Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Re: Improbability of Abiogenesis Calculations (A Response to Ian Musgrave)


Thanks for your message. As I usually do when I get a message of general interest, I am copying my reply to my blog CreationEvolutionDesign, minus your personal identifying information.

----- Original Message -----
From: AN
To: ...
Cc: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Sunday, January 29, 2006 8:09 PM
Subject: Improbability of Abiogenesis Calculations (A Response to Ian Musgrave)

AN>Dear Sir,
>I'm neither a professional biologist nor an Evolution Theory expert. While I wandered in talkorigins.com and read some of their articles. I focused on one of the articles that I analysed throughly and eventually I convinced myself that I have enough scientific backup to write a response.

I regret that I don't have time to read your attached response, and anyway I have a rule not to click on attachments from people I don't know, in case it contains a virus. So this reply of mine is entirely my own.

AN>The original Article is: Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics,and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations. Like most of Neo-Darwinists Ian Musgrave's weapon is to blame scientists who don't believe in their theory as liars.

Actually to be fair to Musgrave (who I have heard of but don't know - or can't remember - anything about him), the saying, "there are lies, damned lies and statistics" is an old one, being attributed to Mark Twain and Benjamin Disraeli, and I cannot see that Musgrave used the term "lies" (or its cognates) in the actual article.

AN>As far as I analysed his claims, it seems he must be the one who plays dangerous games with probability and statistics.

I will comment on only one part of Musgrave's paper, since it contains with the fundamental error (committed by almost the entire field of abiogenesis) of missing the whole point):

"The myth of the "life sequence" Another claim often heard is that there is a "life sequence" of 400 proteins, and that the amino acid sequences of these proteins cannot be changed, for organisms to be alive. This, however, is nonsense. The 400 protein claim seems to come from the protein coding genome of Mycobacterium genetalium, which has the smallest genome currently known of any modern organism [20]. However, inspection of the genome suggests that this could be reduced further to a minimal gene set of 256 proteins [20]. Note again that this is a modern organism. The first protobiont/progenote would have been smaller still [4], and preceded by even simpler chemical systems [3, 10, 11, 15]. " (Ian Musgrave, "Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Probability of Abiogenesis Calculations," The Talk.Origins Archive, December 21, 1998)

The fundamental point that Musgrave (along with most most evolutionists and indeed most creationist/IDists arguing with them) misses (as I pointed out in my two-part post "The Minimal Cell 1/2" and 2/2), is that the problem is not the `blind watchmaker' origin of life's individual building blocks (i.e. amino acids/proteins or nucleic acids/RNA/DNA), difficult though that is, but the much greater problem of the origin of a fully self-sustaining, self-reproducing, cell, i.e. a Von Neumann machine.

A quote by Princeton biophysicist Harold F. Blum makes this point, that the problem is "how a self-replicating machine came into existence," not just the origin of the "a mixture of chemicals":

"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. ... As the late John von Neumann pointed out ... 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." (Blum H.F., "Time's Arrow and Evolution," [1951], Harper Torchbooks: New York NY, Second Edition, 1955, Revised, 1962, pp.178G-178H)

It is in fact far, far more of a problem than Fred Hoyle's analogy of a whirlwind blowing through a junkyard producing a fully assembled Boeing 747:

"The popular idea that life could have arisen spontaneously on Earth dates back to experiments that caught the public imagination earlier this century. If you stir up simple nonorganic molecules like water, ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen cyanide with almost any form of intense energy, ultraviolet light for instance, some of the molecules reassemble themselves into amino acids, a result demonstrated about thirty years ago by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey. The amino acids, the individual building blocks of proteins can therefore be produced by natural means. But this is far from proving that life could have evolved in this way. No one has shown that the correct arrangements of amino acids, like the orderings in enzymes, can be produced by this method. No evidence for this huge jump in complexity has ever been found, nor in my opinion will it be. Nevertheless, many scientists have made this leap-from the formation of individual amino acids to the random formation of whole chains of amino acids like enzymes-in spite of the obviously huge odds against such an event having ever taken place on the Earth, and this quite unjustified conclusion has stuck. In a popular lecture I once unflatteringly described the thinking of these scientists as a "junkyard mentality". As this reference became widely and not quite accurately quoted I will repeat it here. A junkyard contains all the bits and pieces of a Boeing 747, dismembered and in disarray. A whirlwind happens to blow through the yard. What is the chance that after its passage a fully assembled 747, ready to fly, will be found standing there? So small as to be negligible, even if a tornado were to blow through enough junkyards to fill the whole Universe." (Hoyle F., "The Intelligent Universe," Michael Joseph: London, 1983, pp.18-19)

The analogy would be of the whirlwind producing Boeing's 747 factory (which BTW I have visited near Seattle), but that it would have to also include all the factories that produce all the components from their raw materials that the Boeing 747 factory assembles together, because that is what the simplest free-living cell does.

I have added the above to a new section of my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, sections PE "Cell ... It is far more a problem than Hoyle's whirlwind in a junkyard assembling a Boeing 747." I have also added the following quotes under sections PE 8.5."The minimal cell", sub-sections PE 8.5.2 "Minimum number of genes" and PE 8.5.4. "Minimum number of gene products (proteins, RNAs)," respectively:

"Mycoplasma genitalium has the smallest genome of any organism that can be grown in pure culture. It has a minimal metabolism and little genomic redundancy. Consequently, its genome is expected to be a close approximation to the minimal set of genes needed to sustain bacterial life. Using global transposon mutagenesis, we isolated and characterized gene disruption mutants for 100 different nonessential protein-coding genes. None of the 43 RNA-coding genes were disrupted. Herein, we identify 382 of the 482 M. genitalium protein-coding genes as essential, plus five sets of disrupted genes that encode proteins with potentially redundant essential functions, such as phosphate transport. Genes encoding proteins of unknown function constitute 28% of the essential protein-coding genes set. Disruption of some genes accelerated M. genitalium growth." (Glass J.I., et al., "Essential genes of a minimal bacterium," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, Vol. 103, No. 2, January 10, 2006, pp.425-430)

"In July 1995 the entire DNA sequence of the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae, 1.8 million base-pairs, was elucidated, followed three months later by the sequence of a second parasitic bacterium. In April 1996 the complete sequence (12 million base-pairs) of yeast was announced, and in August 1996 the first complete sequence of a free-living bacterium, Methanococcus, which has 1.7 million base-pairs and about 1700 genes, perhaps close to the minimum necessary for independent life." (Patterson C., "Evolution," [1978], Cornell University Press: Ithaca NY, Second edition, 1999, p.23).

AN>Attached you will find my attempt to write a response. I don't have a web site to post it and of course it may contain calculation errors and scientific misconceptions as well but I hope it will be of your interest.

Thanks again, but see above on my rule of not opening attachments from people I don't know. Also, it is my long-standing policy to not get involved in private discussions on creation, evolution, design topics. If you think your paper may have "calculation errors and scientific misconceptions," then may I suggest you join an Internet discussion group like CreationEvolutionDebate (not to be confused with my now-terminated group CreationEvolutionDesign) and post your response there, where it will be webbed on the group's archives. I am sure the evolutionist members of that group would be only to happy to correct any errors or misconceptions (real or imaginary) in it! If you can put up with evolutionists' insults (a big "if"), then from personal experience of 5+ years on evolutionist-dominated lists, it is a great way to learn about creation, evolution and design issues and to have one's position `refined in the fire', all for free!

AN>Best Regards
Senior Software Engineer

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

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Vatican Newspaper Denounces Intelligent Design

My comments bold and in square brackets on an article that is getting a bit stale, that of the Vatican's supposed disavowal of ID. I am falling behind with my blogging because I have made a New Year's resolution to finish the first draft of my book, "Problems of Evolution" by the end 2006 (if not sooner) and I cannot do both, so it is the blogging that is having a lower priority.

