What options would those be?

Intelligent design proponent (and young earth creationist) David Tyler has a post on the ARN blog about a fossil pelican’s beak. The short version is that it seems that there was a pelican with a beak similar to that of a modern pelican flying around 30 million years ago.

The gist of David’s argument is this:

What we are seeing here is a particular type of stasis, and it concerns complexity. Much diversification has little or no effect on complexity and examples of diversification therefore have little or no bearing on the origin of complexity. The pelican beak, however, is not just a big beak! There are numerous coordinated elements that have to be present for the beak to function at all. The fossil find is important because the earliest fossil of a pelican exhibits the full functionality of the modern birds. As far as the known fossil record is concerned, complexity was present – before the radiation of the Pelecanidae.

Over 65 millions ago there were dinosaurs. Many of them were fairly complex. It’s hardly surprising that there were complex things a mere 30 million years ago. Unless he’s basing the argument off Lord Kelvin’s estimate of the age of the Earth, there’s really nothing more there.

Evidently, the pelican beak in much its current form at least 30 million years ago. This fossil puts pelican beak evolution back at least that far, and there is certainly an interesting question as to why it hasn’t changed in that time. But it is not evidence that the pelican beak did not evolve.

Yes, this makes stasis in the pelican beak intriguing and it means that Darwinism has nothing to offer by way of an explanation. New explanations should include the options opened up by intelligent design.

I can only wonder what those options might be.

Creationism in the national curriculum

Cross-posted onto Young Australian Skeptics

Australia is in the process of creating a national curriculum, but the current draft of the history curriculum contains the following (emphasis added):

Students develop their historical skills in an investigation of TWO of the following controversial issues:

  1. human origins (e.g. Darwin’s theory of evolution and its critics)
  2. dating the past (e.g. radio-carbon dating, tracing human migrations using DNA)
  3. fakes and forgeries (e.g. Piltdown Man, the Treasure of Priam, Noah’s Ark, the Turin Shroud)
  4. the use and display of human remains (e.g. repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human remains, The Iceman, Egyptian mummies, Lady Dai)
  5. imperialistic attitudes towards archaeological property (e.g. Indigenous cultural artefacts from around the world)
  6. the ownership of cultural property (e.g. the return of Parthenon sculptures)
  7. the impact of war and terrorism on antiquities (e.g. the Buddhas of Bamyan, the looting of Iraqi museums)
  8. political and ideological uses of archaeology (e.g. archaeology under the Nazis and Fascists)
  9. a school-developed study of a controversial issue.

Students examine the nature and context of the controversy, including:

  1. the historical background
  2. the extent of the controversy (media coverage, nationalistic feeling, government involvement) and significant developments relating to the controversy
  3. different perspectives and their bases
  4. an assessment of the different perspectives.

Now, in terms of say, science, those first two are roughly as historical “controversies” such as Velikovsky’s theories, or ancient astronauts. So why are there in the curriculum? Well, it looks pretty much like – actually, exactly like – the “teach the controversy” campaign aimed at teaching students falsehoods in the US. Now, the points each look like they’re perfectly reasonable, and the intention is that look perfectly reasonable – but they give a creationist teacher an opportunity to teach or reward blatant falsehoods. It’s then a lottery as to whether you get a history teacher with the necessary scientific knowledge to accurately assess technical details on radiocarbon dating, or one who repeats long-debunked nonsense.

There’s also the Piltdown man in there, and again, that could work, just as long as you don’t get a creationist teacher. It is in there with other hoaxes such as the various “findings” of Noah’s ark or the Turin shroud, and that’s something at least.

Furthermore, these are scientific topics – why would they be introduced into the history curriculum, instead of the science curriculum? Well, as PZ put it:

The science side of the debate has gotten hardened by repeated attacks, and is usually better prepared to resist the foolishness, so they switch targets and catch history or philosophy off guard. Every academic discipline is subject to this corruption.

However, in this case, there is something you can do. The draft curriculum is open for consultation. The creationist questions can be found here, under unit 2 (you’ll need to register first).

