The religious claims of evolution are required to establish the veracity of evolution, not to operate within the paradigm of evolution. Hence, the religious claims need not be considered when doing evolution research. The religious claims arise in the apologetic works that argue for evolution; they do not appear in the science journals.
Every once in awhile, we are confronted to reconsider things we know are true, only to find out the truth is closer to the opposite. The usual spin on Nicolaus Copernicus is that he was a brave scientist who threatened the church with his discovery that the earth orbits the sun, not the sun the earth. He was too afraid to publish his heretical notions till on his deathbed. Carl Sagan, in the TV series Cosmos, reiterated an urban legend that the views of Copernicus were mocked by the Lutherans. All these notions are wrong.
Harvard astronomer-historian Owen Gingerich has devoted much of his life to setting the record straight. In his previous book, An Annotated Census of Copernicus De Revolutionibus (see 08/15/2002 entry), Gingerich published his results of a30-year project in which he located every known copy of the original prints, and meticulously analyzed hundreds of marginal notes made by contemporary readers to show that the book was widely disseminated and discussed throughout Europe. Now, Gingerich has made his results available in a more entertaining and accessible form in a new publication, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus (Walker, New York, 2004). The book was reviewed in Science1 April 28 by Peter Barker. (Gingerich took his title from a claim by Arthur Koestler that De Revolutionibus was the book nobody read, a claim he shows is false.) Here are some corrections to the urban legends, from Barkers review:
There is little evidence that books were actually destroyed, a point reinforced by Gingerichs estimate that the original print run of De revolutionibus was between 400 and 500 books, of which 277 survived to appear in his Census. And outside Italy, few copies show Church-mandated corrections, even in Catholic countries.Barker praises Gingerichs astronomical sleuthing to get at the truth about the epochal book that began to change our perception of our place in the universe. His account will interest booklovers and anyone curious about the history of early modern science.
1Peter Barker, A History Recorded in the Margins, Science Vol 304, Issue 5671, 686, 30 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097380].
Dr. Gingerich has done a great service to history to bring these corrections of the urban legend to our attention. A case can surely be made that the opponents of 16th-century scientific advance were not the Lutherans or the Catholics, but the Aristotelians. Incidentally, the urban legend that Luther called Copernicus a fool is doubtful. Whatever Luther said or meant was not recorded till years afterward and could have been mistaken in meaning; see an analysis by Donald Kobe on Leadership U.Neanderthals Matured Faster 04/29/2004
The news media are all echoing a story out of Nature April 291 that Neanderthals matured by age 15, as indicated by their teeth. A News and Views article in the same issue by Jay Kelley2 begins, It is nearly 150 years since the existence of Neanderthals was first recognized, but debate about their relationship to modern humans remains as contentious as ever. The find is not necessarily indicative of a major difference between Neanderthals and modern humans, but should prove to be a fruitful line of research. Sample news media interpretations can be found at BBC News and paleoanthropologys bulldog, National Geographic.
1Rossi and de Castro, Surprisingly rapid growth in Neanderthals, Nature 428, 936 - 939 (29 April 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02428.
2Jay Kelley, Paleoanthropology: Neanderthal teeth lined up, Nature 428, 904 - 905 (29 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428904b.
You cant infer the social evolution of humans from teeth. Modern humans reach puberty before 15, so why shouldnt there be variation in tooth maturation rates between varieties of humans? This study is way too much interpretation on way too little data. A fruitful line of research is code for a new storytelling plot.Italy Waffles on School Darwinism 04/29/2004
Its not just an American thing; the politicians and scientists in Italy, also, are polarizing around Darwin. The education ministry just dropped a requirement to teach evolution in elementary and middle schools as part of a major overhaul of education guidelines. A news brief in the April 28 issue of Science1 claims that pressure may be coming from the far-right Alleanza Nationale, part of the ruling coalition government. Earlier this year, it sponsored an Anti-evolution week in which a spokesman called evolution the hegemony of the Left in Europe and the antechamber of Marxism
The backlash by leading scientists was strong and predictable, reported Access Research Network. Rossella Lorenzi, writing in The Scientist, said that Darwin was back in school the next day, after the minister of education was inundated by letters and emails. Letizia Moratti alleged that it was absolutely false that evolution had been banned from primary and secondary schools; she reassured the press that evolution will be taught starting in primary school. She even appointed a committee of scientists to provide guidelines for the teaching of evolution.
One of the pro-evolution scientists is organizing a Darwin week in June, in which universities and natural history museums across Italy will hold seminars on teaching evolution. Science points out that the Roman Catholic Church has no objections to Darwinism, but quips, As visitors to the Sistine Chapel can see, Italy has a long history of creationism.
Meanwhile, back in cowboy country, the evolution wars are still raging in Darby, Montana (see 02/27/2004 entry). The objective origins policy, that allows for criticisms of Darwinism without offering up alternatives, has divided the community. According to The Ravalli Republic, its coming down to the outcome of the next school board elections.
1Darwin in Italy, Random Samples, Science, Volume 304, Number 5671, Issue of 30 April 2004.
Interesting that the Italians can connect the dots between Darwin and Marx, but American scientists pretend evolution is religiously neutral. Also notice that Science treats Darwinism and evolution as synonymous. Some evolutionists try to wriggle out of that connection and claim that Darwinism only refers to one discredited mechanism of evolution. Is Darwinism really the hegemony of the Left? We need a research project to see how many hard line Darwinists are also leftists. Bets are the correlation would be high. Most editorials that touch on politics in the elitist science journals usually show a distinctly anti-conservative, liberal-left slant. Even this article didnt hesitate to label the anti-evolutionists far-right but avoided attributing the label far-left to the Darwin Party. It is instructive to note that Charlie and his fallen angels were all radical leftists of their day. Just a coincidence, presumably. Also coincidental that Marxists idolized Charlie and closed churches, turning them into museums of atheism.Darwin Not Given Enough Credit for Animal Engineering 04/28/2004
Daniel E. Lieberman (Harvard) was impressed with Steven Vogels new book, Comparative Biomechanics: Lifes Physical World (Princeton, 2003), which he reviewed in Nature.1 He considers it a much-needed general textbook on biomechanics, the study of ways living things solve physical problems. For instance, animals and plants need to generate forces to either move or stay put. Lieberman praises Vogels book as fun to read and filled with tremendous examples:
Nature is a pretty impressive engineer, Lieberman confesses.
The physical world poses many basic challenges, such as gravity, viscosity and pressure gradients, to all living creatures, which in turn have evolved an astonishing array of solutions. Many of these, such as paddles, valves and hydrostats, are so widespread that we rarely notice them. Others perform so well that we marvel at their superiority to human-made devices.The physical problems solved by living things extend from how proteins fold to how whales float. These things are best studied by engineers, who can employ their talents deducing and testing the inherent principles and mechanisms by which things fail, work or can be made to work. The only criticism Lieberman had was that Vogel didnt shed enough light on evolution:
In Vogels world, plants and animals receive equal treatment in the context of the physical problems they encounter. In that sense, the comparative method he uses is based on problems of physics, not evolutionary relationships: tubes are treated as tubes, regardless of what kind of organism they serve. Regrettably, this perspective leaves little room to explore key problems in evolution. Vogel mentions only in passing various debates on topics such as constraints, adaptation and the mechanisms by which organisms can or cannot alter in response to changes in their environment. Of particular note, he sidesteps the issue of optimization and the extent to which natural selection drives organisms towards supposedly better ways to overcome the challenges posed by their particular environments.Despite that little shortcoming, he thought the book was destined to become a well-worn classic.
1Daniel E. Lieberman, Engineering for Animals, Nature 428, 893 (29 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428893a.
Ha! This is funny. Please, Mr. Vogel, cant you give Charlie just a little credit? Im afraid the creationists and ID people are going to latch onto this book. Cant you tell us just a little bitty just-so story about how these masterful engineering feats evolved, so that we can use it in the public schools?Moose Muzzle: A Nose for News 04/28/2004
Curious about the enigmatic nose structure of the moose, two researchers picked up moose roadkill and decided to study those large, comical Bullwinkle faces, reports Nature.1 Lincoln Tim writes,
The moose, Alces alces, is a member of the deer family, but its nasal apparatus is unlike that of any of its relatives. The apparatus overhangs the mouth, and the nostrils are large and laterally sited .... The muzzle contains a long and complex nasal cavity, with a highly complicated muscle and cartilage system.Though the puzzle of the muzzle is not completely solved, the scientists suggested it serves the following functions:
Andrew B. Clifford and Lawrence M. Witmer reported their results in the Journal of Zoology 262, 339-360; 2004. On May 6, MSNBC News reported on this story and included a handsome moose muzzle portrait.
1Lincoln Tim, Zoology: Nose of Moose, Nature 428, 904 (29 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428904a.
Now you know. All that and no transitional forms, either.Noahs Ark Search Planned 04/26/2004
MSNBC and Fox News report that a search is being planned July 15 to inspect an object that, seen from a satellite, bears some resemblance to remains of Noahs ark high up the slopes of Mt. Ararat. The expedition, led by Daniel McGivern, wants to get a closer look and take photographs. National Geographic took note of the news, adding that the satellite image was taken by Digital Globe, a commercial satellite imaging company. Although McGivern is 98% certain it is the Ark of Noah, and claims he can even identify wooden beams in the images, another veteran Ark explorer, Rex Geissler, is skeptical.
