Abusing Science

Number 51 of a series

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is the premier organization in this country working to promote teaching valid science in public schools. Their quarterly publication is Reports of the NCSE, and the most recent issue cites a number of cases of interest. Here are two:

AUSTRALIA, NEW SOUTH WALES

A high school history textbook claiming that the former prime minister Tony Abbott “made international headlines as a climate change denier” is under attack, owing to a member of the House of Representatives who complained of the “offensive slur” and the “climate change indoctrination embedded in the course.” In response, the New South Wales Minister for Education raised the concerns with the publisher, Pearson; a Pearson representative said, “we stand by this text book and its author.”

This is similar to what happens in Texas. Every year in Austin the Texas Education Agency holds hearings on text books selected for adoption. In 2013 biology texts were up for review, and the Texas Board of Education selected a number of creationists to be involved. These reviewers lodged complaints, and here, as well, the publisher stood firm on the factual nature of their books’ content.

Concerns about science education are not constrained by national boundaries.

ROMANIA

Nicolae Hurduc, a chemical engineering professor at the Gheorghe Asachi Technical University and the new Minister of Research and Innovation, is on record as rejecting evolution because he cannot accept that humans descended from monkeys and as preferring “a theory of parallel world, which says we may come from the future,” according to Romania Insider. The science advocacy organization Ad Astra expressed concern about what it described as his “series of pseudo­scientific fantasies about species evolution, human origin, and time travel.”

The contributions to the NCSE are tax-deductible. I contribute. So should you.

Bad Joke of the Week

One of a Continuing Series

CAPTAIN SMITHERS

In the greatest days of the British Empire, a new Commanding Officer was sent to an African jungle outpost to relieve the retiring Colonel. After welcoming his replacement and showing the courtesies (gin and tonic, cucumber sandwiches) that protocol decrees, the retiring Colonel said, “You must meet Captain Smithers, my right-hand man, God, he’s really the strength of this office. His talent is simply boundless.”

Smithers was summoned and introduced to the new CO who was surprised to meet a crooked, toothless, scabbed and pockmarked specimen of humanity, with three strands of hair on his head – a particularly unattractive man of less than three foot tall.

“Smithers, old man, tell your new CO about yourself.”

“Well, sir, I graduated with honour’s from Sandhurst, joined the regiment and won the Military Cross and Bar and three DSO’s after 12 months of expeditions behind enemy lines. I’ve represented Great Britain in equestrian events and won Gold Medals in the middleweight division boxing, archery gold, wrestling and a 2 golds in the Olympic games. I have researched the history of …”

Here the Colonel interrupted, “Yes, yes, never mind that Smithers, the CO can find all that in your file. Tell him about the day you told the witch doctor to “Go fuck herself.”

source: http://www.jokes4us.com/peoplejokes/militaryjokes/navyjokes.html

This is your president speaking.

Number 240 in a series

And now a few words from the President of the United States.

“I never understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody,” he said. (You can read the full White House transcript of his remarks here.)

Coming from a wild-eyed creature standing on a soap box in some city park, this would be taken as  off-center crazy. Coming from the President of the United States, this should be taken as fallout shelter scary. Is it time for us to hunker down yet?

Your Friend The Handgun

Number 196

Yes, ’tis the season.

SAPD: 7-year-old dies after accidentally shooting himself in the head

The incident happened Saturday morning in the 6300 block of Channel View.Author: Megan Ball

SAN ANTONIO — A San Antonio family is mourning the death of a young boy who, police say, accidentally shot himself in the head days before Christmas.

According to an official with the San Antonio Police Department, officers were called out the 6300 block of Channel View just after 9 a.m. Saturday morning for a shooting in progress.

You never know when you are going to need it.

Abusing Science

Number 50 of a series

Rupert Sheldrake obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge University and more recently gained fame for his support of pseudo science, publishing multiple titles. Here are a few:

It’s this last I want to feature here. In short, Sheldrake finds it reasonable to assert that certain, maybe not all, but certain dogs know when their master is leaving work and starting home. After exploring the history of the relationship between humans and domesticated animals, he gets around to the fundamental issue:

The most convincing evidence for telepathy between people and animals comes from the study of dogs that know when their owners are coming home. This anticipatory behavior is common. Many dog owners simply take it for granted without reflecting on its wider implications.

