Saturday, September 24, 2005

New evolution spat in U.S. schools goes to court, etc

New evolution spat in U.S. schools goes to court,Washington Post/Reuters, Jon Hurdle, September 23, 2005. ... A new battle over teaching about man's origins in U.S. schools goes to court for the first time next week, pitting Christian conservatives against educators and scientists in a trial viewed as the biggest test of the issue since the late 1980s. Eleven parents of students at a Pennsylvania high school are suing over the school district's decision to include "intelligent design" -- an alternative to evolution that involves a God-like creator -- in the curriculum of ninth-grade biology classes. The parents and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the policy of the Dover Area School District in south- central Pennsylvania violates the constitutional separation of church and state, which forbids teaching religion in public schools. They also argue that intelligent design is unscientific and has no place in a science curriculum. ... The school board says there are "gaps" in evolution, which it emphasizes is a theory rather than established fact, and that students have a right to consider other views on the origins of life. In their camp is President George W. Bush, who has said schools should teach evolution and intelligent design. The Dover schools board says it does not teach intelligent design but simply makes students aware of its existence as an alternative to evolution. It denies intelligent design is "religion in disguise" and says it is a scientific theory. The board is being represented by The Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit which says it uses litigation to promote "the religious freedom of Christians and time-honored family values." ... The trial begins on Monday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is expected to last about five weeks. ... Dr. John West of the Discovery Institute, which sponsors research on intelligent design, said the case displayed the ACLU's "Orwellian" effort to stifle scientific discourse and objected to the issue being decided in court. "It's a disturbing prospect that the outcome of this lawsuit could be that the court will try to tell scientists what is legitimate scientific inquiry and what is not," West said. "That is a flagrant assault on free speech." Opponents including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Biology Teachers say intelligent design is an attempt by the Christian right to teach creationism ... into public schools under the guise of a theory that does not explicitly mention God. The Supreme Court banned the teaching of creationism in public schools in a 1987 ruling. "Intelligent design is ultimately a science stopper," said Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Council for Science Education, a pro-evolution group backing the Dover parents. "It's a political and religious movement that's trying to insinuate itself into the public schools," she said. But the American public appears to back the school district. At least 31 states are taking steps to teach alternatives to evolution. A CBS poll last November found 65 percent of Americans favor teaching creationism as well as evolution while 37 percent want creationism taught instead of evolution. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form, the poll found. ... [The usual attempt by Darwinists to falsely conflate creationism and ID so that the courts will rule it out as "religion". But all that the Dover school board is proposing is to have read a 1-minute statement before science classes pointing out that evolution is just a theory and not a fact and lettting students know that there is ID materials in the school library. If even this is deemed by the Supreme Court to breach the so-called "constitutional separation of church and state" then that would be the effective establishment of Naturalism as the official religion of America.

However, I doubt that is going to happen and assume that the Supreme Court will rule: 1) it is lawful to present evidence against evolution; 2) ID is not "religion" since: a) it is not based on the Bible or any sacred text; b) it is based solely on the evidence of nature; and 3) it is not a tenet of any particular religion. The Darwinists forget that while "The Supreme Court banned the teaching of creationism in public schools in a 1987 ruling", there was a sting in its tail in the dissenting opinion by Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Rehnquist that, "The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools":