Vatican Newspaper Denounces Intelligent Design, Livescience/ AP, Nicole Winfield, 19 January 2006 ... VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican newspaper has published an article saying "intelligent design" is not science and that teaching it alongside evolutionary theory in school classrooms only creates confusion. The article in Tuesday's editions of L'Osservatore Romano was the latest in a series of interventions by Vatican officials -- including the pope -- on the issue that has dominated headlines in the United States. The author, Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Bologna, laid out the scientific rationale for Darwin's theory of evolution, saying that in the scientific world, biological evolution "represents the interpretative key of the history of life on Earth." He lamented that certain American "creationists" had brought the debate back to the "dogmatic" 1800s, and said their arguments weren't science but ideology. [See also MSNBC, New York Times & Washington Post. That an article is in the Vatican's newspaper, hardly makes it official Vatican policy. Presumably as in Protestantism, there are many `liberal' academics in the Roman Catholic church who have internalized Darwinism and so have become, as atheist Darwinist historian William Provine put it, "effective atheists":

"Liberal religious leaders and theologians, who also proclaim the compatibility of religion and evolution, achieve this unlikely position by two routes. First, they retreat from traditional interpretations of God's presence in the world, some to the extent of becoming effective atheists. Second, they simply refuse to understand modern evolutionary biology and continue to believe that evolution is a purposive process. We are now presented with the specter of atheistic evolutionists and liberal theologians, whose understanding of the evolutionary process is demonstrable nonsense, joining together with the ACLU and the highest courts in the land to lambast creationists, who are caught in an increasing bind. Evolutionary biology, as taught in public schools, shows no evidence of a purposive force of any kind. This is deeply disturbing to creationists. Yet in court, scientists proclaim that nothing in evolutionary biology is incompatible with any reasonable religion, a view also supported by liberal theologians and religious leaders of many persuasions. Not only are creationists unable to have their "creation science" taught in the schools, they cannot even convince the court system that evolution is in any significant way antithetical to religion; thus the courts are effectively branding their religious views as terribly misguided. No wonder creationists (somewhere near half of the population!) are frustrated with the system and want equal time for their own views, or at least to be spared bludgeoning with evolution." (Provine W.B., "Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution." Review of "Trial and Error: The American Controversy over Creation and Evolution," by Edward J. Larson, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Academe, Vol. 73, January-February 1987, pp.50-52, p.52)

As for "not science but ideology," Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse candidly admitted that "Darwinism ... reflects a strong ideology ... one to be proud of":

"A final, obvious question. What about the Darwinism I am defending in this essay? Do I pretend that it reflects no ideology? Do I claim that all of its hypotheses are so firmly based, that no sense of values and of wishes can be found behind the claims within its boundaries? Do I think that the extension to human social behavior reveals no commitment to any value system? No indeed! I believe that Darwinism, especially as it extends into human sociobiology, reflects a strong ideology. Moreover, this is one to be proud of." (Ruse M., "Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies," [1982], Addison-Wesley: Reading MA, 1983, Third Printing, p.280)

So if Facchini claims to be a Christian, he should first deal with the beam in his own Darwinist eye (Matthew 7:5) before he hypocritically accuses ID of being "[not] science but ideology"]

This isn't how science is done," he wrote. "If the model proposed by Darwin is deemed insufficient, one should look for another, but it's not correct from a methodological point of view to take oneself away from the scientific field pretending to do science." [That's exactly what ID is doing, "the model proposed by Darwin is deemed insufficient" and so ID is looking at "another"!]

Intelligent design "doesn't belong to science and the pretext that it be taught as a scientific theory alongside Darwin's explanation is unjustified," he wrote. [I have added to my ID FAQs a new section "Objections to ID ... `ID is not science'" which, like the rest of the FAQ is a work-in-progress.]

"It only creates confusion between the scientific and philosophical and religious planes." [Leaving aside the Gnostic radical dualism "between the scientific and ... religious planes":

"Gnosticism is an ancient belief system that draws a strong distinction between spirit and matter. Spirit is good and matter is evil. Whereas the Bible says that God made the world, Gnosticism holds that God is separate from the world, thus Gnosticism is a theodicy. Yes, there is evil, but it is far from God. God is separate and distinct from the world and not responsible for its evils. In Darwin's time the world was increasingly seen as controlled by natural laws. God may have instituted these laws in the beginning, but he had not since interfered; the laws were now his secondary causes. As in Gnosticism, God was seen as separate from the world. ... This view seemed to have a divine sanction; after all, to control the world exclusively through natural laws-God's secondary causes-required an even greater God. In other words, a clean separation of God and creation made for an even purer God, just as the Gnostics had found that spirit could be good when it was opposed to matter. ... Whereas the Bible presents a history of God's activity in the world, including dates and historical figures, the Gnostics believed that God's revelation was not open but secret-revealed from within rather than in public documents such as Scripture. Furthermore, whereas the Bible says that the heavens declare the glory of God, the Gnostics believed that one should not look for signs of God in nature. In Darwin's day, a parallel view developed that urged the separation of religion and science; this view remains strong today." (Hunter C.G., "Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil," Brazos Press: Grand Rapids MI, 2001, p.129)

ID is not "religious" but "a secular scientific theory that intelligent causation is necessary to explain certain features of the natural world; and the evidence of that intelligent causation is empirically detectable."]

Supporters of "intelligent design" hold that some features of the universe and living things are so complex they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. [And why is that "not science?" "If it is scientific to claim there is no design in nature (as Darwinism does) then it is scientific to claim that there is design in nature"] Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism -- a literal reading of the Bible's story of creation -- camouflaged in scientific language and say it does not belong in science curriculum. [This is demonstrably false. ID says nothing about "the Bible's story of creation" and nor is it based on it. ID is based solely on the evidence of nature. I have added a heading for this claim to my ID FAQ, to be completed later.]

Facchini said he recognized some Darwin proponents erroneously assume that evolution explains everything. "Better to recognize that the problem from the scientific point of view remains open," he said. [Why is it "better" to always keep looking for an unintelligent causal explanation? If in fact intelligent causation is the true explanation of some features of the natural world, then it is dooming science to perpetual failure and frustration to keep looking for an explanation that never was there. The true "scientific point of view" is to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and if it leads to intelligent causation, so be it.]

But he concluded: "In a vision that goes beyond the empirical horizon, we can say that we aren't men by chance or by necessity, and that the human experience has a sense and a direction signaled by a superior design." [This is just Gnosticism, claiming that there is "superior design" but it exists "beyond the empirical horizon." While the scientific theory of ID is not necessarily Christian or even religious, that does not mean that the reverse is the case, that it is Christian to deny that there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature. The Bible teaches in Romans 1:18-20 that the evidence of design in nature pointing to a Creator, is so intuitively obvious to all humans that those who seek to suppress that truth will be left "without excuse"(my emphasis) :

"[18]The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, [19]since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. [20]For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."]

The article echoed similar arguments by the Vatican's chief astronomer, the Rev. George Coyne, who said "intelligent design" wasn't science and had no place in school classrooms. [Coyne seems to be another Gnostic who is more opposed to ID (that there is empirical evidence of design in nature) than atheism! It will be interesting to see what action (if any) Pope Benedict XVI (who formerly as Cardinal Ratzinger said he "prefers a leaner, smaller, purer church" will take against these `theistic naturalist' Gnostics.]

Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed in off-the-cuff comments in November that the universe was made by an "intelligent project" and criticized those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order. ... [Its funny that when the Pope says something in favour of ID:

"Designer God? Vatican experts debate fine points of evolution," Catholic News Service, John Thavis, Nov-11-2005 ... At the end of his general audience Nov. 9, the pope set aside his prepared text and spoke emphatically about the wisdom of recognizing `signs of God's love' in the marvels of creation. He made no scientific claims, but said it would be unscientific to think that `everything is without direction and order.' Behind the natural world is "the creative reason, the reason that has created everything, that has created this intelligent project," he said. ... Earlier this year, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn caused a stir when he wrote an article that, while it did not use the term `intelligent design,' seemed to defend its principles. Cardinal Schonborn said human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. "Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science," he said. When the pope made his recent remarks about creation as an `intelligent project,' Cardinal Schonborn was sitting near the front of the audience with a pilgrim group. Greeting the pope afterward, the cardinal had a big smile on his face."

(apparently in the original Italian he meant "intelligent design"), it is dismissed as just "off-the-cuff comments," but when mere scientists like Facchini and Coyne (who in the Vatican policy- making hierarchy would be near the bottom, if even in it at all) say something against ID in a newspaper, it is hailed as indicative of Vatican policy! If I were a Roman Catholic I know whose views I would take as indicative of Vatican policy on ID and it would not be those of Facchini and Coyne, as opposed to those of Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Schonborn! ]

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

We're hard-wired for geometry

Excerpts from news items about the one topic, a South American tribe "who lack written language and who have never seen a maths book" yet who "do well on basic geometry tests" (in fact "identical to the score for US children" on the same tests) which "suggests geometry may be hard-wired into the brain." If so, this is another problem for the `blind watchmaker' to explain. My comments are bold and in square brackets.

