Science, Just Science

21 February 2008

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)

19 February 2008

Angry By Choice!

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 9:33 am

I was browsing P. Z. Myer’s excellent Pharyngula blog and he linked to another one, Angry By Choice, a report about a Creation Science Home-Schooling Fair, and was saying what a typical mess it was and of course he’s right but I read Angry’s report and I saw something else, I saw hope!

Why do I say that? OK, it seems to me that even though these awful “creation science” leaders are doing what they do best (lie, cheat, delude and intentionally obscure reality for what I can only presume to be power and status) reason will win the day … at the fair there were exhibits at the show that showed young, creationism home-schooled, people were thinking or attempting to think rationally (don’t get me wrong, there were others that weren’t) and that gives me hope.

Even if everything science has done was wiped out today and the creationists took power I believe (or at least have reason to hope) that reason would eventually triumph again because reason and logic opposes what these awful people do, that belief-in-spite-of-evidence gets trashed once humans start to think for themselves.

That isn’t a reason to be complacent but it does mean that even if ID triumphs its victory will, in all liklihood, be transient and Humanity still has a chance to suceed and that makes me look at things just a little more positively.

Call it faith if you wish but I believe in our future.

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)

9 February 2008

Science Just Science Campaign – A New Beginning!

Filed under: SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 5:43 pm

It’s taken a while I admit but we’ve finally got our act together and are re-launching the “Science, Just Science” Campaign and we’ve decided to do so as a blog.

It’s been fairly quiet since SJS faltered but on the plus side it’s given us a chance to think, to re-evaluate, to reconsider and to build upon what we’ve learned which, I’m sure you’ll agree, can only be a good thing. A key change in my own stance is that I feel even less like tolerating foolish views than I did previously and that, unfortunately, affects one of the key principles upon which the original campaign was based. SJS was founded upon the idea that neither atheists or religious moderates wanted Creationism or ID anywhere near a UK based science classroom and my personal problem with that was, as a rational atheist respecting the right of any individual to hold whatever views they wish (no matter how demented), I was and still am unable to respect any view unless it can be rationally justified. In that sense I am about as Dawkinsian as it is possible to be believing that no religious viewpoint inherently merits any greater tolerance or respect than any other [religious POV], that none deserve any special favour from individuals or state and that none should be especially excepted from critical evaluation. I’m a hardline atheist so it’s no secret that I am no friend of religion and indeed consider myself to be more oriented towards the downfall of such institutions than their maintenance. In that sense I feel SJS was founded on the lie (granted one that made perfect strategic sense) that the enemy of my enemy was my friend. In many ways (at least from the POV of an atheist) I think all I’ve been doing is to ignore the lesser of two evils; that whilst we dealt with the greater threat we had agreed to bury the metaphorical axe … for the present moment.

With hindsight I feel I’ve simply been making nice with a piranha.

Why do I think that? In SJS’s time I have noticed a few things …

  • No matter what we did to try and attract theists into our ranks (and trust me we really tried) the vast majority of our membership tended to be non-religious.
  • No matter how hard we tried, no matter what incentives we came up with, we were unable to attract a single one of our religious brethren into SJS’s core management group (the smaller number of us who steered SJS, who reacted directly to creationist tactics.
  • A noted tendency on the part of some theists to want their position (and those of their leading thinkers) respected whilst expecting to be able (unchallenged) to criticise leading atheist speakers and/or to be implicitly critical of atheism and conveniently ignoring the obvious similarities between their own beliefs & those of the fundamentalists whose actions we were so opposed to.
  • Some resentment of the participation of (and often early action by) atheists in the fight against the creationists.

This kind of attitude on the part of theists (and I stress that I do know of a few, too few IMO, theists who don’t act this way), their unwillingness to fully engage with atheists in the battle against pseudoscience has allowed many of those with stronger theistic views (including fundamentalists) to cry foul and act as if it were they who were the injured party. Fortunately today’s climate (to my mind far more conducive to healthy scientific scepticism) has allowed the hyper-reasoned views of Dawkins and his fellows to the fore and I think it is that, alongside an overly PC society that appears to quake in terror at the thought of upsetting ethnic and religious groups (including those we would have previously regarded as zealots), that accounts for many such theist claims and their apparent fear that naturalism, secularism, atheism or whatever may be getting too big for its boots.