Sheldrake, Rupert. Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home . Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

This theme is one of the seven experiments that could change the world. It is featured as number one in a YouTube video about the seven experiments. Sheldrake illustrates with an example:

When Peter Edwards arrives home at his farm in Wickford, Essex, his Irish Setters are nearly always at the gate to greet him. Yvette, his wife, says they often wait for him for ten to twenty minutes before he arrives and well before he turns off the road into his drive. She had taken this behavior for granted for years, simply thinking, “Peter’s coming home, the dogs have gone to the gate.”

Sheldrake, Rupert. Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home . Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

The most likely assumption is, of course, Edwards comes home at a regular time each day, and the dogs include that in their routine. However, Yvette Edwards took notice of the dogs’ behavior after reading about Sheldrake’s research in the newspaper. She began to observe the dogs, and one thing she did notice was Peter’s schedule was not altogether regular. He would sometimes be delayed or would arrive home early. Readers will also note the “ten to twenty minutes” mentioned in the above. That shows some leeway, to be sure. Was this the amount of variation in Peter’s arrival? Did Peter ever come home before the dogs expected him? There is no such elaboration.

One way analyze this is the application of some real science, which we presume Sheldrake’s book, Seven Experiments, should be about. I obtained copies of Seven Experiments and The Presence of the Past years ago. Neither gave me an impression of rigorous science being applied. The seven experiments proposed are:

  1. Pets who know when their owners are returning
  2. How do pigeons Home?
  3. The organization of termites
  4. The sense of being stared at
  5. The reality of phantom limbs
  6. The variability of the “fundamental constants”
  7. The effects of experimenters’ expectations

Of these, number 4, “The sense of being stared at” seems most easy for the application of experimental testing. The North Texas Skeptics (follow the link above) has long offered a prize of $12,000 to any person who could demonstrate the paranormal. Such demonstration would include number 4. Here is a test I would propose:

  • First claim a subject A has such an ability.
  • Seat the person in a chair facing in a prescribed direction.
  • Some reasonable distance behind subject A place an opaque screen (a wall or such) with an opening.
  • Appoint somebody to stare at subject A through the opening. Or not.
  • The experimenter will draw up a schedule of staring or not staring.
  • Advise subject A when to decide whether he is being stared at.
  • Subject A will write down the episode number and his declaration that he was or was not being stared at.
  • Conduct as many trials as deemed necessary to demonstrate success or failure of subject A’s claim.

If subject A claims only partial ability (“I will be right at least 60% of the time.”), then employ as many trials as necessary to rule out success by chance.

This is the kind of test that should be performed, but to our knowledge nobody has ever demonstrated Sheldrake’s number 4 by such a method. We continue to invite claimants to step forward and pluck the $12,000.

In The Presence of the Past Sheldrake brings up the famous matter of the blue tits.

The Presence of the Past p. 178

Forget the 21st century. In a previous millennium people delivered milk in glass bottles to your doorstep. These little birds learned to tear away at the paper lids and get at the cream in the upper layer. According to Sheldrake, apparently one of the birds learned to do this, and then another. After a critical population had learned the process it spread throughout the British Isles and into other regions. It was not that the birds learned from other birds, but a thing he calls morphic resonance was at work. The idea is things of the same form (morph) are interconnected. A critical mass will cause a characteristic to activate within the entire population.

Morphic resonance is associated with the hundredth monkey syndrome. Ron Amundson wrote about this in his contribution to The Hundredth Monkey and other Paradigms of the Paranormal, edited by Kendrick Frazier [p. 171]. As Amundson told it, on a Japanese island a colony of monkeys under study ate food left for them by researchers. Presently the scientists noticed the monkeys had learned to wash the sand off the fruit. Then other monkeys were observed at the practice. The phenomenon spread to other islands. The only explanation was that a critical mass (e.g., 100) had been achieved.

Frazier’s book provides succinct lessons in scientific missteps, lessons that you can carry on when reading any number of Sheldrake’s many works.

All that done with, here is an point having nothing to do with bad science. In April 2008 somebody stabbed Rupert Sheldrake while he was giving a lecture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He survived.

