Creationist Research: Semi-Technical, Completely Worthless

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Bless their hearts. The Creationists over at Answers in Genesis are working their perfectly designed fingers to the bone. Blowing the Discovery Institute out of the water by not only publishing a for-realsies science journal (well, at least once), but also performing ‘semi-technical’ research!

Darwin at the Drugstore? Testing the Biological Fitness of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

While its just adorable to see them working so hard, their crippled understanding of basic science leaves this semi-technical article completely worthless.

Problem #1– Comparing Chihuahuas to Great Danes If *I* were designing a similar experiment, I would have used two types of bacteria.

  • Bacteria A- susceptible to ampicillin
  • Bacteria B- genetically identical to Bacteria A in every way, except resistant to ampicillin

Thus if there is a fitness difference between the two bacteria, I could be 100% sure it was because of the ampicillin resistance, not anything in the genetic background muddling things up.

This is not crazy magic work.

I am not making unreasonable demands.

That is exactly what I do in my experiments. I take a ‘white mouse’ version of HIV-1, called NL4-3. I chop out a bit of it, and paste in regions from patient samples. All of my viruses are 100% identical, except for the bit I pasted in, so if there are fitness differences between my viruses, I know it has to be genetic differences in the bit I pasted in causing the effect.

Yeah. They didnt do that.

They took two kinds of bacteria with the same species name and compared them. The ‘wild type’ strain they got from a friggen pond. While that is the cutest thing ever, you cant do that. They have no idea what its genome looks like. They dont know if phenotypic differences between the bacteria are because of antibiotic resistance or because of other genetic differences.

Problem #2– ‘Fitness’ doesnt mean what they think it means. What does it mean to be a ‘less fit’ variant? When Im competing various viruses against one another, I define ‘fitness’ as who infects the most cells in a certain environment. Virus A might be a wussy loser on dendritic cells, but a deadly monster on macrophages. Virus B might tear up every cell you feed it, but is easily neutralized by antibodies. ‘Fitness’ changes depending on the environment, and how you define it, and how you measure it.

This paper defines ‘fitness’ as ‘growth rate and colony “robustness” in minimal media’. Considering Problem #1, we have no idea whether the ‘smaller colonies’ or a delayed log phase in the antibiotic resistant bacteria are because of the antibiotic resistance… or something else.

Additionally, their ‘growth curve’ (Figure 2) is useless. A growth curve with no error bars. A growth curve that shows two types of bacteria reaching an identical stationary phase at the same time. Which leads me to believe that if they had performed this experiment more than once, the error bars of these two bacteria would overlap, ie, there is no significant difference between the growth kinetics of these two bacteria. Just like there is not a growth difference between the bacteria in rich media.

But lets grant their premise. The antibiotic resistant Serratia marcescens is ‘less fit’ than ‘wild type’.

Then why does antibiotic resistant Serratia marcescens makes up 92% of the Serratia marcescens infections in hospitals (according to their paper)?

Because while antibiotic resistant Serratia marcescens might be ‘less fit’ in ‘minimal media’, they use ANTIBIOTICS in hospitals. And in the presence of ANTIBIOTICS the ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT bacteria has a clear reproductive advantage: IT DOESNT DIE.

?????????

You have to use an appropriate definition for ‘fitness’.

Problem #3– ‘Comparison’ does not mean the same thing as ‘competition’. I compare viruses every day. I infect a set number of cells with a set number of viruses, and I count how many cells get infected. Lets say in these mono-infections, Virus A infects 90% of the cells, and Virus B infects 90% of the cells. Are these two viruses equally fit?

Hmm. The key to this game is ‘competition’. Throw two kids in a room full of Cheetos, and youre going to have two very obese, very orange children. BUT! Throw two kids in a room with a snack sized bag of Cheetos… one of those kids is going to eat, and one of those kids is going to get a black eye.

To compete viruses, I put the same amount of Virus A and Virus B onto a set number of cells, and I scream ‘FIGHT! FIGHT FIGHT! FIGHT!’ Virus A and Virus B have equal ‘odds’ of infecting cells at that point, so if theyre about the same, they will infect the same number of cells (50/50). However, if Virus A is better in that particular environment, it might infect 90% of the cells, while B dawdles around and can only claim 10%. Its a head-to-head battle for limited resources.

Despite the fact the word ‘compete’ is uses multiple times in this article, nothing is ‘competed’ in this article. Two different bacteria are ‘compared’. There is a difference.

