Archive for September, 2007

Sep 13 2007

Ten Major Flaws of Evolution – A Refutation

This was sent to me in response to my recent posts about intelligent design. I could not find a point-by-point refutation on the web (although each point has been refuted countless time) so decided to compile one.

by Randy Alcorn (with additional editing by Jim Darnall). I wrote the following article many years ago, but it needed to be thoroughly revised and updated. Thanks to Jim Darnall for adding some important new information.

  1. The complexity of living systems could never evolve by chance—they had to be designed and created. A system that is irreducibly complex has precise components working together to perform the basic function of the system. (A mousetrap is a simple example.) If any part of that system were missing, the system would cease to function. Gradual additions could not account for the origin of such a system. It would have to come together fully formed and integrated. Many living systems exhibit this (vision, blood-clotting, etc.). When you look at a watch, you assume there was a watchmaker. A watch is too complex to “happen” by chance. Yet such living systems are almost infinitely more complex than a watch. They could not be random—they simply had to be designed and created.

This statement is not an argument at all, but merely an assertion. It is simply asserting what appears to be the point of this list of supposed arguments – that evolution through natural forces is impossible. But it contains many implied claims. It refers to irreducible complexity and gives the examples of vision and blood clotting. It does not address the century and a half old refutation of this argument – that biological systems could have evolved from simpler systems that were functional but served a different purpose from their current one. Further, all the examples (stated here and elsewhere) of supposed irreducibly complex systems have been shown to have simpler antecedents.

The statement also implies that evolution is “random.” This is false. Mutations are random, and variation may be random, but natural selection is decidedly not random, and therefore evolution is not random. Evolution is the non-random survival of those traits that provide an advantage to survival and reproduction in the current environment. Evolution is a designing force.

The watch analogy is not valid because a watch is an inanimate object. Biological evolution occurs within systems that are self-reproducing and contain variation and differential survival and reproduction. Life can use energy to grow, reproduce, and therefore evolve. Watches do not.

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Sep 12 2007

Is Politics All in the Brain?

Published by under Blogroll,Neuroscience

Over the last few decades there have been a number of studies looking at the neurology of political affiliation. This week Nature Neuroscience published a very interesting study looking at this very question. What they found is that self-identified liberals have a greater capacity for what neuroscientists call conflict resolution than self-identified conservatives.

The study had subjects rate themselves from -5 (very liberal) to +5 (very conservative) and then gave them tasks that involve waiting for the letter “M” to appear on a computer screen and then hitting a key. However, 20% of the time the letter “W” appeared instead. This is a “Go – No Go” task – it requires the subject to wait for the proper stimulus, but also be able to inhibit the response if the wrong stimulus appears. What they found is that liberals were better at not responding to the W’s than conservatives, and this correlated to activity in the relevant brain structures.

The study itself is very narrow in terms of the data it generated, but of course it invites wild speculation. Does this mean that liberals are more adaptive to change and comfortable with the unknown, while conservatives are more rigid and inflexible? Maybe. But the more we try to extrapolate to complex ideology or behavior from such a simple task the shakier our conclusions become, and the more cautious we have to be.

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Sep 10 2007

NeuroLogica’s New Look

Published by under Blogroll,General

As many of you have undoubtedly noticed, my older blog entries tend to get overwhelmed with spam comments (spam, by the way, is one of the few pure evils in our world). Attempts at fixing this problem with our prior blog software were unsuccessful, so we moved the blog over to WordPress – a more tried and true blog application with real anti-spam functionality.

Hopefully the transition will be seamless. Our goal is to port over all the old posts, keep all the links the same, keep the real comments and delete all the spam comments.

Thanks to my webmaster (and brother) Jay for donating his time to this project.

Note: The RSS feed has changed, so click on the RSS button at the bottom of the page to update your RSS feeder.

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Sep 10 2007

Alzheimer’s and Seizures

Published by under Neuroscience

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia – a chronic progressive decline in global cognitive ability. It is an actual disease, in that it is a specific pathophysiological entity. In other words, it is not defined only by a clinical syndrome, but also by specific pathological findings in the brain. The two most important pathological findings are the presence of beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. (As an aside, in practice most patients with this type of dementia are diagnosed clinically with Alzheimer’s-type dementia. The Diagnosis of AD requires a brain biopsy or autopsy, the former is rarely done because there is no benefit to doing so.)

