The end of evolution this year? I don’t think so.

June 8, 2012 • 5:02 am

Alert reader Atom called my attention to this article from the “education” section of the conservative site WorldNetDaily (WND): “Evolution to fall in 2012?”  While the site is conservative, it’s still surprising that it would go after one of the best-established and best-documented theories in biology: evolution.

Their article takes off from the recent Gallup Poll on Americans’ views on evolution, emphasizing the slight uptick in young-earth creationists (up 6% since the last poll, but identical to the figure from 2006), while ignoring the long-term rise of 6% (since 1982) in those who accept purely naturalistic evolution). Now polls don’t determine scientific truth, but the lack of substantial increase in evolution-acceptance over the last thirty years is indeed distressing.

Based on this, and several other reasons, WND sees 2012 as The Year That the Theory of Evolution Will Die:

1. A well-known religious apologist says that there’s no evidence for evolution.

Carl Gallups, author of “The Magic Man in the Sky: Effectively Defending the Christian Faith,” says the trend is not surprising

“The more that real science – science that is truly observable, demonstrable, repeatable, and falsifiable is set forth with modern technological means and experimentation, the more evolution proposition is found ‘wanting,’” Gallups told WND. “People are just not buying the drivel of much of the pseudoscience of evolution that is attempted by the academic community to be passed off as absolute, settled science. Many foundational matters of evolution proposition simply do not meet the definition of ‘settled science.’ I think most people are intelligent enough to figure this out.”

Here are what I see as foundational principles of evolution:

  • Evolution (genetic change in populations) occurred
  • Life originated about 3.5 billion years ago and the original lineage and its descendants split many times, leading to the millions of species alive on Earth today and the many more who have gone extinct
  • (The flip side of the above point): those millions of species have common ancestors, so that any pair of species, no matter what they are, had a common ancestor  at some time in the past.
  • Evolutionary change involves the gradual (that is, over tens to millions of years) transformation of populations; it is not instantaneous nor do individuals themselves evolve
  • The appearance of design in nature is the result of natural selection

All of these propositions are regarded as “settled science,” not in the form of absolute truths—we don’t have those in science—but as propositions supported by so much evidence that you’ve have to be either a moron, perverse, or blinkered by faith to doubt them.

2. Gallups says that life is too complex to have evolved:

We also are understanding the decreasing statistical chances that all 20 million species of life, and their subsystems and sub-subsystems, and the necessity for their interconnectedness, could have arrived here by an accidental and random beginning in some magical, unobserved, never-recreated soup – as the evolutionists would have us to believe.”

The 20 million species did not arise by an accidental and random beginning, but largely through a process (natural selection) that is a combination of chance and determinism. The invocation of pure chance or randomness alone is a common creationist lie.

And yes, we don’t yet know exactly how life arose, but once it did we have a pretty good idea of how it evolved, and an excellent idea of when different groups arose or went extinct. I suspect that we’ll never know for sure how life arose, but I also suspect that in a few decades we’ll have a good idea.  At any rate, invoking God for the origin of life is worse than saying “we don’t yet know.” The former is arrogant, the latter humble.

3. We don’t have transitional fossils.

Gallups offered the following as examples of his assertion: “The missing link between chimps and man has still not been found. Really! In over 150 years of desperately looking for it, we have no such fossil evidence. If evolution were true, we should have many such pieces of verifiable fossil evidence. Instead, we have none.”

He continued, “Not one scientifically verifiable transitional fossil has been discovered proving that one kind of living thing eventually becomes another kind of living thing.”

He apparently hasn’t seen the australopithecines. Nor has he seen the transitional fossils between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and birds, between reptiles and mammals, and between terrestrial artiodactyls and their whale descendants.  What Gallups says above is simply a lie, and he knows it’s a lie.

