Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Kansas Evolution Debate Heading for Vote, etc

News items with my comments in square brackets:

Kansas Evolution Debate Heading for Vote, Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2005, John Hanna, Topeka, Kansas - Kansas' long-running war over the teaching of evolution is headed for another showdown this week between science and the advocates of intelligent design. The state Board of Education plans to vote Tuesday on academic standards that will direct the development of student tests used to measure how well Kansas' public schools teach the sciences. Six of the 10 board members have previously endorsed language sought by advocates of intelligent design, a theory that says the universe is so complex it must have been created by a higher force. Advocates of the theory say the state should give students a more balanced view of evolution. ... Opponents of teaching intelligent design as science argue that it's largely creationism - a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation - camouflaged in scientific language. ... Kansas' debate over evolution has drawn international attention - and ridicule - since it began in 1999. That year, the board struck most references to evolution from the standards. Two years later, a less conservative board rewrote the standards to treat evolution as well-established science that is crucial for students to understand. ... In September, 38 Nobel Prize laureates wrote to Kansas state educators to reject standards that question evolution, calling it the "indispensable" foundation of biology. Intelligent design advocates have found support among some parents and school board members. A recent statewide poll by news organisations suggested a slight majority of Kansans favoured teaching intelligent design. Some students say they want to discuss evolution and intelligent design in the classroom. Adam Fiedler, a 17-year-old Holton High senior, says a debate would make science more interesting. "I think students should hear the information and form their own opinions," said Fiedler, who hopes to teach science and math after college ... [It is false of journalists and their editors to continue to claim that "in 1999 ... the board struck most references to evolution from the standards." The fact is that the KBoE in 1999 "actually increased public school emphasis on evolution" over the previous 1995 standards by ~450%, but not by as much as the Darwinists Science Education Standards Writing Committee" wanted (~800%):

"Wizard of Oz jokes are in vogue as the news media scramble to ridicule Kansas for downplaying, eliminating, or even banning evolution in its public schools. But the people who are writing such stuff apparently haven’t read the Kansas Science Education Standards. The truth is that the August 11 School Board decision actually increased public school emphasis on evolution. The old science standards, in effect since 1995, devoted about 70 words to biological evolution. Standards proposed to the Board earlier this year by a 27- member would have increased this to about 640 words. The standards actually adopted by the Board on August 11 include about 390 words on the subject. So the Kansas State School Board, asked to approve a ninefold increase in the standards for evolution, approved a fivefold increase instead." (Wells J., "Ridiculing Kansas school board easy, but it’s not good journalism," The Daily Republic, Mitchell SD, October 14, 1999. My emphasis)

It is also false to imply that the new Kansas science standards "teach... intelligent design". The fact is that the Kansas science standards say nothing about "intelligent design":

New Draft of Kansas Science Standards Praised For Encouraging Critical Analysis of Evolution, Discovery Institute, June 14, 2005 TOPEKA, KS - A new draft of science standards to be presented to the Kansas State Board of Education this week is drawing praise for recognizing that students need to study all the scientific evidence relating to chemical and biological evolution. At the same time, the new draft standards make clear that they do not cover the concept of intelligent design. "The new draft standards call for students to learn more about the scientific evidence regarding chemical and biological evolution, including scientific criticisms raised in peer-reviewed science journals," said Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "This is a common-sense approach that will benefit students, parents, and teachers. The proposed standards correctly treat evolution like a scientific theory that is open to further investigation, not a sacred cow." The new draft of the science standards was prepared by the Kansas Board of Education's Science Hearings Committee after hearing testimony from nearly two dozen scientists and scholars last month about how evolution should be presented in the classroom. The Committee concluded that it had "heard credible scientific testimony that indeed there are significant debates about the evidence for key aspects of chemical and biological evolutionary theory." In its "Rationale of the State Board for Adopting these Science Curriculum Standards," the Science Hearings Committee also stressed "that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include the theory of Intelligent Design. While the testimony presented at the science hearings included both advocates and critics of the theory of Intelligent Design, we do not include it in these curriculum standards. The Board does not take a position on this topic." "There now should be no doubt that the debate over science standards in Kansas is NOT about intelligent design," said West. "Anyone who claims otherwise is simply offering up the proverbial red herring. The real debate in Kansas is whether to teach students the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory, not whether to teach them alternative theories."
I hope that this "Adam Fiedler" is representative of "young and rising naturalists" "whose minds are" not "stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a" Darwinian "point of view":
"Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at once (though not necessarily in an instant) or not at all. How, then, are scientists brought to make this transposition? Part of the answer is that they are very often not. Copernicanism made few converts for almost a century after Copernicus' death. Newton's work was not generally accepted, particularly on the Continent, for more than half a century after the Principia appeared. Priestley never accepted the oxygen theory, nor Lord Kelvin the electromagnetic theory, and so on. The difficulties of conversion have often been noted by scientists themselves. Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of species, wrote: "Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume..., I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine. ...[B]ut I look with confidence to the future,-to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality." And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." These facts and others like them are too commonly known to need further emphasis. But they do need re-evaluation. In the past they have most often been taken to indicate that scientists, being only human, cannot always admit their errors, even when confronted with strict proof. I would argue, rather, that in these matters neither proof nor error is at issue. The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced. Lifelong resistance, particularly from those whose productive careers have committed them to an older tradition of normal science, is not a violation of scientific standards but an index to the nature of scientific research itself. The source of resistance is the assurance that the older paradigm will ultimately solve all its problems, that nature can be shoved into the box that the paradigm provides." (Kuhn T.S., "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," [1962], University of Chicago Press: Chicago IL, second edition, 1970, pp.151-162. Ellipses in original) ]

