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.


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

For NCSE’s amicus brief (PDF), visit:
For documents associated with Freshwater’s termination, visit:


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:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit:


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

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:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit:


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

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:

For the Southern Baptist Convention’s 1982 resolution on evolution, visit:

And for NCSE’s collection of polls and surveys, visit:


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

For the executive summary for the NESTA survey (PDF), visit:

For the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication’s report (PDF), visit:

For NSTA’s story about its survey, visit:


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:

For information about No Dinosaurs in Heaven, visit:

For NCSE’s YouTube site, visit:

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

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

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NCSE’s work is supported by its members. Join today!


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.


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.


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.