Quid Pro Quo

Closing it Down, Number 7 in a Series

There is not much to add to the following, which I received from Senator John Cornyn of Texas:

John,

It’s official. Donald J. Trump is now the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. The Democrats have taken their charade to the nth degree, using our Constitution as a partisan weapon.

This process began the day he was duly elected president, and culminated yesterday in a one-sided vote void of any fact or truly impeachable offense.

Yesterday was a sad day in American history. Democrats should be ashamed of their actions.

But John, the longer we sit in silence, the more credibility we give Pelosi, Schiff, and Nadler. 

We need to ban together and make a loud statement in defiance of the Left’s disgusting abuse of our Constitution, and we need to make it quickly.

Then he asks for a contribution.

Senator, all this talk about Democrats needing to be ashamed and about upholding the Constitution comes across as flat when the facts are examined. You are carrying water for a President who lived his life as a white collar criminal and then carried this lifestyle into the highest office in the land. You have bedded down with this den of corruption, and it’s going to take you to the farthest reaches with it.

Give it a rest if you will.

Bad Joke of the Week

One of a Continuing Series

Bill worked in an office at a large insurance company. The work was dull and repetitive. At the desk next to Bill’s his friend Howard told him, “Bill, why don’t you take the afternoon off. Go home and have a little fling with your wife?

Bill told him, “No, I can’t do that. I’ll get caught. I could lose my job.”

“No way,” Howard told him. Mike left the office 30 minutes ago, and he won’t be back until tomorrow. Nobody here in the office will rat on you. You won’t get caught.”

So Bill thought about it and made the decision. He got his coat and left. He drove to his house, but as he drew near he spotted a car in the drive way. It was Mike’s car. Bill ducked his head down and quickly drove on by and then went back to the office.

As Bill came back in and hung up his coat, Howard was startled. “Bill, you’re back. What happened?”

Bill told him, “I almost got caught.”

Quid Pro Quo

Closing it Down, Number 6 in a Series

To understand this you need to remember who Lara Trump is:

Lara Lea Trump (née Yunaska; born October 12, 1982) is an American television producer, and campaign adviser to the 45th president of the United States (and her father-in-law) Donald Trump. She is married to the president’s son Eric Trump, with whom she has two children.

She is the producer/host of Trump Productions’ Real News Update and the former producer of Inside Edition.

So much for that. Then you begin to wonder why I am receiving this from Lara Trump?

Lara Trump <contact@victory.donaldtrump.com>
To: jf_blanton@yahoo.com

Dec 20 at 9:32 AM

John,

The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves. Their partisan vote for impeachment in the House was a disgrace.

They let their hatred for President Trump blind them from upholding their duty to the United States of America.

How can you impeach a President that did nothing wrong? There was NO abuse of power and NO obstruction of Congress. If the Left wants to know who DID commit these acts, they should look in the mirror.

They’ve stooped so low to try and undo the 2016 Election, and we need to FIGHT BACK. I’m calling on YOU to step up and defend your President.

So, that’s a bunch to digest. The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves. Yes they should. And after they finish being ashamed of themselves they are going to bring in additional witnesses to testify to the crimes of your father-in-law.

Also let’s talk about that “partisan” vote.

Yes, definitely partisan. Not a single Republican voted for Article 1. Hint: not a single Republican voted for Article 2, either. Now, that’s the definition of partisanship.

“They let their hatred for President Trump blind them from upholding their duty to the United States of America.” It would be interesting to see what duty to the United States of America the Democrats are not doing.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

Yeah, it sort of appears the Democratic House of Representatives is upholding its duty to the United States of America. They impeached your criminal father-in-law’s stupid ass.

 “How can you impeach a President that did nothing wrong?” You’re right. They need to wait until the President does something wrong. They need to wait until he sets up a scam university and bilks students out of thousands of dollars. They need to wait until he organizes a charitable organization and uses it to funnel money into his own pocket. Wait! He did those things before he became President. They need to wait until he directs government business to his resorts by dragging government employees there, where the government is billed for expenses. They need to wait until members of the armed services are directed to stay at his resorts while on official business. They need to wait until he invokes his power as President to prevent investigation into his crimes. They need to wait until he leverages the Treasury of the United States to coerce a foreign government to make a phony announcement about a political rival. The Democrats need to wait until this President does something wrong.Regarding whether the Left (as you call them) committed these acts, we are still waiting for the Left to pump money from the Treasury into their own pockets. We are still waiting for the Left to leverage funds approved by Congress to exact political favors from a foreign government. We will have to wait a long time, because for 24 months your father-in-law was President with a Republican Congress, and no such allegations were ever investigated or prosecuted. How long are we going to need to wait?

