Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Climate Justice: It’s Only Getting Stronger

The Warfare Thesis in Action

James Lawrence Powell holds a Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, taught Geology at Oberlin College for over 20 years, served as Acting President of Oberlin, President of Franklin and Marshall College, President of Reed College, President of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and President and Director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. President Reagan and later, President George H. W. Bush, appointed Powell to the National Science Board, where he served for 12 years. He is the author of eleven books and currently serves as Executive Director of the National Physical Science Consortium. James Lawrence Powell also believes in AGW (anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming).

Powell has created what some are calling the one chart that proves AGW. It is a pie chart comparing scientific papers about “global warming,” “global climate change,” or “climate change.” Powell has reviewed these papers and found that only a couple dozen of them, out of almost 14,000, reject AGW. So what can we conclude, Powell asks.

According to Powell, these papers demonstrate that there is a mountain of scientific evidence in favor of AGW and no convincing evidence against it. That those who deny anthropogenic global warming have no alternative theory to explain the observed rise in atmospheric CO2 and global temperature. And that these two facts together mean that the so-called debate over global warming is an illusion, a hoax conjured up by a handful of apostate scientists and a misguided and sometimes colluding media, aided and abetted by funding from fossil fuel companies and right wing foundations.

An over-the-top caricature? No, I’m quoting from Powell’s site. For Powell it is all about the Warfare Thesis, with the truth-seeking scientists in their unstained clean white lab coats on the one side, and the unwashed, unruly superstitious mob fueled by sinister forces on the other side:

On the one side, we have a mountain of scientific evidence, on the other, ideology and arm-waving. On that basis, we are endangering our grandchildren’s future and pushing humanity toward the destruction of civilization.

I have no idea what Powell’s motives are, but given his background it would be surprising if Powell actually believed any of this. Perhaps so, but anyone vaguely familiar with the world of science knows that counting papers is not the way to scientific realism and truth. There are so many obvious, well known problems with Powell’s logic here it is difficult to know where to begin.

First, notice that Powell did not actually say that the 14,000 papers proved or demonstrated AGW. That’s because they don’t. Powell is an inside player and he knows not to make such a mistake.

In science, research programs tend to work within paradigms. Scientists are not forever questioning theories as the textbooks like to say; rather, they explore the details of the paradigm they are working within, whether or not they are true or make sense of the data. That’s a generalization, but in many fields it is often true.

If you look for papers with keywords such as “global warming,” “global climate change,” and “climate change,” as did Powell, then you’re going to find papers that are exploring AGW not questioning it.

That’s the way science works, and Powell of course knows this.

Imagine 50 years ago searching through papers about neo Darwinism and the New Synthesis and wondering whether the papers will be for or against evolution. That would be silly. The ratio would be at least as skewed as Powell’s pie chart.

But of course today we know that neo Darwinism is false. Mutations are not neutral, and the adaptation we observe is not slow and caused by the selection of blind variation. And even evolutionists agree that there must be some other mechanism to account for large-scale evolutionary change.

This is by no means an isolated example. The history of science is full of examples of paradigms gone wrong, masses of scientists who go along to get along, and non scientific influences. Social pressures, political pressures, funding pressures, career and prestige pressures—they are part of the job.

And no less so in the field of climatology where heavy-handed AGW zealots have engaged in political maneuvering, peer review manipulation, blackballing, and so forth.

Meanwhile AGW has not fared well on the science. To the point that serious thinkers are voicing concerns. The science is just not that simple.

But it never was about the science. As usual, this is not about the facts, it is about the narrative. Powell had that part right, and it is only getting stronger. Academics are calling for the incarceration of AGW skeptics, and powerful politicians, only a little less enraged, want malpractice suits. NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress that oil company CEOs “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.” You can see more examples here, here.

It really doesn’t matter whether the Earth is cooling, warming, or maintaining an equilibrium, any scenario can be cast into the narrative of the good guys versus the bad guys. That narrative was nowhere more obvious than in yesterday’s Climate March in New York City where Leonardo DiCaprio refused to answer questions about his yacht and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. accused industrialists who do not agree with AGW of treason and said they should be imprisoned as war criminals. Likeminded politicians are “contempable human beings,” though the son of the late great Attorney General lamented that they could not be prosecuted.

What we are seeing are classic defamation tactics. Evolution’s Warfare Thesis has lit all kinds of fires and emotions are running high. With evolution there is no law, just narrative. Today it focuses on climate, but it could jump to any number of issues.

So is AGW true? I have no idea. But neither does Powell, Kennedy and the rest. And we’re not going to figure it out with vigilante justice fueled by pseudo science.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This Study Says it Explains Our High Facial Variability, But it is a Tautology

Good Study, But They Go Beyond the Science

I once debated an evolution professor who attempted to make the point that evolution has great explanatory power. That is one of several claims evolutionists make about their theory—other such claims include that evolution doesn’t make false predictions, evolution is based on scientific observation, evolution is required for good science, and evolution is a fact—which are not correct. In fact, what is striking is that these claims evolutionists make are completely false. One hardly knows where to begin.