Volcanic clay holds secrets of life, Larry O'Hanlon ABC/Discovery News, 7 November 2005 .... Clay may have been home to the chemical reactions that gave rise to organic life, scientists say. They are particularly interested in the clay mineral montmorillonite, found near undersea volcanoes ... The primordial pond scum that gave rise to the chemical ingredients of life may have actually been hot, deep-sea volcanic clay, say US researchers. They report in the November issue of the journal Geology that they have recreated high-temperature and high-pressure conditions of that environment in a laboratory. The researchers discovered that methanol, made naturally when volcanic carbon dioxide combines with volcanic hydrogen gas, hides from the intense heat of volcanic vents between layers of certain common clays. The clays themselves are just degraded lava rock. Once safely inside clay, methanol reacts with a clay mineral called montmorillonite to create far more complex organic molecules with up to 20 carbons. "Without those reactions, it's pretty hard seeing how the initiation of life began," says geologist Associate Professor Martin Kennedy .... "It's astounding to me that this can happen." ... Connecting the dots between inorganic molecules and organic molecules is a critical step in understanding the genesis of life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe, Kennedy says. "People have no problem with the idea that organic reactions go on in clays," says Dr Lynda Williams .... What they haven't seen until now, however, is the creation of complex organic compounds from simple, volcano-borne chemicals. The laboratory work shows that the expandable, many-layered montmorillonite both provides protection from the 300°C heat and many mineral surfaces that serve as a sort of factory floor for building complex organics. As time goes on, the clay contracts and expels the complex molecules, which have a good chance of surviving if they drift to nearby cooler waters. ...
Was life on Earth born in a clay womb?, The Guardian, Kate Ravilious, November 2, 2005 ... Not everyone is convinced that Dr Williams's work, which appears in the journal Geology, explains how life on Earth got started. Mike Russell ... thinks life is more likely to have originated in a less extreme environment, such as the cooler hydrothermal springs, known as Lost City, discovered five years ago on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. These warm springs also have all the necessary ingredients for the formation of organic carbon, but are only slightly hotter than human body temperature, so primordial wombs would not be needed to foster new life. ...
Organic molecules formed in a primordial womb, Eurekalert, 27-Oct-2005 ... Expandable clay minerals can act like a primordial womb to protect and promote synthesis of organic molecules. On the early Earth, volcanic gases were emitted onto the seafloor from vents where carbon dioxide and hydrogen interact with metallic minerals to form methanol, a one carbon organic molecule. The temperature of this environment (>300°C [475°F]) would have been too high for most organic molecules to survive. However, clay minerals are commonly found in these volcanic vents, and expandable clay minerals (smectite), with silicate sheets stacked like a deck of cards, will adsorb and protect organics between the sheets. The clay mineral surfaces often promote organic reactions. Therefore, Williams et al. tested the potential for clays to not only protect methanol in hot water, but to synthesize new compounds needed as building blocks for more complex biomolecules. Volcanic vent simulations showed that certain expandable clays react quickly at 300°C to a non-expandable form, and the mineralogical changes coincide with production of a large number of complex organic molecules, primarily ring-structures (e.g., hexamethyl-benzene), some with up to 20 carbon atoms. The importance of this work is that it shows a potential mineralogical control on organic molecule evolution that could have been an important step in the origin of life. ...
Shaped from clay: Minerals help molecules thought to have been essential for early life to form, Nature News, 3 November 2005, Philip Ball ...A team of US scientists may have found the 'primordial womb' in which the first life on Earth was incubated. Lynda Williams and colleagues at Arizona State University in Tempe have discovered that certain types of clay mineral convert simple carbon-based molecules to complex ones in conditions mimicking those of hot, wet hydrothermal vents (mini-volcanoes on the sea bed). Such complex molecules would have been essential components of the first cell-like systems on Earth. Having helped such delicate molecules to form, the clays can also protect them from getting broken down in the piping hot water issuing from the vents, the researchers report in the journal Geology .... The Arizona State team has shown that clay minerals commonly found at vents can encase organic molecules, keeping them intact. Between the sheets The group simulated the vent environment in the laboratory, immersing various types of clay in pressurized water at 300 °C for several weeks and looking at the fate of a simple organic compound, methanol, in this stew. They chose methanol because their earlier work had shown that the compound could be formed in a vent environment from simple gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Clays generally consist of sheets made of aluminium, silicon and oxygen atoms, which are stacked on top of one another. In some of these materials, such as the clays saponite and montmorillonite, there is room for other atoms and molecules to slip between the layers. ... The researchers found that the methanol in their artificial vent system was converted to various large organic molecules over six weeks or so, so long as the clay's layers were spaced widely enough to hold the compounds. "The clay provides a safe haven for the organic molecules, essentially like a 'primordial womb'," the team reports. Eventually, changes in the clay's mineral structure caused by heat, pressure and time may cause the sheets to close up and expel the molecules inside. But they think that some of these could spout out from the clay into less hostile environments than the hottest part of the vent, creating an organic soup in which life might arise. [It has long been known that "organic molecules with up to 20 carbons" can be grown in "layered clays such as those known as montmorillonites":