The object is too indistinct to draw any conclusions. Tantalizing as these images are when they appear from time to time, we should always take a default position that they are not Ark-eological till proven otherwise. Embarrassing retractions have been made before by overzealous explorers; a different box-shaped object in the 1990s looked very different up close. It is certainly worth checking out claims like this, but it is also highly unlikely a wood ship would survive thousands of years of weathering and landslides even under the best of conditions. Only extraordinary evidence will be able to substantiate the extraordinary claim. Better to understate the potential than have to backtrack later.SETI Researcher Analyzes Language Mathematically 04/26/2004
Space.com had a story April 22 about Dr. Laurance Doyle, who studies non-human communication with information theory. The article is mostly about his study of whale and dolphin signaling, but mentions how information theory is related to the intelligence of the communicating entities:
Doyles team uses statistical tools from a field known as information theory to measure the complexity of different species communication systems and thus learn how much information individual animals can transfer between each other. This allows the scientists to draw inferences about the intelligence of the communicating species, which in turn gives Fi researchers a better understanding of intelligence as an evolutionary adaptation.The term Fi comes from the Drake equation, a well-known SETI formula invented by Frank Drake that seeks to calculate how many intelligent civilizations might exist in space wishing to communicate with us. It stands for the fraction of habitable planets with life that have evolved intelligence the most speculative factor in a string of speculative factors that comprise the equation.
Like most evolutionary articles, this evolutionary article merely assumes evolution. It takes for granted that life and intelligence will evolve, given enough time. As such, it provides nothing new in the rhetoric of Darwinism. But it does remind us that communication of information is a hallmark of intelligence. Animals possess intelligence and communicate information to one another in many ways, but only humans lie (see next entry). If we know empirically that information is a telltale sign of intelligence, how can it be honest to assert that human intelligence had a non-intelligent source, ultimately from hydrogen?Another Human Distinctive: Lying 04/26/2004
Heres another evolutionary conundrum: animals usually dont tell lies. Why is lying such a well-documented human trait, but rare in the animal kingdom? Animals signal their own and their enemies in many complex ways. It would seem that lying would have evolved as a useful strategy many times in the animal kingdom, yet apparently it has not. In a book review of Animal Signals by John Maynard Smith and David Harper (Oxford, 2003) published in the April 23 issue of Science,1 Nils Stenseth and Glenn-Peter Sætre describe the puzzle:
A central problem for evolutionary biologists interested in animal communication is to explain why animal signalers generally are truthful. A male nightingale advertising for a mate reliably signals properties of his qualities through his beautiful song. By dressing in screaming black and yellow colors, the wasp reliably warns approaching predators (and us) of her painful sting. The trivial answer to the honesty problem is that it would not pay animals to respond to a signal unless they by and large benefited. If wasps never stung, no one would bother to notice their striking colors. The color pattern would cease to be a signal. However, the more interesting question--the main theme of John Maynard Smith and David Harpers Animal Signals--is what keeps signalers from cheating? What prevents, say, a poor-quality male nightingale from claiming that he is of higher quality than he actually is?Its not that evolutionists never thought about this before. One explanation, for instance, is called the handicap theory: signals are reliable because they are costly to produce or have costly consequences. Ideas about indices vs. amplifiers and evolving signals vs. equilibrium signals are discussed in the review, along with this puzzler:
The problem of honest signaling seems especially challenging to our intuition when we consider contests, situations in which the contestants prefer different outcomes. In their chapter on signaling during contests, Maynard Smith and Harper explore some consequences of the contestantsְ shared interest in avoiding an escalated fight. They discuss badges of status, minimal-cost signals that indicate need, and aspects such as extended interactions, punishment, and the effects of the divisibility of a resource.All this seems to beg the question of why humans are such inveterate liars, if their behavior evolved, too. The authors provide some suggestions
In the final chapter, the authors discuss signaling in primates and some other social vertebrates. Here we find several topics that border on other fields such as psychology and the evolution of language. The chapter provides some of the books most entertaining examples and most thought-provoking suggestions. These include the evolution, through natural selection, of animal signaling into human language; that is, the transition in our past where genetic change was eclipsed by cultural change and history began.With that tantalizing impression, they leave us hanging; the reviewers probably expect us to buy the book to hear the suggestions. Are they suggesting that cultural change and history do not evolve by natural selection?
1Nils Chr. Stenseth and Glenn-Peter Sætre, Behavioral Ecology: Why Animals Dont Lie, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5670, 519-520, 23 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097384].
Interesting that they do not mention mimicry, which seems to be a form of deceit: dont eat me--Im a stick! But mimicry is not really lying. The animal cant help the way it was born. Anyway, in terms of vocalizations or behavioral traits, it is striking that animals dont lie to each other like humans do, except in The Far Side comic strips.Minimal Cell Modeled in Computer 04/26/2004
The basic design rules relating the regulation of cellular function to genomic structure is of broad interest, begin three Cornell microbiologists writing in PNAS,1 and so they have turned their attention to the smallest theoretical living cell:
A “minimal cell” is a hypothetical cell possessing the minimum functions required for sustained growth and reproduction in a maximally supportive culture environment. This organism is considered to live in a rich environment with preformed nutrients and relatively constant temperature and pH.The smallest known independently-living organism, Mycoplasma genitalium, has 580 kilobase pairs of DNA. Most prior estimates for the smallest theoretical cell arrived at 262 genes or more. Early investigators started by studying proteins and their functions. These researchers took a different tack:
We propose a reverse approach. We ask how we would design a cell to achieve expected functions and, from that design, how we would write the genomic instructions. This approach follows the typical engineering design approach where desired performance dictates functional design, which is then translated into blueprints.By evaluating which genes seem to overlap and sorting out genes that have similar functions, this team got the number of genes down to only 12, accomplishing 11 essential functions. It is certainly possible that a smaller set of genes might be found, they say, but we believe that the set of functions is minimal. This theoretical lower limit does not, of course, mean that such an entity could be found or constructed, or if it were, that it could survive and reproduce; their model only permits growth from preformed nucleotides precursors and has complete nucleotide pathways.
1Castellanos, Wilson and Shuler, A modular minimal cell model: Purine and pyrimidine transport and metabolism, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0400962101 (published online before print April 16, 2004).
Their model is little more than a thought experiment. It imagines pseudochemical species (or modules) that are aggregates of distinct chemical species that share similar chemistry and metabolic dynamics. What they try to do is theorize how simple a cell can be to exist and model it in a computer, not in the real world. Its kind of like designing a minimal airplane that could fly around the world without refueling, assuming there is constant temperature and no wind. When the actual Voyager flew, it involved many engineering and physiological challenges that required even more intelligent design than a simple, heavier airplane. These authors do not attempt to imagine that their theoretical cell would actually be viable. Its only a theoretical organism, a little better fleshed out than the fake computer organisms of Adami and Lenski.Eugenics Documentary Opens at Holocaust Museum 04/22/2004
Michael Ollove at the Baltimore Sun reports on a new exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum entitled Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race. The exhibit shows a 1937 Nazi propaganda film that invokes the law of natural selection as support for weeding out the unfit. Ollove writes,
The narrator declares that we humans have sinned terribly against [the] laws of natural selection, by coddling the genetically impaired and, even worse, by allowing them to reproduce, duplicating their defects in a new legion of offspring. We have not only sustained unworthy life, he decries, we have allowed it to multiply.Ollove says that eugenics led directly to the holocaust: Ultimately, the Third Reich arrived at a more comprehensive solution than sterilization, one that it would also choose for other biological enemies, including Jews, Gypsies and other inferior races: extermination.
Reviewing the displays, Ollove says the exhibition stands as a frightening warning of where the corrupted use of science can lead. The marriage of eugenics with the Third Reich was a marriage made in hell, he says, and lent Nazi ideology a whiff of scientific authority.
Francis Galton, the father of eugenics, was Charles Darwins cousin and an admirer of his famous relatives evolutionary theory. Janet Browne, in her biography Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002) made it clear that racism was a common fault of many British scientists, and was shared not only by Galton, but by Darwin and many of his defenders: Huxley, Haeckel and many others. Charles Darwin himself believed that the white-skinned Europeans with their superior intelligence would eventually exterminate the lower races.
Who was Hitler to stand in the way of the laws of nature? The Reich took enthusiastic note of the work of eugenicists. Ollove writes, After Hitler took power, the eugenicists achieved an unparalleled primacy, the envy of counterparts elsewhere in the world. Many were appointed to key positions at scientific institutions and received research funding. Their critics were silenced, while their views were furthered in state propaganda and official policy. Yet Germany was not alone in supporting eugenics. The United States passed forced sterilization laws even before Germany did, beginning in 1907 (see this book review by the NCPA).
Ollove next describes the slippery slope that began with euthanizing children, to killing adults, and led to all the horrors with which we have become familiar from newsreels made after the war. Just a dirty chapter in history, a shocking museum exhibit? Ollove warns that the exhibits continued relevance is unmistakable as present-day bioethicists wrestle with the policy implications of startling genetic research and the possibilities it presents. Already, genetic screening, the desire to breed super-athletes or super-intelligent children, sex selection and the rising costs of health care are creating pressures to weed out the unfit or undesirable.
What is the lesson of this exhibit? He concludes, The underlying issue inevitably bears on the question of the worth of individuals, a question for which both German eugenicists and the Nazis believed they had answers. Their answers often leaned on the writings of Darwin, Haeckel, and Galton.
See also a new book by Dr. Richard Weikart (UC Stanislaus), From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (Palgrave McMillan, 2004). The author shows in this book that Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles.