Take for example the question of human facial variability. Our faces are remarkably variable and unique, far more than most other animal species. Also, our facial traits are more variable than other human traits.

Now a recent evolutionary study explains why. The evolutionists discovered that we have high facial variability because we evolved to have high facial variability. After all, the facial variability was matched by genetic variability. Amazing.

As one of the authors explained:

Our study now shows that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognizable. It is clearly beneficial for me to recognize others, but also beneficial for me to be recognizable. Otherwise, we would all look more similar.

In other words, high facial variability evolved because it was selected for. And why was it selected for? Because it is beneficial. And why is it beneficial? Because otherwise, we would all look more similar.

If that was not clear, the other author add this:

The idea that social interaction may have facilitated or led to selection for us to be individually recognizable implies that human social structure has driven the evolution of how we look.

In other words, high facial variability evolved because human social structure drove the evolution of high facial variability.

It is all one big tautology. It evolved because it evolved. Studies like this are then cited as examples of the great explanatory power of evolution.

Let’s stick to the science.

Stephen Hawking: No Hay Ningún Dios. Soy Ateo

They Will Turn Their Ears Away From the Truth, and be Turned Aside to Fables

In today’s El Mundo Stephen Hawking makes the sophomoric mistake of equating atheism with knowledge. Was the universe created by miracles or did it evolve by natural law? This is Hawking’s false dichotomy and his conclusion is that science has now surpassed religion. Science now “offers a more convincing explanation.” And so Hawking says that he is an atheist. In fact Hawking is confident that science will soon explain everything:

I do believe that we shall end up understanding the origin and structure of the Universe. In fact we are already close to it. In my opinion, there is no one aspect of reality beyond the scope of the human mind.

Hawking’s entire argument is built upon theism. He is, as Cornelius Van Til put it, like the child who must climb up onto his father’s lap into order to slap his face.

Take that part about the “human mind” for example. Under atheism there is no such thing as a mind. There is no such thing as understanding and no such thing as truth. All Hawking is left with is a box, called a skull, which contains a bunch of molecules.

Hawking needs God in order to deny Him.

It’s funny how atheists are the first ones to make high claims about their knowledge, to appeal to the truth, to cast their judgments about right and wrong. Knowledge, truth, right and wrong? These are all concepts that, qua atheists, they have already forfeited.

Man’s hatred of God drives him to all kinds of internal contradictions.

As Paul warned Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

Here’s That New Study Demonstrating the Inheritance of Directed Change

An Example of Science at Work

Ever since Darwin, evolutionists have resisted the idea of directed change. The twentieth century’s neo Darwinism codified the idea that biological variation must be random with respect to need. And with that codification came certainty. As Jacques Monod unequivocally proclaimed in 1971:

chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact. And nothing warrants the supposition—or the hope—that on this score our position is likely ever to be revised.

That is a good example of evolution’s metaphysical certainty. And that certainty led to dogma. Evolutionists dismissed, delegitimized and blackballed anything and anyone hinting of directed change.

But as with the other predictions of evolution, this one turned out to be false as well. What Monod proclaimed as the “sole conceivable hypothesis” is now routinely refuted. In fact this has been known for many years but progress has been slow due to evolutionary resistance.

To this day many evolutionists continue to fight the science. But with the inexorable march of science, it just continues to get worse for evolution. Last week a new study out of UC Santa Cruz added yet more confirmation. It showed at the molecular level how certain kinds of directed changes are inherited across generations. As one report explained:

A growing body of evidence suggests that environmental stresses can cause changes in gene expression that are transmitted from parents to their offspring, making “epigenetics” a hot topic. Epigenetic modifications do not affect the DNA sequence of genes, but change how the DNA is packaged and how genes are expressed. Now, scientists have shown how epigenetic memory can be passed across generations and from cell to cell during development.

The lead researcher explained that this field has been controversial:

There has been ongoing debate about whether the methylation mark can be passed on through cell divisions and across generations, and we’ve now shown that it is,” said corresponding author Susan Strome, a professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz.

That “ongoing debate” is mainly due to evolutionists resisting the science because it is fundamentally at odds with their theory. With this new study the science becomes that much more difficult to deny:

“Remarkably, when we watch the chromosomes through cell divisions, the marked chromosomes remain marked and stay bright, because the enzyme keeps restoring the mark, but the naked chromosomes stay naked, division after division,” Strome said. “That shows that the pattern of marks that was inherited is being transmitted through multiple cell divisions.”

These sorts of findings, which are becoming increasingly difficult to deny, are splitting evolutionists into different factions. For years now some evolutionists have recognized these findings and have carefully and diplomatically suggested evolutionary theory needs some modification. Other evolutionists, however, continue to vigorously hold that neo Darwinian change remains a fact and these new findings are merely a minor addition to the story.

What none of these factions have seriously reckoned with is that these directed change mechanisms and processes are contrary to and make no sense on evolution. This is an utter refutation of traditional evolutionary theory. There is no scientific explanation of how these directed change mechanisms and processes evolved.