"A novel synthesis of polypeptides has been reported (Katchalsky, Die Naturwiss, p215) which employs mineral catalysis. An aqueous solution of energy-rich aminoacyl adenylates (rather than amino acids) is used in the presence of certain layered clays such as those known as montmorillonites. Large amounts of the energy-rich reactants are adsorbed both on the surface and between the layers of clay. The catalytic effect of the clay may result primarily from the removal of reactants from the solution by adsorption between the layers of clay. This technique has resulted in polypeptides of up to 60 units or more. Although polymerization definitely occurs in these reactions, the energy-rich aminoacyl adenylate ... is of very doubtful prebiotic significance .... Furthermore, the use of clay with free amino acids will not give a successful synthesis of polypeptides. The energy-rich aminoacyl adenylates lower their chemical or bonding energy as they polymerize, driving the reaction forward, and effectively doing the thermal entropy work as well. The role of the clay is to concentrate the reactants and possibly to catalyze the reactions. Once again, we are left with no apparent means to couple the energy flow, in this case in the form of prebiotically questionable energy-rich precursors, to the configurational entropy work of selecting and sequencing required in the formation of specified aperiodic polypeptides, or proteins." (Thaxton C.B., Bradley W.L. & Olsen R.L., "The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories", Lewis & Stanley: Dallas TX, 1992, p161).
But there is no evidence that it can do any more than create "polypeptides of up to 60 units" (which are not "specified aperiodic polypeptides, or proteins" (my emphasis) and in this case they were not even amino acids (otherwise they would have been mentioned) but "primarily ring-structures (e.g., hexamethyl-benzene)". Note also that "Eventually, changes in the clay's mineral structure caused by heat, pressure and time may cause the sheets to close up and expel the molecules inside" but this " organic soup in which life might arise" would then be diluted into the ocean! Anyway, as I pointed out in my The Minimal Cell: A Problem of Evolution 1/2 & 2/2 the fundamental problem of the origin of life is not just the origin of all the chemical components (i.e. proteins and nucleic acids) in the right place, at the right time, in the right proportions (which alone would be indistinguishable from a miracle), but then the assembling of these components into a minimal self-replicating cell:
"The living machine is clearly not just a mixture of chemicals, yet there seems to be widespread belief that, once the proper molecular compounds were there, life would appear, whether on the earth, on Mars, or elsewhere in the universe. This no more follows, I may point out at the risk of being thought overly facetious, than that an automobile, 1962 model, might spring spontaneously from a mixture of all the chemical species from which it is composed." (Blum H.F., "Time's Arrow and Evolution," [1951], Harper Torchbooks: New York NY, 1962, p.178G),
which would necessarily have to be a Von Neumann machine, "a machine that replicates itself" which "poses problems that are indeed difficult to formulate in our imagination":
"When we examine a modern living machine we should also think of it as one which has evolved-one which no doubt had much simpler beginnings that may be reflected in the living organisms we see around us today, but which has changed, perhaps quite basically, in the course of many millions of years. And this machine is of a kind that is unique in our experience, for it is one that can replicate itself; and moreover one which can undergo evolution by natural selection, which means that it is subject to errors in replication that can themselves be replicated-we call these mutations. As the late John von Neumann pointed out, a machine that replicates itself can, with some difficulty be imagined; but such a machine that could originate itself offers a baffling problem which no one has as yet solved. In the present case, we are trying to understand how a self-replicating machine came into existence; this poses problems that are indeed difficult to formulate in our imagination, and should not be passed over too lightly. It should perhaps be pointed out that admitting to ourselves the difficulty of the problem is not resorting to vitalism or mysticism; but may, on the other hand, be the only way to avoid extra-physical concepts." (Blum H.F., "Time's Arrow and Evolution," [1951], Harper Torchbooks: New York NY, 1962, pp.178G-178H)

