Monthly Archives: February 2009

Creationist Describes “Weaknesses” of Evolution

The endlessly-fascinating website of that venerable creationist organization, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), presents us with an article that may shake your soulless, scientific mind to its naturalistic roots: No Weaknesses in the Theory of Evolution?

The author’s name is Frank Sherwin, described below the article as “Senior Science Lecturer.” There’s a Wikipedia article about an Irish politician of that name who died in 1981 — probably not the same man. Ah … after a bit of searching we found this: biographical page about Frank Sherwin, III, which describes him as “an Aide de Campe to ICR’s President, Dr. John Morris.” That’s our man. Here are some excerpts from his article, with bold added by us:

“There are no weaknesses in the theory of evolution.” This was the testimony of Eugenie Scott to the Texas State Board of Education in January when the Board was debating new state science curriculum standards. Dr. Scott is Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a watchdog group committed to exposing and ridiculing any group that questions the strange paradigm of Darwinism.

Yes, “the strange paradigm of Darwinism.” Let’s read on:

Is it true “there are no weaknesses” in this particles-to-people worldview?

We usually see creationists bravely beating up on the strawman expression “molecules to man,” but this “particles-to-people” is a welcome variation in their routine. Let’s continue:

Clearly, there is a very real problem with what biological molecules (DNA and proteins) tell the evolutionary scientist, versus what morphology (fossils) says. Evolutionary medical journalist Trish Gura exposed this weakness when addressing a raging debate within evolutionary circles:

Whoa, baby! The Darwinist oath of silence has been violated! The conspiracy is exposed! The jig’s up! The cat’s outta the bag! The game’s over!

We found the traitor’s website: Trisha Gura. According to a footnote in the ICR article, which gave no link, the revelation was disclosed in this article: Bones, molecules…or both? The article is dated July 2000; the news is a bit old. A subscription to Nature is required to read the article, so our readers are cautioned to be extremely skeptical of the quote which follows, as creationists are notorious for — shall we say — inaccuracies in such matters. Anyway, here’s what ICR claims Trish Gura wrote:

When biologists talk of the “evolution wars,” they usually mean the ongoing battle for supremacy in American schoolrooms between Darwinists and their creationist opponents. But the phrase could also be applied to a debate that is raging within systematics. On one side stand traditionalists who have built evolutionary trees from decades of work on species’ morphological characteristics. On the other lie molecular systematists, who are convinced that comparisons of DNA and other biological molecules are the best way to unravel the secrets of evolutionary history.

Well! There’s “a debate that is raging within systematics.” Let’s get back to the ICR article:

When the fossil record tells one evolutionary scenario while biological molecules tell a different story — that’s a weakness that schoolchildren, for example, have a right to hear.

Here, we must puncture this creationist hot-air balloon before it gets too far off the ground. It’s quite true that detailed DNA analysis sometimes requires some tweaking of a species’ place in the Tree of Life. But these occasional corrections merely strengthen the resulting picture of common descent. They never contradict it.

Such corrections are about as significant as your finding a document which shows that a man you believed to be your great-great-grandfather was actually not your ancestor; but instead you are descended from his brother. It’s a change, but it’s not as if you learned your grandmother was a palm tree.

The ICR article discusses a few other “weaknesses” of evolution, none of which is any more important than a minor adjustment in the historical lineage of a few specimens. At the article’s conclusion, it says:

Evolutionists would say that these are only unexplained problems with evolution, not issues that are unexplainable. Very well, let’s teach children in taxpayer-funded schools the as-yet unexplained problems (weaknesses) with evolutionary theory. If evolution is truly a valid scientific theory, it should be able to easily weather a reasoned inquiry as to its weaknesses and strengths. The irrational and visceral reaction by secular scientists to this suggestion says otherwise.

If a high school biology curriculum demanded that children be notified every time some beetle’s line of descent gets corrected due to a rigorous examination of its DNA, what would that accomplish? Would it prove Noah’s Ark? Frankly, we doubt it.

These so-called “weaknesses” in the theory of evolution aren’t weaknesses at all. They represent a great strength, as additional study permits researchers to make increasingly exquisite refinements to our understanding of the evolutionary history of life on earth.

Speaking of trivia, Casey Luskin wrote about Trisha Gura’s “revelation” in this Discoveroid blog article from February of last year: Peter Atkins Dramatically Overstates the Evidence for Evolutionary Phylogenies. Like his creationist colleague at ICR, Casey also leaps to the conclusion that “that Darwinian evolution is faring poorly” as a result of these matters.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Florida Creationism: Stealth Bill Filed

AS HE PROMISED a few weeks ago, which we reported here: Florida Creationism: “Freedom” Bill Is Coming, State Senator Stephen Wise has filed a bill to accomplish his anti-science, anti-evolution, pro-creationism purposes.