Given this and so many other contrary findings, what we need to do is back off of the high claims. We need to drop the metaphysics and dogma. Yes organisms adapt and change—in that sense evolution is true. But that is a very different kind of evolution than how the term is normally understood. Let’s narrow the scope of the term “evolution” to what we know from science.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Influence of Biogeography on Evolutionary Thought

Let’s Reevaluate Where We Are

It is not that evolution is not true. Of course evolution is true—I evolved when I had breakfast this morning. As evolutionists like to say, evolution is mere change over time. Thus the changing of gene frequencies is a favorite proof text for evolution. But by broadening the definition of evolution to include anything and everything aside from absolute stasis, the term becomes essentially meaningless and ripe for equivocation.

One of the scandals of evolutionary thought is that it actively trades on this equivocation. The result is a false dichotomy where the falsification of a silly foil—absolute stasis—is equated with the truth of evolution in the Darwinian sense. That is, that the biological world arose spontaneously. The biological world, and by extension everything else because evolutionary thought is by no means limited to biology, arose by itself as the chance outcome of the strictly blind interplay of natural law.

For instance, Isaac Asimov once wrote that mere color changes in the peppered moth prove evolution. How could such trivial change prove evolution? Of course it doesn’t—this is an equivocation on evolution.

Similarly Steve Jones wrote that the changes observed in HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) contain Darwin’s “entire argument.” According to science writer Jonathan Weiner, the changes in the beaks of birds show us “Darwin’s process in action.”

Likewise Professor Marta Wayne tells us that “Evolution is change in gene frequency” and science writer Emily Willingham defines evolution as “a change in population over time.” Professor Pamela Bjorkman states that a mutating virus is “evolution at work” and that “In the same way, people have evolved, but over a much slower time scale.”

These are at best irresponsible mistakes. At worst they are simply lies. I’m not here to apologize for this conduct. However, as usual these lies do not arise out of nowhere. There is a history behind evolutionary thinking, and it helps to understand that Jones, Bjorkman and the rest are operating in a larger tradition that goes back for centuries. One of the strong influences on that tradition is biogeography. Here is a brief recounting of that influence, from evolutionist and science historian Frank Sulloway:

Darwin’s revolutionary theory was that new species arise naturally, by a process of evolution, rather than having been created—forever immutable—by God. According to the well-established creationist theory of Darwin’s day, the exquisite adaptations of many species—such as the hinges of the bivalve shell and the wings and plumes on seeds dispersed by air—were compelling evidence that a “designer” had created each species for its intended place in the economy of nature. Darwin had wholeheartedly accepted this theory, which was bolstered by the biblical account in Genesis, until his experiences in the Galápagos Islands began to undermine this way of thinking about the biological world.

Legend has it that Darwin was converted to the theory of evolution, eureka-like, during his visit to the islands. How could he not have been? In retrospect, the evidence for evolution seems so compelling. Darwin tells us in his Journal of Researches, first published in 1839, that his fascination with the “mystery of mysteries”—the origin of new species—was first aroused by a chance discussion on Floreana with Nicholas Lawson, the vice governor of the islands. Based in part on differences in the shape of a tortoise’s shell, Lawson claimed that “he could at once tell from which island any one was brought.” Darwin also noticed that the mockingbirds seemed to be either separate varieties or species on the four islands he visited. If true, he speculated, “such facts would undermine the stability of Species”—the fundamental tenet of creationism, which held that all species had been created in their present, immutable forms.

Gould’s taxonomic judgments finally caused Darwin to embrace the theory of evolution. Stunned by the realization that evolving varieties could break the supposedly fixed barrier that, according to creationism, prevents new species from forming, he quickly sought to rectify his previous collecting oversights by requesting island locality information from the carefully labeled collections of three Beagle shipmates. Two of these collections, by Captain FitzRoy and FitzRoy’s steward, Harry Fuller, contained 50 Galápagos birds, including more than 20 finches. Even Darwin’s servant, Covington, had done what Darwin had not, labeling by island his own personal collection of finches, which were later acquired by a private collector in England. The birth of the Darwinian revolution was a highly collaborative enterprise.

For Darwin, creationism was the dominant idea. And by creationism, as Sulloway explains, we mean the idea that the species were created forever immutable.

As Ernst Mayr has pointed out, “The fixed, essentialistic species was the fortress to be stormed and destroyed; once this had been accomplished, evolutionary thinking rushed through the breach like a flood through a break in a dike.”

Sulloway recounts Darwin’s famous journal entry that tiny variations between birds and tortoises from the different islands in the Galápagos Islands “undermine the stability of Species.”

That was an epiphany for Darwin. As Sulloway writes, Darwin was later “stunned” by the realization that evolving varieties could break the supposedly fixed barrier that, according to creationism, prevents new species from forming.

If there is anything that is stunning it is that a scientist could conclude that tiny changes between birds and tortoises would imply that the entire biological world must have spontaneously arisen by itself.

So strong is the influence of religious ideas.