Geometry ability may be innate, ABC/Reuters, 20 January 2006 ... Amazonian hunter-gatherers who lack written language and who have never seen a maths book do well on basic geometry tests, researchers say in a study that suggests geometry may be hard-wired into the brain. Adults and children alike showed a clear grasp of concepts such as where the centre of a circle is and the logical extension of a straight line. This was despite not having words for these concepts, the researchers report today in the journal Science. Professor Stanislas Dehaene ... and colleagues tested 14 children and 30 adults of an Amazonian group called the Munduruku, and compared their findings to tests of US adults and children. "Munduruku children and adults spontaneously made use of basic geometric concepts such as points, lines, parallelism, or right angles to detect intruders in simple pictures, and they used distance, angle, and sense relationships in geometrical maps to locate hidden objects," they write. "Our results provide evidence for geometrical intuitions in the absence of schooling, experience with graphic symbols or maps, or a rich language of geometrical terms." Geometry is an ancient field and Dehaene's team postulated that it may spring from innate abilities. "Many of its propositions -- that two points determine a line, or that three orthogonal axes localize a point -- are judged to be self-evident and yet have been questioned on the basis of logical argument, physical theory, or experiment," the researchers write. There was no way the Munduruku could have learned these ideas, they add. "Most of the children and adults who took part in our experiments inhabit scattered, isolated villages and have little or no schooling, rulers, compasses, or maps," they write. "Furthermore, the Munduruku language has few words dedicated to arithmetical, geometrical, or spatial concepts, although a variety of metaphors are spontaneously used." ... They designed arrays of six images, each of which contained five conforming to a geometric concept and one that violated it. "The participants were asked, in their language, to point to the weird or ugly one," the researchers write. "All participants, even those aged 6, performed well above the chance level of 16.6%." The average score was nearly 67% correct, identical to the score for US children. "The spontaneous understanding of geometrical concepts and maps by this remote human community provides evidence that core geometrical knowledge, like basic arithmetic, is a universal constituent of the human mind," they conclude. ...
We're hard-wired for geometry: Tests with Amazon villagers hint at innate geometrical sense, MSNBC, Daniel B. Kane, Jan. 19, 2006 WASHINGTON - Even if you never learned the difference between a triangle, a rectangle and a trapezoid, and you never used a ruler, a compass or a map, you would still do well on some basic geometry tests, according to a new study. Using a series of nonverbal tests, scientists claim to have uncovered core knowledge of geometry in villagers from a remote region of the Amazon who have little schooling or experience with maps and speak a language without the mathematical language of geometry. ... For thousands of years, people have wondered if the basics of geometry came naturally to all humans or if they were something you had to learn through instruction or cultural experiences. According to Plato's writings, Socrates attempted to determine how well an uneducated slave in a Greek household understood geometry, and eventually concluded that the slave's soul "must have always possessed this knowledge." [See also Livescience. This is another example of "Wallace's paradox, the apparent evolutionary uselessness of human intelligence" which "is a central problem of psychology, biology, and the scientific worldview" and is explained away by Darwinists as "exaptations: adaptive structures that are `fortuitously suited to other roles if elaborated", but which Pinker admits are "just an avowal of faith by people ... who believe in natural selection" and "can hardly fail to be true":

"`I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.' So wrote Darwin to Alfred Russel Wallace, the biologist who had independently discovered natural selection. What prompted the purple prose? Darwin and Wallace were mutual admirers, so like-minded that they had been inspired by the same author (Malthus) to forge the same theory in almost the same words. What divided these comrades was the human mind. Darwin had coyly predicted that `psychology will be placed on a new foundation,' and in his notebooks was positively grandiose about how evolutionary theory would revolutionize the study of mind ... But Wallace reached the opposite conclusion. The mind, he said, is overdesigned for the needs of evolving humans and cannot be explained by natural selection. Instead, `a superior intelligence has guided the development of man in a definite direction, and for a special purpose.' ... Wallace became a creationist when he noted that foragers-'savages,' in nineteenth-century parlance-were biologically equal to modern Europeans. Their brains were the same size, and they could easily adapt to the intellectual demands of modern life. But in the foragers' way of life, which was also the life of our evolutionary ancestors, that level of intelligence was not needed, and there was no occasion to show it off. How, then, could it have evolved in response to the needs of a foraging lifestyle? Wallace wrote: `.... Natural selection could only have endowed savage man with a brain a few degrees superior to that of an ape, whereas he actually possesses one very little inferior to that of a philosopher.' [Wallace A., "Natural Selection and Tropical Nature," 1895, p.202] Wallace's paradox, the apparent evolutionary uselessness of human intelligence, is a central problem of psychology, biology, and the scientific worldview. Even today, scientists such as the astronomer Paul Davies think that the `overkill' of human intelligence refutes Darwinism and calls for some other agent of a `progressive evolutionary trend,' perhaps a self-organizing process that will be explained someday by complexity theory. Unfortunately this is barely more satisfying than Wallace's idea of a superior intelligence guiding the development of man in a definite direction. ... Stephen Jay Gould, in an illuminating essay on Darwin and Wallace, sees Wallace as an extreme adaptationist who ignores the possibility of exaptations: adaptive structures that are `fortuitously suited to other roles if elaborated' ... `Objects designed for definite purposes can, as a result of their structural complexity, perform many other tasks as well. A factory may install a computer only to issue the monthly pay checks, but such a machine can also analyze the election returns or whip anyone's ass (or at least perpetually tie them) in tic-tac-toe.' [Gould S.J., "The Panda's Thumb," 1980, p.50] I agree with Gould that the brain has been exapted for novelties like calculus or chess, but this is just an avowal of faith by people like us who believe in natural selection; it can hardly fail to be true. It raises the question of who or what is doing the elaborating and co-opting, and why the original structures were suited to being co-opted. The factory analogy is not helpful. A computer that issues paychecks cannot also analyze election returns or play tic-tac-toe, unless someone has reprogrammed it first.' (Pinker S., "How the Mind Works," [1997], Penguin: London, 1998, reprint, pp.299-301)
I have added this to a new section of my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 14.1.8 "Man ... Uniqueness ... Mathematics."]

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

Friday, January 27, 2006

Re: Darwin and Modern Thought

Here is a copy of a message I sent today, in response to a request for me to contribute as a "religious intellectual" (alongside other "religious intellectuals"and leading evolutionary figures) a paragraph to an article on "Darwin's influence on modern thought" to a major (although less well-known) scientific journal. The author of the journal article gave me permission to post this to my blog, on the condition that I link this post to the article when it is published (although I am not sure the full article will be webbed publicly).

----- Original Message -----
From: Stephen E. Jones
To: ...
Sent: Friday, January 27, 2006 2:27 PM
Subject: Re: Darwin and Modern Thought

Dr ....

Thank you for your invitation to comment as a "religious intellectual" on Darwin's influence on modern thought (in the context of the late Ernst Mayr's article of the same name), to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal ... . Here is my one paragraph contribution, plus references:

In his 1999 Crafoord prize speech, "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought,"[1] the late Ernst Mayr said, "... Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations. ... Eliminating God from science ... produced a powerful intellectual and spiritual revolution, the effects of which have lasted to this day." As a Christian biologist, I draw a distinction between Darwin's (and Darwinists like Mayr's) scientific evidence and their personal naturalistic philosophy. I therefore agree with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn[2] that, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true" (and in fact I accept that it is true), "but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process ... is not." The flip side of what Mayr said is that if Christianity[3] is in fact true, then the modern Darwinian theory of evolution, to the extent that it depends on Christianity being false (e.g. the assumption that all mutations in the history of life have been unguided because there is nothing that could do the guiding[4]), is itself false, and Darwin's influence on modern thought has been to lead it astray from that aspect of the truth.

[1] Mayr, E., "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought," Scientific American, Vol. 283, No. 1, July 2000, pp.67-71, p.69.

[2] Schönborn, C., "Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times, July 7, 2005.

[3] That is C.S. Lewis' historic, orthodox, supernatural, "`mere' Christianity ... the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." (Lewis, C.S., "Mere Christianity," [1952], Fount: London, 1997, reprint, p.vi.)

[4] Dawkins, R., "The Blind Watchmaker," Norton: New York, 1986, p.312.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biol.)

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

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Re: What do you make of the ... fish gills that evolved into human ears? #2


[Continued from part #1]

The specimen they studied was unearthed in Latvia in the 1970s and resides in a museum in Riga. Previous studies of the skull were done before all the rock encasing it was removed. Looking at it in its less-obstructed form, Brazeau said they noticed two things. First, a bony channel leading to a hole in the skull called the spiracle was much wider and straighter than in more primitive fish. Second, a bone called the hyomandibula was much shorter and stubbier. The spiracle is a modified gill slit. Sharks and rays have them on the top of their skulls behind their eyes. They use it for respiration while feeding on the bottom to avoid drawing grit into their gills. Uppsala researchers believe Panderichthys did the same thing. "This fish probably lived on the bottom, probably in shallow water. It was almost a crocodile-like fish," Brazeau said. "It may have inhaled and exhaled through this passageway. It may, in fact, have breathed air through it occasionally." Paleontologists have known for a long time that the hyomandibula -- which helps suspend the jaw in fish -- evolved into the stapes, or "stirrup bone," that helps transmit sound vibrations in the middle ear in reptiles, birds and mammals. [I have no problem with this, except I would not say it "evolved into the stapes" but that God progressively created the mammalian ear from the fish through the reptile jaw.]

