Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mark Mathis is a Fool

From Detroit Weekly

Mathis argues that instructors who want to incorporate theology into their science curricula are being censored. But it’s not a question of censorship—it’s a question of classification. Theological concepts like ID could certainly be taught to students in a course on religion or philosophy, but these concepts are simply not scientific. Science is concerned with evaluating hypotheses which are testable and falsifiable, and God’s existence does not meet these criteria.

I confront Mathis with this point, and he counters that evolutionary theory is also untestable. This is patently untrue—to give just one example, scientists have witnessed speciation, the arisal of a new species from an old one. When I point this out, he interrupts me immediately: “Whoa! Wait a minute! Please send me whatever material you have that demonstrates that we can observe speciation because I have not seen anything. I’ve never heard anyone even claim that!”Is he serious? He’s just produced a film about evolution, and he’s never heard of the fact that speciation has been observed and thoroughly documented in the scientific literature? I’m stunned. I send him peer-reviewed research confirming this fact via e-mail, and he later responds, “This isn’t an important argument for me.”

So I ask him about falsifiability. Clearly, evolution could potentially be disproved, but how could one ever disprove the existence of a deity? He laughs. “You can’t apply falsifiability to Darwinian evolution. How is it falsifiable?”

I respond by quoting the biologist J.B.S. Haldane: “Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.” One instance of fossils appearing in the wrong strata would disprove current evolutionary theory in an instant. Mathis pauses before saying, “If you want to get into the science...” He then trails off and mutters something irrelevant before finally confessing, “Look. You can get into the intricacies of the science on both sides. And I am not qualified.” On that point, we can both agree. (End Of Article)

I would also add that if observed rates of evolution could not account for the fossil records' rates of evolution, then we could safely discard Evolution by Natural Selection (it would be falsified).

Monday, April 28, 2008

Peppered Moths Pose a Problem for People who Posit Evolution as Probable

If you noticed the title, yes, I did have fun trying to see how many words I could come up with that started with 'P'. A few months ago, I talked about how the peppered moth story, which had been under fire, was being tested and how the results confirmed the original story: Moths which blend in to their environment best become the most common in the population. Dark environments always have mostly dark moths, light environments always have mostly light moths. This is because a light moth in a dark environment is more easily spotted by predators and eaten.

It is easy to understand and makes a great teaching tool. Yet creationists have decided to caricature this: "It's just an example of a moth evolving into a moth, it doesn't provide any evidence for 'molecules to man' evolution!"

They are right, in a way. What this example proves is natural selection: those best adapted to their environment become most common. Evolution, from single celled organisms, all the way up to lions, tigers, bears, fish, man, and moths, requires that genetic changes happen, and that this process of selection preserve the good changes and throw out the bad changes. The change that turns moths black is acted upon by natural selection, and the change that allows people to consume dairy products is also acted upon by natural selection.

So the question is: Do mutations (genetic changes) have what it takes to account for all the diversity of life? Yes. Mutations can create new structures, new genes, new functions, and new proteins. Evolution is true, guys, get over it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Evolution: Myths and Misconceptions

New Scientist Magazine has offered an absolutely wonderful series on evolution free of charge. I was especially pleased with their article on "Evolution and New Information". It is very informative, very well written, and destined to become referenced again and again in debates on the subject.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good News and Bad News

First, the Bad News: Ben Stein's Creationist Propaganda film "Expelled" may be a much worse influence than I had previously thought. To see what I mean, check out Richard Dawkins' Open Letter To a Victim of Ben Stein's Lying Propaganda. A Jewish man, listed only as "David J.", saw Ben Stein's film and was convinced that all those who accept evolution are Anti-Semites. He was obviously upset, and said some nasty things to Michael Shermer which reflected just as much prejudice as any Nazi ("We Jews will fight to keep people like you out of the United States!"). While David J. is responsible for his words, there is still a need to expose the terrible lies which inspired those words.

Now for the good news: ICR's application to be able to issue master's degrees in science was turned down by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. As a proud southerner myself, I am always happy to see us kill the stereotypes some cast upon us.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rapid Evolution of Island Lizards

Science Daily Reports that

"'Striking differences in head size and shape, increased bite strength and the development of new structures in the lizard’s digestive tracts were noted after only 36 years, which is an extremely short time scale,' says Duncan Irschick, a professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. 'These physical changes have occurred side-by-side with dramatic changes in population density and social structure.'"

Over the course of 36 years (roughly 30 generations) these lizards have evolved novel "cecal valves" which "slow the passage of food by creating fermentation chambers in the gut, where microbes can break down the difficult to digest portion of plants."

Cecal valves were never before reported for this species, and in fact are known in less than one percent of scaled reptiles.

This once again demolishes the creationist argument that evolution cannot "produce new information". We know it can, we have witnessed novel structures evolve.

Monday, April 21, 2008

NCSE Contest

The National Center for Science Education is having a contest: Write a refutation of something Ben Stein has said while promoting his film, Expelled (while promoting, not in the actual film).

Visit this link to find out more information.

