Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Entropy and the Distinction Between Operation and Origin

In the seventeenth century Isaac Newton figured out how the solar system worked. The same gravitational force that makes apples drop to the ground also steers the planets in their orbits about the sun. But the English physicist warned against over estimating the power of his new laws. Though the planets “persevere in their orbits by the mere laws of gravity,” Newton concluded, “yet they could by no means have at first derived the regular position of the orbits themselves from those laws.” Gravity alone can maintain an orbit about the sun, but not establish such an orbit. In the centuries since Newton evolutionists have constructed a solar system origin narrative replete with contingent events and all manner of natural Read More ›

Coffee with the squirrels today: They don’t give their kids mating advice

Staff writer Lesley Ciarula Taylor explains for Toronto Star readers “Why female red squirrels aren’t choosy about their mates”:

Guelph scientists have solved the puzzling question of why female squirrels are rampantly promiscuous, sleeping with an average of 10 males in one day.

It almost entirely depends on how many guys show up.

That’s the finding reported by University of Guelph researchers from their study of 85 female North American red squirrels. Female squirrels do not pass any specific mating tendencies (one, some, or many guys) on to their daughters.

“A lot of folks who have looked at this before looked at whether it’s good or bad for a squirrel to be promiscuous,” [lead investigator Eryn] McFarlane told the Star on Wednesday. “I wanted to look at whether it was genetic, regardless of whether it was good or bad.”

What she found is that risks and benefits don’t have much to do with how females behave.

[ … ]

This is the first study that says genetics or heredity have little to do with a female squirrel’s sex life.

Goodbye, selfish gene. Or, to put it in the vernacular, none of the ladies are chaste, but some are more chased than others. It depends on how many guy squirrels are around to chase them.

For the tale of how the Washington Post thought it had discovered natural selection among squirrels, go here.

Look, squirrels are, well, squirrelly, but anyway here’s the Abstract:

Read More ›

Jerry Coyne, certainly a man who speaks his mind …

Recently, I’ve been writing about Jerry Coyne’s comments on Mike Behe’s most recent paper. Coyne is billed by his U as “internationally famous defender of evolution against proponents of intelligent design.” Good man on fruit flies too.

It occurred to me to pull up my Coyne files, re other things he has said. A most interesting picture emerges – in a world where hordes bravely speak the group’s latest mind, the prof (Department of Ecology and Evolution) gives the impression of speaking his own. I won’t hazard whether that earns him greater trust because I don’t know whether Darwin’s folk trust people who think for themselves, but here goes:

Coyne on the useful idiots of theistic evolution:

– Theistic evolution is compromise. (“Coyne is particularly annoyed by the folks at the Darwin-defending but religion-appeasing National Center for Science Education, for “compromising the very science they aspire to defend.” – quoted in Klinghoffer )

Theistic evolution claims are wearing thin. (“Liberal religious people have been important allies in our struggle against creationism, and it is not pleasant to alienate them by declaring how we feel. This is why, as a tactical matter, groups such as the National Academy of Sciences claim that religion and science do not conflict. But their main evidence — the existence of religious scientists — is wearing thin as scientists grow ever more vociferous about their lack of faith.” – quoted in Iannone)

He also enjoys taking the fun out of Fundamentalism, when not engaging in it himself.

(My best guess is that he pays closer attention to the ID guys, as they offer a serious challenge.)

What Jerry Coyne has said about evolutionary biology: (risky! ) Read More ›

No More Snow in England Say Global Warmists

Please enjoy an article from The Independent titled “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past.” Written in the year 2000, global warmists are claiming that snowfall is history in Britain:

Britain’s winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives.

Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain’s culture, as warmer winters – which scientists are attributing to global climate change – produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries…

[T]he warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”…

Professor Jarich Oosten, an anthropologist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, says that even if we no longer see snow, it will remain culturally important.

“We don’t really have wolves in Europe any more, but they are still an important part of our culture and everyone knows what they look like,” he said.

From an article at the BBC in 2009:

Heavy snow has fallen across large parts of the UK, disrupting travel and closing thousands of schools.

South-east England has the worst snow it has seen for 18 years, causing all London buses to be pulled from service and the closure of Heathrow’s runways.

The Met Office has issued an extreme weather warning for England, Wales and parts of eastern Scotland.

By late Monday, the South East could be under a foot (30cm) of snow and the North East under 20 inches (50cm).

Read More ›

More on the astronomer passed over as “potentially evangelical” case from the NY Times.