Look, I know relatively little about bacteria. They arent the ‘micro’ in microbiology Im most interested in. But I can do a basic PubMed search to find a paper that analyzed the fitness cost of antibacterial resistance in Serratia marcescens the hard way (ie, the right way): A Fitness Cost Associated With the Antibiotic Resistance Enzyme SME-1 β-Lactamase Its a little more than ‘semi-technical’, but they do things right. From their discussion:

Antibiotic resistance that occurs via mutation of an antibiotic target often results in a fitness cost to the bacteria under permissive conditions. This suggests that the removal of antibiotic pressure will reduce the prevalence of resistant bacteria. However, the effectiveness of this strategy is dependent upon a fitness cost that can be overcome or reduced in several ways. First, antibiotic resistance genes are often genetically linked in the form of multi-resistant mobile DNA elements and selection of one resistant determinate can result in the maintenance of other resistance genes by linkage. Second, fitness costs are typically negated by the appearance of compensatory mutations that alleviate the fitness cost while preserving the resistance phenotype. Without a significant fitness cost, there is no selective pressure to drive a loss of the resistance determinant. Finally, multiple routes of resistance can exist and be highly variable with regard to the fitness costs they engender. Therefore, a spectrum of resistant clones can exist; some with no fitness costs or even enhanced fitness under permissive conditions. (references removed for ease of reading– ERV)

*sigh* Its really, really cute that Creationists are trying to do big-kid research. But ‘Darwin at the Drugstore?’ is just a friggen mess.

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227 Comments

I have to disagree with one minor point.

It’s not “cute” to see them absolutely fail at basic scientific methodology - it’s sad and disturbing. It clearly demonstrates that in addition to having no ability to do or evaluate science, they are also unaware of their inability. This more than anything else shows the absolute futility we face trying to use science to demonstrate their stupidity.

You would think they would at least find a tame scientist to do some of the hard stuff for them - stuff like ensuring they only change one variable at a time. I mean, don’t they have tons of real, live scientists who believe in their claptrap?

This study concurs with Anderson (2005) that while mutations providing antibiotic resistance may be beneficial in certain, specific environments, they often come at the expense of pre-existing function, and thus do not provide a mechanism for macroevolution.

Resistance can enable a subpopulation to exist in areas ecologically inaccessible to the wild-type, thus providing reproductive isolation and allowing divergence…i.e., macroevolution.

These guys are just scientist-wannabes playing dress up.

Hi Abbie,

What a pathetic excuse for a “scientific” paper. I know I have read abstracts by Intel Science Talent Search semifinalists and finalists who were seniors at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and several Long Island public high schools that were “real” scientific abstracts (though one of my favorite ones was pertaining to behavioral ecology by a New York, NY private school senior).

I wonder how much “science” they had to “copy” from Carl Zimmer’s magnificient, recently published book.

Regards,

John

What a waste of time. So what if some bacteria have greater fitness than others? All creationists accept “microevolution” (except those that don’t).

What could they possibly hope to prove with this nonsense? Are they trying to say that antibiotic resistance could not evolve by selection? Try again. Are they trying to say that antibiotic resistance is intelligently designed? Try again. Are they trying to say that they don’t understand science well enough to even formulate a decent hypothesis let alone test it in a scientific manner? Bingo.

Oh well, at least they finally have a “scientific journal” in which to publish their “results”. That fact alone should convince someone of something. Maybe that was a requirement for continued funding.

John Kwok said: What a pathetic excuse for a “scientific” paper. I know I have read abstracts by Intel Science Talent Search semifinalists and finalists who were seniors at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and several Long Island public high schools that were “real” scientific abstracts…

That’s about what I was thinking as I read Abbie’s report: “This sounds like a typical poorly thought-out junior high science fair project.” I’ve served my time as a science fair judge more than a few times, and the occasional jewels are much rarer than the papier-mache volcanoes and such. This one is closer to a volcano than a jewel.

One of the references in that paper was to the bible.

Darwinian evolutionists attempt to offer explanations on antibiotic resistance and prescriptions for future drug development. If they simply suggest an awareness of on-going changes in pathogenic bacteria, we would concur. Bacteria do acquire resistance quickly, and many older drugs no longer work in hospitals and clinics. Creation microbiologists are interested in finding new drugs that will work and seek to heal the sick (Luke 10:9).

They really don’t get how this whole “Science” business works, do they?

I think you give them too much credit for their “research”. I admit this research is somewhat more impressive than their previous attempts, but that, to me, is pretty much a condemnation of all their research efforts. Of course the real problem is their presuppositional stance. Due to this stance all results must be made to fit the hypothesis. I find it likely that Gillen et. al. knew that they were setting up the experiment improperly and in a way that would appear to prove their point, as it is well known that antibiotic resistance will often make a microbe less fit under permissive conditions as the article you cited demonstrates. Although the Gillen et. al. article does strengthen what we know about about antibiotic resistant bacteria in a nutrient rich environment, it in no way validates the idea that antibiotic resistance decreases fitness under the right conditions, (i.e. a growth medium containing an antibiotic). It’s amazing the lengths to which AiG will go to make Christians look foolish.