"In sum, even if one concedes, for the sake of argument, that a majority of the Louisiana Legislature voted for the Balanced Treatment Act partly in order to foster (rather than merely eliminate discrimination against) Christian fundamentalist beliefs, our cases establish that that alone would not suffice to invalidate the Act, so long as there was a genuine secular purpose as well. We have, moreover, no adequate basis for disbelieving the secular purpose set forth in the Act itself, or for concluding that it is a sham enacted to conceal the legislators' violation of their oaths of office. I am astonished by the Court's unprecedented readiness to reach such a conclusion, which I can only attribute to an intellectual predisposition created by the facts and the legend of Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S. W. 363 (1927) -- an instinctive reaction that any governmentally imposed requirements bearing upon the teaching of evolution must be a manifestation of Christian fundamentalist repression. In this case, however, it seems to me the Court's position is the repressive one. The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools, just as Mr. Scopes was entitled to present whatever scientific evidence there was for it. Perhaps what the Louisiana Legislature has done is unconstitutional because there is no such evidence, and the scheme they have established will amount to no more than a presentation of the Book of Genesis. But we cannot say that on the evidence before us in this summary judgment context, which includes ample uncontradicted testimony that "creation science" is a body of scientific knowledge rather than revealed belief. Infinitely less we say (or should we say) that the scientific evidence for evolution is so conclusive that no one could be gullible enough to believe that there is any real scientific evidence to the contrary, so that the legislation's stated purpose must be a lie. Yet that illiberal judgment, that Scopes-in-reverse, is ultimately the basis on which the Court's facile rejection of the Louisiana Legislature's purpose must rest." (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 594 (1987). Dissenting Opinion by Justice Scalia joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Emphasis original)

If the Supreme Court (which still includes Justice Scalia) follows that more general dissenting opinion, then the Darwinists would have really overplayed their hand!]

New 'Hobbit' disease link claim, BBC, 23 September 2005 ... Scientists are to present new evidence that the tiny human species dubbed "The Hobbit" may not be what it seems. The researchers say their findings strongly support an idea that the 1m- (3ft-) tall female skeleton from Indonesia is a diseased modern human. Their claims have been aired in a BBC Horizon programme screened on Thursday. The Hobbit's discoverers are adamant it is an entirely separate human species, which evolved a small size in isolation on its remote island home of Flores. The bones were unearthed during a dig at Liang Bua, a limestone cave deep in the Flores jungle. The discovery caused a sensation when it was announced to the world in 2004. Analysis of the 18,000-year-old remains showed the Hobbit had reached adulthood, despite her diminutive size. Long arms, a sloping chin, and other primitive features suggested affinities to ancient human species such as Homo erectus. And Homo floresiensis, as science properly calls the creature, seems to exhibit other oddities, such as lower premolar teeth with twin roots. In most modern humans, the lower premolars have a single root. ... Australian anthropologists ... involved in the find, proposed that the Hobbit was a descendent of erectus or some other ancient species that reached Flores just under a million years ago. Cut off from the rest of the world on this island, the species evolved small stature, much like the pygmy elephants it is thought to have hunted. Sophisticated stone tools found nearby suggest they were not lacking in intelligence, even though the Hobbit specimen's brain was no larger than a chimpanzee's. The Hobbit was only 1m tall and possessed "primitive" features But it was not long before some scientists began to ask serious questions about the discovery team's conclusions. Indonesian anthropologist Teuku Jacob controversially took possession of the remains and declared them to be those of a modern human with the condition microcephaly. This disorder is characterised by a small brain, but it can also be associated with dwarfism, as well as abnormalities of the face and jaw. For this reason, some scientists believe the condition could cause a modern human to look primitive in evolutionary terms. Jacob was soon joined by a handful of researchers in the belief that the discovery team had happened upon nothing more than a member of our own species with a rare disease. Professor Bob Martin, one of the team that is set to publish new evidence challenging the discovery team's original interpretation, says the Hobbit's brain is "worryingly" small and contradicts a fundamental law of biology. "What this law says in simple terms is that if you halve body size, brain size is only reduced by 15%," .... "So if you halve body size you don't halve brain size, the brain is reduced far less than that." ... Working under the assumption that the Hobbit was basically a shrunken form of Homo erectus, Professor Martin used this law to find out how big the Hobbit's brain should have been. Starting with a height of 1.75m and a brain size of 990 cubic centimetres for Homo erectus, Professor Martin used the standard scaling formula to calculate that, given a height of 1m, the Hobbit's brain size should have been about 750 cubic centimetres. ... In fact, it was a mere 400 cubic centimetres. .... However, researchers who carried out the excavation at Liang Bua argue that island isolation can play strange evolutionary tricks. "If they'd been isolated on this island for 800,000 years by themselves, genetically cut off from the rest of the world, where very few other animals could get to, we'd expect strange things," Mike Morwood ... [said]. But another piece of evidence challenging the discoverers' claims has come from one of the oldest anatomical collections in the world. ... Ann MacLarnon ... has discovered the skull of a microcephalic ... with a brain that matches that of the Hobbit for size. "It showed that we really could demonstrate with a specimen that [microcephaly] could explain the Hobbit's small brain," .... But there's a problem with the sceptics' version of the story. The Hobbit team has found more human remains. These include a lower jaw with the same unusual features as the original find (including twin roots to the molars). "Let's buy into [the sceptics'] argument just for a bit of fun," said Professor Bert Roberts ..., a member of the discovery team. "We've got a complete lower jaw that's identical to the first so there we have a situation where we've now got to have two really badly diseased individuals. "We've got a diseased population like some sort of leper colony, living in Liang Bua 18,000 years ago. The probabilities have got to be vanishingly small." The Hobbit team is now looking in other caves on Flores for more evidence of this ancient population. The sceptics intend to publish their concerns in a scientific journal. ... [It will be very embarrassing if this `Hobbit' does turn out to be just a diseased modern human, but I doubt it was.]

