Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Evolution Professor: DNA Code Indicates Common Descent Because ... Why?

Makes No Sense

In my previous post we saw that evolutionist Jerry Coyne claimed that “Darwin showed that ‘design-like’ features could arise from a purely naturalistic process.” That whopper was not even thinly disguised. What is particularly striking about Coyne’s lie is that the science ever since Darwin has not demonstrated this either. It is not as though Coyne was merely confusing something Darwin showed with something that was discovered after Darwin. We are nowhere remotely close to showing that “design-like” features can arise from a purely naturalistic process. Is it possible? Sure, anything is possible. But Coyne wasn’t referring to theoretical possibilities. Unfortunately it turns out this was not simply a rare fib from the University of Chicago evolutionist. In another post from the same day Coyne informed his readers that the universal genetic code indicates common descent from a single ancestor:

It is the near-universality of this code … that gives us confidence that modern life traces back to a single ancestor. If there was more than one origin of life, and its descendants independently developed the DNA—>protein system, it would be very unlikely that all modern species would have the same code.

In other words, we find the same DNA code in all the species, therefore they must have evolved from a common ancestor which had that code. The same elaborate code would not have evolved more than once.

Sorry but evolutionists cannot even explain how the DNA code evolved, period. In fact the universality of the code, according to evolutionary theory, means that it is essentially impossible to change. Over billions of years and billions of species, evolution hasn’t been able to nudge the code. The DNA code is one of the most extreme examples of a conserved design in all of biology. It is biology’s Rock of Gibraltar—it cannot normally be changed.

But if the code cannot be changed, then how did it evolve in the first place? The very universality which Coyne celebrates undercuts the theory Coyne is so sure is a fact.

Imagine the gradual evolutionary steps leading to the DNA code. In the penultimate step, the code was slightly different. And in the step before that, it was a slightly more different code. And so forth. The code must have been evolving—it must have been changing. And yet suddenly the code could no longer evolve. It makes no sense and, beyond hand-waving, evolutionists have no explanation for it.

Furthermore the code is also unique and special. It has several profound properties that are very helpful. For instance its arrangement is such that the effects of copying errors are minimized. Not only did the code just happen to evolve in early evolution, evolution just happened to find a one-in-a-million code.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Door Number Two: The Existence of Evil is the Most Powerful Argument

It’s All About Religion

In my previous post I discussed David Barash’s op-ed piece in the New York Times reviewing the usual religious beliefs that motivate evolutionary thinking. Barash’s piece is not peculiar, it is standard evolutionary reasoning. For instance, another evolution professor, Jerry Coyne, responded today, in support of Barash’s arguments. Coyne explains that he agrees with Barash “100%” and adds a few additional comments of his own.

First, Coyne echoes Barash’s non scientific claim that evolution explains how the wonders of the biological world evolved spontaneously. Coyne writes:

The argument from complexity. As we all know, evolution dispelled this most powerful argument for God when Darwin showed that “design-like” features could arise from a purely naturalistic process. 

There’s only one problem. That is a lie. What Coyne writes here is not an exaggeration, not a controversial point, not a questionable point, not an unsupported suggestion. There simply is no nice way to put it—this is a bald faced lie, period.

Darwin showed no such thing. That is not my opinion. I’d be delighted to tell you Darwin and the evolutionists have made such a discovery. How cool that would be. But anyone even remotely familiar with Darwin’s work knows that this just didn’t happen. Not even close. Coyne’s claim is just laughable.

But the more important part of Coyne’s response is the religious part. Here, again, he supports Barash fully. Coyne writes:

The existence of evil. This, to me, is the most powerful of Barash’s arguments for incompatibility between science and religion. Theists must perforce explain evil—both “moral” evil (humans doing bad things to other humans) and “natural” evil (diseases like childhood cancer, earthquakes, and other stuff that kills innocent people)—as part of God’s plan. There’s no easy way to reconcile these with a loving and all-powerful god, though the entire discipline of theodicy is devoted to the effort. I haven’t yet seen a successful reconciliation, and theists know, deep in their hearts, that the problem remains. But such “evils” are, as Barash explains, easily understandable in a naturalistic universe: they’re an inevitable result of either evolution, physics, or geology.