Hey, if this were a middle schoolers science experiment, I would be impressed! Most kids dont have the same resources available as the INTEL kids, and without those, my demands are impossible. A little kid doing this research, I think, would show a lot of promise!

But, um, ‘Dr. Alan L. Gillen’ isnt a sixth grader…

I think jr high science fair is too generous. The kinds of mistakes made are not “technical” errors they are a failure to understand anything at a Freshman biology level. There is a fairly substantial literature already on antibiotic resistance, and at best they approach it like a novel field with all of the technical know how of someone in 1900.

Dear Paul,

Yes, that sounds like an accurate assessment:

Paul Burnett said:

John Kwok said: What a pathetic excuse for a “scientific” paper. I know I have read abstracts by Intel Science Talent Search semifinalists and finalists who were seniors at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and several Long Island public high schools that were “real” scientific abstracts…

That’s about what I was thinking as I read Abbie’s report: “This sounds like a typical poorly thought-out junior high science fair project.” I’ve served my time as a science fair judge more than a few times, and the occasional jewels are much rarer than the papier-mache volcanoes and such. This one is closer to a volcano than a jewel.

I think I submitted a half-way decent exploding volcano science fair project back in the 7th grade. What these turkeys at Liberty University wrote doesn’t qualify, even remotely, as an acceptable 7th grade science fair project.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Cross-posted from ERV:

Abbie, how cute, you treated it like it was real science!

We all know it is really part of an odd publicity scheme…See, we’ve published in “peer reviewed” journals! Granted, we had to create them ourselves because nobody is going to allow the geology article I checked out - the one about how evidence from granitic rock supports the 6,000 year old Earth - to be published. It doesn’t really matter what the articles say so long as they can tell a public that doesn’t really understand science that “we” published in scientific journals - just like real scientists.

I thank you for the link as I was thinking about a good way to introduce students in my Ecology and Evolution course to pseudoscience (also a good time to expose them to critical reading) and I’m sure I can find a great article in this “journal”.

I wonder if they allow responses/comments on articles, you know, like real journals?

Dear Dr. J,

Dr. J said:

Cross-posted from ERV:

Abbie, how cute, you treated it like it was real science!

We all know it is really part of an odd publicity scheme…See, we’ve published in “peer reviewed” journals! Granted, we had to create them ourselves because nobody is going to allow the geology article I checked out - the one about how evidence from granitic rock supports the 6,000 year old Earth - to be published. It doesn’t really matter what the articles say so long as they can tell a public that doesn’t really understand science that “we” published in scientific journals - just like real scientists.

I thank you for the link as I was thinking about a good way to introduce students in my Ecology and Evolution course to pseudoscience (also a good time to expose them to critical reading) and I’m sure I can find a great article in this “journal”.

I wonder if they allow responses/comments on articles, you know, like real journals?

I wouldn’t even try to dignify this “publication” as one in a “peer-reviewed scientific journal” since the journal doesn’t provide a list of those on its editorial board (Hmm, let me guess. Dr. Michael Egnor of SUNY Stony Brook? Dr. Kurt Wise, who, as a Ph. D. candidate in paleontology at Harvard University, was a student of Dr. Stephen Jay Gould? “Dr.” Ken Ham, perhaps?).

Nor would I agree with Abbie’s assessment that this would be an “acceptable” middle school science project. Certainly not in any of the public, private or parochial middle schools I know of in New York City and on Long Island. Any qualified science teacher would recognize this instantly as pseudoscientific nonsense and direct his/her students to pursue a research topic that was truly “scientific”.

Regards,

John

The majority of middle schools in this country do not have the equipment or the budget necessary to mirror the methods in Marciano et al. What planet do you all live on?

If a middle schooler made the same comparisons as Dr. Alan L. Gillen (colony size, growth curves) minus the Biblical crap, I would be satisfied. However, I do doubt that a middle schooler would miss the obvious next step, which would be comparing colony sizes and growth curves in the presence of antibiotics.

You would think they would at least find a tame scientist to do some of the hard stuff for them - stuff like ensuring they only change one variable at a time. I mean, don’t they have tons of real, live scientists who believe in their claptrap?

In a word, no.

They took two kinds of bacteria with the same species name and compared them. The ‘wild type’ strain they got from a friggen pond. While that is the cutest thing ever, you cant do that. They have no idea what its genome looks like. They dont know if phenotypic differences between the bacteria are because of antibiotic resistance or because of other genetic differences.

Got that one right. They need to use isogenic or quasi-isogenic strains. Otherwise everything further on is meaningless. It is meaningless.

