flown there from the mainland. The book has photos of various species of honeycreepers with the caption:

Hawaiian Honeycreepers. There are distinct differences between the various Hawaiian Honeycreepers, yet they probably arrived in Hawaii originally in a single variety. A smaller gene pool may well be the secret of their beauty, which excels their mainland counterparts.

Where the Pandas authors got their idea that the birds’ bright colors derived from a small gene pool I have no idea. I suspect they just put this in because it sounded good. However, the authors are correct in pointing out in this chapter that small gene pools produce greater variation. This is symptomatic of small sample sets, and Wikipedia has a fine explanation of what’s going on here.

I couldn’t find anywhere another source that discusses bright colors associated with small gene pools, but there is one observation that I can make. There are many locations on the earth where birds have bright and varied colors with no associated small gene pool. The Amazon rain forests come to mind among other places.

The authors also deal with the founder effect. If a small group of individuals become isolated from the main population, that group will possibly contain a diminished gene pool, and genetic drift will more pronounced. One result can be a substantial variation in phenotype from the original population. Population bottlenecks have the same effect-some natural disaster can drastically reduce the size of a breeding population. In both cases a subset of the main population is selected at random-perhaps not quite random in the case of population bottlenecks. There is no natural selection for adaptability in the new environment.

Geneticists are very interested in these two cases, because they see them as possibly associated with rapid evolutionary change. Davis-Kenyon may want readers to think that the founder effect is responsible for the adaptive radiation seen in Darwin’s Finches and the Hawaiian Honeycreepers (also finches, by the way). Readers are not encouraged to notice that in the case of the finches, the birds moved into an environment with numerous empty ecological niches, and the population quickly diverged to fill these niches. Genetic drift would not have been necessary for this to happen.

Peter and Rosemary Grant studied the Galapagos finches for thirty years (they may still be at it) and Jonathan Weiner wrote The Beak of the Finch to tell their tale and that of other researchers into adaptive radiation of species. So impressive is the story of the Grants that creationist Jonathan Wells devoted an entire section of his Icons of Evolution to the finches, and he takes great pains to downplay the value of the Grants’ research. Weiner got the Pulitzer Prize, and Wells got honorable mention on the pages of The North Texas Skeptic.

Pandas states: “Mechanisms for the loss of genetic information cannot be used as support for a theory requiring vast increases of genetic information.” The authors are saying that natural selection only subtracts, it never adds. Scientists know this, and they also know that Darwinian evolution works by two actions. Random mutation is the source of variability from which natural selection subtracts. Failing to provide a complete description of the process is something the creationists find necessary to do. What they left with is to repeat again that the body plans of living organisms live within a boundary that cannot be crossed by natural means. Just like it says in the Bible.

Next up: Overview Section 4: “The Fossil Record.”

Slogging Through Pandas

A little explanation is in order.

When I started out on this excursion through the Pandas book another book came to mind. It’s Traipsing Into Evolution, and it’s by those fun-loving creationists at the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC). The book’s subtitle is Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision. It’s the creationists’ attempt to lay off the disaster that was their terrible loss in the 2005 court decision by a federal judge. Anyhow this immediately got me to thinking of the classic old song Tiptoe Through the Tulips with a variation on the song that includes variations of “stomping though the tulips” and more along the same line. It’s funnier than I can describe.

Anyhow, my trip through the flower bed that is this creationist book needs something to suggest a satirical undertone, and a variation of titles on the tulips theme came to mind.

I previously discussed Davis and Kenyon‘s odd attempt at convincing readers that life obviously needed a supernatural cause-that some super intelligent agent was necessary for the existence of life. Now comes Overview Section 2, “Genetics and Macroevolution.”

The section starts by talking about giraffes.

Behold the giraffe: oversized limbs, stretched-out neck, ungainly posture-everything apparently precariously out of proportion. And yet its parts are marvelously coordinated with each other, it moves with graceful ease and delivers such a powerful kick that it has few natural enemies.

The outlandish body shape of the giraffe has been a puzzle to evolutionists since before the time of Darwin. Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, one of Darwin’s predecessors, suggested that the giraffe’s long neck resulted from its constant stretching upward to reach leaves to eat. Bone structure changed in response to the animal’s need to reach ever higher. But scientists now know that body structure does not respond to an organism’s needs or habits. If it did, Olympic racers should give birth to yet faster racers, and the children of intellectuals should be even smarter than their parents.

Darwin set that matter straight with his theory that natural selection preserved traits, such as the loner necks within a generation that contained slight differences in neck lengths. Darwin did not know the source of these differences. The work of Gregor Mendel, which teased out the underlying principle of genetic inheritance, had not yet been published, and Darwin died without ever reading Mendel’s paper.

The Pandas creationists make a lot of this part of science, and it goes this way: Mendel’s studies determined that inheritance was by way of discrete characteristics. Darwin and others of his time thought inheritance in sexual reproduction was a continuous blending of characteristics of both parents. Darwin worried, rightly so, about this problem with blending, for if it held strictly, then it hardly seemed feasible that his idea, natural selection, would work for preserving beneficial characteristics in a population. This remained an unresolved issue for Darwin, but scientists after Darwin’s time worked with Mendel’s theory of genetics and introduced genetic mutation as a way of producing novel characteristics in a population of organisms.

Pandas does not ignore mutation entirely, but when it does mention mutation it is with a dismissive bent. Most genetic mutations are harmful (possibly true) or are neutral (most likely true) in that no benefit is derived. Some creationists, but not in this book, have argued that harmful mutations spell the extinction of a species, because they will propagate throughout the population producing a less adapted organism. What this argument ignores is that instances of harmful mutations are quickly weeded out by natural selection so that a monkey that is born blind does not eventually result in a tribe of blind monkeys.

Creationists often use the case of dogs, and Davis-Kenyon are no exception. Domestic dogs derive entirely from gray wolves. Some thousands of years ago people and wolves formed a partnership, and humans shaped their adopted canines by selective breeding. The results were one of Darwin’s main inspiration for natural selection. He saw nature doing what dog breeders do, only people work much faster to promote evolution than nature unassisted does.

Pandas discusses this at length, making the claim that what we see in domesticated dogs is selective subtraction from the wolves’ gene set. The authors do not state it directly, but we are meant to read that there is no genetic material in the dog that was not in the original gray wolf. The implication is that natural selection has not produced novel genetic content just as the selective breeding of dogs has not.

I suspect the reason the authors do not state this claim outright is that they would then open their argument up to falsification at the time somebody demonstrates the existence of novel genetics in dogs. The fact is that the book has it right in stating that “pure bred” gods exhibit a greatly diminished gene pool and suffer from it. It is brash, however, for the authors to imply that genetic mutation has not or never will expand the gene pool to the benefit the dog sub species.

Pandas eventually returns to the giraffe, and here the authors step into a minor cow cookie.

