Darwin’s Doubt

Number 2

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake, Utah

It was two years ago I obtained a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt and promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

In his book Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer considers the nature of animals and what is required to build an animal. He finds that only intelligent design can explain the abrupt origin of animal life in the fossil record, as well as the new information required to build the integrated nature of parts and systems that comprise animal body plans. Here’s how Meyer makes the case that intelligent design is the best explanation for many aspects of the origin of animals as witnessed in the Cambrian explosion:

The posting is not signed, a departure from my previous experience. The site lists a number of contributors, here listed in no particular order:

The author goes on to state:

Intelligent agents can generate new form rapidly as we see in the abrupt appearance of animals in the Cambrian fossil record:

That is followed by an excerpt from the book:

Intelligent agents have foresight. Such agents can determine or select functional goals before they are physically instantiated. They can devise or select material means to accomplish those ends from among an array of possibilities. They can then actualize those goals in accord with a preconceived design plan or set of functional requirements. Rational agents can constrain combinatorial space with distant information-rich outcomes in mind.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 362-363). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Yes! Stephen C. Meyer is 100% correct. If you have an agent, a person, with intelligence and foresight, you can make much more rapid progress than can be accomplished by random processes alone. Here is what an intelligent agent can do:

  • Send nerve impulses from a brain to muscles and cause objects to move, directing bits of matter to come into contact and preventing certain things from happening, which things would not ordinarily have happened were it not for said intervention.
  • Use eyes or other sensory methods to determine what is going on, allowing the brain to make decisions and to change the course of actions being taken.

If the Intelligent Agent only had a brain. Or hands. Or eyes.

What Meyer is saying, perhaps without realizing it, is that somewhere in the distant past something caused matter to move in ways contrary to the natural flow of events. And nowhere in any of his writings I have found has Meyer explained such happenings, neither has he mentioned them. It is an explanation the proponents of Intelligent Design must not touch. It is the figurative third rail of Intelligent Design. Touch it, and Intelligent Design dies.

But stop right there. I know what Meyer and the other creationists are going to say. Allow me to propose a quote:

Our research has not yet uncovered a method. However, our observations and our reasoning have convinced us, and will convince any thinking person, that there must have been an  Intelligent Agent at work. Else we would not have gotten to where we are today.

Explainer of Intelligent Design

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

I will dig deeper into Stephen C. Meyer’s book in the coming days. In the meantime, the Evolution News posting has a link to a neat video, which you should watch. I know I will watch it, and I will have a go at summarizing it in a future post. Here’s the link:

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Eighth of a series

This is the eighth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode continued with creationist Stephen C. Meyer, discussing the concept he featured in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time around Meyer argues for the return of the God hypothesis. That is, we should accept the hypothesis that a supernatural being, with thought processes much like human thought, is behind the wonders of the Universe and of life, itself. Above we see host David Stotts, camping out in the mountains at night, taking in the wonders of the Universe.

Meyer kicks off his discussion. Illustrations are screen shots from Episode 8, and viewers should take note. Once I copy an image on my computer screen I use Corel PaintShop Pro to massage it. I enhance brightness and contrast to make key features easier to pick out from the small images I post with the story. Apologies for anybody whose picture comes off a bit weird.

Meyer talks of “Those who have gone before us.” These are great scientists of olden days who accepted the God hypothesis a priori and even employed it as a motivation for their study of nature.

He recalls his days at Cambridge University. Over the Great Cavendish Door (at the Cavendish Laboratory), was this slogan.

Here it is so search engines can  find it.

The Great Cavendish Door

“Magna opera Domini exquista in omnes voluntates ejus.”

“Great are the works of the Lord, sought out by all who take pleasure in them.”

Meyer mentions Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and James Clerk Maxwell, supposedly as those who took pleasure in the works of the Lord.

Meyer launches into the thesis of this episode.

Thesis

Theism—with its affirmation of a transcendent, powerful and intelligent Creator—provides the best explanation of the key evidences concerning the origin of the universe and life.

I could let this pass and get onto my analysis of Meyer’s talk, but I have to take issue with the foregoing. What is actually true is that Theism is a made-up hypothesis that can explain anything and everything, making it a fairly useless basis for scientific inquiry.

That said, here is a chart that recapitulates from previous episodes. The title is “Multiple Competing Hypotheses.”

The competing hypotheses are Deism, Naturalism, Theism, and Pantheism. Meyer is going to eventually cross off all of these except theism, which is going to rule the day. I am going to start by crossing off pantheism, because I have no understanding of it, and my intellectual depth does not plumb Meyer’s discussion of it.

Meyer crosses off naturalism, due to arguments he has made previously. Nature cannot explain the miraculous origin of the universe and the wonders of the world around us. That leaves the competing deism and theism.

Deism Meyer throws out immediately, as would all thinking people. Deism is the idea that God—or whatever—started things off and then went on vacation, having nothing more to do with us. Meyer knows this is not the case, because the Universe was around for billions of years before there were plants and animals—and people. And God, or whatever, is needed to explain these late developments.

Biology

What runs the show in biology is information.

Strictly speaking, this is correct. What runs the show in a mechanistic world is information. Information is a the medium of cause and effect. The Earth goes around the sun because of gravity. Gravity transmits to the Earth the information that the sun is there. A bullet leaves the barrel of a gun at high velocity. This is a manifestation of the bullet receiving information about the burning powder in the cartridge. You cry because your receive an email from your girlfriend saying she has dumped you. And so on. This is cause and effect. This is the transfer of information. Meyer wants to make more of it.

And that is unfortunate for Meyer.

Best Explanation

Information is the product of intelligent activity.

Obviously not. See the preceding examples.

Meyer cites examples in the history of the Universe where information was introduced.

Loci of Design

Fine-Tuning of the Laws of Physics … Origin of First Life … Cambrian Information Explosion

These relate to:

Big Bang 13 bya … 3.85 bya (first life) … 530 mya [Cambrian Explosion]

13 Billion Years of Cosmic History

As a side note, this will not go over well with the Young Earth Creationists, e.g., the folks at the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), now located in Dallas, Texas. Most interesting is the way people like Meyer and those of the ICR team up, discarding principal talking points, to push their central theme, “God did it.”

Now Meyer launches into the manufactured controversy of the Cambrian Explosion. This video is by now eight years old, so we have to wonder whether the Discovery Institute still pushes it. And the answer is yes, they do. Here is an item by the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site:

The Cambrian explosion remains one of the severest evidential challenges to Darwinian evolution. Recent fossil finds adduced to support evolution deserve a closer look.

Ediacaran Fossils

Since our recent posts about the “Ediacaran Explosion” and the enigmatic Dicksonia fossils, a couple of news items have appeared about Ediacaran organisms.

Rangeomorphs. At New Scientist, Andy Coghlan invites readers to “See inside the 580-million-year-old creature no one understands” – the rangeomorphs that resemble large petals or leaves. Most fossils of these creatures appear as flattened impressions in the rock, showing only their outer surfaces. Now, for the first time, University College London scientists performed CT scans of rangeomorphs found in their original 3-D condition in Namibia. This is the first look “inside” these organisms. What was found?

[Alana] Sharp and her colleagues think all six fronds may have been inflated like long balloons. They may even have touched one another – meaning that a horizontal section through Rangea would have looked more like a slice through an orange rather than one through a starfruit.

“Our work supports a lifestyle of absorption of nutrients through membranes inflated to the maximum, increasing the surface area across which these organisms seemed to feed,” says Sharp. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, these creatures had no organs, no systems, and no body cavities. The researchers found a central stalk filled with sediment that may have helped “support the creature like a primitive skeleton.” But it isn’t a skeleton; it’s just a “cone-shaped channel.” More importantly, rangeomorphs looked nothing like the true animals that appeared later in the Cambrian explosion. Sharp added, “they are the first of the truly large, multicellular organisms that radiated broadly before the first true animals evolved.”

Yes, Intelligent Design is going to flog this argument for as long as they can mine any perceived absence of data.

It’s interesting to note that in his talk Meyer gives the Cambrian Explosion a geologically narrow window,  “between two and ten million years.” This is at variance to the 20 to 25 million years typically ascribed to the period. I can only guess that Meyer does this in order to intensify the compression of any evolutionary development attributed to the Cambrian Explosion. I recall that creationist Jonathan Wells does something similar:

Wells also plays fast and loose with definitions. The Cambrian explosion is not synonymous with the entire Cambrian period. Even though Wells gives a length for the explosion of 5-10 million years, he also considers groups to have originated in the explosion if they appeared at any time during the Cambrian, a period of over 50 million years.

In invoking the supposed miracles of the Cambrian Explosion, creationists employ this and other devices to exaggerate the apparent rate of evolutionary development and also the lack of complete fossil evidence.

Meyer’s illustration summarizes.

In “older rocks,” prior to 600 million years ago, we see no evidence of fossils representing the multiple phyla in the modern world. In “younger rocks” we see fossils of arthropods and other creatures with body plans we would recognize today. Meyer’s deduction: something miraculous happened. God intervened (my wording).

He illustrates with a cladogram. These modern body plans originated from a “Common Ancestor.” Next we can presume he is going to ask, “What was that common ancestor, and where are the intermediate fossils?”

Meyer cites examples (to him) of unexplained “Sudden Appearance” of species.

