Science, Just Science

24 April 2007

Evolutionary Predictions

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 2:46 pm

*** Originally posted by Tim Hague on SJS ***


A point was made by a contributor in the SJS forums that we don’t mention anywhere on our site predictions made by the Theory of Evolution, yet we disparage ID for not making any predictions at all. This is a very good point – and a frequent and inaccurate claim by creationists is that “evolution doesn’t make predictions either”. This claim couldn’t be further from the truth.

This article presents just a few of the predictions that have been made using the Theory of Evolution. Included are some predictions by Darwin himself, some predictions that can be made using the theories of common descent and natural selection, and even some predictions that can be made using the theory of random mutation!

This article starts – appropriately enough – with some of Darwin’s predictions, then looks at one of the most powerful predictive theories within Evolution – common descent. Then there is a look at natural selection and random mutation. Finally we have a bit more from Darwin and a combination of both natural selection and common descent…

1. Darwin’s Predictions

When Darwin first published his thoughts on natural selection, he made very specific predictions about the time courses involved. Specifically, his theory required millions or billions of years, not thousands of years, to work. Darwins predictions about the time scales involved could have been disproven time and time again in the intervening years, however all the evidence collected both by biology and the other sciences – the fossil and geological evidence, radioactive dating, tectonic geological evidence, DNA evidence – all confirms Darwin’s prediction.

Darwin predicted that inheritance is particulate rather than just a blend of the parents characteristics. While Darwin’s theory of common ancestry was widely accepted by the late 1800’s, his theory of evolution by natural selection was actually considered to be disproven as of the end of the 1800’s and the beginning of the 20th century. Before the rediscovery of Mendel’s work, inheritance was thought to be blending rather than particulate. Mendel showed that inheritance is indeed particulate and so confirmed Darwin’s prediction.

Darwin acknowledged that the fossil record was incomplete – but as new discoveries were made he predicted that new transitional fossils would be found. New transitional fossils are still being discovered all the time. An excellent example of this are five new transitional fossils that have been discovered between land mammals and cetaceans (whales). These are particularly ironic, because creationists predicted that they would never be found!

2. Common Descent Predictions

Descent from a common ancestor entails a process of branching and divergence of species, in common with any genealogical process. Genealogies can be graphically illustrated by tree-like diagrams, and this is why you will hear biologists refer to the genealogy of species as the “tree of life”.

The most import common descent prediction of all:

The macroevolutionary prediction of a unique, historical universal phylogenetic tree is the most important, powerful, and basic conclusion from the hypothesis of universal common descent.

2.1 The fundamental unity of life

According to the theory of common descent, modern living organisms, with all their incredible differences, are the progeny of one single species in the distant past. In spite of the extensive variation of form and function among organisms, several fundamental criteria characterize all life. Some of the macroscopic properties that characterize all of life are:

  1. Replication
  2. Heritability (characteristics of descendents are correlated with those of ancestors)
  3. Catalysis
  4. Energy utilization (metabolism)

At a very minimum, these four functions are required to generate a physical historical process that can be described by a phylogenetic tree.

Thus, a basic prediction of the genealogical relatedness of all life, combined with the constraint of gradualism, is that organisms should be very similar in the particular mechanisms and structures that execute these four basic life processes.

The structures that all known organisms use to perform these four basic processes are all quite similar, in spite of the odds. All known living things use polymers to perform these four basic functions.

Potential Falsification:
Thousands of new species are discovered yearly, and new DNA and protein sequences are determined daily from previously unexamined species (over 20,000 new sequences are deposited at GenBank? every day). Each and every one is a test of the theory of common descent.

Based solely on the theory of common descent and the genetics of known organisms, we strongly predict that we will never find any modern species from known phyla on this Earth with a foreign, non-nucleic acid genetic material. We also make the strong prediction that all newly discovered species that belong to the known phyla will use the “standard genetic code” or a close derivative thereof.

When it became possible to sequence biological molecules, the realization of a markedly different tree based on the independent molecular evidence would have been a fatal blow to the theory of evolution. More precisely, the common descent hypothesis would have been falsified if the universal phylogenetic trees determined from the independent molecular and morphological evidence did not match with statistical significance.

2.2 Intermediate and transitional forms: the possible morphologies of predicted common ancestors

Our standard tree shows that the bird grouping is most closely related to the reptilian grouping, thus we predict the possibility of finding fossil intermediates between birds and reptiles. The same reasoning applies to mammals and reptiles. However, we predict that we should never find fossil intermediates between birds and mammals.

We have found a complete set of dinosaur-to-bird transitional fossils with no morphological “gaps” represented by Eoraptor, Herrerasaurus, Ceratosaurus, Allosaurus, Compsognathus, Sinosauropteryx, Protarchaeopteryx, Caudipteryx, Velociraptor, Sinovenator, Beipiaosaurus, Sinornithosaurus, Microraptor, Archaeopteryx, Rahonavis, Confuciusornis, Sinornis, Patagopteryx, Hesperornis, Apsaravis, Ichthyornis, and Columba, among many others. All have the expected possible morphologies, including organisms such as Protarchaeopteryx, Caudipteryx, and the famous “BPM 1 3-13” which are flightless bipedal dinosaurs with modern-style feathers.

We also have an exquisitely complete series of fossils for the reptile-mammal intermediates, ranging from the pelycosauria, therapsida, cynodonta, up to primitive mammalia.

Potential Falsification:
Any finding of a striking half-mammal, half-bird intermediate would be highly inconsistent with common descent. Many other examples of prohibited intermediates can be thought of, based on the standard tree.

2.3 Anatomical vestiges

Some of the most renowned evidence for evolution are the various nonfunctional or rudimentary vestigial characters, both anatomical and molecular, that are found throughout biology. A vestige is defined, independently of evolutionary theory, as a reduced and rudimentary structure compared to the same complex structure in other organisms. Vestigial characters, if functional, perform relatively simple, minor, or inessential functions using structures that were clearly designed for other complex purposes. Though many vestigial organs have no function, complete non-functionality is not a requirement for vestigiality.

Vestigial structures have perplexed naturalists throughout history and were noted long before Darwin first proposed universal common descent. From common descent and the constraint of gradualism, we predict that many organisms should retain vestigial structures as structural remnants of lost functions. Note that the exact evolutionary mechanism which created a vestigial structure is irrelevant as long as the mechanism is a gradual one.

2.4 Molecular vestigial characters

Vestigial characters should also be found at the molecular level. Humans do not have the capability to synthesize ascorbic acid (otherwise known as Vitamin C), and the unfortunate consequence can be the nutritional deficiency called scurvy. However, the predicted ancestors of humans had this function (as do most other animals except primates and guinea pigs). Therefore, we predict that humans, other primates, and guinea pigs should carry evidence of this lost function as a molecular vestigial character (nota bene: this very prediction was explicitly made by Nishikimi and others and was the impetus for the research detailed below)

Recently, the L-gulano-γ-lactone oxidase gene, the gene required for Vitamin C synthesis, was found in humans and guinea pigs. It exists as a pseudogene, present but incapable of functioning. In fact the vitamin C pseudogene has now also been found in other primates, exactly as predicted by evolutionary theory. We now have the DNA sequences for this broken gene in chimpanzees, orangutans, and macaques. And, as predicted, the malfunctioning human and chimpanzee pseudogenes are the most similar, followed by the human and orangutan genes, followed by the human and macaque genes, precisely as predicted by evolutionary theory. Furthermore, all of these genes have accumulated mutations at the exact rate predicted (the background rate of mutation for neutral DNA regions like pseudogenes)

2.5 Present and past biogeography

Because species divergence happens not only in the time dimension, but also in spatial dimensions, common ancestors originate in a particular geographical location. Thus, the spatial and geographical distribution of species should be consistent with their predicted genealogical relationships. The standard phylogenetic tree predicts that new species must originate close to the older species from which they are derived. Closely related contemporary species should be close geographically.

2.6 Anatomical parahomology

One major consequence of the constraint of gradualism is the predicted existence of parahomology. Parahomology, as the term is used here, is similarity of structure despite difference in function. Prediction: when one species branches into two species, one or both of the species may acquire new functions.

2.7 Molecular parahomology

Prediction: the concept of parahomology applies equally to both the macroscopic structures of organisms and structures on the molecular level.

On the molecular level, the existence of parahomology is quite impressive. Many proteins of very different function have strikingly similar amino acid sequences and three-dimensional structures.

2.8 Anatomical analogy

A corollary of the principle of evolutionary opportunism is analogy. Analogy is the case where different structures perform the same or similar functions in different species. Two distinct species have different histories and different structures; if both species evolve the same new function, they may recruit different structures to perform this new function. Analogy also must conform to the principle of structural continuity; analogy must be explained in terms of the structures of predicted ancestors.

2.9 Molecular analogy

Prediction: like parahomology, analogy should be represented on both macroscopic and molecular levels.

2.10 Anatomical suboptimality

Prediction: Evolutionary opportunism also results in suboptimal functions and structures.

2.11 Molecular suboptimality

Prediction: The principle of imperfect design should apply to biomolecular organization as well.

2.12 Protein functional redundancy

Ubiquitous genes: There are certain genes that all living organisms have because they perform very basic life functions; these genes are called ubiquitous genes. Similar ubiquitous genes indicate genealogical relationship: It follows that organisms which have similar sequences for ubiquitous proteins are genealogically related. Roughly, the more similar the sequences, the closer the genealogical relationship.

2.13 DNA coding redundancy

Like protein sequence similarity, the DNA sequence similarity of two ubiquitous genes also implies common ancestry.

Here we can be quite specific in our prediction. Any sequence differences between two functional cytochrome c genes are necessarily functionally neutral or nearly so. As mentioned above, the cytochrome c proteins in chimps and humans are exactly identical. The clincher is that the two DNA sequences that code for cytochrome c in humans and chimps differ by only four nucleotides (a 1.2% difference), even though there are 1049 different sequences that could code for this protein.

2.14 Molecular evidence – Transposons

In many ways, transposons are very similar to viruses. However, they lack genes for viral coat proteins, cannot cross cellular boundaries, and thus they replicate only in the genome of their host. They can be thought of as intragenomic parasites. Except in the rarest of circumstances, the only mode of transmission from one metazoan organism to another is directly by DNA duplication and inheritance (e.g. your transposons are given to your children)

Prediction: Finding the same transposon in the same chromosomal location in two different organisms is strong direct evidence of common ancestry, since they insert fairly randomly and generally cannot be transmitted except by inheritance.

