Monday, September 30, 2013

New York Times: No Fair Talking Science

Theory Protectionism

Motoko Rich’s New York Times piece from this weekend presented a one-sided view of the on-going Texas textbook controversy, but not for lack of material. Rich’s piece, which was decidedly in favor of the belief that the species spontaneously arose, did not give voice to those who doubt that idea. The article quoted several participants in the debate, but none were evolution skeptics. That’s probably because when interviewed, the skeptics didn’t provide the right kind of material—they didn’t fit the template.

Instead they had some reasonable and thoughtful things to say. So instead, the Times cast them as deceptive:

By questioning the science — often getting down to very technical details — the evolution challengers in Texas are following a strategy increasingly deployed by others around the country.

After all, this ploy has been used before:

Four years ago, a conservative bloc on the state school board pushed through amendments to science standards that call for students to “analyze and evaluate” some of the basic principles of evolution. Science educators and advocates worry that this language can be used as a back door for teaching creationism.

And according to Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, appealing to science is a dirty trick:

It is like lipstick on a Trojan horse,” said Ms. Miller of the Texas Freedom Network.

Philosophers call this theory protectionism. If analyzing and evaluating “basic principles,” exploring technical details, and questioning the science are not allowed, then evolution is fully protected.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Here is David Penny’s New Confirmation of Evolution

The Phylogenetic Signal Myth

David Penny and co workers are out with another confirmation of evolution. In a Darwin’s God exclusive, Penny assures us that there is no question about the fact of evolution, but from his Popperian perspective, it is always important to put forward testable models. And the result, as usual, is that evolution wins yet again. One result, from Column 7 of Table 2 of the paper, shows that the probability that the proteins in question could have arisen by chance is 1.94 x 10^-19. And that is just one of their many tests. In other words, evolution is pretty much a done deal. As they conclude: “The analyses establish that some form of ancestral convergence is occurring.” There’s only one problem: This is all junk science.

There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics. Penny’s new paper relies on an age-old evolutionary contrastive argument that goes like this. Either nature is random, or evolution is true. In this case, any relationship or pattern, that can be found between proteins in different species, proves that the proteins are not randomly designed. Therefore they must have evolved.

The reasoning here may seem to be upside down. After all, if the results show that the proteins could not have arisen by chance, then how can that prove evolution—the theory that says proteins (and everything else for that matter) arose from random events such as mutations? Would not that finding be a problem for evolution?

The answer is that, for evolutionists, such results falsify creation and design. As Kant explained three centuries ago in his theory of the solar system evolution:

Thus, God's choice, not having the slightest motive for tying them [planetary orbits] to one single arrangement, would reveal itself with a greater freedom in all sorts of deviations and differences.

In other words, there should be no pattern to the planetary orbits if they were designed. Otherwise God is capricious, selecting certain designs for no reason.

Evolution is not about science. It’s about God.

WFAA Showcases Evolutionary Misinformation

The Many Effects of the Warfare Thesis

Kevin Williamson must be helping out at the local ABC affiliate in Dallas-Ft. Worth, WFAA Channel 8, which when reporting on the Texas textbook controversy this week informed its audience that “Texas law bans the mention of evolution in textbooks.” This level of ignorance would be amusing if it wasn’t so tragic. Evolutionary misinformation has journalists confused even about basic facts:

Next WFAA misinformed its audience that former chairman of the State Board Don McLeroy supports teaching creationism:

After all, McLeroy wants the facts about evolution, that must mean he wants creationism in the classroom. Finally there always is the appeal to science, which leaves no doubt that the biological world spontaneously arose:

Given that federal judge John Jones actually wanted to see Inherit the Wind a second time in preparation for the Dover case because, after all, the film puts the origins debate into its proper “historical context” (Jones later explained that “I understood the general theme. I’d seen Inherit the Wind.”), then perhaps it is not too surprising that journalists also have their heads spinning from evolution’s misinformation.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Today’s NRO Shows Again That Evolution Transcends Politics

