Archive for the 'Creationism/ID' Category

Mar 27 2017

More on Bird Evolution

bird_evoThe fossil evidence for the evolution of birds is currently one of the greatest evolutionary stories we have to tell. It is also a home run for the predictive value of evolutionary theory and is a devastating blow to any denial of common descent.

Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. At that time the fossil record was sparse, although it was enough to establish that the forms of living things was changing over geological time. One of the most dramatic gaps in the fossil record at the time was between birds and other vertebrates. It was believed that birds must have evolved from some type of reptile, but the most recent common ancestor was not known.

This was a great test for the new theory of evolution. If evolution were true then birds must have evolved from something else, and therefore the gap between birds and their closest non-avian relative should eventually be filled in by future fossil finds. If evolution is true, those creatures must have existed.

If, on the other hand, some version of creationism were true so that was created close to its current form, then there would not have to be any creatures filling in the morphological space between birds and their closest relatives. Birds would not have any relatives, they would be an isolated group unto themselves.

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111 responses so far

Jan 30 2017

Anti-Evolution Bills Continue to Evolve

teacherclassroomstudents01272017gettyAs we enter a new legislative session in many states we are also faced by a new wave of anti-evolution bills. Creationists have been trying to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools since Scopes in the 1920s. They have essentially been unsuccessful legally but successful culturally. For the first half of the 20th century they made the “e” word too controversial for textbooks. Since then they have provided cover for teachers in the Bible Belt to teach creationism or falsely criticize evolution.

In a 2011 survey, only 28% of high school biology teachers reporting following National Research Council and National Academy of Sciences recommendations in teaching evolution, and 13% reported that they openly advocated creationism.

This, of course, refers only to public schools. Private schools can openly teach creationism, which is exactly why Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has spent so much effort and money promoting school vouchers and private schools.

Legally anti-evolution efforts have consistently run up against that pesky First Amendment, which guarantees religious freedom. The Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that the government (Federal or State) cannot promote any specific religion or religious belief. Creationism is a religious belief, not science, no matter how creationists try to dress it up, therefore it doesn’t fly.

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272 responses so far

Dec 13 2016

Feathered Dino Tail Trapped in Amber

amber-feathered-tail2Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing was walking through an amber market in Myitkina, Myanmar when he discovered a rather interesting specimen. The seller believed that the large chunk of fossilized tree sap they were selling contained plant material. Xing recognized that it contained primitive feathers. Even more exciting, those feathers were not connected to a bird ancestor, but to the tail of a dinosaur.

A scientific analysis of that specimen has now been published in Current Biology.

This is a tremendous specimen for a number of reasons. Scientists interested in the evolution of feathers have been trying to piece together the developmental steps that occurred and in what order in order to transform scales into feathers. Developmental biology itself provides some clues – the path that feathers take when they develop in the embryo likely reflect their evolutionary history. It would be nice, however, to confirm this hypothesis with actual specimens.

Up until now paleontologists have had two kinds of fossil feathers. The first is feather impressions associated with fossil specimens. The advantage of this kind of evidence is that we know exactly what species the feathers belong to and so they can be placed in a phylogenetic tree of feathered dinosaurs, both avian and non-avian. The disadvantage is that the feather impression are compressed, so the three-dimensional information may be lost, and they often lack fine detail.

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11 responses so far

Dec 01 2016

Some Creationist Pseudointellectualism

Published by under Creationism/ID

protein-structureIn September I wrote an article about a recent experiment at Harvard Medical School in which they created a very large agar plate in order to visualize bacterial colonies evolve drug resistance over time. I was primarily responding to Michael Behe’s argument that this experiment did not show evolution but “devolution.”

Recently Cornelius Hunter over at Evolution News and Reviews (a propaganda blog of the Discotute) wrote a response to my article. Hunter’s response is yet another example of how creationists engage in motivated reasoning and fail to either understand evolution or meaningfully engage with the scientific community. In fact, I found Hunter’s article to be largely incoherent, which is common because creationists are not trying to formulate a coherent scientific theory. They are just trying to provide cover for their ideological beliefs by creating doubt and confusion.

The first actual point I think I can extract from Hunter’s article is that the changes to the bacteria seen in the Harvard experiment were not actually evolution, just adaptation. He writes:

What Novella does not acknowledge, however, is that bacteria adaptation research, over several decades now, has clearly shown non-evolutionary change. For instance, bacterial adaptation has often been found to be rapid, and sensitive to the environmental challenge. In other words, when we look at the details, we do not find the evolutionary model of random variation slowly bringing about change, but rather environmentally directed or influenced variation.

That is not evolution. And indeed, the Harvard experiment demonstrated, again, very rapid adaptation. In just ten days the bacteria adapted to high doses of lethal antibiotic. As one of the researchers commented, “This is a stunning demonstration of how quickly microbes evolve.”

True, it is “stunning,” but “evolve” is not the correct term. The microbes adapted.

This is one common intellectual trick used by creationists – shift around your definitions as needed in order to manufacture apparent contradictions or at least confusion. Hunter is not working from a coherent operational definition of evolution. He gives no indication that he understands evolutionary theory, but that is hard to know through the fog of motivated reasoning.

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163 responses so far

Sep 19 2016

Bacteria Evolving Resistance

Researchers at Harvard did a clever thing. They created a giant plate on which to grow bacteria, and included in the plate increasing concentrations of an antibiotic as you moved toward the center. They then plated bacteria on the outer edges and made a time-lapse video of the bacteria growing.