Hat-tip: PZ Myers

Is the party over?

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I’ve spent most of this year doing an honours degree studying genetic algorithms. As such, I’ve found reading the best and brightest ID proponent’s attempts to understand the genetic algorithm equivalent of a “Hello World” program – a simple string evolver, with no crossover and only one parent per generation – to be hillarious.

Anyway, it seems that they’ve finally managed to come up with a version of the program that doesn’t consist of a partitioned search. It mutates a single character per offspring, rather than giving each locus an independent probability of being mutated, but that’s a somewhat smaller flaw than most cdesign proponentist attempts to implement the Weasel program.

And then, GilDodgen came out with this:

No search is required, because the solution has been provided in advance. These programs are just hideously inefficient means of printing out what could have been printed out when the program launched. The information for the solution was explicitly supplied by the programmer.

Well, duh. That’s because it was a toy program, purely written to illustrate the difference between pure random chance and the accumulation of small changes. You may as well say that the entire software development industry is a waste of time and money because it would be easier to just create a file containing the string “Hello world” and print it to the terminal with cat.

The Weasel program does not attempt to show that evolution can produce novel information. It merely demonstrates that difference between selection and no-selection. If you want a computer simulation to demonstrate the power of evolution to produce novel structures, you could read one of any number of papers in which genetic algorithms or genetic programming have been used to find novel solutions to real-world problems. Or, heck, even read the rest of chapter three in TBW (the one which mentions the Weasel program), which is mostly about the far more interesting Biomorphs program.

Or, if you prefer, Gil’s conclusion:

The Darwinian mechanism as an explanation for all of life is simply not credible. Most people have enough sense to recognize this, which is why the consensus “scientists” — with all their prestige, academic credentials, and incestuous self-congratulation — are having such a hard time convincing people that they have it all figured out, when they obviously don’t.

If you like, you can download my version of Weasel. It’s written in C# and you’ll need at least .NET 2.0 to run it. Source and binaries are included in that download. It uses a population size of 200 and a mutation rate of 0.05.

Throwing modus tollens around like it was confetti

Cornelius Hunter, is, as usual, ridiculous, most recently in his commentary on a review of TGSOE.

After all, there are no fossil rabbits in the ancient strata. That’s right, no rabbits before the Cambrian era. Astonishing, evolution must be true.

For a start, the Precambrian rabbits are an example: anything so out of place would falsify evolution. The fact that nothing is out of place is not a “proof” of evolution, but it is a sign that this particular falsification test has been passed. With flying colours.

This was criticised in the comments (on UD), and Cornelius replied:

The very title of this blog post [No Precambrian Rabbits: Evolution Must Be True] is a complete and utter non sequitur, which no evolutionary biologist (least of all Richard Dawkins) has ever espoused.

I know it sounds absurd, but the Precambrian rabbit, and others like it, are precisely what evolutionists have seriously set for as falsification criteria / creation refuter.

Apparently, giving any falsification criteria is a modus tollens. Karl Popper must be rolling in his grave.

Testimony to our shared origins? Grand family tree? Evolutionists in the know are abandoning the venerable evolutionary tree, but don’t tell the people.

This section, specifically, was referring to “bats, monkeys, horses and humans”. These are all not only multi-cellular, but all mammals! Yes, the tree of life is tangled amongst single-celled organisms where lateral gene transfer is common, but unless he is seriously claiming that lateral gene transfer is common amongst mammals, or heck, even vertebrates, this is just a sign that he’s either blatantly misunderstood whatever magazine article he got his information about the tree of life from, or is deliberately being disingenuous.

There are multitudes of examples of similarities amongst the species that do not fit the evolutionary pattern. It is a glaring example of selecting the evidences that fit the theory, and ignoring the plethora of contradictions.