When Brazeau and Ahlberg measured this bone in Panderichthys, they discovered it was much shorter than in earlier fish. It also was not directly connected to the jaw joint. It appeared to be in the middle of moving to a different part of the skull where it would become an ear bone -- a migration that would take tens of millions of years to complete. "This stage sets up the skull and makes it possible for this region to be modified into a middle ear. The interesting thing is that at this point it appears to have nothing to do with hearing," Brazeau said. [Which shows that it was not naturally selected for hearing. In discussing the reptilian jaw - ear transition, Gould asks "why should such a transition occur ... since the single-boned stapedial ear seems to function ...every bit as well as the three-boned mammalian ear":

"Embryology and paleontology provide adequate documentation of the `how,' but we would also like more insight into the `why.' In particular, why should such a transition occur-especially since the single-boned stapedial ear seems to function quite adequately (and, at least in some birds, every bit as well as the three-boned mammalian ear)?" (Gould S.J., "An Earful of Jaw", "Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History," Jonathan Cape: London UK, 1993, p.106. My emphasis)

And, as Hitching points out, if the "why" was for stereophonic hearing, "The stereophonic effect can only work when the inner and outer ears have been fully displaced":

"Darwin wrote: 'Natural selection tends only to make each organic being as perfect as, or slightly more perfect than, the other inhabitants of the same country with which it has to struggle for existence.' [Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species," [1859], First Edition, Penguin: London, 1985, reprint, p.229] The trouble with the mammal ear is that, in terms of natural selection, it has nothing of enough significance to justify its enormously complex system having emerged by natural selection. Amphibians, reptiles, and birds, all of which have only one earbone, can perceive pitch and volume at least as well as mammals, and in some cases better. The sole possible advantage is that mammals can hear to some extent stereophonically, while it is thought creatures with single earbones cannot do this quite so well. ... In the case of mammals, stereophony happens because our brains receive signals from both the outer and the inner ear, and the fractional delay in the sound impulses may enable us to estimate how far away a sound is coming from. In survival value, this might confer a minimal advantage in, for instance, spotting prey or escaping predators. But even if this ability were proved (for doubts still remain), it is hard to see how the transitional forms leading up to it could have made the ear, in Darwin's words 'slightly more perfect'. The stereophonic effect can only work when the inner and outer ears have been fully displaced." (Hitching F., "The Neck of the Giraffe: Or Where Darwin Went Wrong," Pan: London, 1982, p.93. My emphasis)

I have seen somewhere (but can't find the quote at present) that the reptilian jawbones becoming earbones enabled the mammalian (and ultimately the human) brain to expand, so my mediate creation theory has an answer to Gould's "why" that his naturalistic evolutionary `blind watchmaker' theory cannot give: that a far-sighted Intelligent Designer initiated the changes to as part of the mammalian and human `construction projects.']

Only when the fish's descendants became land-based and breathed through their mouths and nostrils was this passageway "free" to evolve into a sensory organ, he said. There are serious doubters of this interpretation of the fossil, however. Michael LaBarbera, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago, is an expert in the functional anatomy of extinct animal. He isn't certain that the key structure that Brazeau and Ahlberg say is a spiracle is, in fact, one. Their theory is "based on the interpretation of a structure that would be completely novel and unprecedented in this lineage," he said. And he's not convinced. ... [I certainly would have no problem with "a structure that would be completely novel and unprecedented in this lineage," but I await the experts thrashing this out.

Here is another quote on the ear by an atheist/agnostic engineer that had a big effect on me when I saw part of it posted on the Calvin Reflector in 1995:

"With all this, of course, went improvements in the brain, most notably the power to compare the times at which signals from one source reach each ear, thus providing a method of estimating the direction in which the source lies. Thus, in the course of evolution, there were six major developments, two of which occurred in the fishes, two in the amphibia and two in mammals. Such, at least, is the account given by people like Willem van Bergeijk, of Bell Telephone Laboratories who is the acknowledged authority. But the eminent morphologist J. W. Torrey is not convinced. 'The evolutionary origin of the inner ear is entirely unknown,' he insists. In contrast with the case of the eye, where undifferentiated cells were specialised into the required forms, here existing structures have been profoundly modified and even shifted to another position in a progressive series of changes which certainly look more like the refinement of a plan than the result of a series of happy accidents. But the insoluble problem is how and why did a balance organ become an organ of hearing? As van Bergeijk pointedly asks: 'What prompts the fish to begin developing a sensory apparatus that will respond to a stimulus about the very existence of which the fish knows nothing?' Van Bergeijk believes that the original balance organ would never have evolved mechanisms for hearing but for the emergence of the swim bladder. The original purpose of this organ is to enable the fish to adjust its density to the density of the ambient water and so control the depth at which it swims. Since the bladder is sensitive to changes in external pressure, it vibrates in harmony with pressure changes in the water. In time these vibrations came to excite the ear. Hearing as distinct from the mere detection of pressure waves, was born. After describing the last part of this process, the adaptation of the bones linking the jaw to the skull into a chain of ossicles linking the eardrum to the inner ear, Ernst Mayr sweepingly remarks: 'Not all the steps in this process are yet entirely apparent, but I think little doubt is left as to the principle involved.' If by 'principle' one means merely progressive remodelling, the statement is a truism. But if 'principle' means that chance selection brought about these elaborate changes, then there must be very great doubt indeed. Like de Beer, Mayr does not seem to appreciate the elementary point that demonstrating the occurrence of a sequence of events does not explain why they happened. But what kind of mutations could bring about the major changes I have described? Could cause a tube to roll up into a helix? Could cause other tubes to form semi-circular canals accurately set at right angles to each other. Could grade sensory hairs according to length? Could cause the convenient deposit of a crystal in the one place it will register gravity? Even more amazingly, some fishes do not trouble to secrete a crystal but incorporate a bit of sand or stone. What kind of mutation could achieve this - when and only when a natural crystal is not formed? The purpose is fulfilled, the means are unimportant. It just doesn't make sense." (Taylor G.R., "The Great Evolution Mystery," Abacus: London, 1983, pp.105-106. My emphasis)

I have added the above quote to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, section PE 13.8.1. "Mammals ? Reptile jawbone-mammal earbone transition." Again, I agree that it happened-my disagreement with evolution is how it happened.]

AN>Hoping to hear from you,

Thanks again for your question. I am not sure of your position on the creation-evolution spectrum (although your pseudonym suggests you are opposed to atheism), but I hope this has been of helpful, although I am sure you did not expect such a lengthy reply. However, the reply is primarily intended for my blog. I have a long-standing policy not to get involved in private discussions on creation/evolution/design issues.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Re: What do you make of the ... fish gills that evolved into human ears? #1


Thanks for your question, which I am copying to my blog CreationEvolutionDesign, minus your personal identifying information, and with other changes (including splitting it into two parts because of its length).

----- Original Message -----
From: AN
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 1:10 PM
Subject: Re: Richard Dawkins on the Al Franken Show

AN>Hi Stephen,
>What do you make of the "missing link" just discovered about the fish gills that evolved into human ears?

I was about to respond to this as part of my next science news excerpts post, so I will transfer the article to here. My comments are bold and in square brackets.

Evolution of Ear Is Noted in Fossil: Transitional Stage of Organ May Have Helped Ancient Fish Breathe, Washington Post, David Brown, January 19, 2006 ... Question: What do you do with half an ear? Answer: You breathe through it. That's the conclusion reached by a pair of researchers who say they have found a fossil "snapshot" of the ear partway through its evolution to its current form. [See also Livescience. As a creationist who accepts common ancestry, I would have no problem if this was true, but as the article itself says, there is some doubt that it is true.]

The structure that became the sound-conducting middle ear of land animals began as a tube that permitted ancient shallow-water fish to take an occasional breath of air out of the top of their heads -- at least according to Martin D. Brazeau and Per E. Ahlberg of Uppsala University, in Sweden. [Ahlberg is a highly respected Devonian tetrapod paleontologist, so while I take seriously any claim he makes about their fossils, I do not regard him as infallible. My motto is, "Test everything. Hold on to the good" ( 1 Thess 5:21).]

Their conclusion is controversial, as it amounts to a radical reinterpretation of how the ear developed in land-based animals. If it withstands scientific scrutiny, the fossil will be a rare example of an organ glimpsed partway along its evolutionary path, at a point when its function was very different from that of its final form. [This is a significant point. If Darwinian evolution (the version of evolution taught in schools and universities) was true, then it should not be "rare" to find an "example of an organ glimpsed partway along its evolutionary path." Such nascent organs (i.e. "in the course of being developed") should be common, but in fact they are "rare" (if not "non-existent"):

"BIOLOGISTS adduce as strong evidence in support of the evolution doctrine the existence in organisms of structures which they usually describe as rudimentary. If these were in reality rudimentary, that is to say, in a nascent condition, in the course of being developed, their presence would indeed afford strong support to the theory. Unfortunately for the doctrine, not one of these structures is rudimentary. Some of them are vestigial, that is to say, organs in a state of degeneration. If the evolution doctrine was merely that many types have degenerated since they were created or originated, then the presence of vestigial organs would afford strong support to it. What the doctrine demands is not vestigial, but nascent organs, and the latter appear to be non-existent. Such a state of affairs seems to strike at the root of the evolution doctrine. Better evidence of the assertion that for the last fifty years biological textbooks bring to light only that which is favourable to evolution and pass over unnoticed all that is unfavourable could scarcely be adduced than the fact that these volumes contain many references to vestigial organs, but none to nascent organs." (Dewar D., "Difficulties of the Evolution Theory," Edward Arnold & Co: London, 1931, p.24) ]

Opponents of evolution say such "intermediate forms" should rarely, if ever, exist. [It is in fact the case that "intermediate forms" ... rarely, if ever, exist" in the fossil record, as none other than Stephen Jay Gould admitted was "the trade secret of paleontology":