Examples of Geologically Sudden Appearance

Mammalian radiation (shows bear, horse, gorilla)

“Big bloom” of flowering plants (shows blossoms)

Marine Mesozoic revolution (shows a drawing of a marine dinosaur)

Cambrian explosion

The fossil record shows a radiation from as few as “two lineages of Eutherian mammals” at the end of  the Cretaceous period. Twenty million years later we find that “most of the twenty or so present-day mammalian orders are identifiable.” I’m getting the idea Meyer thinks this is unbelievably fast for evolutionary development to work. We must come to think Meyer has equal heartburn with flowering plants and marine dinosaurs.

Next, Meyer launches into a foray into Michael Behe‘s “high-tech in low life.”

Behe began to pop up in the anti-evolution scene at the 1992 conference “Darwinism: Scientific Inference or Philosophical Preference” at Southern Methodist University. Other heavy hitters of the Intelligent Design movement were there, including Phillip Johnson, the so-called godfather of modern Intelligent Design. However, I failed to notice Behe until 1996, when he came out with his book, Darwin’s Black Box. You can catch Behe’s appearance in the 1997 Firing Line debate on YouTube.

Anyhow, take a look at the computer screen Meyer is using in his talk. It shows an illustration of a favorite Behe talking point. It is the bacterial flagellum and its driving mechanism. Don’t look for me to go into  detail here. YouTube has a video of Behe giving his pitch.

A problem with this argument, proposed by Behe and now pushed by Meyer, is that scientists working in the field have real issues with Behe’s argument:

Evolution myths: The bacterial flagellum is irreducibly complex

Actually, flagella vary widely from one species to another, and some of the components can perform useful functions by themselves. They are anything but irreducibly complex

It is a highly complex molecular machine. Protruding from many bacteria are long spiral propellers attached to motors that drive their rotation. The only way the flagellum could have arisen, some claim, is by design.

Each flagellum is made of around 40 different protein components. The proponents of an offshoot of creationism known as intelligent design argue that a flagellum is useless without every single one of these components, so such a structure could not have emerged gradually via mutation and selection. It must have been created instead.

In reality, the term “the bacterial flagellum” is misleading. While much remains to be discovered, we now know there are thousands of different flagella in bacteria, which vary considerably in form and even function.

Please note, this was published prior to Meyer’s presentation (2009). In a setting such as this, a dramatized argument for Intelligent Design, Meyer might not be required to take note of valid and counter arguments. In a presentation at a professional conference what Meyer is doing would be considered fraud.

Meyer states what he thinks he has demonstrated.

Evidence for intelligent design:

is beyond reasonable doubt.

To which I will add, “In your wildest dreams.”

Meyer reinforces his argument by citing famous thinkers, in this case Anthony Flew:

Antony Garrard Newton Flew (11 February 1923 – 8 April 2010) was an English philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, Flew was most notable for his work related to the philosophy of religion. During the course of his career he taught at the universities of OxfordAberdeenKeele and Reading, and at York University in Toronto.

For much of his career Flew was known as a strong advocate of atheism, arguing that one should presuppose atheism until empirical evidence of a God surfaces. He also criticised the idea of life after death, the free will defence to the problem of evil, and the meaningfulness of the concept of God. In 2003 he was one of the signatories of the Humanist Manifesto III. However, in 2004 he stated an allegiance to deism, more specifically a belief in the Aristotelian God. He stated that in keeping his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence leads, he now believed in the existence of a God.

What is doubly interesting, regarding the reference to Anthony Flew, is:

  • Flew moved from atheism to deism, not to theism.
  • The news item pictured appears in the Washington Times. This newspaper was “Founded on May 17, 1982, by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon.” It reflects religious and politically conservative views and is an unabashed supporter of Intelligent Design, in opposition to Darwinian evolution. Jonathan Wells is a prominent proponent of Intelligent Design. He is a follower of Moon and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

That latter part would rightly not bother Meyer’s reference to Anthony Flew. I am sure a similar item appeared in other publications at the time.

And Meyer concludes with the slogan of today.

The return of the God hypothesis

Good to see it’s back. I was afraid these creationists would sashay into science and mess things up. We might be required to start teaching Intelligent Design in public science classes.

Coming up is Episode 9, “The Moral Necessity of Theism.” This is going to be interesting. People who insist that science recognize the supernatural in the study of nature are now going to convince us that human morality derives from this supernatural force. Here’s what Amazon has to say about the next episode:

It is impossible to live as a moral relativist. Everyone believes in some standard of right and wrong. But what is that standard and where did it come from?

This should be interesting. I’m almost finished. Episode 10 is the final one, and there is also a “bonus extra.” I don’t know what that is about, but I will have a look and do a review if one is warranted. Keep reading.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Fool’s Argument

Sixth of a series

This is the sixth in my review of the video production Does God Exist, brought to you by Focus on the Family, an agency for conservative Christian advocacy. The video is available on DVD from Amazon, and it is currently streaming on Amazon, free with Amazon Prime.

The previous episode featured creationist Stephen C. Meyer, introducing the concept he elucidated in his book, Signature in the Cell, previously reviewed. This time Meyer is continuing that theme, and he is going to be arguing that in the evolutionary development of life on this planet, natural processes face improbable odds.

 

He cites Douglas Axe, another creationist associated with the Discovery Institute.

I am posting a transcription of the text to make it visible to search engines.

Doug Axe, Ph.D., Cal Tech, formerly @ Cambridge Univ.

A Critical Question

How common (or rare) are functional sequences (i.e., proteins) among all the possible combinations of amino acids?

We are going to learn that proteins are chains of amino acids (peptide chains), and their critical functionality in living cells is the shape they take on when folded, as these chains do naturally when formed. Only a few out of many [understatement alert] possible proteins are functional to living cells. Accidental formation of a useful protein is extremely unlikely.

The text:

How Rare are Functional Sequences?

For every ONE of these

How many of these [= 1/????]

Meyer gives the numbers.

Here’s the text.

CHANCES OF FINDING A FUNCTIONAL PROTEIN BY CHANCE = 1/10164!!!

1080 elementary particles in  the universe

1016 seconds since the Big Bang

10139 events since the beginning of the universe!

Those are tall odds.

Meyer concludes the argument for natural formation of living matter is circlar.

To wit:

Begging the Question

Natural Selection

Self-Replication

Sequence Specific DNA and Proteins.

He is saying sequence-specific DNA and proteins are required for self-replication, which is required for natural selection, a false argument. He does not recognize the feasibility of self-replication without DNA and proteins. Self replication of non-living matter is what scientists propose. Scientists have not demonstrated the complete development of living cells from self-replicating, non-living matter, and neither has Meyer demonstrated his claim for Intelligent Design.

Additionally, Meyer calls this begging the question, which it technically is not. Begging the question has a stricter definition, but that is a minor issue.

He brings up Michael Polanyi.

Here is what he has to say:

Michael  Polanyi

“As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so the base sequence of a DNA molecule [is] extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule.”

Life Transcending Physics and Chemistry

Meyer is using the Polanyi quote to illustrate his argument that natural chemical processes alone cannot account for the fortunate formation of life-critical molecules.

The association of Michael Polanyi (in name only) with the Discovery Institute goes back 18 years. In 1999 William Dembski, under the auspices of a friendly University president, founded the Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor University.

The Michael Polanyi Center (MPC) at Baylor University, Texas was the first center at a research university exclusively dedicated to intelligent design study. It was founded in 1999 “with the primary aim of advancing the understanding of the sciences,” in a religious context and is named for Michael Polanyi. All of the center’s research investigated the subject of intelligent design. The center was relegated in late 2000 to a minor program within the Baylor Institute for Faith and Learning and fully dissolved in 2003.

There are many points covered in this episode I have not covered,  but this provides the flavor. Meyer concludes.

The text:

There is no naturalistic explanation for the origin of the information that you need to build the first life.

His conclusion is way over the top. It is not a logical conclusion, even based on the partial discussion of the topic he has presented. Specifically, Meyer discusses improbabilities of purely random processes, denies the possibility of self-replication by means other than DNA (and such). Then he jumps to the origin of information, which origin he has nor argued against in his talk.

In my review of his book eight years ago, I posited that novel information comes from purely random events, a conclusion I suspect will be counterintuitive to most. Contact me if you want to discuss this further.

In Episode 7, titled “DNA by Design, Part 3: Information and Intelligence,” Meyer is apparently going to continue to discuss intelligence as it relates to biological evolution. From Amazon:

We know that the source of any information found within the DNA code is intelligence itself. So where does this intelligence come from? Chance? Natural Selection?

Keep reading. Look for a review tomorrow of Episode 7. Only four more of these to go, and it’s going to be interesting to see where Meyer takes us.

Your Intelligence Insulted For Free

From the Tobin Center site

From the Tobin Center site

Only kidding. About the free part, that is. This time around it’s going to cost you $36.50. And up. Here’s the scoop:

H-E-B PERFORMANCE HALL
APR 8, 7:30 PM

 Join Deepak Chopra as he creates a roadmap for “higher health,” based on the latest findings in both mainstream and alternative medicine,

  • Are we in the midst of a major paradigm shift in science?
  • Is there an ultimate reality?
  • Does consciousness conceive, govern, construct and become the physical universe?
  • Is the universe becoming self aware in the human nervous system?
  • Is the next stage of human development conscious evolution?
  • Do we have the ability to influence the future evolution of the cosmos?
  • How does our understanding of consciousness as pure potentiality enhance our capacity for intuition, creativity, conscious choice making, healing, and the awakening of dormant potentials such as non local communication and non local sensory experience?
  • How does our understanding of consciousness also enhance our capacity for total well being (physical, emotional, spiritual, social, community, financial and ecological)?

