Monthly Archives: May 2008

Darwin’s “Voyage of the Beagle” Reviewed

WE FOUND AN EXCELLENT article in the Wall Street Journal titled Darwin’s Joyful Journey of Discovery, written by Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College, London. Jones reminds us:

Next year is Darwin year: the bicentennial of the great man’s birth and the 150th anniversary of “The Origin of Species.”

But Jones isn’t writing about that book, nor Darwin’s other famous work, “Descent of Man.” Jones’ article is about Darwin’s equally well-known but lesser-read book:

“The Voyage of the Beagle,” in contrast, sings. Its language is that of a young man intoxicated by the tropics (“To a person fond of natural history, such a day as this brings with it a deeper pleasure than he can ever hope to experience again”) and careless of the risks (“Upon landing I found that I was to a certain degree a prisoner . . . a traveller has no protection beside his fire-arms”). The youthful Darwin was a master of unadorned English. He took with him more than geology textbooks: “Milton’s Paradise Lost had been my chief favourite, and in my excursions during the voyage of the Beagle, when I could take only a single small volume, I always chose Milton.”

This is an excellent article about an excellent book. Even if you haven’t yet read Darwin’s other work, Jones is likely to seduce you into reading “The Voyage of the Beagle.”

Darwin spent only five weeks of the five-year adventure in the Galapagos, with just half that time on visits to islands. He scarcely noticed the finches and lumped their corpses together into a jumbled mass. In fact, the local tortoises were more important. … In those lumbering creatures, Darwin saw, without realizing it at the time, his first hint of evolution, for animals from James were subtly distinct from those on Indefatigable and Albemarle nearby. In a rare conjunction of taxonomy with gastronomy, he noted that the James specimens were “rounder, blacker, and had a better taste when cooked” — which at the time seemed little more than a curiosity but was in fact his introduction to the biology of change.

It’s impressive when a reviewer can write “In a rare conjunction of taxonomy with gastronomy,” and more importantly, it indicates that the subject of such a review is well worth our attention.

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More on the Louisiana Creationism Bill

From the Shreveport Times we have Alan Leshner: ‘Academic freedom’ bill dangerous distraction, a letter written by Dr. Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), with 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. They publish Science, which has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of one million.

This is the second time Dr. Leshner has written about the situation in Louisiana. We wrote about the earlier occasion here: Louisiana creationism bill — heating up.

Here are some excerpts from Dr. Leshner’s latest letter (emphasis supplied):

… it is alarming that the Louisiana Senate and a key House committee have passed a bill that would undermine science instruction in public schools, despite strong opposition from scientists, teachers and others. Sponsored by Sen. Ben Nevers, the “academic freedom” bill would give educators license to question, on nonscientific grounds, core scientific facts like evolution.

But the bill isn’t truly about academic freedom. It is designed to introduce a religious idea called intelligent design into science classrooms. If it becomes law, the bill would unleash an assault against scientific integrity, leaving students confused about the fundamental nature of science and unprepared to excel in a work force that increasingly requires science-related skills.

Then Dr. Leshner mentions some history:

Louisiana has been here before. In the 1980s, lawmakers required equal time for creationism in science classes where evolution was taught. That was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, after considerable legal costs and damage to Louisiana’s global reputation.

Next, he makes a point that must be made:

Those who back the Louisiana bill insist their motives are not religious, but the evidence suggests otherwise. The measures have been promoted by intelligent design leaders, and support comes almost exclusively from one segment of the religious community. Their aim is clear: Erode students’ understanding and trust of science by sowing confusion and doubt, and count on religious ideas to fill the void.

We’ve quoted enough from the letter. It’s very good, and we recommend that you read it all at the above-provided link.

[The cartoon appears at the link to the Shreveport Times article, and it’s captioned “Jeff Parker/”]

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Discovery Institute — Recycled Foolishness

HE’S DONE IT AGAIN. Our favorite Discoveroid, Casey Luskin, employed as a full-time blogger for the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, has written this gem: Do Car Engineers Turn to Darwinian Evolution or Intelligent Design? Excerpt:

We’re often told that Darwinism is like a scientific magic bullet that can solve anything. Darwinists love to quote Theodosius Dobzhansky saying, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” We’re also told that intelligent design threatens to destroy science. Nonetheless, I can’t help but notice that when engineers design technology to be sold to the public, they prefer to tell them about processes of intelligent design over unguided selection and random mutation.

