dreamer_easy: (WHATEVS)
By now you may've seen the Pew Forum's graph showing the proportion of people in the US of different religious beliefs who accept evolution, but for me more interesting is their overview of different religion's official stances on evolution.

Very many Christian denominations see no contradiction between God's role as the creator of the universe and life and the scientific fact of evolution: the Catholic Church, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Episcopal Church (which explicitly rejects Creationism!), the Evangelical Lutherans... even when it comes to the group with the lowest proportion of those who accept evolution, the Mormons, the Pew Forum reports: "several high-ranking officials have suggested that Darwin's theory does not directly contradict church teachings".

This official acceptance stands in stark contrast to the widespread attitude that acceptance of the fact of evolution, and Christian belief, are mutually exclusive. I think that attitude can distort our understanding of the general public's thinking on evolution. Many Westerners believe that some combination of natural selection and divine action resulted in life and human beings, from those who believe in God but take a wholly naturalistic view of evolution, to people who accept that evolution occurs but see it as directed by God, to those who are frankly a bit puzzled by the whole thing.
dreamer_easy: (SCIENCE BIOLOGY)
Half of Britons do not believe in evolution - although many are uncertain rather than opposed.

Recent decisions mean Creationism will be taught in science classes in Louisiana and Texas.

An interesting perspective on the Discovery Institute: It's not a Catholic theory of creation

Meanwhile, in actual science (ta, [livejournal.com profile] alryssa!): New Tree Of Life Divides All Lower Metazoans From Higher Animals, Molecular Research Confirms. By comparing DNA, you can create a tree showing how animals are related to each other. We usually think of "primitive" animals, like sponges, as being superseded by more complex animals, like hummingbirds or Frankus, as though evolution is trying to produce more and more elaborate creatures until finally an intelligent species pops out. But of course evolution doesn't try to do anything, any more than gravity tries to make stars and planets; it just happens. "Primitive" creatures like sponges and jellyfish are hugely successful in their own right. Anywho, this tree shows that many of those simple animals evolved right alongside the more complicated ones, and that rather than having descended from sponges, we share a common ancestor with them. Hmmm, that could bugger up the science in Bernice Summerfield: Nobody's Children, I'll have to go and have a look.

I was rummaging around in CafePress yesterday for t-shirts on evolution, and almost all of them are just insults, rather than conveying any useful information. (I quite liked the "Evidence of evolution? You're sitting on it!" one, with a diagram of the coccyx.) The UK survey suggests what peeps need is more information and explanation, not to be told they're morons.

That said:

"There are many, many gaps that don't link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other's opinions." - Barbara Cargill, Texas Board of Education member

"There is no democracy in physics. We can't say that some second-rate guy has as much right to his opinion as Fermi." - Luis Alvarez
dreamer_easy: (science)
ETA: Just found the latest news on this: Evolution wins a round in Texas education debate (23 January): "Board members voted eight-to-seven last night to drop controversial language in the state's curriculum that requires science teachers to discuss the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories."

In Texas, a Line in the Curriculum Revives Evolution Debate (22 January)

Briefly put, Creationists want long-refuted "weaknesses" in the Theory of Evolution taught in the classroom, such as the well-worn claim that the Cambrian Explosion is a mystery impenetrable by science.

ETA: As Scientific American notes, each time Creationists are defeated in their efforts to get religion into science classes, they change tactics; the claim that evolution is controversial and that they're defending academic freedom is just the latest one.

Stuff

Nov. 23rd, 2008 05:50 pm
dreamer_easy: (INTERESTING)
Spectacularly, and perhaps inevitably, I crashed and burned this morning. Which means I was comatose while everyone else was partaking of [livejournal.com profile] jvowles's awesome culinary productions. T_T

Random stuff: perhaps the best commentary on Obama's election victory comes from (of all places) The Onion's sports page: Kobe Bryant Scores 25 In Holy Shit We Elected A Black President. On a par with their 9/11 coverage.