Down side to dinosaurs, The Australian September 21, 2005. THE popular image of Tyrannosaurus rex and other killer dinosaurs may have to be changed as a scientific consensus emerges that many were covered with feathers. Most predatory dinosaurs, such as tyrannosaurs and velociraptors, have usually been depicted in museums, films and books as covered in a thick hide of dull brown or green skin. ... This month, however, a leading expert on dinosaur evolution will tell the British Association, the principal conference of British scientists, that this image is wrong. Gareth Dyke ... told the BA Festival of Science that most such creatures were coated with delicate feathery plumage that could even have been multi-coloured. He said fossil evidence that such dinosaurs were feathered was irrefutable. "The way these creatures are depicted can no longer be considered scientifically accurate," he said. "All the evidence is that they looked more like birds than reptiles. Tyrannosaurs might have resembled giant chicks." ... The Natural History Museum in London, which has a popular exhibition of robot dinosaurs, conceded this weekend that some of its permanent displays may have to be adapted to reflect the new findings. The feather revelation follows a series of discoveries in fossil beds at Liaoning, in northeast China, where a volcanic eruption buried many dinosaurs alive. It also cut off the oxygen that would otherwise have rotted them away. Some theropod (beast-footed) dinosaurs were preserved complete with feathery plumage. Theropod is the name given to predatory creatures that walked upright on two legs, balanced by a long tail. The feathered finds include an early tyrannosaur, a likely ancestor of T. rex, two small flying dinosaurs and five other predators. Feathers are thought to have evolved first to keep dinosaurs warm and only later as an aid to flight. Such finds are significant in linking dinosaurs to modern birds. Most paleontologists accept that birds are descended from dinosaurs but there is fierce debate over how this happened. Dr Dyke presented new evidence suggesting that dinosaurs evolved the ability to fly and that some even developed all four limbs into wings. ... [Personally while I accept that birds and dinosaurs shared a common ancestor, I regard these Chinese "feathered dinosaur" claims as collective self-delusion, like those astronomers who thought they saw canals on Mars. The problem is that these Chinese fossils are all Cretaceous (~125 mya):