Regarding undoing the 2016 election, your father-in-law, by his continued criminal actions, is doing an excellent job of that. And he does not need help from the Left.

This is your president speaking.

Number 239 in a series

And now a few words from the President of the United States.

Trump says he’s heard from women about inefficient dishwashers

“Women tell me,” the president says in his comments about water regulations during a Battle Creek, Michigan, rally just after the House voted to impeach him.

The comments in Battle Creek came hours after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

At the rally, the president said that dishwashers don’t work as well as they once did, blaming regulations.

“Remember the dishwasher? You’d press it, boom! There’d be like an explosion. Five minutes later you open it up, the steam pours out,” he said.

“Now you press it 12 times. Women tell me …” the president said. “You know, they give you four drops of water.”

When did it come to pass that talk like this from a President of the United States was not scandalous? When did the American electorate become so inured to senseless prattle that this stuff now fails to earn a hearty belly laugh? Hillary Clinton, campaigning, compared Trump supporters to a basket of deplorables. Trump supporters objected strongly, and then they set about to prove her correct. From all appearances this remains a work in progress.

He asks, “What goes with a sink and a shower?” A crowd of thousands responds in unison. “Toilets!”

We see political rhetoric at the level of school yard taunts with no intent to rise any higher.

Your Friend The Handgun

Number 195, continuing the saga

And now for some of that Christmas cheer:

Two Georgia teenagers arrested in weekend mall shooting

Police say they have arrested two teenagers in connection with a shooting that wounded one man in a busy suburban Atlanta mall food court in the height of the Christmas shopping season

This is your president speaking.

Number 238 in a series

And now a few words from the President of the United States.

And the only way you’re going to have border security… There’s only one way. You can have all the technology in the world. I’m a professional at technology.”

YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEtSCNxPdzU

By now all thoughtful people are wondering, “How did we let it go this far?”

Abusing Science

Number 49 of a series

My Facebook timeline gets pinged regularly by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. The organization is this country’s—perhaps the worlds’—premier promoter of Intelligent Design, a rejuvenation of biblical creationism. To make it clear, the CSC wants us to know there is a supernatural cause behind the origin of the universe and all life on this planet. I capitalize Intelligent Design, since it is standard English to capitalize the names of religions.

Michael Behe is “professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University.” Intelligent Design has a long history, and its resurgence is in response to the failure of biblical literalism to legitimize creationism. Intelligent Design advocates want to convince us nature in general and life in particular are too well configured to have natural origins. Some intelligent force must be at work. Hint: advocated make scant secret this intelligent force is the God of Abraham.

Lacking demonstrable evidence for an intelligent designer, proponents scratched about for arguments to boost their assertions. In 1996 Professor Behe published Darwin’s Black Box. The book seeks to convince readers that step-wise mutations in a genome, a key component of Darwinian evolution, cannot produce ever more elaborate organisms. Behe has since published The Edge of Evolution and more recently Darwin Devolves. I have the Kindle edition and started reading it a few days ago. By page 39 it became apparent Behe had yet to make an argument based solely on fact. What I have seen so far is, at the base, a plea for the reader to believe. Some excerpts will illustrate. In his Introduction Behe lays out his premise:

Yet despite the long and varied history of discourse, discourse, all particular positions on the topic can be considered to be elaborations on either of just two general mutually exclusive views: (1) contemporary nature, including people, is an accident; and (2) contemporary nature, especially people, is largely intended—the product of a preexisting reasoning mind.

I will argue in this book that recent progress in our understanding of the molecular foundation of life decisively supports the latter view. To help frame the issues we’ll consider later, let’s first briefly recall a few highlights of what earlier writers thought about nature and purpose.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (pp. 1-2). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Talking about Anaxagoras, he explains:

His student Diogenes of Apollonia was even more explicit: “Without an intelligence it would not be possible that the substance of things should be so distributed as to keep all [nature] within due measure.”