While we're with the Onion, those "Kelly" cartoons.

Lloyd gave me a terrific clipping: Darwin's Surprise, about resurrecting fossil viruses, genetic parasites which incorporated themselves into our DNA millions of years ago. "Endogenous retroviruses provide a trail of molecular bread crumbs leading millions of years into the past," the New Yorker article explains, "humans share most of those viral fragments with relatives like chimpanzees and monkeys... in thousands of places throughout our genome. If that were a coincidence, humans and chimpanzees would have had to endure an incalculable number of identical viral infections in the course of millions of years, and then, somehow, those infections would have had to end up in exactly the same place within each genome... The only way that humans, in thousands of seemingly random locations, could possess the exact retroviral DNA found in another species is by inheriting it from a common ancestor."
dreamer_easy: (cardiff)
'Missing link' between whales and land-dwellers is found

Humans are still evolving - and it's happening faster than ever - this is fascinating, because I'd absorbed from somewhere the assumption that technology means and end to selective pressure. Well, of course it doesn't. In fact, our evolution is speeding up: there are way more of us, so a larger change of a useful mutation popping up, like the handy ability to digest milk properly in adulthood. (Here, "evolution" means "a change in the frequency of genes in a population in response to selection" - for example, if food is scarce and only some people can digest milk, those lucky folks are more likely to survive and have kids, so there'll be more people who can digest milk in the next generation.)

Alison Bechdel saw, and painted, an ermine.

A report on trends in baby names informs us that "NSW is awash with little Jacks." Wonder how that happened...

The Ongoing Battle Over Deli Cats - in New York delis, cats are engaging in their long-traditional role of eating the rats and mice.

Caitlin Moran reviews Voyage of the Damned: "I know with scientific certainty that my sister Weena will take to moaning 'Tennant's eyes' at around 7.04pm, and not really stop until December 28. 2009." One of us! One of us! (Weena?)
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
I'm not quite sure why, at some point, I grabbed a Journal of Religion review of a book called The Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, by Robert T. Pennock, a Quaker. According to the review, "moral grounds" are the reason that Creationists continue to oppose evolution: "If we and other primates descend from a common ancestor, and if we can look to primate communication for examples of altruism, then moral behaviour may not be a key feature differentiating humans from other animals." That's a very interesting point; I've seen it argued in New Scientist that Creationism was originally a response to social Darwinism, which was conflated with actual Darwinism, ie science. But Creationists now equate science with every social ill; they "polarize science and religion unnecessarily", as both Pennock and the review argue.
dreamer_easy: (currentaffairs)
I'm lurking at the local library. The *(&%)*^% nanny software just blocked three completely innocent online word counter sites in a row.

Anyway, I jumped on because I wanted to point to a couple of articles in New Scientist. (The full articles aren't available at the NS Web site unless you're a subscriber.)

One is about the lack of research into torture, especially the medical and psychological aftermath. "It's impossible to get funding," says a Harvard researcher. Read more... )

A completely unrelated book review made challenging points about the re-arisen conflict between religion - specifically, monotheism - and science. Read more... ) The reviewer, John Gray, comments: "Any belief system in which human agency is central is bound to be at odds with what Edis describes as the 'radically unanthropomorphic' world view suggested by contemporary science... The true conflict may not be between science and religion, but between science and monotheist faiths in which humans have a privileged place in the world."

ID

Dec. 21st, 2006 03:24 pm
dreamer_easy: (evolution)
The latest New Scientist (16/12/06) reports on a change in tactics by proponents of Intelligent Design. One reason they've been thrashed in court for promoting religion as science is that they've done no scientific research. Funded by organisations such as the Discovery Institute, a handful of scientists are doing research with a view to its use in promoting ID, probably in the courtroom.

This is a clever move. Pointing out that ID is "not science" sounds like an insult, rather than a fact crucial in a First Amendment court challenge. (It's not poetry, either.) If ID proponents can get some papers published, they have a chance of giving their religion the cachet of "science" - perhaps even of convincing judges.