More Warfare Thesis Mythology

A common misconception is that the origins debate is politically aligned, with those on the political right supporting creationism and opposing evolution, and those on the political left taking the opposite positions. But the origins debate is more complicated than this and here again it is helpful to understand the history of evolutionary thought and its religious foundation. A naturalistic origins narrative was advanced by 17th and 18th century Christian thinkers, who found divine intervention and miracles to be theologically awkward and unacceptable, not by atheists or political revolutionaries. Only much later did the left find evolution to be politically useful. The bottom line is that today evolution cuts across political boundaries, enjoying strong support from the political right, as well as the left. George Will and Bill O’Reilly are examples of center right commentators who believe the biological world spontaneously arose. So is Kevin Williamson whose piece in today’s National Review Online is yet another painful example political punditry gone wild.

Williamson’s article is on the seemingly never ending and controversial textbook selection process in Texas. But the piece is short on detail and long on generalities. As political pundits often do, Williamson judges the debate from afar with apparently very little knowledge of what its participants are actually saying. Those who doubt the reality of evolution are anti-science Evangelical knuckleheads, pseudointellectual dopes making misguided assaults, fraudulent and up to no good.

In case you didn’t get the gist, Williamson is all about the same old mythical Warfare Thesis. Science is slowly but surely discovering the truth such as, err, that the world spontaneously arose. Religion opposes such advances until it becomes enlightened and figures out how to deal with them. Today most religious people are confident enough in their faith that such minor bumps in the road do not shake their beliefs. They simply adjust their sights accordingly. But there are those few oddballs, such as the literalists, who just won’t to get on board. Their anti-intellectualism fights the tide of truth and makes us all look bad. They do not realize that there is no intrinsic conflict between science and religion or between evolution and theology.

The nineteenth century’s false history of science and Warfare Thesis myth, as advocated by conservatives such as Andrew Dickson White, is today’s truth. As Republican Judge John Jones of Dover fame explained, “I understood the general theme. I’d seen Inherit the Wind.” The Lawrence and Lee script has codified the myth for us.

Evolution is not a left-wing or atheist enterprise. It is a pervasive religious theory that has strong appeal across the political spectrum, regardless of the facts.

LA Times: The Planthopper Nymph Gears Evolved

How Do They Know That?

The Los Angeles Times is now reporting that those fantastic gears discovered in the planthopper nymph are “the first known example of working gears that evolved in a living being.” The Times does not explain how they know the gears evolved, nor does it explain how the gears evolved. It is an interesting question because, as anyone who has worked with gears knows, the design space is huge and it contains only a relatively few workable designs. For instance, imagine if the gears were just slightly farther apart. The gears would not mesh and the whole design would not work. On the other hand, if the gears were just slightly closer together, the gears would collide and freeze up. If the spacing between the cogs was too thin or the cogs were too wide, again the gears would collide and freeze up. If the cogs were too thin or if their material not sufficiently strong, then the cogs would break under the load they carry.

The list goes on and on. The design is fine-tuned. Any number of changes renders it non functional, and there is no sign of a gradual path of increasing functionality leading from the absence of this gearing system to the design that we observe.

Even the researchers who discovered this gearing system admitted to its complexity when they concluded that it is not wise to underestimate evolution. That seems to be a good caution, but as Karl Popper would say, it demonstrates how difficult it is to falsify evolution if fantastic, unexpected, designs are simply labeled as products of evolution with no supporting evidence.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Planthopper Nymph Has Gears


The planthopper nymph is a tiny insect with an incredibly fast jumping mechanism (it jumps in a few milliseconds with an acceleration of almost 400 g’s). What is perhaps most interesting are its gears that new research has uncovered. These micro marvels allow the insect to lock its legs together and synchronize their jumping motion with a precision of one three hundred thousandth of a second. You can see the video here. Truly amazing.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Inexorable March of Convergent Evolution Continues

