A plea for (non-financial) help

journalsOK, here is the situation; I do not work for a university, a museum, or any other educational and/or research organization. I am not paid to do the research on and write substantive refutations of creationist propaganda. I do it because I am passionate about science (especially biology and paleontology) and extremely annoyed by people who peddle lies, half-truths and misinformation about it.

It would be nice if more working scientists could take the time to familiarize themselves with the machinations of creationists so as to be better prepared to counter them but I understand that they have more important tasks to do, like actually doing science. And I —as an interested and more knowledgeable than most layperson— am more than happy to stand in for them in the trenches, without remuneration or recognition. All I ask is that I be given the tools, the ammunition if you will, to fight the fight.

In this case, it is free and unencumbered access to the scientific literature!

If I am doing research, working on a rebuttal to some creationist claim, buying copies of the articles myself is simply not an option as I live paycheck to paycheck and the miscellaneous science journals charge outrageous prices for individuals to download their articles, often as much a $25 or $35 dollars each (if they charged $1 a pop, like an mp3 download, I might sometimes spend the money)!

Instead, to get what I need, I have to pester and cajole, via e-mail, working scientists and/or university professors I am acquainted with to send me PDF copies of scientific papers.  Alternatively, I have to get in my car (which is currently broken down and I cannot afford to fix it), drive to a local university, plug a flash-drive into one of the computers in their science library, and download them, which is a big hassle and still costs money for gas and parking.  

What I would like is to be given some sort of unpaid (though I wouldn’t say no to stipend!), ceremonial position at a university, museum, or other institution that would grant me access to the primary scientific literature to which they are already subscribed (the more the better).

A couple of my university professor friends have tried without success to get me something like this, only to have the “higher up” say no.

So, I am putting out this plea to any scientist, university professor or Dean, or anyone who is sympathetic to my cause and who has influence at their institution, please, please, please, help me to get access to the science I need to do what I can to combat the forces of ignorance that threaten to overwhelm us all.

Thank you for your consideration!

How could evolutionary theory be falsified?

A rabbit fossil in Cambrian rock would be difficult to understand under current evolutionary theory.

Creationists often charge that evolutionary theory is unfalsifiable; that there is no way to potentially disprove it, if it were in fact incorrect. This is in essence an “I know you are but what am I” response to their critics who have rightfully pointed out that “God did it” as an explanation is not testable against the evidence from the natural world and therefore not a valid scientific explanation for anything.

This is because hypotheses, in order to qualify as scientific, must be testable against observable evidence in the natural world. In other words, in addition to there being potential observations that might support a given hypothesis, there should likewise be some potential observations that would tend to disprove a hypothesis.

Since God can do anything in any way, for any reason, there are no potential observations of the natural world that could disprove God’s involvement, which means the “God did it” hypothesis is unscientific in character.

In any event, is it true, as creationists charge, that there are no potential observations that would tend to disprove evolutionary theory?

The short answer is no, it is not true. However, for something more in depth you should head over to Why Evolution Is True where biologist Jerry Coyne provides several scenarios that would be highly problematic for current evolutionary theory.

In my general talk on the evidence for evolution, I give a list of seven observations that, if repeated and confirmed, would disprove parts of the theory of evolution described above. This shows that it is a scientific theory in the Popperian sense of being falsifiable.  Here are some of those conceivable observations:

  • Fossils in the wrong place (e.g., mammals in the Devonian). If the fossil record were all out of order like this (a single anomalous fossil might not overturn everything, of course, since it could be in the wrong place for other reasons), we’d have to seriously question the occurrence of evolution.

I recommend you hop over and check out the rest.

The last thing I want to say about this particular creationist claim, is that in addition to it being false, it is also stands in rather blatant contradiction to what creationists do on a regular basis, which is to argue that this or that bit of evidence somehow counts against evolutionary theory.

I mean what sense can we make of Duane Gish’s book Evolution, the Fossils Say No! (1978) if he was not arguing that the fossil evidence was disconfirming of the evolution hypothesis?

The mind boggles.

[And now John Wilkins, or some other philosopher of science, will yell at me about Popperian Falsificationism being passé with regards to the demarcation problem. Just to head that off somewhat I am not advocating naive falsificationism.]

Does intelligent design “theory” lack a mechanism?

No, says the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture’s resident attack Chihuahua Casey Luskin (and, yes, I’m stealing that John), who reports that he was recently confronted with this question at a talk he had given:

Last month I spoke at the University of Arkansas, and during the Q&A, a skeptic complained that ID theory lacks a “mechanism.” I explained that intelligent agency itself functions in that role, serving as a known cause / mechanism which produces high levels of complex and specified information (CSI).

[Snip a bunch of slides with various quotes from Luskin’s fellow Discoveroid (stealing that too) Stephen Meyer that don’t add anything to this discussion.]