Deepak will address all these questions as well as practical ways to experience higher consciousness, transformation and healing.

DEEPAK CHOPRA is the author of more eighty books translated into over forty-three languages, including twenty-two  New York Times bestsellers in both the fiction and nonfiction categories. Deepak is the Founder of The Chopra Foundation, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, Founder of The Chopra Well on YouTube,. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century and credits him as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine.” ​

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is the new jewel in the crown of the San Antonio (and Bexar Country) cultural experience.

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts will shine on all forms of music, dance, theater and performance art. You will experience symphony, country, jazz, contemporary, and mariachi – virtually every style of music. Performances from world – renowned operas, theater and ballets, even children’s shows will take this grand stage. This will be the community’s gathering place where generations can experience the power of the arts.

Every single aspect of this building is designed to enhance the sounds and sights of the performance. The outstanding acoustics and exceptional sightlines will make the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts the best place in south Texas to see, hear and experience a live performance.

The building design will create the River Walk Plaza, an exciting outdoor space located at the river’s edge. It will be a grand extension of the city’s most romantic attraction and serve as a portal to the Tobin Center and the nearby Veteran’s Memorial Plaza.

Managing Organization Website: Bexar County Performing Arts Center Foundation

While not quite up there with the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas (who can compete with I.M. Pei?), the Tobin is inspiring, accessible and a delight to the senses. I have been there.

But I may not be there on April 8. I know where I can get my intelligence insulted for free. I’ve had that experience, as well.

Newt of Death

Rough-skinned newt (from Wikipedia)

Rough-skinned newt (from Wikipedia)

This story was posted to Facebook, and some of the comments were interesting. Here is one:

I can’t help but wonder about the mechanism by which a attribute like this might develop. The garter snakes could not have developed an immunity since they would be killed. That prevents them from learning to avoid the newts as well. And to think that the mutation spontaneously happened for this specific thing at random does not really make sense either. If that were happening, you would see lots of other non-viable mutations before this one was selected.

I used to think that it was possible that, for example, if one’s parents spent a lot of time in the sun and became really tanned and that went on for several generations, that the children would develop the propensity to tan easily. That makes sense in light of recent discoveries regarding the epigenome of organisms. However, it does not really explain this situation where a non-immune snake would die if it ate a poisonous newt.

Here’s the story:

The scientific tale of the rough-skinned newt begins five decades ago, with a story about three dead hunters in Oregon. Reportedly, the bodies of the hunters were discovered around a camp fire. They showed no signs of injury, and nothing had been stolen. The only strange thing about the scene was the coffee pot. Curled up inside was a newt.

In the 1960s, a biologist named Butch Brodie got curious about the story. The newt in the coffee pot–known as the rough-skinned newt–has a dull brown back, but when it is disturbed, it bends its head backward like a contortionist to reveal an orange belly as bright as candy corn. Bright colors are common among poisonous animals. It’s a signal that says, in effect, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave me alone.” Brodie wondered if the newts were toxic, too.

Toxic, it turns out, doesn’t do the newts justice. They are little death machines. The newts produce a chemical in their skin called tetrodotoxin, or TTX for short, that’s made by other poisonous animals like pufferfish. Locking onto sodium channels on the surface of neurons, TTX blocks signals in the nervous system, leading to a quick death. In fact, TTX is 10,000 times deadlier than cyanide. While we may never know for sure what killed those three Oregon hunters, we do know that a single rough-skinned newt could have easily produced enough TTX to kill them, and have plenty of poison left over to kill dozens more.

Now, if the whole idea of evolution makes you uneasy, you might react by saying, “That couldn’t possibly have evolved.” Experience has shown that this is not a wise thing to say. Brodie said something different: the most plausible explanation for a ridiculously poisonous animal is that it is locked in a coevolutionary arms race with a ridiculously well-defended predator. Another biologist mentioned to him that he’d seen garter snakes dining on rough-skinned newts, and so Brodie investigated. He discovered that garter snakes in rough-skinned newt territory have evolved peculiar shape to the receptors on their neurons that TTX would normally grab.

So here’s the deal. The newt is exceedingly toxic. Garter snakes living in the same territory (not garter snakes elsewhere) can safely eat the newts. These garter snakes have calcium receptors configured differently from their kin in other regions, and the newt’s toxin does not bind well with them.

The Facebook comment rightly questions how this could come to be. The operative statement is:

The garter snakes could not have developed an immunity since they would be killed. That prevents them from learning to avoid the newts as well. And to think that the mutation spontaneously happened for this specific thing at random does not really make sense either. If that were happening, you would see lots of other non-viable mutations before this one was selected.

The comment questions that a “mutation spontaneously happened for this specific thing.”

But that is exactly what happened. And it happened this way:

  • The newt developed a slight toxicity. Garter snakes that ate it did not fare so well.
  • Some snakes already had slightly modified calcium receptors. They fared better. They dined on newts, and their genotype began to dominate the garter snake population in this region.
  • Some newts developed more (or better) toxin. The garter snakes that ate them did not fare so well.
  • Some snakes already had slightly modified calcium receptors. They fared better. They dined on newts, and their genotype began to dominate the garter snake population in this region.
  • Some newts developed more (or better) toxin. The garter snakes that ate them did not fare so well.
  • Some snakes already had slightly modified calcium receptors. They fared better. They dined on newts, and their genotype began to dominate the garter snake population in this region.

And so on and on. It’s the classical evolutionary arms race. Two species advance arm in arm, so to speak, in these peculiar features.

Significantly, the development of the toxin and the modified calcium receptors were not driven by anything. Each change was the result of random mutation.

In the past I was debating a creationist on-line, and he brought up the vast improbability of the development of highly specified features. He questioned how a life form could find just the right mutation.

My response was that biological forms end up trying everything. But not quite. I told him it was up to him to elaborate on the “not quite.” He couldn’t figure it out, and I never told him. The answer is there are some evolutionary developments a specific life form cannot develop. There are future evolutionary evolutionary paths that are forever blocked for a specific species. In spite of this, the remaining, available paths of development give ample opportunity for the existence of the many and varied life forms that exist today.

Creationist object to this line of thought. The convoluted paths of development supposedly followed to obtain existing life forms are too improbable to have involved chance and especially only natural causes. There must have been a guiding hand.

The counter argument to this is a fable that I tell.

A wealthy man has been found shot to death inside a locked room. No weapon is found, but an autopsy has determined death was caused by a .40 caliber bullet wound to the man’s head.

The police decide the man was murdered. Suicide has been ruled out.

Others argue that is impossible. The room was completely secure. No windows, solid walls, stout door locked from the inside. The only key to the door is discovered in the victim’s pocket. The key is required to lock and to unlock the door.

Should the police explore the possibility that space aliens slipped through the solid walls without leaving a mark, murdered the man, then slipped back through the walls, taking the gun with them.

No.

The police will rightly pursue a number of other possibilities, including that there is another key, which is much more likely than the existence of murderous space aliens, said aliens never before having been observed in all history.

In all of this I have not discussed why some animals avoid eating the newts. How do you learn not to eat the newts without winning the Darwin award.

You do not learn. You are born with the predisposition to avoid the newt.

The newt flashes its bright orange underside. Way back some ancestors of existing species had an aversion to orange. They did not eat the newts. Their descendants came to predominate in the gene pool. The orange and the aversion to orange likely developed in parallel in the same way the toxin and the calcium receptors developed in parallel.

I have not overlooked the possibility that the orange underside and the toxicity are associated, but I have not explored this. Such an association would have greatly facilitated the development of the toxin as a survival tool of the newt.

Creationists Think So

From Amazon

From Amazon

This is an odd title for a posting, but even in the 21st century what creationist think continues to amaze us. The following is from a post by Dan Arel on AlterNet:

Those who reject science frown upon intellectual honesty. Not knowing how something works or happened is seen as a weakness. This week on Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson said the word “somehow” when describing how the origins of life began, saying, “Somehow, carbon-rich molecules began using energy to make copies of themselves.”

Creationists think they “got him!” Tyson, like all other scientists, is not sure exactly how life originated on earth. This is intellectually honest, since a great mystery is still being worked out. Many great hypotheses exist, some of which Tyson went into detail about, but how can not knowing something be a weakness? Surely all of us don’t know a great deal of things; are we all intellectually challenged?

[Links added]

Arel also referenced an item posted on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News blog by Casey Luskin  shortly after this episode of Cosmos aired. Here’s part of the post:

With 11 of 13 total episodes of Cosmos now having aired, the overall arc of the series is becoming clear. The first few episodes bashed religion and promoted materialism, while of course advocating that life developed by a process of “unguided” or “mindless” evolution. Then, for a few episodes, the anti-religious rhetoric was toned down a little, and Cosmos focused more on simply presenting good, uncontroversial science. But the final few episodes in coming weeks seem poised to ramp up the propaganda to levels not seen before.

This past Sunday night’s episode pushed a naturalistic origin of life and the Copernican principle (the idea that Earth is insignificant in the cosmic scheme) — which is perhaps to be expected. But the episode got surprisingly ideological as well, promoting panspermia, the Gaia hypothesis, and a propagandistic, Star Trek-like picture of the future. According to Cosmos, this last can only be achieved if we embrace an alarmist environmental vision. Our host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, compares skeptics of the current “consensus” on climate change to Nazis.