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 2). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Reference to ancient Greek philosophers is enlightening, but ultimately a scientific argument will need to come down to some hard science. Before there is any science, we will hear more from ancient philosophers:

Galen concluded that the human body is the result of a “supremely intelligent and powerful divine Craftsman,” that is, “the result of intelligent design.”2

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (pp. 2-3). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

William Paley, writing over 200 years ago, brought Intelligent Design into modern society.

Several decades later, the Anglican clergyman William Paley, ignoring Hume and drawing on sophisticated work in biology, presented the watchmaker argument (discussed in Chapter 3)—widely considered to be the strongest, most detailed case for design up until his day.

About sixty years later Charles Darwin parried Paley’s argument. He proposed that there was a hitherto unrecognized natural process that, over a very long time, could imitate the results of purposeful design—namely, natural selection acting on random variation.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 4). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Behe, as do proponents of today, pits Charles Darwin against the concept of Intelligent Design. If you study the modern creationist through a few of their writings you will conclude a principle aim is to associate natural causes with Darwin and to refer back to his thinking in arguing against them. What a careful reader should recognize in considering these arguments is a simple observation. The evidence for evolution by natural causes does not hang on Charles Darwin. Darwin, working in a time when evidence was scant, produced some naive concepts. Modern studies have overridden many of Darwin’s ideas and have at the same time reinforced the conclusion that natural processes are sufficient to explain biological evolution. A key factor of real science is that you can toss out all previous research and start fresh, ultimately coming to the same conclusions. Religious concepts are not like that. If you toss out the Bible you cannot reproduce the God of Abraham. Jehovah is the creation of ancient minds and no real evidence will ever reproduce the concept.

Behe argues advances in the human intellect further enable the argument for Intelligent Design.

Recall, however, that the state of the design argument depends on our understanding of science and logic, which has accelerated explosively since Darwin’s day. The development of analytical philosophy in the early twentieth century encouraged much more rigorous arguments; advances in formal logic and probability theory, such as Bayes’ theorem, made that easier.3

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 4). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

For those not familiar with it, Bayes’ theorem relates to conditional probabilities. What is the probability this is true given that is true. Hopefully we will see Bayes’ theorem invoked later in the book.

Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the idea of natural selection about the same time as Darwin, and they coordinated their publications in 1858. Behe remarks:

Wallace thought that much of nature showed strong evidence of purpose, as he forcefully conveyed in The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose.4

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

A key argument for Intelligent Design consists of the assertion things had to be just in order for us to be here talking about it.

desolate. Subsequent progress concluded that it’s not just our world—the physics and chemistry of the whole universe is astonishingly fine-tuned for intelligent life on earth.6

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Behe explains the origins of his thinking about irreducible complexity by recounting a conversation with a fellow academic.

Talk turned to the origin of life. Although she and I were both happy to think life started by natural laws, we kept bumping up against problems. I pointed out that to get the first cell, you’d first need a membrane. “And proteins,” she added. “And metabolism,” said I. “And a genetic code,” said she. After a short time we both looked wide-eyed at each other and simultaneously shouted, “Naaaahh!” Then we laughed and went back to work, as if it didn’t really matter to our views. I suppose we both thought that, even if we didn’t know how undirected nature could begin life, somebody must know. That’s the impressive power of groupthink.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 7). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

With the beginnings of Behe’s thinking on the matter we also see the beginnings of his misdirection. Life we see today is founded on cells, as Behe describes. His mistake is in concluding the chain of life must have always involved cells. Or perhaps not. Behe may agree life chemistry at one time was not based on cells, but he exposes the lack of an explanation of how early life chemistry produced the first cells. Here he exposes a great hole in human knowledge, and into this void he drops the notion of an intelligent designer, specifically the God of Abraham.

Behe pursued Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. He recalls his reaction.

I got mad. Over the following months I spent much time in the science library trying to find papers or books that explained in real detail how random mutation and selection could produce the exceedingly intricate systems routinely studied by biochemistry.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 8). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Pause for a moment. Michael Behe has written a book seeking to debunk natural causes behind evolution and to reinforce belief in an intelligent designer. We would hope to see logic and reason employed. Even evidence. What we see are arguments from emotion. He got mad. That is neither a scientific nor a logical argument. It is meant to tug at the reader’s inner beliefs.