Darwinists hate it when outsiders try to link evolutionary theory with the holocaust. Their response is usually two-fold: (1) science, and evolutionary theory in particular, has nothing to do with how it is used (after all, benign nuclear physics led to the atomic bomb), and (2) Christians have been guilty of atrocities, too: why, passages in the Bible could be, and were, used to justify anti-Semitism, slavery, and genocide. Go read Olloves entire article. Then, come back and lets examine these rebuttals in turn.Dinosaur Extinction Theory #481b 04/22/2004
Lets try another one. Temperature imbalances after the asteroid impact 65 million years ago caused cooler global temperatures. This caused more eggs to hatch male, since in reptiles, egg temperatures can influence the sex of the hatchlings. So a shortage of females gradually led to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Why, then, didnt crocodiles go extinct? ask critics of this new hypothesis by researchers at Leeds University (see BBC News). They answer: These animals live at the intersection of aquatic and terrestrial environments, in estuarine waters and river beds, which might have afforded some protection against the more extreme effects of environmental change, hence giving them more time to adapt.
How did Arctic dinosaurs survive for so long, then? (see 03/29/2004 entry). Dont ask.
This latest attempt was probably in response to the revelation that the dinosaur extinction was 300,000 years after the assumed date of the Yucatan impact (see 09/25/2003 entry).Can Evolution Create Homologous Structures by Different Paths? 04/22/2004
Günter Thebien (Friedrich Schuller U, Jena, Germany) is baffled about how two plants arrived at similar structures by different evolutionary pathways. In the April 22 issue of Nature,1 he asks,
Structures that occur in closely related organisms and that look the same are usually considered to be homologous their similarity is taken to arise from their common ancestry. Common sense suggests that the more complex such structures are, the less likely they are to have evolved independently and the more valuable they should be for studying systematics. But what if obviously identical organs have arisen through two mutually exclusive developmental routes?He points to a discovery by Glover et al. (Gene 331, 1-7; 2004) of just such a what-if situation. Two species in the nightshade family (of which tomatoes are a member) that have almost identical looking pepperpots or anther cones in their flowers. Yet mutation experiments on the genes that develop the structures show that neither could be related to the other by common ancestry, because they develop under different pathways. So the most plausible conclusion, he claims, is that pepperpots originated twice independently in the lineages that led to tomato and bittersweet. If so, this means trouble for systematists:
Molecular systematic analysis confirms that tomato and bittersweet are closely related, and the traditional view would be that their pepperpot cones are obviously homologous. But genetic tinkering and mutant analysis show that they probably are not that they are convergent, having taken different routes to the same end. Lifes potential to invent complex structures more than once may worry systematists, who depend on reliable characters to reconstruct relationships between organisms. But it will please anyone who admires natures innovative power.
1Günter Thebien, Developmental genetics: Bittersweet evolution, Nature 428, 813 (22 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428813b.
Homology is one of those words that embeds Darwinian assumptions into the terminology. The Darwin Partys word games go like this:How Tall Can a Tree Grow? 04/22/2004
130 meters (426 ft) seems to be the upper limit on the height of a tree, say researchers from Humboldt State, Northern Arizona University and Pepperdine University, in the April 22 issue of Nature.1 To find this out, they had to establish working stations at the tops of northern California redwoods, the tallest trees on earth (the current record holder is 369.75 feet, the height of a 36-story building). Ian Woodward calls their in situ measurements of photosynthesis at heights of over 360 ft. a remarkable achievement.2 The team shot arrows over the tops of tall northern redwoods, then pulled up ropes and climbed hundreds of feet into the crown branches to take their measurements of water pressure, leaf mass, carbon dioxide exchange, and light environment. Since the tallest trees, which are estimated to have been growing for 2000 years, have not reached the theoretical limit, they could continue growing for some time.
Koch et al. determined that the limiting factor is ability to pump water against the competing forces of gravity and friction, which increase with height. Transpiration through the leaves creates a suction in the woody vessels that pulls the water upward until cavitation occurs, when an embolism forms that collapses the water flow. They found that the top leaves get smaller and denser at the top, and less photosynthesis occurs, due to the challenge of delivering water hundreds of feet off the ground. The northern redwoods are efficient drawers of water, Woodward says:
Tall trees use considerable quantities of water. For example, a 45-m redwood uses about 600 kg of water each day, a figure that increases substantially with height and size. It seems surprising, therefore, that the redwoods live in a climate with an annual dry season of 3-4 months. Offsetting such an apparent drawback, however, is the oceanic influence on local climate, which means that dry-season fog occurs for up to two weeks at a time: fog reduces transpiration, a benefit in the dry season. Moreover, tall trees actually increase the interception and capture of fog coming in off the sea, to the tune of 34% of the annual incidence of precipitation; in their absence, the precipitation input from fog is halved.Woodward finds it interesting that Kochs team began their research in 1988 on the lowly radish, and now they have continued on the tallest plants in the world. Yet that is no real surprise, he notes: despite the very different packaging and longevity of the two species, their physiological processes are much the same.
See also the BBC News writeup on this research paper.
1Koch, Sillett, Jennings, and Davis, The limits to tree height, Nature 428, 851 - 854 (22 April 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02417.
2Ian Woodward, Plant science: Tall storeys, Nature 428, 807 - 808 (22 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428807a.
Here is a good example of science as it should be done. Excellent field work, and no storytelling about evolution. As remarkable as todays giant trees are, there were probably even bigger ones in the past. Yellowstone in Wyoming and Florissant Fossil Beds in Colorado have fossilized Sequoia stumps, and redwood fossils have been found even near the Arctic circle (see 03/22/2002 entry). Conditions in the past may have been even more conducive to their rapid growth.Does Ethics Emerge From Genes Alone? 04/21/2004
Gene Robinson wants to get us beyond nature and nurture in discussions of behavior. Robinson, of the Department of Entomology and Neuroscience at the University of Illinois in Urbana, wrote an essay in the April 16 issue of Science1 that suggests it is not either-or but both-and both genetics and the environment affect the expression of genes. Behavior, therefore, is a reflection of the dynamic interplay of both factors as they affect which genes are expressed. Does this remove the fear of biological determinism?
When it comes to behavior, the nature-nurture controversy has not disappeared. The public is leery of attributing behavioral influence to DNA rather than to the environment and free will; worries abound over the ethical implications of biological determinism. Many social and behavioral scientists are skeptical as well, either because the concept of DNA as destiny does not jibe with their understanding of the dynamic nature of behavior or because they consider human behavior to be much more complex than that of animals studied from a genetic perspective. By contrast, biologists have long accepted that genes, the environment, and interactions between them affect behavioral variation. Traditionally, behavioral variation has been partitioned using statistical analysis into genetic (G), environmental (E), and G x E components, an approach that began long before the advent of molecular biology. This retains the flavor of the nature-nurture dichotomy, which influences how research in this field is interpreted. Fortunately, we can now study genes in enough detail to move beyond the nature-nurture debate. It is now clear that DNA is both inherited and environmentally responsive.Robinson provides three examples of genetic expression in animals (voles, fruit flies and rats) affected by environment. Thus, he considers a biological explanation of behavior tractable at last: All behaviors are influenced by the actions of many genes; the three highlighted here exert their effects as part of gene networks that give rise to diverse pathways of physiological activity. These animal models illustrate a new framework for explaining behavior, from animals to man:
Emphasizing the dynamic responsiveness of the genome over different time scales not only provides a framework that includes both mechanistic and evolutionary explanations of behavior at the molecular level, but may also attract more social and behavioral scientists to the quest to understand the relationship between genes and behavior. In the past, social and behavioral scientists might have dismissed molecular studies of behavior in animal models by pointing to the greater complexity of human behavior. Yet the examples offered here--pair bonding, foraging, and care of offspring, each involving molecules known to also be present in humans--illustrate complex behaviors performed over days and weeks or even a lifetime. These behaviors have learned components and are performed in a social context. The value of animal models can be further enhanced by applying genomics to generate large-scale expression profiles of individuals with different genotypes tested in different environments. In addition, the application of informatics should enable new literature-based comparative analyses of behaviors across different species.These new approaches might provoke multidisciplinary synergy: Development of new tools marrying the vast literature on behavior with genomics could also spark increasing involvement by social and behavioral scientists in molecular genetic studies of behavior, Robinson says. This would be a welcome development indeed. Biologists need the collaborative input of sociologists, he suggests demurely. He thinks the cross-disciplinary study of molecular genetics will also help everyone get past the dilemma of nature versus nurture. From there, tackling the intricacies of the human psyche cannot be far behind: Then we can all focus on both the tremendous opportunities and the challenging ethical concerns related to the study of genes and behavior.
1Gene E. Robinson, Beyond Nature and Nurture, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5669, 397-399, 16 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1095766].
Gene (appropriately named), a genetic determinist, and a Gene E. with words, seems to believe he is thinking outside the box, but he has only rearranged the furniture. The box is naturalism. It was naturalism before, and it is naturalism now. The couch of nature and the sofa of nurture have just been rearranged on both sides of the end table of genetics. Now, the biologists and social scientists can both pour their coffee from the same pot as they discuss their common bond of naturalistic philosophy.Can Molecular Clock Relativity Explain the Cambrian Explosion? 04/20/2004
Evolutionists seem to believe in a general theory of biological relativity: molecular clocks run at different rates depending on the conditions. Six Dartmouth College researchers set out to estimate the time when the first bilaterally symmetric animals emerged the ancestor of humans, vertebrates, worms and everything with two halves. This event must have occurred, they believe, just prior to the Cambrian explosion, a period in the fossil record that continues to defy explanation (see 04/14/2004 entry). Their solution, published in PNAS,1 depended on running the molecular clock at different rates on different branches of Darwins tree of life. (The molecular clock is a dating method that estimates the passage of time by how many genetic changes are observed between two related species, assuming they both diverged from a common ancestor.)