No easy way to reconcile the world’s evils with a loving and all-powerful god (Coyne forgot the all-knowing part)? Coyne obviously has strong religious beliefs that drive his thinking. Imagine that you too believed what Coyne believes. Then of course you would be an evolutionist.

This religious theory drives evolutionists such as Coyne to abuse science (as we saw above). But of course there is nothing new here. As we have discussed before, Coyne elaborates on his religious views (that is before he denied them) in his book, Why Evolution is True. It’s all about evil and dysteleology and how this world would never have been intended by any creator or designer.

Should we laugh or should we cry. Evolutionist are so drunk with their own metaphysics they can’t even see it. They are oblivious to their own shtick.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Evolution Professor: Every Year I Give My Students “The Talk”

Your Tax Dollars at Work.

Well it’s fall again and the beginning of a new school year. That means evolution professors will be warming up their religious indoctrination messages for their unsuspecting students. A cynical and unfair criticism? No, actually, metaphysical and value-laden messages, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, are rampant in the life sciences. In fact evolutionists are certain they area right and so make no attempt to hide their absurdities. Consider David Barash, evolution professor paid by your tax dollars at the University of Washington. Barash gives a special lecture each fall to indoctrinate his young charges. He calls it “The Talk” (yes, evolutionists really are that pompous and condescending) and he happily tells the world about it today in the New York Times.

Barash explains that in “The Talk” he reveals to his students three hard truths that have demolished pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God.

First, evolutionists have discovered and demonstrated that evolution is fully capable of creating the incredible world of biology. Evolutionists such as Barash do not deny the “wonderful complexity” of the biological world. But they are certain that “an entirely natural and undirected process, namely random variation plus natural selection, contains all that is needed to generate extraordinary levels of non-randomness.”

To understand what evolutionists mean by this rather astonishing claim of spontaneous generation it is worth returning to Chapter 6 of Origins where Darwin explained the evolution of the eye. Darwin went through some mental gymnastics about how a light sensitive spot could have arisen and then enhanced through slow, gradual change via natural selection. And he made a religious argument straight from the pen of David Hume about how God wouldn’t work like man, so we ought not infer design from complexity anyway. And finally Darwin shifted the burden of proof to the skeptic, saying it was up to the skeptic to prove his idea of spontaneous generation to be impossible—otherwise it stands.

This defense of Darwin’s became the template of how evolutionists handle complexity. They set the bar very low for themselves. So when Barash informs his students that the evolution of biology’s “wonderful complexity” is a solved problem, he is simply misrepresenting the science.

In fact, since Darwin the science has revealed the exact opposite. The inexorable march of science has shown over and over that biology is more exotic, subtle and complex than Darwin and the evolutionists ever dreamed of. Even the blind evolution of a single protein is impossible by any realistic measure.

Barash’s second “hard truth” for his students is that human beings are not distinct, other than being a separate species, from the other animals. Furthermore, no “supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens.” You may think you are conscious, but that is merely a manifestation of so many molecules in your skull.

And finally Barash reveals to his class that evolutionists have shown belief in an omnipresent, omni-benevolent God to be futile. After all,

just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.

In other words, there is unmerited suffering, therefore the species must have been created by the blind, amoral process of evolution. An all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator would never have intended for such a thing.

It’s all about religion.

Imagine for a moment that you believed in this religion, that you believed in Darwin’s God. Then of course you would require evolution to be true. It would have to be. And of course you would see complexity as a minor bump in the road.

You see the science is driven by the religion. It always has been.

So there you have it, The Talk. The evolutionist’s scientific absurdity is exceeded only by his religious fundamentalism and hypocrisy.

It is pathetic and sad to see the silliness of evolution. But what is truly astonishing is that evolutionists are oblivious to their own shtick. They shout it from the rooftops, unaware of their own absurdity. They are like the drunk at the party who doesn’t know he is drunk while everyone else stands back in embarrassment for him.