Behe begins his assault on the science community’s acceptance of natural causes.

At that point I concluded that I had been led to believe in Darwin’s theory not because of strong evidence for it. Rather, it was for sociological reasons—that simply was the way educated people were expected to think these days. My professors hadn’t been intentionally misleading—that was the framework in which they thought about life too. But from then on I resolved to decide for myself what the evidence showed.

When one starts to treat Darwinism as a hypothesis about the biochemical level of life rather than as an assumption, it takes about ten minutes to conclude it’s radically inadequate. It takes perhaps another ten minutes to realize that the molecular foundation of life was designed, and for effectively the same reason that Anaxagoras, Galen, and Paley reached the same conclusion for visible levels of biology (although, because of progress in science and philosophy, the argument is now necessarily much more detailed and nuanced than their versions): the signature of intelligent activity is the arrangement of disparate parts to fulfill some purpose. The molecular parts of the cell are elegantly arranged to fulfill many subsidiary purposes that must blend together in service of the large overall purpose of forming life. As we’ll see in this book, no unintelligent, undirected process—neither Darwin’s mechanism nor any other—can account for that.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (pp. 8-9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Please forgive the extended excerpt, but it is necessary to lay out in some detail Behe’s chain of thinking.

We begin to get some insight into the other than rational motivations behind the Intelligent Design movement. As additional information channels opened he exchanged thoughts with like-minded academics.

Like me, most had religious convictions, which freed them from the crippling assumption that—no matter what the evidence showed—unintelligent forces simply must be responsible for the elegance of life. Some of us banded together under the auspices of the Seattle-based think tank Discovery Institute, the better to defend and advance the topic of intelligent design (ID), to which we had become dedicated.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Key here—religious convictions freed these people from a crippling assumption—that assumption being the reliance on natural explanations. If you are of another mind you are beginning to see Behe and others have entered the world of superstition and magic. This is a world apart from any definition of real science.

Behe foresees and heads off a critical counter move of the rationalists.

(One common confusion of critics is to think that ID argues everything is planned. That’s not the case. Chance is an important, if superficial, feature of biology.)

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Yes, proponents are careful to not lay everything onto supernatural causes. At this point I will caution rationalists who seek to debate Intelligent Design. Do not fall into the trap that “intelligent” ad employed  by the creationists, means “smart.” Do not point toward all the dumb things found in the design of living organisms. The creationists use “intelligence” to mean “information,” particularly information from a supernatural source. This information is not guaranteed to produce joyful results.

Not all of what Behe writes is strictly factual.

After DNA and proteins were discovered in the late twentieth century…

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 10). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Proteins began to be studied in the 18th century.

 

As science rapidly advanced in the early twenty-first century, large studies showed only surprisingly minor changes in genes under severe selective pressure. And as we’ll see in this book, now several decades into the twenty-first century, ever more sophisticated studies demonstrate that, ironically, random mutation and natural selection are in fact fiercely devolutionary. It turns out that mutation easily breaks or degrades genes, which, counterintuitively, can sometimes help an organism to survive, so the damaged genes are hastily spread by natural selection. Strangely, in the space of a century and a half Darwinism has gone from the chief candidate for the explanation of life to a known threat to life’s long-term integrity.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 10). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Here is going to be a principal argument in the book. Behe agrees evolution does take place. He will not agree with the principle that natural processes can produce “improvement.” He will argue natural processes, “Darwinism,” can only eliminate improvement. I put “improvement” in quotes, because much of Behe’s argument consists of his claiming what is and what is not “improvement.”

He initiates discussion of improvement with the example of polar bears. Polar bears are the largest land carnivores, and some examination has revealed they are closely related to the North American brown bear, the grizzly bear, and the Kodiak bear. It is considered the polar bear derived from an ancestral brown bear, giving up its brown color for a coat of white fur. The white fur is obviously a benefit to a bear living almost entirely on white ice and snow. We like to think this is Darwinian evolution in action.

Not so, according to Michael Behe.