Prediction: In addition, once a common ancestor has been postulated that contains a certain transposition, all the descendants of this common ancestor should also contain the same transposition.

2.15 Molecular evidence – Redundant pseudogenes

Other molecular examples that provide evidence of common ancestry are curious DNA sequences known as pseudogenes. Pseudogenes are very closely related to functional, protein-coding genes. The similarity involves both the primary DNA sequence and often the specific chromosomal location of the genes. The functional counterparts of pseudogenes are normal genes that are transcribed into mRNA, which is in turn actively translated into functional protein. In contrast, pseudogenes have faulty regulatory sequences that prevent the gene from being transcribed into mRNA, or they have internal stop codons that keep the functional protein from being made. In this sense, pseudogenes are molecular examples of vestigial structures.

Like transpositions, the creation of new redundant pseudogenes by gene duplication is a rare and random event and, of course, any duplicated DNA is inherited. Prediction: Thus, finding the same pseudogene in the same chromosomal location in two species is strong evidence of common ancestry.

2.16 Molecular evidence – Endogenous retroviruses

Endogenous retroviruses provide yet another example of molecular sequence evidence for universal common descent. Endogenous retroviruses are molecular remnants of a past parasitic viral infection. Occasionally, copies of a retrovirus genome are found in its host’s genome, and these retroviral gene copies are called endogenous retroviral sequences. Retroviruses (like the AIDS virus or HTLV1, which causes a form of leukemia) make a DNA copy of their own viral genome and insert it into their host’s genome. If this happens to a germ line cell (i.e. the sperm or egg cells) the retroviral DNA will be inherited by descendants of the host. Prediction: Again, this process is rare and fairly random, so finding retrogenes in identical chromosomal positions of two different species indicates common ancestry.

2.17 Genetic change

The genetic information specifies everything about an organism and its potential. Prediction: Genotype specifies possible phenotypes, therefore, phenotypic change follows genetic change. This obviously should be one of the areas where evolutionary change is seen, and genetic change is truly the most important for understanding evolutionary processes.

Extremely extensive genetic change has been observed, both in the lab and in the wild. We have seen genomes irreversibly and heritably altered by numerous phenomena, including gene flow, random genetic drift, natural selection, and mutation. Observed mutations have occurred by mobile introns, gene duplications, recombination, transpositions, retroviral insertions (horizontal gene transfer), base substitutions, base deletions, base insertions, and chromosomal rearrangements. Chromosomal rearrangements include genome duplication (e.g. polyploidy), unequal crossing over, inversions, translocations, fissions, fusions, chromosome duplications and chromosome deletions.

2.18 Morphological change

Cladistic classification, and thus, phylogenetic reconstruction, is largely based on the various distinguishing morphological characteristics of species. Macroevolution requires that organisms’ morphologies have changed throughout evolutionary history. Preduction: Thus, we should observe morphological change and variation in modern populations.

There have been numerous observations of morphological change in populations of organisms. Examples are the change in color of some organ, such as the yellow body or brown eyes of Drosophila, coat color in mice, scale color in fish, and plumage pattern in birds. Almost every imaginable heritable variation in size, length, width, or number of some physical aspect of animals has been recorded. This last fact is extremely important for common descent, since the major morphological differences between many species (e.g. species of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds) are simple alterations in size of certain aspects of their respective parahomologous structures.

2.19 Functional change

One of the major differences between organisms is their capacity for various functions. The ability to occupy one niche over another is invariably due to differing functions.

Prediction: Thus, functional change must be extremely important for macroscopic macroevolutionary change.

2.20 Earth’s strange past and the fossil record

A very general conclusion made from the theory of common descent is that life, as a whole, was different in the past. The predicted evolutionary pattern is that the farther back we look back in time, the more different life should appear from the modern biosphere. More recent fossils should be more similar to contemporary life forms than older fossils.

2.21 Stages of Speciation

The most useful definition of species (which does not assume evolution) for sexual metazoans is the Biological Species Concept: species are groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations that are reproductively isolated from other such groups.

Prediction: If branching of existing species into new species occurred gradually in the past, we should see all possible degrees of speciation or genetic isolation today, ranging from fully interbreeding populations, to partially interbreeding populations, to populations that interbreed with reduced fertility or with complete infertility, to completely genetically isolated populations.

2.22 Speciations

The standard phylogenetic tree illustrates countless speciation events; each common ancestor also represents at least one speciation event. Prediction: Thus we should be able to observe actual speciation, if even only very rarely. Current estimates from the fossil record and measured mutational rates place the time required for full reproductive isolation in the wild at ~3 million years on average. Consequently, observation of speciation in nature should be a possible but rare phenomenon. However, evolutionary rates in laboratory organisms can be much more rapid than rates inferred from the fossil record, so it is still possible that speciation may be observed in common lab organisms.

Speciation of numerous plants, both angiosperms and ferns (such as hemp nettle, primrose, radish and cabbage, and various fern species) has been seen via hybridization and polyploidization since the early 20th century. Several speciation events in plants have been observed that did not involve hybridization or polyploidization (such as maize and S. malheurensis).

Some of the most studied organisms in all of genetics are the Drosophila species, which are commonly known as fruitflies. Many Drosophila speciation events have been extensively documented since the seventies. Speciation in Drosophila has occurred by spatial separation, by habitat specialization in the same location, by change in courtship behavior, by disruptive natural selection, and by bottlenecking populations (founder-flush experiments), among other mechanisms.

Several speciation events have also been seen in laboratory populations of houseflies, gall former flies, apple maggot flies, flour beetles, Nereis acuminata (a worm), mosquitoes, and various other insects. Green algae and bacteria have been classified as speciated due to change from unicellularity to multicellularity and due to morphological changes from short rods to long rods, all the result of selection pressures.

Speciation has also been observed in mammals. Six instances of speciation in house mice on Madeira within the past 500 years have been the consequence of only geographic isolation, genetic drift, and chromosomal fusions. A single chromosomal fusion is the sole major genomic difference between humans and chimps, and some of these Madeiran mice have survived nine fusions in the past 500 years.

2.24 Morphological rates of change

Prediction: Observed rates of evolutionary change in modern populations must be greater than or equal to rates observed in the fossil record.

2.25 Genetic rates of change

Prediction: Rates of genetic change, as measured by nucleotide substitutions, must also be consistent with the rate required from the time allowed in the fossil record and the sequence differences observed between species.

3. Random Mutation, Natural Selection And Prediction

I think one of the problems – and the reason why people sometimes say that evolution doesn’t make predictions – is that it is impossible to predict in advance exactly what mutation is going to take place and which gene(s) are going to change.

An example – if you put an organism under severe environmental stress – put a few million bacteria on an agar plate filled with a new antibiotic – then you can predict one of two outcomes: either the bacteria will all die or they (at least one to begin with) will adapt to their new environment.

In general, quantitative genetic theory predicts that the response to selection is proportional to the product of the trait’s heritability and the intensity of selection. We can make a few other specific predictions as well – we can predict which genes will not be altered to get this kind of adaptation – because certain genes are critical to keeping the bacteria alive and/or allowing the bacteria to reproduce and mutations in these genes will kill the bacteria or prevent it from reproducing.

We can also predict that the new resistance gene is more likely to be found on a plasmid, if only because we’ve found most other genes for antibiotic resistance on plasmids – an adaptation in an existing antibiotic resistance gene has the best likelihood of success.

Other than that we’re dependent on random mutation, which by it’s very nature defies precise prediction.

Does that mean we can’t predict the outcome? No, just not precisely what the outcome will be.

4. Darwin Again: Natural Selection And Common Descent Together

Darwin noted one way in which natural selection and common descent are evidentially connected:

“… analogical or adaptive characters, although of the utmost importance to the welfare of the being, are almost valueless to the systematist. For animals, belonging to two most distinct lines of descent, may readily become adapted to similar conditions, and thus assume a close external resemblance; but such resemblances will not reveal, will rather tend to conceal their bloodrelationship to their proper lines of descent.”

Darwin’s point is that similarities involving highly adaptive traits are apt to provide misleading information about ancestry; instead, the best evidence of common ancestry comes from neutral or even deleterious features. For example, the torpedo-like shape of dolphins and sharks does not strongly support the hypothesis that they have a common ancestor, since one would expect big aquatic predators to have this shape, even if they originated separately.

The hypothesis of natural selection predicts that heritability will decline in each lineage, but it says nothing about the heritability that each lineage has when it starts evolving. In contrast, the problem becomes more tractable if two species trace back to a common ancestor. The effect of common ancestry is that lineages begin evolving with the same heritability.

The fact of adaptation hinders one’s ability to test hypotheses of common ancestry, but the fact of common ancestry helps one test adaptive hypotheses.


  • The common descent section of this article is largely paraphrased (and abbreviated!) from the 29+ Evidences for
  • Macroevolution by Douglas Theobald from talkorigins.

Other references:

  • Cetacean Evolution article by Edward T. Babinski.
  • Common Ancestry and Natural Selection by Sober and Orzack, 2002.

News: Cancer Is A Natural Consequence Of Human Evolution

Filed under: News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 1:55 pm

*** Originally posted by Chris Hyland of SJS ***

Cancer is a natural consequence of human evolution. Our genes have not developed to give us long and happy lives.

They are optimized to copy themselves into the next generation – irrespective of our personal desires. According to Jarle Breivik, an associate professor at the University of Oslo, Norway, we are therefore unlikely to find a final solution to cancer.

Doing research at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Breivik explores the connection between cancer development and Darwinian evolution. In a recent interview with Scientific American, and the research magazine Apollon, published by the University of Oslo, he concludes that “Cancer is a fundamental consequence of the way we are made. We are temporary colonies made by our genes to propagate themselves to the next generation. The ultimate solution to cancer is that we would have to start reproducing ourselves in a different way.”

Read full article here:
News-Medical.Net: Connection Between Cancer Development And Darwinian Evolution Explored

The Evolution Of Man

Filed under: Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 12:48 pm


There exists significant evidence for the evolution of man extending back over 5 million years (and further to man’s ancestors) most of which is based on fossil remains, the geological layer in which the remains were found, and fossils of other species found around them. The fossil record shows a steady development towards modern man.