It’s worth taking these words apart:

  • Bashing religion is supposed to be a fault? Readers, just about everything science does “bashes religion” when “religion” is defined in a certain way. If your religion involves the supernatural, then just about any true statement is going to bash it. Get used to it.
  • “Naturalistic origin of life” is another way of saying “the most likely origin of life.” Better still, “the actual origin of life.”
  • “Advocating that life developed by a process of “unguided” or “mindless” evolution?” The alternative would be what? Magic? Do these people really want to go there?
  • The “Copernican principle” is derided as “the idea that Earth is insignificant in the cosmic scheme.” Is any reasoning person saying otherwise?
  • Promoting panspermia? While I am no fan of panspermia, I count a number of encounters with creationists who seemed to prefer panspermia to naturalistic origins. At least, their argument seemed to go, panspermia leaves the possibility that the god of Abraham was somehow involved. Naturalistic explanations leave this god out entirely.
  • The Nazi comparison? This was more difficult to track down. I cannot record the episodes, and the disk set I ordered will not be available until next month. I watched the 11th episode through only once, and I am going to rely on the Discovery Institute’s version of the program:

What happens next in Cosmos is thus both sickening and immensely hypocritical. Tyson shows scenes of crowds cheering for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. He says, “Human intelligence is imperfect, surely, and newly arisen. The ease with which it can be sweet-talked, overwhelmed, or subverted by other hard-wired tendencies sometimes themselves disguised as the light of reason is worrisome.” Again, the not-so-subtle message is that if you are a skeptic of what he calls the “scientific consensus that we’re destabilizing our climate,” then you are like a Nazi-follower, or perhaps a Holocaust denier.

Actually, Luskin is stretching his interpretation a bit. What narrator Tyson has done is to cite a human frailty, the susceptibility to being duped, and he has illustrated it with a classic case—millions of otherwise intelligent Germans being taken in by some masters of propaganda, the Nazis. People who have been duped by holocaust deniers and those who have been duped by the climate science deniers are not Nazis. They only suffer the same human weakness that undermined intelligent Germans 80 years ago. Of course, Luskin’s job at the Discovery Institute is to stretch things just so much. Enough to get people leaning his way but not so much as to make his pants catch fire.

Ecology of the Dung Beetle

I have been hanging onto this issue for nearly 35 years, and I go back to it from time to time to remind myself:

DungBeetle

It might cross the mind of anyone who contemplates the great herds of animals in the grasslands and savannas of East Africa that the animals produce large quantities of dung. Yet one does not see much dung on the ground. What happens to it? Most of it is rapidly removed and buried by legions of scarab beetles, for which it is a vital resource. The beetles do a good deal more than clean up material that would otherwise accumulate on the ground, choking out plants and so probably limiting the populations of animals the land could support; their activity also fertilizes and aerates the soil, retards the spread of parasites and disease organisms and reduces the number of bothersome flies that breed in dung. The story of the beetles is illustrative of the intricate relations in an ecosystem. It also reveals some remarkable physiological and behavioral adaptations of the beetles. 

It does not take an observer long to see that competition for elephant dung within and among the many species attracted to it is intense. What are the consequences? How have dung beetles accommodated to it? We shall deal with these questions by describing some of the patterns exhibited by scarab beetles in harvesting and utilizing dung and then by examining some of the behavioral and physiological responses that operate within these patterns. 

Authors Bernd HeinrichGeorge A. Bartholomew wrote about the dung beetles in the November 1979 issue of Scientific American. They explained how the beetles prepared themselves for their quest.

The beetles time their start carefully. Too early at twilight, and they will be visible to birds, who will eat them. Too late, and other beetles will beat them to the best piles of shit. And they must prepare. In advance of their flight they need to start vibrating their wings to warm up their wing muscles. Then there comes the time. The moment is right, and off they start in a dash for the best pile of shit.

Once there the ordeal is not over. The beetles must often compete with other beetles for a pile of shit. Sometimes there is enough to go around (elephants, you know) and more than one beetle can share the prize. And they do not work alone. It is written elsewhere that man does not live by bread alone. A beetle will share the work and the prize with a mate. That’s how more beetles get made.

A beetle and his mate will often carve out a chunk of shit and laboriously roll it into a ball. This ball they will together roll across the African plain until a suitable place is found. Then they will dig a hole of the proper depth, and the female will lay eggs in the ball of shit, and the two of them will carefully bury the ball of shit and leave it there on the plain for the eggs to hatch and the grubs to nourish until they mature and dig their way out of the ground and start the process all over again. Come sunup on the African plain, and great piles of shit have been reduced to mere stains on the ground. It’s the way of the world.

You know, of course, I’m not actually talking about dung beetles. Immediately when I read this I thought about the typical engineering project. How like a big pile of shit out on the African plain these projects are. Somebody has created a big pile of shit and called it an engineering project, and all the dung beetles (engineers) are vying to get a piece of the shit. They prepare themselves well in advance, and at the right time they make a mad dash and make an effort to get on top of the biggest and best pile of shit. In the end they wind up rolling a ball of shit along the ground until they finally bury it and walk away, waiting for the next opportunity to get onto a pile of shit. And all that is ever left is a great stain on the ground.

Ask any engineer. He’s been there.

Evolution News

Evolution News site banner

It’s been a while since I touched bases with Evolution News, the Discovery Institute blog site. The Discovery Institute out of Seattle is the major organization in this country promoting creationism, in this case in the form of “Intelligent Design.” The Texas Freedom Network clued me in to this Evolution News story. Here’s what’s new:

Texas Textbook Story: New York Times Abandons Journalism for PR

John G. West September 30, 2013 12:42 AM

The New York Times used to be a serious newspaper. You know, the kind of media outlet where reporters actually bothered to interview people on different sides of an issue. But if its weekend story on the science textbook adoption process in Texas is any indication, such by-the-book journalism is now an endangered species at the Times.

Consider the article’s lopsided use of sources: Of the seven people interviewed in the story, four (57%) are ardent supporters of evolutionary theory and opponents of efforts to encourage critical analysis of evolution in textbooks. The other three offer neutral background information. None of the people interviewed defend critical analysis of evolution in textbooks. Not one. Zero.

That’s right, in an article purporting to examine a controversy over science textbooks, the only people interviewed by the reporter were those favoring one side of the controversy.

Concerning “the article’s lopsided use of sources,” I read through the Times article, attempting to figure out who was interviewed and who was not. I must confess, I do not come up with the same numbers the DI did. I count four people interviewed who are likely to favor evolution: Kathy Miller, Jessica Womack, Joshua Rosenau and Michael Singer.

Kathy Miller is a political operative who heads up the Texas Freedom Network PAC. She seems to be in favor of evolution, since the TFN is always defending the teaching of evolution in public schools and also works hard to prevent the introduction of creationism into the curriculum. Jessica Womack was interviewed, and actually did not express any favoritism toward evolution. She simply commented that her daughter in a Texas public school was once shamed by a teacher for professing belief in evolution. Josh Rosenau is definitely in favor of evolution. He is Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education and also writes the Thoughts from Kansas blog on Science Blogs. The NCSE is just the flip side of the Discovery Institute. About everything the DI is for the NCSE is against and vice versa. Actually, in his Times quote, Josh did not comment one way or another on the validity of evolution (or Intelligent Design). Michael Singer is a biology professor at the University of Texas, just a few blocks from the text book hearings. He is definitely in favor of evolution.

The DI has more to say:

Alas, lopsided sourcing far from the only problem with the article. Here are some others:

    • The story uses the slippery terms “creationist,” “creation science,” and “creationism” nine times without ever defining the terms.
    • The article likewise twice cites the term “intelligent design” without defining it (unless you count slamming intelligent design as creationism’s “cousin” as a definition).
    • The story insinuates that scientist Ide Trotter is a “creationist,” neglecting to inform readers that Trotter accepts the standard dating of the earth and the universe.
    • The article uses matter-of-fact language to describe partisan lobbying groups such as the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) and the National Center for Science Education, while smearing the opponents of TFN with the less-than-neutral epithet “far-right” (another term the Times fails to define). In reality, TFN is a left-wing lobbying group that opposes pro-life and other mainstream conservative groups.
    • The article avoids discussing for the most part the actual scientific criticisms being raised by critics of the textbooks and whether those criticisms might be valid.

These points are well taken. We need to examine them in turn:

The use of the terms “creationist” and such. These terms should be defined. In a scholarly work or in a well-researched blog post such as this one, these words would be defined. However, the Times article is only a filler piece for a newspaper, so a dictionary will have to suffice.

Same thing for Intelligent Design.

I have spoken to Ide Trotter on several occasions. He is a creationist. Are there any further questions?

The TFN defines itself in language such as “opposing the far right.” That should be descriptive enough. I do take issue with the opposes “other mainstream conservative groups” part. The TFN seems fairly even handed regarding mainstream conservative politics. Full disclosure: I contribute money to the TFN and to the NCSE.

Regarding the DI’s last point, it is best for them the Times article did not get into discussing the “criticisms being raised by critics of the textbooks and whether those criticisms might be valid.” I have examined some of these criticisms, and have found them to be abominable pieces of pseudo scientific commentary. During the text book hearings, creationist Ray Bohlin seemed to be embarrassed that his own criticisms were made public with his name attached, and he spoke before the Board of Education to complain about the disclosure.