The end result was a video showing the evolution of progressive antibiotic resistance in the bacteria. You can actually see adaptive radiation, as the bacteria push up against the boundary to the next higher concentration of antibiotics, then multiple locations start to spawn new colonies spreading in the next zone.

The researcher made some more nuanced observations as well. For example, the bacterial grow slowed with new mutations, meaning they sacrificed something with the resistance mutation, but then they sped up again as they further evolved. Further, the most resistant bacteria were often not at the leading edge but were stuck behind less resistant bacteria.

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729 responses so far

Aug 05 2016

Mike Pence Does Not Understand Evolution

Pence-EvolutionIt is my universal experience, after more than thirty years of confronting various forms of evolution denial or creationism, that creationists simply do not understand evolution. If any do understand it, they pretend not to. I guess they have no choice – they are motivated to deny an established scientific theory. They need to pretend they know better than the world’s experts, or that the world’s experts are lying and deceitful.

Mike Pence is a run-of-the-mill creationist. His denial of evolution is unremarkable and unimaginative, but now he is running for Vice President so his views serve as a ripe target for criticism. In a speech before the House he decided, for some reason, to go on a rant against evolution. For those who are interested, it is a good opportunity to play “name that logical fallacy” and you may want to watch the video and count the errors before reading ahead.

Pretty much everything Mike Pence says in the speech is wrong or misleading, except for trivial facts. He starts by setting the stage with Darwin publishing On the Origin of Species and presenting the theory of evolution. That evolution is just a “theory” is a main theme of his speech, which I will get to in a moment, but first he follows up by saying that Darwin expected his theory to be proven correct by the fossil record. He concludes that Darwin did not live to see this happen, and neither have we.

Is Evolutionary Theory Proven? Continue Reading »

1,049 responses so far

Apr 08 2016

Answering Creationist’s Unanswerable Questions

creationist-videoPointing out how completely illogical and unscientific are creationists is something I need to do on a regular basis here. A creationist who regularly trolls the SGU Facebook page recently posted this video, which is a great opportunity to meet my creationist debunking quota.

Like all creationist propaganda, the video does not make any serious or legitimate scientific points. The purpose is just to provide a plausible screen for denying one of the most solid scientific facts every established – that life on Earth is the product of organic evolution.

The video is a collection of “gotcha” ambushes of students and scientists, asking them loaded questions that defy a simple answer (because first you would have to unpack all the false assumptions in the question itself). It’s natural to pause after such a question, while considering how best to approach it. The segments often cut out after the initial partial response followed by a “gotcha” follow up statement by the interviewer.

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17 responses so far

Feb 11 2016

The Purpose of “Academic Freedom” Laws is to Promote Creationism

Published by under Creationism/ID

formbyEver since the theory of evolution won over the scientific community and became the established consensus scientific opinion, creationists have fought a cultural and legal war against it. They failed to win the scientific war, and they continue to do so.

This is not an uncommon tactic – if you lose in the arena of science, evidence, or facts, then fight in the arena of public opinion or regulation. Pseudoscientists are unfortunately savvy to this tactic.

In the case of evolution, creationists tried banning its teaching outright, which was eventually struck down as unconstitutional. So they demanded equal time, which was eventually struck down as unconstitutional (teaching religion as science in public schools). So they tried to disguise creationism as intelligent design, which didn’t fool anyone.

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106 responses so far

Jan 05 2016

Creationists and Academic Freedom

Published by under Creationism/ID

berlin specimenThis is old news, but attention is being freshly paid to the issue of creationists using academic freedom as an excuse to teach creationism in public schools, in violation of the First Amendment. This attention is due to an anonymous whistle-blower from the Discovery Institute confirming what everyone already knew.

According to reports:

“Critical thinking, critical analysis, teach the controversy, academic freedom—these are words that stand for legitimate pedagogical approaches and doctrines in the fields of public education and public education policy,” said the former Discovery Institute employee. “That is why DI co-opts them. DI hollows these words out and fills them with their own purposes; it then passes them off to the public and to government as secular, pedagogically appropriate, and religiously neutral.”

Whether or not you believe this anonymous source, the DiscoTute has objectively caused a lot of mischief. They authored model anti-evolution laws that have been used in various states, including successfully in Louisiana.

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103 responses so far

Sep 24 2015

44 Reasons Creationists Are Deceptive further cont.

This is the third post dealing with a recent aggregation of old creationist arguments that has been making the rounds on social media, 44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults.  The author, Michael Snyder, has shown a typical level of horrific scholarship and reasoning. Post 1 is here, and post 2 is here.

In the last article I discussed the claim that the Coelacanth is a “living fossil” (a term I despise because it is ripe for confusion). Essentially Snyder and other creationists treat the Coelacanth as if it is a specific species, when in fact it is an order of fish. An order surviving for hundreds of millions of years is not at all unusual.

In the next of Snyder’s reasons he commits the same mistake:

#18 According to evolutionists, the Ancient Greenling Damselfly last showed up in the fossil record about 300 million years ago.  But it still exists today.  So why hasn’t it evolved at all over the time frame?

This claim is entirely wrong, demonstrating sloppy research. Actually I suspect that Snyder did no research (and here I am just referring to looking up reliable references). He seems to have just swallowed a creationist meme whole from the Institute for Creation Research, specifically an article by their “science writer” Brian Thomas.

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31 responses so far

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