There was no scientific evidence here for Darwin’s broad, sweeping conclusions about evolution. Darwin had no idea how those tiny differences could have arisen, much less how the entire biosphere could have been spontaneously generated. Yet that is what he claimed, on the basis of a one-dimensional, black-white, simplistic dichotomy.

Darwin was operating from an assumption that he knew all of the possible alternative explanations. And there were two: either the species were forever immutable, or they arose from blind chance. This is the problem of unconceived alternatives (see here and here for examples).

It is no different today. As exemplified above, evolutionists continue to operate from this false dichotomy. This is sad because today we understand far more about biology. Today we know what Darwin did not know, that from physiological changes taking place in less than a second to genetic adaptations spanning decades and multiple generations, the story of change in biology is far more exotic, creative and nuanced than anything Darwin imagined. The built-in capacity organisms have for directed, responsive change is profound. There is still more to the story we do not yet understand, but let’s move on from nineteenth century religious convictions.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Evolution Professor: Origin of Life “Not Impossible”

Turning Science Into Speculation

It’s not that speculation about flexible, cartoon hypotheses that are religiously motivated, supposed to have occurred long ago and are not falsifiable is wrong. But we shouldn’t confuse it with science. To wit, evolutionist Christoph Adami’s latest work skips those annoying scientific details and instead takes a high-level view of the origin of life:

Christoph Adami of Michigan State University in East Lansing decided to study the origin of life purely in terms of information theory, so he could ignore the chemistry involved. He assumed that molecules must exceed a certain length in order to have enough information to self-replicate. These long molecules are made from different kinds of short molecules, called monomers.

Adami calculates that if you start with an equal number of each type of monomer, the odds of getting a self-replicating molecule are very low. But if you adjust the distribution of monomers in the environment to match the distribution within a potential self-replicator, the chances improve by many orders of magnitude. It's a bit like hammering randomly on a keyboard on which the most frequently used letters are proportionally larger – your odds of accidentally typing a word are much better than the famous infinite monkeys banging on typewriters.

And by skipping those details, you can always get the right answer:

Once a self-replicator emerges at random, evolution can start improving its abilities. "You only have to make this very first step, where you are getting some crappy replicator," says Adami. "The moment evolution can actually work with it, you're done."

That was easy. And like the multiverse, it’s not impossible:

We have no idea what the distribution of monomers was like on early Earth, but Adami says studies show meteorites contain an unequal distribution of monomers approaching what you might need for life. "It is not impossible that basic self-replicators cooked up on some meteor and ended up contaminating Earth."

But that is only because it is not falsifiable.

Don Johnson: It’s All About Information

Let’s Get Back to the Science

Don Johnson, with Ph.Ds in Chemistry and Computer & Information Sciences, was certain that evolution was a fact until he realized that evolutionary theory had gone beyond the science. Watch this terrific video to see the role of information in molecular biology.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lee Spetner: The Evolution Revolution

A New (and Much Better) Way of Doing Science

I just received my copy of Lee Spetner’s new book, The Evolution Revolution which follows his earlier Not By Chance! In these books Spetner lays out a new theory of origins, a new way of looking at biology, and really a new way of doing science, at least in the life sciences. I couldn’t agree more with his approach. Spetner’s overarching point is not that evolution does not occur, but that it is very different from how we normally understand that word. Spetner’s new approach—which he calls the nonrandom evolutionary hypothesis (NREH)—is data driven. NREH is an empirical idea, based on observations, not a rationalist idea based on a prior axioms. Mutations are effective, not random; evolution is directed to the need, not undirected; evolution occurs rapidly not slowly; and evolution occurs at the level of the individual, not at the population level. All of this points to the conclusion that evolution, like physiological responses, is a built-in capability, not a default, external process. And as Spetner points out, as research increases, the case for NREH is just getting stronger:

When I proposed my nonrandom evolutionary hypothesis (NREH) about fifteen years ago in my book Not By Chance!, the suggestion—that environmental inputs could affect the genome, leading to the possibility that an organism can change its physiology and behavior in response to an external input—was somewhat sketchy. A distinguishing feature of a good theory is that evidence for it grows after it has been formulated. Since I suggested the NREH, the following discoveries have been made that provide a solid mechanism for it, showing how organisms can show an adaptive heritable response to environmental inputs: … [63]

Bravo for Lee Spetner. Let’s bring science back to its rightful role of figuring out how nature works rather than promoting religious dogma. Rather than battle with new findings as evolution is forced to do, Spetner shows us how we can make progress with science, advancing with new findings rather than adding new epicycles with each new study.

When I Explained Darwin I Got Pushback about Biogeography

Full Queeg

I recently explained that Darwin, as well as evolution co-discoverer Alfred Wallace, came to believe in transmutation and so they then sought a suitable mechanism. That comes straight from leading Darwin historian Janet Browne. And why did Darwin and Wallace “believe in transmutation” in the absence of a known mechanism? Both Darwin and Wallace made it clear in their writings that their reasoning was metaphysical. The biological world did not meet with their creationist expectations. God would never have created this world and so evolution was the answer, even though they didn’t know how it could occur. Again, this is well recognized by historians. Darwin’s books, papers and notebook entries were chocked full of religious arguments.