Agitating for evolution in front of the William B. Travis Office Building on Congress Avenue in Austin

Say what I will about the Evolution News blog, it really is a fun read. I need to remember to keep coming back to it whenever there’s a slow blogging day. Most likely I will be able to count on the TFN to remind me from time to time.

Informed Advice for the SBOE

One of a continuing series from the Texas State Board of Education text book hearings in September

There is more dark news from the SBOE hearings earlier this month, but before I dig into that, here is a bit of fresh air.

Ron Wetherington addresses the Texas SBOE 17 September 2013

Ronald Wetherington is a Professor at Southern Methodist University teaching, among other subjects:

Human Evolution
Forensic Anthropology: Stories Told by Bones
Concepts of Evolution: A History
Special Topics in Anthropology: Human Osteology

You can review his remarks on YouTube. He addressed the Board and praised open discussion but  “that is still not an excuse to suggest that, in effect, my ignorance is just as as good as your knowledge.” He also asked the Board to not again let Texas become a national embarrassment.

Oops, too late for that.

Some of the country’s most prominent evolution deniers are also on the review teams. They include Ide Trotter, a retired chemical engineer who has served as a spokesperson for a Texas creationist group; Walter Bradley, a retired professor of engineering at Baylor University who wrote a founding text of “intelligent design” creationism; and Ray Bohlin, vice president for Probe Ministries, a Plano-based evangelical Christian ministry that rejects evolution. Bradley and Bohlin are also fellows with the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based institutional home of the “intelligent design” creationism movement.

Nice try, Professor Wetherington, but you are several years too late. Texans have been embarrassing themselves for decades by electing education board officials who seek these low-pay positions only to promote their own world views.

Professor Wethering further urged the Board to give due examination to complaints that were submitted by some reviewers. In viewing these complaints the Board should analyze the specifics and differentiate between scientific validity and personal preference of the reviewer.

Small chance of that. Conversations with some of the Board members and listening to some off their remarks brings me to the conclusion these people came to the Board with a religious or political agenda. As noted in the article quoted above, board members appointed these creationists to the review panels with the purpose of detracting from key points of modern science.

Ron Wetherington occupies a position I can only dream to attain. He’s on the creationists’ hit list. Back in 2009 the Discovery Institute, the major organization in this country opposing modern theories of evolution, posted the following on their Web site:

At the January 21, 2009 expert’s hearing to review the draft TEKS, SMU anthropologist Ronald Wetherington confidently assured the Texas State Board of Education that there were no weaknesses in Darwinian evolution for students to learn about. Yet as the following review documents, Dr. Wetherington in his testimony frequently misstated or exaggerated the scientific evidence for his position, and he made repeated outright errors in what he told the Board. Dr. Wetherington’s inaccurate testimony reflects the unfortunate tendency of some members of the “evolution lobby” to offer unsubstantiated arguments to public officials that they would never make to their professional colleagues.

The DI posting went on to develop nine rebuttals to Professor Wetherington, one of which I have the ability to analyze:

I. Prof. Wetherington dogmatically asserted that biochemist Michael Behe’s arguments about irreducible complexity have been refuted, claiming: “That debate is over” because “the evidence for irreducible complexity had been satisfactorily falsified.” Clearly, this debate is not over since there are scientific publications that have supported Behe’s notions of irreducible complexity, including:

Followed by a number of citations to support their argument.

The problem boils down to a single point.  Behe’s arguments have been repeatedly refuted by main stream scientists working in the field. Behe’s argument for irreducible complexity has never been published in a legitimate scientific journal. The DI has, on occasion, cited Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box as a peer-reviewed publication. However, a review of the review process indicated one cited review consisted only of a brief phone conversation.

In 2005, while testifying for the defense in the Dover trial, Behe claimed under oath that the book had received a more thorough peer review than a scholarly article in a refereed journal,[16] a claim which appears to conflict the facts of the book’s peer review.[17] Four of the book’s five reviewers (Michael Atchison, Robert Shapiro, K. John Morrow, and Russell Doolittle) have made statements that contradict or otherwise do not support Behe’s claim of the book passing a rigorous peer review.

Michael Atchison

Atchison has stated that he did not review the book at all, but spent 10 minutes on the phone receiving a brief overview of the book which he then endorsed without ever seeing the text.

Robert Shapiro

Shapiro has said that he reviewed the book, and while he agreed with some of its analysis of origin-of-life research, he thought its conclusions are false, though the best explanation of the argument from design that was available. Had the book been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and this comment had appeared, the review provided by Shapiro would have forced the conclusions regarding intelligent design to be changed or removed.

K. John Morrow

Morrow criticized the book as appalling and unsupported, which contributed to the original publisher turning down the book for publication.

Russell Doolittle

Doolittle, upon whom Behe based much of his discussion of blood clotting, described it as misrepresenting many important points and disingenuous, which also contributed to the original publisher turning down the book for publication.

In the same trial, Behe eventually testified under oath that “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred”. The result of the trial was the ruling that intelligent design is not science and is essentially religious in nature.

The Dover reference is to the Federal Court trial Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Here is a choice section of the court record from Michael Behe’s cross examination by Erik Rothschild, attorney for the plaintiffs:

Q. We’ll return to that in a little while. Let’s turn back to Darwin’s Black Box and continue discussing the immune system. If you could turn to page 138? Matt, if you could highlight the second full paragraph on page 138? What you say is, “We can look high or we can look low in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.” That’s what you wrote, correct?

A. And in the context that means that the scientific literature has no detailed testable answers to the question of how the immune system could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection.

Q. Now, you were here when Professor Miller testified?

A. Yes.

Q. And he discussed a number of articles on the immune system, correct?

A. Yes, he did.

Q. May I approach, Your Honor?

THE COURT: You may.

Q. I’m just going to quickly identify what these articles are. Exhibit P-256, “Transposition of HAT elements, links transposable elements, and VDJ recombination,” that’s an article in Nature by Zau, et al. P-279, an article in Science, “Similarities between initiation of VDJ recombination and retroviral integration,” Gent, et al.

“VDJ recombination and RAG mediated transposition in yeast,” P-280, that’s in Molecular Cell by Platworthy, et al. P-281 in the EMBO Journal, “En vivo transposition mediated VDJ recombinates in human T lymphocytes,” Messier, et al, spelled like the hockey player. P-283, it says PLOS Biology, do you recognize that journal title?

A. Yes. It stands for Public Library of Science.

Q. And that’s an article by Kapitnov and Gerka, RAG 1-4 and VDJ recombination, signal sequences were derived from transposons.” P-747, an article in Nature, “Implications of transposition mediated by VDJ recombination proteins, RAG 1 and RAG 2, for origins of antigen specific immunities,” Eglewall, et al. P-748 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, “Molecular evolution of vertebrate immune system,” Bartle, et al., and now finally Exhibit P-755 in Blood , “VDJ recombinates mediated transposition with the BCL 2 gene to the IGH locus and follicular lymphoma.” Those were the articles in peer reviewed scientific journals that were discussed by Mr. Miller which you listened in on, correct?

A. I recognize most of them. Some of them I don’t recall, but that’s fine.

Q. They discuss the transposing hypothesis?

A. Yes, they do.

Q. And the kind of mutation being discussed in here is a transposition in most of these?

A. You have to — it depends on how you look at it. In many of them they’re not actually discussing mutation. They’re discussing similarities and sequences between parts of the immune system in vertebrates and some elements of transposons.

Q. But it does discuss the transpositions, correct?

A. It does, yes.

Q. In many of the articles, maybe all of them?

A. That’s correct.

Q. You indicated earlier when we were discussing your paper with Dr. Snoke that transpositions are a kind of mutation, correct?

A. Yes, they are.

Q. Now, you on Monday showed the court, or maybe it was Tuesday you showed the court that you had done a literature search of articles on the immune system looking for the words “random mutation,” correct?

A. Yes.

Q. But you didn’t search for transpositions, is that correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. And that word appears in a number of the titles here?

A. It does, but the critical difference is the word random. There’s lots of mutations, and it’s entirely possible that intelligent design or some process of the development of life can occur by changes in DNA, but the critical factor is are such changes random, are they not random, so just there are also many occurrences of the word mutation, but it was not just mutation that is the critical element of Darwinian theory. It is random mutation.

Q. But in modern Darwinian theory transposition is one of the kind of mutations that natural selection acts upon, correct?

A. It is a mutation, and natural selection can act upon it.

Q. So the word mutation didn’t show up, or random mutation, but a form of mutation that natural selection can act upon appears throughout these articles, correct?

A. Yes, that is right.

Q. And you also noted that natural selection does not appear in these articles?

A. That’s correct.

This went on for a while, during which Mr. Rothschild piled in front of Professor Behe a stick of journal publications addressing “the question of the origin of the immune system.” At the end Behe had to ask Mr. Rothschild to take the pile away.

Anyhow, that’s the nature of DI attacks on scientists who speak out against the absurdity that is Intelligent Design. My view: they attack with the same contrived evidence they use to support Intelligent Design in the first place.

Ronald Wetherington is in an enviable position. My thinking has long been that you can measure your own worth by the character of the people who attack you. It was really good to see you at the hearings, Professor Wetherington, and I hope you continue to render fine public service.

Young Earth at SBOE

Part of a continuing series on the SBOE text book hearings in Austin

I have studied creationism for over 20 years, but this is the first time I crossed paths with Young Earth Creationist (YEC) David Shormann.