Regardless of the fact that so many would like it to be so there is not only no available validatable evidence for deity but there is the significant problem that the introduction of deity-dependent explanations, by which I mean their acceptance as valid in a real sense (that the divine action of a creator god or a miracle maker was necessary for some aspect of an explanation to proceed), would present far more problems for science than they could ever solve. Such thinking not only arises out of 2000 year old plus thought, such thinking should have little or no relevance to a modern free-thinking enlightened society and I am amazed such things are tolerated in society at all (let alone in the education system where SJS’s concerns mainly lie) except of course as an example of how wrong a society can get it.

But to return to the point of this first SJS-as-a-blog post …

Following a period of consultation, we have decided to re-launch SJS in a blog format where we (or anyone else to whom we grant permission) can post articles (and where others can post comments) yet still allow us, as individuals, sufficient room to express our own views. I would, however, like to make it crystal clear that whilst SJS welcomes anyone to the fight and will willingly work with them to achieve our main goal of keeping science and only science in the UK education system we have agreed that we will no longer give anyone, atheist or theist, a get-out-of-jail-free card … your views, should you care to advance them, stand on their merit and on nothing else.

James “Kyuuketsuki” Rocks (UK Tech Portal)
Note:
The views stated above represent the views of the author and not necessarily the views of all core members of the “Science, Just Science” Campaign.
Addendum:
As the campaign switches from its old wiki-style format to the new blog one we will be progressively adding back in some of our old material so it will appear as archived and available to anyone as a resource.

6 July 2007

A Rebuttal Of The Claims On The TIS website

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 10:33 pm

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

Introduction

The main aim of Truth in Science is to cast doubts on the modern theory of evolution, and promote the idea of ‘intelligent design’ as an alternative. The method of attacking evolution used is highly reminiscent of the book “Icons of Evolution” by the intelligent design advocate Jonathan Wells, and this book is indeed referenced on the site. The idea seems to be that we can infer from the fact that there are often oversimplifications and inaccuracies in modern biology textbooks, that there are problems with the theory of evolution itself, or that the topics covered somehow aren’t evidence for evolution at all. While most biologists would like to see a more thorough treatment of evolution in science classes, considering it is the cornerstone of modern biology; the impression given that any inaccuracies or simplifications hide problems with the theory, or present a particular field as providing greater evidence than it actually does is simply false.

Further Reading:

The idea of intelligent design as scientific theory is one that is completely rejected by the scientific community. While they present design as a scientific hypothesis, it’s proponents have not produced any research supporting their position, and instead spend their time either attacking evolution in the manner discussed above, or attempting to get their ideas taught in school science classes without first getting them as accepted scientific theories. While recently some in the movement has claimed that research is taking place, not one of them can even give an example of what intelligent design research would entail, or a hypothesis based on their ideas. It has been repeatedly shown that ID is not only more of a religious and political movement than a scientific one, but that it was created primarily in the wake of several US court decisions forbidding the teaching of biblical creationism in schools. Many ID arguments claimed to be based on ID are in fact old creationist arguments with any references to God removed. Presenting ID as a valid alternative scientific theory to be taught alongside evolution is not only an insult to the entire of modern science, it is at best seriously misleading our children and at worst intentionally deceptive.

Further Reading:

In the spirit of other intelligent design advocates, the Truth in Science website does not make any statements about topics like the age of the earth. This is generally referred to as the ‘big tent’ strategy of intelligent design, where all creationists are able to attack evolution without mentioning the major differences between them. Despite this, the website includes many references to young earth creationist sources in its anti-evolutionary articles, including references to ‘baraminology’, the attempt by creationists to classify living organisms into the ‘kinds’ mentioned in Genesis. Creationist authors cited include Kurt Wise, who has said that no evidence will convince him that the earth is old because that is what he believes the Bible says. Additionally, most of the advocates of Truth in Science appear to be young earth creationists and members of prominent young earth creationist organisations.

Further Reading:

This short review attempts to address some of the false or misleading claims made on the Truth in Science website that people may have been directed to by either media reports or from material that was sent to their school. The claims are addressed in approximate order they appear on the site.