Although Charles Darwin didn’t mention them in his 1859 masterwork, On the Origin of Species, the polar bear is a wonderful illustration of his theory of evolution by random variation and natural selection. Like other examples Darwin did cite, the giant predator is clearly related to a species that occupies an adjacent geographical area, while just as clearly differing from it in a number of inherited traits. It is easy to envision how the polar bear’s ancestors might gradually have colonized and adapted to a new environment. Over many generations the lineage could have become lighter in color (making the bears less and less visible to their prey in snowy environments), more resistant to the cold, and more adapted to the sources of food in the Arctic, a process in which each step offered a survival advantage over the previous one.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 16). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Only several years ago—only after laboratory techniques were invented that could reliably track changes in species at the level of genes and DNA—was the genetic heritage of the Arctic predator laid bare. The results have turned the idea of evolution topsy-turvy.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 16). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

There are two significant genetic differences between polar bears and brown bears, the other being accommodation for a fat-rich diet. Polar bears eat a lot of seals. But I will illustrate with Behe’s comments on pigmentation (or lack of) of polar bears.

A second highly selected gene, LYST, is associated with pigmentation, and changes in it are probably responsible for the blanching of the ancestors’ brown fur. Computer analysis of the multiple mutations of the gene showed that they too were almost certainly damaging to its function. In fact, of all the mutations in the seventeen genes that were most highly selected, about half were predicted to damage the function of the respective coded proteins. Furthermore, since most altered genes bore several mutations, only three to six (depending on the method of estimation) out of seventeen genes were free of degrading changes.2 Put differently, 65 to 83 percent of helpful, positively selected genes are estimated to have suffered at least one damaging mutation.

It seems, then, that the magnificent Ursus maritimus has adjusted to its harsh environment mainly by degrading genes that its ancestors already possessed. Despite its impressive abilities, rather than evolving, it has adapted predominantly by devolving. What that portends for our conception of evolution is the principal topic of this book.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 17). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

And that is it. Behe, throughout much of his work at refuting natural causes, points to mutations which turn out to be beneficial to an organism are in reality the destruction of a genetic trait that was likely hard-gained, supposedly by supernatural processes.

And I will rest discussion of this point until such time I review the entire book, and I will turn to a minor point the modern creationists continually ignore. What is the evidence of a supernatural intelligence at work? By what means does a transcendental entity that exists outside time and space effect changes in a genome? If natural causes are insufficient to produce beneficial mutations, mutations that will stick? Does this transcendental entity develop material fingers, which fingers need to exist within time and space, that reach into natural chemical processes and produce just the required mutation that will be beneficial to an organism?

Take special note. Michael Behe believes in evolution. He concedes populations have evolved and that modern species have origins stretching back millions of years.

For example, the ideas that life has changed over time and that organisms are related by common descent (both of which were controversial in Darwin’s time) are supported by evidence from geology, paleontology, and comparative anatomy. Those parts of his theory have withstood the test of time very well.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 19). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Seeming without justification, Behe makes a bold claim.

Darwin’s proposed mechanism of evolution is more widely questioned today than at any time since the role of DNA in life was discovered.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 19). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

At one point he lays bare a critical drive of the creationists.

Building a solid foundation for understanding that data does require some work. But it brings the substantial reward of a much better appreciation for the place of humanity, and indeed of all life, in the universe. At a minimum, we need a grasp of the outlines of the history of biology, the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin’s theory and modern extensions of it, the latest pertinent research results, and crucial philosophical topics. All of that this book will provide in a way that aims to be accessible to the general reading public. The book’s goal is to give readers the scientific and other information needed to confidently conclude for themselves that life was purposely designed.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 20). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

I have put in bold a phrase pushed by those who want to challenge purely natural causes in public education. Creationists have (for the moment) given up on teaching creationism or even eliminating the teaching of Darwinian evolution. We see introduced in state legislatures laws that promote teaching the controversy and teaching the strengths and weaknesses. Behe indicates his alignment with these maneuvers.

The book’s goal is to give readers the scientific and other information needed to confidently conclude for themselves that life was purposely designed.

Behe, Michael J.. Darwin Devolves (p. 20). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

And I will close it down with that. I promise to finish reading the book, and a review will come within a few weeks.

The Government You Paid For

Number 62 of a Series

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqdEI3NNpGcSanders left her job as White House Press Secretary in July and has since allowed as how she told some minor fibs for the President. Her leaving brought upon me a sense of great loss and despair. I should not have been concerned, however. Sarah Sanders was shortly replaced by one Stephanie Grisham. While not as loquacious as the motor mouth Sanders, Grisham is proving no less entertaining when she speaks, which she rarely does from the podium. In those rare instances we are immensely rewarded. Besides the above, there is this from today.