Your tax dollars at work.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Workshop on Scientific Imperialism

An Abundance of Material

Don’t miss the Workshop on Scientific Imperialism in Helsinki next April where attendees will consider whether “conventions and procedures of one discipline or field are imposed on other fields, or more weakly when a scientific discipline seeks to explain phenomena that are traditionally considered proper of another discipline’s domain.” Keynote Speaker Stephen Downes will ask  “Is the Appeal to Evolution in Explanations of Human Behavior a Case of Scientific Imperialism?”

The answer is “yes,” but human behavior is only the beginning of a long list. Evolution is by far the most influential theory in the history of science and its influence spreads not only to other areas of science, but well outside of science as well.

One of evolution’s early moves outside of science was in historiography where Darwin’s friend and champion Thomas Huxley began the construction of the history of thought from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary theory was motivated and mandated by religious premises, but Huxley reversed the roles and cast evolution as objective, truth-seeking science and the opposition as misguided religious believers. Thus, in this Warfare Thesis, science was opposed by religion, rather than informed and constrained by religion.

An important tool that was instrumental in spreading the Warfare Thesis far beyond evolutionary studies and into the broader culture was the play and movie Inherit the Wind. The Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee script was all that Huxley could have dreamt of, casting the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial as a conflict between the rational evolutionists and the irrational faithful.

Inherit the Wind is fictional propaganda that evolutionists continue to use to this day and remains widely influential. As Judge John Jones astonishingly explained, 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.” The federal judge’s over-the-top naiveté was a manifestation of evolution’s anti-intellectualism.

Another important early evolutionary spinoff was eugenics “science” and abortion. Nietzsche proclaimed that it was the sick, the oppressed, the broken and the weak, rather than evil men, who were the greatest threat to humanity. And Margaret Sanger promoted her racism and sexual immorality in what would become the abortion movement. The American eugenics movement and both World War I and later the horrors of the German Nazis were all influenced by evolution’s pseudo science.

More recently the abortion movement has grown and eugenics continues to be advocated. Lawlessness and immorality escalated with the legalization of abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision and its inherent racism. As Roe v. Wade lawyer Ron Weddington explained to the newly elected President Bill Clinton, “You can start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy, and poor segment of our country,” with inexpensive abortifacients. Weddington explained that he was not advocating mass extinction of these unfortunate people because “Crime, drugs and disease are already doing that. The problem is that their numbers are not only replaced but increased by the birth of millions of babies to people who can’t afford to have babies. There, I’ve said it. It’s what we all know is true, but we only whisper it, because as liberals who believe in individual rights, we view any program which might treat the disadvantaged differently as discriminatory, mean-spirited and … well … so Republican.”

Likewise Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Roe v. Wade as intended to control population growth, “particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” And you know what that means. And restrictions on abortion simply exacerbate the problem because “the impact of all these restrictions is on poor women,” and “It makes no sense as a national policy to promote birth only among poor people.”

It is little wonder that University of Texas evolutionist Eric Pianka receives standing ovations and awards for his advocacy of the elimination of 90% of the human population.

Eugenics, abortion and population control are, unfortunately, by no means the end of evolution’s deconstructionism. Evolution does away with law, common sense and morality. Scientific laws, as evolutionists explain, are not appropriate when explaining the creation of the world. For despite appearances and the hard scientific evidence, the world must have arisen spontaneously. It is a narrative of sheer absurdity. But we control it, and one consequence is moral relativism. Morality is seen as the result of evolutionary history. Right and wrong are determined by the haphazard configurations of molecules in our head.

Yes, there is plenty of material for Workshop on Scientific Imperialism in Helsinki next April.

Without Evolution, Life Itself Would Be Impossible

A Case Study

Have you heard the one about the evolutionist who defined life as things that evolve? Evolutionists have never been too humble about their theory. Farmers must be evolutionists to grow their crops. Doctors must be evolutionists to heal their patients. Scientists must be evolutionists to do their research. In fact without evolution, life itself would be impossible. A sarcastic caricature? Not at all, for evolutionists say all these things. Listening to evolutionists one would think that the life sciences would be crippled without evolutionary theory to guide the way and explain all things. A delusion or simply the hard truth? Let’s have a look at a case study in the life sciences.