Their paper begins with the importance of the question: Accurately dating when the first bilaterally symmetrical animals arose is crucial to our understanding of early animal evolution, they say. Yet till now there has been a disconnect between two data sources: The earliest unequivocally bilaterian fossils are ~555 million years old. In contrast, molecular-clock analyses calibrated by using the fossil record of vertebrates estimate that vertebrates split from dipterans (Drosophila) [insects with two wings] ~900 million years ago (Ma). What happened to 345 million years? Part of the answer, they claim, is that the molecular clocks ran at different speeds: comparative genomic analyses suggest that a significant rate difference exists between vertebrates and dipterans, because the percentage difference between the genomes of mosquito and fly is greater than between fish and mouse, even though the vertebrate divergence is almost twice that of the dipteran. This is surprising; most would assume a mosquito and fly, both flying insects, would have similar genes, but protein-coding genes between fish and mouse show fewer differences in twice the estimated time.
The authors suggest two possibilities to explain this conundrum. Either insects accelerated their rate of molecular evolution, or vertebrates decelerated it. In this paper, the authors prefer the latter, but they appreciate the magnitude of the difficulties presented by the Cambrian explosion:
Although the Cambrian explosion is of singular importance to our understanding of the history of life, it continues to defy explanation. This defiance stems, in part, from our inability to distinguish between two competing hypotheses: whether the Cambrian explosion reflects the rapid appearance of fossils with animals having a deep but cryptic precambrian history, or whether it reflects the true sudden appearance and diversification of animals in the Cambrian. Because each hypothesis makes a specific prediction of when animals arose in time, one way to distinguish between these two hypotheses is to date animal diversifications by using a molecular clock. A number of previous clock studies (reviewed in refs. 3 and 4) have suggested that the last common ancestor of bilaterians (LCB) lived well over one billion years ago (5, 6), whereas others suggest that LCB arose ~900 million years ago (Ma) (e.g., refs. 7-10), and still others are more consistent with an origination closer to the Cambrian (11-13). These deep estimates for the origin of LCB raise the question of how hundreds of millions of years of bilaterian evolution can escape detection, given that LCB and its near relatives should have had the capability of leaving both body and trace fossils.That is why these authors reject the presumption that the LCB existed for over 500 million years without leaving a trace of a fossil, when many precambrian strata appear ideally suited for preservation.
Their preferred late date, however, contradicts the evidence from the molecular clock, which would put the LCB in deep time (i.e., over a billion years ago, long before the Cambrian explosion). But that is where relativity can help:
Because molecular clocks have several inherent problems, including how the clock is calibrated, how molecular substitution rates are estimated, and how heterogeneity in these rates is detected and corrected, as well as an inherent statistical bias for overestimating dates, a much more recent date for LCB may not yet be refuted. Of crucial importance for clock accuracy is the calibration of the clock itself, which requires not only accurate paleontological estimates but also rate homogeneity between the calibrated and uncalibrated taxa. When estimating the origination date for LCB, virtually all analyses use the vertebrate fossil record to calibrate the clock and ask when vertebrates diverged from dipterans. However, genome-wide sequence comparisons have shown that the average sequence identity of nuclear protein-coding genes between dipterans is lower than that of bony fish, even though the dipteran divergence time, estimated at 235 Ma (19), is only about half as long as the divergence of bony fish at 450 Ma (20).The answer must be, they claim, that instead of rate homogeneity (a constant clock) there was rate heterogeneity (relative clocks) on the different branches of the tree.
Using various mathematical models for building evolutionary trees and estimating the time between the branches, they test their hypothesis that the vertebrate clock ticked slower. Various adjustments are made to synchronize the molecular estimates with the fossil record; they admit that the use of molecular clocks to infer divergence times is fraught with difficulties, and they must apply many assumptions, none of which question the core assumption that a common ancestor existed. But even within a Darwinian paradigm, their solution leads to another, more challenging problem: the Cambrian explosion was rapid. Consequently, all the diverse body plans of all animal phyla had to arise quickly from the alleged, unobserved common ancestor. Even though they express some confidence that their adjustments to the molecular clock produced congruence with the generally-accepted dates from the fossil record, Because of this congruence, the Cambrian explosion must reflect, at least in part, the diversification of bilaterian phyla. Somehow, without leaving a trace, precambrian ancestors gave rise to a rich diversity of animals in a relatively short time. What genetic mechanisms could produce such rapid invention of body plans and complex organs, they do not say. But maybe it was triggered by a snowball Earth, melting glaciers, an exposed continental shelf or some other environmental change, though highly speculative at the moment, that may have provided the environmental stimuli necessary for the rapid evolution of disparate bilaterian body plans and ultimately the Cambrian explosion itself.
1Peterson et al., Estimating metazoan divergence times with a molecular clock, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10.1073/pnas.0401670101, published online before print 04/14/2004.
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when at first we practice being deceived. It would appear that an unbiased observer might pronounce Darwinism falsified at this revelation. If it takes multiple tweaks by orders of magnitude to get a model to work, is there not something fundamentally wrong with the presuppositions? Tweaks of this magnitude resemble the desperate attempts to keep the Ptolemaic model of planetary orbits from crumbling under the barrage of improved observations.How Birds Calibrate Their Navigating Maps 04/17/2004
Three researchers tracked birds in the wild and concluded that night-flying thrushes set their course using a magnetic compass, which they calibrate to the setting sun before takeoff each evening. The team of three captured thrushes in Illinois and attached small radio transmitters to them, then followed their flight for up to 1100 kilometers. By tricking them with false magnetic fields, they were able to steer them off course. But after next sunset, the birds were back on track, apparently having recalibrated their maps by the position of the sun. Erik Stokstad, reporting on the research, adds more interesting details:
This work may explain why birds dont get lost when they cross the equator. That had been an enigma because birds cant tell magnetic north from south. Instead, they check the inclination of the field lines relative to the ground; the angle becomes steeper near the poles. A bird using only its magnetic compass would risk getting turned around near the equator, but calibrating it to the sunset would keep it on track. Of course, the position of the sunset changes with latitude and season, but Wikelski thinks that birds may be able to correct for that through a biological clock that tells them the time of year.This is the first time birds have been monitored for navigation in the wild. The team must have looked odd chasing birds with meter-tall antenna mounted on top of a battered 1982 Oldsmobile. According to Stokstad, Many nights, the team was delayed when suspicious police officers pulled over the electronics-laden car.
See also: National Geographic News.
1Erik Stokstad, Songbirds Check Compass Against Sunset to Stay on Course, Science Vol 304, Issue 5669, 373, 16 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5669.373a].
Thus multiple levels of correction and calibration are involved in this mind-boggling ability of little birdbrains to use natural cues to migrate vast distances unerringly, day and night, north and south, east and west. Congratulations to creative and diligent scientists who risk jail to find out these amazing feats in the animal kingdom for us to enjoy and ponder.The Spin on a New Planet 04/16/2004
Planetary scientists are completely baffled by a new mysterious planetoid named Sedna, discovered March 15. About 70% the diameter of Pluto, it has no moon like Pluto does, but rotates very slowly - somewhere between 20 and 50 days - which would normally imply the presence of a satellite. Most small bodies rotate in a few hours. Co-discoverer Mike Brown of Caltech expressed, Im completely baffled at the absence of a moon. This is outside the realm of expectation and makes Sedna even more interesting. But I simply dont know what it means.
We dont know what it means, either, but if scientists can still be completely baffled by observable things, how can we trust evolutionists chutzpah about unobservable things that they claim happened billions of years ago?Is It Possible to Be Too Clean? 04/16/2004
Mr. Clean may have a bad immune system. A story in EurekAlert says kids without enough exposure to infectious agents are at greater risk of autoimmune diseases. The cleaner everyone is, the less stimulation their immune system gets, says [Nora] Sarvetnick [of Scripps Research Institute]. Their immune system tends to be incomplete. Stimulation increases the number of T cells in the body, which act as a buffer against the emergence of self-reactive T cells by shutting down homeostatic expansion, a reaction to low T-cell count. Sarvetnicks hypothesis contrasts with prevailing opinion that views autoimmune diseases as functions of too much stimulation. Apparently, segments of our immune systems, like soldiers, need things to practice on. If there is no target, they practice on you. This hypothesis could explain a discrepancy in the number of cases of autoimmune disease in developed and developing countries, the report says. Disease rates have been on the rise in developed countries in the last 50 years compared to their developing neighbors, presumably because people in less developed countries are exposed to more pathogens.
This could lead to a new paradigm about infectious agents. Since many are not pathogenic, maybe there are interactions between our cells and the environment that are not all bad. Maybe instead of looking at every germ as an enemy, we should envision some of the microbes as engaging in free trade across our borders. The problem then becomes regulating the commerce and preventing intrusion by terrorists.Fish Gene Gives Darwinists Hope 04/15/2004
It doesnt take much to excite an evolutionary biologist. A little bit of microevolution that might be a stepping stone to macroevolution is all it takes. This story almost reads like a Good News - Bad News joke. The good news is that one gene that regulates the spines on one kind of fish has been found, that might provide a clue how a noticeable change between populations could evolve. The bad news is expressed in an opening statement by Neil Shubin and Randall Dahn in their summary of a scientific paper published in the April 15 issue of Nature1:
Darwins lament that Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound has described one of the persistent problems in evolutionary biology for the past 145 years. How does genetic variation the raw material of evolution arise within populations, and how does it evolve to make species anatomically and behaviourally distinct?To attempt an answer to these profound questions, Shubin and Dahn refer to a paper by Shapiro et al.2 in the same issue. Shapiros team found a gene in threespine sticklebacks that controls the size of their stickles or bony spines that grow out of the pelvic girdle on these fish. These spines are apparently defensive structures in the sea-going species, but are reduced in size in their freshwater cousins. Experiments with the gene show that it can reduce the size of these limbs. That leads to a counter-intuitive principle, according to Shubin and Dahn: Surprisingly, some of the most significant novelties in the history of life are associated not with the evolution of new structures but with the loss or reduction of primitive ones. As examples, they point to snakes and whales, who supposedly lost their legs. Some animals can jump, fly, or run better without their limbs, they claim. Similarly, freshwater stickleback fish might do better without their spines, either because there is insufficient calcium in the water to grow them, or predatory invertebrates might find them to be convenient handles.
