Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Darwin's critics fire back at Nobel laureates, etc

Here are recent science news items with my comments in square brackets.

Darwin's critics fire back at Nobel laureates, MSNBC/AP, Sept. 29, 2005 ... TOPEKA, Kan. - A group of Nobel Prize winners should have done more homework before criticizing proposed science standards in Kansas, advocates of the guidelines said in a letter Thursday. The intelligent-design advocates favor new standards that would expose students to more criticism of evolution. They say the laureates' complaints are an attempt to suppress debate on the issue. The letter was signed by Bill Harris, a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Greg Lassey, a former middle school science teacher, who helped draft the disputed language. "We all want good standards," the letter said. "However, demeaning rhetoric that does not address specifics but serves only to belittle and misrepresent the changes is not helpful." Earlier this month, 38 laureates, including prominent chemists, physicists and medical experts, asked the State Board of Education to reject the proposed standards. The laureates, led by Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, said that evolution is the foundation of biology and that it has been bolstered by DNA studies. Many scientists see intelligent design as another form of creationism, which the Supreme Court has banned from public schools. In contrast, intelligent design's proponents believe the complexity of the natural world cannot be explained except by attributing creation to some higher intelligence. The Kansas board expects to vote this year on the standards, which will be used to develop tests for students but would allow local boards to decide how science is taught. ... [A good response. I agree that common ancestry (not "evolution") "is the foundation of biology," because common ancestry is not necessarily evolution. Again, this claim that "Many scientists see intelligent design as another form of creationism" is false because (for starters) creationism is based on the Bible (which is why "the Supreme Court has banned [it] from public schools"), but intelligent design is based on the evidence of nature. The evolutionist historian Ronald L. Numbers, the foremost expert on creationism, let the cat out of the bag when he admitted that "the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID movement. But ...its `the easiest way to discredit intelligent design':

"The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press signaled ID's growing importance in January, issuing an 805-page anthology titled `Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics.' That book title depicts ID as a variant of creationism, which reads Genesis literally and says the Earth was formed thousands of years ago - rather than billions - all species appeared immediately and a flood engulfed the globe. Yet ID actually insists on none of that. And while creationists are mostly conservative Protestants, ID theorists come from a wider range of faiths and some are nonreligious. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled creationism is too biblical for public schools, and ID proponents sought to distinguish themselves from that label in a long Utah Law Journal article arguing that ID is fit for public schools. University of Wisconsin historian Ronald L. Numbers, an ID opponent and author of `The Creationists,' agrees the creationist label is inaccurate when it comes to the ID movement. But, he adds, its `the easiest way to discredit intelligent design.'" (Ostling R.N., "Ohio School Board Debates Teaching 'Intelligent Design'," The Washington Post, March 14, 2002)

But if the Darwinists keep on claiming that "intelligent design [is] ... another form of creationism" they will increasingly discredit themselves and their science, as the general public increasingly realize the very real differences between "intelligent design" and "creationism"!]

New Analyses Bolster Central Tenets of Evolution Theory, Washington Post, Rick Weiss and David Brown, September 26, 2005; A08 When scientists announced last month they had determined the exact order of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee, it was no surprise that the sequence was more than 96 percent identical to the human genome. Charles Darwin had deduced more than a century ago that chimps were among humans' closest cousins. But decoding chimpanzees' DNA allowed scientists to do more than just refine their estimates of how similar humans and chimps are. It let them put the very theory of evolution to some tough new tests. If Darwin was right, for example, then scientists should be able to perform a neat trick. Using a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory, they should be able to predict the number of harmful mutations in chimpanzee DNA by knowing the number of mutations in a different species' DNA and the two animals' population sizes. "That's a very specific prediction," said Eric Lander .... Sure enough, when Lander and his colleagues tallied the harmful mutations in the chimp genome, the number fit perfectly into the range that evolutionary theory had predicted. Their analysis was just the latest of many in such disparate fields as genetics, biochemistry, geology and paleontology that in recent years have added new credence to the central tenet of evolutionary theory: That a smidgeon of cells 3.5 billion years ago could -- through mechanisms no more extraordinary than random mutation and natural selection -- give rise to the astonishing tapestry of biological diversity that today thrives on Earth. Evolution's repeated power to predict the unexpected goes a long way toward explaining why so many scientists and others are practically apoplectic over the recent decision by a Pennsylvania school board to treat evolution as an unproven hypothesis, on par with "alternative" explanations such as Intelligent Design (ID), the proposition that life as we know it could not have arisen without the helping hand of some mysterious intelligent force. ... [This is the usual confusion of common ancestry (which IDists like Mike Behe - and myself - accept) with: "evolution" (i.e. "the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.") and with the "mechanisms" being "no more extraordinary than random mutation and natural selection." It is only in the mechanism and in particular that every "mutation" in the entire history of life was "random" in the sense of unguided, that ID necessarily is opposed to "evolution." Having said that, it doesn't seem much of a "tough ... test" to predict "the number of harmful mutations in" one species' "DNA by knowing the number of mutations in a different species' DNA and the two animals' population sizes." Even if the two species were specially created ex nihilo by God (which I don't claim), the mutation rate per population size thereafter would presumably be similar? Also, genetic mutations are not the main differences between humans and chimps: there are also major chromosome mutation (i.e. chromosome rearrangement) differences:

