DNA and RNA (and Birdnow).

| 27 Comments

PZ Myers has, over at Pharyngula, taken issue with a remarkably ignorant essay written by Timothy Birdnow. Birdnow has responded with a new blog, PZ has responded to part of the response, and so the fun begins. At the risk of being seen as just piling on to an easy target, there are a couple of important points that I don’t think have been raised yet. The first has to do with exactly what constitutes the “building blocks of life”; the second has to do with basic competence.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority).

27 Comments

Bloody experts. What do they know?

You’re right: that was the worst essay I have ever seen. If a student of mine wrote something that bad, they would fail. Period.

Some people don’t figure out that they’re toast until they hear the crumbs crunching and realize, ouch, that hurts!

This guy’s already just grit and gluten smears on the bottom of PZ’s foot, yet he’s still whining…

Birdnow’s meltdown has been quite interesting. He has gone so far as to post a photoshopped image of the illusive Giant Mammaried Mosquito at his blog.

I posted my own thoughts at my blog - they line up with The Questionable Authority article, but I used a brain surgery analogy instead of a plumbing analogy…

Does it seem to anyone else like ignorance in general is spreading? People don’t even seem to care whether their statements are true or not, as long as they support some general concept of a cause they believe in. People just seem to say to themselves: “I’m for God, and I’m anti-liberal academia, so I must be for intelligent design! Now, how can I justify this conclusion…”

Another error that PZ missed, in the editors note: “But Darwinism is no more than a theory, as yet unconfirmed by evidence, in its explanation for the origins of life.” Darwin wrote a book called “the Origin of Species”, not “The Origin of Life.” To my knowledge, his work didn’t address the origin of life at all, just speciation from a common ancestor. You can always see an IDist argument coming because they are strangely fixated on Darwin, and use the name repeatedly.

El Brujo Wrote:

Get off the cross, Mr. Birdnow; we’ve got better things to do with the wood. If poor, abused Timothy Birdnow would have taken time to actually read Myers’ initial response, instead of shreiking in horror at the fact that someone had exposed his ignorance, he might be shocked to discover that Dr. Myers does not in any way frown upon the questioning of evolutionary theory. All you gotta do is ask the right questions instead taking handfuls of feces and throwing them against the Wall of Darwinism, in the hopes that something sticks. It’s perfectly acceptable to question anything; in fact, I would encourage it. But if your doubts about evolution stem from your own ignorance on the subject, your stupidity alone isn’t enough to put the theory in crisis, and your inability to admit you are wrong certainly doesn’t make your opinions any more correct.

That about sums it up. Well written El Brujo.

sanjait Wrote:

Does it seem to anyone else like ignorance in general is spreading? People don’t even seem to care whether their statements are true or not, as long as they support some general concept of a cause they believe in. People just seem to say to themselves: “I’m for God, and I’m anti-liberal academia, so I must be for intelligent design! Now, how can I justify this conclusion…”

It’s the turn of a millenia. Big round dates make the superstitious crazy. In about fifty years it may be back to normal again when they realize the big guy’s not gonna make a personal appearance anytime soon.

El Brujo wrote:

Birdnow’s meltdown has been quite interesting. He has gone so far as to post a photoshopped image of the illusive Giant Mammaried Mosquito at his blog.

I posted my own thoughts at my blog - they line up with The Questionable Authority article, but I used a brain surgery analogy instead of a plumbing analogy…

You know, I have always wanted to be a brain surgeon, but just haven’t gotten around to it quite yet. Thought I might take it up as hobby some point – something to do in my spare time. Do you suppose Birdnow might be game for some time next week? I might have a little free-time then…

Unfortunately, folks like Birdnow are far too common. They have only a rudimentary understanding of science (if that) yet feel that they can expound at length on the “flaws” in evolutionary theory. In some instances, it borders on the delusional. No matter the amount of clear evidence to the contrary, they will not admit their error.

I am reminded of an NPR piece on a guy that was convinced that he had proven Einstein wrong, and even quit his job to pursue his quest. Even after meeting with a physicist, he still felt he was right. Sad, really.

To my knowledge, his work didn’t address the origin of life at all, just speciation from a common ancestor. You can always see an IDist argument coming because they are strangely fixated on Darwin, and use the name repeatedly.

Fundies are most comfortable when they can wave around some big villain to revile. It’s the same mindset that makes them view science as a rival religion. It’s much easier to attack a single person than a broad complex area of study. Plus, you don’t have to actually KNOW anything to do it.

Does it seem to anyone else like ignorance in general is spreading? People don’t even seem to care whether their statements are true or not, as long as they support some general concept of a cause they believe in. People just seem to say to themselves: “I’m for God, and I’m anti-liberal academia, so I must be for intelligent design! Now, how can I justify this conclusion…”

Well put. Indeed, this seems to be the big disease of American society in the 21st century. Reality is now determined by whatever side argues the most loudly, or whoever can convince the most people that he’s ‘moral’. All facts are now political.