Read more... )

I also wanted to mention that, according to Discover, a curious Richard Dawkins had the God Spot in his brain stimulated and was disappointed he didn't have a mystical experience. This adds fuel to my personal theory that some people have the gene and the neural structures for religion, and some don't, and wonder what on earth the rest of us are on about. :-)
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
Of course Dawkins explains religion as a meme - that is, a sort of cultural virus. If it isn't an external, infectious agent, then from his perspective, it must have evolved - meaning it must grant some survival advantage.
dreamer_easy: (evolution)
Continuing my highly unofficial and unauthorised summary of 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent.

Let me give you the definition directly:

"A vestige is defined, independently of evolutionary theory, as a reduced and rudimentary structure compared to the same complex structure in other organisms [...] if functional, [they] perform relatively simple, minor, or inessential functions using structures that were clearly designed for other complex purposes."

An example is the wings of the flightless ostrich. Obviously, wings are for flying; but the ostrich only uses them for balance, or for courtship displays. (A vestigial structure doesn't have to be completely non-functional.)

Common descent gives us an explanation for vestigial organs: structures are gradually lost or gained over generations. For example, cave-dwelling lizards have eyes that don't work; their ancestors lived in the light and could see. Human ancestors were herbivorous, needing large molars to chew vegetable matter - which is why I had to have my useless, malformed wisdom teeth removed!

If common descent were not the case, then we might find vestigial characters in creatures which weren't present in their ancestors - vestigial feathers on a mammal, useless nipples on an amphibian, a vestigial bird-like gizzard inside a human being.

Oh, freak out! Atavisms are when an ancestral character reappears. Whales have been found with rudimentary hindlegs, even with feet and toes. Human babies have been born with tails - sometimes even with vertebrae in them. (The human embryo grows a tail, but it's normally lost before birth.) Like the genes for legs which are still present in the snake, the genes for legs are still present in the whale, and the genes for the tail are still present in human beings. There is a link to photos. I have to barf now.

ETA: A guy on the radio just mentioned Hawaii's "no-eyed big-eyed spider" - a cave-dwelling descendant of the big-eyed spider. :-)
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
The judge in Kitzmiller v Dover - the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ID case - has ruled that teaching ID as science in public schools is unconstitutional. The news item links to the full text of his judgement.

I agree with one commentator that ID proponents can no longer taunt scientists because the latter refuse to debate them. Scientists have just powerfully won a debate where only the evidence counted.

ETA: A crucial point from the judgement. "Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."
dreamer_easy: (evolution)
Continuing my highly unauthorised and unofficial attempt to summarise 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent.

Next up are transitional forms. If common descent is correct, then there's just one family tree for living things; if there's just one family tree, then if you have a gap in that tree, you should be able to predict what the creature occupying that gap looked like - for example, an intermediate between reptiles and birds (but never an intermediate between birds and mammals - there's no such branch on the tree).

In the case of the transition from reptile to bird, there's a complete set of fossils of various species which show all the stages in the change - all the possible intermediates. The same is true for the transition from reptiles to mammals, including fossils which show how the mammal inner ear bones evolved from reptilian jawbones. Other examples include intermediates between the ancestors of whales, which lived on land, and modern whales; the land-dwelling ancestors of dugongs, and modern dugongs; and intermediates between humans and our closest relatives, chimpanzees.

Also, these intermediate forms - and indeed, all organisms - should appear in the right chronological order in the fossil record. They match very well. The whole tree would be blown apart by, for example, a mammal fossil turning up in Devonian rocks (before reptiles had appeared), or even a reptile-bird fossil that was older than reptile-mammal fossils.

(Kate adds: more of these intermediate forms are turning up all the time as more fossils are found and analysed. The common ancestor of humans and great apes turned up last year.)

