Science, Just Science

1 December 2008

The Evidence For And Against Evolution

A nice little post over at the Daylight Atheism blog:

“Teaching the controversy” has always been a rhetorical centerpiece of the intelligent-design movement, but it has become a more prominent part of their strategy in the wake of ID’s 2005 court defeat in Dover, Pennsylvania. Seeking to avoid blame for the Dover verdict, creationist groups such as the Discovery Institute pleaded that they had never wanted to teach intelligent design per se, but only the “evidence for and against” evolution.

The most sinister part of this argument is its apparent fairness. Who could object to teaching students all sides in a dispute? Hardly anyone, of course, which is why ID advocates sometimes trumpet polls showing that large majorities say students should be taught the evidence for and against evolution. That shouldn’t be a surprise: if there were legitimate evidence against evolution, even I would certainly want it to be taught, as I think most atheists would. But the problem is that these polls ask a loaded question by assuming that there is such evidence.

If there is a legitimate, scientific controversy over some issue, then by all means, teachers should present all sides in a fair and even-handed manner. However, this is not a description which applies to the teaching of evolution. Creationists and their intelligent-design comrades have steadfastly avoided making their case to the scientific community (where it meets with near-unanimous scorn). Instead, they’re attempting to do an end-run around that scrutiny by forcing their beliefs into public schools before they have won the approval of practicing, qualified scientists in those fields. This is completely backwards from how these controversies are supposed to be resolved.

The problem with “teaching all sides” is that it can give fringe ideas a credibility they have not earned. Excessive concern for “balance” leads to presenting the speculations of cranks and crackpots as if they were on equal footing with the positions defended by vast majorities of qualified experts. (The media has a similar problem.) And this is very useful to advocates of pseudoscience, who often do not need to win the rhetorical battle outright; they can triumph merely by muddying the waters and preventing a consensus from forming around the truth. This is the same strategy employed by tobacco companies, as we can see from the second excerpt above, as well as by oil companies seeking to forestall regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

[Read The Rest Of The Blog Post Here]

And that, in a nutshell, is the point … that is exactly why ID has no place in the science classroom.

“Teach The Controversy” they say. “What controversy” we ask, “There is no controversy!”

“Teach both sides of the argument, show the evidence for and against evolution” they say, but the sad fact (for them) is that there is no evdience against evolution, no evidence, no controversy and ID is not now and never will be science.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

20 November 2008

Stanford Medicine Magazine: Something Fishy Is Going On

Filed under: News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 2:09 pm

Research On Sticklebacks Blows Anti-Evolution Arguments Out Of The Water

by
AMY ADAMS

More than 10,000 years ago glaciers covered the land, and a 4-inch, heavily armoured fish called the threespine stickleback cruised the ocean waters, gobbling up larvae and other prey. These fish were ubiquitous coastal denizens throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Then something potentially tragic happened — the ice age ended and glaciers began to recede. Groups of sticklebacks swam up newly formed streams and became stranded in the many freshwater lakes that sprang up in the trail of the ebbing glaciers. The fish, once suited for an ocean environment, had to adapt or die.

Sticklebacks competed for food and mates and struggled to avoid predators and parasites in their new environments. These forces shaped which fish survived and reproduced. In lakes with quick predators, the smallest, sleekest sticklebacks prevailed. In other environments, slower, bottom-dwelling sticklebacks were best able to avoid predators. Still other populations developed bright colours, new ways of feeding or the ability to cope with more or less salt in the water. In all, sticklebacks became so diverse that naturalists originally divided them into 40 different species.

Some adaptations were particularly remarkable — some fish populations lost entire fins, completely rearranged their jaws, doubled their number of teeth or shed their armoured plates. Creationists might say that God gave those sticklebacks the tools they needed to survive. Most biologists say, What a gorgeous example of evolution at work.