This is the motivation and template for evolution and it has continued ever since Darwin. Evolution is not about science, it is about God. But evolutionists are in denial about this. They insist there is no religion here, right after making religious arguments. It is a fascinating study in denialism. You can see examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

So it is not surprising that an evolutionist gave me pushback when I wrote that Darwin and Wallace were driven by metaphysics:

This is, basically, crap. If anything, it was biogeographical observation that led Darwin to evolution:

In fact, not only did Darwin’s arguments for evolution hinge on religious premises, that includes his biogeographical arguments. Evolutionists are ahistorical. They imagine their mandate for a spontaneous origins is a scientific finding. Let’s look at some examples.

The Swedish botanist Carl Von Linne, or Linnaeus (1707-1778), was one of the greatest naturalists of the eighteenth century. He is most famous for the universally-accepted hierarchical method of classification that today bears his name. But Linnaeus’ popularity and influence spread beyond just classification. One of his most famous and influential beliefs was that of the fixity, or stability, of species. His proclamation Nullae Species Novae—no new species—idealized species as perfect forms created by the wise Creator.

Linnaeus was later troubled when he discovered hybrids—species that are produced by the crossing of two related species—and he later softened his doctrine of the stability of species. But this was inconsequential—his system with its conception of species became deeply rooted and the nineteenth century began with the notion of species as immutable still strongly in place.

But in his travels around the world in the 1830s, Darwin saw species on various islands that did not quite match the species on the nearby mainland. It was practically an epiphany for Darwin when he began to consider that the different types of finches he saw on the Galápagos Islands might not simply be variants of a species, but instead might actually be different species. If there was the slightest foundation for this idea, Darwin wrote in his famous notebook entry, it “would undermine the stability of species.”

The finches did not suddenly reveal to Darwin how fish could change to amphibia, or how amphibia could change to reptiles, or how reptiles could change to mammals. Rather, the revelation was that the idea of creation was suddenly becoming untenable. The crucible for Darwin was not full of positive evidence for evolution but rather negative evidence against creation. Evolutionist Ernst Mayr has pointed out that Darwin’s conversion from creationist to materialist was not due to a loss of religious faith but rather initially due to three key scientific findings and then later reinforced by several additional findings. And what were these scientific findings? They were all findings against creation. In other words, the key evidence that swayed Darwin was not direct evidence for evolution but rather evidence against creation that indirectly argued for evolution. And as Mayr further points out, the doctrine of fixity of species was a key barrier to overcome in order for evolution to flourish:

Darwin called his great work On the Origin of Species, for he was fully conscious of the fact that the change from one species into another was the most fundamental problem of evolution. The fixed, essentialistic species was the fortress to be stormed and destroyed; once this had been accomplished, evolutionary thinking rushed through the breach like a flood through a break in a dike.

The preDarwinian metaphysic was that species were fixed and essentialistic. Evidence for small-scale change argued against the old view and in so doing became important evidence for evolution.

This is one example of how Darwin interpreted the biogeographical evidence according to religious premises. These arguments became even stronger when the evidence did not merely fail to align with religious expectations, but rather made no sense on the theory of creation. These are much more powerful arguments for evolution and are evident in Darwin’s earliest notes and writings on evolution. For instance, in 1842 and 1844, almost two decades before publication of Origins, Darwin wrote two lengthy essays on his emerging theory. These eventually were published by his son Francis in 1909 in a book entitled The Foundations of The Origin of Species.

In the 1844 essay Darwin discussed the biogeography evidence. Darwin argued that certain species existed over narrow geographical ranges, and that there was “no reason” for this “On the ordinary theory of the separate creation of each species.” Also, Pacific islands closer to the Americas had plants with more of an “Asiatic character.” That too was “not obvious on the ordinary theory of creation.” Or again, the same species of plants had been found on immensely remote mountain summits, but:

we ought to be very slow in admitting the probability of double creations. In the case of plants on mountain summits, I think I have shown how almost necessarily they would, under the past conditions of the northern hemisphere, be as similar as are the plants on the present Arctic shores; and this ought to teach us a lesson of caution. But the strongest argument against double creations may be drawn from considering the case of mammifers in which, from their nature and from the size of their offspring, the means of distribution are more in view. … On the idea of double creations it would be strange if the same species of several plants should have been created in Australia and Europe; and no one instance of the same species of mammifer having been created, or aboriginally existing, in two as nearly remote and equally isolated points.