T-volution

Nov. 23rd, 2005 10:37 am
dreamer_easy: (it is to laugh)
I've been surfing for an evolution T-shirt (black, XXL). The Darwin Fish is an elegant classic, but it risks been interpreted as anti-religion, which I'm not. Anywho, I've found some fun slogans and designs.

"If humans evolved from monkeys, how come monkeys are still around?"
Surely, surely that's just a joke, and not a serious objection to evolution. Nonetheless, there's a rejoinder:
"If God made man from dirt, how come dirt is still around?"

A lot of slogans are science nerd injokes, such as "I <3 bonobos"

Some slogans are obvious: I'd already thought of "Intelligent Design is neither" by the time I found it. On the other hand, I hadn't thought of "Evolution is just a theory, like, uh, gravity."

Some of them you have to see for yourself, such as two "you are here" designs featuring our galaxy and our phylogeny.

ETA: I didn't realise that Dawkins was nicknamed "Darwin's rottweilier" because Huxley was nicknamed "Darwin's bulldog". Ya learn something new every day.
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
Answers in Genesis, the Young Earth Creationists who publish Creation magazine, have their Australian HQ in our suburb, so I wasn't surprised when we found one of their fliers at a local bus stop. It includes an intriguing claim I've never seen before: mutations only destroy existing genetic information, so there's no way a simple single-celled organism could accumulate all the information needed to build a human being.

You're probably familiar with the idea of mutations causing genes to stop working. Sometimes a single change in the genetic code is enough to disable an entire protein - sometimes a protein crucial to life (such as an enzyme needed for an vital metabolic function). That's an example of a mutation "destroying" the "existing genetic information", and I guess that's what Answers in Genesis have in mind.

The example of mutation adding information that popped into my head right away was gene duplication, where whole stretches of DNA accidentally get duplicated. Once that happens, the "extra" copy or copies can evolve new functions. Our bodies are built in part by libraries of duplicated genes, such as the Hox genes which oversee the construction of our eyes and limbs, and the proteins of our immune system. We can even observe this in real time: one experiment with yeast cells deprived them of all but a little of the sugar they need for food; they responded by evolving extra copies of their sugar-grabbing system, some of which changed from the original. And it can have real benefits: a digestive enzyme gene in lemurs was duplicated, and the new, mutated version actually works better.

So the Answers in Genesis flier is incorrect; mutations can add genetic information, working in small steps, by trial and error. I guess you could compare the evolution of tissues (groups of cells with different jobs in the body) - to gene duplication; once you have some extra cells lying around, they're free change into something slightly different, and if that new type of cell is useful, you keep it.

(More info here.)
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
For the next 24 hours, feel free to post any remark or question about evolution or intelligent design, anonymously if you wish (which means if you don't have a LiveJournal, you can still leave a comment). I won't try to guess who you are (IP logging is off) and I won't make fun of you or insult you.

But wait - there are rules!

1. You can only comment anonymously to this posting.
2. You may not be abusive (and I'll be the judge of what's abusive).
3. You can't comment about anything other than evolution or ID.

Any comments which break the rules will be deleted. Other than that, if you have questions, arguments, anything, comment away! (If you know anyone who might be interested, feel free to point them here.)

ID in Oz

Nov. 18th, 2005 05:44 pm
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
The SMH explains ID and criticisms in plain language, and interviewed various Australian denominations about their take on ID. (Catholic schools say "intelligent design is simply a non-event.")

An Australian expert physiologist addresses one of my questions about ID (Why the blood clotting system but not say, the sinuses?) on the Science Show (listen or read the transcript).
dreamer_easy: (evolution)
The Evolution Revolution (he he) continues with my unauthorised summary of this. Today we ask a question that would melt Scott Adams' neurons: what the hey is consilience of independent phylogenies?? Fortunately, it turns out to be something simple. If common descent is correct, and there's only one correct family tree for living things, then opbviously however you draw your map - analysing genes, comparing anatomy, comparing fossils, etc - you should end up with pretty much the same tree.

