Marriage is between people, not disparate ideas

There are a couple of articles floating around about a new site run by Francis Collins and Karl Giberson

Our Mission: Faith and science both lead us to truth about God and creation. The BioLogos Foundation promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives.

It’s just another accomodationist point of view. These people want to marry science and religion. It’s politically very tactful: people don’t like extremes, so taking a sort of middle-road is very appealing. Beside that, many people know enough to realize that biologists aren’t lying when they say evolution underscores all of biology but they don’t know enough to recognize they should reject their particular cultural god(s).

But here’s the kicker. These people aren’t really middle-of-the-roaders. They are creationists gussied up once again. They aren’t concerned with science at all. What they want to do is twist established fact to fit their preconceived worldview, science be damned. Let’s call these people what they really are: the New Creationists.

Simon Conway Morris presents a different perspective, arguing humans, or a human-like species, are actually an inevitable part of evolution. Morris is not proposing a different mechanism for human evolution, merely a different observation of its possible outcomes. Morris would agree that any slight difference in the history of human DNA would result in a different evolutionary path. Unlike Gould, however, Morris argues each of those possible pathways would inevitably lead to something like the human species. Morris writes:

“The prevailing view of evolution is that life has no direction — no goals, no predictable outcomes. Hedged in by circumstances and coincidence, the course of life lurches from one point to another. It is pure chance that 3 billion years of evolution on Earth have produced a peculiarly clever ape. We may find distant echoes of our aptitude for tool making and language and our relentless curiosity in other animals, but intelligence like ours is very special. Right?”

“Wrong! The history of life on Earth appears impossibly complex and unpredictable, but take a closer look and you’ll find a deep structure. Physics and chemistry dictate that many things simply are not possible, and these constraints extend to biology. The solution to a particular biological problem can often only be handled in one of a few ways, which is why when you examine the tapestry of evolution you see the same patterns emerging over and over again.” 4

The patterns Morris mentions are also referred to as convergences in the evolutionary process. In his most recent book, Life’s Solution, Morris gives many examples of physical traits or abilities found repeatedly among different species.5 Normally, such similarities are understood asthe result of common ancestry. However, the species in Morris’s examples are known to be distantly related. In many cases, not even these species’ common ancestor shared the same trait. The implication is that several different species have independently developed similar traits.

There is just so much wrong here. First of all, this is saying the roads of evolution are limited, thus humans (or something similar to humans) were inevitable. This is only true if one is to start from a certain, late point. An ape, for example, is limited to being a mammal for many thousands, even millions of years. It is bound to the land for a significant period of time. But go far enough down the line and it isn’t possible to count the possibilities of ape evolution. Taking this principle, we can walk back in time. Deep time. Three and a half billion years ago, eukaryotes weren’t inevitable. Hell, four billion years ago and life wasn’t inevitable, much less humans. It’s an absurd argument being peddled that is designed to harm the atheist position while strengthening creationists. This isn’t about marrying science and religion at all; it’s about propping up religion at the expense of actual science.

Second, this is saying that because similar features have evolved again and again and not as a result of common ancestory, this is evidence for limited pathways in evolution. This doesn’t speak to any of that goobbity-goop. What this says is that natural selection has a tendency to take common initial pathways and make similar structures. The eye is a good example. This website, being a creationist site, naturally abuses the example of eye, so I hope I can fix that a bit.

The eye has evolved independently about 40 times. This doesn’t mean that the eye is absolutely inevitable. If it did, then we should see more species with eyes. What we actually see is an entire planet with the same basis for life – DNA. From this DNA, we see cells. In eukaryotes, we see certain similarities with Vitamin-A parts of molecules in all eyed animals. In addition, most animals (regardless of whether or not they have eyes) have photoreceptor cells. All it really takes for an eye to evolve is a small pit, indent, or even surface area for these cells to rest. Having just a tiny bit of vision can give enormous benefits to any animal. Some squid, for example, have eyespots which allow them to detect the wavelengths of light. This helps them ‘know’ (they have no brains, only nervous systems) in which direction to go. Say a certain shade of green is common on the sea floor, which is where the squids food source (let’s say) lives. Being able to decipher between green and other shades is beneficial. Natural selection will favor those with better green detection. Going further, other animals can develop the same basic idea through mutation yet evolve it in completely different ways at completely different times. This isn’t evidence for some things being so improbable that ‘God done it’. It’s evidence for common chemistry and biology being molded by the far-from-improbable mechanism of natural selection.