Let us return to the giraffe. The giraffe’s long neck may appear awkward, but it is actually an integral part of the animal’s overall structure. The standard explanation for the giraffe’s long neck is the advantage it gives the animal when competing for food with shorter necked varieties. This advantage would have promoted the long necked variety’s survival in greater numbers. That may be true, but the fact is that the giraffe also bends its head down to the ground to eat grass and drink water. Given the giraffe’s long legs, its neck may just as well be required to reach the ground as the trees. And both the long neck and long legs facilitate feeding in tree tops. The giraffe is an adaptational package in which each part is suited to the others. Trying to explain which one came first is like trying to decide which came first, the chicken or the egg.

The story doesn’t end here. The giraffe requires a very special circulatory system. When standing upright, its blood pressure must be extremely high to force blood up its long neck; this, in turn, requires a very strong heart. But when the giraffe lowers its head to eat or drink, the blood rushes down and could produce such high pressure in the head that the blood vessels would burst. To counter this effect, the giraffe is equipped with a coordinated system of blood pressure controls. Pressure sensors along the neck’s arteries monitor the blood pressure and activate contraction of the artery walls (along with other mechanism) to counter the increase in pressure.

In short, the giraffe represents not a mere collection of individual traits but a package of interrelated adaptations. It is put together according to an overall design that integrates all parts into a single pattern. Where did such an adaptational package come from?

According to Darwinian theory, the giraffe evolved to its present form by the accumulation of individual, random changes preserved by natural selection. But it is difficult to explain how a random process could offer to natural selection an integrated package of adaptations even over time. Random mutations might adequately explain change in a relatively isolated trait, such as color. But major changes, like the macroevolution of the giraffe from some other animal, would require an extensive suite of coordinated adaptations. The complex circulatory system of the giraffe must appear at the same time as the long neck or the animal would not survive. If the various elements of the circulatory system appear before the long neck, they are meaningless. If the long legs are preceded by the long neck, the weight and accessibility of the neck without the powerful kick makes the giraffe easy prey to natural enemies. The interdependence of the structures, therefore, strongly suggest that the overall integrated package was present from the beginning. Scientific literature often reports such interdependence of structures. In some cases, as with certain brachiopods, this interdependence traces right back to their abrupt appearance in the fossil record with the first evidences of diverse animal body plans on earth.

I have quoted extensively from Pandas starting at page 12, because the reader needs to see the whole story to appreciate this argument and why it is more absurd than it needs to be. I have highlighted a major discussion point.

What the authors were saying back in 1993, before Michael Behe published his ideas, is that the giraffe is irreducible complex. If you take away the giraffe’s long legs, but leave the long neck, then you have an animal that would get eaten by lions and quickly go extinct. And so on. The authors want you to think that there was an animal, something like a horse, and in the next generation there was a giraffe, complete with long legs, a long neck, and the complex blood circulatory controls needed to accommodate the giraffe’s head movements. More absurd than is required by law.

Now, people, these writers are supposedly real scientists. Dean Kenyon has a Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford University, among other academic accomplishments. Percival Davis has an M.A. in zoology from Columbia University. When it came time for them to dribble this out onto paper they completely ignored a lot of existing science. I will quote some from Wikipedia about giraffes:

The giraffe is one of only two living species of the family Giraffidae, the other being the okapi. The family was once much more extensive, with over 10 fossil genera described. The ancestors of modern giraffids probably evolved 8 million years ago (mya) in south-central Europe during the Miocene epoch. The giraffids, together with the family Antilocapridae (whose only extant species is the pronghorn), evolved from the extinct family Palaeomerycidae.[9] The earliest known giraffid was the deer-like Climacoceras. While the progressive elongation of the neck and limbs can be traced to the early giraffids, it became more pronounced in later genera such as Samotherium and Bohlinia.[9] Bohlinia entered China and northern India in response to climate change. Genus Giraffa evolved from it, with a number of long-necked species. Around 7 mya, Giraffa entered Africa through Ethiopia.[9] Further climate changes caused the extinction of the Asian giraffes, while the African ones survived and radiated into several new species. It is believed that the main driver for the evolution of the giraffes were the changes in biome from extensive forests to savannas, which begin 8 mya.[9] G. camelopardalis arose around 1 mya in East Africa during the Pleistocene.[9] Some biologists suggest that the modern giraffe descended from G. jumae[10] while others find G. gracilis a more likely candidate.[9]

Again, I have highlighted the significant point. No serious scientist thinks giraffes evolved all at once from some shorter animal. They have a lineage of progressive longer-necked ancestors. One of several things has occurred here:

  1. Real scientists Davis and Kenyon were unaware of these facts when they wrote the book.
  2. Davis and Kenyon were aware, but were of the belief that other scientists were telling lies so they decided to ignore the lies and not pass them on to their readers.
  3. Davis and Kenyon were aware, and they decided to lie to the readers (ostensibly high school children).

Please inform me if I have left out any other possible options, because none of these choices speaks well for people professing to write a book to correct the pseudo science of evolution and to protect the religious beliefs of Christian students.

I have previously mentioned Frank Sonleitner’s critique of Pandas. It’s titled What’s Wrong With Pandas?, and it’s been around about as long as the first edition has been around. Also, it’s a longer read. Pandas runs to about 170 pages if you include references, an index and credits. Additionally, Pandas has lots of pictures and white space, and Sonleitner does not. Sonleitner also has a lot of interesting facts. Pandas, not so much so. In particular, Sonleitner provides additional detail regarding the creationists’ statements regarding the giraffe’s circulatory controls.

Coming up next: Overview Section 3, “The Origin of Species.” This should be fun.

While I am at it, I need to acknowledge the great reliance I place on Wikipedia in researching topics for this blog. They are a non-profit organization, and there is no advertising on their site. They need your donations. I gave last year, but you can donate anytime. Five thousand dollars would be helpful, but you can just give $50, which is what I did. Here is the link.

http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Home

Trudging Into Pandas

So, here’s what’s amusing about Overview Section 1, The Origin of Life.

In 2004 members of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board became concerned that students were being indoctrinated in Darwinist theories on the origins of life. The science faculty was recommending the purchase of a new biology book by Kenneth Miller and Joe Levine, and board member William Buckingham was apparently appalled to learn the book was “laced with Darwinism.” There was much concern from Buckingham and board member Alan Bonsell that students were learning stories of the origins of life that conflicted with their religion. They wanted a different book, one that did not conflict. Ultimately they proposed the book Of Pandas and People. When the faculty refused to endorse the book members of the board collected donations and donated over 100 copies for use by the students.

The problem was, the school curriculum never did teach the origins of life. The subject was not required by the state standards, and it was not in the Miller and Levine book. But it is in the Pandas book. And here it is.

It could be that when a warrior wanted to demonstrate his power or the weakness of his opponent he created an effigy of his opponent. Only the effigy was made of straw and easily defeated. The warrior hoped this ruse would go undetected. The practice is still used in rhetoric. A speaker or writer wants to defeat an idea, so he couches the idea in the most ridiculous terms and then proceeds to demolish it with simple arguments. The Pandas writers do this starting in the first chapter.