Reports about new findings in AD come out almost weekly – it is a complex and well-studied disease. Very few of the findings translate into a change in medical practice – the incorporation of a new diagnostic tool or treatment. It remains to be seen, therefore, if the latest findings will remain a curiosity or change the way AD is treated.

Lennart Mucke and his colleagues published in Neuron their research on the possible role of seizures in AD. They looked at a mouse model of AD (human amyloid precursor protein (hAPP) transgenic mice) to answer some questions to which careful observation and thoughtful reflection had led them. They noticed that AD brains show some of the same pathological changes that can occur following a seizure. It was known that one of the consequences of the destruction of AD is that remaining neurons may form aberrant networks – as neurons die the wiring becomes faulty. They speculated that maybe these aberrant networks lead to seizures that in turn cause further damage and contribute to the progression of AD.

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Sep 06 2007

Why ID Should Not be Taught in Science Class

Published by under Creationism/ID

I am glad that my post from Tuesday has sparked so much debate and discussion and that many of my readers have so capably dealt with the pseudoscientific claims put before them. John, who is bravely if not adequately holding up his end, has raised many invalid points – too many to deal with. To further the discussion I will pick out one comment in which John clipped an article from prominent ID’er Jonathan Wells from the Discovery Institute. The article is hopelessly flawed in every argument it attempts to make, and all of his points have been thoroughly refuted. I will choose a few to demonstrate the level of intellectual dishonesty vs scientific incompetence with which we are dealing.

Wells writes:

“Similarly, the only scientific way to demonstrate that similarities in living things are due to common ancestry would be to identify the natural mechanism that produced them. According to Darwin’s theory, that mechanism is natural selection.”

This is one of the main thrusts of the article – that all the evidence for evolution rests on proving natural selection as the mechanism. This is a common ploy of deniers – try to boil down a complex set of independent lines of evidence and arguments to a single claim, and then attack that claim. Unfortunately for Wells, this strategy is false and therefore forces him to make unsound arguments.

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Sep 04 2007

Answering the ID Crowd

Published by under Creationism/ID

From time to time I will post a blog entry that is a response to an e-mail question or comment sent to me. I choose those e-mails that I feel reflect common and typical beliefs in the public, are representative of the e-mails I receive on the topic, or that provide a window into the propaganda and “framing” that is being foist upon the public. Part of the mission of this blog is to promote the public understanding of science, so while high level debates among experts in an area are extremely useful, addressing questions from the public are likely to promote this mission more effective.

Today I received an e-mail from one John Foster in South Korea that I simply could not resist taking apart because it deals with one of my favorite topics – evolution and ID, with some philosophy of science thrown in. He begins:

In what sense is Intelligent Design not science? We’re not talking about creationism. If your point is that ID is not falsifiable then are you willing to toss out theories such as Darwinism, black holes, string theory, Chaos theory, and so on.

You have to admire the density of logical fallacies and false premises in this letter. Creationism is a well-worn pseudoscience. Its rhetoric is finely crafted nonsense – which translates into densely packed error. Let’s take it piece by piece.

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Sep 02 2007

More on Huckabee and Skepticism

Thanks for all the thoughtful responses to my previous post – they are worth a follow up. I think part of the reason for the vigorous response is that I attempted in the post to turn the critical eye of skepticism back on skeptics. Often skeptics spend their time (myself included) shooting fish in a barrel – analyzing the worst of the absurd claims in the public. This is extremely useful, in my opinion, but is often akin to a prize-fighter street fighting with weak and hapless thugs. We need to balance this with mainstream issues and taking on more serious thinkers with whom we disagree. Further, we need to spar with each other to keep our skills honed.

Beyond mere intellectual exercise, criticism and argument are priceless tools for improving our own opinions and understanding. One of my primary goals with this blog, as with the SGU and the skeptical movement as a whole, is to make skeptics better skeptics (and that includes me). My last post was definitely designed to serve this purpose.

There are a few specific issues that were raised that I would like to address directly. Daedalus2u correctly pointed out that faulty reasoning can sometimes lead to a conclusion that happens to be correct – but the reasoning is still faulty and deserves to be criticized. I agree, and I tried to express this when I wrote about Huckabee that: “He was one of three Republican candidates who indicated that they do not accept the scientific consensus of evolution – and this was reflected in his statements and should be soundly criticized.”

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