The following is a list of the various hominids fossils:

Ardipithecus ramidus
Dated at 4.4 million years this is the oldest of the known hominid species (White et al. 1994; Wood 1994). Most of the remains are skull fragments but indirect evidence suggests that it may have been bipedal and around 122 cm (4’0″) tall. Other fossils found with ramidus indicate that it may have been a forest dweller. (White et al. have since discovered a skeleton which is 45% complete, but have not yet published on it.)

Australopithecus anamensis
Named in 1995 these consist of 9 fossils found in Allia Bay, Kenya (Leakey et al. 1995). Anamensis is between 3.9 and 4.2 million years old and has a mixture of primitive features in the skull, and advanced features in the body. The teeth and jaws are very similar to those of older fossil apes. A partial tibia (the larger of the two lower leg bones) is strong evidence of bipedality, and a lower humerus (the upper arm bone) is extremely humanlike.

Australopithecus afarensis
Australopithecus afarensis, between 3.0 and 3.9 million years old, had an apelike face with a low forehead, a bony ridge over the eyes, a flat nose, and no chin. They had protruding jaws with large back teeth. Cranial capacity varied from about 375 to 550 cc. And the skull is similar to that of a chimpanzee, except for the more humanlike teeth (canines are much smaller than those of modern apes but larger & more pointed than those of humans and shape of the jaw is shaped part-way between ape and human. However their pelvis and leg bones far more closely resemble those of modern man leaving no doubt that they were bipedal (pref. walking). The finger and toe bones are curved and proportionally longer than in humans, but the hands are similar to humans in most other details (Johanson and Edey 1981). Most scientists consider this evidence that afarensis was still partially adapted to climbing in trees, others consider it evolutionary baggage.

Australopithecus africanus
Australopithecus africanus, 2 to 3 million years old is similar to afarensis, and was also bipedal, but body size was slightly greater. Brain size may also have been slightly larger, ranging between 420 and 500 cc. This is a little larger than chimp brains (despite a similar body size), but still not advanced in the areas necessary for speech. The back teeth were a little bigger than in afarensis. Although the teeth and jaws of africanus are much larger than those of humans, they are far more similar to human teeth than to those of apes (Johanson and Edey 1981). The shape of the jaw is now fully parabolic, like that of humans, and the size of the canine teeth is further reduced compared to afarensis.

Australopithecus afarensis and africanus are known as gracile australopithecine’s, because of their relatively lighter build, especially in the skull and teeth. Despite this, they were still more robust than modern humans.

Australopithecus aethiopicus
Australopithecus aethiopicus, 2.3 to 2.6 million years old, is known from one major specimen, the Black Skull discovered by Alan Walker, and a few other minor specimens which are thought to belong to the same species. Aethiopicus may be an ancestor of robustus and boisei and its brain size is very small, at 410 cc. Parts of the skull, particularly the hind portions, are primitive and resemble afarensis but others (massive face, the jaws and single tooth found and the largest sagittal crest in any known hominid) are more reminiscent of Australopithecus boisei (Leakey and Lewin 1992).

Australopithecus robustus
Similar to A. africanus, A. robustus had larger and more robust skull and teeth. It existed between 1.5 and 2 million years ago. The massive face is flat or dished, with no forehead and large brow ridges. It has relatively small front teeth, but massive grinding teeth in a large lower jaw. The average brain size is about 530 cc. Bones excavated with robustus skeletons indicate that they may have been used as digging tools.

Australopithecus boisei (was Zinjanthropus boisei)
Australopithecus boisei, 1.1 to 2.1 million years old, was similar to robustus, but the face and cheek teeth were even more massive, some molars being up to 2 cm across. The brain size (530 cc) is very similar to robustus and a few experts consider boisei and robustus to be variants of the same species.

Australopithecus aethiopicus, robustus and boisei are known as robust australopithecine’s, because their skulls in particular are more heavily built.

Homo habilis (“Handy Man”)
Homo habilis, 1.15 to 2.4 million years old, has been found with evidence of tools. It is very similar to the australopithecine’s in many ways e.g. a primitive face but projecting less than in A. africanus. The back teeth are smaller, but still considerably larger than in modern humans. The average brain size, at 650 cc (varies between 500 and 800 cc), is considerably larger than in australopithecine’s and is also more humanlike. The bulge of Broca’s area, essential for speech, is visible in one habilis brain cast, and indicates it was possibly capable of rudimentary speech. Habilis is thought to have been about 127 cm (5’0″) tall, and about 45 kg (100 lb.) in weight, although females may have been smaller.

Habilis has been a controversial species. Some scientists have not accepted it, believing that all habilis specimens should be assigned to either the australopithecine’s or Homo erectus. Many now believe that habilis combines specimens from at least two different Homo species.

Homo erectus
Homo erectus, 300,000 to 1.8 million years old, has protruding jaws with large molars, no chin, thick brow ridges, a long low skull and a significantly larger brain (early specimens averaging around 900 cc, late around 1100 cc – Leakey 1994). Some (Asian) have a sagittal crest and the skeleton is more robust than those of modern humans, implying greater strength. Body proportions vary, the Turkana Boy being tall and slender (like modern humans from the same area) whilst the few limb bones found of Peking Man indicate a shorter, sturdier build. Study of the Turkana Boy indicates that Homo erectus may have been more efficient at walking than modern humans, whose skeletons have had to adapt to allow for the birth of larger-brained infants (Willis 1989). The evidence indicates that Homo habilis and the australopithecines all lived in Africa, but erectus was wide-ranging (Africa, Asia, and Europe). There is evidence that erectus probably used fire, and their stone tools are more sophisticated than those of habilis.

Homo sapiens (archaic)
Archaic forms of Homo sapiens first appear about 500,000 years ago and are so termed because the skulls are diverse and have features of both Homo erectus and modern humans. The brain size is larger than erectus and smaller than most modern humans, averaging about 1200 cc, and the skull is more rounded than in erectus. The skeleton and teeth tend to be less robust than erectus but more so than modern humans with many still featuring large brow ridges, receding foreheads and chins. There is no clear dividing line between late erectus and archaic sapiens, and many fossils between 200,000 and 500,000 years ago are difficult to classify as one or the other.

Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (was Homo neanderthalensis)
Neanderthal man, between 30,000 and 230,000 years old, has an average brain size slightly larger than that of modern humans (about 1450 cc) but it was probably correlated with their greater bulk. The brain case however is longer and lower than that of modern humans, with a marked bulge at the back of the skull and, like erectus, they had a protruding jaw and receding forehead. The chin was usually weak and the mid-facial area protrudes (a feature that is not found in erectus or sapiens) which may have been an adaptation to cold. Neanderthals mostly lived in cold climates, and their body proportions are similar to those of modern cold-adapted peoples: short and solid, with short limbs (males averaged about 168 cm in height). Their bones are thick & heavy, showing signs of powerful muscle attachments, and Neanderthals would have been extraordinarily strong by modern standards … their skeletons show that they endured brutally hard lives. A large number of tools and weapons have been found, indicating greater advancement than Homo erectus. Neanderthals were formidable hunters, and are the first people known to have buried their dead, with the oldest known burial site being about 100,000 years old. They are found throughout Europe and the Middle East and Western European Neanderthals usually have a more robust form: “classic Neanderthals” (Trinkaus and Shipman 1992; Trinkaus and Howells 1979; Gore 1996).

Homo sapiens sapiens (modern)
Modern forms of Homo sapiens first appear about 120,000 years ago (some scientists argue it is more recent).

Modern humans have an average brain size of about 1350 cc. The forehead rises sharply, eyebrow ridges are very small or more usually absent, the chin is prominent, and the skeleton is very gracile. About 40,000 years ago, with the appearance of the Cro-Magnon culture, tool kits started becoming markedly more sophisticated, using a wider variety of raw materials such as bone and antler, and containing new implements for making clothing, engraving and sculpting. Fine artwork, in the form of decorated tools, beads, ivory carvings of humans and animals, clay figurines, musical instruments, and spectacular cave paintings appeared over the next 20,000 years. (Leakey 1994)


Even within the last 100,000 years, the long-term trends towards smaller molars and decreased robustness can be discerned. The face, jaw and teeth of Mesolithic humans (about 10,000 years ago) are about 10% more robust than ours. Upper Palaeolithic humans (about 30,000 years ago) are about 20 to 30% more robust than the modern condition in Europe and Asia. These are considered modern humans, although they are sometimes termed “primitive”. Interestingly, some modern humans (aboriginal Australians) have tooth sizes more typical of archaic sapiens. The smallest tooth sizes are found in those areas where food-processing techniques have been used for the longest time. This is a probable example of natural selection that has occurred within the last 10,000 years (Brace 1983).


  • “Evolution of Man”, (Author Unknown).
  • Hominid Species”, Jim Foley (1997)

Just So

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Science,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 12:18 pm

*** Originally posted by ‘Odd Digit’ of SJS ***

One things that the attackers of science (including ID advocates) frequently do is accuse scientists of constructing ‘just-so stories’.

This is first of all a deeply ironic claim, given that the ID advocates either are unable to or refuse to identify any candidate for a designer. Therefore the ID ‘explanation’ for – well – everything is: ‘an unknown intelligent designer did it using unknown methods for unspecified reasons at an unknown time’.

The above doesn’t even reach the lofty heights of a ‘just-so story’ because there is absolutely no detail whatsoever. At least Kipling supplied some detail with his stories, even if it was entirely fanciful!

So, let’s contrast this contentless, meaningless ID ‘explanation’ with some examples of the kinds of evolutionary narratives that the ID advocates claim are ‘just-so stories’, and see if we can spot any differences.

I’m going to use gene duplication as my example. I’m not going to reference any scientific journals whatsoever in this section.

‘Just-So’ Story

A scientist while investigating a bacterial genome discovered that two genes doing apparently different tasks were almost identical in sequence, only differing by a few base pairs. This was a very interesting discovery, and the scientist decided to investigate a bit further. The first thing he did was to sit down and think about ways in which this related genes could have been produced. He came up with a few explanations, but the one he thought was the most likely was that the original gene had been copied (duplicated) in it’s entirety, and then one of the copies had been changed by point mutations until was performing a different task to the original.