  • Main Page
  • Misrepresentation Of Alternatives
  • National Curriculum
  • The Fossil Record
  • Antibiotic Resistance
  • Peppered Moths
  • Sickle-cell Anaemia
  • Comparative Genetics and Biochemistry
  • Horse Evolution
  • Embryology
  • Homology
  • Scottish Curriculum
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Related Articles

Homepage

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science home page, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Welcome to Truth in Science, a new organisation to promote good science education in the UK. Our initial focus will be on the origin of life and its diversity.

  • The ‘origin of life’ is not a subject that is part of the UK science curriculum.
  • Given the kind of material that TIS promotes we find it extremely difficult to believe that their mission is to promote good science.

For many years, much of what has been taught in school science lessons about the origin of the living world has been dogmatic and imbalanced. The theory of Darwinian evolution has been presented as scientifically uncontroversial and the only credible explanation of origins.

  • Evolution is not a theory of origins. Evolution is a theory of diversity.
  • There is completely separate scientific discipline called Abiogenesis which deals with hypotheses about origins.
  • We don’t believe abiogenesis should be taught in school science lessons either, because all of the hypotheses out there are currently extremely tenuous.

This is despite the National Curriculum which states:
Pupils should be taught … how scientific controversies can arise from different ways of interpreting empirical evidence (for example, Darwin’s theory of evolution) [The National Curriculum for Key Stage 4 Science (Sc1: Scientific enquiry)]

  • This is from the Key Stage 4 Science Curriculum that was active BEFORE the first of September 2006. This curriculum is not longer current. TIS are aware of this (see later).

Few schools have taught this controversy. This is partly because many popular textbooks present Darwinism as the only scientific theory of origins and give little coverage to alternative theories, sometimes misrepresenting them.

  • There is no controversy and claiming there is does not make it so.
  • Science does not recognise any theory called ‘Darwinism’.
  • We assume that by ‘Darwinism’ TIS mean the theory of evolution. Evolution is not a theory of origins.
  • There is no ‘scientific theory of origins’ there are a number of tentative hypotheses collectively referred to as ‘abiogenesis’.
  • There is plenty of coverage of all the alternative abiogenesis hypotheses.

New GCSE Science Specifications in September 2006 give a fresh opportunity to reconsider what is taught about origins in science lessons. These specifications place an emphasis on students understanding “How Science Works”. This concept is explained as follows by the Edexcel Examination Board:
“How Science Works” is primarily about helping students to engage with and challenge the science they meet in everyday life. Students need to adopt a critical, questioning frame of mind, going ‘behind the scenes’ to understand the workings of science and how it impacts on society and their lives.

  • Notice the mention of the ‘New GCSE Science Specifications in September 2006’. It’s strange how TIS fail to mention that these do not include the quote they have chosen above.
  • We have no problem with the ‘How Science Works’ program at all. We don’t think it should be applied to the origins question because it is still under research and can be considered ‘tentative science’ at best.
  • We don’t think that any tentative science should be taught in schools.
  • We don’t believe that any pseudoscience such as Intelligent Design should be taught in schools either.
  • We believe that the major and established scientific theories should be taught in schools.

We consider that it is time for students to be permitted to adopt a critical approach to Darwinism in science lessons. They should be given fair and accurate presentations of alternative views.

  • There are currently no credible scientific alternatives to evolution. Evolution is supported by a vast amount of evidence, makes a large number of predictions and is falsifiable. It is therefore a scientific theory.
  • Intelligent Design is not backed up by any data, makes no predictions and is not falsifiable. It is therefore NOT science at all.

In an Ipsos MORI Poll carried out in January 2006 for BBC Horizon , 41% of the respondents thought that Intelligent Design Theory should be taught in school science classes, and 44% believed that Creationism Theory should be taught. An Opinion panel Research Survey in July 2006 found that 30% of University Students in the UK believe in creation or intelligent design.

  • We lament this state of affairs and sincerely hope that Truth in Science is not making things worse.

There is a modern controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution and the neo-Darwinian synthesis, and this has considerable social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications. Truth in Science promotes the critical examination of Darwinism in schools, as an important component of science education.

  • The only controversy over Darwin’s theory of evolution is that it conflicts with very literal interpretations of some religious scriptures e.g. the books of genesis in the Bible.
  • The ‘social, spiritual, moral and ethical implications’ of any scientific finding are – as always – outside of the remit of science. Evolution is a set of mechanisms to explain the diversity of life on this planet, nothing more.
  • Science fully supports critical examination of all scientific theories, all the time. This is done via a process called “peer review” which ALL that scientific papers must go through before they are published and is performed (and often administered) by scientists with relevant qualifications and a great deal of experience.