The concept of a bacterial species is very fuzzy. Within what we would call arbitrarily a species, there can be a huge amount of variability. IIRC, two strains of E. coli have been sequenced, K12 and OH157, the enterotoxin producing strain that can make people sick or kill them. Right here is a tipoff, everyone has E. coli in their guts but the wrong strain of E. coli can be fatal. There were some major differences in the two DNA sequences.

Abbie,

This is sad, and probably true:

ERV said:

The majority of middle schools in this country do not have the equipment or the budget necessary to mirror the methods in Marciano et al. What planet do you all live on?

If a middle schooler made the same comparisons as Dr. Alan L. Gillen (colony size, growth curves) minus the Biblical crap, I would be satisfied. However, I do doubt that a middle schooler would miss the obvious next step, which would be comparing colony sizes and growth curves in the presence of antibiotics.

However, I would expect a truly qualified middle school science teacher - at a typical public or parochial school - to demand nothing less than excellence from his/her students, not such shoddy, rather insipid, “published” pseudoscientific nonsense from these Liberty University “scientists”.

Maybe one day, American public schools may follow much of the excellent advice on instilling rigorous, quality education recommended by my friend Alec Klein in his book, “A Class Apart”, but regrettably, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Regards,

John

I can see the complaints from the DI’s media division now…

“First, the Evolutionists insist that we do research and publish it for their “review”.”

“So we do that, and all they can do is to nitpick it to pieces! Is that what “peer review” means to these people? To overlook the big results and concentrate on parsing every little technical mistake?”

You would think the fact that some colonies are pink and others are tan would be a tip off that there might be more genetic variation between these two strains than just anti-biotic resistance.

*sigh*

oh well.

Hi Abbie,

Your comments are sad, but probably, all too true:

ERV said:

The majority of middle schools in this country do not have the equipment or the budget necessary to mirror the methods in Marciano et al. What planet do you all live on?

If a middle schooler made the same comparisons as Dr. Alan L. Gillen (colony size, growth curves) minus the Biblical crap, I would be satisfied. However, I do doubt that a middle schooler would miss the obvious next step, which would be comparing colony sizes and growth curves in the presence of antibiotics.

Maybe some day, most American public schools will pay heed to the excellent advice offered by my friend Alec Klein in his book “A Class Apart” on how to instill quality, rigorous education at these schools. This would include expecting high standards for student scientific research, even in middle school. If schools around the country were to demand this of their students, then I would start being optimistic about the future of America’s ongoing excellence in science and technology.

Regards,

John

To compete viruses, I put the same amount of Virus A and Virus B onto a set number of cells, and I scream ‘FIGHT! FIGHT FIGHT! FIGHT!’

Man, microbiology is a lot more exciting than I though.

Scientific research involves drawing a conclusion after experimentally testing a hypothesis. This study is apologetics. It adjusts results to fit preexisting conclusions.

The fitness effects could easily have led them to suggest an inefficient designer.

God works in mysterious ways :P

Les Lane said:

Scientific research involves drawing a conclusion after experimentally testing a hypothesis. This study is apologetics. It adjusts results to fit preexisting conclusions.

The fitness effects could easily have led them to suggest an inefficient designer.

Speaks for itself. Random isolates of bacteria classified as the same species can differ drastically among themselves.

Complete genome sequence of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7 and genomic comparison with a laboratory strain K-12.Hayashi T, Makino K, Ohnishi M, Kurokawa K, Ishii K, Yokoyama K, Han CG, Ohtsubo E, Nakayama K, Murata T, Tanaka M, Tobe T, Iida T, Takami H, Honda T, Sasakawa C, Ogasawara N, Yasunaga T, Kuhara S, Shiba T, Hattori M, Shinagawa H. Department of Microbiology, Miyazaki Medical College, Kiyotake, Japan.

Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a major food-borne infectious pathogen that causes diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis, and hemolytic uremic syndrome. Here we report the complete chromosome sequence of an O157:H7 strain isolated from the Sakai outbreak, and the results of genomic comparison with a benign laboratory strain, K-12 MG1655. The chromosome is 5.5 Mb in size, 859 Kb larger than that of K-12. We identified a 4.1-Mb sequence highly conserved between the two strains, which may represent the fundamental backbone of the E. coli chromosome. The remaining 1.4-Mb sequence comprises of O157:H7-specific sequences, most of which are horizontally transferred foreign DNAs. Predominant roles of bacteriophages in the emergence of O157:H7 is evident by the presence of 24 prophages and prophage-like elements that occupy more than half of the O157:H7-specific sequences. The O157:H7 chromosome encodes 1632 proteins and 20 tRNAs that are not present in K-12. Among these, at least 131 proteins are assumed to have virulence-related functions. Genome-wide codon usage analysis suggested that the O157:H7-specific tRNAs are involved in the efficient expression of the strain-specific genes. A complete set of the genes specific to O157:H7 presented here sheds new insight into the pathogenicity and the physiology of O157:H7, and will open a way to fully understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the O157:H7 infection.