There was a time when people believed some animals arose on their own, full-blown, from non-living matter. The belief was called “spontaneous generation.” Today the idea might seem to be no more than superstition, but at one time it seemed to be confirmed by common-sense experience. Leave rotting meat out, and isn’t it quickly covered with maggots? Leave dirty rags in the corner of a shed, and doesn’t it soon become a nest of mice?

I seldom see a straw man so loosely constructed. So vulnerable. The authors proceed to build on this, telling how Francesco Redi in 1668 conducted experiments with covered jars to demonstrate that maggots would not emerge if flies could not get to the meat. Subsequently Louis Pasteur, shortly after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, repeated these experiments with greater thoroughness and detail and demonstrated that water that has been rid of bacteria by boiling will not subsequently obtain them if it is kept in a sealed container. The conclusion was that life does not arise spontaneously. Life comes only from life. Take that, Charles Darwin.

Only Darwin never treated biogenesis in The Origin of Species. The mystery of life’s origins was only a matter of vague speculation in Darwin’s day, and it remains a scientific puzzle today. And the puzzle has nothing to do with maggots on meat and bacteria in water. The matter of the maggots and the bacteria was brought up at the front of the discussion to throw some weight to the authors’ subsequent arguments.

Serious studies relating to the origin of life can be traced back to 1828 when Friedrich Wöhler produced urea from naturally-occurring ammonium cyanate. This was the first demonstration that there is no barrier between organic and inorganic substances. Eventually there was serious investigation into the subject of abiogenesis, the production of living matter from non-living matter.

Stanley Miller and Harold Urey produced much interest 60 years ago with their production of amino acids, basic building blocks of proteins, under conditions thought to mimic those on the primitive Earth. These are experiments that are constantly attacked by the creationists, and a common refrain is that the Miller-Urey setup did reproduce what is now believed to be the early Earth environment. The Pandas writers and other creationists make much of this and go a bit too far while doing it. Page 3:

For example, all experiments simulating the atmosphere of the early earth have eliminated molecular oxygen. The reason is that oxygen acts as a poison preventing the chemical reactions that produce organic compounds. Furthermore, if any chemical compounds did form, they would be quickly destroyed by oxygen reacting with them, a process called oxidation. (Many food preservatives are simply substances that protect food from the effects of oxidations.)

When the creationist Discovery Institute was attempting to influence Texas Board of Education in 2004 they lobbied The Dallas Morning News. The News subsequently printed an editorial friendly to the Discovery Institute’s views, and opinion editor Keven Ann Willey cited the debunked Miller-Urey experiments when I put the question to her.

Except that the early Earth atmosphere was devoid of oxygen, a fact that was known at the time Davis and Kenyon did their writing. Furthermore, as more has been learned of the early Earth atmosphere, experiments after Miller and Urey have been carried out using more realistic simulations, and they still produce organic molecules, including amino acids.

The construction of myths regarding real scientific research is a favorite weapon of creationists and other anti-science factions. For Davis and Kenyon there is not much real ammunition, so any stone at hand will have to do.

Once again, I am not covering all of the Pandas arguments on this topic. The interested reader is invited to obtain a copy of the book, just click on the link and order from Amazon. Or you can read selected parts of the book on-line at Google books.

I have attempted to counter the creationists’ arguments in Pandas as much as I can without leaning on the research of people more capable than I am. One such person is Frank Sonleitner, emeritus Associate Professor of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. Sonleitner works extensively with the National Center for Science Education, and at the time Pandas came out he started working up a critique of the book that has grown to consume more ink than the book, itself.

Sonleitner brings up an interesting point that I overlooked in reading the book.

Pandas “proves” that spontaneous generation is impossible, then claims that it occurred frequently throughout geological time (as instantaneous miraculous productions of new forms by designers).

In the first chapter Pandas also dips into its favorite topic, Intelligent Design. They want to go beyond the origins of life and explain the force behind the structure of modern life forms. Page 4 illustrates a DNA molecule, and page 7 is a photo where somebody has scratched “JOHN LOVES MARY” in the sand on a beach. The DNA molecule is supposed to remind us of a computer code, which to my knowledge only people and people’s machines write, and the message in the sand is something we see all the time produced by people. The message in the sand is the result of an intelligent agent, and the DNA molecule is supposed to be, as well. The authors conclude the chapter:

Are natural causes capable of producing these kinds of patterns? To say that DNA and protein arose by natural causes, as chemical evolution does, is to say complex, coded messages arose by natural causes. It is akin to saying “John loves Mary” arose from the action of the waves, or from the interaction of the grains of sand. It is like saying the painting of a sunset arose spontaneously from the atoms in the paint and canvas. When in our experience have we ever witnessed such an event? Whenever we recognize a sequence as meaningful symbols we assume it is the handiwork of some intelligent cause. We make that assumption even if we cannot decipher the symbols, as when an archaeologist discovers some ancient inscription on stone. If science is based upon experience, then science tells us the message encoded in DNA must have originated from an intelligent cause.

What kind of intelligent agent was it? On its own, science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy. But that should not prevent science from acknowledging evidences for an intelligent cause origin wherever they may exist. This is no different, really, than if we discovered life did result from natural causes. We still would not know from science, if the natural cause was all that was involved, or if the ultimate explanation was beyond nature, and using the natural cause.

That is so nice on two levels. I have highlighted some of the text, and I ask, when in our experience have we ever witnessed an intelligent agent, besides human technicians in a lab, producing a DNA molecule? More so, when in our experience have we ever witnessed a supernatural event of any kind?

But what is the intelligent agent? Only religion or philosophy can answer that question. I ask again, when has religion ever answered any real questions? Our own experience is that religion answers questions by making up the answers. I give philosophers a bit more credit, because they tend to reason things out from human experience, but I recall that when we want to determine whether human activity is producing atmospheric warming we ask scientists, not philosophers.

Looking ahead I see Chapter 2 is Genetics and Macroevolution. Get ready for a bumpy ride.

Stalking Into Pandas

A previous post had the title “Wading into Pandas.” It was a background on the creationist text Of Pandas and People, and it promised follow-on posts peeking at some interesting passages in the book. Here is the first.

The Introduction section sets the tone and gives an idea of what is to follow. The publisher is Jon Buell’s Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) in Richardson, Texas, and you can almost hear Buell speaking as you read this. The listed authors are Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon. Charles B. Thaxton is listed as Academic Editor.

Percival Davis holds a B.A. in zoology plus other degrees and a Ph.D. in Instructional Design from the University of South Florida. He previously was professor of Life Science at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida.

Even before I knew of Dean Kenyon as an author of Pandas his troubles at San Francisco State University made the news. Others on the faculty took him to task for teaching creationism, and (vague memory here) he was subsequently prevented from teaching his usual biology course. A faculty meeting concluded that creationism was not a proper scientific topic and would not be taught at the university.