Worth repeating

Via PZ Myers

Via PZ

The valuable points

PZ Myers has a post about the people who are obsessed with making science out to be the accommodating factor for religion. It simply isn’t true and I want to emphasis an important point; this can’t be repeated enough.

Funny thing is, in those situations (as well as in the classroom) I just focus on telling the story of the evidence. That is our strength, right? I don’t have to announce that the Book of Genesis is wrong and silly, but I also don’t have to go out of my way to tell them some pretty excuse to allow them to continue to believe in talking snakes. And if I’m asked, I tell them straightforwardly that literal religious accounts are falsified by the evidence.

The most important (implicit) point here, I think, is that science is not approached from a theistic or atheistic point of view. Of course, it best supports an atheistic view point (with at least a worthwhile case being made for a deistic view), but that doesn’t mean that atheism is assumed in science. It simply isn’t. Science influences our philosophies and religions; it should never be the other way around. The only philosophy that should influence science is the one that says evidence matters above all else. Of course, that can be applied to just about anything. The big difference between science and “just about anything” is that scientists actually do apply that philosophy.

It is interesting. I think a lot of people recognize that no philosophy is more important than that one. That’s why creationists are always trying to claim the prestige of science. First it started with the de facto assumption that science supported particular gods. Then it moved to the term “creation science”. When that failed, “intelligent design” was introduced (or rather, reintroduced – it’s just a rehashing of Paley’s Watchmaker). Now there’s a mesh of ID and out-and-out lying. Creationists want science to support their inane views because they know the very word “science” lends credit to any idea. BS diet pills, penis extension pills/creams, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and other kooks/kook companies will always slap “clinically proven” or talk about the “science” of their fields because they realize the exact same thing.

But the creationists are fundamentally flawed. They don’t actually follow any evidence. Most creationists either have no college education or have no education in biology. They can’t follow the evidence because they don’t understand the evidence. Wholly, it’s frustrating. Every week I gain a new detail in one of my biology courses, I recognize that it would make absolutely no sense without evolution. That paper by Theodosius Dobzhansky titled “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” held only a rhetorical position in my mind many years ago. As I’ve grown to better appreciate the immensity of the evidence for evolution, I find myself saying it with meaning at least once a week.

And here’s the big kicker. My atheism hasn’t once influenced any of my thoughts on evolution. It doesn’t work that way. Evolution influences my atheism (though doesn’t force it). Imagine for a moment an experiment. Let’s take the Lenski experiments. Can anyone name me the point where atheism or theism influenced anything here? It isn’t possible. Why? Because science is not approached from those point of views. How could Lenksi? “Well, God must exist, so my result must reflect that. Instead of describing just my scientific methods, I will attribute any results to prayer.” Reversing that for an atheistic point of view is equally non-sensical.

Science should never be harmed for the sake of a point of view. It is the best representation of the truth that is available to anyone. Purely for that reason – that it is true – it should be held in regard far above any theisms or lack thereof.

A major hurdle for creationists

Just a quick observation: anytime scientists carry out experiments which demonstrate an evolutionary process, creationists are quick to screech “B-b-but people did those experiments! People direct things, thus everything must be directed!”

It’s dumb and needs to stop. It doesn’t follow logically. That’s probably precisely why creationists love to screech it.

The uncanniness of Darwin

Scientists make an otter-like fossil discovery.

They named the creature Puijila darwini (“pew-YEE-lah dar-WIN-eye”). That combines an Inuit word for “young sea mammal,” often a seal, with an homage to Charles Darwin. The famed naturalist had written that a land animal “by occasionally hunting for food in shallow water, then in streams or lakes, might at last be converted into an animal so thoroughly aquatic as to brave the open ocean.”

Good call

Another anti-science Bush position falls.

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it would accept, not appeal, a federal judge’s order that lifts Bush administration restrictions limiting over-the-counter sales of “Plan B” to women 18 and older. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman ruled last month in a lawsuit filed in New York that President George W. Bush’s appointees let politics, not science, drive their decision to restrict over-the-counter access.

This is good news. Bush’s wholly wrong politics were harming what should have been yet another good result of good science.

Plan B is emergency contraception that contains a high dose of birth control drugs and will not interfere with an established pregnancy. It works by preventing ovulation or fertilization. In medical terms, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus.