[…] Intelligent agency, therefore, is a mechanism which we can observe and understand in the world around us, and from those observations we know it alone is capable of producing high CSI. But the skeptic wasn’t satisfied with this argument. He insisted what ID lacks is a mechanism that, at the direction of an intelligent agent, could be capable of instantiating information, or design, in the real world.

And this unnamed skeptic was correct. Intelligent design creationists prattle on endlessly about “complex specified information” in nature and how they think that “an intelligence” is required to explain it but they never explain how this “CSI” gets from the mind of their “designer” (wink, wink) to the features of the natural world it is supposedly intended to explain. In other words, even if we were to grant their source of “CSI” they’ve got nothing to offer on where the rubber actually hits the road.

As we spoke after the talk, I asked him, “Why should it be so hard to believe that intelligent agents can implement their designs in the real world? After all, we see intelligent agents manipulating the information in DNA all the time.”

Yes we do Casey. Intelligent agents who are physical beings with physical brains, physically manipulating physical DNA with physical tools.

As the skeptic was a philosopher, he was apparently unaware of the burgeoning field of genetic engineering, where biologists manipulate the information in DNA to produce new biological functions. Unfortunately, this hardened ID critic was probably still not convinced after I explained that it’s easy to believe intelligent agents might have ways of implementing their designs in the natural world — since we see it happening, reported in the scientific literature on a regular basis. This new research discussed in Nature News shows exactly how intelligent agents can manipulate information in DNA to create new structures and functions. There is no reason, in principle, why an intelligent agency must lack a mechanism for implementing designs in the natural world.

And if we ask these physical genetic engineers what mechanisms they use to manipulate physical DNA they won’t respond by merely pointing out that they are intelligent agents and that that fact should tell you all you need to know about the process.

This is the same fallacy that ID creationists engage in when they liken their ideas to the SETI (Search of Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) program. “SETI is looking for signs of intelligence” they say, “we’re doing the same thing.”. But just as with the genetic engineers we are talking about physical ET’s, ostensibly with physical transmitters, sending out signals propagated via some part of physical electromagnetic spectrum.

The reason for all this obtuse deflection about genetic engineers (and aliens) and tedious repetition about “CSI” is that the actual answer to the question of what the mechanism for intelligent design is that it is magic.

Their “intelligent designer” is God (everyone knows this); and God implemented his designs through unknowable miraculous means, end of story.

However, if they were to divulge this they know would lose their pretense of doing science and would be admitting to the fact that what they are actually engaging in is apologetics.

Reference

Luskin, Casey (1012) “Responding to the Challenge that Intelligent Design Lacks a “Mechanism”“, evolutionnews.org (blog) downloaded on 5-27-2012

[Hat tip to The Sensuous Curmudgeon.]

The Carnival of Evolution #30 is up!

The latest Carnival of Evolution is up over at Bob O’Hara This Scientific Life!

I’ve recently been asked to join the CoE as a contributor, which is great, I’m honored to be asked. Unfortunately I didn’t have anything to contribute to this particular issue, which is not so great. Still, you should all go check it out for lots of interesting evolution related blogging.

New acquisitions for the Britain Research Library

Thanks in part to an anonymous donor the Britain Research Library has recently made a number of new acquisitions in its science, pseudoscience, and political collections.

Science

Arthur, Wallace (1997) The Origin of Animal Body Plans: A study in evolutionary developmental biology, Cambridge University Press, XII + 338

Ayala, Francisco J. (2010) Am I A Monkey?: Six big questions about evolution, John Hopkins University Press, XIII + 83

Keynes, Randal (2009) Creation: The true story of Charles Darwin, Riverhead Books, XVII + 430

Kurtén, Björn (1972) Not From The Apes, Pantheon Books, New York, NY, VIII + 183

Levinton, Jeffrey S. (2001) Genetics, Paleontology, and Macroevolution (2nd edition), Cambridge University Press, XV + 617

Newman, Horatio Hackett (1926) The Gist of Evolution, The MacMillan Company, IX + 154

Pseudoscience

Gibbons, William J. & Hovind, Kent (1999) Claws, Jaws, & Dinosaurs, CSE Publications, 72

Walsh, Robert E. (editor) (1994) Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, Creation Life Fellowship, Inc. VII + 645

Politics

Hayek, F. A. (Caldwell, Bruce – Editor) (2007) The Road To Serfdom: Text and documents, The University of Chicago Press XI + 283

Thanks to whomever it was!

 

 

Copernicus found

The remains of 16th century astronomer and priest Nicholas Copernicus have apparently been found by archeologists in Poland. Way cool. The picture (right) is a reconstruction.

Via Evolving Thoughts.

Country science

Normally I absolutely loath country music, but this is gets a pass since it’s a joke (WARNING: NOT WORK SAFE or politically correct).


“Deoxyribonucleic asshole”, that’s great! (Via Pharyngula)