This was attacked in the comments, and his response was to post links to sections 4.2 and 4.3 here. These argue that new alleles can be created quickly and that there are ultra-conserved regions – true, but irrelevant, but it doesn’t come even close to addressing the point he was responding to – or even the claim he was attempting to make. The speed of genetic change can vary wildly – heck, that’s exactly what natural selection (for example) does – but it doesn’t change the simple fact that the similarities between genes conforms to the evolutionary predictions.

But it just wouldn’t be Cornelius Hunter without insisting that evolution was primarily religious. He picks out the following examples:

Glitches, like the laryngeal nerves that are so neatly laid out in fish but that must detour in animals with necks—by a crazy 15 feet (4.6m) in the case of giraffes—demonstrate the incremental, undirected business of evolution in touching detail.

Recurrent laryngeal nerveIn a shark, for example, branches from the vagus nerve are connected to the last three gills, passing behind the arteries as they do so. This is the simplest arrangement. However, if, for example, a giraffe had evolved from an organism with this arrangement, well, the gills would probably have been modified into things like thyroid or parathyroid glands, or the larynx, sharing the same nerve connections.

Although the larynx is now high in the neck, the recurrent laryngeal nerve still passes behind an artery in the torso! This goes well beyond mere theodicy. The picture on the right shows the path of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in a human neck – this is taken to extreme proportions in a giraffe, as the loop is repeated for the entire length of the neck. And why? Because, of course, humans and giraffes share a common ancestor with an organism in which putting the nerve behind the artery was the simplest way of doing it.

… among the many puzzles that evolution explains so well are the futility and suffering that are ubiquitous in the natural world. All trees would benefit from sticking to a pact to stay small, but natural selection drives them ever upward in search of the light that their competitors also seek. Surely an intelligent designer would have put the rainforest canopy somewhat lower, and saved on tree trunks? The cheetah is perfectly honed to hunt gazelles—but the gazelle is equally well equipped to escape cheetahs. So whose side is the designer on?

Cornelius Hunter comments:

With religious arguments like these who needs scientific evidence?

Apparently, now evolution isn’t allowed to answer questions about the natural world. But again, this is part of the nature of evolutionary arms races – a mutant cheetah which can run faster will catch more gazelles than non-mutants, and so be more likely to reproduce. As the population of cheetahs becomes faster, there is now a selective pressure on gazelles to become faster.

Theological attacks on evolution are common nowadays, and given this, it is hardly surprising that a defense of evolution would respond to these attacks. But the case for evolution can be made without this, obviously: Chris Colby’s article Introduction to Evolutionary Biology article on talk.origins is an excellent example of this.

Designed for hillarity

Baron Scarpia has found William Dembski’s teaching website, and it certainly provides some enthralling reading.

There are, for example, the course requirements for studying intelligent design, which include a 3000-word essay on “the theological significance of intelligent design” and at least 10 posts on “hostile” websites defending ID. The doctorate-level course doesn’t require defending ID on hostile websites, instead, students are to develop a Sunday school lesson plan. And in the exam, in a single essay, students should show that evolution is not as well supported as Richard Dawkins claims, and that (Christian) religious belief is much better supported.

See, intelligent design is completely secular and this is why it’s taken seriously by completely secular researchers!

“Christian Apologetics” asks students to imagine that a relative is studying theology at a liberal seminary, and to write a letter to them warning against “professors intent on eroding any real faith” and on how to “protect their faith from eroding”.

And from the “Critical Thinking” unit’s exam:

13. You are the head of a large public relations firm in New York. A consortium of Christian businessmen and foundations is fed up with the godlessness of our society and approaches you to run a “rhetorical campaign” to make Christianity and its moral values credible again to the wider culture. You have $100,000,000 a year for five years to make the campaign work (i.e., half a billion dollars total over five years). What programs are you going to institute and how are you going to allocate that money to restore Christianity as a credible world view? What objectives could you realistically hope to accomplish? [Example of a zero-credit answer: give all the money to the ACLU or to the UN.]

Well, granted, I can see how giving the money to the ACLU or UN would fail to achieve those objectives, but that’s really the least of the problems in that question.

This is only a sample, you can read the rest.

Hat-tip: RichardDawkins.net