The friend who sent me the link notes that the article is “only mildly biased”:

Both sides agree that Dr. Gaskell, 57, was invited to the university, in Lexington, for a job interview. In his lawsuit, he says that at the end of the interview, Michael Cavagnero, the chairman of the physics and astronomy department, asked about his religious beliefs.“Cavagnero stated that he had personally researched Gaskell’s religious beliefs,” the lawsuit says. According to Dr. Gaskell, the chairman said Dr. Gaskell’s religious beliefs and his “expression of them would be a matter of concern” to the dean.

Federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, so interviewers typically do not ask about an applicant’s faith. Depositions and e-mails submitted as evidence suggest why Dr. Cavagnero may have raised the issue with Dr. Gaskell.

For the plaintiff, the smoking gun is an e-mail dated Sept. 21, 2007, from a department staff member, Sally A. Shafer, to Dr. Cavagnero and another colleague. Ms. Shafer wrote that she did an Internet search on Dr. Gaskell and found links to his notes for a lecture that explores, among other topics, how the Bible could relate to contemporary astronomy.

“Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with,” Ms. Shafer wrote, “but potentially evangelical. If we hire him, we should expect similar content to be posted on or directly linked from the department Web site.”

[ … ]

Referring to Ms. Shafer’s concern that Dr. Gaskell was “potentially evangelical,” Francis J. Manion, Dr. Gaskell’s lawyer, said: “I couldn’t have made up a better quote. ‘We like this guy, but he is potentially Jewish’? ‘Potentially Muslim’?”

– Mark Oppenheimer, “Astronomer Sues the University of Kentucky, Claiming His Faith Cost Him a JobNew York Times (December 18, 2010).

Oh, do let’s have some fun with the idea: Read More ›

Access Research Network’s Top 10 Darwin and Design Science Stories of 2010

Colorado Springs, CO – December 21, 2010 Access Research Network has just released its annual “Top 10 Darwin and Design Science Stories” for 2010. Gaining top honors on the list was new research that revealed the optimal design of the human eye. Physicists from the Israel Institute of Technology have created a light-guiding model of the retina, which reveals that the glial (or Müller) cells provide low-scattering passage of light from the retinal surface to the photoreceptor cells, thus acting as optical fibers. Researchers concluded “The fundamental features of the array of glial cells are revealed as an optimal structure designed for preserving the acuity of images in the human retina. It plays a crucial role in vision quality, in Read More ›

No satellite hookup needed for this show, if the sky is clear

NASA Science News for Dec. 17, 2010Northern winter is beginning in a special way. On Dec. 21st, the winter solstice, a lunar eclipse will be visible across all of North America. The luster will be a bit “off” on Dec. 21st, the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth’s shadow. For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow. The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth’s shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. Read More ›

Professor Raymond Tallis on good and bad arguments for atheism

I have often found that the best refutations of arguments for atheism are written by atheists. Raymond Tallis is a splendid example of this rule. In an article entitled “Why I am an atheist,” in Philosophy Now, May/June 2009, 73:47-48 (click here or here to read online), he manages to slay no less than three arguments for atheism, before advancing two much better arguments of his own. Interestingly, however, some of the best online refutations of Tallis’s own arguments for atheism have been written by …. you guessed it, atheists.

The relevance of all this to Intelligent Design should be obvious. Arguments for Intelligent Design are based not only on the existence of complex specified information in living organisms, but also on the fine-tuning of the cosmos. If there were a cosmic Creator, then it would have to be a God of some sort. But if there were compelling or even strong arguments against the existence of God, they would also be arguments against at least the cosmic version of Intelligent Design.

Without further ado, let’s have a look at what Tallis calls the bad arguments for atheism. Read More ›

He said it: Should evolutionary theory evolve?

Sure, in any direction consistent with an outmoded materialism. And how sweeping grandeur in that vision of life is entailed? There’s no need to formally revisit the Modern Synthesis, argues Douglas Futuyma, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, because evolutionary theory is flexible enough to incorporate well-substantiated new ideas as they arise. “I think the evolutionary synthesis has already been extending itself almost continually for the last few decades,” he says. “I’m not saying that there’s nothing interesting [in the Extended Synthesis]. I just think the self-conscious labeling of it as a new point of view or a challenge to the old, most people don’t buy.” Most dare not buy any new approaches. Read More ›

Protein Folding and Evolution

Proteins consist of hundreds of amino acids attached to each other like train cars, and when they fold up they consistently find the same three dimensional shape. Like a necklace that magically falls into the same shape every time it is dropped onto a table, the consistency of protein folding once seemed like a paradox. For there is an astronomical number of shapes the protein could possibly take on. How does it find the same one so consistently, and so quickly? The answer has interesting implications for evolution.  Read more

Darwinian atheist Michael Ruse a “practicing Anglican”?