Misrepresentation Of Alternatives

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Alternatives to evolution are rarely presented; where they are they are presented as religious and without scientific merit.

  • Since no alternatives have been published in scientific journals and have been rejected by the scientific community, it is fair to say they are currently without scientific merit. With ideas such as the creationism and intelligent design movements it is a trivial task to show that they are religiously based.

National Curriculum

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Lord Filkin, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Education and Skills, confirmed that Intelligent Design can be covered as part of the National Curriculum.

  • Schools minister Jacqui Smith has since said:
    “Creationism and Intelligent Design are not included in either the present science programme of study or the revised science programme of study to be implemented in September 2006” and “Intelligent Design is sometimes erroneously advanced as a scientific theory but it has no underpinning scientific principles or explanations supporting it and is not accepted by the international scientific community.”

The Fossil Record

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The fossil record shows a lack of transitional species.

  • A transitional fossil is defined as one that shows features of both more ancient and more recent organisms. By this definition there are hundreds of transitional fossil species that have been discovered, and many between higher levels such as families and genera. In many cases the theory of evolution allowed scientists to predict exactly where these fossils would be found.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CC200): There are no transitional fossils.

The fossil record should show a smooth continuum.

Punctuated equilibrium lacks a clear mechanism

  • The theory of punctuated equilibrium is based on observation of living as well as extinct species. There is much support in the population genetics and molecular evolutionary literature for their theory, as well as mechanisms at both the genetic and species level of how this phenomenon occurs.See Wesley R. Elsberry’s “Punctuated Equilibrium FAQ

Some scientists to say that evolutionist explanations are wrong, and that all life has not evolved from a common ancestor.

  • The number of scientists with relevant qualifications that believe this is miniscule compared to those that accept the accepted scientific explanation. Common descent is one of the most strongly supported theories in all of science, and those few that oppose it have produced no research to back up their claims.

The fossil record is the subject of a great deal of scientific controversy.

  • While there are some genuine scientific controversies concerning the fossil record, none of them involve the reality of common descent.

Archaeopteryx was not an ancestor of birds and is no evidence for evolution

  • The claim that Archaeopteryx is a transitional fossil between dinosaurs and birds is not the same as saying it was a direct ancestor of birds (see above). There are many other examples of reptile to bird transitions that are also used as evidence.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CC214): There are no transitional fossils between reptiles and birds.

The duckbilled platypus shows features of both reptiles and mammals, but is not transitional between the two.

  • The platypus contains highly specialised features of its own that are not shared by either reptiles or mammals, therefore it does not appear to transitional between the two. This shows a misunderstanding of how transitional fossils are identified.

The Cambrian explosion shows many animal forms appearing without any fossil ancestors.

Non-evolutionists take the fossil record to show that the Cambrian animals did not evolve gradually from a common ancestor, and came into being through intelligent design.

  • No intelligent design advocate has produced any hypothesis of how Cambrian animals came into being through design, or produced any research supporting the idea that they could not have evolved. In contrast there are several hypotheses from many fields of science dealing with the evolution of Cambrian animals.

Antibiotic Resistance

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Most antibiotic resistance involves the spread of traits from bacteria already resistant before the antibiotic was in use.

  • There is much evidence that many cases of antibiotic resistance are have been caused by mutation of several genes, as well as creation of new genes. Triclosan resistence in S. aureus is cause by mutations in several different genes, and vancomycin resistance involves a radical change to the structure of cell wall, and the development of five different genes. This complexity is reflected in the fact that bacteria did not develop resistance to vancomycin until thirty years after the antibiotic was introduced.Further Reading:
    * Refutation of creationist arguments regarding antibiotics
    * Post from the talkorigins newsgroup on the subject

Antibiotic resistance does not result in the formation of new species, or prove that all of life arose from single celled organisms.’

  • Antibiotic resistance is not used as an example of speciation, and not all evolution involves the formation of new species. Antibiotic resistance is just one piece of evidence and it is bizarre to claim that a single piece of evidence must be proof of the theory of evolution by itself.

Peppered Moths

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The peppered moth story only involves small scale change.