But I wouldn’t ascribe this solely to ignorance. Ignorance certainly fuels it, but it seems to be like it’s fundamentally a social/psychological malaise. Millions of Americans are pissed off and very afraid. Life is changing too fast for most people to keep up, and so browbeating reality into conforming to your preconceptions has a lot of appeal.

The reason that ignorance and supersition are so rampant in U.S. society is (at least in part) because they have been given imprimatur by our Commander in Chief.

Evidence? Empiricism? Logic? Pshaw! It’s what you feel in your heart!

Birdnow’s actions brings to mind the research of Justin Kruger and David Dunning in 1999. In a series of experiments they showed how those who were least skilled in several areas often thought that they were among the most skilled, http://www.apa.org/journals/feature[…]p7761121.pdf . They put this down to “deficits in metacognitive skill” or in other words, that some people don’t even know enough to see where they go wrong. Interestingly, they showed that added knowledge improved the self-assessment of the participants in the experiment.

When I looked up their work I came across this text from the abstract of a later article, http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/do[…]7-8721.01235 . I think it describes Birdnow’s behaviour beautifully:

However, people tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence. This lack of awareness arises because poor performers are doubly cursed: Their lack of skill deprives them not only of the ability to produce correct responses, but also of the expertise necessary to surmise that they are not producing them. People base their perceptions of performance, in part, on their preconceived notions about their skills. Because these notions often do not correlate with objective performance, they can lead people to make judgments about their performance that have little to do with actual accomplishment.

This really shows the importance of a good science education in the compulsory schools, so that people at least have enough knowledge to understand that there are some things that they don’t understand.

Dan Hocson Wrote:

Unfortunately, folks like Birdnow are far too common. They have only a rudimentary understanding of science (if that) yet feel that they can expound at length on the “flaws” in evolutionary theory. In some instances, it borders on the delusional. No matter the amount of clear evidence to the contrary, they will not admit their error.

I am reminded of an NPR piece on a guy that was convinced that he had proven Einstein wrong, and even quit his job to pursue his quest. Even after meeting with a physicist, he still felt he was right. Sad, really.

I always relate it to the Terry Pratchett phrase “Lies to children” from his Science of the Discworld books. The concept is you teach children a much simplified concept which while, technically, wrong gives a good concept of the idea and procedure. This means that when the more complex ideas get introduced a few years later it’s much easier to understand. The problem with these sort of people is that they get spoonfed the much simplified ideas and then run off thinking they know it all, missing out the important bit later where they find out how it actually works.

Look at that pathetic moron Birdnow beg for assistance at Dembski’s blog. This appeal has the same potency as prayer.

Birddog Wrote:

Look at that pathetic moron Birdnow beg for assistance at Dembski’s blog. This appeal has the same potency as prayer.

At least prayers go unanswered. Birdnow’s misfortunes can only be compounded by having DaveScot answer his plea.

Look at that pathetic moron Birdnow beg for assistance at Dembski’s blog. This appeal has the same potency as prayer.

What’s striking is that at no point is he saying, or even hinting, “Oo wee, I sure screwed up my facts first time around. That sure was embarrassing”. He seems to be couching this entirely in terms of the virtuous believer being horribly persecuted by wicked people. It’s hard to tell if he actually believes he got anything wrong.

He knows he got stuff wrong, but it’s all nit picking. Everyone who criticizes him has poor reading comprehension and doesn’t get the big picture or understand what his points were. That’s what I’m getting from reading the comments anyway. Baffling.

Peppered moths weren’t faked. The story still stands as a valid, but complex, example of evolution.

The peppered moths were the same after the trees were darkened as before, and this is an example of evolution?

Comment #48952

Posted by ID Troll on September 20, 2005 11:33 AM (e) (s)

Peppered moths weren’t faked. The story still stands as a valid, but complex, example of evolution.

The peppered moths were the same after the trees were darkened as before, and this is an example of evolution?

Response:

1. Although the experiments were not perfect, they were not fatally flawed. Even though Kettlewell released his moths in daylight when a night release would have been more true to nature, he used the same procedure in areas that differed only in the amount of industrial pollution, showing conclusively that industrial pollution was a factor responsible for the difference in predation between color varieties. Similar arguments can be made for all other experiments. Although no experiment is perfect (nor can be), even imperfect experiments can give supporting or disconfirming evidence. In the case of peppered moths, many experiments have been done, and they all support the traditional story (Grant 1999).

2. Even without the experiments, the peppered moth story would be well established. Peppered moth melanism has both risen and fallen with pollution levels, and they have done so in many sites on two continents (Cook 2003; Grant 1999).

3. The peppered moth story is consistent with many other experiments and observations of crypsis and coloration in other species. For example, bird predation maintains the colorations of Heliconius cydno, which has different coloration in different regions, in both regions mimicking a noxious Heliconius species (Kapan 2001). Natural selection acting on the peppered moth would be the parsimonious hypothesis even if there were no evidence to support it.

4. The peppered moth story is not simple. The full story as it is known today fills thousands of pages of journal articles. Familiarity with the literature and with the moths in the field is needed to evaluate all the articles. But the research and the debates over its implications have all been done in the open. Charges of fraud and misconduct stem from neglect and misrepresentation of the research by the people making the charges (Grant 2000). Of those familiar with the literature, none doubt that bird predation is of primary importance in the changing frequencies of melanism in peppered moths (Majerus 1999).