But is the best one by far:

4. We need to eat other living creatures, ergo Jesus.  Yes, you heard it right.  Gallups tenders one of the most bizarre attacks on evolution I’ve ever heard: The Argument from Eating:

When we ingest other living things, the DNA of those living things (fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, etc.) just happens to be compatible with our DNA so that cellular respiration can take place. If it were not for the fact that our DNA is so akin to all other living things, we could not eat. If we could not eat, we would die.

Is the process of eating and cellular respiration the result of a mere fluke of evolution? Alternatively, could it be that a common Designer made certain that the process of eating and cellular respiration would function in such a precise and perfect manner? Which answer appears to be the most probable to you?

If the supposed cosmic and random happenstance of evolution was the real reason that all living things exist, why, when, and how did this happenstance mechanism decide that living things needed to eat anything in the first place? Would it not be odd that evolution should come up with the idea of food and energy creation through cellular respiration?

Cellular respiration is an astoundingly complex, energy-expending system. Yet in order for life to be sustained, living things must have other living things to ingest. What an odd thing for a mere cosmic coincidence to develop, by random generation. Is it not a strange convenience for evolution that all living things have such unimaginable DNA similarity that cellular respiration is possible?

Do I really need to refute this? Animals and plants cannot develop from seed or zygote to adults without an input of energy, either through photosynthesis, chemosynthesis or ingestion of other organic matter.  You cannot build a body made of protein, DNA, and other biochemicals without ingesting the building blocks of those biochemicals, which means you can’t live on dirt or rocks. And if you’re going to eat plants or other animals, you’ll have to evolve a way to metabolize the stuff in their bodies.

(By the way, Mr. Gallups, DNA is only a very, very tiny component of what is metabolized when one thing eats another. Get your facts straight. And the DNA doesn’t have to be “compatible,” only able to be digested. Further, some organisms have a diet that has hardly any DNA. Red blood cells of mammals lack DNA, but vampire bats and mosquitoes do nicely on them.)

Happenstance mechanisms don’t “decide” anything: they just happen. And if you think cellular respiration and metabolism can’t be mere flukes of evolution, have a look at the complexity of a whale. No, that whale (and its own “mere flukes”) can’t have evolved either—except that have the fossils that show it did.

The reason Americans don’t accept evolution is not that they’re dumb or ignorant of the evidence. Mr. Gallups is neither.  The reason is that they’re so determined to hold onto their faith that they’ll make any argument, however stupid, to discredit the biggest faith-killer in all of science: Darwinism. It’s no coincidence that these moronic (and long-refuted) arguments are made by a man who is an inveterate Christian.

And I’ll bet Gallups a thousand dollars that in five years the theory of evolution will be at least as strong as it is now. Shame on WorldNetDaily for feeding its readers lies in truth’s clothing.

Rhino horn thieves foiled!

August 28, 2011 • 11:12 am

by Greg Mayer

Jerry has called attention to the problem of theft of rhino horns from museums and other collections in Europe, citing a NY Times piece from Friday. Officials at the Natural History Museum at Tring (Lord Rothschild‘s former private museum) were aware of the problem, and ready for it. Thieves broke into the Museum early Saturday morning, and made off with two horns, but the horns were fakes! As the BBC put it:

Unfortunately for them [the thieves], staff at the Hertfordshire museum were aware of the string of thefts from other museums and auction houses, and had swapped the real rhino horns for carefully crafted fakes, almost indistinguishable from the real thing. And totally worthless.

Here’s one of the afflicted rhinos:

Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) at the Tring Musuem, from which thieves removed a fake horn. Photo issued by Natural History Museum.

The real horns are safe at the museum. The Associated Press provides a further account.

Snake oil in the New York Times

June 21, 2011 • 8:03 am

by Greg Mayer

Perhaps just by coincidence, today’s New York Times features two articles concerning snake oil: one about an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art of posters promoting dubious remedies, and the other about the relationship between Senator Snake Oil, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and the “nutritional supplement” industry.