Les Lane said: The fitness effects could easily have led them to suggest an inefficient designer.

Wouldn’t that be heresy?

(The inefficiency if the designer has already been documented - from the human appendix to the recurrent pharyngeal nerve - see http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Arc[…]sg07209.html )

A growth curve with no error bars

Well, god doesn’t make mistakes.

On another thread recently I got into another semantic debate. I tried to say that classic creationism is slightly closer to science than ID, in an ironic contrast to all the spin that ID has devoted to pretending that it is science and not “creationism.” The other “Darwinist” insisted that they were both 0% science. Maybe it’s more like classic creationism is minus 5% science and ID is minus 10% science, but as the AIG paper shows, classic creationists, not IDers, are the ones willing to subject themselves to more critical analysis by making more well-defined testable claims. So by that metric at least, they are “less far” from science than ID is. But I do see the other point too. ID and classic creationism are both “running backwards,” so the fact that one is “closer to the finish line” does not mean that it has any better chance of winning the race.

Nevertheless, while classic creationists occasionally clumsily attempt to do what real scientists do, IDers say and do whatever is necessary to avoid being pinned down on anything, even if it means going in the exact opposite direction that real science needs to go to succeed. IOW, steadily backpedaling from everything except the unfalsifiable “some designer did something at some time” and the long-refuted “weaknesses” of “Darwinism” which conveniently takes the focus off what they – and classic creationists - have to offer in its place.

‘Completely Worthless’? Maybe from a scientific standpoint, but it gives them a ‘paper’ published in a ‘scientific journal’, one of their biggest embarrassment points. They’re not interested in winning on the science.

A close friend of mine is a microbiologist, who was able to induce a methicillin resistant S. Aureus to be resistant to Vancomycin in just two weeks. The cost was apparently high since the strain would promptly lose the trait when removed from the antibiotic rich environment. Front loading, obviously. AIG can build a paper-macha volcano to prove that. : )

I strongly suspect their methodology was as follows:

1. Determine the conclusion: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have a nasty, nasty mutation, so they’re not as good as God’s own wild-type.

2. Come up with a possible experimental approach which will show the right conclusion.

3. If the conclusion is wrong, repeat #2 using a less scientifically-defensible approach. Continue as necessary until we get results which agreee with our conclusion.

4. Publish the results. We’ve shown that antibiotic-resistant bacteria with a nasty, nasty mutation are not as good as God’s own wild-type. Hallelujah!

They’re all lab coat and no science.

I just read the Journal’s article on Christian Peer Review and posted some long-winded commentary on it, and the AiG in general on my blog, if anyone’s interested (says the relative newbie). http://jerseydevil77.livejournal.com/24636.html

John Kwok said:

1) We ought to ignore AiG’s “creation research journal” as a risible activity of a fringe community devoted to promoting its pseudoscientific mendacious intellectual pornography to a largely scientific illiterate general public as “valid science”.

2) We should also ignore it by not submitting “manuscripts” to it for potential publication as a means of discrediting it, or else - as we have seen already - it will backfire.

3) Those who are educators should alert their students to its existence and insist that they do not use it as a source for “published” scientific research.

Agreed on all points; as I mentioned earlier, Answers Research Journal merely forms a troika with Creation Research Society Quarterly and the Journal of Creation. Ignore, don’t Sokal. Finally, educators can and should use the National Library of Medicine for a list of peer-reviewed scientific journals. True, Rivista di Biologia qualifies under this metric, but no creationist or ID journals do, or ever will (barring the establishment of a theocracy in the United States).

What’s funny is that the vast majority of hard scientists and engineers would probably agree with everything you wrote and that evolution is far more legitimate than the other current offerings, then view (probably secretly) the evolutionary biology and creationism share one trait, both are 100% completely worthless.

Engineering are developing the tools and mechanisms of our modern society. We power your homes, we build your buildings, we are the foundation of society. While scientifically correct, evolutionary biology gives society nothing more than cute 1 hr discovery channel specials. Instead of pursuing this worthless endeavor, why don’t you use your collect brainpower to actually improved society. Cheaper/greener forms of energy, healthier foods, cleaner air, instead of what can be only accurately described as nothing more than a “hobby”. In sum, what’s the point? Are creationists individuals with such poor mental ability to handle scientific topics? Are evolutionary biologists who they are vs being chemists/physicists/engineers because they are incapable of dealing with the intellectual tasks of differential equations/thermodynamics/quantum physics? I know this sounds harsh, but deal with the realities that w/o the theory of evolution, our society would exactly be as it is currently. (Do you think there were not athiests b4 Darwin?) Then think about physics.