Charles Thaxton has a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Iowa State University and has co-authored The Mystery of Life’s Origin and The Soul of Science. He supports “‘Special Creation by a Creator beyond the Cosmos’, and asserts that Special Creation holds ‘that the source that produced life was intelligent'”

The text I find interesting early on is this small bit on the first page of this section:

Two different concepts of the origins of living things have long histories extending from ancient times to the present. While both have taken varied forms through the centuries, there is, nevertheless, a central core idea that modern proponents of each view hold in common with their forebears. Through all the ages some have held the concept of life emerging from simple substance. What the substance is, what form the first life took, and the mechanism of emergence, chance or law, are details that have changed to characterize many different theories of natural origin. Likewise, proponents of intelligent design throughout history have shared the concept that life, like a manufactured object, is the result of intelligent shaping of matter. Within intelligent design also, the details as to how gradual or abrupt, and over what span of time, differ.

In this text, which starts on page vii, I have highlighted a phrase of interest, which is apparently the core of creationism (intelligent design). The problem with this thought is that it is not very deep. What the writers (and believers in creationism) accept is that intelligence came before life. This is a very weak philosophical position, since it seems to come from nowhere else besides the imagination. In nobody’s experience since we have been on this planet has anybody ever observed intelligence that did not come from a living thing. I have emphasized the word intelligence because nobody has yet provided me with a good definition.

One way this bears on the remainder of the book is that creationists promote their idea that the facts of natural evolution have not been observed. They argue against natural evolution saying that real science is based on observation. All the while their central theme is based on something that has never been observed and is also contrary to all that is known about the world we live in.

I am going to argue that natural evolution is real science, and it is based on observation. The new age creationists will assert that intelligent design is obvious from our senses, because we look closely at life, and it is obviously a designed thing. It is obviously not a designed thing, and it does not even appear to be so. The creationists are either making this stuff up, or they are fooling themselves. In most instances I prefer a liar to a fool, but that’s another topic.

In the book the authors are going to describe many instances of evidences for evolution that have not been observed-lack of scientific data. Granted this book is now twenty years old, but there was known science at the time that the writers ignored when they made these assertions. More on that in later postings.

On page viii the authors announce that they will cover six areas of science with the idea of helping readers understand origins better and to show there are different possible interpretations.

From these six areas of science, we will present interpretations of the data proposed by those today who hold the two alternative concepts, those with a Darwinian frame of reference, as well as those who adhere to intelligent design. We will concentrate, however, on explaining what few other textbooks do: the scientific rationale of the second concept. Our intention has been to give you presentations that will balance the biology curriculum. For what might be a refreshing change, you are asked to form your own opinions. If you understand the information presented, you are fully capable of drawing your own conclusions.

What is amazing about this paragraph is the part that I have highlighted. I have read the book, and I have not found anywhere “the scientific rationale of the second concept” (intelligent design) is explained. The entire book seems to be one long plea for why natural processes are incapable of explaining modern biology.

The authors provide a lot more in the introduction, and I agree I am omitting what they may consider some of their best arguments. Just read the book and get back with me if you want to discuss this section further.

The first Overview Section is “The Origin of Life.” Why this is humorous you will have to wait for the following post on this topic. It’s going to be this weekend at least. Things are catching up to me for now.

Thanks for reading.

PZ

I have been reading PZ Myers’s blog for several years and recently I posted this on the Skeptical News page of the North Texas Skeptics Web site. I am passing it along so more people can catch on and enjoy.

Paul Zachary Myers works for the University of Minnesota as an associate biology professor. He is also a rabid atheist and a tireless blogger for evolution and against creationism in all its wacky forms. PZ Myers is widely known as just “PZ.” His blog is called Pharyngula. It’s a biological term, which I will not define here. The link is below. Here are few samples of interest:

Suffer, Earthlings!

Category: Creationism Kooks

Posted on: October 17, 2011 5:27 PM, by PZ Myers

Creationists have this idea that history can be nothing but an unremitting decline – their version of the second law of thermodynamics is a weird thing that has everything ratcheting down into chaos equally, with no possibility of local decreases in entropy at the expense of an overall greater increase. They have almost convinced me. I once would have said no one could be dumber than Kent Hovind, but I have seen the works of his son Eric, and it’s a forthright demonstration of creationist thermodynamics.

We have previously discussed Kent Hovind in the December 1994 issue. Kent and Eric are typical young-Earth creationists (YEC), the kind we have all come to know and love. You would have thought with the coming of the twenty-first century and the progress of science, the YEC would have gone extinct-morphed into old-Earth creationists (OEC), otherwise known as Intelligent Design fans. You would have been surprised.

While the OECs attempt to stick to known and accepted science (as far as that goes) and want to show God as hidden in the vagaries of biological complexity and random events, the YECs continue to make bold, absurd and unsubstantiated claims for pseudo science of the first kind. As an example, the YECs like to reject the findings of radiometric dating, since this science has demonstrated the Earth is billions of years old (the Bible says only about six thousand).

YECs like the Hovinds are sure dinosaurs coexisted with humans (the Bible leaves room for nothing else), and they continually employ such a vision in their preachings and in the nice little books they publish to educate their children. The item PZ Myers alludes to is a discussion between Hovind and Paul Taylor about science on the Creation Today Show. The transcript is from 14 October this year.

http://www.drdino.com/did-a-giant-asteroid-kill-off-the-dinosaurs-are-there-aliens-and-ufos-transcript/

Paul Taylor: Absolutely which is absolutely fascinating. So, you know, the idea of dinosaurs dying out.

Paul Taylor: And what they’ve done is they’ve looked at the an…they’ve got what they think is the answer and they’ve tried to find the evidence to fit it, which is not scientific research.

Eric Hovind: Not at all, and that’s the problem. They’re, again, they’re coming from their own presuppositions

Paul Taylor: That’s right

Eric Hovind: What they already believe. We’ve mentioned several times the book Dire Dragons, the new one by Vance Nelson which does a great job of covering dinosaurs throughout history with mankind. It’s impossible for a couple of reasons for an asteroid to kill them, because the asteroid, they say, was millions of years ago. The earth isn’t millions of years old. And second, they’ve lived with man, as is very very evident.

Very evident, indeed. Those YECs. I’m going to miss them.

It’s not as though PZ dislikes Texas. He just thinks we are a bunch of dumb asses down here. You get to thinking that way when you live up north where you can’t see the ground half the year and where the governor doesn’t overrule scientists working for the state. Come to think of it. It probably doesn’t have anything to do with not being able to see the ground for six months.

Anyhow, PZ got in his most recent dig with an item about how science is not done in Texas.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/why_even_bother_consulting_the.php

Why even bother consulting the scientists at all?

Category: Environment Politics

Posted on: October 17, 2011 11:11 AM, by PZ Myers

A group of scientists have done the right thing: they authored an environmental report, and are now publicizing the changes the Texas state administration tried to impose on it. This is going to backfire on the politicians: rather than hiding away the science that conflicts with their ideology, the censorship is highlighting the corruption and denialism.