(The above explanation is typically labelled a ‘just-so story’ by ID advocates. We have some evidence. The scientist has constructed a explanation to account for it. There is no other evidence at this point that the explanation is correct. Science typically refers to these kinds of explanations as ‘hypotheses’, and they are acknowledged to be entirely tentative in nature.)

Having come up with a perfectly reasonable explanation for the origin of these two very similar genes what does the scientists do next? Does he drop the subject having explained it to his satisfaction and then move on to his next project? Actually he doesn’t. He decides that this hypothesis needs testing to see if it actually correct. So the scientist has a think about what predictions he can make from his hypothesis, and how he can therefore design some tests for it.

If this gene duplication has occurred once, the scientist thinks it is likely that similar duplications could have occurred elsewhere in the genome. So finding other related pairs of genes (‘homologs’) would be additional evidence to strengthen the explanation. There may be multiple duplication events to create a ‘family’ of related genes, which would provide more evidence. There is a chance that having had a duplication event, one of the copies could lose it’s start sequence and become ‘redundant’, finding these would also provide extra evidence. And of course the best evidence of all would be to have an organism with a fully sequenced genome and to have a duplication event actually happen, so when the genome is examined again later there are now two (or more) copies of a gene where before there was one.

(So the whole point of the scientific hypothesis above is that can be used to create testable predictions. This is why it is not a ‘just-so story’. It’s a starting place for further investigation. The hypothesis might turn out to be wrong or incomplete.)

The scientist then widens his search and looks for other closely related pairs of genes. And he finds them. And so do other scientists in other organisms. He looks for families of related genes. He finds those too. And so do other scientists. He looks for redundant genes (‘pseudogenes’). And finds them. As do other scientists. Other scientists using his research as a basis observe the duplication event occuring. The gene duplication hypothesis moves from being a tentative hypothesis to being a known evolutionary mechanism with multiple strands of overlapping evidence that are fully consistent with each other.

Other scientists use the now known and familiar concept of redundant pseudogenes to form their own hypotheses. One group start with the observation that most mammals have a gene for producing vitamin C and chimps and humans do not have this gene. This group of scientists use the two known (and repeatably tested and confirmed) phenomena of common descent and redundant pseudogenes to predict that the ancestor of chimps and humans once had a functional vitamin C gene and that it has become a redundant pseudogene. They also predict that that the human and chimp redundant pseudogenes will be more closely related to each other (less small point mutations) than the chimps will be with various other ape species. They look for the redundant vitamin C pseudogene in humans and chimps. And they find them. And sequence analysis shows the close relationship exactly as predicted.

So from the first original predictive testable hypothesis we have spawned a whole raft of new experiments, repeatedly tested and confirmed the predictions of the hypothesis and used the new mechanism to drive the next round of scientific hypotheses. Just so.

The Real Science

Of course at the moment the above is just my condensed version of the kind of events that led to the discovery of gene duplication and redundant pseudogenes. No scientific narrative is ever complete without references to the real science.

A pubmed search on the term “gene duplication” gives more than 3000 references, some of them are below.

Gene families include the hemoglobin/myoglobin family, the immunoglobulin superfamily, the family of seven-membrane-spanning domain proteins, the G-protein family, the serine protease family and the homeobox family.

Observation of gene duplication:

Brown, C. J., K. M. Todd and R. F. Rosenzweig, 1998. Multiple duplications of yeast hexose transport genes in response to selection in a glucose-limited environment. Molecular Biology and Evolution 15(8): 931-942.

Evolution of duplicate genes:

Hughes, A. L. and R. Friedman, 2003. Parallel evolution by gene duplication in the genomes of two unicellular fungi. Genome Research 13(5): 794-799.

Lynch, M. and J. S. Conery, 2000. The evolutionary fate and consequences of duplicate genes. Science 290: 1151-1155. See also Pennisi, E., 2000. Twinned genes live life in the fast lane. Science 290: 1065-1066.

Ohta, T., 2003. Evolution by gene duplication revisited: differentiation of regulatory elements versus proteins. Genetica 118(2-3): 209-216.

Park, I.-S., C.-H. Lin and C. T. Walsh, 1996. Gain of D-alanyl-D-lactate or D-lactyl-D-alanine synthetase activities in three active-site mutants of the Escherichia coli D-alanyl-D-alanine ligase B. Biochemistry 35: 10464-10471.

Zhang, J., Y.-P. Zhang and H. F. Rosenberg, 2002. Adaptive evolution of a duplicated pancreatic ribonuclease gene in a leaf-eating monkey. Nature Genetics 30: 411-415. See also: Univ. of Michigan, 2002, How gene duplication helps in adapting to changing environments.

The ‘missing’ vitamin C gene:

Nishikimi, M., R. Fukuyama, et al. (1994) “Cloning and chromosomal mapping of the human nonfunctional gene for L-gulono-gamma-lactone oxidase, the enzyme for L-ascorbic acid biosynthesis missing in man.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 269: 13685-13688.

Ohta, Y. and Nishikimi, M. (1999) “Random nucleotide substitutions in primate nonfunctional gene for L-gulano-gamma-lactone oxidiase, the missing enzyme in L-ascorbind acid biosynthesis.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 1472: 408-411.

Some more examples of human redundant pseudogenes:

Rouquier, S., A. Blancher, et al. (2000) “The olfactory receptor gene repertoire in primates and mouse: Evidence for reduction of the functional fraction in primates.” PNAS 97: 2870-2874.

Haag, F., Koch-Nolte, F. et al. (1994) “Premature stop codons inactivate the RT6 genes of the human and chimpanzee species.” Journal of Molecular Biology 243: 537-546.

In conclusion

So the ID claim that evolutionary narratives are ‘just-so stories’ is patently, demonstrably false. Evolutionary narratives when they are first hypothesised are acknowledged to be tentative and a mere starting point for further investigation. Once the real science has been done, evolutionary narratives themselves can ‘evolve’ from tentative hypotheses to become tested, known and fully accepted mechanims of evolution. These mechanisms can then be used as the basis for further tentative hypotheses, in the confidence that the mechanisms themselves are well known and repeatedly demonstrated.

Let’s finish by once more contrasting this with the ID position. Given that ID is merely a ‘inference’ of design which is baseless without any detail concerning the designer, the mechanisms of the design, the timeframe of the design or the intentions of the designer, there is literally nothing we can pull out of here in order to make predictions or perform tests. Even Kiplings fantastical ‘Just So’ stories are theoretically testable. ID can’t even claim that.

The Scientific Method

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 10:37 am

The following discussion is designed to explain how science as a methodology applies to the real world.

Science is a methodology and any interpretations based with the scientific knowledge base should be necessarily derived from properly derived data. By “scientifically derived” I refer to the characteristics of science which were necessarily established during the US legal trial, McLean? v. Arkansas Board of Education, 1996:

  • It is guided by natural law and is explanatory by reference to those natural laws;

  • It is testable against the empirical world;

  • Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and

  • It is falsifiable.

“Science” which begins with an unshakeable assumption, is not true science. True science is about having no assumptions until they have been accepted through the application of evidence and have demonstrated resilience to genuine falsifiability experiments. Though “creation science” (the foundation upon which the newer “Intelligent Design” theory is built) was once the predominant “scientific” theory it was outmoded in geological terms in the early 1800’s, in natural history terms in the mid 1800’s and in genetic terms in the late 1800′, early 1900’s. The evidence against “scientific creationism” (another near identical variant of “creation science”) is now so huge that it is no longer considered to be an adequate theory (and even ‘hypothesis’ is an inadequate term for creationism in this day & age) to explain the nature of the universe as it is understood today.

A scientific theory is not a guess or an approximation but an extensive explanation developed from well-documented and reproducible sets of data derived from experiments, which repeatedly observe natural processes. From such data models are developed and it is important to note that these models (and their subsequent outcomes) are not decided in advance but can be modified and improved as new empirical evidence is uncovered. Science is constantly subject to peer-review and can be seen to be a self-correcting attempt to understand nature and the observable universe. Science is not teleological that is to say theories do not start with a conclusion, refuse to change and acknowledge only data that the initial conclusion supports. Further, science does not base its theories on untestable collections of dogmatic, mythical or mystical proposals but is characterised by questions, hypothetical proposals, design of empirical models and conceptual frameworks with the aim of researching natural events.

Science is naturalistic in the sense that it is the study of the natural universe turning to the natural universe as a source of the explanation. This can be called methodological naturalism, because it defines the methods and language that are admissible in the scientific study. Many (but not all) scientists are also philosophical (ontological) naturalists; that is, they believe that the physical universe uncovered by science is all that there is. This is a philosophical position consistent with methodological naturalism, but by no means a necessarily consequence of it, as the existence of religious scientists attests. Methodological naturalism is also entirely consistent with a sophisticated, inquiring religious faith.

The scientific method relies upon two phases, those of observation and hypothesis or theory. Hypotheses and theories differ where a hypothesis is the less certain … theories, as mentioned above, are considered to be widely accepted and fully formed explanations of observable data. It is worth noting that scientific laws are theries themselves; simply generalised descriptions of the behaviour of ideal or isolated systems and will seldom, if ever, occur exactly as predicted in the real world because the only truly naturally occurring, isolated system is the universe itself. Hypotheses, although not as certain as theories, must still be verifiable or repeatable, falsifiable and must only use as accepted facts theories which have yet to be found flawed. All laws, theories and hypotheses are constantly under “attack” and may be removed from understood science in one of two ways … an observation may be made which does not fit the hypothesis forcing modification or a new experiment may be devised that proves the hypothesis to be false. While any given theory may ultimately turn out to be incorrect it is in this way that science continues to be certain that each theory represents our best current explanation of the phenomena under consideration.

As outlined in the US legal trial, McLean? v. Arkansas Board of Education, 1996 the major characteristics of the scientific method are that it is guided & explainable by natural law, verifiable (testable against the empirical world), tentative (its conclusions are not absolute and that it is falsifiable:

Natural Law
Natural law is central to science. Natural laws are broad generalisations, essentially descriptions, of the way nature has been repeatedly observed to operate. If a phenomenon depends on supernatural intervention, then it is not relying on natural laws, it is not explanatory by reference to natural law and is hence not scientific. (Overton, 1982)

Another essential characteristic of science is the requirement that a scientific theory be falsifiable, that it be testable and most scientific theories have some trouble with this criterion. Historically based theories such as evolution cannot turn history back so we can view it directly but in that it is no different from many other forms of science. Of course no one can literally look directly back to any time prior to their own lifetimes so what are we to do? Would the critics of science have us assume that everything before our own time is untrue?