"The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils." (Gould S.J., "The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change," in "The Panda's Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History," [1980], Penguin: London, 1990, reprint, pp.150-151)]

They contend that many anatomical structures are too complicated to have evolved step by step. [It depends on what one means by "step." If one means "step by" tiny "step," i.e. by "slight, successive ... steps" as Darwin pointed out that natural selection could only operate by:

"As natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modifications; it can act only by short and slow steps. Hence the canon of "Natura non facit saltum," [nature does not make leaps] which every fresh addition to our knowledge tends to confirm, is on this theory intelligible." (Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," [1872], Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 6th Edition, 1928, reprint, p.447)

then the fact is that there is little evidence for, and much against, that "anatomical structures ... evolved step by step." For example, geneticists Orr and Coyne concluded that "there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak":

"We conclude-unexpectedly-that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak, and there is no doubt that mutations of large effect are sometimes important in adaptation." (Orr H.A., & Coyne J.A., "The Genetics of Adaptation: A Reassessment," The American Naturalist, Vol. 140, No. 5, November 1992, p.726)]

Instead, they had to have been created in their final form. [This is a fallacy of false alternative. Creation can be either immediate (i.e. "instantaneous ... without the intervention of any second causes") or mediate (from "out of preexisting material")" and this in fact "has ever been the doctrine of the Church":

"But while it has ever been the doctrine of the Church that God created the universe out of nothing by the word of his power, which creation was instantaneous and immediate, i.e., without the intervention of any second causes; yet it has generally been admitted that this is to be understood only of the original call of matter into existence. Theologians have, therefore, distinguished between a first and second, or immediate and mediate creation. The one was instantaneous, the other gradual; the one precludes the idea of any preexisting substance, and of cooperation, the other admits and implies both. There is evident ground for this distinction in the Mosaic account of the creation. ... It thus appears that forming out of preexisting material comes within the Scriptural idea of creating. ... There is, therefore, according to the Scriptures, not only an immediate, instantaneous creation ex nihilo by the simple word of God, but a mediate, progressive creation; the power of God working in union with second causes." (Hodge C., "Systematic Theology," [1892], James Clark & Co: London, Vol. I, 1960, reprint, pp.556-557).]

"This is another nail in the coffin of the creationist view, in my opinion," said Mark W. Westneat, an associate curator of zoology at the Field Museum of natural history in Chicago.[It is interesting how evolutionists pronounce routinely on "the creationist view" yet they claim it is: 1) "not scientific" (so why do they, as scientists, pontificate on something that they claim is not even their field?) and 2) "not falsifiable" (so why do they claim they have falsified it?). But while even a single genuine transitional intermediate fossil would indeed be a "nail in the coffin of the" separate "creationist view," it is not at all a "nail in the coffin of the" mediate "creationist view" that I hold, and therefore it is not a "nail in the coffin of the creationist view." But this again confirms George Hunter's thesis that evolution is at bottom theological, i.e. "evolution is considered to be a fact because Darwinists believe they have disproven the alternative: divine creation":

"How then can evolution be a fact if even the positive evidence does not support it very well? The answer is that evolution is considered to be a fact because Darwinists believe they have disproven the alternative: divine creation." (Hunter C.G., "Darwin's Proof: The Triumph of Religion Over Science," Brazos Press: Grand Rapids MI, 2003, p.10)

But in fact, all they have disproven is one version of creation, separate (i.e immediate) creation. And the overall pattern of the fossil record of a "sequence of species which led directly from the unspecialized terrestrial ancestral form [and] gave rise to no [or few] collateral branches" is more consistent with my mediate creation theory than with undirected natural processes (i.e. naturalistic evolutionary) theory:

"Darwin's insistence that gradual evolution by natural selection would require inconceivable numbers of transitional forms may have been something of an exaggeration but it is hard to escape concluding that in some cases he may not have been so far from the mark. Take the case of the gap between modern whales and land mammals. All known aquatic or semi-aquatic mammals such as seals, sea cows (sirenians) or otters are specialized representatives of distinct orders and none can possibly be ancestral to the present-day whales. To bridge the gap we are forced therefore to postulate a large number of entirely extinct hypothetical species starting from a small, relatively unspecialized land mammal like a shrew and leading successfully through an otter-like stage, seal-like stage, sirenian-like stage and finally to a putative organism which could serve as the ancestor of the modern whales. Even from the hypothetical whale ancestor stage we need to postulate many hypothetical primitive whales to bridge the not inconsiderable gaps which separate the modern filter feeders (the baleen whales) and the toothed whales. Moreover, it is impossible to accept that such a hypothetical sequence of species which led directly from the unspecialized terrestrial ancestral form gave rise to no collateral branches. Such an assumption would be purely ad hoc, and would also be tantamount to postulating an external unknown directive influence in evolution which would be quite foreign to the spirit of Darwinian theory and defeat its major purpose of attempting to provide a natural explanation for evolution. Rather, we must suppose the existence of innumerable collateral branches leading to many unknown types. This was clearly Darwin's view and it implies that the total number of species which must have existed between the discontinuities must have been much greater than the number of species on the shortest direct evolutionary pathway. In the diagram opposite, which shows a hypothetical lineage leading from a land mammal to a whale, while there are ten hypothetical species on the direct path, there are an additional fifty-three hypothetical species on collateral branches. Considering how trivial the differences in morphology usually are between well-defined species today, such as rat-mouse, fox-dog, and taking into account all the modifications necessary to convert a land mammal into a whale - forelimb modifications, the evolution of tail flukes, the streamlining, reduction of hindlimbs, modifications of skull to bring nostrils to the top of head, modification of trachea, modifications of behaviour patterns, specialized nipples so that the young could feed underwater (a complete list would be enormous) one is inclined to think in terms of possibly hundreds, even thousands, of transitional species on the most direct path between a hypothetical land ancestor and the common ancestor of modern whales." (Denton M.J., "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis," Burnett Books: London, 1985, pp.172,174).

This was noticed by a reviewer of Eldredge's book, "The Pattern of Evolution" that what paleobiologists found in the fossil record was not "the slow, smooth and progressive changes Lyell and Darwin had expected" but "rapid bursts of change, new species appearing seemingly out of nowhere and then remaining unchanged for millions of years" which was in fact "patterns hauntingly reminiscent of creation":

"Palaeobiologists flocked to these scientific visions of a world in a constant state of flux and admixture. But instead of finding the slow, smooth and progressive changes Lyell and Darwin had expected, they saw in the fossil records rapid bursts of change, new species appearing seemingly out of nowhere and then remaining unchanged for millions of years-patterns hauntingly reminiscent of creation." (Pagel M., "Happy accidents?" Review of "The Pattern of Evolution," by Niles Eldredge, W.H. Freeman, 1999. Nature, Vol 397, 25 February 1999, p.665)]

"It is a great fill-in-the-gap story that shows a nice transition stage at an important point in evolution." Brazeau and Ahlberg examined the fossilized skull of Panderichthys , a fish about four feet long that lived in the Upper Devonian period about 380 million years ago. It was an intermediate creature between earlier lobe-finned fishes and true "tetrapods," or four-limbed animals. [I hold "the creationist view" and I have long accepted that that "Panderichthys ... was an intermediate creature between earlier lobe-finned fishes and ... tetrapods." But Panderichthys is more consistent with my mediate creation theory than undirected evolution in that: 1) it was developing its "endochondral bones of the fin [that] are closely comparable to those of terrestrial vertebrates", namely "humerus ... ulna and radius in the forelimb, and the femur, tibia and fibula in the hind limb" internally and under water "within a functionally continuous fin structure"; 2) the "bones that are homologous with ...the wrist ...and ankle ... of land vertebrates" "could not have functioned in the manner of these joints in terrestrial vertebrates because they are extensively overlapped by the radius and the tibia" and 3) "There is no trace of endochondral skeletal elements comparable with the distal carpals or digits of terrestrial vertebrates" which "appear de novo in the Upper Devonian tetrapods" (my emphasis):

"Neither the fossil record nor study of development in modern genera yet provides a complete picture of how the paired limbs in tetrapods evolved ... The closest comparison between the paired fins of obligatorily aquatic fish and animals that were at least facultatively terrestrial is provided by the osteolepiform sarcopterygians Eusthenopteron and Panderichthys and the stem tetrapods Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. ... Superficially, the paired fins of the fish appear typical of strictly aquatic vertebrates. They are small relative to the body; they narrow at the base that articulated with the pectoral and pelvic girdles, but broaden distally to form an effective surface for locomotion or directional control in the water. ... In contrast, the internal, endochondral bones of the fin are closely comparable to those of terrestrial vertebrates. There is a single proximal humerus and more distal ulna and radius in the forelimb, and the femur, tibia and fibula in the hind limb. They are succeeded distally by bones that are homologous with proximal elements of the wrist (intermedium, ulnare, and centralia) and ankle (fibulare, intermedium, and possibly distal tarsals) of land vertebrates, but they could not have functioned in the manner of these joints in terrestrial vertebrates because they are extensively overlapped by the radius and the tibia. The entire endochondral skeleton is within a functionally continuous fin structure, as seen from its scaly covering. There is no trace of endochondral skeletal elements comparable with the distal carpals or digits of terrestrial vertebrates. ... In contrast with the clear homology of the more proximal limb bones in osteolepiform fish and early tetrapods, no obvious homologues of the digits is evident in any sarcopterygian. These bones appear de novo in the Upper Devonian tetrapods. How can this be explained?" (Carroll R.L., "Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution," Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, 1997, pp.230-232)

This is inconsistent with Darwinian `blind watchmaker' evolution and consistent with long-range strategic planning by an Intelligent Designer (who I assume to be the Christian God).]