The story appeared in The Guardian from the UK, and there is not much I can avoid quoting:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/14/rick-perry-texas-censorship-environment-report

Rick Perry officials spark revolt after doctoring environment report

Scientists ask for names to be removed after mentions of climate change and sea-level rise taken out by Texas officials

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent

guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 October 2011 08.05 EDT

Officials in Rick Perry’s home state of Texas have set off a scientists’ revolt after purging mentions of climate change and sea-level rise from what was supposed to be a landmark environmental report. The scientists said they were disowning the report on the state of Galveston Bay because of political interference and censorship from Perry appointees at the state’s environmental agency.

All scientists involved removed their names from the report after state officials made unauthorized changes to remove language that smacked of environmentalism. Some of the sensitive wording involved scientific measurements:

Officials even deleted a reference to the sea level at Galveston Bay rising five times faster than the long-term average – 3mm a year compared to .5mm a year – which Anderson [one of the authors] noted was a scientific fact. “They just simply went through and summarily struck out any reference to climate change, any reference to sea level rise, any reference to human influence – it was edited or eliminated,” said Anderson. “That’s not scientific review that’s just straight forward censorship.”

Others have examined the situation.

Mother Jones has tracked the changes. The agency has defended its actions. “It would be irresponsible to take whatever is sent to us and publish it,” Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Information was included in a report that we disagree with.”

She said Anderson’s report had been “inconsistent with current agency policy”, and that he had refused to change it. She refused to answer any questions. Campaigners said the censorship by the Texas state authorities was a throwback to the George Bush era when White House officials also interfered with scientific reports on climate change.

It is difficult to parse Morrow’s “inconsistent with current agency policy” without reading “science funded by the government must conform to government policies.”

It does not make us feel any better, but similar problems exist elsewhere.

In the last few years, however, such politicisation [UK spelling] of science has spread to the states. In the most notorious case, Virginia’s attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, who is a professed doubter of climate science, has spent a year investigating grants made to a prominent climate scientist Michael Mann, when he was at a state university in Virginia.

Several courts have rejected Cuccinelli’s demands for a subpoena for the emails. In Utah, meanwhile, Mike Noel, a Republican member of the Utah state legislature called on the state university to sack a physicist who had criticised climate science doubters.

The university rejected Noel’s demand, but the physicist, Robert Davies said such actions had had a chilling effect on the state of climate science. “We do have very accomplished scientists in this state who are quite fearful of retribution from lawmakers, and who consequently refuse to speak up on this very important topic. And the loser is the public,” Davies said in an email.

“By employing these intimidation tactics, these policymakers are, in fact, successful in censoring the message coming from the very institutions whose expertise we need.”

As mentioned, Mother Jones has provided a detailed analysis.

http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/perry-officials-censored-climate-report

John Anderson, the oceanographer at Rice University who wrote the chapter, provided Mother Jones with a copy of the edited document, complete with tracked changes from top TCEQ officials. You can see the cuts-which include how much sea level rise has increased over the years, as well as the statement that this rise “is one of the main impacts of global climate change”-here and embedded at the end of this story. As the document shows, most of the tracked changes came from Katherine Nelson, the assistant director in the water quality planning division. Her boss, Kelly Holligan, is listed as a reviewer on the document as well.

Follow the link above to see the line-by-line changes made by the state agency.

We previously did an item on global warming denial, and the theme centered on the infamous kettle defense. See the link:

http://ntskeptics.org/1998/1998february/february1998.htm#kettle

The mindset of people who deny some basic science is evident in this item:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/watts_wrote_a_check_he_couldnt.php

Watts wrote a check he couldn’t cash

Category: Environment

Posted on: October 23, 2011 10:36 AM, by PZ Myers

That wacky climate change denier and radio weather broadcaster Anthony Watts took a brave step a while back, and I commend him for it. He was enthused about an independent research project, the Berkeley Earth Project, that would measure the planet’s temperature over the last centuries and compare it to the work of NOAA and NASA on earth’s temperature – he apparently expected that it would show that NASA and NOAA had been inflating the data. He was so confident that he went on the record saying:

I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.

Excellent! That’s a good scientific attitude.

So the results have been published, and they look like this:

Results from the Berkeley Earth project data fits existing NASA and NOAA temperature records like a glove

You can probably see the NASA/NOAA data wiggling beneath the dark bold line of new data from the Berkeley Earth Project. They’re rather…close. Intimate, even.

What do you think Anthony Watts’ response was?

I consider the paper fatally flawed as it now stands, and thus I recommend it be removed from publication consideration by JGR until such time that it can be reworked.

Yep. Didn’t give the results he wanted. Therefore, the experiment is bad.

PZ is typically strident in his skeptical analyses, and he does not mince words in characterizing the fools and frauds that inhabit our world. This approach does not make friends in some circles, but in some circles this is not a great loss. Anyhow, you should put reading Pharyngula in your weekly schedule.

References:

PZ Myers Pharyngula blog is at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/

em

Wading Into Pandas

First there was Stephen Jay Gould, noted American paleontologist and science writer, and he wrote The Panda’s Thumb, which was a collection of his essays contributed to Natural History. The book’s title was drawn by one of Gould’s essays, “The Panda’s Peculiar Thumb,” which described a feature of pandas called, appropriately, the “panda’s thumb.” It’s not really a thumb the panda has, but a knob on the panda’s paw that the panda uses for stripping bamboo stalks. Darwinian natural selection has allowed the panda to retain this odd appendage, and the panda’s thumb is acknowledged as a demonstration of natural selection in action.

pandas

You will not be surprised to know there is a blog named The Panda’s Thumb which has been around for longer than there have been blogs. It started sometime in the previous century as an Internet discussion group and has been going ever since. It is the major discussion group for the creation/evolution controversy, obviously taking the side of mainstream science, including evolution.

Subsequently, when the Richardson, Texas, Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE) was established by Jon Buell as a “Christian think-tank,” one of the objectives was to publish a book “showing the scientific evidence for creation.” One idea was to promote the book for use in public schools. An early draft of their book had the title Creation Biology Textbook Supplements, but this title (1983) and some of the wording in the book became an issue when in 1987 the Supreme Court ruled that teaching “creation science” in public schools amounted to religious proselytizing and as such violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United State Constitution. After multiple draft changes the language, the published edition wound up with the title Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. The ghost of Stephen Jay Gould lives on in a creationist text.

Those who have a little spare time on their hands can amuse themselves by tracking the changes in the book’s drafts as the political climate changed with the Supreme Court ruling. In 2004 the Dover, Pennsylvania, board of education sought to use the Pandas book in science classes. Several parents of children in the school system sued, and the following year a federal judge ruled that Intelligent Design, the current theme of Pandas, is creationism, not science. During the course of the trial the lawyers for the plaintiffs presented copies of the early drafts, which they had obtained by subpoena from the FTE. The judge was, himself, amused to see how the book’s language had migrated from creationism to Intelligent Design, thereby defeating the publisher’s assertion that promoting creationism had never been the intent of the book. Here is a typical example provided by NCSE.

