November 2012 Archives

A Reply to Robert Asher

I see that Robert Asher has offered a belated reply to a blog post I wrote earlier this year, in reply to a post of his over at HuffPo. I thank him for taking the time to reply, as I enjoyed reading his thoughts. However, I am sure that no one will be shocked to learn that I have not been moved by his remarks to revise anything I said in my original post. I provide a reply to his reply over at EvolutionBlog. Comments can be left there.

Pat Robertson made a stunning revelation on the 700 Club show, on Tuesday, November 27th.

Here’s the clip:

Cue howls of anguished protest from Ken Ham in 3,2,1…

Added: if you don’t see Pat Robertson in the YouTube frame above, then click here to see the video.

Ashernew.jpgThis is a guest post by Robert J. Asher. Asher is a paleontologist in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. He is also the author of the recently-published book Evolution and Belief: Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist.

In February 2012, Asher authored the essay “Why I am an Accommodationist” for Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rober[…]1298554.html).

Jason Rosenhouse wrote a reply at his EvolutionBlog in March 2012 (http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionbl[…]mmodationism). Asher’s response is below.

– Nick Matzke

God as a Superhuman: A (belated) Response to Jason Rosenhouse

Way back in February, I tried to make the case that accommodation between religious belief and a scientific worldview is a good thing. I remain convinced that in order to make a positive difference in science literacy, educators should distinguish between superstition and religion, understand that human identity can entail elements of both, and acknowledge that science does not render religion untenable. My particular focus in that essay was that believers need not attribute a human-like mode of creativity to their god. Conversely, I argued that anti-theists (by which I mean those atheists who view religion as terminally misguided) and creationists (by which I mean those who think natural mechanisms are insufficient to explain at least some aspects of biological evolution) often agree with each other in rejecting, or at least not liking, this viewpoint. Both argue (for different reasons) that a god without some human-like will to circumvent biology & physics for its own ends is too remote and/or abstract to be worth worshipping, or representative of “real” religion as practiced by millions of people today. I believe that both are wrong on this point.

Free access to some Springer journals through Nov 30

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Here. Hurry before they’re all gone!

Hat tip to Emily Lakdawalla

Freshwater: Board motion denied

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You will recall that attorneys for the Mt. Vernon Board of Education moved to strike parts of his merit brief, the document that makes his argument to the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn his termination as a middle school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. The Board’s argument was that his merit brief included Propositions of Law that are significantly different from those in his Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction, the document on which the Court’s acceptance of the case was based. I described that in Freshwater: The bait and switch laid out.

This morning I was notified that the Court has denied that motion to strike. The notification reads in full:

DECISION: Denied Ref: Motion to strike propositions of law 1 & 2, appendix pages 49 & 55-56, and supplement pages 103-116 from the merit brief of appellant

Notification Date/Time: 11/28/2012 9:15:28 AM

The ruling is not yet on the case documents site. That should be up sometime in the next 24 hours. If it says more than the notification I received I’ll flag it here.

I find the ruling inexplicable: Why would the Court accept a case on one set of Propositions of Law but then permit the appellant to argue his case on the basis of a different set Propositions? Beats the hell out of me.

Mendenhall glacier

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Photograph by Vivian Dullien.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

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Mendenhall glacier, near Juneau, Alaska, in winter light.

Exploring Evolution

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My first reaction when I received this splendid book was, “Wow! Great pictures!” Not to mention high-quality printing, paper, and layout. At 22 x 28 cm, the book is not exactly a coffee-table book, but neither does it feel like a textbook. And no wonder: It is published by a publisher, Vivays Publishing, which apparently specializes in art, architecture, and interior design, with, now, several science titles.

You could probably get by by looking at the pictures, which range from DNA to diatoms to Darwin to Darrow to dinosaurs, and reading the occasional caption. That would be a mistake, though; the text is clear and concise and, as the title promises, explores evolution.

Vaccinium sp.

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Vaccinium sp. – cranberry.

Xylocopa virginica

Photograph by Jay Worley.

Photography Contest, Honorable Mention.

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Xylocopa virginica – eastern carpenter bee on a zinnia flower, unknown species (probably Z. elegans): a bee native to eastern America on an exotic flower native to Mexico.

How the World Began

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Last night, I saw a splendid production of “How the World Began” produced by the Boulder Ensemble Theater Company, also known as Betsy. If you hurry, you can catch the last performance of Catherine Trieschmann’s fine play this afternoon at 4 p.m. According to the director, Betsy’s production is only the fourth, after New York and two other cities.

Very briefly, the play involves a young, idealistic, single, pregnant biology graduate who comes from New York to teach biology in a rural Kansas town, at least in part because it has recently been destroyed by a tornado. Early on, she obliquely refers to creationism as gobbledygook and is challenged after school by a very troubled student. Unfortunately, she digs in her heels and refuses to apologize, with consequences both predictable and unpredictable.

The science of antediluvian plushies

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One creationist claim that's commonly laughed at is this idea that 8 people could build a great big boat, big enough to hold all the 'kinds' of animals, and that those same 8 people were an adequate work force to maintain all those beasts for a year in a confined space on a storm-tossed ark. So the creationists have created a whole pseudoscientific field called baraminology which tries to survey all of taxonomy and throw 99% of it out, so they can reduce the necessary number of animals packed into the boat. Literally, that's all it's really about: inventing new taxonomies with the specific goal of lumping as many as possible, in order to minimize the load on their fantasy boat.