"The genetic differences between humans and chimps are minor, but they include at least ten large inversions and translocations. An inversion is, literally, the turning around of a chromosomal segment. Each hybrid cell would have a set of chimp and a corresponding set of human chromosomes. Egg and sperm cells are made by a process called meiosis, or reduction division. In meiosis, each chromosome must pair (lie side by side) with its counterpart before cell division, so that corresponding genes can match up one to one: that is, each chimp chromosome must pair with its human counterpart. But if a piece of human chromosome is inverted relative to its counterpart in chimps, then gene-by-gene pairing cannot occur without elaborate looping and twisting that usually precludes successful cell division." (Gould S.J., "Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History," [1978], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.55)

which are "unique event[s]" that are "almost impossible to predict":

"The role of chromosomal rearrangements in speciation has been considered in Chapters 3 and 6. More and more, it appears as if such rearrangements, of many different types, have played the primary role in the majority of speciation events. It by no means follows, however, that their significance in speciation is always of the same type. In fact, each chromosomal rearrangement-whether fusion or dissociation, translocation, inversion, gain or loss of heterochromatin-must be regarded as a unique event whose consequences will be almost impossible to predict in the present stage of our knowledge. It is thus extremely difficult to incorporate chromosomal rearrangements into mathematical models of speciation and phyletic evolution, which may be one reason why they have been relatively neglected by many evolutionary geneticists." (White M.J.D., "Modes of Speciation," W.H. Freeman & Co: San Francisco CA, 1978, p.336. Emphasis mine)]

including "Using a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory." This highlights yet again, Karl Popper's point that "really severe tests of the theory of natural selection are hard to come by, much more so than tests of otherwise comparable theories in physics or chemistry" (my emphasis):

"However, Darwin's own most important contribution to the theory of evolution, his theory of natural selection, is difficult to test. There are some tests, even some experimental tests; and in some cases, such as the famous phenomenon known as `industrial melanism', we can observe natural selection happening under our very eyes, as it were. Nevertheless, really severe tests of the theory of natural selection are hard to come by, much more so than tests of otherwise comparable theories in physics or chemistry." (Popper K., "Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind," Dialectica, Vol. 32, Nos. 3-4, 1978, pp.339-355, p.344)]

New 'Biological' Robots Build Themselves, Livescience, Ker Than, 28 September 2005 ... Inspired by biological systems, scientists have developed miniature robots that can self-assemble using parts that float randomly in their environments. The robots also know when something is amiss and can correct their own mistakes. Scientists have long been fascinated by how living cells are able to replicate DNA using building blocks floating randomly inside the cell’s nucleus. The interior of the nucleus is filled with a gel-like liquid known as nucleoplasm. The DNA building blocks, known as nucleotides, float around in this liquid like ingredients in a molecular soup. Also present in the nucleoplasm are proteins known as polymerases, which pluck nucleotides from the soup as needed when copying DNA. The beauty of this approach is that the parts do not have to be presented in a specific order the way they are in a car assembly line. All the cell has to do is make sure there is a continuous supply of nucleotides and the polymerases do the rest. Furthermore, the more nucleotides present, the more likely they will come into contact with the polymerases and the faster the DNA strand can be assembled. To artificially recreate this process, a research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), headed by Joseph Jacobson, created robots capable of latching onto one another in specific sequences. The robots come in two colors, yellow (Y) and green (G), and float around on a cushion of air like pucks on an air hockey table. Each robot is programmed to latch onto a green robot on one side and a yellow robot on the other to form 5-robot strings such as YGGYY or GYYGG. The robots also have a built-in mechanism to correct any errors they might make. Each robot is able to check the color of its neighboring block and will unlatch itself if the sequence is not correct. The study is detailed in the Sept. 29 issue of the journal Nature. ... [All this seems to be is the spontaneous coming together of parts that have already been intelligently designed and prefabricated to do just that. It is not making the parts from basic materials to completely replicate itself, as living cells do. Note the condition: "All the cell has to do is make sure there is a continuous supply of nucleotides ..."!]

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

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