To draw such a family tree based on genes, you use genes which are found in all living things - "it doesn't matter whether you are a bacterium, a human, a frog, a whale, a hummingbird, a slug, a fungus, or a sea anemone - you have these ubiquitous genes, and they all perform the same basic biological function no matter what you are". Those genes are almost the same in every creature, but there are small differences, and you can use those to map out the relationshuip between different species. Roughly, the fewer differences, the more closely related those creatures are.

There are thirty major groups in the Web site's phylogeny of all living things. There are 1038 ways you could arrange them - so we can safely say that it's more than a coincidence that when you arrange those groups by anatomy, and arrange them by studying those ubiquitous genes, you get the same tree.

Now something which had occurred to me (and has obviously occurred to many others) is that if two creatures have the same anatomy, then wouldn't they have the same genes to build those structures, whether or not they're actually related? Couldn't this mislead us? The advantage of using those "ubiquitous" genes is that it bypasses this problem. One such gene codes for the crucial chemical cytochrome c. "... bat cytochrome c is much more similar to human cytochrome c than to hummingbird cytochrome c; porpoise cytochrome c is much more similar to human cytochrome c than to shark cytochrome c." So using that gene places the related animals together, instead of confusing hummers and bats because they both have wings, or porpoises and sharks because they have the same shape.

Using this phylogeny, scientists can predict the characteristics of transitional fossils (for example, from dinosaurs to birds, and from the land-dwelling ancestors of whales and dugongs to the modern aquatic species) and the numerous such fossils which have been found match those predictions. No fossil has yet been found which contradicts the tree - for example, a part-mammal, part-bird fossil would muck the whole thing up, but there's no sign of one. (If you're interested in transitional or intemediate fossils, give this section a closer read for more detail.)

Also, there's a good match between phylogenies mapped out by genes, anatomy, and the chronology of intermediate fossils - eg, according to the family tree you'd expect to find a dinosaur-mammal earlier than a dinosaur-bird in the rocks, and that's just what you do find. Finding a mammal or flower fossil in Devonian rocks, millions of years too early would (again) muck the whole thing up, but no-one has.

That was a long one! Next up: anatomical vestiges!
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
According to the SMH, Campus Crusade for Christ have sent 3000 copies of the DVD Unlocking the Mystery of Life: Intelligent Design to Australian schools (about 100 religious schools are currently teaching ID as science here). CCC says they're not telling schools what to do, but schools which ignore the DVD are guilty of "reactionary censorship". (I'd love to get my paws on a copy of the DVD.)

The SMH also notes the discovery of intermediate eyes in box jellyfish, as part of an article on Australian scientists' reaction to ID. (It addresses one of my particular difficulties with ID - why would God* design some structures, but throw so many others together so haphazardly?)

There's also a brief, plain language explanation of ID and critiques of ID
___

* Let's not beat around the bush.
dreamer_easy: (darwin)
I read the science mags at the library this evening. I'm not the only science fan* who flinches at Dawkins: Discovery magazine ran an article describing him as "Darwin's Rottweiler", which prompted several letters, including one expressing the same worry I mentioned in my posting about Scott Adams - you can't win people over with hostility and scorn. One reader feels understandably besieged by Intelligent Design, and welcomes Dawkin's anger; but it's not the weapon with which to win this fight. Facts and logic are those weapons.

There was also a terrific letter in New Scientist the content of which, in my fatigue, I've forgotten. Balls.
___

* I'm stumped for the right term for myself who accepts the evidence for evolution. "Scientist" is simple, but then, Michael Behe is a scientist. "Evolutionist" sounds like a religion, and "evolution proponent" is no better. "ID critic" is too narrow. "Darwinist" is too narrow (and a Creationist label). I'm not bright enough to be a "Bright", and I long ago quit the Skeptics. "Science fan" will have to do for now. Suggestions welcome.

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