At Jacob Sivak’s lab at the University of Waterloo researchers have studied snakes and their vision. Snakes do not have eyelids. Instead they have a clear scale called a spectacle that protects the eyes. Now how a snake just happened to randomly develop a clear scale, so it could see and be selected by natural selection, is unknown.

Did each of the snake’s many scales occasionally develop to be clear due to some strange mutation? And at one point, in the evolution of the snake, did that mutation make the scales over the snake’s eyes clear? How did the snakes survive before that lucky mutation? They would have been blind.

But back to our story. When researcher Kevin van Doorn was examining a snake his instrument detected something strange. van Doorn wasn’t looking for it, but he discovered that blood vessels in the snake’s spectacles might obscure the snake’s vision.

How common it has been in the history of science that researchers have made such accidental discoveries. van Doorn’s discovery is a reminder not of how crucial theories are in guiding researchers to their discoveries, but how capricious the process can be. Breakthroughs often are not so much because of our theories, but in spite of our theories, and this should engender some humility, rather than certainty, about our theories.

But getting back to our story, van Doorn’s next move was to study the blood flow through those blood vessels under different conditions. That was the obvious and natural next move. Sivak and van Doorn didn’t need a theory to tell them what to do. van Doorn found that under normal conditions blood flow through the spectacle was cyclical, with periods of reduced and periods of increased flow, thus allowing improved vision at regular intervals.

But when the snake was exposed to a threatening environment the cycle ceased and the flow was minimal, “thus guaranteeing,” Sivak and van Doorn concluded, “the best possible visual capabilities in times of need.”

It was all reminiscent of Leibniz’ theodicy which recognized that while, yes, evil exists in the world (at least some evil is required, Malebranche had pointed out, otherwise the creation would be no different than the perfect Creator), and in fact a great deal of evil exists, what is optimized is the good-to-evil ratio. There could be less evil, the co-inventor of calculus pointed out, but in that case there would be a great deal less good.

Like a good polynomial, the world could be optimized, and it was. This is the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire sarcastically panned the whole idea with his character Dr. Pangloss, but now science seemed to have the last laugh. Perhaps the snake’s spectacle’s are a necessary evil, but their designs are optimized to minimize the negative impact of the blood vessels obscuring the snake’s vision. As van Doorn concluded, “This research is the perfect example of how a fortuitous discovery can redefine our understanding of the world around us.”

But back to our story, we now ask, How exactly did evolution contribute to the research? For that we need to look at the abstract of the journal paper:

The eyes of snakes are shielded beneath a layer of transparent integument referred to as the ‘reptilian spectacle’. Well adapted to vision by virtue of its optical transparency, it nevertheless retains one characteristic of the integument that would otherwise prove detrimental to vision: its vascularity. Given the potential consequence of spectacle blood vessels on visual clarity, one might expect adaptations to have evolved that mitigate their negative impact. Earlier research demonstrated an adaptation to their spatial layout in only one species to reduce the vessels' density in the region serving the foveal and binocular visual fields. Here, we present a study of spectacle blood flow dynamics and provide evidence of a mechanism to mitigate the spectacle blood vessels' deleterious effect on vision by regulation of blood flow through them. It was found that when snakes are at rest and undisturbed, spectacle vessels undergo cycles of dilation and constriction, such that the majority of the time the vessels are fully constricted, effectively removing them from the visual field. When snakes are presented with a visual threat, spectacle vessels constrict and remain constricted for longer periods than occur during the resting cycles, thus guaranteeing the best possible visual capabilities in times of need. Finally, during the snakes' renewal phase when they are generating a new stratum corneum, the resting cycle is abolished, spectacle vessels remain dilated and blood flow remains strong and continuous. The significance of these findings in terms of the visual capabilities and physiology of snakes is discussed.

As you can see, in the journal paper the research results have been cast into the evolution template. The eyes of snakes are “well adapted” yet there is the presence of the blood vessels. Therefore one would predict that evolution would mitigate such an impact. In other words, it was evolutionary theory that led to the discovery.

But of course evolutionary theory did no such thing. So this is the role of evolution, as an after-the-fact framework to which the results must be conformed in a fictional reconstruction of events.