The true “killer” of evolution isn’t from the ID or creationists. Actually, this debate has helped evolution’s cause for now the theory is top-of-mind in our non-scientific populace. The dagger that would kill evolution would be if people were more knowledgeable in the sciences, esp. the hard sciences of physics and chemistry, the sciences that supply the framework of our civilization. Then evolution would just fade away, not from challenges of how legitimate evolution is, but from disinterest as people would be working on more important things.

Malcolm Kass said:

The true “killer” of evolution isn’t from the ID or creationists. Actually, this debate has helped evolution’s cause for now the theory is top-of-mind in our non-scientific populace. The dagger that would kill evolution would be if people were more knowledgeable in the sciences, esp. the hard sciences of physics and chemistry, the sciences that supply the framework of our civilization. Then evolution would just fade away, not from challenges of how legitimate evolution is, but from disinterest as people would be working on more important things.

Please explain why knowing more about physics and chemistry invalidates the idea of “descent with modification,” and all of the evidence that supports it, including changes and trends observed in fossil and living lineages, comparisons of genomes, the appearance of antibiotic-resistant microbes, etc, etc, etc.

Also please explain why evolution, WHICH IS THE FOUNDATION OF BIOLOGY AND AGRICULTURE, would “just fade away” because people would want to work on more important things. Please explain what would be more important to work on than understanding how life functions and changes. What would be more important to work on than, say, figuring out what to grow, and how to grow it, in order to adequately and efficiently feed 6 to 9 billion people? What would be more important than trying to understand and neutralize harmful pathogens that are resistant to medicine and treatments? Trying to design rockets and explosives to kill people?

So, please understand what this is all about, or please shut your worthless mouth up and go away.

I forgot to ask you…

Since it is of far greater importance to build things with engineering, so much so that studying life and the mechanics of how life changes with each generation are so superfluous so as to be utterly useless, what should we do with all of the things we have studied through the help of such a useless topic as evolutionary biology? Should we burn down all of the natural history museums and gather up all of the fossils of everything, dinosaurs, birds, mammals and other unpronouncible things and make quicklime? Because using engineering to build a house is of so much greater importance than figuring out how to feed its occupants, should we stop growing crops and livestocks altogether? How do you propose engineering, physics and chemistry be used to cure disease and thwart bacteria and other pathogens? How do you think people make chemicals like human growth hormone and insulin today?

The weird thing about Matthew Kass’s post is that it actually demonstrates not how useless evolutionary theory is– but how far evolution has moved from testable theory into the realm of proven fact.

I’m using fact here to mean things so established that it isn’t necessary to understand the scientific theory behind them in order to use them; as people can drive cars without understanding the principle of the internal combustion engine.

So farmers piously intone in Sunday school classes that the bible is literally true and evolution is “just a theory.” Then they stand around the church parking lot talking about hybrid seeds and animal breeding programs and the problem of insects “developing” (i.e., evolving) resistance to pesticides– without understanding that they are working on the premise that evolution is an unquestionable fact!

Sorry, Malcolm Kass. My point stands.

So, I’ve been reading and trying to desperately understand. Me thinks I will take some science classes next semester and study. I think the problem with all the ID people is they are really dumb and poorly educated, as am I. However I would like to get to the point in my education to understand the majority of what has been written here and be able to finally have the tools to defend my belief in Darwin theory of evolution.

Malcolm Kass said:

What’s funny is that the vast majority of hard scientists and engineers would probably agree with everything you wrote and that evolution is far more legitimate than the other current offerings, then view (probably secretly) the evolutionary biology and creationism share one trait, both are 100% completely worthless.

I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help but snigger just a little when someone confidently asserts something that is so wrong it has the potential to cause you to doubt whether you can take that person seriously ever again.

If you would be so kind, Mr Kass, and explain the prospective advances in physics and engineering that could possibly be more important than feeding a world population that has doubled in the last 50 years, and potentially unlocking the mysteries of both Cancer and AIDS, because I just can’t think of any.

This is one of those moments when you would literally do anything to be able to delete a post, I’m sure. As it is, I predict that we won’t see Mr Kass ever again.

Unlucky, old chap.

Malcolm Kass said:

Blah, blah, blah.

Are evolutionary biologists who they are vs being chemists/physicists/engineers because they are incapable of dealing with the intellectual tasks of differential equations/thermodynamics/quantum physics? I know this sounds harsh, but deal with the realities that w/o the theory of evolution, our society would exactly be as it is currently. (Do you think there were not athiests b4 Darwin?) Then think about physics.