But unless you’ve been following these events, Wise’s bill seems to be less than we were expecting. S2396 says this:

Senate 2396: Relating to Educational Instruction
Educational Instruction; Requires that the instructional staff of a public school teach a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution and certain governmental, legal, and civic-related principles. EFFECTIVE DATE: 07/01/2009.

But that’s just the bill’s description. The full bill shows that Wise is trying to amend an existing law which details what should be taught regarding some civics topics Wise’s additions are shown underscored in this pdf file. The first page has Wise’s evolution provision, which is the only one that matters. On the second page Wise has added some window dressing about the Declaration of Independence and a few other apple pie items.

But no one should be confused. We already know, and a future court presiding over the inevitable litigation will most definitely know, exactly what Senator Wise means by the cryptic language “thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution.” We know because he told us his intentions when he announced his plans weeks a go. As we reported in our earlier article, quoting the Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union:

State Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican, said he plans to introduce a bill to require teachers who teach evolution to also discuss the idea of intelligent design.

[…]

He said its intent is simple: “If you’re going to teach evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical thinking.”

Senator Wise probably regrets that unguarded moment, and now he imagines he can slip his creationist bill past everyone by wrapping it in the flag. Brilliant. Here’s his page at the Florida legislature’s website: Senator Stephen R. Wise.

Although Wise thinks he’s being clever by burying this thing in a bill about civics instruction, he’s wildly mistaken. The website of Florida Citizens for Science is already well aware of the situation. See: Press Release: “Critical Analysis” bill.

There’s also an excellent report about this bill at the National Center for Science Education: Antievolution legislation in Florida.

With so many outstanding people keeping an eye on things, what’s left for us to do? As we’ve been doing with our reports about creationist legislation in other states, we recommend that the rational members of the Florida legislature should give serious consideration to The Curmudgeon’s Amendment. It’s designed to nullify legislation like this.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Behe Admits He Has No Theory

WHEN CREATIONISTS refer to the “growing number” of “leading scientists” who are “flocking” to intelligent design “theory” (ID), the only one most of them can name is Michael Behe. He’s a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University with the remarkable distinction of having his colleagues publicly disassociate themselves from him. See: Department Position on Evolution and “Intelligent Design”. It’s a short statement, so we’ll quote it in full:

The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.

The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of “intelligent design.” While we respect Prof. Behe’s right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.

Behe famously testified at the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and was singularly unimpressive. See: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Michael Behe’s Testimony.

With that as an introduction, here are some excerpts from Intelligent design speaker Behe draws packed house at UNCW [the University of North Carolina Wilmington], which appears at the website of the Wilmington Star-News (“committed to making a difference in Southeastern North Carolina”).

Most of the article is boring, but we found one remark made by Behe that you may find interesting. Let’s start with some standard fluff from the article’s introductory material. The bold font was added by us:

[We’d like to give you a few excerpts from the news story, but that paper is being acquired by Stephens Media, and they’re suing bloggers who excerpt their content without permission. So you’ll have to click over there to read it for yourself.]

Here’s Behe’s answer to a question about the testable predictions of his theory:

I don’t have a mechanism to substitute for the Darwinian mechanism, that’s true. But the same was true for Newton or the Big Bang Theory,” Behe answered. “I don’t think you need a mechanism all the time in science.”

Think about that. Behe admits what we’ve always known — that he has no mechanism. But such mechanisms — explanatory mechanisms — are what scientific theories are all about. Darwin had a mechanism to explain the origin of species — variation and natural selection. Any competing theory should do at least as well, because scientific theories are explanations — testable explanations. But Behe has no theory, and although he probably doesn’t realize it, he just said so.

As for Behe’s mention of Newton, that’s a sleazy bit of bait and switch. Newton didn’t propose a theory. He’s famous for the law of universal gravitation. His nifty formula, shown here, described the effects of gravity. Similarly, his laws of motion described motion. He never explained these phenomena. That’s the difference — in science — between laws and theories. The former are descriptions, the latter are explanations.

Then there’s Behe’s mention of the Big Bang. That’s sneakier, because it really is a theory — of limited scope. What Big Bang theory purports to explain is the observation that the universe appears to be expanding. The explanation is that the universe began with expansion of a singularity. This makes predictions that are testable by reference to various observations. See: Foundations of Big Bang Cosmology.