Like the wicked witch of the west, evolution threatens and demands acquiescence from its soldiers while adding nothing.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Science Has All Kinds of Non Scientific Influences and Motivations

Zombie Science

Philosophers of science well understand that everything from enticements (prestige, publishing, etc.) to threats (tenure, funding, etc.) influence scientists and science, but perhaps no one has said it better than Dr. Bruce Charlton:

Although the classical ideal is that scientific theories are evaluated by a careful teasing-out of their internal logic and external implications, and checking whether these deductions and predictions are in-line-with old and new observations; the fact that so many vague, dumb or incoherent scientific theories are apparently believed by so many scientists for so many years is suggestive that this ideal does not necessarily reflect real world practice. In the real world it looks more like most scientists are quite willing to pursue wrong ideas for so long as they are rewarded with a better chance of achieving more grants, publications and status. The classic account has it that bogus theories should readily be demolished by sceptical (or jealous) competitor scientists. However, in practice even the most conclusive ‘hatchet jobs’ may fail to kill, or even weaken, phoney hypotheses when they are backed-up with sufficient economic muscle in the form of lavish and sustained funding. And when a branch of science based on phoney theories serves a useful but non-scientific purpose, it may be kept-going indefinitely by continuous transfusions of cash from those whose interests it serves. If this happens, real science expires and a ‘zombie science’ evolves. Zombie science is science that is dead but will not lie down. It keeps twitching and lumbering around so that (from a distance, and with your eyes half-closed) zombie science looks much like the real thing. But in fact the zombie has no life of its own; it is animated and moved only by the incessant pumping of funds. If zombie science is not scientifically-useable – what is its function? In a nutshell, zombie science is supported because it is useful propaganda to be deployed in arenas such as political rhetoric, public administration, management, public relations, marketing and the mass media generally. It persuades, it constructs taboos, it buttresses some kind of rhetorical attempt to shape mass opinion. Indeed, zombie science often comes across in the mass media as being more plausible than real science; and it is precisely the superficial face-plausibility which is the sole and sufficient purpose of zombie science.

Sound familiar? It may sound like a worn out cliché, but we need to follow the evidence and let science speak for itself.

It’s Not What They Don’t Know That Scares Me

Evolutionary Certainty

As the old saying goes, it’s not what they don’t know that scares me, but what they know for sure. Nowhere is that more applicable than with evolution as The Guardian’s Andrew Brown reminds us today when he writes, “Evolution is actually true.” Don’t blame the messenger, Brown is merely repeating what evolutionists say. And while it is true that evolution in a limited sense it true (change over time, adaptation, and so forth), no such nuance is intended by evolutionists. When evolutionists inform their audiences that evolution is true, they are referring to the origin of species via blind processes. The problem here is not that this claim of knowledge is questionable or controversial—the problem is that the claim is unequivocally false. Evolution may or may not be true—that is debatable. But we do not know it to be true—that is not debatable. We can argue about how the scientific evidence bears on the theory of evolution (not well), its predictions (mostly false), how likely is it that evolution is true (not very), and so forth. Some may be more charitable toward the theory that says the species arose spontaneously. But we certainly do not know evolution—in the broad sense as intended by Brown and the evolutionists—to be true.

Not from a scientific perspective anyway.

What this never-ending truth claim reveals is the underlying metaphysics at work in evolutionary thought. Everytime evolutionists insist that evolution is a fact, is true, is undeniable, and so forth, they are making it clear, yet again, that this is not about science. From a scientific perspective no such truth claim would be possible, not even close. If anything we would be discussing whether we can say evolution is false, or merely astronomically unlikely.

But evolution has an internal contradiction. It is not that there is anything wrong with religious arguments and proofs. But evolutionists insist they are all about science. Their theory, they say, is a scientific theory. Yet they continually make religious premises and arguments, and make truth claims that are far beyond, and contradictory to, science.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Evolutionist: “In a Very Real Sense, Our Species Invented Itself”

The Aristotelianism Just Keeps on Getting Stronger

Evolution is a narrative, not a law-driven theory, and narratives are all about plot lines, conflicts and resolutions, good guys and bad guys, value-laden themes, motives, goals, objectives and so forth. These elements repeatedly appear in the evolution literature. For instance, in evolution there was at one point a “push” toward smaller dinosaur sizes, and the smaller sizes in dinosaurs helped to “trigger” a host of different traits. A wing-like surface area would have developed “to help glide” from tree to tree. After all, dinosaurs “were experimenting” with flight in various modes and finally “made the crucial leap” to powered flight, and so birds “were born.”