[Read The Rest Of The Article Here]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

17 November 2008

A Letter To A Creationist Nation

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 11:37 am

OK,

So it wasn’t a letter to a creationist nation but from one Karl Gibberson, a physicist and Christian, to creationist Ken Ham. Here’s some excerpts …

“One of the most painful experiences of my life was abandoning my belief in young earth creationism. I had been raised in a wonderful Baptist church that was fundamentalist but, as it was on the edge of a potato field in rural New Brunswick, Canada, it lacked the hard political edge that makes American fundamentalism so unappealing. It was a great place to grow up, to learn to love God, and I have nothing but fond memories of the believers with whom I worshipped as a child.”

And …

There were several reasons I abandoned creationism. And now, years later, I am convinced that creationism poses insurmountable problems for anyone who would defend creationism today. I would like to mention a few general concerns and then some specifics to make my point.

Creationists have to “explain away” a gigantic mountain range of evidence that the scientific community has accumulated in the past century. Neither the scientific community nor the scientific data is is on their side. They have to believe that God created a profoundly deceptive world, with countless markers inexplicably pointing to evolution, even though that was not how things originated. This makes no sense. Creationists, who are almost always Biblical literalists, also have to come up with eccentric and strained readings of the Bible to accommodate its many references to ancient near eastern cosmologies. The Bible speaks of a solid dome in the heavens (Genesis 1:6) holding back the waters to take one example. The Bible refers to the earth as “immoveable,” to take another (Psalm 93:1). The alternate readings of these passages by the creationists are not faithful to the text and twist the original Hebrew in ways that would make it unrecognizable to the writer. I don’t think creationists are as faithful to the Biblical text as they claim.

The most disturbing claim of the creationists, however, is their accusation that the scientific community is engaged in a vast conspiracy to trick the public into thinking that evolution is well supported. I believed this when I came to college but, as I pursued my degrees in physics, I realized that this could not possibly be true. Science is ruthlessly honest and done by bright, often maverick, intellectuals who would never sign on to a conspiracy to suppress the truth. As a fully trained scientist, now with a Ph. D in physics and publications in research journals, I can attest to the high level of integrity of the scientific community and its methods. Heroic efforts are made to ensure that bias and carelessness do not creep into scientific research. When you say, in your book The Lie: Evolution, that scientists cannot be trusted because they are “biased” and “not objective,” you are devaluing the work of so many honest and unsung heroes. Scientists are “truth-seekers,” which is why they have discovered so many useful and interesting things about the natural world–from curing smallpox, to landing a man on the moon, to establishing that epilepsy is not caused by demon possession. Scientists may not be perfectly objective, but this is hardly a license to set aside those parts of science that you don’t like. Medical doctors are certainly not perfect, but we put our lives in their hands when we go to the hospital. The question is not “What absolute guides do we have, that will lead us to certain truth?” The question is: “What is the most likely road to whatever truth we are capable of grasping?”

I am pained to see how the creationists tar the entire scientific community with this brush of bias, for they smear the work of a great many Christian believers like Francis Collins, Ken Miller, and John Polkinghorne, who have made their peace with evolution without compromising their Christian faith. These three scientists are friends of mine and I can attest to the vitality of their faith.

And finally …

To be a creationist requires distorting the ancient text of the Bible–God’s revelation in Scripture–to camouflage the obvious references to an obsolete cosmology. And it requires distorting the data from science–God’s revelation in nature–to camouflage the mountain of data supporting evolution. Why not accept the world at face value and let it speak for itself? And why not let the Bible be what it most clearly is–a collection of inspired texts from the ancient world, and not a textbook of modern science?

In embracing evolution my view of the natural world has been deeply enriched, for I have become a part of that world. I write these words from a home office looking out into a New England forest. The leaves have donned their autumn splendor and many are joining the birds in the air, in preparation for winter. Deer, wild turkey, raccoons, squirrels, and countless other species live in those woods, and occasionally come to visit and nibble on my landscape. How awesome to think that I share a history with these life forms and that, to varying degrees, I am related to them. I am humbled to think that God’s creative work is of such grand coherence and scope that the universe is one gigantic narrative of creation. This seems far richer than my former creationist view that the universe is a collection of separately created things. And, to top it off, God created us with minds capable of unpacking the whole amazing story.