The gene the paper identified, Pitx1, is vital; in fact, Pitx1 mutations in mice are often lethal, because they cause developmental abnormalities of the head, face and some glands. This leads to another counter-intuitive principle: How, then, could alterations in this gene be involved in limb reduction in living populations of stickleback fish? The answer is that the regulation of Pitx1 not the protein encoded by the gene has changed. Specifically,
Shapiro et al. found that the sequence of the protein-coding region of the Pitx1 gene is identical between the different populations of sticklebacks. But the genes expression pattern is altered markedly: the population with complete pelvic loss shows no Pitx1 expression in appendages but retains patterns of gene activity in other areas, such as the thymus, olfactory pits and caudal fins (Fig.2). This type of localized decrease in the activity of Pitx1 can result in pelvic-fin reduction without affecting other parts of the body.Thus, a small microevolutionary change might lead to macroevolutionary effects: Regulatory changes affect when and where a gene is active, not the actual product of the gene. So these types of changes are often involved in non-lethal and rapid morphological change, and are likely to be extraordinarily important components of evolutionary history. They do not explain what kind of mutation changed the expression of this gene. Instead, Shubin and Dahn argue that stratigraphic evidence suggests this change took place in only 10,000 generations. They reason that Extrapolating these results to other taxonomic groups leads to the conclusion that major morphological change can evolve rapidly through regulatory changes in a small number of genes. Furthermore, Shapiros paper might demonstrate how parallel evolution could occur, and why some evolutionary changes occur more readily than others. Shubin and Dahn feel this finding might even lead to a general principle of macroevolutionary change.
Their ending paragraph, however, casts only the faintest glimmer of hope on this 145-year-old problem:
One of the central mysteries of evolutionary biology has been the relationship between microevolution and macroevolution. How can an understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms that act in populations today explain the types of variation that distinguish higher taxonomic groups, such as genera, families or even phyla? Can an understanding of population-level processes explain major evolutionary events such as the Cambrian explosion the period around 550 million years ago when complex animal life took off? Perhaps so. Shapiro et al. might have discovered a smoking gun a real example of a type of macroevolutionary change that is produced by genetic differences between populations.Other science news outlets quickly picked up on this story. The BBC News announced that Scientists have discovered a genetic basis underlying the evolution of fewer limbs in animals, and claimed that Limb loss is implicated in a number of big steps in evolution. Science Now reported that researchers have found that a simple change of gene activity could make all the difference--a rare demonstration of how a small genetic change can make a relatively rapid impact on an organism.
1Neil H. Shubin and Randall D. Dahn, Evolutionary biology: Lost and found, Nature 428, 703 - 704 (15 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428703a.
2Shapiro et al., Genetic and developmental basis of evolutionary pelvic reduction in threespine sticklebacks, Nature 428, 717 - 723 (15 April 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02415.
We need a new category for stories like this. Is there a word for gaining an inch and conceding a mile, gaining one small hill but losing the war, spending ones life savings on a slot machine and winning a dime? Thats the spirit of this story; its a Pyrrhic victory. Shubin and Dahn talk like they will soon be proud winners of millions of dollars from Nigeria, if they can just round up a little more money.Slowing Down the Cambrian Explosion 04/14/2004
Although the cause of the Cambrian radiation is unknown, states a story in Science Now, maybe it wasnt as rapid as previously thought. Bruce Lieberman (U. of Kansas) is toying with the idea that trilobites, those icons of the Cambrian era, radiated into various ecological niches 65 million years earlier than the ~520 million year age generally accepted. If so, they would have had more time to evolve.
Lieberman compared physical features from 100 species of trilobites to determine their degree of relatedness. Then he teamed up with a geologist, Joseph Meert (U. of Florida), to infer from magnetic field orientations how long ago the southern supercontinent must have begun drifting toward the equator. Then he related the trilobite species to the continental fragments, and concluded that the continental breakup began 580 million years ago and was more gradual. The analysis suggests that trilobites were already well-diversified by the time most researchers thought the Cambrian radiation began, author Betsy Matson says.
This study was not motivated by a desire to know the truth about the unseen past, but to preserve evolutionary theory from one of its most damaging counter-evidences: the Cambrian explosion.Fake Darwinism Created by Intelligent Design 04/13/2004
Scientists have created enzymes with enhanced ability to select between left- and right-handed molecules, using an evolutionary process, claims Manfred Reetz in a Perspective article in PNAS:1
A fundamentally new approach to asymmetric catalysis in organic chemistry is described based on the in vitro evolution of enantioselective enzymes. It comprises the appropriate combination of gene mutagenesis and expression coupled with an efficient high-throughput screening system for evaluating enantioselectivity (enantiomeric excess assay). Several such cycles lead to a Darwinistic process, which is independent of any knowledge concerning the structure or the mechanism of the enzyme being evolved. The challenge is to choose the optimal mutagenesis methods to navigate efficiently in protein sequence space. As a first example, the combination of error-prone mutagenesis, saturation mutagenesis, and DNA-shuffling led to a dramatic enhancement of enantioselectivity of a lipase acting as a catalyst in the kinetic resolution of a chiral ester. Mutations at positions remote from the catalytically active center were identified, a surprising finding, which was explained on the basis of a novel relay mechanism. The scope and limitations of the method are discussed, including the prospect of directed evolution of stereoselective hybrid catalysts composed of robust protein hosts in which transition metal centers have been implanted.Basically, researchers built enzymes top-down instead of bottom-up. Instead of the old rational design method, trying to construct an active site to perform the function needed, they started with the function they wanted, and iteratively selected any mutants that came closest to doing the job, without stipulating how they did it. The surprising finding he spoke of was that a distant mutation, far from the active site, actually improved the performance of the enzyme.
1Manfred T. Reetz, Controlling the enantioselectivity of enzymes by directed evolution: Practical and theoretical ramifications, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0306866101, published online before print April 12, 2004.
He put Darwinistic in quotes, because it was not really Darwinistic, it was Designistic. The scientists played the role of designer by carefully selecting the results and directing the outcome. This paper, like others before it, gives two false impressions: (1) that Darwinism achieved the high specificity of proteins in the past, and (2) that Darwinian theory is a boon to science in the present. This is nothing but name-dropping. Charlie had nothing to do with it.Mars Rovers Continue to Surprise Scientists 04/12/2004
The Mars Exploration Rovers are still going strong, with many sols ahead for RATting rocks and rolling the plains [RAT, v., to use the Rock Abrasion Tool; sol, n., a Martian day]. The navigators are happy to be back on Earth time, and are poised for more thrilling discoveries as they enter the extended mission phase with no hardware or software problems. But the science results are already puzzling to planetary scientists.
Richard Kerr reported in the April 9 issue of Science on a gathering of more than 1000 researchers at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at Houston last week. Mars exploration was the centerpiece of the show.1 Scientists were amazed to find a kind of desert varnish on many of the rocks examined by rover Spirit, indicating a possible moistening of the surface that must have occurred relatively recently and did not require much time. (Desert varnish, a process that coats rock walls, is still poorly understood on earth.) As announced weeks ago, the Meridiani site being explored by Opportunity seems to have been soaking in water in the past. But another surprise, this one disappointing to some, is that Spirit did not find the expected evidence of lake deposits in Gusev Crater.2 In fact, the area appears quite dry; the presence of olivine in some of the rocks rules out any soaking of the rocks scoured by Spirit. If a river ever flowed down the channel and flooded this crater, the deposits were evidently later buried in dry volcanic debris.
Evidence for past liquid water on Mars still seems contradictory; there seems to be a dichotomy in the data between evidence for warm and wet vs. cold and dry. A surprising image came from the European orbiter Mars Express3: alluvial fans in a small area that appears to have been scoured by torrential rainstorms during the planets latter days of extreme cold and ice. It looks like a postcard from the Mojave desert in California, with gullies on steroids, Kerr writes. The problem is, Mars is not the Mojave Desert, not now and presumably not in the past few billion years since Mars entered its extremely cold and dry later years.
Spirit is now headed on an epic two-month rocky roll to the Columbia Hills, where scientists hope to find more clues to Mars past. Opportunity is on a vast, crusty plain of soil with very few rocks to examine, but lots of room to rove. The MER Website is loaded with interesting facts, anecdotes, pictures and animations, including a jazzy time-lapse composite of Spirits 90 sols of travel and scientific investigation compressed into 90 seconds, demonstrating how much work the rovers have already accomplished. Watching it makes you feel like youre along for a thrill ride.
Update 04/15/2004: A news item in the Apr. 15 issue of Nature4 emphasizes the implications of finding sulfates instead of carbonates in the rocks at Meridiani. It means that any liquid ocean would have had sulfuric acid (at least 0.1%) that prevented the precipitation of CO2 into the rocks. (The source of the sulfur might have been sulfur dioxide, SO2, from volcanos.) Once the abundance of SO2 dropped below the critical level to suppress carbonate formation, Jeffrey M. Moore writes, the atmosphere would have rapidly collapsed to near its present size, leaving carbonates very little time to form as layered marine deposits. The blueberries of hematite, he thinks, formed at the boiling point of water (that is, at the atmospheric pressure at earth sea level). For pictures of the blueberries, see the MER Opportunity Press Release Images from March 18 and March 26.