especially since it seemes that it would need a "minimum genome size of about 1,500 ... gene products" (my emphasis):

"One way to explore the minimum complexity of independent life is to survey the microbial database for the smallest genome. .... The data indicate that the microbes possessing the smallest known genomes and capable of living independently in the environment are extremophilic archaea and eubacteria. ... These organisms also happen to represent what many scientists consider to be the oldest life on Earth. This crude estimate seems to suggest that, to exist independently, life requires a minimum genome size of about 1,500 to 1,900 gene products. (A gene product refers to proteins and functional RNAs, such as ribosomal and transfer RNA.) The late evolutionary biologist Colin Patterson acknowledges the 1,700 genes of Methanococcus are "perhaps close to the minimum necessary for independent life." [Patterson C., "Evolution," Comstock: Ithaca NY, Second edition, 1999, p.23] ... So far, as scientists have continued their sequencing efforts, all microbial genomes that fall below 1,500 belong to parasites. Organisms capable of permanent independent existence require more gene products. A minimum genome size (for independent life) of 1,500 to 1,900 gene products comports with what the geochemical and fossil evidence reveals about the complexity of Earth's first life. ... Some 1,500 different gene products would seem the bare minimum to sustain this level of metabolic activity. For instance, the Methanococcus jannaschii genome (the first to be sequenced for the archaea domain) possesses about 1,738 gene products. This organism contains the enzymatic machinery for energy metabolism and for the biosynthesis and processing of sugars, nucleotides, amino acids, and fatty acids." (Rana F.R. & Ross H.N., "Origins of Life: Biblical And Evolutionary Models Face Off," Navpress: Colorado Springs CO, 2004 pp.161-163).]