Once a hypothesis has been tested through observation/experiment and/or prediction it must be possible for other experimenters to repeat those self-same observations. That verification may employ the same experimental techniques or different ones but it must be possible.

Scientists often say there are no hard facts, that is to say that nothing is “set in stone” in science, although being human, scientists are often reluctant to give up long-standing theories. From this (and from verification) it can be seen that science is self-correcting. If a given hypothesis or theory does not fit the available evidence it is modified or it is discarded to be replaced with one that better fits the observations… it really is that simple.

Within science many things are not directly observable. No scientist is able to see within the heart of a star or planet, no one has directly observed “black-holes”, dinosaurs, gravity or sub-atomic molecules but much data is available concerning these objects and few scientists doubt the validity of such findings. “Black holes” are not directly visible but scientists searching for explanations of the beginning of our universe hypothesised their existence and the effects that would be caused by such bodies and several such bodies were later identified.

Whilst it may not always be possible to demonstrate how something happened in much of science it is often possible to demonstrate how something could have happened. Having demonstrated how something could happen that hypothesis can be used to predict other events and thus confirm or deny their own validity.

At the root of any theory or scientifically derived conclusion there should be a reasonable interpretation of scientifically derived data that means that data that was acquired non-scientifically can be disqualified. Hypotheses do not necessarily require such supporting evidence because hypotheses are essentially unproven assumptions. Nevertheless hypotheses have significant value in that they can form the framework for further research and may, one day, evolve into theories.

Many individuals are under the mistaken apprehension that to carry out science it is necessary conduct experiments … this is a vastly over-simplified view. Science requires that a hypothesis or model is formulated and that that is then tested against observations to determine its validity. Experiments are just one means of generating those observations that the validation of a given hypothesis requires. Stars & volcanoes have never been built in laboratories but science nevertheless knows a great deal about such objects.

In general, claims that science opposes the inspired word of a given religion’s god are unwarranted; scriptural interpretation is rarely so straightforward that a literal reading suffices. In the main, while religions do make claims about the world, and while some of these claims may be subject to scientific scrutiny, the core claims of most religions are historical or philosophical in nature, and are thus the preserve of those disciplines.

As for claims that science or theories and disciplines within science are simply religions in themselves, whilst it must be admitted that some individuals do follow science in such a manner, science neither requests nor requires faith in any measure beyond a belief in an ordered, comprehensible universe, and apart from that, shares none of the main characteristics associated with religious belief systems.

“The Talk.Origins Archive Feedback: August 1999”, Kenneth Fair
“The Talk.Origins Archive Feedback: July 1997”, John Wilkins
“Information For All Biologists”, Dr. Morden
“Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism”, Kitcher (1982)
National Center for Science Education 1999

23 April 2007

Creationists Don’t Understand Parsimony Again

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Science,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 1:46 pm

*** Originally posted by Chris Hyland of SJS ***

A claim you’ll often hear is that just because two species, genes etc. share a common ancestor it does not prove that they weren’t intelligently designed. While if you ignore all other evidence apart from the similarity this is technically true, there are a few problems with the argument. The DI claims:

My hope is that one day thinking about Darwinian Theory will become clearer in the public square. Recall that Darwin made two claims:

  1. All living beings descend from one or a few original ancestors, and
  2. The mechanism driving the changes among species is the blind, unguided mechanism of natural selection.

The controversial claim, of course, is the second one—the idea that a purely material mechanism, without any intelligence involved, is responsible for all of the genetic information necessary for life (DNA) and hence for all of life’s diversity.

Clines and others seem to think that evidence for claim one establishes claim two. This is poor thinking. Sequence similarity may indeed be evidence for a common origin—but it does nothing to show that the common origin stems from a material cause rather than an intelligent cause.

Unfortunately when you are looking at a genetic similarity, you have to take into account the massive amount of research which shows that natural selection has been* a major driving force in evolution. Combine this with the fact that there is no evidence that intelligent forces have been* involved in evolution, and parsimony tells us to accept the option that invokes the least unknown entities, and so we end up with evolution.

Second, the 98.8% DNA sequence similarity between chimps and humans that Clines references do not even establish claim one (common ancestry). And “you don’t have to take my word for it,” as LeVar Burton always used to say on Reading Rainbow.

As Francis Collins, head of the project which mapped the human genome, has written of DNA sequence similarities, “This evidence alone does not, of course, prove a common ancestor” because an intelligent cause can reuse successful design principles. We know this because we are intelligent agents ourselves, and we do this all the time. We take instructions we have written for one thing and use them for another. The similarity is not the result of a blind mechanism but rather the result of our intelligent activity.

Here we see the same thing, we are being asked to accept an option that involves the invocation of an extraordinary entity we have no empirical evidence for, when we have another option. It is certainly true that we cannot disprove an intelligent entity was involved in this case, but science is a process that is constrained by several practical implications, one of which forces us to choose the most parsimonious information.

* We require evidence that a process actually was involved, not simply capable. Creationists claim that intelligent processes are capable of generating life, however this does not show that they actually did in a particular case. What we do have is plenty of evidence that evolutionary mechanisms have actually been involved in the diversification of life, not just the knowledge that they are capable.

Attacks On Science

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Education,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 12:25 pm
*** Originally posted by Tim Hague at SJS ***

The latest round of attacks on science in the USA (and just recently in the UK) from Intelligent Design Creationism is just one in a long trail of such attacks. This article discusses the history of the various attacks on science and evolution.

Most of this content has been reproduced by kind permission of Lenny Flank at Creation Science Debunked.

Introduction To Creationism

The term “scientific creationism” (and its new incarnation as “intelligent design theory”) is a fairly recent label for an old ideology. Almost as soon as Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, it became the focus of attack by religious fundamentalists who asserted that the Bible was the literal, revealed word of God, and was true and correct in all its proclamations. The Biblical story of Genesis, according to the fundamentalists’ literal interpretation, states that the universe was created by God less than 10,000 years ago, in six 24-hour days, and that all life was created, in its present form, during a two-day period of time. Further, at some point in the recent past there occurred a world-wide flood, which killed all life on earth except for those organisms that were saved on Noah’s Ark. All living organisms, the creationists assert, are direct descendants of the organisms which Noah had with him on the ark, and all human beings are direct descendants of Noah and the seven relatives he had with him on the ark. In its original form, creationism was an openly religious viewpoint, which advocated the Biblical creation story instead of the “godless atheistic” Darwinian viewpoint. The original creationists flatly asserted that there have been no new species since the day of creation and no species have been lost (except for those that drowned in the Flood).

1920’s – The Scopes Trial

The high point of the creationist movement came in the early decades of the 20th century, when several states (mostly in the southern “Bible Belt”) passed laws making it illegal to teach evolution. In 1928, for instance, the state of Arkansas passed a law (by referendum) making it illegal to teach “the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals.” (Arkansas Initiated Act 1, 1928, cited in Eldredge 1982, p. 15 and LaFollette, 1983, p. 5) The Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925 resulted when the ACLU deliberately violated such a “monkey law” (the Butler Act, which made it against the law to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals” (Tennessee Legislature Act , 1925, cited in Eldredge 1982, p. 14) ) in order to test its constitutionality. Scopes was convicted of violating the state’s anti-evolution law, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality. After the trial, several states, including Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, kept their monkey laws on the books, but made little effort to enforce them.

1950’s & 1960’s – Science On The Rise

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite, shocking the United States out of its intellectual complacency and dramatically illustrating the inadequacy of science education in the US. In response to the new “space race”, Congress passed a number of laws like the National Defence Foreign Languages Act and the National Defence Education Act, instituting a crash program to bring American science education up to par. One of these new programs was the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, begun in 1959, to produce new up-to-date biology textbooks. Written by professional scientists in their fields, the BSCS texts prominently featured evolutionary theory as the foundation of all the biological sciences. Within a few years, nearly half the high schools in the country were using BSCS biology textbooks, despite the fact that anti-evolution laws were still on the books in a number of states.

In 1961, the Tennessee state legislature attempted to repeal the Butler Act, but failed after an acrimonious debate, during which one legislator equated evolutionists with communists: “Any persons or any groups who assist in any way to undermine faith in the teachings of the Bible are working in harmony with communism.” (W. Dykeman and J. Stokely, “Scopes and Evolution–The Jury is Still Out”, New York Times Magazine, March 12, 1971, p. 72) In 1967, teacher Gary Scott of Jacksboro, Tennessee was fired for violating the Butler Act. He fought his firing in court and won, and the Butler Act was finally ruled unconstitutional by the Federal courts.

1960’s & 1970’s – Evolution Fights Back

Shortly afterwards, Arkansas biology teacher Susanne Epperson filed a court challenge to the Arkansas monkey law. When the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the law, Epperson appealed to the US Supreme Court, which ruled in 1968 that all state monkey laws were unconstitutional, on the grounds that they served to establish a state-supported religion and eroded the separation of church and state. The anti-evolution laws, the Court decided, were nothing more than “an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, taken literally.” (US Supreme Court, Epperson v Arkansas, 1968)

In 1973, just six years after repealing the Scopes anti-evolution law, the Tennessee State Legislature passed a replacement for the Butler Act. The new law stated, “Any biology textbook used for teaching in the public schools, which expresses an opinion of, or relates a theory about origins or creation of man and his world shall (give). . . an equal amount of emphasis on . . . the Genesis account in the Bible.” (Public Acts of Tennessee, 1973, Chapter 377, cited in LaFollette, 1983, p. 80) Within two years, this law had also been struck down by the Federal Courts, which ruled that the Tennessee law was “a clearly defined preferential position for the Biblical version of creation as opposed to any account of the development of man based on scientific research and reasoning. For a state to seek to enforce such preference by law is to seek to accomplish the very establishment of religion which the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States squarely forbids.” (US District Court, Daniel v Waters, 1975)

1980’s – Creation Science ‘Evolves’

In response to this ruling and the earlier Epperson Supreme Court decision, the creationist movement made the tactical decision to downplay the religious aspects of creationism, and began to argue that creationism could be supported solely through scientific evidence, without any reference to God or the Bible. Thus was born “creation science”–it is nothing more than an attempt by the fundamentalists to sneak their religious views into the classroom by pretending that they are really a “science”.