Then there was the problem of plant diversity, or lack thereof, on islands:

Why on the theory of absolute creations should this large and diversified island only have from 400 to 500 (? Dieffenbach) phanerogamic plants? and why should the Cape of Good Hope, characterised by the uniformity of its scenery, swarm with more species of plants than probably any other quarter of the world? Why on the ordinary theory should the Galapagos Islands abound with terrestrial reptiles? and why should many equal-sized islands in the Pacific be without a single one or with only one or two species? Why should the great island of New Zealand be without one mammiferous quadruped except the mouse, and that was probably introduced with the aborigines? Why should not one island (it can be shown, I think, that the mammifers of Mauritius and St Iago have all been introduced) in the open ocean possess a mammiferous quadruped? Let it not be said that quadrupeds cannot live in islands, for we know that cattle, horses and pigs during a long period have run wild in the West Indian and Falkland Islands; pigs at St Helena; goats at Tahiti; asses in the Canary Islands; dogs in Cuba; cats at Ascension; rabbits at Madeira and the Falklands; monkeys at St Iago and the Mauritius; even elephants during a long time in one of the very small Sooloo Islands; and European mice on very many of the smallest islands far from the habitations of man2. Nor let it be assumed that quadrupeds are more slowly created and hence that the oceanic islands, which generally are of volcanic formation, are of too recent origin to possess them; for we know (Lyell) that new forms of quadrupeds succeed each other quicker than Mollusca or Reptilia. Nor let it be assumed (though such an assumption would be no explanation) that quadrupeds cannot be created on small islands; for islands not lying in mid-ocean do possess their peculiar quadrupeds

Finally, Darwin went “full-Queeg” with this extended rant:

Shall we then allow that the three distinct species of rhinoceros which separately inhabit Java and Sumatra and the neighbouring mainland of Malacca were created, male and female, out of the inorganic materials of these countries? Without any adequate cause, as far as our reason serves, shall we say that they were merely, from living near each other, created very like each other, so as to form a section of the genus dissimilar from the African section, some of the species of which section inhabit very similar and some very dissimilar stations? Shall we say that without any apparent cause they were created on the same generic type with the ancient woolly rhinoceros of Siberia and of the other species which formerly inhabited the same main division of the world: that they were created, less and less closely related, but still with interbranching affinities, with all the other living and extinct mammalia? That without any apparant adequate cause their short necks should contain the same number of vertebræ with the giraffe; that their thick legs should be built on the same plan with those of the antelope, of the mouse, of the hand of the monkey, of the wing of the bat, and of the fin of the porpoise. That in each of these species the second bone of their leg should show clear traces of two bones having been soldered and united into one; that the complicated bones of their head should become intelligible on the supposition of their having been formed of three expanded vertebræ; that in the jaws of each when dissected young there should exist small teeth which never come to the surface. That in possessing these useless abortive teeth, and in other characters, these three rhinoceroses in their embryonic state should much more closely resemble other mammalia than they do when mature. And lastly, that in a still earlier period of life, their arteries should run and branch as in a fish, to carry the blood to gills which do not exist. Now these three species of rhinoceros closely resemble each other; more closely than many generally acknowledged races of our domestic animals; these three species if domesticated would almost certainly vary, and races adapted to different ends might be selected out of such variations. In this state they would probably breed together, and their offspring would possibly be quite, and probably in some degree, fertile; and in either case, by continued crossing, one of these specific forms might be absorbed and lost in another. I repeat, shall we then say that a pair, or a gravid female, of each of these three species of rhinoceros, were separately created with deceptive appearances of true relationship, with the stamp of inutility on some parts, and of conversion in other parts, out of the inorganic elements of Java, Sumatra and Malacca? or have they descended, like our domestic races, from the same parent-stock? For my own part I could no more admit the former proposition than I could admit that the planets move in their courses, and that a stone falls to the ground, not through the intervention of the secondary and appointed law of gravity, but from the direct volition of the Creator.

Evolution is motivated by the perceived failures of creation. Darwin had no idea how the species could evolve, and neither do evolutionists today. But this is man’s assessment of creation. Evolution must be true. There is nothing wrong with religious arguments and beliefs. But let’s not confuse it with science.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Paper: Key Evolutionary Question Largely Unknown

Did They Find the Magic Bullet?

In 1859 scientists were skeptical of Charles Darwin’s new theory of evolution for obvious reasons. For example, how could new designs evolve by themselves? Now that evolution is an accepted truth, evolutionists can discuss the state of the theory. As a new paper explains, “How body pattern evolves in nature remains largely unknown.”

Then how can evolution be a fact?

The paper attempts to take a step toward resolving this issue. It is not exactly a new idea among evolutionists. The idea is that evolution occurs not by adjusting the genes that do and make things, but rather the expression levels of genes that regulate other genes.

In their study they showed that increasing the expression of a regulatory gene, late in the embryonic development phase, resulted in more teeth in the threespine stickleback fish.

Now I’ll be the first to say this was a fine piece of work. But the idea that this suggests how body plans evolve is simply an unwarranted extrapolation, motivated not by the scientific evidence they uncovered but by the assumption evolution is true.

Furthermore, let’s indulge this idea for a moment. Imagine a new experiment shows that yet another regulatory adjustment accomplished more than merely manufacture more teeth. Imagine altering the expression level of some regulatory genes suddenly produced a whole new design. The fish could now crawl, for example.