In the past, I've seen them argue that a biblical 'kind' is equivalent to a genus; others have claimed it's the Linnaean family. Now, Dr Jean K. Lightner, Independent Scholar (i.e. retired veterinarian), has taken the next step: a kind is equivalent to an order, roughly. Well, she does kind of chicken out at the Rodentia, the largest and most diverse group of mammals, and decides that those ought to be sorted into families, because otherwise she's reducing the number of animals on the ark too much.

Can William Lane Craig feel pain?

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I haven’t the foggiest idea, but I recently saw a video, which you may link to here, in which Mr. Craig, a Christian apologist, argues that (nonhuman) animals cannot feel pain but only responses to stimuli. Or if they can feel pain, then they do not know it is pain. And if they can feel pain but do not know it is pain then it is not pain. Or something.

My unsolicited advice to Mr. Craig: Study today’s (Nov. 16) Non Sequitur cartoon very, very carefully.

Fractal-inspired Tree of Life

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For mammals. Click on nodes repeatedly to burrow deeper into it and to access Wikipedia links.

Via The Finch & Pea

Evolving a new function via gene duplication and divergence

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Bjørn Østman at Pleiotropy describes new research in Science that shows how duplicated genes can evolve to perform new functions. It presents

… a new model/mechanism by which duplicated genes can retain the selection pressure to not succumb to deleterious mutations. They call it the innovation-amplification-divergene model (IAD).

Basically,

IAD works like this: A gene initially has one function only (A). Then some genetic changes makes it also have a new function, b, which at first is not of too great importance. Then some environmental change favors the gene variants with the minor b-function (the innovation stage). This is then followed by duplication of the gene, such that there are now more than one copy that carries out A and b (the amplification stage). At this stage there is selection for more b, and at some point genetic changes in one of the copies results in a gene that is better at the new function, B. At this point, selection for the genes that do both A and b is relaxed, because the new gene (blue) carries out the new function. The original gene then loses the b function, and we are left with two distinct genes.

Michael Behe, of course, scoffs. Because the researchers did some manipulations that created conditions favorable to the evolution of the new function, Behe claims that

Needless to say, this ain’t how unaided nature works – unless nature is guiding events toward a goal.

Shucks. I guess every experimental manipulation ever performed has been an invalid method of studying some process. But as a PT crew member pointed out on the back channel, “this kind of shit happens all the time in nature.” See, for example, Gene duplication and the adaptive evolution of a classic genetic switch or Escape from adaptive conflict after duplication in an anthocyanin pathway gene.

Cannabis sativa

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Cannabis sativa – marijuana. Voters in Colorado and Washington eased marijuana laws last week.

Ark falls off edge of earth

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According to the cartoonist Wiley, there were two Arks, and the one that carried the dinosaurs accidentally fell off the edge of the earth.

jackwu.jpg

NECN.com reported today that

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Carolyn Campbell lamented that she didn’t court enough voters in northeast Kansas in seeking her second term on the State Board of Education.

Her opponent, Jack Wu, was outspoken on teaching evolution and has ties to an anti-gay Topeka church notorious for picketing military members’ funerals. Campbell, a Democrat, worried GOP voters would simply follow Wu’s Republican party affiliation.

In the end, Campbell, a Topeka Democrat, received more than enough votes in Tuesday’s election, easily defeating Wu, according to unofficial results.

“I’m happy I have four more years to work for our children. That’s all I wanted to do,” Campbell said.

Wu, a Topeka computer programmer, made opposition to teaching evolution the centerpiece of his campaign. He described evolution as “Satanic lies” and said on a website that public schools were preparing students to be “liars, crooks, thieves, murderers, and perverts.”

Wu also raised eyebrows by saying that he was lured to Kansas from California in 2008 by Westboro Baptist. The Topeka church, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., is known internationally for picketing with anti-gay slogans and proclaiming that American soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. Wu is not formally a member, but he’s attended services regularly.

Here’s a bit more from Jack Wu’s own website:

My mission, in running for the Kansas State Board of Education, is to throw out the crap that teachers are feeding their students and replace it with healthy good for the soul knowledge from the holy scriptures.

Let’s be specific. Evolution should never be taught in public schools as science. Evolution is false science! God made the heaven and the earth and created humans from the dust of the earth! The very bad teachers that teach that men descended from apes via evolution need to have their teaching licenses revoked. Yes, students should be taught that God created everything.

Congratulations, Kansas!

Discuss.

Elateridae sp.

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Photograph by Kurt Andreas.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.

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Elateridae larva – click beetle, Glendale, New York, April 19, 2011.

Photography Contest IV: Winners

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Congratulations to Lou Jost, who has won both the Lab Rats and General categories, with his photographs, Orchids and Volcan Tungurahua.

On the theory that Mr. Jost does not need two copies of Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line, by Jason Rosenhouse, we declare James Kocher the third-place winner for his photograph Banded Iron Formation, in the Lab Rats category, and award Mr. Kocher the second copy of Mr. Rosenhouse’s book.

JPL Prevails in Lawsuit

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While the final decision hasn’t been written, the judge in the Coppedge v. Caltech and JPL case has made an order for a final ruling in JPL’s favor.

In his wrongful termination suit, Coppedge claimed he was demoted in 2009, then let go for engaging his co-workers in conversations about intelligent design and for handing out DVDs on the topic while at work. Intelligent design is the belief that life is too complex to have developed through evolution alone.

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