1Richard Kerr, Mars Rock Crud Gets in the Way, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5668, 196-197, 9 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5668.196b].
2Richard Kerr, Spirit Coming Up Dry at Gusev, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5668, 197, 9 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5668.197].
3Richard Kerr, 'Mind-Boggling' Martian Gullies Raise Climate Conundrum, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5668, 196, 9 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5668.196a].
4Jeffrey M. Moore, Mars: Blueberry fields for ever, Nature 428, 711 - 712 (15 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428711a.
Its too early to draw conclusions. The science papers will follow in about a year or two. For now, lets enjoy this rare Opportunity to share in the Spirit of discovery.Quartz Hydration Dating Method Announced 04/12/2004
A press release from University of California, Irvine announced that Jonathon Ericson of UCIs department of Environmental Health has created a new method for determining the approximate age of many artifacts between 50,000 to 100,000 years old a period for which other dating methods are less effective.
The method depends on measuring the hydration layer that forms when a quartz crystal is cracked or fractured. According to Ericson, quartz hydration can date objects that are between 100 and 1 million years old to within 20 to 35 percent of the objects age.
It can date objects, that is, provided you are willing to extrapolate known rates by three orders of magnitude into the unseen past. They never tell you the assumptions that go into these methods. The error limits give a false sense of accuracy. How come no one ever calls these claims on the carpet for committing the fallacy of extrapolation? Heres why: the figures agree with their evolutionary assumptions.Federal Judge Rules Evolution Must Be Taught As Fact, Not Theory 04/09/2004
It sounds like open-mindedness is illegal in Georgia, on the face of it. Federal judge Clarence Cooper is allowing a lawsuit against the Cobb County school district to go to trial. Their crime has been to insert warning labels in biology textbooks that state, simply,
This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.Six parents sued the school board over these stickers, which they claim advance a religious agenda. The judge agreed with their claim that the labels did not have a secular purpose and therefore were an unconstitutional violation of separation of church and state. According to the Associated Press story published on MSNBC News, he noted that while the disclaimer has no biblical reference, it encourages students to consider alternatives other than evolution. He thought, therefore, that the labels could have the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion.
Presumably, alternatives probably would have included creationism, and while The theory of evolution, accepted by most scientists, says evidence shows current species of life evolved over time from earlier forms and that natural selection determines which species survive, the presumed alternative of Creationism credits the origin of species to God. If so, the article claims, In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled creationism was a religious belief that could not be taught in public schools along with evolution.
On a related subject, John West of the Discovery Institute rebuked a recent CNN story for distorting the truth. According to World Net Daily, CNN claimed nine states were considering punishing teachers who failed to consider alternatives to evolution. The shoe is on the other foot, West responded: This sort of shoddy journalism is inexcusable. CNN manufactured a controversy that doesnt in fact exist. There is no movement in America to fire teachers who wont teach alternatives to evolution. The teachers who are really facing threats to their academic freedom today are those who want to present scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory.
How false and dumb do news stories have to get before people cant take it any more and make their voices heard? As seen in the Associated Press story about the textbook warning labels, the usual lies and misrepresentations from the Darwin Party have now been superseded by actual mind control. Students must not develop critical thinking skills. Open minds must be closed. The thought police will now tell them what they must believe. But CNN has the audacity to assert that opening the door to alternatives to evolution restricts teachers rights.Sober Up About Alleged Alcohol Benefits 04/07/2004
The Brits are not about to take an axe to the pubs, but Nature this week published two sober warnings about the dangers of alcohol abuse. They warn that the oft-claimed benefits of drinking in moderation apply only to a few groups (primarily the elderly), and are drowned in the known health risks. We pay too much attention to the health benefits of alcohol and neglect the devastating effects of excessive consumption, says one editorial,1 and Helen Pearson calls it the demon drink in her News Feature2 (see also Nature Science Update). She begins, Alcohol and tobacco are the terrible twins of public health. Both increase the risk of cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Both are promoted aggressively by a powerful industry. And both can be horribly addictive. Alcohol purveyors stress the benefits, but dont tell you about its numerous evils. Even small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of injury and boost the chances of developing about 60 diseases, including several cancers, liver cirrhosis and neuropsychological disorders.
1Editorial, Some sobering thoughts, Nature 428, 587 (08 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428587b.
2Helen Pearson, Public health: The demon drink, Nature 428, 598 - 600 (08 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428598a.
In ancient times, without refrigeration, some fermentation was unavoidable; still, sober-minded people knew the dangers of undiluted wine and condemned drunkenness (see Proverbs 23:29-35). Today, with refrigeration, pasteurization, and so many safe options available to us, why take unnecessary risks? At least dont claim you do it for your health. Its a preference, and not a wise one. Some things, while legal, may not be wise; they can take over (see I Cor. 6:12). Keep your head. The good book commends sober-mindedness. Youll need that to read these pages.Science Reporters Stretch the Truth on Limb Evolution Claim 04/05/2004
Item: some fragments of bone were found from a road cut in Pennsylvania. Conclusion: Darwinian evolution from slime to humans has been demonstrated again. Sound far fetched? Not if you are a science reporter for a typical news organization; this is common practice.
The bone this time is a humerus of a presumed early tetrapod, described by Neil Shubin and team (University of Chicago) in the Apr. 2 issue of Science.1 Their diagram shows a few scattered fragments of bone, not a whole skeleton.
Thats the data; now the interpretation. According to the authors, the fragments of bone from this late Devonian creature represent a novel mix of primitive and derived characters, that provides the basis for new interpretations of structural and functional stages in the origin of the tetrapod limb. Since only a few bone fragments were found, their identification of the fossil is based on the presence of multiple shared derived features compared with other assumed early tetrapods. The shape of the bone, they think, indicates it supported bigger muscles. It might have been, therefore, evolving into something that could support the body of the animal underwater and perhaps was used for a kind of hopping locomotion. Admitting that Many of the changes seen in these Devonian taxa are also seen in modern fish, they argue that this function represents the intermediate condition between primitive steering and braking functions in fins.
Jennifer Clack, a veteran tetrapod-evolution researcher (see 08/09/2003 entry), writing in the same issue of Science,2 agrees with the interpretation and thinks that Shubins conclusions reveal how even fragmentary finds can be used to draw inferences about the nature and sequence of changes that must have taken place during the evolution of terrestrial locomotion by tetrapods. In other words, no one saw this creature walking on its fins; inferences were drawn based on what they envision must have happened sometime in the evolution from fish to four-footed walker. Even though Clack admits this bone hints at a wide diversity of tetrapods existing in close proximity in Pennsylvania where it was found, she illustrated her article with the new bone arranged into a hypothetical progression from fin to foot.
Here are examples of how this interpretation was reported in the media:
1Shubin et al., The Early Evolution of the Tetrapod Humerus, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5667, 90-93, 2 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1094295].
2Jennifer Clack, Enhanced: From Fins to Fingers, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5667, 57-58, 2 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1096415].
If this article doesnt make you mad, you have been hoodwinked as a victim of bad high school science teaching. These reporters have taken an inch of data and stretched it into a light-year in both directions, fitting it into an all-encompassing myth of their own making, without considering alternative explanations or even coming close to supporting their case. No muscles were found, no dates were stamped on the bones, no creatures were seen doing push-ups, and no transition from fins to feet was observed. In fact, this bone brings as many puzzles into the evolutionary tale as insights (oh, how they love to claim that such and such a discovery may provide insight into evolution). Where is any science reporter wise and bold enough to stand up and call this kind of grandstanding unjustifiable, misleading and worthless?Underground Rodents Have Better Eyes Than Darwin Predicted 04/06/2004
European scientists looked into the eyes of African mole-rats, expecting to find retinas that had deteriorated due to disuse in the underground, lightless environment. What they found were several surprises that call for a revision of our current views on the visual system of subterranean mammals, reports a Max Planck Society press release.
The eyes look smaller on the outside, but that belies their internal complexity. The scientists discovered that in contrast to previous assumptions, the eyes of subterranean African mole-rats have a rather well-structured retina with an unusually high proportion of cone photoreceptors, says the report. Since cones are the photoreceptors for daylight vision, their usefulness in the lightless world of mole-rats is puzzling. Also puzzling was that 90% of the cones are sensitive to blue light, whereas in most mammals 90% are sensitive to green. The density of rods, the photoreceptors for low-light night vision, furthermore, is much lower in the mole-rats than in nocturnal surface-dwelling rodents. These findings were the opposite of what was expected:
The retinae were anatomically well-developed and showed no obvious deficits. To the contrary, the researchers found an unusually high proportion of 10% cones among the photoreceptors. Surface-dwelling nocturnal rodents like rat and mouse have only 1 - 3% cones, which is not surprising as cones do not operate in moonlight or starlight. Even most diurnal mammals have no more than 5 - 20% cones. Why should the mole-rats, living in constant darkness, invest so highly in the cones that only work in daylight? The dominant majority of photoreceptors in all nocturnal and most diurnal mammals are the rods, which are used for vision at low light levels (night vision). Here the mole-rats are less well equipped. Their rod density is only one quarter of that of, for example, mice. Why are the mole-rats so sparing with their light-sensitive rods?The press release offers no new hypothesis to explain these observations. It just admits the assumptions were wrong, and its back to the drawing board:
In summary, the photoreceptors of African mole-rats show stark deviations from the common mammalian pattern. But none of these peculiarities fit the concept of a general regression of the retina in adaptation to a lightless living environment. Evolutionary biology would predict that obsolete structures are removed because they are metabolically too expensive. Hence these photoreceptor features should be interpreted as specializations for particular visual needs.Its going to take more work to sort this out, they say. At present we know too little about the visual challenges and capabilities of these animals, they admit. But one thing they do know: Certainly, the hypothesis of a general, convergent reduction of the eyes in subterranean mammals is up for re-examination.