Now at the Molecular Level

One of the most powerful evidences for evolution are the similarities between species. The reason why the similarities are such powerful evidence is that a great variety of designs are possible. A wise designer certainly would make use of this great variety of possible designs but common descent is restricted to whatever is available. Consider, for example, the pentadactyl structure—five digits (four fingers and a thumb for humans) at the end of the limb structure—which is found throughout the tetrapods. The activities of this massive group of fauna include flying, grasping, climbing and crawling. Such diverse activities, evolutionists reason, should require diverse limbs. There seems to be no reason why all should need a five digit limb. Why not three digits for some, eight for others, 13 for some others, and so forth? And yet they all are endowed with five digits. Their shapes and sizes vary greatly, but nonetheless there are five digits. Obviously the pentadactyl structure must be an artefact of common descent—a suboptimal design that was handed down from a common ancestor rather than specifically designed for each species. A key premise of this argument is that a tremendous variety of designs is possible.

One problem with this argument, however, is that many of the similarities between species do not fall into the hypothetical evolutionary pattern. In these cases evolutionists must say that the similarities evolved independently rather than by common descent, via a process they call convergent evolution. But if a tremendous variety of designs is possible, then why would the random, unguided process of evolution just happen to find the same design so often?

Evolutionists explain this by appealing to natural selection, but in doing so they demonstrate that common descent is not necessary to explain these similarities. In other words, they need not be an artefact of common descent.

Years ago this problem was not critical as convergent evolution seemed limited. But since then, in the inexorable march of science, the cases of convergent evolution have skyrocketed. And even evolutionists are now agreeing that it will only become worse.

The latest example is the independent evolution of echolocation in mammals such as bats and whales. Such convergence has been known for some time now, but now it is observed at the molecular level as well. As the paper explains, “convergence is not a rare process restricted to several loci but is instead widespread”.

As one evolutionist admitted, “These results imply that convergent molecular evolution is much more widespread than previously recognized”. And another admitted that the results are astonishing:

We had expected to find identical changes in maybe a dozen or so genes but to see nearly 200 is incredible. We know natural selection is a potent driver of gene sequence evolution, but identifying so many examples where it produces nearly identical results in the genetic sequences of totally unrelated animals is astonishing.

And that’s not all. The evolutionists were also surprised to find similar molecular patterns in many genes linked to vision. Apparently evolution is not so constrained, and not limited to working with whatever designs happen to be available, as evolutionists have so strenuously argued. As the evolutionists were forced to conclude, convergent evolution is probably “much more pervasive than previously recognized.” In fact, even the venerable pentadactyl pattern has fallen prey to convergent evolution. As one study concluded:

Even more striking, we find strong statistical support for the re-acquisition of a pentadactyl body form from a digit-reduced ancestor. … The results of our study join a nascent body of literature showing strong statistical support for character loss, followed by evolutionary re-acquisition of complex structures associated with a generalized pentadactyl body form.

Or as one evolutionist simply put it, “The conclusion seems inescapable, and an old ‘certainty’ must be starkly reversed.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Evolutionist: OOL is a Fact

High Confidence

The one thing evolutionists agree on is that evolution is a fact. And when they say “evolution” they mean the strictly naturalistic origin of, well, pretty much everything. The species, life, consciousness, the Earth, the solar system, the universe and natural laws. Such all encompassing truth claims are what distinguish evolutionary theories from other scientific theories which are usually more tentative and circumscribed. This high confidence is again evident in a new peer-reviewed paper by David Penny and coworkers which begins:

There are some areas of science where there is still strong resistance to basic scientific conclusions: anthropogenic climate change, the reality of long term evolution, the origin of life, and the safety and efficacy of vaccination programs are well-known examples.

In 1924 the father of origin of life (OOL) research, Alexander Oparin, wrote that “very, very soon” the last barriers between the living and the dead will crumble. That prediction failed but what did happen was that OOL attained fact-hood.