"The ancient lake beds of the lower part of the Yixian Formation, Liaoning Province, northeastern China, have yielded a wide range of well-preserved fossils: the 'feathered' dinosaurs Sinosauropteryx, Protarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx, the primitive birds Confuciusornis and Liaoningornis, the mammal Zhangheotherium and the reportedly oldest flowering plant, Archaefructus. Equally well preserved in the lake beds are a wide range of fossil plants, insects, bivalves, conchostracans, ostracods, gastropods, fish, salamanders, turtles, lizards, the frog Callobatrachus and the pterosaur Eosipterus,. This uniquely preserved assemblage of fossils is providing new insight into long-lived controversies over bird-dinosaur relationships,, the early diversification of birds,, and the origin and evolution of flowering plants. Despite the importance of this fossil assemblage, estimates of its geological age have varied widely from the Late Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous. Here we present the first 40Ar/39Ar dates unambiguously associated with the main fossil horizons of the lower part of the Yixian Formation, and thus, for the first time, provide accurate age calibration of this important fauna. The results of this dating study indicate that the lower Yixian fossil horizons are not Jurassic but rather are at least 20 Myr younger, placing them within middle Early Cretaceous time." (Swisher C.C., et al., "Cretaceous age for the feathered dinosaurs of Liaoning, China," Nature, Vol. 400, 1 July 1999, pp.58-61)

whereas the first true bird with undisputed advanced true flight feathers, Archeopteryx was ~20 million years earlier in the Jurassic (~145 mya), and therefore its ancestry would have been even earlier. That some dinosaurs may have had a `frayed' scale integument does not mean they were feathers or even `proto-feathers'. And it is also possible that some of these `dinosaurs' are actually secondarily flightless birds that have `devolved' from true birds, as paleoornithologist Alan Feduccia maintains, declaring "Feathered dinosaurs ... a myth":

"In 1975 the late Jurassic bird Archaeopteryx was an earthbound, predatory, feathered dinosaur that could not fly. According to the dogma of the time, hot-blooded dinosaurs developed feathers to trap heat, and their wing feathers elongated as insect traps. Since then, however, the evidence for hot-blooded dinosaurs has been dismantled and Archaeopteryx has been shown to be a bird in the modern sense, with fully developed elliptical wings similar to modern woodland birds, and asymmetric flight feathers that form individual airfoils, a flight scapula/coracoid arrangement, and a reserved hallux, found only in perching birds, and known in no dinosaur. Too, as new specimens emerged, the creature has been shown to be more and more birdlike. As cladistic evidence for a dinosaurian origin of birds increased, other feathered dinosaurs (artistic inventions) have emerged, including feathered Coelophysis, Deinonychus, and more recently Unenlagia and Velociraptor; however, there has never been any evidence for these assertions. Most recently, feathered dinosaurs began to emerge from China. First was the downy dinosaur Sinosauropteryx, a rather typical compsognathoid with a line of filaform structures on the middorsal line. Of concern, however, is that down is a secondary adaptation in modern neonate birds and would be maladaptive in a terrestrial dinosaur; downy baby ostriches, when wet, will die from hypothermia unless they seek the shelter of the mother's wings. Today there is no doubt that these structures are not down or feathers but collagen fibers that support a frill or skin flap running along the back. However, after Sinosauropteryx, an article in Nature announced the discovery of two additional feathered dinosaurs from China, named Protarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx. A cladistic analysis using some 90 anatomical features showed these creatures to be more primitive than Archaeopteryx and therefore feathered dinosaurs. However, the specimens are some 15 to 30 million years younger than Archaeopteryx; half of the characters are primitive and should therefore not have been used, and half of the characters are not present in the fossils, thus leaving two to three skull characters that cannot be ascertained in the crushed specimen. Interestingly, the entire cladogram is rooted in the latest Cretaceous Velociraptor, which occurs some 80 million years after the earliest known bird. Indeed, Caudipteryx shows a suite of features that show it to be a secondarily flightless bird, a Mesozoic kiwi, including a protopygostyle (fused tail vertebrae), an avian occiput, reduced fibula, wing feathers attached as in archaic birds, etc. Finally, there are now excellent specimens of theropod skin, one even showing muscle fibers, and not one shows signs of anything but typical thick tuberculated reptilian skin. Feathered dinosaurs remain a myth." (Feduccia A., "1,2,3 = 2,3,4: Accommodating the cladogram," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Vol. 96, Issue 9, 4740-4742, April 27, 1999)]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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