NASA discovers interstellar 'chocolate', Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 2005, Robert C. Cowen ... To solve the mystery of life's origin, scientists can no longer focus solely on Earth. They must take the entire universe into account. Reason: the discovery of nitrogen-carrying aromatic hydrocarbons throughout the universe. Prior to their recent discovery in space, scientists had thought these biologically important molecules were unique to Earth. One type is the main ingredient in chocolate. Others carry genetic information in DNA. The existence of these molecules in interstellar space "was considered impossible" 20 years ago, explains Louis Allamandola .... "Now, we know better.... As a class, they are more abundant than all other known interstellar polyatomic molecules combined." The finding has profound significance for the occurrence of organic life. These kinds of molecules are key ingredients in the primordial chemical soup from which scientists think organic life may have arisen. "Seeing their signature across the universe tells me they are accessible to young planets just about everywhere," says Douglas Hudgins, lead author of the report on this research published in the Astrophysical Journal earlier this month. In fact, you don't even need a planet to get the organic-life game going. "This new work shows that the early chemical steps believed to be important for the origin of life do not require a previously formed planet to occur," the Ames announcement explains. "Instead, some of the chemicals are already present throughout space long before planet formation occurs and, if they land in a hospitable environment, can help jump-start the origin of life." The report exemplifies the kind of 180-degree change in scientific perspective that happens when new research tools uncover new facts. With no data to suggest that these molecules could survive in space, skepticism prevailed. Then NASA put the Spitzer Infrared Telescope into orbit in 2003 to give astronomers a sharper view of cosmic infrared radiation. The infrared signature of the life-starting hydrocarbons jumped out of the data. Moreover, the Ames team had determined earlier what that signature should look like using advanced computer codes. Comparing those calculated infrared signatures with the Spitzer data confirmed that nitrogen-containing aromatic hydrocarbons permeate the universe. That discovery "changes everything," Dr. Hudgins says. The notion that earthly life got a helping hand from space harks back to the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras 2,500 years ago. Modern scientists have kicked the idea around for over a century and in recent decades, it has become clear that comets and meteorites bring biologically important chemicals to Earth. The Deep Impact probe that smashed into the comet Tempel 1 on July 4 revealed a high concentration of organic chemicals beneath the comet's surface. Studies such as those carried out by David Warmflash ... and Benjamin Weiss ... show it is plausible to think some of these chemicals - even living organisms - could reach Earth as stowaways on meteorites that originated on Mars. Now, it's also plausible to think that the cosmic environment in which the solar system formed contributed to Earth's primordial soup. ... [Same problem! That organic molecules (albeit only short "Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) ...a class of very stable organic molecules made up of only carbon and hydrogen", e.g. "oronene (C24H12)" were generated in space and then delivered to Earth by meteorites can be granted. The problem still is: 1) getting them all together at the right time, place and proportions; and 2) assembling them into a self-replicating machine!]

Date set for Da Vinci trial, The Age/Reuters October 28, 2005 ... Two historians are suing the publishers of Dan Brown's best selling religious thriller The Da Vinci Code in a case which lawyers say will start early next year. Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent are suing Random House for lifting "the whole architecture" of the research that went into their 1982 non-fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Lawyers on both sides of the case met today to thrash out technical details and said a trial date had been set for February 27. They would not comment on how the trial might affect sales of the hugely successful novel or the distribution of a major Hollywood adaptation which Sony Pictures planned to release in May next year. Random House said a "substantial" part of the claim by Baigent and Leigh had been dropped as a result of today's discussions. "Random House is delighted with this result, which reinforces its long-held contention that this is a claim without merit," a statement said. A spokeswoman for Leigh said he still intended to pursue his claim against the publishers of Brown's book, which had 36 million copies in print worldwide and had upset Catholics for suggesting Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a child. The same theory was put forward in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Commentators pointed out a major character in Dan Brown's book, Sir Leigh Teabing, has a name that is an anagram of Leigh and Baigent. A third author of the 1982 book, Henry Lincoln, decided to stay out of the action. Ironically, a special hardback illustrated version of their book, called Holy Blood, Holy Grail had just been reissued by none other than Random House. ... [Leigh, Baigent and Lincoln are not "historians" but writers:

Holy Blood, Holy Grail ... by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln ... About the Author Michael Baigent was born in New Zealand in 1948 and obtained a degree in psychology from Canterbury University. At one point he gave up a successful career in photojournalism to devote his time to researching the Templars for a film project. Since 1976 he has lived in England. Richard Leigh is a novelist and short-story writer with postgraduate degrees in comparative literature and a thorough knowledge of history, philosophy, psychology, and esoterica. He has been working for some years as a university lecturer in the United States, Canada, and Britain. ...

Personally I regard them all (Leigh, Baigent and Lincoln) and Brown as fraudsters, joining a long line of those making money under the false pretense of writing real history about Christianity. This latest stunt of Leigh and Baigent (but to his credit not Lincoln) in suing Brown for plagiarism is in my opinion just another attempt to make money, since Brown has already made Leigh and Baigent rich by stimulating reprints that surpassed the original sales of their out-of-print 1983 book. Not that I have any sympathy for Brown, but a good thing about this if it ever gets to court (i.e. Brown does not settle out of court) is that Brown, to save himself, might admit that he always regarded Leigh, Baigent and Lincoln's book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail as just fiction and therefore his The Da Vinci Code based on it is fiction also and not "fact" as he claims in it and in the media. For links to critiques of Brown's The Da Vinci Code, see my discontinued project, The Da Vinci Code versus Christianity. ]

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

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