Cells worked together for a common goal of reproducing more cohesive units, and thereby worked in a concerted way toward increasing their fitness.

Conserved non-coding DNA was the result of regulatory innovations.

The genetic code emerged to avoid random protein sequences.

Small-headed snakes rapidly evolved “to probe eel burrows.”

Oxytricha trifallax, a profoundly complex single-cell organism, was “one of nature’s early attempts to become more complex.”

The brittlestar’s distributed and multifunctional vision system was “designed to minimize spherical aberration and birefringence.”

New proteins evolved because “Nature probably uncovers new topologies in order to fulfill new functions, and optimizes existing topologies to increase their performance.”

The amazing leaproache “evolved to do what grasshoppers do—jump between stems.”

The harp sponge evolved its elaborate candelabra-like structure “in order to increase the surface area.”

The list goes on and on and these are but a tiny sampling of the teleological Aristotelianism one finds in the evolution literature (see more details of these examples here, here and here).

So we were not too surprised to see Peter Corning’s 2013 paper on how behavior has shaped evolution. Corning explains that the behavior of organisms has had a significant influence in the evolutionary process of creating new species. There has been, Corning explains, “a flood of research on how behavioral influences contribute to the ongoing evolutionary process but “the theoretical implications of this paradigm shift still have not been fully integrated into our current thinking about evolution.”

Indeed. Gone is the evolutionary notion of random variation subject to natural selection, otherwise known as “chance and necessity.” Instead, organisms, whose behavior is driven by goals, play an active and major role in evolution. Simply put, as Corning concludes, “our species invented itself”:

Behaviour has a purpose (teleonomy); it is ends-directed. Living organisms are not passive objects of ‘chance and necessity’ (as Jacques Monod put it). Nor is the currently popular concept of phenotypic plasticity sufficient. Organisms are active participants in the evolutionary process (cybernetic systems) and have played a major causal role in determining its direction. It could be called ‘constrained purposiveness’, and one of the important themes in evolution, culminating in humankind, has been the ‘progressive’ evolution of self-determination (intelligence) and its ever-expanding potency. I call this agency ‘Teleonomic Selection’. In a very real sense, our species invented itself. For better and worse, the course of evolution is increasingly being shaped by the ‘Sorcerer's Apprentice’. Monod's mantra needs to be updated. Evolution is a process that combines ‘chance, necessity, teleonomy and selection’.

There is, as always, a problem in this Greek drama. Those organisms, and their behaviors, had to be created by evolution. In other words, evolution just happened to create incredibly complex biological agents with incredibly complex behaviors which then just happened to be crucial influences on the evolutionary process. In short, just as Corning concludes that our species invented itself, we must also conclude that evolution invented itself.

Whereas evolution once called on fairly basic mechanisms such as random variation, it now is at the other end of the spectrum, calling on diploid genetics, horizontal gene transfer, etc., and now human behavior—the most complex mechanisms one can imagine. And those mechanisms must have been created by evolution. Perhaps it is time for a Deus ex machine, for this level of serendipity is beyond silly. At least evolution is entertaining.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Here’s That Story in the Los Angeles Times about Global Warming

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Because when the Los Angeles Times runs a piece questioning the A in AGW (anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming), then you know something is wrong:

A new study makes the case that human activity played very little role in the warming of the northeast Pacific Ocean over the past century or so. … Naturally occurring changes in winds, not human-caused climate change, are responsible for most of the warming on land and in the sea along the West Coast of North America over the last century, a study has found. … This latest research shows that similar changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation can drive trends that last a century or longer, overshadowing the effects of human-generated increase in greenhouse gases, the study's authors said.

It is not news that AGW is has its share of scientific challenges. But give credit to the Los Angeles Times for running such a story in the politically-charged environment we are in. We need to let the science speak for itself.

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 priori 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.