Why would any Christian find it hard to believe that evolution was God’s way of creating?

[Read The Entire Article Here]

Even as an atheist I found that quite, quite inspiring and, to be honest, if I were ever to return to the Christain fold again (and I think it unlikely) this kind of view is how I would have to mold myself.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

1 October 2008

Pharyngula: A Review Of “Explore Evolution”

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Education,News,Science,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 8:16 am

According to PZ Myers of the Pharyngula Blog, The Discovery Institute is about to replace it’s previous anti-evolution textbook, “Of Panda’s And People” and John Timmer of Ars Technica reviewed it saying:

“the book doesn’t only promote stupidity, it demands it. In every way except its use of the actual term, this is a creationist book, but its authors are expecting that legislators and the courts will be too stupid to notice that, or to remember that the Supreme Court has declared teaching creationism an unconstitutional imposition of religion.”

PZ Myers has read it and agrees it is as bad as the reviewer says.

Read Myers slightly more comprehensive comments here and the full review here.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

30 September 2008

Brunswick School Board Update

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Education,News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 8:27 am

From PZ Myers Pharyngula Blog:

After reading e-mails by people disgruntled about the idea of teaching creationism, hearing about the state’s point of view and consulting with attorney Kathleen Tanner, Babson said she thinks the board will not try to go against the law to teach creationism, although she would like to see it in the classroom one day.

Fanti said he learned about the court cases after addressing the board and now thinks the idea of teaching creationism as part of the curriculum will be crushed. But he plans to ask the school board to encourage “evolutionists” in the schools to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of their theory.

“Instead of making it a religious issue, let’s make it a scientific issue,” said Fanti, who identifies himself as a chemical engineer.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

11 April 2008

Support The Skeptologists!

Filed under: News,Science,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 10:41 am

In my browsing around the net I cam across a bunch of scientists who want a more intelligent form of programming on our TV screens and I concur … so I thought I’d post a little advert for it here:

Support The Skeptologists!

Raise your voice! Let it be known that it’s time for a TV series that focuses on the real, the intelligent and important advances in science, critical thinking and skepticism. The Skeptologists will be pitched to major networks soon, and we want to give the programming executives a sense of what kind of support they can received if they invest in a TV series of this kind. This is your chance to have a voice in the type of TV that is produced.

[You Can Read More Here: The Skeptologists]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

21 February 2008

BBC: ‘Frog From Hell’ Fossil Unearthed

Filed under: Education,News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 7:31 pm

From The BBC’s News (Science & Nature) site:

A 70-million-year-old fossil of a giant frog has been unearthed in Madagascar by a team of UK and US scientists.

What the 'Frog form hell' may have looked like

The creature would have been the size of a “squashed beach ball” and weighed about 4kg (9lb), the researchers said.

They added that the fossil, nicknamed Beelzebufo or “frog from hell”, was “strikingly different” from present-day frogs found on the island nation.

Details of the discovery are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The team from University College London (UCL) and Stony Brook University, New York, said the frog would have had a body length of about 40cm (16 inches), and was among the largest of its kind to be found.

“This frog, a relative of today’s horned toads, would have been the size of a slightly squashed beach-ball, with short legs and a big mouth,” explained co-author Susan Evans, from UCL’s Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

“If it shared the aggressive temperament and ‘sit-and-wait’ ambush tactics of [present-day] horned toads, it would have been a formidable predator on small animals.

“Its diet would most likely have consisted of insects and small vertebrates like lizards, but it’s not impossible that Beelzebufo might even have munched on hatchling or juvenile dinosaurs.”

[Read The Rest Of The Article Here]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

News In Science: World’s Oldest Bat Hunted Without Sonar

Filed under: Education,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 6:27 pm

From Australia’s ABC “News In Science” site:

A nearly perfect bat fossil, the oldest ever found, lacked a key feature seen in most bats: the ability to hunt and navigate using sonar.