William H. Helfand Collection/Philadelphia Museum of Art

The exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art features a selection of striking and colorful posters from the William H. Helfand Collection that advertise a variety of patent medicines and mostly questionable nostrums (a number of them are shown on the Times and Museum websites). Sen. Hatch is infamous as the primary sponsor of the “Snake Oil Salesman’s Relief Act of 1994”, which exempted “nutritional supplements” from the requirements of safety and efficacy of the pure food and drug laws. As the Times‘ story details, he has been well remunerated by the industry for his continuing support. Supplement manufacturers are not supposed to claim that supplements cure disease, but they try to skate the line (and sometimes cross over it, as shown in the article) by making vague claims of improving function or energy, and adding very small print disclaimers that say the FDA has not checked any of their claims. Orac at Respectful Insolence follows the supplement industry’s shenanigans fairly regularly.

Good, bad, and ugly

February 16, 2011 • 7:00 am

First, The bad: Vatican brother Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer much beloved of John Kw-k, spoke yesterday at Winona State University in Minnesota. His topic: “Astronomy, God, and the search for elegance.” I don’t have a transcript of his talk, but the pre-talk publicity was dire, for Consolmagno had the temerity to draw unfavorable comparisons between cats and humans:

His combined religious and scientific vocations give him the opportunity to consider “the big questions” — “the mysteries you breathe in and ponder.”

“These are human questions,” he said, pointing out that “my cat never asked these questions. My cat never wanted to look through a telescope.”

Seeking answers to questions of how the universe works and how we came to be part of it are distinctly human activities, “like doing a dance or making a painting or doing all the things that cats don’t do.”

So what? Consolmagno never wanted to catch a bird or bask in the sun on a roof.

The supposed conflict between religion and science really doesn’t exist, Consolmagno said. “Science grew out of religion.”

Historically, the church has fostered science and the academic life, he pointed out, and churchmen have been in the forefront of scientific advancement — in fact the originator of the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe was a priest [JAC: Georges Lemaitre].

“There is nothing in the Bible opposing evolution,” he pointed out, “but there is something in the Bible against astrology.” . .

. . To apply a modern reading to a 2,000 year old text “does violence to the text,” Consolmagno said, “and that’s not me saying it, it’s Augustine saying it.”

God, I am so sick of hearing about Augustine the Hippo.  And what about all those theologians who were more literalist? Why is Augustine singled out and the others ignored?  And, of course, Augustine believed in predestination, but Consolmagno conveniently omits that. But what do you expect from someone who denigrates cats in public?

The Ugly:  Deepity Chopra! On the CNN “Belief” blog, he writes “Science and religion should be friends.” Deepity isn’t worth wasting much time on (although he’s rich—a severe indictment of America), but the piece contains, besides the usual atheist-bashing, LOLz like this:

Outside the view of the general public, science has reached a critical point. The physical building blocks of the universe have gradually vanished; that is, atoms and quarks no longer seem solid at all but are actually clouds of energy, which in turn disappear into the void that seems to be the source of creation.

Was mind also born in the same place outside space and time? Is the universe conscious? Do genes depend on quantum interactions? Science aims to understand nature down to its very essence, and now these once radical questions, long dismissed as unscientific, are unavoidable.

Yep, I’m gonna get right on the question of whether genes “depend on quantum interactions.”

And, The Good: a strident atheist article at HuffPo—and not by Vic Stenger, either! It’s by Frank Schaeffer, ex-evangelical Christian and author of the book Crazy for God, and his piece is called “We need freedom from religion no just freedom of religion.”  The piece isn’t written all that well, and jumps around all over the place, but hey, it’s amazing that something like this even appears in the Religion section of the Website of Boobs and Woo:

Would the IRS give al Qaeda tax-deductable status?