It ends in one week, so hurry and Good Luck!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Evolution of the Placenta

Found Via Stanford Medicine

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have uncovered the first clues about the ancient origins of a mother’s intricate lifeline to her unborn baby, the placenta, which delivers oxygen and nutrients critical to the baby’s health.

The evidence suggests the placenta of humans and other mammals evolved from the much simpler tissue that attached to the inside of eggshells and enabled the embryos of our distant ancestors, the birds and reptiles, to get oxygen.

“The placenta is this amazing, complex structure and it’s unique to mammals, but we’ve had no idea what its evolutionary origins are,” said Julie Baker, PhD, assistant professor of genetics. Baker is senior author of the study, published in the May issue of Genome Research.

The placenta grows inside the mother’s uterus and serves as a way of exchanging gas and nutrients between mother and fetus; it is expelled from the mother’s body after the birth of a baby. It is the only organ to develop in adulthood and is the only one with a defined end date, Baker said, making the placenta of interest to people curious about how tissues and organs develop.

Beyond being a biological curiosity, the placenta also plays a role in the health of both the mother and the baby. Some recent research also suggests that the placenta could be a key barrier in preventing or allowing molecules to pass to the unborn baby that influence the baby’s disease risk well into adulthood.

“The placenta seems to be critical for fetal health and maternal health,” Baker said. Despite its major impact, almost nothing was known about how the placenta evolved or how it functions.
Baker and Kirstin Knox, graduate student and the study’s first author, began addressing the question of the placenta’s evolution by determining which genes are active in cells of the placenta throughout pregnancy in mice.

They found that the placenta develops in two distinct stages. In the first stage, which runs from the beginning of pregnancy through mid-gestation, the placental cells primarily activate genes that mammals have in common with birds and reptiles. This suggests that the placenta initially evolved through repurposing genes the early mammals inherited from their immediate ancestors when they arose more than 120 million years ago.

In the second stage, cells of the mammalian placenta switch to a new wave of species-specific genes. Mice activate newly evolved mouse genes and humans activate human genes.

It makes sense that each animal would need a different set of genes, Baker said. “A pregnant orca has different needs than a mouse and so they had to come up with different hormonal solutions to solve their problems,” she said. For example, an elephant’s placenta nourishes a single animal for 660 days. A pregnant mouse gestates an average of 12 offspring for 20 days. Clearly, those two pregnancies would require very different placentas.

Baker said these findings are particularly interesting given that cloned mice are at high risk of dying soon after the placenta’s genetic transition takes place. “There’s obviously a huge regulatory change that takes place,” she said. What’s surprising is that despite the dramatic shift taking place in the placenta, the tissue doesn’t change in appearance.

Understanding the placenta’s origins and function could prove useful. Previous studies suggest the placenta may contribute to triggering the onset of maternal labor, and is suspected to be involved in a maternal condition called pre-eclampsia, which is a leading cause of premature births.

Baker intends to follow up on this work by collaborating with Theo Palmer, PhD, associate professor of neurosurgery; Gill Bejerano, PhD, assistant professor of developmental biology, and Anna Penn, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics. Together, the group hopes to learn how the placenta protects the growing brain of the unborn baby, a protection that seems to extend into adulthood.

The work was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the March of Dimes and Stanford’s Medical Scientist Training Program.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Today I will be debunking . This site contains typical creationist nonsense, most of which is refuted in "An Index to Creationist Claims". However, I thought I would focus on a single article just to show how wrong they are:

Could Life Just Happen?

It is interesting that the author says "the leap from simple amino acids to a DNA molecule is astronomical" because he has gotten his basic biochemistry wrong: Amino Acids are not at all part of Nucleic Acids like DNA and RNA. He is also confused about the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Second Law does not prevent increasing complexity or organization. It prevents entropy, the amount of unusable energy in a system, from decreasing.

His assertion is easily debunked by simple experiments: Cyanide has a tendency to form more complex molecules. In fact, nucleotides (very complex molecules that make up RNA) were produced by Stanley Miller in a frozen vial of cyanide and ammonia. This was done without any input of energy, not even heat, since the solution was frozen.

Let this serve as a warning: always be wary of creationists, especially those who hold no credentials in biology: The man who wrote this is described as a "volunteer animal speaker" at Oregon Zoo.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Behe is wrong again

How many of my readers remember when I reviewed Michael Behe's Edge of Evolution? One of Behe's main arguments is that two protein protein binding sites cannot evolve at the same time. As the argument goes, systems like the bacterial flagellum and cilium use many more than two protein protein binding sites, thus evolution by random mutation could not have occured.

When I reviewed the book, I sided with Jerry Coyne, and thought that Behe had made some unsound assumptions when calculating probability. Later on, Nick Matzke wrote a devastating review of Behe's book. Concernin Protein-Protein Binding sites, he said,

"Snake venom shows that even vertebrates with small populations can evolve huge gene families that specifically bind diverse proteins, with massive evidence of duplication, mutation, and selection as the mechanisms, and with intraspecific variation in regulation, sequence, and specificity. Is Someone actively designing rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) venom in the American Midwest [7] and fine-tuning the specificity of black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) toxins for subtypes of mammalian muscarinic acetylcholine receptors [8]?"