The finding, settles a long-simmering evolutionary debate: first came flight, and only then did bats develop echolocation to track and trap their prey.

Most experts thought it was the other way around, according to the study in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

Echolocation, the ability to emit high-pitched squeaks and hear the echo bouncing off flying insects as small as a mosquito, was assumed to be what made a bat a bat.

There are over 1000 species of bats in the world today, and all of them can ping the air with sound waves.

But some, especially larger fruit bats, depend on their sense of smell and sight to find food, showing that the winged mammals could survive without their amazingly capacity to gauge the location, direction and speed of flying creatures in the dark.

The bat, which would have flown around 52 million years ago, was dug out of limestone deposits in the US state of Wyoming in 2003.

[Read The Rest Of The Article Here]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

20 February 2008

Scientific American: ‘Junk’ RNA May Have Played Role In Vertebrate Evolution

Filed under: Education,News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 7:48 pm

From Scientific American:

Genetic material once dismissed as mere “junk” may in fact be responsible to the evolution of simple invertebrates into more complex organisms sporting backbones, according to a new study.

Tiny snippets of the genome known as microRNA were long thought to be genomic refuse because they were transcribed from so-called “junk DNA,” sections of the genome that do not carry information for making proteins responsible for various cellular functions. Evidence has been building since 1993, however, that microRNA is anything but genetic bric-a-brac. Quite the contrary, scientists say that it actually plays a crucial role in switching protein-coding genes on or off and regulating the amount of protein those genes produce.

Now, researchers from Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and the University of Bristol in England report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that these tiny genetic segments could be responsible for the evolution of animals with backbones, noting that they found a surfeit of microRNA in the genomes of the earliest vertebrates, such as lampreys (jawless fish), when compared with invertebrates like sea squirts.

“There’s this dramatic increase in microRNAs that were fixed in the genome of vertebrates and were rarely secondarily lost,” says study co-author Kevin Peterson, an associate professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth. “If a human has a microRNA that’s also found in zebra fish, we [typically] find it in lamprey but we don’t find it in any invertebrate,” implying that that piece of genetic material is unique to vertebrates.

[Read The Rest Of The Article Here]

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)

12 February 2008

Happy Darwin Day!

Filed under: Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 6:28 pm

Charles Darwin was born on the 12th of February 1809, so this would be his 199th birthday. It’s natural for me to celebrate the man because he’s one of he greatest thinkers of all time and arguably the single most influential scientist ever.  But I’m not going to.  I’m going to cheer for Darwin for other reasons.  Better reasons.

Darwin wrote several books and they are important and powerful but they are something else as well.  They are comprehensible.  The first scientific theory of any complexity that I really understood was Darwin’s evolutionary theory and the reason was because at the age of ten I could read and understand his books.  If you pick up the Origin of Species you are able to follow, step by step, the thought processes of a man who was not merely a great scientist but also a great communicator.  I salute the first man who could advance science by unimagined amounts and still explain it to a child.

That’s my personal reason for raising a glass to Darwin.  But I think there’s another that may be even more important.

Charles Darwin was a great father.  If there were Olympics for parenting then he’d have been buried under medals.  He made Downe House, his home, child friendly and he played games and went on walks with his children all the time.  His study at the bottom of the stairs always had the door open and when the weather was wet his children used to slide down the staircase on a tray and, kinetic energy working much the same way then as now, slide into his study giggling madly.  He was caring and loving, never too busy to stop work and talk with the younger generation.

The list of people who have truly had great influence on the world is not that long; the list of those who can still personally inspire us with their words today is shorter still. Most of the people who have changed the world have been warlords, dictators, selfish capitalists or greedy politicians.  Some have been unspeakably unpleasant, some have been foolish and vain but few have been truly decent and humble individuals.  Charles Darwin is practically unique as a man who changed the world and still remained a gentleman of charm and character.

Happy birthday Sir.

Ben Slythe (posted by James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks)

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