  • The purpose of Kettlewell’s and other experiments was to determine if the changes in peppered moth genotypes was due to natural selection, these experiments were not intended to look at speciation or other aspects of evolutionary theory.

Kettlewell’s experiments were flawed.

Sickle-cell Anaemia

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The fact that sickle-cell mutation confers resistance to Malaria does not prove that all organisms arose from a common ancestor.

  • The idea that individual pieces of evidence in support of evolution must prove the entire of common descent on their own is misleading. The modern theory of evolution is based of countless pieces of evidence from 150 years of research.

Comparative Genetics and Biochemistry

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The difference between the human and chimpanzee genomes has been lowered from 98% to 96% after the sequencing of the chimp genome.

  • Since the most common measure for describing differences in genomes is based on individual nucleotide differences, so describing the difference as 98%-99% is entirely appropriate.See: Nature article on the chimpanzee genome

Similarities between organisms may be due to them having the same designer.

  • Evidence for common design must begin by specifying what is expected from the designer. For example predicting when we expect similar or different forms. Then it can be seen whether new evidence fits in with prediction. Any theory could be concocted to fit the data after the fact. Considering that no one has yet proposed an actual theory if design it is hard to see in what sense this is a scientific statement.

The existence of non-standard genetic codes is evidence against common descent.

  • These kind of claims appear to purposefully ignore the larger picture of molecular similarities in organisms. In any case there is no reason to think that the non-standard genetic codes disprove common descent, especially as they are only slight variations of the standard code. There are also plausible theories as to their existence.Further Reading: EvolvingCode.net

Different analyses give different patterns of evidence.

Horse Evolution

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

The change represented by horse evolution can be accommodated by both evolutionary and non-evolutionary theories.

  • This claim is hard to evaluate since no one has produced an analysis of the horse fossil record using a non-evolutionary theory.Further Reading: Fossil Horses (Florida Museum of Natural History)

Embryology

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Some textbooks use Haeckel’s embryo pictures, which are flawed.

  • While this is true, the implication that embryos do not show similarities is untrue. At earlier stages of development for example, vertebrate embryos show similarities and differences that match the pattern of common descent.

Many school textbooks still refer to Haeckel’s work.

Embryos never have gills, and calling features of human embryos ‘gill slits’ is merely to read Darwinian theory into the evidence.

  • While they are not technically gill slits, the structures are properly referred to as ‘pharyngeal pouches’. These structures are morphologically indistinguishable between human and fish embryos, and while they go on to form gills in fish, in humans they go on to form structures that evolved from gills such as the middle ear and the thymus.The fact that human and fish embryos develop the same structure reflects the fact that mammalian ancestors were once aquatic gill-breathing vertebrates.Further Reading:
    * See Talk Origins (creationist claim CB704): Human embryos do not have gill slits; they have pharyngeal pouches
    * Panda’s Thumb: Explanation of evolution of human organs from gills

Parents, teachers and pupils should be aware that one of the key evidences for evolution used by these textbooks is flawed.

Homology In Vertebrate Limbs

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Scientists only pick certain features to support common ancestry. For example the platypus has fur like a rabbit, a bill like a duck and lays eggs like a crocodile.

  • This is a misrepresentation of how homology is inferred from comparative anatomy. At any acceptable detail, a platypus’ bill is very different from a ducks, and does not support common ancestry between the two. The overwhelming majority of features point to a common ancestor with other mammals. These kinds of claims ignore the fact that many different lines of evidence give the same overall pattern of common descent, and in cases of comparative anatomy the overwhelming majority of features studied support the same pattern. To claim this is not the case involves very selective citing of the literature, and ignores the fact that the study of limb development increases the support for common descent.Further Reading:
    * Talk Origins: Discussion of how limb homology is evidence of a common ancestor of reptiles and birds
    * NCSE: Explanation of how homology is misrepresented by creationist Jonathon Wells

As Darwinists have to assume that evolution has occurred in order to identify homology, they cannot use homology as evidence for evolution. Using homology as evidence for evolution is to argue in a circle. And circular arguments prove nothing.

  • This is not how inferring homology works. Similarities of many traits group to show a nested heirarchical pattern of common descent. This patter was originally identified by Linneaus long before Darwin. Common ancestry is inferred because of the huge number of traits and different lines of evidence that show the same pattern.Talk Origins (creationist claim CB801): Claim that homological evidence for common ancestry is a circular argument.