First this version:

1987_Pandas_creationists_p3-40_clip

Then this revised version:

1987_Pandas_ID_p3-41_clip

The scans are from two revisions of the book’s manuscript, both from 1987. The first version used the term “creationists” freely, but the second, possibly following the Supreme Court decision, has sloppily attempted to substitute “design proponents.” Please read the complete item on the NCSE Web site to get the full story.

Jon Buell explained that the terms relating to creationism were just “place holders” while the writers were figuring out the proper language. Few doubt that creationism was the original intent, and that Intelligent Design was injected as a replacement when it became obvious the courts would have nothing to do with “creation science.”

The Pandas book is published in Mesquite, Texas, and early on I would drive over to the publisher to purchase my copies, first the original edition, then the new edition when it came out. I also purchased copies of each edition for NCSE. The North Texas Skeptics ended up with one copy, and a TV producer has another. It was necessary this year to purchase another copy of the second edition for reference.

The FTE was surely gladdened when the neighboring city of Plano sought to introduce their book into the school system in 1995. Several fans of creationism had gotten themselves elected to the board and only made their intentions known after taking office. Parents of Plano school children resisted this move, and The North Texas Skeptics worked to help them out by providing references and moral support. In particular, Jon Buell objected to our assertions that Pandas has a religious intent. Buell did this in a letter to the editor, published in The Dallas Morning News. However, NTS co-founder John Thomas has previously checked up on the FTE’s founding documentation, which demonstrated that the organization claimed in public filings to be a “Christian think-tank.” This allowed me to follow up with a letter on behalf of the NTS and mentioning this fact. I also asked how the term “ethics” fitted with such an organization as the FTE.

So, I am just starting to read again the Pandas book and finding delight on almost every page. I can possibly produce about one blog posting per page, which will not be that many postings, since this is a thin book. Come back again in the future as I plow through the ponderous tome for your entertainment and mine.

Illustra Media’s Metamorphosis

I put it off long enough, and last week I ordered the latest creationist video from Illustra Media. Somebody has to keep these guys in business. They really are the greatest comedy act going. Metamorphosis is supposed to convince us that butterfly evolution cannot be accomplished by Darwinian evolution. What it does accomplish is to demonstrate that the creationists are either liars or fools.

metamorphosis
People, you have to get this video for your kids. It’s a beautiful visualization and explanation of the life cycle of butterflies, concentrating particularly on the chrysalis stage. For those of you who slept through biology class in high school, here is a short explanation of the process:

1. The female butterfly lays an egg on a host plant, carefully chosen, because the caterpillar that hatches is going to have to be able to eat the plant.

2. The egg does hatch, and the butterfly larva, the caterpillar, munches like mad for several days, becoming very large and ready for the next stage of its life, the chrysalis.

3. The caterpillar wraps itself within a chrysalis, where for all practical purposes its body dissolves, becoming food for an adult butterfly, which forms inside the chrysalis, replacing the caterpillar.

4. The adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, dries itself out, forms its proboscis from two other stringy things, and starts the whole process all over again.

In the video we see creationist Paul Nelson explaining what’s going on and why Darwinian evolution cannot explain all of this. But first a little background on Paul Nelson.
Nelson is a fellow of the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture. He is also a young-Earth creationist, remarkable in light of the CSC’s support for Intelligent Design and its insistence that Intelligent Design is not the same as young-Earth creationism.
In the video you will see Nelson explaining that random mutation coupled with natural selection could not have produced a process such as butterfly metamorphosis. Making the same claim is Ann Gauger of the CSC’s Biologic Institute. Both make the assertion (my interpretation) that, since the chrysalis phase of the butterfly’s life neither eats nor reproduces, there is no way for the evolution of the chrysalis to develop. They seem to be saying that the butterfly lineage would cease immediately with the development of the chrysalis phase, because there would then be no butterflies (or any other living animal) to produce the next generation.
My first reaction was to recall the phrase “breathtaking inanity” as it was applied to the actions of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board when they set about to introduce religious creationism into the science curriculum and then lied about their actions under oath. There seems to be no bottom to the depth of creationists’ ignorance.
I made myself a promise that I would not look at the answer in the back of the book, but, absent any real training in biology, I would attempt to formulate a possible sequence of events in the evolutionary development of the butterfly’s metamorphosis. Here goes:

1. There was an animal that was the ancestor of modern butterflies, and this animal produced eggs that developed into adult animals of that type.
2. Evolutionary development of insects next involved a stage in which the development of the egg hatchlings went through a drawn out process before finally becoming adults like their parents. This stage in the hatchling’s development might or might not resemble the insect larvae with which we are all familiar.
3. The larval stage evolved to develop by a step-wise process an additional stage that ultimately became the chrysalis that is now a part of the modern insect’s life cycle.
4. At every step in the evolution of the butterfly there was always an adult animal that produced an egg and ultimately an adult offspring of the animal that laid the egg. At no time did the butterfly lineage cease because there was no next generation, and there was never the need for butterfly evolution to involve a great leap forward.

My explanation has no right to be correct, and there is no evidence that butterfly evolution proceeded in this manner. However my explanation, unlike that of Nelson and Gauger, does not involve the ridiculous assertion that there was once a butterfly precursor that laid eggs which developed into adult butterflies, and that from this life form there immediately developed another life form that incorporated a chrysalis stage. These creationists have proposed a ridiculous explanation and then used it to prop up their claim that Darwinian evolution cannot explain butterfly metamorphosis.
Here is a short preview from Illustra Media that will give you a flavor of the video. The video is well-produced, very instructive of the butterfly’s life cycle and includes the remarkable story of Monarch butterfly migration. It is also a blatant piece of creationist propaganda and a wonderful illustration of creationism’s breathtaking inanity.
I ordered my copy from Amazon. If you use this link Amazon will pay The North Texas Skeptics a sales commission.


As the same time I ordered the Metamorphosis video I ordered yet another copy of the creationist text Of Pandas and People. More on that in a later blog.

The Edge Of Intelligence

This review first appeared in July 2009 issue of The North Texas Skeptic.

Michael J. Behe
The Edge of Evolution
2007, Free Press, 305 pages

edge

 

I previously discussed reviews of Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box in 1999. Behe is a creationist, but not one in the traditional sense. He accepts the age of the universe and the fossil record, but he has issues with Darwin and the idea that random mutation and natural selection can account for biological evolution. In his previous book Behe argued that Darwin’s concept of evolution cannot explain the origin of a number of biochemical processes, the study of which is Behe’s professional field. Back then I summarized his idea:

Chemical processes that control such diverse life functions as blood clotting and disease immunity are exceedingly complex. Additionally, such processes are constructed like a house of cards in such a way that one missing card would bring down the whole business. Behe calls such systems “irreducibly complex.”1

The problem is Behe’s idea is considerably at odds with some known science. I noted some disagreements, including remarks by Donald C. Lindsay:

Behe doesn’t seem to be up to date. Although he implies on page 114 that he is expert at computer searches for scientific articles, he somehow managed to not find pretty well the entire literature on biochemical evolution. I personally own a textbook entitled Molecular Evolution, despite his claim that no such book exists.2

DBB was not our first encounter with Michael Behe. We met him in March 1992 when he participated in a conference at Southern Methodist University titled “Darwinism: Science or Philosophy.” Unfortunately I was absolutely clueless at the time and failed to recognize the crystallization of Intelligent Design that was unfolding before my eyes. Behe was completely beneath my radar on that day.