In teaching any subject to beginners, simplifying complex topics is proper. The peppered moth story is a valuable tool for helping students understand how nature really works. Teachers would be right to omit the complexities from the story if they judged that their students were not yet ready for that higher level of learning (Rudge 2000).

Links: Gishlick, Alan D., n.d. Icons of evolution? Peppered moths. http://www.ncseweb.org/icons/icon6moths.html

Tamzek, Nic, 2002. Icon of obfuscation. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wel[…]b.html#moths References:

1. Cook, L. M., 2003. The rise and fall of the carbonaria form of the peppered moth. Quarterly Review of Biology 78(4): 399-417. 2. Grant, Bruce S., 1999. Fine tuning the peppered moth paradigm. Evolution 53(3): 980-984. 3. Grant, Bruce, 2000. Letter: Charges of fraud misleading. Pratt Tribune, 13 Dec. 2000. Reprinted at http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/les[…]icon.cr.html 4. Kapan, Durrell D., 2001. Three-butterfly system provides a field test of mullerian mimicry. Nature 409: 338-340. 5. Majerus, Michael E. N., 1999. (Letter). Quoted by Frack, Don. 1999. Peppered moths, round 2, part 2. http://www.calvin.edu/archive/evolu[…]04/0103.html 6. Rudge, David Wyss, 2000. (see below)

http://64.233.179.104/custom?q=cach[…]amp;ie=UTF-8

El Brujo Wrote:

Birdnow’s meltdown has been quite interesting. He has gone so far as to post a photoshopped image of the illusive Giant Mammaried Mosquito at his blog.

Nice touch, how the mammaries are dorsal, rather than ventral. I guess if you’re throwing out phylogeny, why keep ontogeny either?

Moses:

Well done. However, I will predict that ID Troll’s response will be “Yeah, but they’re still moths, so nyah, nyah, nyah!” or something to that effect.

…I will predict that ID Troll’s response will be “Yeah, but they’re still moths, so nyah, nyah, nyah!” or something to that effect.

Furthermore, why haven’t the moths evolved breasts?

Comment #49032

Posted by Dan Hocson on September 20, 2005 08:31 PM (e) (s)

Moses:

Well done. However, I will predict that ID Troll’s response will be “Yeah, but they’re still moths, so nyah, nyah, nyah!” or something to that effect.

Just a cut-and-paste job. Unoriginal claims get boilerplate de-bunkings.

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jeebus Wrote:

Furthermore, why haven’t the moths evolved breasts?

Male moths don’t have hands, so what use would there be in the females having breasts?

An ironic aspect of Mr. Birdnow’s arguments with Dr. Myers is that Birdnow actually ended his original essay with a fairly reasonable statement…

…It is foolish for us[based upon context us refers to traditional Christian theists] to get drawn into this type of debate [based upon context, “this type of debates” would seem to be any scientific debate regarding the existence of God]; God is far larger than our human intellects can grasp, and is certainly larger than any criticisms which Darwinism may foster. 

The Judeo-Christian view is that God is transcendent, that is, outside of nature.  Even if Darwin is correct, and a monkey turned into man, at some point it was the Creator who put that immortal soul into that ape.  So what if we can‘t prove the Book of Genesis is technically correct?  It was written for a less technically advanced people.  And besides, who says that Genesis occurred here?  Eden needn‘t have been the physical Earth we know. 

Although I would take some exception to the use of the terminology “monkey turned into man” since I believe that it reinforces the incorrect notion that evolution involves a single generation of animals that themselves undergo evolutionary change, rather than the frequencies of genotypes and phenotypes in a population, that is really beside the point.

So Mr. Birdnow, if God could have used evolution to generate humans and the rest of biodiversity, why is there any problem with “Darwinism”? Doesn’t your statement emphasize what some scientists assert - that it is compatible with religion - regarding evolution?

My beef with God (aside from the fact that he is bein’ kind of a dick with the hurlin’ o’ the hurricanes at his people this year) is not that evolution or modern science is incompatible with the existence of all potential versions of God. Rather, it is the simple fact that a reasonable narrative can emerge from current science that doesn’t involve any sort of divine intervention. Are there gaps in that narrative? Of course, I think we all acknowledge that there are (contrary to the creationists who feel they can fill in all gaps with “Goddidit”). Given that assuming the existence of God makes a strong assumption and there doesn’t appear to be a clear need for the God hypothesis at present, it seems unreasonable to invoke the God hypothesis at present.

There is also no reason to suppose that (even if there were good reasons to invoke the God hypothesis) any real God has the characteristics of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God who went off askin’ Abraham to kill him a son (though - if God did that - I have it on good authority that God wanted that killin’ done out along highway 61). It is interesting that many who support the God hypothesis leap from what they assert to be “proof” fo the existence of God to the assumption that God is the Christian God.

Ken Shackleton mentions something we call “coevolution”

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Dunford published on September 19, 2005 5:52 PM.

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