B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas
Masters Degree in Marine Chemistry from the University of Texas
Ph.D. in Limnology from Texas A&M University

At the State Board of Education hearings on Tuesday I noticed Ray Bohlin among the scheduled speakers, and I wandered over to talk and also to take some photos. I had seen Bohlin previously at the TFN conference in Dallas back in 2003, but at the time I did not get a chance to talk. Anyhow, David Shormann was there, as well, and I introduced myself.

David Shormann addresses the SBOE on 17 September 2013

He told me he runs a concern that produces educational materials for home school and I presume for private Christian schools, as well. So I wanted to get his position on creationism, evolution and the whole debate. He quickly confirmed his YEC position, and I mentioned I had some previous experience with YECs, and I wanted to check on how he compared. I told him that in my previous encounters with YECs and other creationist types, the work of mainstream scientists was often declared to be fraudulent, and on occasion specific scientists were declared to be liars. This instruction, I told him, was also passed on to their children.

Shormann would not be boxed into that position. He declared the critical aspects of modern biology, geology and paleontology (that’s what we were talking about) were based on false assumptions and misinterpretations of the evidence. When pressed on the matter, he declined to call these scientists liars.

He also brought up a YEC argument that sounded very familiar. Radiometric dating of recent volcanic activity had yielded an age of 5.5 million years, even though the event happend just the previous century. The event in question was the Novar­upta-Katmai eruption of 1912. I was not aware of this particular case, but I had previously heard the same argument put forth from a YEC concerning a Hawaiian volcano eruption.

Following up, I pulled up a publication by Shormann to see what he had to say. Here is the abstract:

40Ar/39Ar Calibration against Novarupta: No Good Reason to Believe in Millions of Years

* David E. Shormann, PhD, drshormann@gmail.com, Magnolia, TX

Accepted for publication May 2, 2013

Abstract

June 6–8, 2012 marked the one hundredth anniversary of the Novar­upta-Katmai eruption in southwest Alaska. It was one of the biggest eruptions in recorded history, and the largest since Krakatoa in 1883. A bulk sample from the top of the Novarupta lava dome, collected in July 2009, was age-dated in 2012 using the 40Ar/39Ar method. A key as­sumption in the method is that an igneous sample has no argon when it solidifies. Environmental conditions were ideal for setting this sample’s “argon clock” to zero, and atmospheric contamination was accounted for. Yet the 100-year-old rhyolite from Novarupta still gave apparent ages as high as 5.50±0.11 million years old. Bias is introduced to the Ar/Ar method because, prior to analysis, technicians request an age estimate for the sample. Because Scripture, not experimental evidence, is the ultimate authority for Creation researchers, the burden of proof lies with “deep time” historians to explain why anyone should believe radiometric methods determine actual sample ages. Radiometric methods are bet­ter suited for interpreting a rock’s environmental history. In addition to discussing known environmental effects on argon solubility, the effect of event energy on accelerated nuclear decay is explored as a possible cause of the excess argon.

OK, I fully understand that “scripture, not experimental evidence, is the ultimate authority. I get that. This paper was published in Creation Research Society Quarterly 2013. 50:13–24. The Creation Research Society is not your grandfather’s scientific society.

The Creation Research Society is a professional organization of trained scientists and interested laypersons who are firmly committed to scientific special creation. The Society was organized in 1963 by a committee of ten like-minded scientists, and has grown into an organization with worldwide membership.

The primary functions of the Society are: Publication of a quarterly peer-reviewed journal.
Conducting research to develop and test creation models.
The provision of research grants and facilities to creation scientists for approved research projects.
Providing qualified scientists to speak to groups or churches.

Other functions of CRS include maintenance of a comprehensive directory of creationist organizations throughout the world. The CRS also runs a secure online bookstore for ordering books and videos on special creation.

The CRS was incorporated in the state of Michigan as a nonprofit corporation for educational and scientific purposes. Shortly thereafter it was granted 501(c)(3) not-for-profit tax-exempt status by the IRS. The first issue of the Creation Research Society Quarterly was published in July, 1964.

The CRS is independent and unaffiliated with any other organization, religious group or church body. The CRS advocates the concept of special creation (as opposed to evolution), both of the universe and of the earth with its complexity of living forms. Membership in the Society requires agreement with the CRS Statement of Belief. Members of the society include research scientists from various fields of scientific accomplishment who are committed to full belief in the Biblical record of creation and early history.

In my own presentation (such as it was) at the hearings I pointed out that creationists do not publish their research supporting creationism in peer-reviewed scientific journals. I held up a copy of Science magazine as an example.

If you pull down Shormann’s paper and read through it you will be impressed, as I was, how much like a real scientific research publication it is. It has an abstract and a summary (conclusions) and in between a whole lot of explanation, plus charts and illustrations. There is a quantity of citations to the works of others, and therein the reader will begin to get a clue.

For example, Shormann cites works by real scientists, including Brent Dalrymple and Garniss H. Curtis. It would have been best had he stopped there. Unfortunately his paper goes on to cite Steven A. AustinDavid Coppedge, Donald DeYoung, Jonathan Edwards, Richard L. Overman, himself, Andrew Snelling, Larry Vardiman, Eugene Chaffin, Tas Walker, John Woodmorappe, John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris.

That’s an interesting collection, and many I have seen around for years.

Steven A. Austin has a legitimate Ph.D. in geology from Penn State. He is most famous for his argument that the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980 demonstrates that geological features to not require millions of years to form.

David Coppedge is best remembered as the creationist who sued JPL after he lost his job as a system administrator. He is, or was at the time, on the board of Illustria Media, the entity that produced some of the slick creationist videos of recent time, including Metamorphosis, a beautifully produced video about butterflies that attempts to make the argument that insect metamorphosis cannot be explained by Darwinian evolution. This is an Old Earth Creationism (OEC) theme. Illustria also produced Darwin’s Dilemma, Unlocking the Mystery of Life, and The Privileged Planet.

Andrew Snelling is a YEC with a legitimate Ph.D. in geology, and he made his name several years back by extrapolating the historical strength of Earth’s magnetic field back to the time of creation, just a few thousand years ago, when the field strength must have been infinite.

John Woodmorappe may be one of the most curious of the collection. That’s not his real name. Jan Peczkis has published extensively for the Institute for Institute for Creation Research. In his paper Stormann cites Piczkis’s paper, The Mythology of Modern Dating Methods:

Radiometric dates from samples of unknown age cannot be verified. Problems with the Potassium-Argon (K/Ar) method were noted early in its application, particularly the problem of “excess” argon contained in samples (Aldrich and Nier, 1948). Some samples had so much excess argon that they gave apparent ages of 9 Ga (billion years ago); almost twice Earth’s secularly assumed age (Harrison and McDougal, 1981). Woodmorappe (1999) showed how the “excess argon” label is invoked as a way to discount once-accepted Ar-Ar dates. Since the secular Earth age is actually not verifiable, is it also possible that most, if not all K/Ar and Ar/Ar samples contain excess argon? Results from a study of over 500 articles suggest there is excess (Overman, 2013).

Lacking any real science of their own, creationists, and especially YECs like Shormann, rely on works of similar worthiness by other creationists to bolster their own claims.

At the hearing Shormann was given two minutes to speak, and I made a short video of the interchange. What I found most curious is that Shormann’s world involves only home school and (supposedly) private Christian schools. So, why is he at the SBOE hearing making objections to texts used in public schools? The world wonders.

He started off by telling us he was “on the outside looking in.” He was somebody who does not participate in public education, but he chooses to examine and critique it. He stated that his curriculum standards for math and science are higher than those of any state in the U.S. I guess I’m going to have to take Shormann’s word at face value on that, because I have no way to verify it. So, it turned out that what Shormann was objecting to is the lack of coverage of epigenetics in the texts. He said the curriculum is lacking in “21st century science.” He was one of the reviewers of the biology curriculum in 2011, and he found no or else inadequate coverage, so he found it necessary to “go against” his team members and object to the acceptance of the material.

He went on to say that he has to keep up with the latest science in order to maintain a market for his curriculum product (my interpretation of what he was saying). His curriculum is “already at least two years ahead of what Texas text books have.” He soon got to the point, as I understand it. He wants the current texts rejected because they don’t cover the latest science. He urged the Board to reject the books “unless they put a definition, explain it…” (epigenetics).

Board member Patricia Hardy, representing District 11 (Fort Worth) objected to Shormann’s objection. A specific requirement for defining and explaining epigenetics is not in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), which is the driving requirement given to publishers. It would be unreasonable to reject a text that did not include material not required by the TEKS.

Shormann pressed the issue, perhaps a bit beyond the pale. Apparently in his handout given to the board he referenced the TEKS breakouts he had in mind. Here are the expectations and breakouts I caught from his conversation with the Board:

(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to: (F)  analyze and evaluate the effects of other evolutionary mechanisms, including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination
(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to: (G)  analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell (ii)  evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell

The standards require the student to “evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell.” Shormann wanted the texts to include specific coverage of epigenetics in order to satisfy this requirement.

In fact, the one biology text I looked at has coverage required by the TEKS. The Miller-Levine book by Pearson (Prentiss Hall) has, starting on page 484, a section titled Sources of Genetic Variation. This section covers gene flow, mutation, and recombination. A section starting on page 490 is titled Genetic Drift.