Scottish Curriculum

Students are taught that their behavior is dependent on their genes.

Students are taught that their unique place in the world as humans is due to the recent evolution of large brain size.

  • The syllabus says: “In relatively recent evolutionary times there has been an exponential increase in human brain capacity. It is the large size of the human brain which gives humans a unique place in the animal world.” Biologically speaking our brain capacity is the main distinguishing feature between humans and other animals. Any other differences that may not be biologically based are beyond the scope of a biology syllabus.

Differences between males and females are explained using Darwin’s controversial theory of sexual selection.

  • Although certain tenets of sexual selection are controversial, it is generally accepted by the scientific community. There is evidence for sexual selection at both the population and the genetic level.See Stanford University: Discussion of sexual selection

Frequently Asked Questions

The following (in bold) are major claims quoted from the Truth-in-Science page linked above, each is followed by one or more SJS bullet-point responses.

Over 600 scientists with PhDs have signed a public statement: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

  • This is an example of a fallacy known as an argument from authority, it is not the number of people you can get to sign a list that decides the validity of a theory it is research and evaluation of the evidence. Even if we were to accept these lists as authoritative, if you count the signatories with relevant qualifications (about 20%) the total comes to much less than one percent of all qualified scientists. The statement also presents a false dichotomy, as not even Darwin believed that natural selection was the sole driver of evolution, so this does not even count as an antievolutionary statement.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA111.1): More than X scientists support …

British school textbooks misrepresent creationists views.

  • Although not desirable, this is understandable, considering the vast majority of views on specific topics held by creationists. This problem is compounded by the fact that there is currently no scientific theory offered in support of creationism.

New advances in science often begin with just a few scientists who are prepared to risk questioning the reigning paradigm.

  • While this is true, theories at this level of development are not generally suitable to be taught in schools, and theories pushed by small groups questioning the reigning paradigm may also turn out to be completely wrong. Cold fusion is an example of a theory that is not taught in schools even though there are hundreds of papers on it in the literature.

Peer pressure stifles objections to evolution.

  • Even if this was the case it could only ever be temporary as the evidence should be impossible to deny. However scientists are encouraged to challenge accepted ideas and produce novel results, a scientist who successfully challenges evolution would achieve worldwide fame and respect in the scientific community.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA320): Scientists are pressured not to challenge the established dogma

Theories of origins have profound moral, social, ethical and cultural implications.

  • This may be true, but it does not change the fact that there are no scientific alternatives. Additionally, any such impact has no bearing on evolution’s validity as a theory.

Scientists discount theories that make reference to God or supernatural mechanisms.

It is very difficult to publish papers which contain alternative theories to evolution. When one was published attempts were made to ruin the career of the editor.

  • Since no examples are given of papers containing alternative theories that were rejected from journals, there is no evidence for this claim. In the example given of the paper that was published it appears that the editor abused his position to get the article published, because it did no meet the journals standards nor did it contain appropriate subject matter. The editors charges of harassment are far from proven.

Even if scientists realise that Darwinism is flawed in their own field, they may assume that in other areas it is well supported by evidence.

  • Although it is hard to call this claim false as it is rather subjective a conversation with only a few scientists in relevant areas would reveal that they all believe it is their field that provides the most support for the theory. Paleontologists regard the fossil record as the best evidence, molecular biologists cite DNA sequencing, organismal biologists will cite comparative anatomy etc.

The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

  • In terms of a scientific theory, this can best be described as a hypothesis or a conjecture. In over 25 years intelligent design has yet to produce any research supporting its claims.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA100): Intelligent design theory is science.

Intelligent Design is not based on the Bible, and a growing number of scientists propose design as the best explanation for the existence of specified complexity in the natural world.

  • It is a fairly trivial task to show that a great deal of intelligent design proponents reject evolution for religious reasons. However their technical claims are rejected because they are demonstrably false. There is no reason currently to think that evolution cannot generate specified complexity.

Darwinism is questioned by thinking people all over the world.

  • Questioning of evolution is mostly correlated with certain denominations of fundamentalist Christianity that occur in many countries.

”’Many prominent advocates of Darwinism are ‘distinguished supporters of humanism’ (according to the British Humanist Association) and Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins’ latest book is entitled: The God Delusion.”’