Then why does the Roman Catholic Church, which has done so little to make up for the pedophilia abuses, have that status? Why do the Scientologists? Why do countless fundamentalist Protestant schools that are more like madrassas than schools as most of us understand the term? Why aren’t parents who kill their children for God not serving life sentences? If The New Yorker article is true, why aren’t the leaders of Scientology in jail? Why wasn’t Cardinal Law prosecuted?

Answer: Because of our crazy ideas about religious freedom that on so many fronts trump not just common sense but the rule of law. . .

. . . The state needs to take away tax deductible status from any religious organization where child abuse is condoned (or hidden). This stripping of tax deductible status should apply to the extremist faith healing Evangelicals and pedophile enabling Catholics and to the Scientologists as well. And child abusers should be jailed be they in robes or hiding out behind “respectable” Hollywood stars.

I must admit that I see no justification for any religion (not just the nefarious ones described by Schaeffer) to get tax-exempt status in America.

h/t: Jon

Postmodern science proves eternal life

February 12, 2011 • 7:59 am

One of my friends describes HuffPo as “the Journal of Boobs and Woo,” and it keeps topping itself on both fronts.  Here’s another stupid lucubration designed to delude the casual reader.  Robert Lanza, M.D. (described as “scientist, theoretician, author”), has written a post called “Why you will always exist:  time is ‘on demand,” using quantum mechanics to prove that humans have eternal life.  Imagine the credulous reader who tunes in, only to be conned into thinking that science shows that he’ll go to heaven.

Here’s Lanza’s logic:

There is no reality external to humans.  Postmodern science!

Our entire education and language revolves around a mindset that assumes a separate universe “out there.” It’s further assumed we accurately perceive this external reality and play little or no role in its appearance.

However, starting in the ’20s, experiments have shown the opposite . .

You know where this is going: Quantum Mechanicsville!  Scientific experiments prove that observation affects reality.

The observer critically influences the outcome. The experiments have been performed so many times, with so many variations, it’s conclusively proven that a particle’s behavior depends upon the very act of observation. The results of these experiments have befuddled scientists for decades. Some of the greatest physicists have described them as impossible to intuit.

Yeah, our consciousness certainly created the ability of antibiotics to kill bacteria.  Surely every time we sequence the DNA of a human, we change the human genome.  And who can doubt that the act of watching Saturn with telescopes must surely have created its rings!

Ergo, we live forever because our finitude is simply a mental construct:

Amazingly, if we accept a life-created reality, it all becomes simple to understand, and you can explain some of the biggest puzzles of science. For instance, it becomes clear why space and time — and even the properties of matter itself — depend on the observer. Remember: You can’t see through the bone surrounding your brain. Space and time are simply the mind’s tools for putting everything together.

According to current scientific myth, all your struggles and tears are ultimately in vain. After you die and the human race is long gone, it’ll be as if nothing in your life ever existed.

Not so, says biocentrism [JAC: biocentrism is Lanza’s Big Dumb Idea]: Reality isn’t a thing, it’s a process that involves our consciousness. Life is a melody so vast and eternal that human ears can’t appreciate the tonal range of the symphony.

Indeed, for what is true of electrons must surely be true of life itself.

Lanza’s peroration is a string of deepities:

“There’s no way to remove the observer — us — from our perceptions of the world,” said Stephen Hawking. “The past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.” You, the observer, collapse these possibilities, the cascade of events we call the universe.

Our consciousness animates the universe like an old phonograph. Listening to it doesn’t alter the record, and depending on where the needle is placed, you hear a certain piece of music. This is what we call “now.” The songs before and after are the past and future. In like manner, you, your loved ones and friends (and sadly, the villains too) endure always. The record doesn’t go away. All nows exist simultaneously, although we can only listen to the songs one by one. Time is On Demand.