Thankfully for skeptics, Behe is back again, this time with a new book about an old idea. Will our cup ever run dry?

In DBB Behe pushed the idea that Darwinian evolution, as it manifests for cell chemistry, is a black box. The term black box relates to any mechanism whose external appearance and actions are well known, but nothing is known about its interior workings. In computer science a software process is typically designed as a block box. Its functions and its interfaces are carefully defined, but details of how the code performs its tasks are left up to the designer. Design, again.

Behe was not so much stuck on the black box concept in his previous book as he was on irreducible complexity. The biochemical processes Behe championed were deemed to be so critically constructed that they would not have been viable in a more primitive form. Therefore they could not have evolved by random mutation coupled with natural selection.

With DBB Behe made a big splash with creationists. Not such a big splash, however, where the rubber meets the road. When showdown time came, and he testified for Intelligent Design in the 2005 Kitzmiller creationism trial, he was forced to admit under cross examination he had not bothered to read the many books and scientific publications refuting his DBB claims.

DBB was round one. EoE appears to be round two.

I will not present an original review of this book. Others better at the matter are doing an excellent job of that. I will present some knowledge gleaned from existing reviews, and I will throw in some thoughts of my own.

The complete title of Behe’s new book is The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism. Behe has not abandoned the black box in EoE. In his new book Behe even resuscitates the irreducibly complex bacterial flagellum. The bacterial flagellum that other scientists have explained appears not to be so irreducibly complex. Which explanations Behe fails to appreciate in his continued arguments for Intelligent Design and which explanations were explained to him again during his Kitzmiller cross examination.

What Behe is now beating the drums about is the limits of Darwinian evolution. The Intelligent Design movement casts a broad net to pull in support from religious fundamentalists, so it will come as a surprise to these creationists that Behe actually believes in evolution. In fact, he emphasizes his support for evolution a number of times in EoE. And that’s about as far as it goes.

There are limits to Darwinism, Behe asserts. Here is an example:

The structural elegance of systems such as the cilium, the functional sophistication of the pathways that construct them, and the total lack of serious Darwinian explanations all point insistently to the same conclusion: They are far past the edge of evolution. Such coherent, complex, cellular systems did not arise by random mutation and natural selection, any more than the Hoover Dam was built by random accumulation of twigs, leaves, and mud.3

Here is the basis for Behe’s main argument, and it’s an essential point of traditional evolutionary theory. Please refer to the figure below. The line represents the plot of an arbitrary mathematical function. Engineers, computer scientists, and others are often interested in extreme points on the graph. Of particular interest are greatest and least values of the function.

Software algorithms use climbing methods to find extreme points of functions.

Software algorithms use climbing methods to find extreme points of functions.

A mathematician possessing a formula for a well-behaved function can quickly locate maxima and minima by applying differential calculus.

If there is not a convenient mathematical formula describing the function, the problem gets harder, and computer scientists use numerical methods to locate maxima and minima. A computer program computes values of the function within a small region and then determines the general trend. If the goal is a maximum point, and the function seems to be headed north on the right side of the region, then the program will direct its search to the right of the region. The process continues until the program cannot detect any change in the value of the function across the region, and victory is declared. The program has found a maximum point.

What all of this has to do with evolution is that evolution is often compared to this mathematical process. If the survival fitness of a population can be compared to some sort of mathematical function, then members of the population having a higher fitness value (higher point on the plot) will prevail in the competition for survival. If any genetic change between successive generations produces a horizontal shift in the plot, then the lucky (or unlucky) heir to these traits will move up (or down) the slope of the plot and will either win or lose the next round of the competition.

In this sense, population shifts due to random mutation and natural selection are comparable to this computer process. Random mutations produce horizontal shifts along the plot, and natural selection locks in any resulting upward movement on the plot.

My diagram shows a case for a single random variable, the horizontal axis in the plot. Of course, populations are driven by multitudes of variables, but the process is extensible to any number of random variables acting simultaneously.

Behe has a couple of nice examples of plots with two independent variables on page 115 of his book. The issues are the same, but this time the goal is to find peaks in a two-dimensional surface.

Now here is the rub, as Behe points out. Suppose a population finds itself somewhere on the slope of the first peak on the left. A computer algorithm set to find the maximum value of the function will climb to the top of the left-most peak and stop there, stuck forever, unable to climb down and never able find the top of the highest peak just to the right.

Behe argues that this process will stymie the advancement of any population seeking to advance through natural selection. Natural selection, he asserts, is inadequate. The inescapable conclusion, according to Behe, is there must be some other process at work. He hints broadly at this process throughout the book. Here is an excerpt from a section titled “How deep goes design?”

Up until now we have examined molecular structures and processes and have drawn a tentative line marking the molecular edge of Darwinian evolution. Most protein-protein interactions in the cell are not due to random mutation. Since cells are integrated units, it’s reasonable to view cells in their entirety as designed. But keep in mind that accidents do happen, so there are Darwinian effects, of some degree, everywhere. For example, just as automobiles may accumulate dents or scratches over time or have mufflers fall off, but nonetheless are coherent, designed systems, so, too, with cells. Some features of cells of course result from genetic dents or scratches or loss, but the cell as a whole, it seems, was designed.4

OK, maybe not so broadly.

What Behe seems to be saying here is cells were designed, and Darwinian evolution only contributed accidental defects. Design made it right, evolution damaged it.

I admit to reading Behe’s book from beginning to end just so I could say I had. I was curious about what process Behe would invoke to explain design in nature. Apparently I was not alone. One of the reviewers of EoE is the high-profile biology professor and blogger P.Z. Myers. He has this to say:

It’s true. Nowhere in the entire book does he offer a mechanism to resolve this disconnect. He claims things were “designed”, but doesn’t explain by who [sic], how, or when, and doesn’t even give a clear picture of what parts of evolution are designed, and which aren’t. It’s nothing but one long and almost entirely fallacious gripe about the insufficiency of natural mechanisms.5

This seems to be a perpetual problem with Intelligent Design. Let me summarize what Intelligent Design really says:

1. Natural processes alone cannot produce the life forms we see today.
2. Therefore some sort of design process is at work.
3. This design process cannot involve natural processes alone. Else statement 1 would not be true.
4. Therefore at some point in the evolution of life some natural laws must have been violated.

Intelligent Design proponents pointedly do not emphasize statement number 4. Were they to do so, they might then be obliged to describe a scenario involving a supernatural process.

That seems to be the case with Behe in EoE. The book’s index includes only two links to the word “God,” involving only four pages. He will certainly not identify the God of Abraham as the designer. Creationists have been down that road before.