In 1981, the state of Arkansas passed a law, Act 590, mandating that “creation science” be given equal time in public schools with evolution. A dozen or so clergymen of differing denominations, supported by legal help from the ACLU, sued and argued that creation “science” was nothing more than fundamentalist Biblical literalism pretending to be science. Creationists from the Creation Research Society argued to the court that their viewpoint was a scientific model and not based at all on religion. Judge William Overton, after listening to both sides, was unconvinced by the creationists’ arguments, and ruled that creation “science” was not a science, but was merely an attempt to introduce religious beliefs into the public school system, and was therefore unconstitutional.

Under the US Constitution, it is illegal for the Federal Government or for any state to pass a law which establishes government support for any religious view, or which serves to advance any particular religious view. The “Balanced Treatment Law”, Judge Overton concluded, violated this “Establishment Clause”.

“The evidence is overwhelming, that both the purpose and the effect of Act 590 is the advancement of religion in the public schools.”
(Overton Opinion, McLean v Arkansas, 1981)

Citing a number of letters and statements made by the creationists themselves, the judge concluded …

“Act 590 is a religious crusade, coupled with a desire to conceal this fact”.
(Overton Opinion, McLean v Arkansas, 1981)

“The proof in support of creation science consisted almost entirely of efforts to discredit the theory of evolution through a rehash of data and theories which have been before the scientific community for decades. The arguments asserted by creationists are not based upon new scientific evidence or laboratory data which has been ignored by the scientific community.”
(Overton Opinion, McLean v Arkansas, 1981)

“The creationists’ methods do not take data, weigh it against the opposing scientific data, and thereafter reach the conclusions stated in Section 4(a). Instead, they take the literal wording of the Book of Genesis and attempt to find scientific support for it.”
(Overton Opinion, McLean v Arkansas, 1981)

“Creation science, has no scientific merit or educational value as science . . . Since creation science is not science, the conclusion is inescapable that the only real effect of Act 590 is the advancement of religion.”
(Overton Opinion, McLean v Arkansas, 1981).

The Arkansas monkey law was ruled unconstitutional and was thrown out.

1980’s – Creation Science Keeps Trying

The creationists, however, were unbowed. As the state representative who sponsored Act 590 told the newspapers,

“If we lose, it won’t matter that much. If the law is unconstitutional, it’ll be because of something in the language that’s wrong . . . . So we’ll just change the wording and try again with another bill . . . We got a lot of time. Eventually we’ll get one that is constitutional.”
(Washington Post, December 7, 1981)

On the very day that Judge Overton ruled the Arkansas law unconstitutional, the Mississippi State Legislature passed a similar “Balanced Treatment” bill by a vote of 48-4.

Creationists tended to view the Arkansas ruling as a fluke, pointing out that the state Attorney General had refused to allow prominent creationist lawyers to assist in the case (prompting charges from fundamentalists that he “hadn’t really been trying” to win the case). In Louisiana, where the State Legislature had passed a “Balanced Treatment” bill mandating equal classroom time for “creation science” and “evolution science”, the creationists finally got their chance for an all-out attack, led by Wendell Bird, the creationist lawyer who had drafted many of the model “balanced treatment” bills. Despite their efforts, the bill was struck down in January 1985 by a Federal judge, who concluded that the law was unconstitutional “because it promotes the beliefs of some theistic sects to the detriment of others.” (US District Court, Edwards v Aguilard, 1985, cited in Berra, 1990, p. 137) This ruling was upheld by a Federal Court of Appeals six months later, and the creationists appealed to the US Supreme Court.

In June 1987, the Supreme Court ruled against the creationists, concluding by a vote of 7-2 that the purpose of creation “science” was “to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint.” (US Supreme Court, Edwards v Aguilard, 1987) “The pre-eminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature,” the Court decided, “was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind.” (US Supreme Court, Edwards v Aguilard, 1987)

“Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious belief, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. . . . The Act violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it seeks to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose.”
(US Supreme Court, Edwards v Aguilard, 1987)

As a result of this decision, all existing “Balanced Treatment” laws were thrown out.

1980’s & 1990’s – Creation Science Changes Tack And Claims: “Evolution Is Religion”

Following this defeat, however, the creation scientists once again changed their tactics. First, they moved their focus from attempting to pass state laws mandating the teaching of creation “science” to attempting to pressure textbook committees and local school boards (where their highly organized and well-financed political machines can exert tremendous influence) into voluntarily granting equal time for “creation science”. Secondly, they have changed their arguments–now, instead of arguing that creationism is a science and should therefore be taught in public schools, they have argued that creationism really is religion, but so is evolution–evolution is, they now said, really nothing more than the “religion” of “secular humanism”, and therefore evolution should not be taught in public schools either. This argument has already failed in a number of Federal courts.

In 1981, a prominent creationist in California sued to have the teaching of evolution removed from the classroom on the grounds that it violated his and his children’s Constitutional right to free exercise of their religion. In response, the California Superior Court ruled that teaching evolution in science class does not establish a religion or interfere with the religious rights of any citizens (Sacramento Superior Court,Segraves v California, 1981).

The issue came up again in 1994, when a California biology teacher sued the state and the local school district, claiming that teaching evolution illegally established the “religion of secular humanism”. The teacher also claimed that the state and school district were conspiring against him as a result of their “group animus towards practising Christians” (US Circuit Court, Peloza v New Capistrano School District, 1994).

The Court ruled …

“Adding ‘ism’ does not change the meaning nor magically metamorphose ‘evolution’ into a religion. ‘Evolution’ and ‘evolutionism’ define a biological concept: higher life forms evolve from lower ones. The concept has nothing to do with how the universe was created; it has nothing to do with whether or not there is a divine Creator (who did or did not create the universe or did or did not plan evolution as part of a divine scheme). ”
(US Circuit Court, Peloza v New Capistrano School District, 1994)

The court rather sardonically noted …

“On a motion to dismiss we are required to read the complaint charitably, to take all well-pleaded facts as true, and to assume that all general allegations embrace whatever specific facts might be necessary to support them. Charitably read, Peloza’s complaint at most makes this claim: the school district’s actions establish a state-supported religion of evolutionism, or more generally of ‘secular humanism.’ According to Peloza’s complaint, all persons must adhere to one of two religious belief systems concerning ‘the origins of life and of the universe:’ evolutionism, or creationism. Thus, the school district, in teaching evolutionism, is establishing a state-supported ‘religion.’ We reject this claim because neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are ‘religions’ for Establishment Clause purposes. Indeed, both the dictionary definition of religion and the clear weight of the case law are to the contrary.”
(US Circuit Court, Peloza v New Capistrano School District, 1994)

“Evolutionist theory is not a religion, Plaintiff’s assertions that the teaching of evolution would be a violation of the Establishment Clause is unfounded.”
(US Circuit Court, Peloza v New Capistrano School District, 1994)

The court concluded that Peloza’s case was “frivolous” and ordered him to compensate the state and school board for costs and attorney fees.

Another Change Of Tack – “Evolution Is Just A Theory”

One of the newest creationist tactics has been to lobby state textbook committees to either drop mention of evolutionary biology altogether, or to add a “disclaimer” to their texts opining that evolution is “just a theory”. On January 16, 1998, for instance, the Washington State Senate introduced a bill requiring that all science textbooks contain a printed disclaimer stating that evolution is only a “theory”, and listing a series of inaccurate criticisms of evolution. The bill is a virtual word-for-word copy of an earlier proposal passed by the Alabama state Board of Education in November, 1995. The Washington bill reads:

All science textbooks purchased with state moneys must have the following notice placed prominently in them.


This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals, and humans.

No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.

The word “evolution” may refer to many types of change. Evolution describes changes that occur within a species. (White moths, for example, may “evolve” into grey moths.) This process is micro-evolution, which can be observed and described as fact. Evolution may also refer to the change of one living thing to another, such as reptiles into birds. This process, called macro-evolution, has never been observed and should be considered a theory. Evolution also refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things.

“There are many unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including:

  • Why did the major groups of animals suddenly appear in the fossil record (known as the “Cambrian Explosion”)?
  • Why have no new major groups of living things appeared in the fossil record for a long time?
  • Why do major groups of plants and animals have no transitional forms in the fossil record?
  • How did you and all living things come to possess such a complete and complex set of “Instructions” for building a living body?”

In April 1994, the Tangipahoa School Board, in Louisiana, passed a policy mandating that a disclaimer be presented before any discussion of evolutionary theory. The policy states:

Whenever, in classes of elementary or high school, the scientific theory of evolution is to be presented, whether from textbook, workbook, pamphlet, other written material, or oral presentation, the following statement shall be quoted immediately before the unit of study begins as a disclaimer from endorsement of such theory.

It is hereby recognized by the Tangipahoa Board of Education, that the lesson to be presented, regarding the origin of life and matter, is known as the Scientific Theory of Evolution and should be presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept.

It is further recognized by the Board of Education that it is the basic right and privilege of each student to form his/her own opinion and maintain beliefs taught by parents on this very important matter of the origin of life and matter. Students are urged to exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and closely examine each alternative toward forming an opinion.

A number of parents in the school district filed suit. In the Freiler v Tangipahoa Board of Education case, the Federal District judge ruled that the disclaimer was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. This decision was upheld on appeal by the Federal Circuit Court. In its opinion upholding the appeal, the Circuit Court writes:

“We conclude that the primary effect of the disclaimer is to protect and maintain a particular religious viewpoint, namely belief in the Biblical version of creation,” and noted that the stated purpose of the disclaimer, to “exercise critical thinking”, was “a sham”
(US Circuit Court, Freiler v Tangipahoa Board of Ed, 1999) .

“In reaching this conclusion, we rely on the interplay of three factors: (1) the juxtaposition of the disavowal of endorsement of evolution with an urging that students contemplate alternative theories of the origin of life; (2) the reminder that students have the right to maintain beliefs taught by their parents regarding the origin of life; and (3) the ‘Biblical version of Creation’ as the only alternative theory explicitly referenced in the disclaimer.”
(US Circuit Court, Freiler v Tangipahoa Board of Ed 1999)

In June 2000, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the Freiler case and let the Circuit Court’s ruling stand.