I have more contempt for this kind of nonsense than I do for creationism, for Lanza uses his stature as a Genuine Scientist to sell complete garbage: the idea that because electrons sometimes seem to behave as waves, and sometimes as particles, we’ll one day be together with Jesus and our dead relatives.  (Granted, Lanza doesn’t mention religion, but of course that’s where this stuff is designed to resonate.)  Lanza is like a medical doctor who puts a homeopathic nostrum—or a Catholic cracker—in a vial labelled “tetracycline.”

Here’s part of his bio, which proves that all these qualifications and encomiums don’t keep someone from writing complete nonsense when they leave their day job.

Robert Lanza is considered one of the leading scientists in the world. He is currently Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and a professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He has several hundred publications and inventions, and over two dozen scientific books: among them, Principles of Tissue Engineering, which is recognized as the definitive reference in the field. Others include One World: The Health & Survival of the Human Species in the 21st Century (Foreword by President Jimmy Carter), and the Handbook of Stem Cells and Essentials of Stem Cell Biology, which are considered the definitive references in stem cell research. Dr. Lanza received his BA and MD degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was both a University Scholar and Benjamin Franklin Scholar. He was also a Fulbright Scholar, and was part of the team that cloned the world’s first human embryo, as well as the first to clone an endangered species, to demonstrate that nuclear transfer could reverse the aging process, and to generate stem cells using a method that does not require the destruction of human embryos.

Lanza had a similar post three months ago, “Does death exist? New theory says ‘no’.”  It’s his theory, of course.

World’s oldest person dies

February 1, 2011 • 12:05 pm

Eunice Sanborn of Jacksonville, Texas, passed away today. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, she was born on July 20, 1896, making her 114 years and 195 days old. (Her family claims she was really 115.) That means she was 7 years old when the first airplane flew, and 18 years old at the beginning of World War I.

According to Wikipedia:

Sanborn credited her longevity and good health to her belief in Jesus Christ and her salvation.

Praise Him!

“Rock star of science” hurts science

December 17, 2010 • 8:24 am

Dr. Mehmet Oz is a cardiac surgeon and science/medicine popularizer who, with the backing of Oprah, got his own syndicated television program, The Dr. Oz Show.   He’s also a bestselling author and was named by Esquire as one of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century.

He’s also one of the Rock Stars of Science, an ill-conceived campaign designed to improve science communication by having scientists stand next to real rock stars, hoping that the cool will osmose between them.  Here’s Dr. Oz (right) with Keri Hilson (center):

Fig. 1:  I can haz cool too?

Sadly, Dr. Oz seems to have dropped the ball when teaching the public about genetically modified foods.  Abbie Smith (erv) called my attention to a segment of the Dr. Oz show in which he invited Dr. Pamela Ronald, UC Davis plant pathologist, GM food expert, and coauthor (with Raoul Adamchak) of Tomorrow’s Table, to debate the safety of GM foods with two other panelists, including the GM food wacko alarmist Jeffrey Smith.   Ronald tried repeatedly to make the point that there’s no evidence that GM foods endanger human health, and to refer the viewer to university websites so that they can judge the evidence, but to no avail.  Dr. Oz chimed in with the two other panelists to cast strong and unwarranted aspersions on GM foods.

Here are the three videos (15 minutes total); see in particular the segment from 4:25 to 5:00 in video 2 and 3:45 in video 3, where Dr. Oz basically claims that the data are irrelevant and we have to make judgments on GM foods more or less based on our superstititions.

Video 1

Video 2

Video 3

The show is precisely equivalent to one in which a scientist armed with data on human-caused global warming is opposed by two denialists with no data but a lot of sand to throw in the viewers’ eyes.

Over at her website, Tomorrow’s Table, Pam Ronald laments the disaster that was this episode of Dr. Oz:

Can the audience glean that from the information presented on the show? I am afraid not.

What we do know is that after 14 years of consumption there has been not a single instance of harm to human health or the environment (and many indisputable benefits).