If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, it can reduce a woman’s chances of pregnancy by as much as 89 percent.

Critics of the contraceptive say Plan B is the equivalent of an abortion pill because it can prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus. Recent research suggests that’s possible but not likely.

Plan B prevents fertilization. Abortion is defined as acting after fertilization. For instance, God should be known as the number 1 abortionists by those who believe he exists.

Conservatives, as usual, get this wrong. They suggest that this is about parental rights while, again, asserting an exalted state of reverence for a grouping of a few differeniated cells. I personally think the walking, breathing, thinking, highly conscious women should have rights, not a couple cells, but hey, I’m just reasonable. I know that isn’t the conservative motif.

In reality, parents should have no place in making these decisions with their children who are of age to have sex. The state says they’re responsible enough to do that, then they must be responsible enough to deal with all the surrounding factors that come with it. Of course, going beyond that, this medicine is approved for over-the-counter use. As long as parents have no say in their children’s ability to buy Tylenol, they should have no say in their ability to buy Plan B.

Opponents, including prominent conservatives, counter that it would encourage promiscuity and might even become a tool for criminals running prostitution rings, as well as for sexual predators.

These people are eminently stupid. Let’s ban condoms, the pill, and the pull-out method, too. Clearly, the pimp business should dictate science.

C'mon Yahoo

Yahoo! has an article from which talks about a Hubble image of three interacting galaxies known as Arp 194. Upon reading the article, I noticed there was a picture of the winner of the recent Hubble contest. Naturally, I assumed I was reading an article about that galactic trio. But then I realized the name of that image was Arp 274, not the Arp 194 mentioned in the third graf. So what was going on? Well, it’s pretty simple. Yahoo! took the Arp 274 image and placed it – misleadingly – next to the article about Arp 194. No misreading. No misinterpretation. No mistake on my part. Yahoo! just decided to put up an incorrect picture. Next they’ll talk about the president and put up an image of Jefferson.

Anyway, here’s the image that was being discussed.


C’mon Yahoo

Yahoo! has an article from which talks about a Hubble image of three interacting galaxies known as Arp 194. Upon reading the article, I noticed there was a picture of the winner of the recent Hubble contest. Naturally, I assumed I was reading an article about that galactic trio. But then I realized the name of that image was Arp 274, not the Arp 194 mentioned in the third graf. So what was going on? Well, it’s pretty simple. Yahoo! took the Arp 274 image and placed it – misleadingly – next to the article about Arp 194. No misreading. No misinterpretation. No mistake on my part. Yahoo! just decided to put up an incorrect picture. Next they’ll talk about the president and put up an image of Jefferson.

Anyway, here’s the image that was being discussed.


More exoplanets

They keep findin’ ’em.

In the search for Earth-like planets, astronomers zeroed in Tuesday on two places that look awfully familiar to home. One is close to the right size. The other is in the right place.

European researchers said they not only found the smallest exoplanet ever, called Gliese 581 e, but realized that a neighboring planet discovered earlier, Gliese 581 d, was in the prime habitable zone for potential life.

While Gliese 581 e is too hot for life “it shows that nature makes such small planets, probably in large numbers,” Marcy commented. “Surely the galaxy contains tens of billions of planets like the small, Earth-mass one announced here.”

I don’t think most people recognize the significance of science like this. Scientists will never find themselves short of planets to observe. Our small, insignificant star has 8 planets around it. Assuming the average star has only 1 planet in its orbit, that’s still trillions of planets. The number is probably less than 1 per star, I’d guess, but who knows? It’s at least certainly unfathomably high. A small fraction per star would still yield a huge number; there are more stars in the Universe than grains of sands on all the beaches of Earth. Not enough people appreciate that fact.

The Cosmological Anthropic Principle

This isn’t an argument for theists.

The creationist argument goes, the Universe appears fine-tuned for life. Take away any cosmological constant and the Universe is radically different, probably amorphous. It must have been God. This explains nothing. It is the exact same argument they use for explaining complexity (and everything else). All this does is push back the explanation one step. That is, creationists try to explain the immense complexity of life by proposing something necessarily more complex. That begs the question. The anthropic principle isn’t any better: we want to explain how life came to be. The idea proposes that God did it. Okay, well, now let’s explain God. It would be like asking for an explanation of how bread gets to the grocery store. Saying the truck driver brought it still leaves the question open.