2000’s – Into A New Century: More Disclaimer Stickers

In February 2000, the Attorney General of Oklahoma ruled that the State Education Board there had no legal authority to require biology textbooks to carry a disclaimer similar to the ones in Washington and Louisiana. He also concluded that the Board had violated state law by adopting the proposed disclaimer without previous public notice or discussion. Just a few weeks later, the Board voted to reject a total of five biology textbooks because they discussed evolution.

The Freiler ruling made it likely that all the remaining “disclaimers” would also be rejected by the Courts on Constitutional grounds. And indeed, the creationists lost yet another “disclaimer” case in January 2005, when a Federal judge in Georgia ruled that such disclaimers violated the separation of church and state. Judge Clarence Cooper wrote …

“Due to the manner in which the sticker refers to evolution as a theory, the sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life. The distinction of evolution as a theory rather than a fact is the distinction that religiously motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolution movement, and that was exactly what parents in Cobb County did in this case. The school board has effectively improperly entangled itself with religion by appearing to take a position. Therefore, the sticker must be removed from all of the textbooks into which it has been placed.”
(Selman v Cobb County School District, US District Court, January 2005)

Just as had creation “scientists” at the time of their loss in Arkansas, the ID’ers immediately began whining that they had only lost because the lawyer for the county had presented “an incompetent defence” of the law. (“Incompetent Defence by Cobb County Attorney May Have Caused School District Loss”, Discovery Institute Website, January 13, 2005)

However, despite their steady string of losses regarding “disclaimer stickers”, the creationist movement at the same time has been pursuing an alternative strategy.

The First Signs Of Intelligent Design

In 2001, the Discovery Institute, which argues in favour of a new form of creationism known as “intelligent design theory”, took the anti-evolution issue to the Federal level. “Intelligent design theory” is a watered-down version of creationism which attempted to avoid falling afoul of Constitutional conflicts by removing nearly all of the previously accepted tenets of creationism. Rather than a “creator”, ID “theory” speaks of an unnamed “intelligent designer”, which they make no effort to identify. In order to avoid identification with Genesis or other religious beliefs, “intelligent design theory” makes no statements about the age of the earth, or any of the particular actions which the “intelligent designer” may or may not have done. By limiting ID “theory” to vague assertions and inferences, advocates hope to avoid identifying their “scientific theory” with religion, and thus to avoid the Constitutional issues that had doomed all of the previous anti-evolution efforts.

The “intelligent design” movement got its first legal test in June 2001, when the Senate was debating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Authorization Bill (later renamed the “No Child Left Behind” Act). During the debate, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum introduced an amendment that had been partially written by Discovery Institute lawyer Phillip Johnson (and based on a law journal article written by Discovery Institute activist David DeWolf). The Santorum Amendment, introduced as a “sense of the Senate” resolution, read:

“It is the sense of the Senate that (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.”

Because the House version of the No Child Left Behind Act did not include any corresponding version of the Santorum Amendment, a House/Senate Conference Committee was required to reach agreement on a joint bill to be agreed upon by boht chambers of Congress. After a flood of letters and testimony from prominent science and education groups pointed out that the Santorum amendment was nothing but a thinly veiled excuse for teaching “intelligent design theory” in classrooms, the conference committee dropped the amendment, noting, in their Conference Report, “The conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.” When the final version of the No Child Left Behind bill was passed by both the House and the Senate, it did not contain any portion of the Santorum Amendment.

Creationists/IDers and their supporters have, however, attempted to claim that the No Child Left Behind bill not only permits but actually requires schools to teach “intelligent design theory”. Santorum himself, for instance, wrote in March 2002, “At the beginning of the year, President Bush signed into law the “No Child Left Behind” bill. The new law includes a science education provision where Congress states that “where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist. If the Education Board of Ohio does not include intelligent design in the new teaching standards, many students will be denied a first-rate science education.” (Washington Times, March 14, 2002, cited in “ID-Activists-Guide”, NCSE website). Two Ohio Congressmen also claimed, “The Santorum language is now part of the law”. (Washington Times, March 20, 2002, cited in “ID-Activists-Guide”). Neither of these claims, of course, are true — the Santorum language was dropped from the bill in committee, and the only time it is mentioned is in the accompanying Conference Report, which is not a part of the bill and has no legal force or authority.

Intelligent Design In Ohio

The topic of the Santorum Amendment was brought up in Ohio as the result of another legal effort by the Discovery Institute to force “intelligent design theory” into school classrooms. In early 2002, the state of Ohio was carrying out a review of its state wide science curriculum, when chemist Robert Lattimer objected to the prominence of evolution in the science standards, and lobbied for inclusion of “intelligent design theory” as a “scientific alternative” to evolution. The effort attracted the attention of the Discovery Institute, which unleashed all its lobbying abilities in an effort to push ID “theory” into the Ohio science standards. Friendly legislators introduced a bill into the state House of Representatives which would:

“Require that whenever an explanation for the origins of life and its diversity is included in the instructional program of a school district or educational service centre the instructional program shall encourage the presentation of scientific evidence objectively and disclose the historical nature of origins of life science and any material assumptions on which the explanation is based.”

The bill read:

“Sec. 3313.6013. It is the intent of the general assembly that to enhance the effectiveness of science education and to promote academic freedom and the neutrality of state government with respect to teachings that touch religious and non-religious beliefs, it is necessary and desirable that “origins science,” which seeks to explain the origins of life and its diversity, be conducted and taught objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption. To further this intent, the instructional program provided by any school district or educational service centre shall do all of the following:

(A) Encourage the presentation of scientific evidence regarding the origins of life and its diversity objectively and without religious, naturalistic, or philosophic bias or assumption;

(B) Require that whenever explanations regarding the origins of life are presented, appropriate explanation and disclosure shall be provided regarding the historical nature of origins science and the use of any material assumption which may have provided a basis for the explanation being presented;

(C) Encourage the development of curriculum that will help students think critically, understand the full range of scientific views that exist regarding the origins of life, and understand why origins science may generate controversy.” (Ohio House Bill 481)”

The Discovery Institute brought out all its big guns in Ohio, including such luminaries as Johnson and Dembski, but in the end, the legislative bills all failed. Not only did the Ohio board not include “intelligent design theory” in its standards, but it specifically excluded it by name. Although students under the new science standards should be able to “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyse aspects of evolutionary theory”, the board noted, “The intent of this indicator does not mandate the teaching or testing of Intelligent Design.” (Ohio Board of Education, December 10, 2002)

Yet Another New Tack: “Teach The Controversy”

“Intelligent design” advocates, however, seized on the words “critically analyse aspects of evolutionary theory”, and immediately re-introduced “intelligent design theory” through the back door, using a new strategy that has become known as “teach the controversy”. Now, instead of attempting to push “intelligent design theory” into schools, the Discovery Institute and its supporters have been forced to retreat to the much weaker notion of teaching the alleged “scientific problems” with evolution instead. The new strategy drops any mention of “intelligent design”, and instead attempts to argue that somehow, somewhere, something must be wrong with evolution.

As part of the new strategy, members of the Ohio Board of Education proposed a “model lesson plan” that was largely written by Discovery Institute members and supporters, entitled “Critical Analysis of Evolution”. The model lesson pointed out the same supposed “scientific problems with evolution” that the Discovery Institute had been preaching for years. Included in the model lesson plan were “goals” such as:

  • “Describe one piece of evidence used to challenge evolution and explain why it is important.”
  • “Compare and contrast the supporting and challenging information regarding the aspect of evolution you studied.
  • “Evaluate the scientific data supporting and challenging areas of evolution in light of the scientific method. In other words, is the data that is used to support or challenge evolution consistent or inconsistent with the scientific method? Are there any limitations? (NOTE: steps of scientific method: Observation, hypothesis, test, retest and conclusion)”

The model lesson plan included links to several Internet websites from the Discovery Institute and other supporters of intelligent design “theory”. These websites were later dropped after heavy criticism. Also dropped was a direct reference to the anti-evolution book “Icons of Evolution”, written by Discovery Institute member Jonathan Wells.

In March 2003, the Board passed a modified version of the lesson plan which, while erasing all of the references to intelligent design “theory”, nevertheless accepted most of the Discovery Institutes’s “teach the controversy” strategy and included many of the supposed “scientific criticisms of evolution” that have been trotted out for years by the Discovery Institute and other creationists. Several court challenges are already pending to the Ohio lesson plan.

“Waterloo” In Dover

Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., Case No. 04cv2688, was the first direct challenge brought in United States federal courts against a public school district that required the presentation of “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to evolution as an “explanation of the origin of life”. The plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the school board policy thus violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Eleven parents of students in the school district in Dover, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, sued the Dover Area School District over a statement that the school board required to be read aloud in ninth-grade science classes when evolution was taught. The plaintiffs were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) and Pepper Hamilton LLP. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) acted as consultants for the plaintiffs. The defendants were represented by the Thomas More Law Center. The Foundation for Thought and Ethics, publisher of a textbook advocating intelligent design titled Of Pandas and People, tried to join the lawsuit as a defendant but was denied.

The suit was brought in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and tried in a bench trial from September 26, 2005 to November 4, 2005 before Judge John E. Jones III. On December 20, 2005 Judge Jones issued his 139-page findings of fact and decision, ruling that the Dover mandate was unconstitutional, and barred intelligent design from being taught in public school science classrooms. The current Dover school board president stated that the board does not intend to appeal the ruling.

The judge’s decision has sparked considerable response. Judge Jones himself anticipated that his ruling would be criticized, saying in his decision that …

“Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.”

Newspapers have noted with interest that the judge is “a Republican and a churchgoer”.

The judge’s ruling stated:

“In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy. With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavours. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.”


The legal history of creation “science”, therefore, has been remarkably consistent — the creation “scientists” have lost every single Federal court case they have ever been involved with. In every instance where creation “scientists” or intelligent design “theorists” have attempted to argue that their viewpoints are “science” and should be taught in schools, or that evolution is not science and should not be taught in schools, their claim has been rejected by the courts soundly, starkly, and unequivocally.