But this is where Behe gets super-sneaky. In Big Bang theory, the cause of the initial expansion is unexplained. It really isn’t part of Big Bang theory — indeed, such a cause may be beyond scientific investigation. But this is irrelevant to the almost unanimous acceptance of Big Bang theory, which does explain observable phenomena following the initial moment.

Okay, let’s try to tie this all up to see where Behe’s ID fits in. Newton (like Behe) had no mechanism — but he had a law of gravity. It still works splendidly, in all cases except those extreme conditions where relativity takes over. Behe’s reference to Newton is utterly foolish.

Then there’s the Big Bang. True, it doesn’t have a mechanism for the origin of all things. But cosmological observations are indeed explained by the mechanism of the expansion — that’s the Big Bang theory.

Now what of ID? Behe has no mechanism — which means he has no explanation, no theory. What does have have? Surely he has no law — no tidy description of biological phenomena.

So Behe has no theory, and he has no law. There’s not much left of ID, is there? A bit of smoke, a few mirrors, and that’s about it.

Update — we have a follow-up post: Behe’s North Carolina Fiasco: Part 2

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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Hugh Ross: Creationist Oddity

IT’S A SLOW news day, so we’ll introduce you to Hugh Ross, an astronomer and astrophysicist, who is also an Old Earth creationist (OEC) and operator of the OEC website Reasons to Believe.

As you can see from the foregoing, Ross is a true curiosity in the creationist world. Ross is featured in an article at the National Center for Science Education website: Old Earth Creationism. That same website has an extensive review of a Ross book, Creation as Science. The review is respectful, but ultimately dismissive. It’s well worth reading if you find Ross as fascinating as we do.

All of that should give you enough background to appreciate an article by Ross, which appears in the Christian Examiner. The title is Creation will be viable science as believers develop testable models. Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:

Perhaps you’ve already observed that “evolution bashing” tends to backfire. Claims that creation or intelligent design must be right because of flaws and shortcomings in the evolution scenario typically go nowhere, and for good reason. Scientists freely acknowledge that no theory comes forth perfect and complete. The investigation of flaws and weaknesses is the process that propels science forward toward more precise understandings of the natural world.

What’s more, researchers and theoreticians interpret such complaints as a smoke screen, an attempt to cover up a lack of tangible, valid evidence for creation or, equally bad, an attempt to shield the biblical creation scenario from any meaningful evaluation and critique.

This is an amazing start to a creationist article. Let’s read on:

To gain a voice in the public arena, we cannot and need not stay “religiously neutral.” We cannot ask for recognition of an unidentified intelligent designer who played an undefined role in bringing about the observable history of life on Earth. This lack of definition will prevent us from being taken seriously as scientists.

The way forward requires development of comprehensive creation “models” (explanatory scenarios or theories). These are the core of the scientific enterprise. Creation can be and will be considered as a credible alternative to evolution only if and when we creationists put forth our own testable models to describe and explain the origin and history of the universe and life.

When creationists propose specific details of what took place “in the beginning,” creation can be scientifically tested. By providing the means to either verify or falsify (through observations and experiments) creation, we can effectively demonstrate that “creation is science.”

This is the sort of thing we routinely tell creationists, but here they’re being told the same thing by one of their own. We continue:

It’s important to remember that a shift in scientific thinking occurs only as the most talented and well-trained scientists become convinced of the need for change, not as students and politicians clamor for it. Eventually, new developments at the top research level trickle down to the classroom and the broader culture.

At this point you’ve got to be wondering — If Ross sees things this clearly, why is he a creationist? Bear with us:

For more than 20 years, my colleagues and I have been developing a radically different tactic to counter barriers to belief in creation. This strategy is not new. We simply returned to the biblically derived scientific method, the same one that sparked the scientific revolution.

Okay. Now he’s sounding more like a creationist. Let’s see where this is taking us:

Applying that method to the rapidly emerging discoveries in both the physical and life sciences has brought forth an astounding weight of evidence in favor of biblical creation.

We like to keep an open mind, but at this point we’re not aware of Ross’s evidence. Frankly, we doubt that such evidence exists. It’s possible, however, that we’ve overlooked it. It’s also possible — quite likely, in our opinion — that Ross is just another creationist with impossible dreams.

We have no way of knowing whether Ross has found happiness with his unique combination of beliefs, or whether he’s living each day in the throes of what we called The Agony of Evolution vs. Creationism — being scientifically educated, yet emotionally unable to fully accept what he knows.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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