Are you aware that there are physicists and chemists working on problems in biology? They even have a name - biophycists and biochemists - have you heard of them? It seems that your vaunted differential equation/thermodynamics/quantum physics people are not able to do anything useful in biology, either, by your reasoning.

Malcolm,

If you think that evolutionary biology is so worthless, don’t study it! It’s as simple as that. But don’t try to tell professional scientists what they should and shouldn’t study. That’s just pointless.

The fact is that our understanding of evolutionary biology has revolutionized our world. Not only the way we view the world and our place in it, but also how we solve our problems as well. I guess you are the kind of guy who would tell Galileo not to look through a telescope because he couldn’t possibly learn anythng important. I guess you would tell Pasteur not to play with mold because it was a waste of time. I guess you are the kind of guy who would say something like: “That’s great Pavlov, now if you could just get it to lick stamps”.

The fact is that modern agriculture, medicine, forensics and countless other fields depend critically on scientific knowledge of evolution. If you don’t want to know those things, fine. If you think that making things is the only useful human endeavor why don’t you complain about all of the money spent on the arts or on space exploration. Let me guess, you’re against those too. Oh well, at least you think that some science is useful. I guess that puts you ahead of most creationists.

Kyla–

There are a lot of good, popular books on evolution. Steven Jay Gould wrote hundreds of essays in Natural History Magazine which have been collected into books. Some of these would be “The Panda’s Thumb” (which inspired the title of this blog) and “The Flamingo’s Smile.”

A book which is really a giggle and makes some interesting points about sexual selection is “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation.” (I can’t remember the real name of the author.)

If these books seem too much like jumping in in the middle, Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale” has an overview of how various life forms are related, with lots of information about current issues in evolution. (And, by the way, nothing about atheism.)

There are also subtopics you may find interesting, like the evolution of Homo sapiens. Donald Johanson’s ghost-written pop books “Lucy” and “Lucy’s Child” give a real feel for how paleontology actually works– including, unfortunately, the in-fighting. James Watson’s “Double Helix” is a quick read about how the structure of the gene was discovered, although I found Horace Freeland Judson’s “The Eighth Day of Creation” (horrible title! It’s nothing to do with creationism) more informative and interesting. Sean Carroll’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” explains the basics of the current, hot field, evo-devo (developmental evolutionary biology.)

And, of course there’s always Charles Darwin. As long as you keep in mind that scientists do not treat ANYBODY’s theory as holy writ, and that a lot has been discovered in the 149 years since the first edition of The Origin of Species, Darwin’s plain, straight-forward English presents his theory in a comprehensible way.

Finally, of course, there are Internet sites that cover basic issues in evolution in short, concise write-ups.

I’ve done this off the top of my head, so it’s probably full of errors, but perhaps others can add different or better sources. But I must say, it was popular science literature like the books above, along with magazines like Natural History and Natinal Geographic which took me from “believing in” evolution in some rather vague way to having a clear idea of how overwhelming the evidence is in favor of evolution, and how valuable the theory has been for guiding research for the last century and a half.

Especially convincing for me was the way in which totally unexpected discoveries like the structure of DNA and the geology of plate tectonics, which Darwin could never have predicted, fit in perfectly with evolutionary theory. It’s like some long running detective series with plot twists that Darwin never imagined coming winging in out of the blue– and fitting in perfectly with the basic theory.

Kyla, I really hope you have fun with these books, or other good, popular accounts about evolution. I know I have.

Hi hoary puccoon,

Great suggestions you’ve offered here:

hoary puccoon said:

Kyla–

There are a lot of good, popular books on evolution. Steven Jay Gould wrote hundreds of essays in Natural History Magazine which have been collected into books. Some of these would be “The Panda’s Thumb” (which inspired the title of this blog) and “The Flamingo’s Smile.”

A book which is really a giggle and makes some interesting points about sexual selection is “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation.” (I can’t remember the real name of the author.)

If these books seem too much like jumping in in the middle, Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale” has an overview of how various life forms are related, with lots of information about current issues in evolution. (And, by the way, nothing about atheism.)

There are also subtopics you may find interesting, like the evolution of Homo sapiens. Donald Johanson’s ghost-written pop books “Lucy” and “Lucy’s Child” give a real feel for how paleontology actually works– including, unfortunately, the in-fighting. James Watson’s “Double Helix” is a quick read about how the structure of the gene was discovered, although I found Horace Freeland Judson’s “The Eighth Day of Creation” (horrible title! It’s nothing to do with creationism) more informative and interesting. Sean Carroll’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” explains the basics of the current, hot field, evo-devo (developmental evolutionary biology.)