This is not a discussion of epigenetics, but to a dispassionate reviewer this would cover the TEKS breakout.

Breakout 7 G ii is covered starting on page 555:

Complexity in Eukaryotes Eukaryotic cells contain several kinds of complex cytoplasmic organelles, including lysosomes, endoplasmatic reticula, cilia, and flagella. Two other organelles, chloroplasts and mitochondria, are even more complicated. For more than a century, cell biologists have wondered how eukaryotic cells with such complex organelles might have evolved.

This section of the book, pages 555-558, also discusses the workings of eukaryotes (cells with a defined nucleus). It discusses the Krebs cycle (citric acid cycle) that is essential to cell respiration and also ribosomes, used by cells to translate mRNA (messenger RNA) molecules into amino acids, which make up proteins. Page 558 has a section that would warm the heart of any Intelligent Design proponent.

Do We Understand the Cell Completely? Of course not. Many uncertainties remain in our current understanding of cellular complexity. Biologists are still learning how cells function in response to their environments, and how they  interact with each other. Such uncertainties are part of biology, as they are for any experimental science. In many ways, this is good news, because it means that there are plenty of mysteries to be solved by the next generation of biologists. Meanwhile, what we do understand suggests that complex cell structures and pathways were produced by known mechanisms of evolutionary change.

Oops, that last sentence would not go over well with OECs like Michael Behe.

Anyhow, all of that is not enough to satisfy David Shormann’s quest for perfection in a curriculum neither he nor his customers and students will ever use. Call me cynical, but my feeling is Shormann’s quest is not so much the uplifting of Texas science standards as it is to strike a blow at any curriculum that adheres only to natural processes.

Also, what is not clear to me is why the SBOE saw fit to put up with his shenanigans on Tuesday. As Shormann mentioned in his talk on Tuesday, he has been here before and has done this before.

Creationists Target Publisher in Texas Adoption
By Dan | Published July 21, 2011

Update: TFN has obtained a copy of letter addressed to the state board signed by five members of the official biology review panels. The letter challenges the alleged “errors” identified in the report presented to the board late yesterday, concluding:

“Holt McDougal’s supplement, as well as the publisher’s response to the reviewers, accurately describes the current state of the science, satisfies the TEKS, and matches the other supplements already approved by the board on Thursday.”

***

The Texas State Board of Education’s public hearing and debate over proposed new science instructional materials today went well — until a big bump at the end. Most of the instructional materials the education commissioner has recommended for adoption received preliminary approval from the state board. The board has scheduled a final vote tomorrow.

But toward the end of the debate this afternoon, Texas Education Agency staff revealed that a review team had identified eight objections to content in the Biology instructional materials submitted for approval by publisher Holt McDougal. Board members were told that Holt McDougal is arguing that the objections are based on bad science.

Indeed, the objections appear to be largely the work of a young-earth creationist — David Shormann — on the team that reviewed the company’s materials. Here is a review Shormann wrote about the Holt McDougal materials and shared with his review team. We obtained this document last week through a Public Information Act request to TEA.

As on Tuesday, Shormann addressed breakout 7 G (see above) in 2011. He had this to say in his objections to the Holt McDougal material:

The red blood cell is referred to as a simple eukaryotic cell, but it has no nucleus, no organelles, and no membranes inn its cytoplasm. Therefore, it cannot be referred to as a eukaryotic cell.

I am not a biologist, and the first time I read this I did not realize it was written by a creationists. I thought to myself, “Holy shit! Have I been wrong all this time?” Then I read the response in the next column from the publisher:

The red blood cell is indeed a highly derived eukaryotic cell. Red blood cells, or erythrocytes, form from eukaryotic progenitor cells that do have a nucleus, organelles, and cytoplasmic membranes. These structures are extruded from erythrocytes during the course of their development from the progenitor cells.

This is one of the things that happens when a non-biologist gets involved in reviewing biology curricula. The fact is that Shormann’s degrees are in aerospace engineering, marine chemistry and limnology.

Limnology … also called freshwater science, is the study of inland waters. It is often regarded as a division of ecology or environmental science. It covers the biological, chemical, physical, geological, and other attributes of all inland waters (running and standing waters, both fresh and saline, natural or man-made). This includes the study of lakes and ponds, rivers, springs, streams and wetlands. A more recent sub-discipline of limnology, termed landscape limnology, studies, manages, and conserves these aquatic ecosystems using a landscape perspective.

Limnology is closely related to aquatic ecology and hydrobiology, which study aquatic organisms in particular regard to their hydrological environment.

Shormann is not much more a biologist than I am, so it’s possible a mistake with the red blood cells can be explained.  Other errors are not so easily explained except by poor scholarship or else a smidgen of duplicity. Reviewing TEKS breakout 7 A against the Holt McDougal text, Shormann had this objection:

7 A Comparing Hominid Skulls

Lab Activity: comparing hominid skulls: 2010 research confirms humans and chimps differ by 30%. This fact is not discussed in the lab activity. The human/chimp skull homology does not match the genetic homology. Including the human skull leads students to a conclusion that differs from 21st century scientific research that is testable and repeatable, and should be removed from the activity. “The difference in MSY gene content in chimpanzee and human is more comparable to the difference in autosomal gene content in chicken and human, at 310 million years of separation.” The similarities in human skulls with other hominids may be convergent evolution, but it is erroneous to pretend that common ancestry is the cause.

Holt’s response is telling:

There is no error with this Virtual Lab. The comment from the panel appears to refer to a research paper published in the January 28, 2010, issue of Nature: Hughes et al, “Chimpanzee and human Y chromosomes are remarkably divergent in structure and gene content.” The study found a 30 percent difference in the genetic makeup of the male-specific region of the Y chromosome (MSY). This region accounts for a tiny percentage of the overall genome in humans and chimps, which the paper explicitly refers to as “our closest living relative.” In the sentence immediately preceding the one quoted in the panel comment, the researchers point out that “in the remainder of the genome, comparison of chimpanzee draft sequence with human reference sequence suggests that the gene content of the two species differs <1%.” The researchers conclude that the major difference in MSY sequence indicates rapid evolution during the 6 million years since humans and chimps diverged from a common ancestor. Thus the article itself does not support the assertions made in the panel comments.

The biology TEKS student expectation 7 A states:

(7)  Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to: (A)  analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies, including anatomical, molecular, and developmental

In his 2011 review of the Holt text Shormann listed seven objections to—and suggested revisions to—Holt’s coverage of 7 A, some in the student TEKS and one in the teacher TEKS. Each case gives the impression of an amateur complaining and a professional scientist/educator responding.

After wading through my own review of the Shormann/Holt exchange I came across a more thorough analysis of the Shormann/Holt exchange by Steven Schafersman.

Schafersman holds a B.S. in Geology and Biology from Northern Illinois University, a M.S. in Geology, and a Ph.D. in Geology (1983) from Rice University. He currently resides in Midland, Texas with his wife Dr. Gae Kovalick, a University of Texas of the Permian Basin professor of Biology. He specialized in invertebrate paleontology, stratigraphy, and sedimentary petrology.

Schafersman taught at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (2000-2002), Miami University (Ohio) (1994-1999), University of Houston (1984-1989) and Houston Community College (1974-1978 and 1984-1994).

He has been a pro-science activist since 1989.

In addition, he created the Free Inquiry website, dedicated to educating the public on humanism and skepticism and the Texas Citizens for Science website, committed to opposing the representation of religious concepts such as intelligent design and creationism as science in Texas textbooks. Schafersman contributes to a blog column for the Houston Chronicle at Evo.Sphere Blog.

Schafersman also addressed the SBOE on Tuesday, and his analysis concluded:

In this analysis, it is clear that David Shormann—with his identification of bogus errors and faulty suggestions about how to correct them—is trying to confuse and mislead students about the accuracy and reliability of evolution as a natural process. Holt’s original text was perfectly scientifically accurate and needs no revisions. The only possible acceptable changes would be to add a few sentences to clarify or explain topics with a little more detail. It is important for such additions to be positive and not confusing since students can be easily misled by poor presentation or pedagogy. That is why experienced scientists and science educators should be responsible for the content of these instructional materials, not anti-science reviewers or elected public officials.

Finally, the TFN press release quoted above also cited a letter dated 22 July 2011, written to the Board by members of the biology review panels. This letter included the following:

We write as members of the biology review panels, deeply concerned about the claims of factual errors in the submission from Holt McDougal. We do not agree that the claims listed are errors, and in examining the response from Holt McDougal, we find the publisher’s rationale scientifically valid, correct, and aligned to the TEKS.

Indeed, we considered many of these same topics in the supplements we reviewed. Holt McDougal’s supplement, as well as the publisher’s response to the reviewers, accurately describes the current state of the science, satisfies the TEKS, and matches the other supplements already approved by the board on Thursday.

Moreover, the claims advanced by at least one member of committee that reviewed Holt McDougal’s submission are scientifically inaccurate and seem entirely dedicated to undermining the presentation of evolution. Many of the claims derive from overtly creationist literature and arguments.