  • This is true, however there is no evidence that Richard Dawkins’ or any other Humanists support of evolution is because of their humanism. This is not true for a great many of the major supporters of creationism and their religion.See Talk Origins (creationist claim CA100.1): Intelligent design is scientific, not religious.

Related Articles

Looking at the articles at Truth in Science in more depth.

5 July 2007

Campaign Objectives

Filed under: Campaign — Kyuuketsuki @ 7:31 pm

Primary Campaign Objective

  • Keep only science in science classes

Secondary Campaign Objectives

  • Ensure that creationist materials are not taught as science in science classes.
  • Ensure that claims on UK based creationist web sites are thoroughly and publicly debunked.
  • Ensure schools run by creationists are teaching only science in science classes.
  • Ensure that the science curriculum remains completely unambiguous in its statements about the teaching of science (and evolution in particular) and that there are no loopholes that could be exploited by creationists.

High level actions

  • Providing information on the website
  • Offering our services for presentations, debates, media interviews
  • Sending letters to newspapers, MPs, LEAs, schools, Government
  • Handing out leaflets at events

26 June 2007

News: UK Government Acts On ID!

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,News,Science,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 9:10 pm

*** Originally posted by Chris Hyland of SJS (modified by James Rocks) ***

From “The Register”:

UK Gov boots Intelligent Design Back Into ‘Religious’ Margins

The government has announced that it will publish guidance for schools on how creationism and intelligent design relate to science teaching, and has reiterated that it sees no place for either on the science curriculum.

It has also defined “Intelligent Design”, the idea that life is too complex to have arisen without the guiding hand of a greater intelligence, as a religion, along with “creationism”.

Responding to a petition on the Number 10 ePetitions site, the government said: “The Government is aware that a number of concerns have been raised in the media and elsewhere as to whether creationism and intelligent design have a place in science lessons. The Government is clear that creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science. “

… 

The petition was posted by James Rocks of the Science, Just Science campaign, a group that formed to counter a nascent anti-evolution lobby in the UK.

From the UK Government’s E-Petition website:

The Original Petition

“The Prime Minister has recently spoken about the importance of science education in the UK. Creationism & Intelligent design are greatly featured in the media and are being used disingenuously to portray science & the theory or evolution as being in crisis when they are not. Moreover groups such as Truth in Science are targeting our nation’s children and their science education with material that is not only non-scientific but have been rejected by the scientific community. These ideas therefore do not constitute science, cannot be considered scientific education and therefore do not belong in the nation’s science classrooms.”

“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent the use of creationist and other pseudo-scientific propaganda in Government-funded schools.”

Submitted by James Rocks of ‘Science, Just Science’ Campaign

From The UK Government (10 Downing Street):

The Government’s response.

The Government remains committed ensuring that young people have an understanding of the importance of science and the world around them.

Science is a core subject of the National Curriculum throughout every Key Stage. The National Curriculum secures for all pupils, irrespective of background and ability, an entitlement to a range of areas of learning. Its aim is to develop the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes necessary for each pupil’s self-fulfilment and development as an active and responsible citizen. It makes expectations for learning and attainment explicit to pupils, parents, teachers, governors, employers and the public, and establishes national standards for the performance of all pupils. All materials that support the teaching, learning and assessment of primary and secondary education, can be found on the National Curriculum website (new window).

The Government is aware that a number of concerns have been raised in the media and elsewhere as to whether creationism and intelligent design have a place in science lessons. The Government is clear that creationism and intelligent design are not part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study and should not be taught as science. The science programmes of study set out the legal requirements of the science National Curriculum. They focus on the nature of science as a subject discipline, including what constitutes scientific evidence and how this is established. Students learn about scientific theories as established bodies of scientific knowledge with extensive supporting evidence, and how evidence can form the basis for experimentation to test hypotheses. In this context, the Government would expect teachers to answer pupils’ questions about creationism, intelligent design, and other religious beliefs within this scientific framework.

We will be publishing guidance for schools, on the way creationism and intelligent design relate to science teaching. It will be possible to ensure that the weight of scientific opinion is properly presented. The guidance will be available on the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority website in due course. 

Whichever way you look at it this e-petition was a success for SJS and for UK science.