And, of course there’s always Charles Darwin. As long as you keep in mind that scientists do not treat ANYBODY’s theory as holy writ, and that a lot has been discovered in the 149 years since the first edition of The Origin of Species, Darwin’s plain, straight-forward English presents his theory in a comprehensible way.

Finally, of course, there are Internet sites that cover basic issues in evolution in short, concise write-ups.

I’ve done this off the top of my head, so it’s probably full of errors, but perhaps others can add different or better sources. But I must say, it was popular science literature like the books above, along with magazines like Natural History and Natinal Geographic which took me from “believing in” evolution in some rather vague way to having a clear idea of how overwhelming the evidence is in favor of evolution, and how valuable the theory has been for guiding research for the last century and a half.

Especially convincing for me was the way in which totally unexpected discoveries like the structure of DNA and the geology of plate tectonics, which Darwin could never have predicted, fit in perfectly with evolutionary theory. It’s like some long running detective series with plot twists that Darwin never imagined coming winging in out of the blue– and fitting in perfectly with the basic theory.

Kyla, I really hope you have fun with these books, or other good, popular accounts about evolution. I know I have.

Among the best books I’d recommend to Kyla would include Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Panda’s Thumb”, “Ever Since Darwin” (the first two in his collected Natural History essay volumes, but would recommend others like “The Flamingo’s Smile”), “Wonderful Life” and “Ontogeny and Phylogeny” (This is a more technical overview of ontogeny and its bearing on phylogeny, but one that could be accessible to science literate readers), Niles Eldredge’s “Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life” (the companion volume to the American Museum of Natural History-originated Darwin exhibition which Eldredge curated, which will have its final stop at London’s British Museum of Natural History in time for the Darwin bicentennial next year), Carl Zimmer’s “Evolution” (the companion volume to the PBS NOVA miniseries), Ernst Mayr’s “Why Darwin Matters”, Douglas Futuyma’s excellent “Evolutionary Biology” (which may be the best textbook on evolutionary biology), Kenneth R. Miller’s “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”, Eugenie Scott’s “Evolution vs. Creationism”, and Donald Prothero’s “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters”. There are obviously more of course, and I recommend looking at other books written by the likes of Francisco J. Ayala, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, Julian Huxley, and, of course, Charles Darwin.

Regards,

John

Especially convincing for me was the way in which totally unexpected discoveries like the structure of DNA and the geology of plate tectonics, which Darwin could never have predicted, fit in perfectly with evolutionary theory. It’s like some long running detective series with plot twists that Darwin never imagined coming winging in out of the blue– and fitting in perfectly with the basic theory.

Yeah - in science, if an answer is correct, then most or all lines of research that impact on it should converge toward that same answer. As somebody once put it (more or less), convergence neither hoped for not anticipated, of multiple lines of evidence.

Henry

Oh so slowly catching up (?) on old threads:

Eric Finn said:

I think Torbjörn once said something along the line: “Reality, if it exists, must be a weird thing”.

Well, a good dish, but perhaps it need some seasoning of context.

I believe this was in a discussion of observational facts and testable theories vs what we do observations and tests on. Most scientists seems to be naive realists, and so am I (and for reasons of parsimony).

Robin said:

It’s a hold over mindset from being a Dungeons and Dragons player I bet.

No, what is D&D? :-P

Oops, blew that one. Well, I actually tried that once. After one hour or so of slowly learning the rules together with other beginners and one actual player I bowed out. It was surprisingly boring.

David Stanton said:

Man, they are stuck between a rock and a dumb place.

David FTW.

Torbjörn Larsson, OM said:

Oh so slowly catching up (?) on old threads:

Eric Finn said:

I think Torbjörn once said something along the line: “Reality, if it exists, must be a weird thing”.

Well, a good dish, but perhaps it need some seasoning of context.

Yes, sorry, I did throw it out of context. I like it in any context, though.

I believe this was in a discussion of observational facts and testable theories vs what we do observations and tests on. Most scientists seems to be naive realists, and so am I (and for reasons of parsimony).

I do not remember the details. Most likely you description is accurate, since there was a time, when we were having that sort of discussions.

I have seen the term instrumentalism (e.g. Wikipedia). As far as I understand, this is a view that theoretical concepts may not describe the reality accurately, but if the theory, as a whole, predicts observable facts, then it is a good theory. Many fields of science do not need to contemplate these kind of things, but the connection between theoretical concepts and the reality (if it exists :p) has certainly been discussed in quantum physics.

Naive realism is a slightly different approach, although it does not really contradict instrumentalism, in my opinion.

Regards

Eric

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This page contains a single entry by SA Smith published on July 21, 2008 8:30 AM.

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