[Continued in part #2]

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

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins #7

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins, Beliefnet, 15 December 2005. The renowned biologist talks about intelligent design, dishonest Christians, and why God is no better than an imaginary friend. Interview by Laura Sheahen. ...

Continued from part #6 with my comments bold and in square brackets and the interviewer's questions bold and in italics.

You talk about how your words have been twisted by religious people in the past. Which words of yours have been twisted?

Whenever I begin an argument by saying something that sounds as though it's creationist, something like "the Cambrian Explosion is a sudden explosion of fossils almost as though they had no history," I'm obviously saying that as a prelude to explaining why. [What Dawkins actually said was:

"Eldredge and Gould certainly would agree that some very important gaps really are due to imperfections in the fossil record. Very big gaps, too. For example the Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years, are the oldest ones in which we find most of the major invertebrate groups. And we find many of them already in an advanced state of evolution, the very first time they appear. It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history. Needless to say, this appearance of sudden planting has delighted creationists." Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," 1986, p.229. My emphasis).

The fact that creationists have seized on Dawkins "words" that "most of the major invertebrate groups" appear for "the very first time" in "the Cambrian strata of rocks" when they were "already in an advanced state of evolution" such that "It is as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history" is not a case of twisting Dawkins' "words." It is a case of taking Dawkins' words at their face value!

And Dawkins is being disingenuous by calling these "Very big gaps", "imperfections in the fossil record." The latter term was Darwin's and by it Darwin meant that there really was a "finely graduated organic chain" that was "full of ... intermediate links" (i.e. "intermediate varieties"):

"But just in proportion as this process of extermination has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed, be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record." (Darwin C.R., "The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection," [1872], Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons: London, 6th Edition, 1928, reprint, pp.292-293. My emphasis)

which was the consequence of "natural selection act[ing] solely by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations":

"As natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight, successive, favourable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modifications; it can act only by short and slow steps. Hence the canon of "Natura non facit saltum," [nature does not make leaps] which every fresh addition to our knowledge tends to confirm, is on this theory intelligible." (Darwin, 1872, p.447)

but the fossil record did not preserve them.

However, if the "geological [i.e. fossil] record" was not as "extremely imperfect" as Darwin's theory required it to be:

"Lastly, looking not to any one time, but to all time, if my theory be true, numberless intermediate varieties, linking closely together all the species of the same group, must assuredly have existed; but the very process of natural selection constantly tends, as has been so often remarked, to exterminate the parent forms and the intermediate links. Consequently evidence of their former existence could be found only amongst fossil remains, which are preserved, as we shall attempt to show in a future chapter, in an extremely imperfect and intermittent record." (Darwin, 1872, p.161. My emphasis)

which even in Darwin's own day, "few" geologists and paleontologists were "inclined to admit":

"That the geological record is imperfect all will admit; but that it is imperfect to the degree required by our theory, few will be inclined to admit." (Darwin, 1872, p.443. My emphasis)

and if there in fact were not "numberless transitional links" then, according to Darwin himself we all should (including Dawkins), "rightly reject the whole theory" (my emphasis):

"He who rejects this view of the imperfection of the geological record, will rightly reject the whole theory. For he may ask in vain where are the numberless transitional links which must formerly have connected the closely allied or representative species found in the successive stages of the same great formation?" (Darwin, 1872, p.343. My emphasis)

And as for Dawkins, "obviously saying that as a prelude to explaining why", here, in his own "words", is what Dawkins continued with:

"Evolutionists of all stripes believe, however, that this really does represent a very large gap in the fossil record, a gap that is simply due to the fact that, for some reason, very few fossils have lasted from periods before about 600 million years ago. One good reason might be that many of these animals had only soft parts to their bodies: no shells or bones to fossilize. If you are a creationist you may think that this is special pleading. My point here is that, when we are talking about gaps of this magnitude, there is no difference whatever in the interpretations of 'punctuationists' and 'gradualists'. Both schools of thought despise so-called scientific creationists equally, and both agree that the major gaps are real, that they are true imperfections in the fossil record. Both schools of thought agree that the only alternative explanation of the sudden appearance of so many complex animal types in the Cambrian era is divine creation, and both would reject this alternative. (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," 1986, pp.229-230)

But Dawkins was not telling the truth. The "punctuationists" do indeed "agree that the major gaps are real" but they do not agree that it was due to " imperfections in the fossil record," but rather "the jerkiness ... is not the result of gaps, it is the consequence of the jerky mode of evolutionary change" (my emphasis):

"I'm tired of hearing about the imperfections of the fossil record,' said John Sepkoski of the University of Chicago; `I'm more interested in hearing about the imperfections of our questions about the record.' `The record is not so woefully incomplete,' offered Steven Stanley of Johns Hopkins University; `you can reconstruct long sections by combining data from several areas.' Olson confessed himself to be `cheered by such optimism about the fossil record,' and he listened receptively to Gould's suggestion that the gaps in the record are more real than apparent. `Certainly the record is poor,' admitted Gould, `but the jerkiness you see is not the result of gaps, it is the consequence of the jerky mode of evolutionary change.'" (Lewin R., "Evolutionary-Theory Under Fire: An historic conference in Chicago challenges the four-decade long dominance of the Modern Synthesis," Science, Vol. 210, pp.883-887, 21 November 1980, pp.883-884. My emphasis)

But these people quote selectively. It's a demonstration of their fundamental dishonesty. They're not actually interested in truth, they're interested in propaganda. [All quoting is necessarily "selectively." And if anyone is guilty of "fundamental dishonesty" and "not actually interested in truth" but "interested in propaganda" it is Dawkins. As we see above, he twists the words of "punctuationists" to make it sound like they agree that the Cambrian explosion is merely "due to imperfections in the fossil record" when that is not what they mean.

And what's more (as I have previously demonstrated), Dawkins himself has effectively abandoned Darwin's theory of evolution by the natural selection of random micromutations. Here is another example in his coverage of the Cambrian explosion:

"As we saw at Rendezvous 22, Chengjiang has fossils that appear to be true vertebrates, pre-dating the amphioxus-like Pikaia of the Burgess Shale and other Cambrian chordates. Traditional zoological wisdom never had vertebrates arising so early. Yet Myllokunmingia, of which more than 500 specimens have now been discovered at Chengjiang, looks pretty much like a good jawless fish, such as had previously been thought not to arise until 50 million years later in the middle of the Ordovician. ... The pushing of the vertebrates back into the middle of the Cambrian only strengthens the idea of sudden explosion that is the basis of the myth. It really does appear that most of today's major animal phyla first appear as fossils in a narrow span within the Cambrian. This doesn't mean that there were no representatives of those phyla before the Cambrian. But they have mostly not fossilised. How should we interpret this? We can distinguish various combinations of three main hypotheses ... 1. NO REAL EXPLOSION. On this view there was only an explosion of fossilisability, not of actual evolution. The phyla actually go back a long way before the Cambrian, with concestors spread out through hundreds of millions of years in the Precambrian. ... On this view, fossils were, for unknown reasons, not readily formed before the Cambrian. Perhaps they lacked readily fossilisable hard parts, such as shells, carapaces and bones. ... 2. MEDIUM-FUSE EXPLOSION. The concestors uniting the various phyla really did live reasonably close to each other in time, but still spread out over several tens of millions of years before the observed explosion of fossils. ... 3. OVERNIGHT EXPLOSION. This third school of thought is, in my opinion, bonkers. ... The third school believes that new phyla sprang into existence overnight, in a single macromutational leap. ... We can, then, with complete confidence, reject the third of our three hypotheses, the bonkers one. That leaves the other two, or some compromise between them, and here I find myself agnostic and eager for more data. As we shall see in the epilogue to this tale, it seems to be increasingly accepted that the early molecular clock estimates were exaggerating when they pushed the major branch points hundreds of millions of years back into the Precambrian. On the other hand, the mere fact that there are few, if any, fossils of most animal phyla before the Cambrian should not stampede us into assuming that those phyla must have evolved extremely rapidly. The hurricane in a junkyard argument tells us that all those Cambrian fossils must have had continuously evolving antecedents. Those antecedents had to be there, but they have not been discovered. Whatever the reason, and whatever the timescale, they failed to fossilise, but they must have been there. On the face of it, it is harder to believe that a whole lot of animals could be invisible for 100 million years than that they could be invisible for only 10 million years. This leads some people to prefer the short-fuse Cambrian Explosion theory. On the other hand, the shorter you make the fuse, the harder it is to believe all that diversification could be crammed into the time available. So this argument cuts both ways and doesn't decisively choose between our two surviving hypotheses. ... The most recently available evidence seems to me to favour, even if only slightly, a view closer to a medium-fuse explosion. This goes against my earlier bias in favour of no real explosion. When more evidence comes in, as I hope it will, I shall not be in the least surprised if we find ourselves pushed the other way again into the deep Precambrian in our quest for the concestors of modern animal phyla. Or we might be pulled back to an impressively short explosion, in which the concestors of most of the great animal phyla are compressed into a period of 20 or even 10 million years around the beginning of the Cambrian. ... I wouldn't be surprised to see either of the first two hypotheses vindicated. I'm not sticking my neck out. But I'll eat my hat if any evidence is ever found in favour of Hypothesis Three." (Dawkins R., "The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution," Houghton Mifflin Co: Boston MA, 2004, pp.440-442, 446-448)