When school board member William Buckingham and other creationists lurched into promoting creationism in the Dover, Pennsylvania, science curriculum, they (figuratively) held the banner of God out in front. Even conservative federal judge John E. Jones III recognized this as a step toward a state religion and slapped the Intelligent Design movement down in a stinging 139-page decision.

Sensibly, Behe’s references to God in his book are less committal than would have been comfortable for Buckingham. Here is an example:

To reach a transcendent God, other, nonscientific arguments have to be made-philosophical and theological arguments. It is not my purpose here to rehearse what has been said over the millennia on that score, or to say why I myself find some of those arguments persuasive and others not. Here I’m content to “take purposeful ‘designer’ in a very broad sense.”6

Disregarding God, what mechanism does Behe propose to replace natural processes? First, he states he is not required to propose a mechanism. He does, however, make an attempt at supplying some detail:

…If random mutation is inadequate, then (since common descent with modification strongly appears to be true) of course the answer must be nonrandom mutation. That is, alternations to DNA over the course of the history of life on earth must have included many changes that we have no statistical right to expect, ones that were beneficial beyond the wildest reach of probability. Over and over in the past several billion years, the DNA of living creatures changed in salutary ways that defied chance.7

This explanation is not very soul-satisfying. Behe wants to hide God within the vagaries of chance. Not a good hiding place. Statistical probabilities may be the only place where pure mathematics and physical analysis truly intersect. Statistical probabilities explain why we must place a pot on a stove-top burner to cook food rather rely on heat from the air to suddenly migrate into the food. And that is the only explanation. When we find statistical probabilities being skewed, we wisely look for an underlying cause.

Permit me to provide a non-scientific example. In my favorite classic movie, Casablanca, casino owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) wants a young refugee from Nazism to win at roulette. He tells the player to bet on 22, and he winks at the croupier. The player wins on the first spin, and Rick tells the player to let the pot ride for another spin. “Vingt et deux!” the croupier exclaims as 22 wins again. The croupier merely looks at Rick and shrugs. Do we suspect something nefarious is involved? Does Rick ever say “Here’s looking at you, Kid?”

The contention that we can hide purpose and design within mathematical probabilities is simply appalling. Paraphrasing Slim Pickens in another classic movie, “I’ve been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard coming from an educated scientist.”

In last month’s issue I discussed the philosophical weakness of the design argument. The point was, the only thing that seems to drive purpose and design is competition for survival within a population. It is purpose and design that have come about by random mutation coupled with natural selection. It is not the features of living organisms that have developed because of purpose and design.8

Scientists who have reviewed EoE have been more pragmatic. I shopped around my references for a quote that summarizes the assessment by mainstream science of Behe’s argument. I found this by Sean B. Carroll writing in the 8 June 2007 issue of Science:

Behe’s chief error is minimizing the power of natural selection to act cumulatively as traits or molecules evolve stepwise from one state to another via intermediates. Behe states correctly that in most species two adaptive mutations occurring instantaneously at two specific sites in one gene are very unlikely and that functional changes in proteins often involve two or more sites. But it is a non sequitur to leap to the conclusion, as Behe does, that such multiple-amino acid replacements therefore can’t happen. Multiple replacements can accumulate when each single amino acid replacement affects performance, however slightly, because selection can act on each replacement individually and the changes can be made sequentially.9

There are numerous serious reviews of EoE, and Wikipedia is a good place to start looking. The site offers numerous links to critiques of the book, both by mainstream scientists and by creationists. Here is the page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Edge_of_Evolution

References
1. http://ntskeptics.org/1999/1999november/november1999.htm#behe
2. Donald C. Lindsay at http://www.best.com/~dlindsay/creation/behe.html
3. EoE, page 102.
4. EoE, page 171.
5. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/06/behes_edge_of_evolution_part_i.php
6. EoE, page 229.
7. EoE, page 165.
8. http://ntskeptics.org/2009/2009june/june2009.htm#design
9. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/316/5830/1427

/blockquote

Breathtaking Inanity

In 2005 a federal Judge ruled that the Dover, Pennsylvania, Board of Education had illegally sought to introduce Intelligent Design creationism into the public school science curriculum. Some board members had opposed the action and were forced off the board. Those supporting the action went forward after being warned the school district would face a law suit. When the suit came, and they had to account for their actions in court they largely lied under oath and incurred the wrath of Judge John E. Jones III. In his 139-page decision Judge Jones used the phrase “breathtaking inanity” in characterizing the board’s actions.

The testimony of many of the participants plumbs the depths of ignorance manifest by people who oppose the science behind evolution.

It is worth reproducing here from the trial record the cross examination of board member Heather Geesey by attorney Vic Walczak for the peitioners:

Q Now, you said you voted for the October 18 curriculum change because you liked it.

A Yes.

Q You supported the change.

A Yes.

Q It — because it gave a balanced view of evolution.

A Yes, I mean . . .

Q It presented an alternative theory?

A Yes.

Q And the policy talks about gaps and problems with evolution?

A Yes.

Q Yes. You don’t know what those gaps and problems refer to, do you?

A No.

Q But it’s good to teach about those gaps and problems?

A That — yes, that’s our mission statement, yes.

Q But you have no idea what they are?

A It’s not my job, no.

Q Is it fair to say that you didn’t know much about intelligent design in October of 2004?

A Yes.

Q And you didn’t know much about the book Of Pandas and People either, did you?

A Correct.

Q So you had never participated in any discussions of the book?

A No.

Q And you made no effort independently to find out about the book?

A No.

Q And the administration had made copies of the book available to board members.

A Yes.

Q But you never read the book.

A No.

Q And no one ever explained to you what intelligent design was about.

A No.

Q And you never got any instructional materials or tapes about intelligent design.

A No.

Q And you never viewed any or read any books about intelligent design.

A No.

Q And you didn’t study it independently.

A No.

Q You didn’t go on the Internet and look it up.

A No.

Q So you didn’t really think too much about intelligent design.

A No.

Q You just knew it was something else that the kids were going to learn?

A Yes.

Q And it was a theory that was different from Darwin’s view.

A Yes.

Q And what you testified earlier is that you were relying on the recommendation of the curriculum committee.

A Yes.

Q And that was their job.

A Yes.

Q And because they were recommending the introduction of intelligent design, you were going to go along with that.

A Yes.

Q And you thought it was a good idea to introduce an alternative to evolution.

A Yes.

Q Now, it wasn’t the entire curriculum committee that was recommending this change, correct?

A I don’t know.

Q Well, who was on the curriculum committee?

A Bill, Allen, and I can’t remember the other one.

Q Was Sheila Harkins on it?

A I don’t know.

Q Do you know if Sheila Harkins was supportive of intelligent design?

A I don’t know that. I don’t know. I never really thought about it.

Q So the two people you were really listening to and talking to about this were Bill Buckingham and Allen Bonsell.

A Yes.

There was much more, but after this there was not much left to be said. Like other board members, Heather Geesey only knew that evolution was inconsistent with Jesus, so it must be bad, and Intelligent Design must be good, and she did not care to know anything else.

Breathtaking.