There’s a pic that eventually gets posted in all debate forums. It shows a man slapping his forehead and saying something like: “Aw jeez, not this stuff again!” If that weren’t such a cliche we’d post it here.

The point being made in Casey’s Discoveroid blog article is so old and so bad that it’s one of those on a list (a very long list) published at the excellent Talk.Origins website, here: Index to Creationist Claims. The insight that Casey imagines is so brilliant is discussed generally here: CI130. Functional integration indicates design, and more specifically here: CI131. Every machine’s origin, where determinable, is by intelligent agency.

The fact that Casey’s argument has long been listed — and rebutted! — in a well-known collection of creationist idiocies is a powerful clue that Casey hasn’t the beginning of an understanding about the science he’s trying to undermine.

Hey, Casey! Here’s an idea for your next brilliant article: Why are there still monkeys?

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McCain’s Possible VP Choices — Creationists?

WE ALREADY KNOW that John McCain isn’t a creationist. Here is something we posted earlier which tells us about McCain’s position: Presidential Candidates’ Opinions on Evolution.

But what about those whom McCain might select as his running-mate in the coming Presidential campaign? The article linked above leads to this: Mitt Romney on teaching evolution, which informs us that Mitt Romney wants evolution in science class, not Intelligent Design. Fine, but what about the rest of the possible Vice Presidential candidates?

From the Baptist Press we have Where McCain’s possible VP choices stand. The article discusses the views of the people named below, along with those of Charlie Crist, governor of Florida; Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota; Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina; and Mitt Romney on a variety of social issues (gay marriage, stem-cell research, abortion, etc.), but we’re concerned in this blog only with the evolution/creationism issue, so we’ll present those views, where given. Excerpts:

MIKE HUCKABEE — During debates Huckabee regularly fielded questions about matters of faith and was one of three GOP candidates to signal they didn’t believe in evolution. He later told the Des Moines Register, “If you want to believe that your family came from apes, that’s fine. I’ll accept that. I just don’t happen to think that I did.”

He also issued a statement saying he is not against the teaching of evolution in public schools but believes “different theories” about mankind’s origins should be taught.

There was never much doubt about Huckabee’s attitude regarding science.

BOBBY JINDAL — “I’m a biology major,” he said during the debate. “That’s my degree. The reality is there are a lot of things that we don’t understand. There’s no theory in science that could explain how — contrary to the laws of entropy — you could create order out of chaos. There’s no scientific theory that explains how you can create organic life out of inorganic matter. I think we owe it to our children to teach them the best possible modern scientific facts and theories. Teach them what different theories are out there for the things that aren’t answerable by science, that aren’t answered by science. Let them decide for themselves. I don’t think we should be scared to do that. Personally, it certainly makes sense to me that when you look at creation, you would believe in a Creator.”

We mentioned Bobby Jindal’s views earlier, here: Louisiana: Creationist Legislation and a Creationist Governor.

The Baptist Press article also discusses Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, but not his positions on evolution and creationism. However, we have some information on that from another source. This is from a transcript of the governor’s statements on intelligent design — Two Mosquitoes in a Mudhole:

David Stanton: What do you think about the idea of teaching alternatives to Darwin’s theory of evolution in public schools – for instance intelligent design?

Gov. Sanford: I have no problem with it.

Stanton: Do you think it should be done that way? Rather than just teaching evolution?

Sanford: “Well I think that it’s just – and science is more and more documenting this – is that there are real chinks in the armor of evolution being the only way we came about. The idea of there being a . little mud hole and two mosquitoes get together and the next thing you know you have a human being is completely at odds with . one of the laws of thermodynamics, which is the law of, of . in essence, destruction.

“Whether you think about your bedroom and how messy it gets over time or you think about the decay in the building itself over time. Things don’t naturally order themselves towards progression, . in the natural order of things. So it’s . against fairly basic laws of physics and so I would not have a problem in teaching both. Uh, you saying ‘This is one theory and this is another theory.'”

So there you have it. Of the people discussed in the article, only Romney opposes creationism (or ID) in science class. Crist and Pawlenty haven’t yet declared themselves one way or the other — at least not that we know of.

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