So another evolutionary assumption has been falsified by observations. Nice work. Since Charlie is taking a stoning as a false prophet, how about giving the intelligent design community a shot at making and testing hypotheses?Sea Genes Multiply 04/04/2004
A potential paradigm-shifting discovery has been made in the doldrums of the Sargasso Sea: there are many more genes in plankton than expected. Craig Venters Celera team sampled the genetic content of microbes off the Bermuda coast, and in 1500 liters of surface seawater, found 1.5 million new genes. Falkowski and de Vargas, writing about this in the April 2 issue of Science,1 appear quite surprised:
Our evolutionary heritage is imprinted in the genes of microbes that live in the oceans, yet that genomic information is barely understood, let alone written in biological textbooks. ... Such an enormous number of new genes from so few samples obtained in one of the worlds most nutrient-impoverished bodies of water poses significant challenges to the emerging field of marine molecular microbial ecology and evolutionary biology.The shotgun sequencing approach of Celera, superior to the older PCR (polymerase chain reaction) method for detecting new genes, has unveiled a previously hidden superabundance of biodiversity among ocean microorganisms. Genomes range from 20 Mb (megabases, or base pairs of DNA) to over 2000 Mb. Some dinoflagellates, of which there are some 2000 varieties, have genomes comparable in size to humans.
Falkowski and de Vargas repeat the usual evolutionary scenario, that The diversity of microbes in the worlds oceans is the outcome of over 3.8 billion years of evolution. They discuss the metabolic experimentation and innovation that led to photosynthesis. To them, this biodiversity reflects what happened after photosynthesis took over: This accommodation has been manifested over the past ~2 billion years as biological adaptations that strive to protect natures investment in the old, anaerobic biological machinery. On a macroscopic scale, these adaptations include the evolution of secondary metabolic pathways, behaviors, morphologies, diversification, and species redundancy that ensures the survival of geochemically critical biological processes. Nevertheless, they acknowledge ignorance: Arguably, nowhere on Earth is this microbial diversity--poorly understood as it is--more apparent than in the contemporary oceans. And they admit that this latest genetic survey of the oceans raises many questions about ecology, and about evolution itself:
The huge panoply of new functional genes unveiled by this first shotgun sequencing of the oceans begs fundamental questions in marine microbial ecology. For example, what ecological and evolutionary processes maintain such high microbial diversity in the oceans? How many new functional components are there? Have we been missing major players, or is the apparent diversity the expression of an extreme redundancy? What is the tempo of evolution in marine microbes? Is their diversity the outcome of Darwinian selection through vertical inheritance, or is it due to nearly neutral modes of evolution in which the hundreds of millions of viral and bacteriophage particles in any milliliter of seawater act as major agents of horizontal gene transfer and genome scrambling?Obviously, they remind us, Most marine microbes are not preserved in the fossil record; hence, their evolutionary pathways can best be inferred from genetically heritable molecules. And this will require substantial investments in new technologies. But These efforts are critical to understanding how life evolved.
The work of Venters team is published in the same issue of Science.2 The abstract states, These data are estimated to derive from at least 1800 genomic species based on sequence relatedness, including 148 previously unknown bacterial phylotypes. We have identified over 1.2 million previously unknown genes represented in these samples, including more than 782 new rhodopsin-like photoreceptors. Variation in species present and stoichiometry suggests substantial oceanic microbial diversity.
1Paul G. Falkowski and Colomban de Vargas, Shotgun Sequencing in the Sea: A Blast from the Past? Science, Vol 304, Issue 5667, 58-60, 2 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1097146].
2J. Craig Venter et al., Environmental Genome Shotgun Sequencing of the Sargasso Sea, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5667, 66-74, 2 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1093857].
These surprising data are too preliminary for anyone to understand them satisfactorily. They rely on techniques involving some guesswork and statistics, such as comparing similar sequences and identifying unique species out of billions of base pairs. Still, the results so far appear to contradict evolutionary assumptions. In a strictly Darwinian world, the fittest survive and the weak go extinct. Yet in the oceans, where the generation rates are the fastest and the opportunities for competition over resources are plenteous, there is a superabundance of biodiversity. Why would organisms strive to protect natures investment in the old, anaerobic biological machinery, if photosynthesis is superior? Can the impersonal strive? What is machinery, if not made by intelligent design? And if horizontal gene transfer has been the rule, or neutral evolution widespread, scrambling' the genomes of these organisms, how could any phylogenetic tree be constructed? How could a scientist have any confidence that a phylogenetic tree even reflects natural history at all? Falkowski and de Vargas would not be asking the questions if they knew how evolutionary processes (hows that for an oxymoron) could maintain such high microbial biodiversity, or why such extreme redundancy should exist in a nutrient-impoverished environment, where Malthus and Darwin would have expected only the fittest to survive. They see no clear Darwinian selection through vertical inheritance jumping out of the published data. An outside observer might claim Darwins predictions have been falsified.Articles 04/03/2004
The cover story of World Magazine for April 3 is a series of prophetic articles for the Year 2025, called Darwins Meltdown: Intelligent Design scientists ... ponder a future free from the dogma of evolution. Looking back on how and why Darwinism declined into the dustbin of discarded ideologies, four intelligent design leaders, Phillip E. Johnson, Jonathan Wells, Jeffrey M. Schwartz and William Dembski place themselves 21 years into the future and look back on what happened since 1859, 1925, 1990, 2000, 2004 and beyond.
Get the magazine just for the artwork: a forlorn-looking Darwin and his pet fish sinking into an ooze of Campbells primordial soup. (The articles are entertaining and enlightening, too.) These articles could backfire if they make readers complacent, causing them to think the demise of Darwinism is already a done deal. Right now, the Darwin Party is still a totalitarian regime giving little indication of relinquishing the power it usurped in Huxleys era (see 01/15/2004 entry). For the prophecies to come true, remember what Doc said in Back to the Future III: Your future hasnt been written yet ... Your future is what you make it. So make it a good one!How Little We Know What Lies Below 04/02/2004
Those cutaway views of the earth, with its core, mantle and crust, make nice diagrams in textbooks. But without a Hollywood-style probe and time machine to the center of the earth, how do we know whats down there, and how it got that way? We know surprisingly little, admits David Stevenson (geologist, Caltech) writing in the April 1 issue of Nature.1 He poses a series of unanswered questions:
The basic divisions of Earths internal structure (crust, mantle and core) have been known for a long time. But the evolutionary path that gave us this structure, and that provides the dynamics of plate tectonics, volcanism and magnetic-field generation, remains poorly understood. Why do we have plate tectonics? What is the nature and extent of melting deep within Earth? How does the core manage to keep generating such a richly complex magnetic field?These questions were addressed at a recent workshop on earths deep interior. From Stevensons viewpoint as a participant, it is evident that we need a better knowledge of the processes that govern deep-Earth history, and the material parameters that control those processes, before any kind of standard model can be constructed.
One parameter that cannot be violated in modelmaking is the First Law of Thermodynamics, the principle that energy cannot be created or destroyed (a scientific law with no known exceptions). Yet the earth has been losing heat through its crust; that heat must come from somewhere. Geologists invoke heating caused by radioactive decay to arrive at estimates of earths steady-state heat output over geologic time. [Radioactivity supposedly overcame Lord Kelvins argument from thermodynamics that the earth could not be as old as evolutionists claim; see 02/02/2004 commentary.] But Stevenson admits there are not enough radioactive sources known, and little is also understood about the viscosity of the mantle, despite the simple models:
Models of this kind are easy to construct and boringly monotonic. Furthermore, they cannot explain the widely accepted factor-of-two ratio for current Earth heat output to current radiogenic heat production. Our planet was more eventful than these simple models allow. Whereas Earth scientists have no desire to repeal the first law of thermodynamics, they are willing to challenge almost everything else. Recently, major disagreements have emerged in attempts to understand the energy budget of Earths core, and there are still many uncertainties over how to incorporate the effects of plates, water, melting and layering into our picture of mantle circulation.One topic on which there is publication activity ... but no consensus is earths magnetic field. Presumably, electrical currents in the fluid mantle keep it running, and the inner core is one of the main contributors to the energy budget available to the dynamo, but there are problems sustaining this dynamo for 4.5 billion years (see 12/15/2003 entry):
Standard evolutionary models have difficulty explaining how the inner core has existed for more than the past billion years or so, yet Earths magnetic field has existed throughout most of geological time. There is no direct evidence on the age of the inner core, and the dynamo may operate without an inner core. Still, it would be surprising if it were a recent feature of Earths structure. This is one of several reasons why some scientists wonder whether there is an additional energy source in the core.Stevenson suggests some additional radioactive elements that might supply the missing energy to power the dynamo, but each candidate is not without problems, such as how you get the elements to separate from their ores during core formation. Maybe it was a non-radioactive energy source, like gravity.
Plate tectonics is another puzzle often oversimplified but still poorly understood. Even if they get convection models to work in the present, can those processes be extrapolated back billions of years?