I did my best to refute the worst “woo woo pseudoscience” but it was difficult. I asked the producers (who were very nice by the way) to remove the scary graphics and bullet points but no luck. I argued that showing that stuff would tarnish Dr. Oz’s reputation and harm his viewers (who are now probably terrified- I can just imagine my mother-in-law taking note on all the “points” made).

I had a chance to plug some great science-based, academic, non-profit sites (bioforitifed,org, and but all of my case specific examples (reduced insecticide use in GE cotton fields, enhanced biodiversity, disease resistant papaya, Golden rice) were cut from the TV version. I guess the producers did not want to mix too much scientific evidence in there with the fantastical stuff.

Boo to Dr. Oz.  I wonder if Chris Mooney, who’s been so vociferous in promoting Rock Stars of Science as a way to communicate good science to the public, will disclaim this show?  After all, he’d surely do that if one of his “rock stars” hosted a show that denied global warming.

h/t: erv (go read her take).

I swear I was Egyptian!

August 30, 2010 • 5:42 am

According to Sunday’s New York Times, belief in reincarnation is not only widespread in America—a Pew survey says that nearly one in four of us thinks we lived before—but is becoming part of mainstream psychotherapy.  A bunch of quacks now practice “past-life regressions,” in which they help their patients remember who they were in previous incarnations.  I don’t know why these “doctors,” many of whom are psychiatrists and thus have a medical degree, aren’t thrown out of the field.

Some, like Brian Weiss, have been censured, but continue to rake in the bucks through popular books and lectures. A few, like Dr. Paul DeBell, claim that they too have had past lives:

He, for example, is more than a psychiatrist in 21st-century Manhattan; he believes he is an eternal soul who also inhabited the body of a Tibetan monk and a conscientious German who refused to betray his Jewish neighbors in the Holocaust.

They’re always the good Germans, aren’t they? Why aren’t the concentration camp guards coming back? Where is Himmer’s valet?

Others, aware of sanctions, carefully hedge their claims, but they’re not fooling anyone.

“I have done several thousand individual past-life regressions,” said Ms. [Janet] Cunningham, of the International Board for Regression Therapy. “And I will also say that I don’t know where these memories come from. So when we say ‘reincarnation,’ it may be our singular soul that reincarnates again and again and again. It may be an aspect of soul energy. It may be a collective unconscious. I think some people might go into fantasy. It may be an allegory or metaphor from the mind.” No matter what these visions are, Ms. Cunningham said, uncovering them can be therapeutic.

The amusing thing is how little evidence it takes to convince these credulous loon-shrinks that someone might have had a past life:

Dr. [Brian] Weiss stresses that he is a medical doctor who was not expecting to encounter past lives in a conventional therapeutic setting. (His favorite title, he says, is not “guru” but “professor.”) Under hypnosis, Catherine, the patient in his book, had memories of times and places, and in such extraordinary and historically accurate detail, he said, that she could never have invented them. (In one life she is an Egyptian servant in charge of embalming corpses. “I see eyes,” she told Dr. Weiss under hypnosis. “I see a woman, a goddess, with some type of a headpiece on … Osiris … Sirus … something like that.”) . . .

I’d be more convinced if the woman suddenly became fluent in Middle Egyptian.

. . . Dr. [Jim] Tucker studies American children and in one case found a young boy who started to say, around the age of 18 months, that he was his own (deceased) grandfather. “He eventually told details of his grandfather’s life that his parents felt certain he could not have learned through normal means,” Dr. Tucker wrote in Explore, which calls itself a journal of science and healing, “such as the fact that his grandfather’s sister had been murdered and that his grandmother had used a food processor to make milkshakes for his grandfather every day at the end of his life.”  Dr. Tucker won’t say such cases add up to proof of reincarnation, but he likes to keep an open mind.

On this they base a therapy?  “Oh look, I was one of the good Nazis who tried to assassinate Hitler!  Ich bin ein Berliner! . . . Wait—I see a sausage . . . schlockwurst, knockwurst . . . something like that.”