ID’s Lack Of Scientific Merit

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,News,Science,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 11:07 am

*** Originally posted by Tim Hague at SJS ***

I’m just having another read through the result of the Dover trial, and pulling a few bits and pieces out for further comment. I’m just cherry picking some of my favourite bits here, I thoroughly recommend reading the whole document… All quoted bits in italics are from Judge Jones.

ID (rebranded creationism) Is Religion

“Consider, to illustrate, that Professor Behe remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God.”

An astonishing admission from Behe this one. Basically, the more religious you are, the more plausible ID (rebranded creationism) seems, according to one of the two main ID (rebranded creationism) protagonists.

  • “It is notable that not one defence expert was able to explain how the supernatural action suggested by ID could be anything other than an inherently religious proposition.”

  • “The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.”

  • “Moreover and as previously stated, there is hardly better evidence of ID’s relationship with creationism than an explicit statement by defence expert Fuller that ID is a form of creationism.”

  • “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labelling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

So, my ID (equals rebranded creationism) digs have been vindicated by Judge Jones. Thanks Judge! I will continue to put my disclaimer on ID (rebranded creationism) however, as I think it’s a useful exercise!

The Disclaimer

“In summary, the disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.”

The judge summarises the ID (rebranded creationism) disclaimer that the school board said should be read before teaching evolution. Pretty good summary that!

“Introducing such a religious conflict into the classroom is “very dangerous” because it forces students to ‘choose between God and science,’ not a choice that schools should be forcing on them.”

And what this whole thing is all about.

ID (rebranded creationism) Is Not Science

“Having so concluded, we find it incumbent upon the Court to further address an additional issue raised by Plaintiffs, which is whether ID is science. To be sure, our answer to this question can likely be predicted based upon the foregoing analysis. While answering this question compels us to revisit evidence that is entirely complex, if not obtuse, after a six week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us.”

The judge explains why he feels it necessary to rule on the “Is ID science?” question.

“…ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.”

Another fantastic summary. The judge then goes into each of these points in some detail.

“It is notable that defence experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world,”

Watch out Kansas: Redefining science to include non-natural explanations looks like it’s unconstitutional…

“William Dembski, for instance, an IDM leader, proclaims that science is ruled by methodological naturalism and argues that this rule must be overturned if ID is to prosper. (‘Indeed, entire fields of inquiry, including especially in the human sciences, will need to be rethought from the ground up in terms of intelligent design.’).”

Nice to see Dembski being used as a source, even if he did fail to testify.

“…every major scientific association that has taken a position on the issue of whether ID is science has concluded that ID is not, and cannot be considered as such.”……”Not a single expert witness over the course of the six week trial identified one major scientific association, society or organization that endorsed ID as science.”

Nobody thinks ID (rebranded creationism) is science apparently. Apart from the DI.

“ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed.”…”ID proponents primarily argue for design through negative arguments against evolution,”…”However, we believe that arguments against evolution are not arguments for design. Expert testimony revealed that just because scientists cannot explain today how biological systems evolved does not mean that they cannot, and will not, be able to explain them tomorrow.”

How many times have we made this argument? I’ve lost count. It’s fantastic to see it in legal print though!

Irreducibly Complexity (IC)

I think this bit is highly relevant. As Dembski failed to testify, the ID (rebranded creationism) crowd may still have some faint hope that he can rescue them. However, all of Dembski’s work is based on Behe’s concept of IC…

“As referenced, the concept of irreducible complexity is ID’s alleged scientific centrepiece. Irreducible complexity is a negative argument against evolution, not proof of design, a point conceded by defence expert Professor Minnich.”…”Irreducible complexity additionally fails to make a positive scientific case for ID,”…”Professor Behe excludes, by definition, the possibility that a precursor to the bacterial flagellum functioned not as a rotary motor, but in some other way, for example as a secretory system.”…”As expert testimony revealed, the qualification on what is meant by “irreducible complexity” renders it meaningless as a criticism of evolution.”

“We therefore find that Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large. Additionally, even if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design.”

I’m not sure how Dembski is going to ‘mathematically prove’ his way out of the fact that IC is “…meaningless as a criticism of evolution”. It would take a hell of an equation, that’s for sure…

Design Detection

“It is readily apparent to the Court that the only attribute of design that biological systems appear to share with human artefacts is their complex appearance, i.e. if it looks complex or designed, it must have been designed.”…”Although both Professors Behe and Minnich assert that there is a quantitative aspect to the inference, on cross-examination they admitted that there is no quantitative criteria for determining the degree of complexity or number of parts that bespeak design, rather than a natural process.”

Where’s Dembski when you need him? The one person who might be able to provide a quantitative criteria is MIA. But, as just mentioned, Dembski’s equations are also based on the “meaningless” IC….

Attacks on Proper Science

“We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution.”

Too right. And which has always seemed very rich coming from a movement that provides no testable predictions whatsoever…

“Plaintiffs’ science experts, Drs. Miller and Padian, clearly explained how ID proponents generally and Pandas specifically, distort and misrepresent scientific knowledge in making their anti-evolution argument.”…”Accordingly, the one textbook to which the Dover ID Policy directs students contains outdated concepts and badly flawed science, as recognized by even the defence experts in this case.”

Again, very pleasing to see this in print. The scientific community are well aware that ID (rebranded creationism) spends most of time misrepresenting (lying about) science, the more people that become aware of that fact, the better.

ID (rebranded creationism) Is Still Not Science

“ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science. Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum.”


“Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

Spot on. Shout it from the rooftops everybody – ID (rebranded creationism) wants to supplant evolution with religion.

Even Handed

“To conclude and reiterate, we express no opinion on the ultimate veracity of ID as a supernatural explanation.”

“To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect.”

“With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavours. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.”

Again, it’s nice to see the Judge being even handed. He has not ruled that ID (rebranded creationism) should not be taught. He has not ruled that ID (rebranded creationism) is without merit. He has not ruled that the theory of evolution is without flaws and and cannot be questioned.

He has simply ruled that ID (rebranded creationism) is not science.

ID Is Here To Stay

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design — Kyuuketsuki @ 10:42 am

*** Originally posted by Tim Hague at SJS ***

I’m going to jump the gun a little and suggest that the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller vs. DASD case are probably going to win, and that Intelligent Design will be ruled to be of a religious nature, and not allowed to be taught in the classroom.

Assuming this happens this will be a blow to the ID movement, mostly from the PR point of view. A lot of people who don’t know much about ID or evolution are going to be informed by the court that ID is not science, and that it does not deserve to be taught as an alternative to evolution.

I don’t however believe that this will be a fatal blow to ID. There are number of reasons for thinking that it is going to be around for a while longer yet. Firstly, the defence in the case – who are on the side of ID – have already intimated that should they lose they will be appealing to case to the Supreme Court. The legal wrangles around ID are only just beginning, it seems.

The other reasons for thinking that ID will be around for a while lie in the nature of the arguments around ID, and those making the arguments. If you believe in God, and you believe God created (read ‘designed’) the world and everything in it, then ID becomes more ‘obvious’. You can clearly see the major ID proponents such as Behe and Dembski saying just that – “it’s obviously been designed”. It can be said to be obvious if your initial premise is that there is a divine creator. If you remove that initial premise however, the ‘obviousness’ of the design is somehow less… obvious. Something may appear to be designed, but in fact is not. A snowflake is a pretty good example of this, each is a unique, complex, crystalline structure, they certainly pass the ‘looks designed’ test. But they are not, they are formed by completely natural processes, no external intervention is required. So, we can have the ‘appearance’ of design, without actual design going on.

With the ‘obviously designed’ argument, you can say that the ID movement are starting with a conclusion (not usually a good sign). The conclusion is that there is a designer. Therefore design doesn’t even have to be inferred – it is essentially taken as read instead. So far, the ID movement has not presented any scientific evidence for the existence of the intelligent designer. They do however believe that an intelligent designer exists. And while they are coy in their publications about the identity of the designer (so they can avoid being immediately labelled as creationists), most of them have admitted in public that they believe the intelligent designer to be God.

It all boils down to belief. There is statement I have heard repeatedly from people with powerful beliefs – “I believe in it because it’s true. It’s true because I believe in it.” This is a circular argument, a form of logical fallacy.

This is why ID is here to stay. Most people who believe in it are going to carry on believing in it regardless. For many of them it doesn’t really matter what counter arguments you supply. You may be able to convince a small minority of believers that their belief is misplaced, but for most of them their belief doesn’t require proof, it doesn’t require testability, it doesn’t require falsifiablity. All it requires is certainty. The ID proponents certainly seem to have plenty of that.

18 April 2007

Predictions Of Intelligent Design

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 11:45 am

*** Originally posted by Chris Hyland of SJS ***

The DI points us to an article called The positive case for ID. The article claims to show that the concept of a designer leads to predictions that have been borne out by the evidence. While the predictions the article makes are indeed true, there are problems with each of them that mean they do not count as positive evidence for ID:

  • Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns that perform a specific function (e.g. complex and specified information*).

This has been known for centuries in the case of anatomical features, and decades in the case of molecular features.

  • Forms containing large amounts of novel information** will appear in the fossil record suddenly and without similar precursors.

While palaeontologists do not agree with the ID proponents on their interpretation of the fossil record, the existence of apparent gaps was something that Darwin wrote about, and so is not new.

  • Convergence will occur routinely. That is, genes and other functional parts will be re-used in different and unrelated organisms.

Again convergence of anatomical features has been known for centuries and molecular features for many decades. This is perfectly well explained by the theory of evolution.

  •  Much so-called “junk DNA” will turn out to perform valuable functions.

This was known decades before the ID movement existed and even before the term Junk-DNA was coined.

The obvious problem here then is that none of these ‘predictions of ID’ were made before the information that confirmed then was widely available. Predictions in science involve predicting the outcome of an experiment or observation before you already have the data, therefore the DI’s ‘predictions’ are not predictions at all and are what is commonly referred to as ‘post-dictions’ or ‘predictions-after-the-events’, and do not count as positive evidence. Since ID proponents seem unwilling to perform any research, they are not likely to make any accurate predictions, and are left trying to guess the outcomes of other peoples work.

Furthermore no one has actually managed to calculate CSI for any biological structure, or give a method by which it may be calculated.

The article does not define what it means by ‘information’ in this case.

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