Seeing as how we had evidence of binding sites evolving so recently, I was confident that Behe would soon be answered. Now, less than a year after The Edge of Evolution, the answer has come: Duplicated binding sites can be altered to produce brand new binding sites. There is a lot of evidence that many of our binding sites are actually duplicates of other binding sites. And better, we have observable, repeatable experiments to base this on.

I wonder how Behe will react? More arm waving? Finally admitting he is wrong? Fat Chance.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Transitional Forms - We got anudder!

Some of you may remember my post about Snake Evolution, if not check it out. Anyway, yet another transitional form has been discovered: A snake with legs!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ben Stizzle

An Encyclopedia Britannica author has written a review of "Expelled" on his blog.

With that, I think I will not mention the movie any longer. Richard Dawkins has said it is boring and incredibly stupid, and honestly, I don't think it will do well at the box office. My advice is: If you must see it, wait until it comes out on DVD and rent it. We don't want Ben getting rich off of this.

Julia Sweeney wrote a Hilarious Blog Post about him:

"Ben Stein once did a Groundling show, an improv show, that I was a part of. I found him to be spectacularly ill-informed and narcissistic and weirdly devoted to his schtick and worst of all, hacky. He didn’t listen to his fellow performers and played everything outward to his friends in the audience who laughed (fake, forced) at every single thing he did. When he became known as a “thinker” – when his public persona became the “smart guy” I was astounded. So this type of film does not come as any surprise."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An Example of the Power of Evolution

I found the dumbest article imaginable on True.Origin recently. It is about the evolution of sexual reproduction. The authors describe sex as a costly and extravagent way to reproduce. This made me wonder why an intelligent designer would create sexually reproducing species, if it was so inefficient. Nevertheless, natural selection predicts that sex must provide some advantage-otherwise it wouldn't have evolved. There have been a few different proposals put forth, but lately the "Red Queen" hypothesis looks the best, since their is experimental evidence supporting it:

"Scientists from Rutgers University in New Jersey have tested this idea by observing different groups of small fish called topminnow in Mexico. Some populations of the topminnow reproduce sexually, while others reproduce asexually, so they provide the perfect opportunity to test these ideas. The topminnow is under constant attack by a parasite, a worm that causes something called black-spot disease.

The researchers found that identical populations ("clones") of the asexually reproducing topminnows harbored many more black-spot worms than did those producing sexually, a finding that fit the Red Queen hypothesis: The sexual topminnows could devise new defenses faster by recombination than the asexually producing clones." (Found at

A stepwise scenario for the evolution of sex is not hard at all to construct:
My explanation

This is the power of evolution and the failure of creationism: We can make testable predictions with evolution, but not with creationism.

Friday, April 4, 2008

My Website

Hey Everyone! I just launched a website!

It is called God Riddance:

Please check it out as I have put a lot of time into creating it and writing the articles in it, and I will update it frequently. I even have a forum. So if you want to drop by for discussion about anything from philosophy to (of course) the existence of God, feel free. It will be a rational, friendly environment where you can take part in discussion, even if you disagree.

Peace Out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Origin of Life Prize is B.S.

I recently emailed a website offering a million dollar prize for a plausible hypothesis about the origin of life. Of course, I didn't expect to really get the money, I just wanted a look into what the problems were nowadays with the origin of life. A guy named Dave Abel responded to my message, and, I think I know why no one has claimed the prize yet. This prize is akin to Kent Hovind's $250,000 prize for proving evolution. Here are some quotes from his email:

"The problem for me comes in when we start trying to explain formal linear digital prescription, representational symbol systems, Hamming "block-coding" (many to one redundancy coding to reduce noise pollution in the Shannon channel), cellular computation, and formal organization with nothing but a purely materialistic belief system. We can't even practice the scientific method or mathematics with a consistently held materialistic worldview."

"I don't think our overall evolutionary model is scientifically plausible, particularly at the prebiotic molecular level."

In a paper he published, he cited Creationist William Dembski. Of course, so what if he is a creationist? That doesn't make him automatically deluded, does it? Well, in his email he used a lot of technical language that was almost dizzying, if not unnecessary, and in it he voiced his objections to the origin of life. I checked up on his claims, and they are not valid. For one thing, he questions how left handed amino acids and right handed sugars could come about. Did a google search and found a highly plausible, evidence backed explanation like *that*. He questioned how the triplet codon system evolved. Did a google search, found a peer reviewed hypothesis like *that*. So if he's been wrong twice, I am not going to bother getting into any of his other technical problems.

Most likely they've already been solved.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

You Know You're a Creationist If...

You know you're a creationist if...

...You claim that similarity isn't evidence of common descent, but never second guess a DNA paternity test.

... You think evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics, despite the fact that "Order" in the thermodynamic sense refers to usable energy and not complexity.

... You repeat Michael Behe's claims of irreducible complexity, but have not read the Dover Trial Transcripts!

... You claim that scientists cannot show you any transitional fossils, and when shown a fossil like Archaeopteryx, you claim it is just a creature with a mix of bird and reptile features.

I'd like to come up with some more, so please tell me your "You Know You're a Creationist" joke in a comment.