That narrative would call for an unbelievable level of serendipity. Evolution would have had to create all the parts, pieces and instructions for that design, save for a simple regulatory adjustment. The design was there, latent in the circuitry of the fish, just waiting to be turned on.

And of course that would have to occur over and over, untold number of times, in evolutionary history as species undergo all kinds of improvements. This is far too much serendipity.

So yes, the stickleback fish evolves, but it is not the kind of evolution that we normally think of. As one report explains:

Threespine sticklebacks, small fish found around the globe, undergo rapid evolutionary change when they move from the ocean to freshwater lakes, losing their armor and gaining more teeth in as little as 10 years. A biologist shows that this rapid change results not from mutations in functional genes, but changes in regulatory DNA. He pinpoints a gene that could be responsible for teeth, bone or jaw deformities in humans, including cleft palate

There is much good scientific work being done, but we need to limit our conclusions and claims to what the findings show and avoid baseless speculations.

Here’s a Typical Example of Evolutionary Story-Telling

Maybe, Could Have, Would Have …

Evolutionary events are, as Theodosius Dobzhansky put it, “unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible.” And so evolution is an idea with more theorizing than hard facts. It is more of a narrative than a theory. Here is a typical example:

It is often assumed that eukarya originated from archaea. This view has been recently supported by phylogenetic analyses in which eukarya are nested within archaea. Here, I argue that these analyses are not reliable, and I critically discuss archaeal ancestor scenarios, as well as fusion scenarios for the origin of eukaryotes. Based on recognized evolutionary trends toward reduction in archaea and toward complexity in eukarya, I suggest that their last common ancestor was more complex than modern archaea but simpler than modern eukaryotes (the bug in-between scenario). I propose that the ancestors of archaea (and bacteria) escaped protoeukaryotic predators by invading high temperature biotopes, triggering their reductive evolution toward the "prokaryotic" phenotype (the thermoreduction hypothesis). Intriguingly, whereas archaea and eukarya share many basic features at the molecular level, the archaeal mobilome resembles more the bacterial than the eukaryotic one. I suggest that selection of different parts of the ancestral virosphere at the onset of the three domains played a critical role in shaping their respective biology. Eukarya probably evolved toward complexity with the help of retroviruses and large DNA viruses, whereas similar selection pressure (thermoreduction) could explain why the archaeal and bacterial mobilomes somehow resemble each other.

I suggest?
The bug in-between scenario?
Escaped protoeukaryotic predators?
Invading high temperature biotopes?
Triggering their reductive evolution?
The thermoreduction hypothesis?
Probably evolved toward complexity with the help of retroviruses and large DNA viruses?
The archaeal and bacterial mobilomes?

Kipling would be proud.

Why the Narrative Trumps the Facts

What Evolution is All About

Greg Conterio, echoing Robert Bidinotto, makes the point that culture war differences often pit the facts versus the narrative. The facts can win every battle but the narrative wins the war. As Bidinotto puts it, “One of the most valuable insights I discovered in recent years is how Narratives trump everything else — including what most of us would call concern for ‘practical results.’” Conterio and Bidinotto are mainly concerned with political issues, but what lies behind their insight is our beliefs about origins.

A predetermined narrative is what influenced Darwin in concluding that the species must have arisen as a result of the blind actions of natural processes. As Darwin historian Janet Browne explained, Darwin, as well as evolution co-discoverer Alfred Wallace, came to believe in transmutation and so they then sought a suitable mechanism. The reason they came to believe in transmutation was the biological world was too gritty, too unseemly, and lacking in elegance. In a word, too evil.

Such rationalistic thinking (starting with preconceived ideas of what to expect, rather than exploring the data to see where it leads) about origins by no means began with Darwin and Wallace. They were handed these ideas from leading Christian thinkers from the previous centuries. Evolution was not a scientific finding, it was a religious conclusion.

From a scientific perspective, the spontaneous origin of the biological world makes little sense. Darwin and Wallace had no idea how such wonders actually could have sprung up all by themselves. Nor do evolutionists today. As Browne put it, they first believed—then they sought a scientific mechanism. That’s backwards, but this is precisely what they, and their followers today, are committed to.

The result is that evolution has introduced into science the art of story-telling. Evolution is a narrative, not an appeal to scientific principles and laws. Evolutionary events are “unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible” in the words of famous evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky. Or as Harvard’s Ernst Mayr wrote, “Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques” for explaining evolutionary events and processes.

Evolution is a narrative. And it is not just any narrative—it is the world’s creation story. The most important fundamental of a culture is its creation story. Tell me where you think you came from, and I’ll tell you everything else about you. At least everything that is important.

So what Conterio and Bidinotto are observing is the fruit of evolutionary thought. Evolution is not merely a scientific theory. It is the most influential theory in areas outside of science, in the history of science.

One now classic example of this is how evolutionary theory influenced historiography. In the nineteenth century evolutionists began constructing the history of ideas from their perspective. It became known as the Warfare Thesis, or Conflict Thesis, because it cast religious people as resisting, and in conflict with, science and its objective truths.