As can be seen above from Darwin's own words, Darwin's theory is represented only by "hypotheses ... 1. NO REAL EXPLOSION," which Dawkins tries to pass off as just an "earlier bias in favour of no real explosion." It is quite clear that Dawkins is still hoping against "hope" that "we find ourselves pushed the other way again into the deep Precambrian in our quest for the concestors of modern animal phyla" but he knows that "The most recently available evidence" is on "favour ... [of] ... a medium-fuse explosion" (if not "3. OVERNIGHT EXPLOSION"!) in which case he should (and in fact he effectively has), as Darwin himself said, "rightly reject the whole theory" of Darwinian evolution by the natural selection of random micromuations.

But now Dawkins has the problem of "explain[ing] prodigies of apparent miracle" without the help of the `blind watchmaker':

"To 'tame' chance means to break down the very improbable into less improbable small components arranged in series. No matter how improbable it is that an X could have arisen from a Y in a single step, it is always possible to conceive of a series of infinitesimally graded intermediates between them. However improbable a large-scale change may be, smaller changes are less improbable. And provided we postulate a sufficiently large series of sufficiently finely graded intermediates, we shall be able to derive anything from anything else, without invoking astronomical improbabilities. We are allowed to do this only if there has been sufficient time to fit all the intermediates in. And also only if there is a mechanism for guiding each step in some particular direction, otherwise the sequence of steps will career off in an endless random walk. It is the contention of the Darwinian world-view that both these provisos are met, and that slow, gradual, cumulative natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence. If there are versions of the evolution theory that deny slow gradualism, and deny the central role of natural selection, they may be true in particular cases. But they cannot be the whole truth, for they deny the very heart of the evolution theory, which gives it the power to dissolve astronomical improbabilities and explain prodigies of apparent miracle." (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," 1986, pp.317-318. My emphasis)

[Continued in last part #8]

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The root of all anti-science?, etc

Brief science news excerpts with my comments bold and in square brackets.

[Graphic: Pitcher plant Nepenthes alata showing electron microscope images of upper and lower wax layers, Science Daily (see below)]

The root of all anti-science?: A scientist's view of Richard Dawkins' televised assault on religion, Spiked Science, Alom Shaha, 13 January 2006 ... Here was an opportunity to show us how science is being denigrated by religious fundamentalism, convince us why scientific thinking is superior to religious dogma, and expound the merits of reason. Instead we got what could have been an extended segment from the BBC's Grumpy Old Men ... unlike his previous attacks [on religion]... this televised polemic lacked any wit or intellectual rigour. Instead, Dawkins presented a thoroughly unscientific argument that 'religion is the root of all evil' and came across as a fundamentalist himself. ... I found Dawkins' polemic unpalatable and suspect it may have done more harm than good for 'the cause'. This film was a missed opportunity to engage the public with some of the issues facing science today. I fear it may only have exacerbated the situation. The arrogance that Dawkins displayed is perhaps the root of all the hostility we see against science. ... [See also "Is religion the root of all evil?: Richard Dawkins' attack on religion ended up giving atheist humanism a bad name." I suspect there are many other atheist/agnostics who are similarly very concerned about the harm that Dawkins, the Oxford Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, is doing to science. His fellow atheist Darwinist, philosopher Michael Ruse is clearly unimpressed with Dawkins' "understanding of Christianity remain[ing] at the sophomoric level":

"Also, I myself share just about every bit of Dawkins's nonbelief. ... However, I worry about the political consequences of Dawkins's message. If Darwinism is a major contributor to nonbelief, then should Darwinism be taught in publicly funded U.S. schools? ... It is true that Darwinism conflicts with the Book of Genesis taken literally, but at least since the time of Saint Augustine (400 A.D.) Christians have been interpreting the seven days of creation metaphorically. I would like to see Dawkins take Christianity as seriously as he undoubtedly expects Christianity to take Darwinism. I would also like to see him spell out fully the arguments as to the incompatibility of science (Darwinism especially) and religion (Christianity especially). So long as his understanding of Christianity remains at the sophomoric level, Dawkins does not deserve full attention. It is all very well to sneer ... but what reply does Dawkins have to the many theologians (like Jonathan Edwards) who have devoted huge amounts of effort to distinguishing between false beliefs and true ones? What reply does Dawkins have to the contemporary philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who argues that the belief that there are other minds and that others are not just unthinking robots requires a leap of faith akin to the Christian belief in the Deity? Edwards and Plantinga may be wrong, but Dawkins owes them some reply before he gives his cocky negative conclusions. ... Finally ... I do wish that he and other science writers would cease assuming that philosophical issues can be solved by talking in a brisk, confident voice. ... I agree fully with Dawkins when he writes that
Modern physics teaches us that there is more to truth than meets the eye; or than meets the all too limited human mind, evolved as it was to cope with medium-sized objects moving at medium speeds through medium distances in Africa.
But how then does Dawkins respond to the obvious retort of the religious, who have always stressed mystery? ... Perhaps one agrees that traditional religions-Christianity specifically-do not offer the full answers. But what is to stop a nonbeliever like myself from saying that the Christians are asking important questions and that they are right to have a little humility before the unknown? As Saint Paul said: `Now we see through a glass, darkly.' That apparently includes Richard Dawkins." (Ruse M.E., "Through a Glass, Darkly." Review of "A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love," by Richard Dawkins, Houghton Mifflin, 2003.)

This is BTW the same Dawkins who declared that, "there is, at bottom ... no evil" (my emphasis):

"Theologians worry away at the `problem of evil' and a related `problem of suffering.' ... On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: `For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.' DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music." (Dawkins R., "River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life," Phoenix: London, 1996, p.155. Emphasis in original)

But then Dawkins is not renowned for his rational consistency (see Williams P.S., "Darwin’s Rottweiler and the Public Understanding of Scientism," Philosophy Now, No. 44, January/February 2004). Quite frankly, I would not be surprised if the BBC is cynically using Dawkins as a sort of `freak show' to boost its ratings!]

Anti-adhesive Layers Leave No Hope For Insects, ScienceDaily, 2006-01-17 ... Plants are able, using organic substances, to achieve effects that we otherwise mostly know only from technical materials. One example of this is the carnivorous pitcher plant .... These plants catch insects and hold them using traps with a double layer of crystalline wax. The upper layer has crystalloids which contaminate the attachment organs that insects use to adhere themselves to surfaces. The lower layer additionally reduces the contact area between the insect feet and plant surface. The insects thus slip into the pitcher-shaped traps, where they are digested .... The pitfall trap of the pitcher plant Nepenthes alata. .... In order to obtain nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which may be lacking in the soil, carnivorous plants catch and digest small animals, primarily insects. These plants have evolved particular organs to catch their prey. .... Although the origins of the pitchers lie in leaf organs, the structures that originate from the leaves are not leaf-like. Nepenthes pitchers are organised in a complex way, with a lid, a peristome (a ring around the pitcher's entrance), and slippery and digestive zones, the latter containing a supply of digestive fluid. These pitchers draw in insects, hold them, and finally digest them. The slippery zone is very important to successful trappings. It is covered by a layer of crystalline wax on which insects lose their footing and slide down into the digestive fluid. ... [I would like to see a detailed, step-by-step, Darwinian explanation of how the natural selection of random micromutations produced the elaborate traps of carnivorous plants, like the pitcher plant and the Venus flytrap. But I suspect there are none, because if there were, the Darwinists would not waste their time on peppered moths and finch beaks! Like Behe's mousetrap, all these parts are needed to be working together simultaneously as a complex coordinated system to catch insects. I have added this to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, section PE 12.3.1 "Carnivorous plants ... Pitcher plant (Nepenthes alata)" ]

Ants Are First Non-Humans to Teach, Study Says, Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam, January 16, 2006 ... The ants ... raced along a tabletop foraging for food -- and then, remarkably, returned to guide others. Time and again, followers trailed behind leaders, darting this way and that along the route, presumably to memorize landmarks. Once a follower got its bearings, it tapped the leader with its antennae, prompting the lesson to literally proceed to the next step. The ants were only looking for food, but the researchers said the careful way the leaders led followers -- thereby turning them into leaders in their own right -- marked the Temnothorax albipennis ant as the very first example of a non-human animal exhibiting teaching behavior. "Within the field of animal behavior, we would say an animal is a teacher if it modifies behavior in the presence of another, at cost to itself, so another individual can learn more quickly," said Nigel R. Franks ..., whose paper on the ant educators was published last week in the journal Nature. But defining even common behaviors such as teaching is complex, and it is even harder to understand what is happening in the brains of other animals. So it is no surprise that the paper has sparked debate over what constitutes learning and teaching in the non-human world. ... Bennett G. Galef Jr. ... said ants were unlikely to have a "theory of mind" -- meaning that leaders and followers may well have been following instinctive routines that were not based on an understanding of what was happening in another ant's brain. He warned that scientists may be barking up the wrong tree when they look not only for examples of humanlike behavior among other animals but humanlike thinking that underlies such behavior. Animals may behave in ways similar to humans without a similar cognitive system, he said, so the behavior is not necessarily a good guide into how humans came to think the way they do. ... [This is a reductio ad absurdum of those studies which simplistically infer from external behaviour in animals (e.g. tool-using, etc) that they are doing essentially the same thing as humans. I have added this to my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, section PE 14.1.5 "Man ... Uniqueness ... Learning ." See also my previous post commenting on dolphin's `music appreciation'.]