It is an unfortunate feature of simple models of convection that they can mimic many of the characteristics of plate tectonics, but cannot explain some essential features of plates. The danger of these simple pictures is that they may not provide an adequate predictive framework for how plate tectonics evolves through geological time. Some models suggest possible solutions, but the lack of agreement between these various approaches means that we are not close to a final resolution.The lack of agreement has led to provocative ideas on these subjects. Stevenson is hopeful that models that incorporate water and carbon dioxide in the mantle and core might help, but at this time they have a poorly understood effect on melting in the mantle. We need more information and new ideas, he concludes, as he meekly suggests one preliminary line of inquiry:
It seems likely that we will not understand the origin of Earths magnetic field until we know how the mantle controls heat flow in the core. But we cannot understand the mantle side until we have a better understanding of plate tectonics. This may in turn depend on understanding Earths water cycle. Could it be that magnetism, like life, depends on water?
1David Stevenson, Earth science: Inside history in depth, Nature 428, 476 - 477 (01 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428476a.
This article may come as a shock to those who took high school physical science and were accustomed to boring, confident-sounding textbook drawings and films about the earth and how things work. (Geologists working the surface of the earth have their own problems, too: see 10/09/2003 entry). Notice how little is known. The origin of the earths magnetic field, vital to life as we know it and dropping in strength rapidly, has them still at square one. Plate tectonics, after 50 years the dominant paradigm, is still poorly understood (especially in terms of operation over long ages). The size, chemical makeup and viscosity of the core and mantle are matters of conjecture by armchair scientists trying to get their models to work. And if you were told the earths heat comes from radioactive decay, thus rendering Lord Kelvins upper limit on the age of the earth obsolete, were you aware that estimates are off by a factor of two?Evolutionary Cul-de-Sacs: Ferns Debunk Another Evolutionary Principle 04/02/2004
The principle of the evolutionary cul-de-sac is commonly invoked to explain the apparent lingering existence of once-diverse groups of organisms, writes Torsten Eriksson in the April 1 issue of Nature.1 Maybe that principle itself has had its day.
The case in point are ferns, which long had been thought to have been pushed into an evolutionary dead end by flowering plants (angiosperms). Erikssons comments are in response to a research paper on fern diversity in the same issue by Schneider et al.2:
Some biological concepts keep popping up, even when they have been shown, time and again, not to be generally true. One well-known example is the biological species concept, the idea that only those organisms that can cross and produce fertile offspring belong to the same species. This can't generally be true for many reasons, the most obvious perhaps being that some organisms are not even sexual (such as bacteria and dandelions) and yet have species.So rather than getting pushed aside, ferns actually flourished within the ecosystem invaded by the newer flowering plants. Schneiders international team based their conclusions on molecular data and a re-evaluation of the fossil record, because a full understanding of trends in fern diversification and evolution using only palaeobotanical evidence is hindered by the poor taxonomic resolution of the fern fossil record in the Cretaceous.
So instead of being squeezed out by competition, Eriksson imagines that the rapidly-diversifying angiosperms caused ferns to undergo an evolutionary reawakening, making a variety of habitats that could be explored by opportunistic organisms. This seems the opposite of earlier Darwinian and Malthusian assumptions. Perhaps the whole idea of the evolutionary cul-de-sac is basically flawed, he concludes.
1Torsten Eriksson, Evolutionary biology: Ferns reawakened, Nature 428, 480 - 481 (01 April 2004); doi:10.1038/428480a.
2Schneider et al., Ferns diversified in the shadow of angiosperms, Nature 428, 553 - 557 (01 April 2004); doi:10.1038/nature02361.
So another evolutionary principle has been debunked by evolutionists. Wonderful. Keep up the good work.The Evolution of Suicide Terrorism 04/02/2004
In a letter to the editor of Science April 2,1 Hector N. Qirko (anthropologist, U. of Tennessee) has come up with a Darwinian model to explain suicide bombers. His ideas build on an earlier model by Scott Atran (CNRS-Institut Jean Nicod, Paris, and Institute for Social Research, U. of Michigan) in a previous issue.2 Qirko elaborates on the model, invoking kin selection, nonkin altruism, inclusive fitness and other Darwinian buzzwords:
Kin recognition is a necessary component of inclusive fitness calculations related to altruistic behavior in many species, and kin are often identified by means of evolved cues that are open to manipulation. As recognizing kin has been an important problem in hominid evolution, cognitive adaptations to address that problem have evolved. Relevant literature suggests that cues most applicable to human behavior are close physical association (particularly during development), phenotypic similarity, and the use of kin terms and other symbolic kin referents. Thus, institutions desiring to maintain and reinforce nonkin altruistic behavior among their members should attempt to manipulate predispositions associated with these cues.Its only a start, he admits, but he congratulates Atran for delving into this area of evolutionary psychology: And while what motivates particular individuals to commit suicide terrorism may be impossible to ascertain, how institutions maintain and reinforce a willingness to do so can be more clearly understood. Atran is to be commended for his exploration of this question in evolutionary psychological terms.
1Hector N. Qirko, Fictive Kin and Suicide Terrorism, Science Vol 304, Issue 5667, 49-51, 2 April 2004., [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5667.49].
2Scott Atran, Genesis of Suicide Terrorism, Science Vol 299, Issue 5612, 1534-1539, 7 March 2003, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1078854].
These guys are dead serious. They look at suicide terrorism as just another behavior that evolved by natural selection. They think they are doing us a favor by helping us understand how this phenomenon evolved, presumably so we can deal with it in a compassionate and understanding way. So how would this view influence foreign policy? If it is evolved behavior, isnt it also an evolved behavior to fight back? Neither side can claim to be right; were back to the law of the jungle. Neither can these evolutionary psychologists exempt their behavior from natural selection. Writing papers in Science, therefore, has no ultimate meaning.Evolutionists Violate Church-State Separation 04/02/2004
John G. West thinks he has the NCSE in a hammerlock. The evolution-only advocacy group, headed by Eugenie Scott, has used religious arguments to promote evolution on their new Understanding Evolution website (see 02/29/2004 entry). West, an associate director of the Discovery Institute, writing for National Review, claims they are violating their own principle of separation of church and state.
If creationism cannot be allowed in the science classroom for religious reasons, then why should evolution be advocated for religious reasons? One wonders whether those at the NCSE appreciate the irony of their situation, West chuckles. He caught them in the act:
This effort to use religion to endorse evolution is part of a larger public-relations strategy devised by the NCSE to defuse skepticism of neo-Darwinism. On its own website, the group advises inviting ministers to testify in favor of evolution before school boards, and it has created a Sunday-school curriculum to promote evolution in the churches. The NCSE even has a Faith Network Director who claims that Darwins theory of evolution... has, for those open to the possibilities, expanded our notions of God.Strange talk for an avowed atheist like Scott, unless it is pure strategy and tactics. But the Discovery Institute wants to see it backfire. Its clearly a violation of the First Amendments Establishment Clause. What business is it of the government to tell people what their religious beliefs about evolution should be? And what does this have to do with teaching science?
Click here for an example of religious arguments used by the Understanding Evolution website. See also the World Net Daily report.
This is funny, but it would be even more entertaining if the ACLU took on the NCSE. Dont hold your breath. For those two bosom-buddy groups, its not about science or logic. Its war: Worldview War I.Validating a Just-So Story: How the Lizard Got Its Horns 04/01/2004
As if smarting from criticisms that evolutionists trade in stories instead of evidence, Utah State biologists Kevin Young and Edmund Brodie, Jr and son decided to test an instance of natural selection. Their subject was the horned lizard of the southwestern United States, the misnamed horny toad kids like to catch.
Many descriptions of evolutionary adaptations are criticized as just-so stories that are based more on intuition than on direct tests of adaptive hypotheses. The elaborate crowns of horns possessed by many species of horned lizards (genus Phrynosoma) are classic examples of intuitively adaptive features that lack direct tests of function. The bony horns that give horned lizards their name are presumed to function as a defense against predators (Fig. 1B). Here we present data from the wild showing that natural selection by loggerhead shrikes favors longer horns (fig. S1) in the flat-tailed horned lizard (Phrynosoma mcalli).So, replete with charts, photographs, equations and scientific names, the trio have pulled off a rare achievement: connecting the selective agent (a loggerhead shrike) to the selected effect (the length of the lizards horns). They showed that lizards with longer horns dont get attacked by the predatory bird. Their concluding statement, however, seems to disparage prior work:
Modern methods for analyzing natural selection have increased our understanding of which traits experience selection. These methods, however, typically cannot identify agents of selection or reveal the functional relations that result in natural selection. Even most classic data sets demonstrating selection in the wild, including Bumpuss sparrows and Lande and Arnolds pentatomid bugs, did not reveal the agents responsible for the observed patterns of survival. Our results present a rare opportunity to link the statistical form of selection to an identifiable agent, in this case predation by shrikes. Our study does not show that other agents and forms of selection do not play a role in the evolution of horn size, but clearly illustrates that defense against shrike predation is one factor driving the radical elongation of horns in some species of horned lizards.Their paper was published in the April 2 issue of Science.1 Though not a just-so story in their opinion, they whimsically gave their paper a Kipling-esque title: How the Horned Lizard Got Its Horns.
The summary in Science Now adds that the horns on the living lizards were less than a millimeter longer, on average, than those of the dead ones.
1Kevin V. Young,1 Edmund D. Brodie, Jr.,1 Edmund D. Brodie, III, How the Horned Lizard Got Its Horns, Science, Vol 304, Issue 5667, 65, 2 April 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.1094790] (published online April 1).
Well, very nice. Im sure father and son and buddy had fun out there in the desert and learned a lot. This is certainly better empirical research than the typical Darwin Party fare, weaving tales out of pure imagination. Too bad its irrelevant.