Even though historians agree that the Warfare Thesis is a strong dose of Whig history, it nonetheless often informs our culture’s views today. Anyone questioning evolution is cast as the fundamentalist, opposing the objective, truth-seeking scientists.

The poster child for this mythical retelling of history is Inherit the Wind, a play and movie that is a fictionalization of the famous 1925 Monkey Trial. Evolutionists today heavily promote this film as a cogent insight into our culture. It casts evolutionists as the white-hat good guys, and skeptics as ignorant, religious zealots.

Many evolutionists are unaware that Inherit the Wind is a fictionalization. And when told about this, they don’t really care. Because the narrative trumps the facts.

Judge John Jones explained, for example, he wanted to see Inherit the Wind a second time in preparation for the 2005 Dover case, over which he presided, because the film puts the origins debate into its proper “historical context.” Jones later reminisced about the trial, explaining that “I understood the general theme. I’d seen Inherit the Wind.”

But a federal judge’s profound ignorance and prejudice over a case in which he presided does not bother anyone—he was exalted as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the Year. So what if Inherit the Wind takes a few liberties with the truth, it is the narrative that counts.

Unfortunately evolution’s influence didn’t stop with a silly screenplay. With evolution life has no divine spark, we weren’t made in the image of any Creator, and things like facts and laws, both scientific and otherwise, don’t really matter. In politics, as well as evolution, it’s all about the narrative, not following the law.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making New Genes Just Got More Exotic—Yes They Evolve, But How?

Gene Duplication Meets Epigenetics

Making new genes is not easy. For several decades now it has been thought that the only process for gene construction is to start by duplicating an existing gene and then making adjustments to it (it is not the only process, but that is another story). Naturally evolutionists interpreted this duplication process as another example of an evolutionary mechanism. What they don’t consider, however, is how subtle this process is.

Too often the origins debate focuses on the simplistic opposites of stasis and change. Evolutionists would have it that creationism and Intelligent Design require complete stasis in the biological world—no changing of the species. Any change that is discovered, such as the construction of new genes, is interpreted as yet another proof text of evolution.

But why? Why should we think that adaptation to the environment immediately implies random mutations, natural selection, common descent, a strictly blind naturalistic origin of the world via chance, and so forth?

It simply doesn’t follow. In fact, research has consistently shown that the species have a fantastically complicated built-in adaptation capability. Organisms respond rapidly to environmental challenges with directed changes, not slowly with blind, random changes.

As research continues, this story just continues to grow. For instance, regarding the construction of new genes via duplication of an existing gene, a recent study added yet another layer of incredible subtlety and nuance. It turns out that after a duplication event, the organism often labels one of the genes, as though marking it for change. The technical term for this is “epigenetics,” and it amounts to small chemicals being attached to either the gene or to the proteins about which the gene is wrapped. This chemical “barcode” technology is fantastic, as it involves several different chemicals, each conveying a different message, and the message varies depending on just where the chemical is attached. The chemicals can even be attached to other small chemicals that were previously attached.

So the question is not, “Do organisms change and adapt?” It would be silly to make that the test for the truth of blind, random evolution.

There is no question that organisms adapt. And so there is no question that species undergo evolution in the sense that they respond and change. But evolution can be a loaded term. For most of us, evolutionists included, “evolution” automatically means the undirected origins of, well, pretty much everything.

That simply is not what the science shows. The science shows that the species adapt via fantastically exotic, creative and nuanced processes. Perhaps all of this arose from an undirected origins, but that would call for an enormous serendipity. In other words, it would mean that the incredible processes by which evolution occurs were, themselves, created by evolution. That would be highly serendipitous.

We need to stick to what the evidence tells us, and be careful not to make unwarranted claims beyond the evidence.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Here’s Something Orwell Didn’t Predict

Health Warnings for Anyone Who Disagrees With AGW

According to a report from The Times earlier this year, policy makers in Britain are attempting to enforce AGW (anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming) by mandating politicians who are skeptical to “shut up” about it and the BBC to give less airtime to anyone who points out its many scientific problems. One mechanism that was recommended was to have appearances by such trouble-makers accompanied by health warnings. How about stickers in textbooks?

Global Warming and Information Manipulation

Now if we Could Just Get the Chinese to Look at Evolution

Here is a paper out of the PRC that raises some awkward questions about the intellectual climate surrounding global warming. Apparently with all the blackballing, peer-review control, publication manipulation, and funding and career threats, the Chinese suspect there might be some manipulation of information at work.

It appears that news media and some pro-environmental organizations have the tendency to accentuate or even exaggerate the damage caused by climate change. This article provides a rationale for this tendency by using a modified International Environmental Agreement (IEA) model with asymmetric information. We find that the information manipulation has an instrumental value, as it ex post induces more countries to participate in an IEA, which will eventually enhance global welfare. From the ex ante perspective, however, the impact that manipulating information has on the level of participation in an IEA and on welfare is ambiguous.

In other news, last week Rapid City had the earliest snow since 1888.

If the Chinese are sensing something awry in global warming, I can’t wait until they cast their gaze on evolution.