You thought I was kidding, did you? Nope. A friend advises me that some reviewer or other baptized Darwinist Michael Ruse as a “practicing Anglican” (= Episcopalian):

New Biological Books History, Philosophy, And Ethics of Biology

Science and Spirituality: Making Room for Faith in the Age of Science

By Michael Ruse. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. $30.00. viii + 264 p.; ill.; index. ISBN: 978-0-521-75594-8. 2010.

Elof Axel Carlson

Biochemistry & Cell Biology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York

The author is a philosopher and ardent supporter of evolution by natural selection. He also is a practicing Anglican. His book is an exploration of the conflicts between a scientific worldview (one that excludes supernatural interpretations in matters concerning science) and a religious worldview (one that very much embraces faith, the supernatural, and the central tenets of his Anglican faith). …

So is Ruse also among the prophets?

Well, Ruse apparently sent his kids to “Anglican tradition” schools when he taught in Canada. But in Canada, that’s mainly a way of keeping them from hanging out with Crystal Meth at tax-supported OD High.

In fairness, it doesn’t take much belief or effort these days to be a “practicing Anglican”, but unless Ruse has a big announcement in store, I’m calling this as just another effort to baptize Darwinism, a la Theodosius Dobzhansky, to gain support among adherents of other religions.

I wonder if the airbrush error will make it onto the ‘Net …

Also just up at The Post-Darwinist: Read More ›

Sex Determination in Chickens: Evolution Wrong Again

Evolution is, as evolutionists like to say, absolutely necessary to do science. Darwin’s theory, in one version or another, is the underlying framework that guides our research. Nothing in biology makes sense, evolutionists like to repeat, except in the light of evolution. But in fact evolution is constantly upended. We are continually finding special cases, anomalies and exceptions, and evolution is more of a confusing patchwork of “On Tuesday’s it looks like this” than a useful theory. Consider just one example from this steady stream of failed expectations: sex determination in chickens.  Read more

Book Santa will keep for himself: The Nature of Nature

You’d better order this one for yourself. It’s the long-delayed outcome of the Nature of Nature conference, which got intelligent design theorists Bill Dembski and Bruce Gordon’s Polanyi Center at Baptist Baylor University shut down.* It features top guns on both sides of the controversy: Unmatched in its breadth and scope, The Nature of Nature brings together some of the most influential scientists, scholars, and public intellectuals—including three Nobel laureates—across a wide spectrum of disciplines and schools of thought. Here they grapple with a perennial question that has been made all the more pressing by recent advances in the natural sciences: Is the fundamental explanatory principle of the universe, life, and self-conscious awareness to be found in inanimate matter or Read More ›

Mike Behe replies to Jerry Coyne, …

defending his recent paper. Mike Behe’s reply (excerpt): Yes, complex gain-of-FCT events would not be expected to occur, but simple GOF’s would. Yet they didn’t show up. Professor Coyne then proceeds to put words in my mouth: What [Be]he’s saying is this: “Yes, gain of FCTs could, and likely is, more important in nature than seen in these short-term experiments. But my conclusions are limited to these types of short-term lab studies.” No, that is not what I was saying at all. I was saying that, no matter what causes gain-of-FCT events to sporadically arise in nature (and I of course think the more complex ones likely resulted from deliberate intelligent design), short-term Darwinian evolution will be dominated by loss-of-FCT, which Read More ›

Designed or not? You decide.

Sometimes a negative result in science is just as useful as a positive one. I believe that applies to Intelligent Design as well. Today I’m going to talk about a structure found in birds, which may or may not have been designed. Not being a biologist, I’d like to hear readers’ opinions before I make up my mind.

There are structures found in Nature which were obviously designed. I blogged recently about one recently in my post, The video that proves Intelligent Design: the ATP synthase enzyme. You can watch the 86-second video here.

There are also many structures in Nature which, we can confidently assume, were not designed. In his book, The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007, pp. 78-80), Professor Michael Behe makes a convincing case that the antifreeze proteins found in Antarctic fish can be accounted for in terms of Darwinian evolution. No need to invoke design here.

And then there are the head scratchers that leave us all wondering. One such example is the syrinx. That’s the name for the vocal organ of birds, which enables them to produce sounds, despite the fact that they lack the vocal chords possessed by mammals. The syrinx comes in varying degrees of complexity, and the Australian lyrebird, which possesses an extraordinary ability to mimic sounds, has the most complex syrinx of any bird. How good is it? If you want to find out, I suggest that you click on this Absolutely Amazing BBC link and watch the two videos of the Superb lyrebird (the larger of the two species of lyrebird). One of these videos features the naturalist David Attenborough. And if you click here, you can also listen to Chook, a male lyrebird at Adelaide Zoo, imitating the sound of construction equipment. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the lyrebird’s ability for mimicry:
Read More ›