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins #6

The Problem with God: Interview with Richard Dawkins, Beliefnet, 15 December 2005 The renowned biologist talks about intelligent design, dishonest Christians, and why God is no better than an imaginary friend. Interview by Laura Sheahen. ...

Continued from part #5 with my comments bold and in square brackets and the interviewer's questions bold and in italics.

Then there's the added fact that it is the only life we're ever going to get. Don't kid yourself that you're going to live again after you're dead; you're not. [Actually, since Christianity is true, it is Dawkins who is kidding himself that he is not going to live again after he is dead (Mt 25:31-33; Jn 5:28-29; Rev 20:12-13)!]

Make the most of the one life you've got. Live it to the full. [Its funny but Dawkins, with bitter hostility towards religion (and it seems towards anyone who disagrees with him) does not sound like someone who is living life "to the full":

"Religion takes a savage beating from Dawkins, especially Catholicism, for which he seems to have conceived an almost lunatic hatred. ... His theory of religion is spelled out in five essays gathered under the heading `The Infected Mind.' Religion is simply a `virus of the mind' ... He freely avows both `hostility' and `contempt' for religion, and he feels it is his moral duty to mock it as much as he can. ... Polite concealment of contempt is not a rhetorical mode that one associates with Dawkins. He is much given to invective, not all of it against religion. Here is how he characterizes the thoughts and attitudes of some of his other targets: `caterwauling shrieks,' `low-grade intellectual poodling of pseudo-philosophical poseurs,' `footling debates,' `boorish tenured confidence,' `yahooish complacency,' and `driveling ephemera of juvenile pamphleteers and the old preaching of spiteful hard-liners.' The man, as they say nowadays, has issues. ... The same failure to think things through is evident in Dawkins' views on religion. There is nothing in Darwinism, even in its most naturalistic form, that must lead one to despise religion as Dawkins does. There is every indication that religion is natural to man and conducive, on the whole, to his survival. It can give him hope in adversity, strengthen family bonds, and motivate sacrifice for the common good. Dawkins calls it a virus; but if it is, it is one that, according to the latest research, makes us healthier. `Faith sufferers,' as Dawkins calls them, seem to suffer less from a wide array of ills. Among other things, they are less given to depression, anxiety, addiction, criminality, suicide, and divorce. ... Dawkins gave an interview to Belief.net recently. He was asked whether he could think of anything, just `one positive, if minor, thing' that religion has done for the good. No, he replied, he really couldn't. What about great religious art? `That's not religion,' said Dawkins, `it is just because the Church had the money. Great artists like ... Bach ... would have done whatever they were told to do.' [Sheahen L., "Religion: For Dummies," Beliefnet, December 9, 2003] So Johann Sebastian Bach was just in it for the money. What this sordid remark reveals, apart from amazing ignorance and philistinism, is the mind of a true fanatic. It is not enough for Dawkins to say that religion is bad on the whole; it must be wholly bad." (Barr S.M., "The Devil's Chaplain Confounded," First Things, 145, August/September 2004, pp.25-31)

Dawkins in fact seems like someone who in his sixties has found out the hard way that Jesus was right when He said that "whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Mat 16:25)]

You've criticized the idea of the afterlife. What do you see as the problem with a terminally ill cancer patient believing in an afterlife?

Oh, no problem at all. I would never wish to disabuse or disillusion somebody who believed that. I care about what's true for myself, but I don't want to go around telling people who are afraid of dying that their hopes are unreal. [Note how Dawkins twists the interviewer's question? She said nothing about "people who are afraid of dying". A "terminally ill cancer patient believing in an afterlife" is more likely to be looking forward to dying as a release from their suffering. But presumably Dawkins is insinuating that the only reason anyone could believe in an afterlife is because they are "afraid of dying". Well, I for one (like many, if not most Christians) became a Christian in my youth when dying was the last thing I was afraid of. Anyway, as for "I don't want to go around telling people ... that their hopes are unreal" that is precisely what Dawkins has been doing for most of his life!]

If I could have a word with a would-be suicide bomber or plane hijacker who thinks he's going to paradise, I would like to disabuse him. I wouldn't say to him, "Don't you see what you're doing is wrong?" I would say, "Don't imagine for one second you're going to paradise. You're not. You're going to rot in the ground." [Dawkins forgets that according to his atheist philosophy, "there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good" (my emphasis) so he could not say, "Don't you see what you're doing is wrong"! And he is wrong if he thinks that suicide bombers or plane hijacker are motivated by the thought that they are "going to paradise." Actual research shows that "Suicide bombers ... are usually far from being the ... religious fanatics ... they are often portrayed as" and in fact they "are often secular, well-educated individuals" (my emphasis):

"PARIS (AFP) - Suicide bombers who have sown mayhem from Israel to Iraq and from Chechnya to Sri Lanka are usually far from being the madmen, religious fanatics or impoverished misfits they are often portrayed as, it was reported. ... The British science weekly New Scientist says that experts who have studied the psychological profiles and backgrounds of suicide bombers find these assailants are often secular, well-educated individuals. Many of them are born to prosperous families and take a rational decision about the path they chose, says a report in this Saturday's issue. `What this amounts to is in many ways more alarming than the ubiquitous misperception of the suicide bomber as fanatical,' New Scientist says. `It means that in the right circumstances, anyone could be one.' A study of Hamas and Palestinian suicide attackers from the 1980s to 2003 by Claude Berrebi, an economist at Princeton University, found that only 13 percent of them came from a poor background, compared with 32 percent of the Palestinian population in general. In addition, more than half the suicide bombers had entered further education, compared with just 15 percent of the general population. Similarly, a study into Hezbollah militants who died in action in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s were less like to have come from poor families and likelier to have attended secondary school than others of their age. As for the idea that suicide bombers are simply suicidal, that is discounted by Israeli psychologist Ariel Merari of Tel Aviv University. He studied the backgrounds of every suicide bomber in the Middle East since 1983, when the modern era of suicide attacks began with the truck bomb assault US embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. `In the majority, you find none of the risk factors normally associated with suicide, such as mood disorders or schizophrenia, substance abuse or history of attempted suicide,' Merari told New Scientist. Eyad El Sarraj, chairman of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, said his own studies of Palestinian `martyrs' found a common source in a traumatic childhood experience. All had experienced helplessness as a child, particularly the humiliation of their father by Israeli soldiers. Whatever the individual trigger, suicide bombers are invariably channelled by a disciplined, well-organized group into taking the path of self destruction in the fight against the enemy, the report says. This group, a result of a `peculiar mix of social, cultural and political ingredients,' forges and promotes the cult of the suicide bomber, glorifying his or her acts within the community and indoctrinating him or her, often with promises of divine reward. This `brotherhood mentality' is typically reinforced at the crucial moment by a farewell testimony in a letter or video -- a classic manoeuvre to force the attacker beyond the point of no return. `If you are in a small cell of suicide terrorists and they are all dying one by one, and you have made this commitment on a videotape saying goodbye to your family and everyone else, the psychological investment is such that it would be almost impossibly humiliating to pull back,' Scott Atran, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, said." ("What makes bombers tick?," The Age, May 14, 2004. My emphasis)

That is, they are more like Dawkins than Billy Graham or Mother Teresa! ]

How would you feel if your daughter became religious in the future?

Well, that would be her decision and obviously she's her own person, she's free to do whatever she likes. I think she's much too intelligent to do that, but that's her decision. [I was going to give credit to Dawkins for his answer, but I then noticed the "she's much too intelligent to do that" (implying that only less intelligent individuals become "religious"). But this is then contradicted by his "but that's her decision", which means that he realizes intelligence has nothing to do with it, given that his daughter's IQ remains the same, either way. It also shows that Dawkins does not really believe his own claim that religion is a virus.]

[Continued in part #7]

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