4 June 2007

News: How E. Coli Evolves To Adapt To Changing Acidity

Filed under: News,Science — Kyuuketsuki @ 9:06 pm

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

From Medical News Today:

E. coli may spend hundreds or thousands of generations in the relatively neutral-acidity colon, with brief exposure to the extreme acidity of the stomach and modest alkalinity in the small intestine during colonization of a new host. With modern sewage handling (or mishandling), the bacteria may also experience exposure to the ocean, with a pH near 8.0, before infecting a new host.

To assess how E. coli might adapt to different environmental conditions, the researchers observed four groups of bacteria. One group was exposed to constant acidity (pH of 5.3) and another to constant alkalinity (pH of 7.8). A third group was exposed to randomly fluctuating pH levels, and the fourth was exposed to pH levels that cycled daily between acidic and basic conditions.

After at least 1,000 generations, the researchers exposed the groups to either an acidic or basic environment. The groups exposed to acid or base for the entire period had developed into specialists – that is, they displayed significant fitness gains when transitioning into their preferred environment.

In contrast, the groups that evolved in variable pH environments exhibited generalist fitness patterns, with neither group having any significant fitness loss in any of the environments. Interestingly, the researchers also found that there was no significant cost to being a generalist at any tested pH level: “Overall, these comparisons suggest that the jack-of-all-trades may be a master of at least some as well,” the researchers write.

“What is interesting here is that the complex patterns of adaptation in the various pH regimes were so different among the groups and revealed the first empirical characterization of the intricacies of evolution in response to variable pH,” explain the authors. “Plans for future studies include the extension of this experimental evolution system applied to . . . ways in which E. coli may be evolving fitness to survive within the coastal ecosystem or the human host.”

[Full Article Here]

2 June 2007

Misconceptions About Intelligent Design

Filed under: Creationism & Intelligent Design,SJS Comment — Kyuuketsuki @ 8:57 pm

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

A common reply to critiques of Intelligent Design is that the author of the critique does not understand ID and is in fact attacking the strawman. The problem of course is that the definition of Intelligent Design changes from one proponent to another, so if you refute one set of views another person will simply say you are attacking a strawman. Nevertheless there are a few core points where an ID proponent will always claim that you are unfairly representing ID, new creationism has a list.

1. It’s Creationism in Sheep’s Clothing

While some intelligent design proponents are not young earth creationists, there is plenty of evidence that shows the ID movement arose as a response to court rulings in the 1980’s that banned the teaching of creationism and ‘creation science’ in US public schools. All ID arguments are refined versions of, and often identical to older creationist arguments, and the majority of ID proponents appear to believe in a young earth. Futhermore a series of statements from leading ID proponents, including the Wedge Strategy of the Discovery Institute, show that the mission of the ID movement is primarily religious.

2. An Expectation of Optimal Design

Often critics of Intelligent Design fall prey to the Optimal Design straw man which basically says that the establishment of less than optimal (or perfect) design invalidates Intelligent Design Theory. While Optimal Design implies Intelligent Design, the reverse is not true. There are many designs that are not perfect but fulfill the role and desires of the designer.

The key here is that even poor designs usually show the signature of intelligent causation. There is indeed a chasm between what we can expect chance to do versus what even basic intelligence can produce.

While non-optimal design is not a refutation of ID in it’s most basic form (and it isn’t at all clear what optimal means in this case), the point is that biological structures are not ‘optimal’ to the point that they appear not to have evolved. Evolution is also expected to produce structures of varying levels of efficiency, so it is hard to tell why intelligent design is the more likely explanation.

3. Intelligent Design is guilty of the God of the Gaps

Intelligent Design is: X couldn’t have evolved, X is analogous to some kind of machine, therefore X was designed. ID fundementally relies on the assumption that it is impossible or highly improbable for a system to evolve, that’s why the vast majority if ID’s efforts are spent attacking evolution. Therefore it’s hard to see why ID isn’t guilty of God of the gaps.

4. The Strong Dichotomy with Evolutionary Theory

Often Intelligent Design is squared off against Evolutionary Theory, but Intelligent Design can be synthesized with some variants of Evolutionary Theory. In fact, theistic (or directed) evolution is arguably a form or expression of Intelligent Design.

Theistic evolutionists do not believe that design in nature has been scientifically detected, they also agree with evolutionary theory. So as far as science is concerned they are completely different from ID proponents.

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