Stephanie Grisham @PressSec

“Let us hope that fairness will prevail” a laughable quote from @SenSchumer this AM….after the dems release an “impeachment report” in the middle of the night. Thankfully the people of this country continue to see the partisan sham that this is.

7:17 AM · Dec 16, 2019Twitter for iPhone

I like it when somebody defending President Trump employs words like “sham” and also “hoax” and “fake.” It is irony in its abject form. Specifically, Lady, you want to see “sham” and “hoax” and “fake?” Then turn around Look at the man standing behind you—the person you hired on to protect and to shield him from public recrimination. It may be time for self assessment.

Before going into work each morning you need to stand in front of a full-length mirror and recite to yourself your daily task. You need to remind yourself you are prepared to lie and then to double down on lies of all manner.But be aware and do not make the mistake Sarah Sanders did. Just because your job title involves standing before the press corps and parceling out tidbits of information, do this to the smallest degree possible. Facing an inquisitive and skeptical press, as Sanders mistakenly did, can be erosive. She appeared to grasp toward the end this process can beat one down. Being constantly contradicted by fact and evidence has a wilting effect on the human psyche.

However, do keep tweeting. You do that, and I will keep writing. If there is one thing I enjoy more than a fool who is never right it is a liar who is never wrong.

Quiz Question

Number 235 of a series

Objects in the drawing above that look like squares are squares. The area of the square in the lower left is 5. What is the area of the orange triangle?

Post your answer in the comments section below

Update and Solution

This problem becomes easy to solve once you put it into perspective. See the diagram.

Realize the base of the orange triangle is the diagonal of the small square. Then draw the diagonal of the large square. It is parallel to the base of the triangle. The height of the triangle is the diagonal of the medium square, whose area is for times that of the small square. The remainder is left to the reader.

Elmo provided a solution a few days ago. Compare your answer with his.

Nobel Nobel

Eye on the Prize, Number 12

Go for it. The Prize is almost within your grasp:

North Korea calls Trump a ‘heedless and erratic old man’

Once again, let us hear that soul-stirring rally cry. Nobel-Nobel!

The Awful Truth

Number 8 in a Series

Quite often comedy can deliver the truth in ways no other method can. Take this instance.

I caught Jimmy Kimmel on YouTube earlier this week, and he played recent pronouncements by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The senator was tearing into the basis for the original investigation into Russian meddling with the 2016 election. What he wanted to demonstrate for Fox viewers and the like was the corrupt bias behind the FBI’s decision to launch the investigation. Particularly, he quoted from texts exchanged between former government employees associated with the case.

FBI lawyer Lisa Page and special agent Peter Strzok were at the time engaged in extramarital hanky panky, and they used their government email accounts to exchange communication they wrongly assumed would be private. [Warning to all you out there using your employer’s email service: it is not private.] Anyhow, Senator Graham cruelly replayed some juicy exchanges between the two. These texts reveal a total disdain for candidate Trump. See the above for Graham’s recitation of a note from Page to Strzok.

Page: God is a loathsome human.

Aside from being totally correct, it was totally wrong to put this out over a government communication device. The senator is seen reciting additional communiques.

Strzok: Oh my God. He’s an idiot.

Donald Trump is an enormous douche.

Again, dead on, but NSFW.

And the comedian had some fun with that. However, comedians can at times be incredibly cruel, and Kimmel next displays some of that cruelty. He plays clips of Senator Graham. Let’s have a look. These are from the run-up to the 2016 election.

He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.

I think he’s a kook. I think he’s crazy.

I think he’s unfit for office.

He doesn’t represent my party.

He’s a jackass.

Trump is a political car wreck.

He would be the most flawed nominee in the history of the Republican Party.

Donald Trump is the most unelectable Republican I’ve seen in my lifetime.

He would be a terrible commander in chief.

He doesn’t have the temperament or judgement.

He’s not fit to be President of the United States.

We would get slaughtered as a party if Trump is the nominee.

And quite frankly, we would deserve it.

At least Senator Graham did not call the future president an enormous douche. There are times when the awful truth is a slip of the tongue away.