It is signed by

Dr. Ronald Wetherington, Southern Methodist University
Kevin Fisher, Lewisville ISD
Kelly Hall, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD
Cynthia Tanner, Corpus Christi ISD
Dawna Schweitzer, Eagle-Mountain-Saginaw ISD

Four apparently are teachers in Texas school districts, and the other is Ronald Wetherington, a physical anthropologist and a professor at Southern Methodist University:

Professor Wetherington has long been active in seeking ways to improve learning and to motivate students at all educational levels. He developed and has conducted an annual four-day interdisciplinary science and humanities curriculum for 8th grade students, “The Taos Odyssey”, held at SMU-in-Taos, since 1997. Dallas’ Christ the King School added the Odyssey to their formal curriculum in 2002. Other participating schools have included Bishop Dunne and Prince of Peace.

He also developed and conducted a week-long “Professional Development Workship” (sic) at the request of the Episcopal School of Houston, held in Taos in the summers of 2004 and 2005. At the other end of the educational continuum, Wetherington devised a series of adult education short-course modules as a proposal for SMU-in-Taos. In 2005, the first of these “SMU Cultural Institute” offerings was held, with an enthusiastic response. On campus, Professor Wetherington organized the initial “Teaching Effectiveness Symposium” in 1992, which has become the flagship event for the CTE at the beginning of the fall term, and the “TA Seminar”, held each August for first-year graduate students at SMU.

In 2008 Professor Wetherington was appointed as one of six science experts by the Texas Education Agency to advise the State Board of Education on the decennial revision of the science standards for K – 12 public schools. When this concluded in 2009 and the social studies standards were revised, Wetherington again testified against interpretive errors in many of these proposed changes.

A 2012 documentary film on this 2008 – 2011 debate, The Revisionaries, has won several awards and is in general theatrical release in the U.S. It will be featured as a PBS film in 2013.

Here is a link to David Shormann’s talk. My video clips from the Tuesday’s hearings include talks by Professor Wetherington, Dr. Schafersman and numerous other science advocates and also creationists. Those I failed to get on my own apparently were snared by the TFN, which had a highly competent crew on hand. I will be posting my videos to YouTube in the near future, and I will cover these presentations and will provide links in future posts. Please keep reading.

I gave money to the Texas Freedom Network and all I got was this t-shirt

Only joking. T-shirts were free to the first 50 to show up at the rally in front of the William B. Travis Office Building in Austin yesterday. However, since I have long blown hard about giving money to the TFN and also the National Center for Science Education, I got my t-shirt and gave some money, as well. You should, too. Here’s the link.

Here's what a day in Austin will get you

The big deal was the Texas State Board of Education had hearings on Tuesday, taking comments from citizens. School texts for the 2014 year are up for adoption, and I previously participated in the review process. On Tuesday I took my turn telling the Board what was wrong with the process. I could have just kept my seat. I was in the company of professionals.

Kathy Miller heads up the TFN and was there, of course. Zack Kopplin was there. He’s moved from Louisiana and now lives in Texas. Their loss, our gain. Also Josh Rosenau. And that was not the entire team present standing up for Texas science. On Tuesday the SBOE suffered a severe indictment for its political mechanizations directed at the school curriculum.

Did I forget to mention creationists were there, as well? Don McLeroy, former SBOE spoke, giving living proof that dinosaurs have not gone extinct.

Former SBOE chair Don McLeroy at the hearings

Not to disappoint anybody, creationists Ide Trotter and Ray Bohlin showed up to speak, as well as David Shormann, whom I had never met before. It was a worthwhile trip.

I am working up a number of posts centered on the hearings, so return to this blog for more later on.

Jesus Christ!

It’s the only title I could find to fit, and it’s also my reaction to watching this. Jesus Christ, are these people for real?

It’s on YouTube, and it would be absolutely hilarious were it not so tragically stupid. Somebody has posted clips with the title “Right Wing Media Needs a Science Class,” and if you ever had problems with stereotyping people or classes of people, then you’re going to get some relief here. Let’s get started:

From Wikipedia: O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, September 30, 2010

Bill O’Reilly is a conservative TV and radio commentator. A typical complaint is:

O’Reilly’s life and career have not been without controversy. Progressive media watchdog organizations such as Media Matters and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting have criticized O’Reilly’s reporting on a variety of issues, accusing him of distorting facts and using misleading or erroneous statistics.

In the first segment we see what is apparently O’Reilly interviewing some science guy, and O’Reilly is saying, “Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a missed communication. You can’t explain that.” My first reaction is, “What?”

The full video is posted elsewhere on YouTube. O’Reilly is interviewing atheist David Silverman, and they are discussing signs put up by atheists, one sign of which says that all religions are scams.  O’Reilly is saying the statement is an insult. Silverman is saying it’s not so much an insult as it is the truth. Naturally, if I had been on the show I would have pointed out something like calling Willy Sutton a bank robber is not so much an insult as it is just a statement of the truth. Anyhow, O’Reilly is calling tidal ebbs and flows a mystery that science cannot explain, presumably without invoking the supernatural.

Say it ain’t so, Bill! I seem to recall that several hundred years ago Isaac Newton explained the actions of the tides as one of the manifestations of his theory of gravitation. The moon goes around the Earth, and the Earth rotates on its axis. The sun’s gravity tugs on the oceans, and so does the moon’s gravity. The combination of the two actions produces the tidal patterns we observe every day. Knowing the future positions of the sun and the moon we can predict tidal patterns years, centuries in advance. “You can’t explain that?” Somebody needs a science class.

The next segment is from Fox News. We know the program is Fox News, because the title in the lower left hand corner of the screen says “Fox News.” I don’t readily recognize the Fox commentator. Some reader please clue me in. The full interview is also on YouTube. It goes like this. The commentator is interviewing Bill Nye, the Science Guy. They are discussing extinct volcanoes recently discovered on the far side of the moon. For brevity I have truncated some of the remarks.

Commentator (“John”): Does it go anywhere close to the climate change debate that’s underway here on Earth? I mean, if the moon has erupting volcanoes a few years ago, well a few million years ago, however you want to put it. It’s not like we’ve been up there burning fossil fuels.

OK, you want to see Bill Nye slack-jawed? Here’s your chance. I really have to hand it to Bill Nye. If I had been in his position, not only would I not have been able to keep a straight face, I would likely have fainted dead away. However, Bill blinked a few times and attempted to explain that burning fossil fuels has nothing to do with volcanoes. Home free, right? Not so fast. The commentator has more foolishness to display.

Commentator: Why aren’t they erupting now?

Actually, that’s not a bad question, if you are taking a high school science class. Bill explains the moon has cooled down since its formation, unlike the Earth, which still has a very hot interior. That’s because the moon is about 1/80 the mass of the earth, yet it still has 1/16 the surface area of the Earth. That means the moon’s surface area to mass ratio compared to that of the Earth is 5 times. Bill did not get into the math or to the remainder of the explanation. Even the Earth would have cooled off after only a few million years, yet it has not, over four billions years after its formation. That’s because the Earth has an internal heat source in the form of decaying radioactive metals, and that’s (almost) the sole driving force of plate tectonics and volcanism on the Earth today. The moon may or may not have a similar source, but its high area to mass ratio would still keep it too cool to support plate tectonics and volcanism.

There is some more discussion of global warming, then Rush Limbaugh is on.

You know, oil can also be a great fertilizer because of the carbon content in it.

Oh, sweet Jesus, please tell me he didn’t say that. Let me play that again. The full clip is also on YouTube. No! He really did. Rush, get thee to a agricultural school. Get thee to a high school. Of any kind. Plants do not use carbon from the soil. Plants get practically 100% of their carbon from the air. They get from the soil the remaining nutrients they need.

This was in 2010 when Limbaugh was talking about the BP well failure in the Gulf of Mexico that was spewing out vast quantities of petroleum. Limbaugh was happy to announce that “the regime” was working a problem that was not really a problem at all, because the volume of oil spilled was small compared to the vast volume of the Gulf. Of course, BP did not have that lack of concern, and the people whose livelihoods were being ruined by oil coming ashore did not have that lack of concern.

Anyhow, there is a small amount more for your viewing enjoyment, and if you can decipher any of it please contact me. I need more stuff to feed this hungry blog of Skeptical Analysis. And please right now get down on your knees and thank the Lord Jesus you are not one of these benighted conservative commentators.

Manpower

This is one of those posts that tells you something that you never cared to know, but you are going to know it after you finish reading.

The fact is, you are a little heat engine. You eat food, the food metabolizes, your body generates heat, the heat goes out into your surroundings, you generate more heat to replace that. The question is “how much?” How much energy in the form of heat to you put out for a given time.

Recall from Physics 101 that energy divided by time is power. I am going to work with watts as a unit of power.

You put out 100 watts. Imagine a 100-watt incandescent lamp. It consumes electric power at a level of 100 watts, and it puts out energy at a rate of 100 watts in the form of light and heat, mostly heat.

OK, the 100 watts is for an “average” person sitting, watching TV. Get up, walk around, talk, go for a jog, you’re going to burn more energy per second (more watts). Take a nap, and you’re going to burn less. Bigger people burn more energy. Smaller people less. In a cold room you’re going to pump out more heat, because your surroundings are going to suck more out of you, and your metabolism is going to go into overdrive to make up the slack. Anyhow, say 100 watts.

How is this power consumption (and output) apportioned to the parts of the body? With no physical activity the internal organs are the factory floor for power consumption. And the winner is: The brain. This piece of meat the size of a large grapefruit pumps out 25 watts, about one fourth of the total body output. OK, this source says 20 watts, but those people probably voted Republican.

So, this is remarkable if you think about it. And I am sure you will be thinking about it now. And chewing up the world’s limited supply of available energy.