Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Allmon and Ross Demolish Evolution

It Gets Worse

Last time we saw, in a new paper, evolutionists Warren Allmon and Robert Ross reformulate the argument for evolution from homologous structures. The paper makes several mistakes, but is important because it is a rare case of evolutionists (i) recognizing the religion in evolutionary thinking, and (ii) trying to do something about it. In this case the religion is in the claim that God would not have created non optimal homologies (such as vestigial structures). Allmon and Ross attempt to remove the religion by restating the claim as: God did not have to create such homologies. It is good that evolutionists are finally recognizing the religion, after having been in denial for so many years. But Allmon and Ross’ solution fails on several counts.

The first failure of Allmon and Ross’ solution is that it strips the power of the argument. The traditional religious arguments (i.e., God would not create those structures) at least had the virtue of providing a strong argument for evolution. Granted it was a religious argument, and granted one had to agree with that particular religion. And granted it ignored the problems of process and pattern (more below on that). And granted it turned evolution into, as Elliott Sober hinted, a “Lewis Carroll world in which down is up,” because the argument required evidence that is unlikely on evolution. The more unlikely, the better. Such is the logic of evolution’s religion. But after all those caveats, at least it provided a strong argument for evolution.

With design refuted, evolution had to be true, no matter how many problems it had. But with Allmon and Ross’ reformulation, design is not refuted. Now the advantage for evolution is not that the alternative is false or even highly unlikely, but that the alternative does not specify what we observe whereas evolution does. Allmon and Ross triumphantly conclude their new formulation is a powerful argument for evolution. They apparently think their reformulation is merely a minor tweak, and that their new argument is just as strong as the traditional argument. It isn’t. There is no free lunch. What Allmon and Ross fail to understand is that this is a much weaker argument.

But it gets worse.

The second failure of Allmon and Ross’ solution is that it never did get rid of the religion as they had hoped. Allmon and Ross naively assume that the claim God may or may not create these homologies is merely an obvious point of fact. This is a deep subject into which Allmon and Ross have rushed in, but suffice it to say that it is not at all clear that God can go with either world. Leibniz undoubtedly would disagree. The Lutheran polymath would argue that because of His perfection and other attributes, God cannot just create any old world. The bottom line, and one which Allmon and Ross are blissfully na├»ve of, is that like it or not, claims about God are religious.

But it gets worse. Much worse.

Not only did Allmon and Ross utterly misapprehend and expose the homology argument, they have, in fact, altogether demolished evolutionary theory. Remember, with their reformulation it becomes utterly crucial that evolution predicts what we observe. In other words, evolution must predict the pattern of similarities and differences we observe across the species. This is because their new formulation was that while design can explain a common descent pattern or other patterns, evolution is narrowly restricted to the common descent pattern.

With that the two Harvard trained Epicureans just inadvertently blew up evolution. This is because what we actually observe is not the common descent pattern.

The actual comparisons between the species have contradicted the common descent pattern over and over. It is, as we have documented here so many times, not even close.

If evolution predicts the common descent pattern, then by modus tollens, evolution is false.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Warren Allmon on the Argument from Homology

An Enormous Concession

I once debated two evolutionists on the campus of Cornell University. In that debate I raised several fundamental problems with evolutionary theory. The problems that I pointed out fell into two broad categories: process and pattern. In the latter category, I pointed out that the keystone argument for evolution from homology had badly failed. Unfortunately, that failure was waved off and went unaddressed by the evolution professors. That may not have been the case had Warren Allmon been able to participate. Allmon, Director of the Cornell University-affiliated Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), has thought more deeply about the homology argument than most evolutionists. Now in 2018, he has published, along with adjunct professor Robert Ross, a new paper containing a very important concession.

As is typical, the new Allmon/Ross paper makes several serious scientific errors, either through ignorance, denial, confirmation bias, or whatever. The paper also relies heavily religious claims and arguments, which again is typical.

I have covered this religiously-driven phony science here many times. And in future posts I will address the specifics in the Allmon/Ross paper.

But most importantly, the paper does accomplish something new. The paper takes several turns, but in the end Allmon and Ross do recognize, at least somewhat, the presence of religion in evolutionary thought. To remedy this, they downsize the argument from homology.

In its canonical form, this keystone argument proves evolution by the process of elimination. That is, it refutes design and independent creation, leaving naturalistic evolution, in one form or another, as the only solution. God wouldn’t have created these lousy designs, according to evolutionists, so the designs must have arisen naturalistically. As usual, it is the religion that provides the certainty.

This isn’t science.

Rather than deny this obvious fact (see here for examples of such denial), Allmon and Ross ultimately admit to it (after appealing to it repeatedly), and seek to reformulate the argument from homology without the religion. They do this as follows.

Rather than claiming God would not have created non optimal homologies (such as vestigial structures), Allmon and Ross walk back the claim to say merely that God did not have to create such homologies. Under independent, divine, creation, God could have done it differently. Allmon and Ross then contrast this with descent with modification which, they say, necessarily would have resulted in such homologies.

So you have Theory A (design) which can accommodate Observation X or ~X (not X). And you have Theory B (evolution) which requires Observation X, and cannot accommodate ~X. Our observation of X, therefore, makes Theory B more probable.

Readers here will know there are enormous problems with this argument. It fails badly, right out of the gate. And I will discuss these failures in the future. But before we get to that, it is important to understand the implications of the argument, even without its problems.

In their attempt to save the theory, what Allmon and Ross have done is to provide an enormous concession. What traditionally has been an iron-clad, unquestionable, textbook proof of evolution, now becomes a minor Bayesian term, slightly improving the probability of evolution.

This is a monumental concession, neutering the keystone argument for evolution. Why should anyone believe in the heroic claim that the biological world arose by itself if the strongest argument merely increases its probability by some unspecified amount?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Evolutionist: “Jesus had nothing to say about … abortion”

And So This Is Christmas

On this 2017 Christmas holiday an evolutionist has proclaimed that the man whose birthday is celebrated today did not come out against abortion. She wrote:

Jesus had nothing to say about … abortion … He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Readers shouldn’t need a lengthy explanation of the problem here. Theologians refer to this as imposing an idea onto Scripture rather than reading it out of Scripture. To say that Jesus said nothing about abortion but—in the very next breath—admit that He did instruct us to protect the vulnerable, does not make sense.

It would be like saying Jesus said nothing about stabbing people in the back, though he did admonish us not to murder, but that’s different.

Or again, it would be like saying Jesus said nothing about being nice to people, though he did tell us to do to others as we would have them do to us. But that’s different.

No, it isn’t different.

The problem here is that babies are, if anything, “vulnerable.” One need not stretch definitions to see the problem. One does not need an imagination here to get it.

Babies. Are. Vulnerable.

It is not that this writer made a minor slip here. This assertion is nothing short of absurd.

In fact, the claim is so silly and ridiculous, I would not normally bring it to the attention of readers. If you showed me this quote, I would assume it is from some phony troll or chatroom.

But it isn’t, and this is where the problem becomes more important. The quote is from a newspaper article. And it is not from just any old newspaper. It is from, err, the top newspaper in the world—The New York Times.

Nor is the article deeply buried somewhere. It is prominently displayed above the fold, top right on the website.

Nor is the author someone who accidently slipped a piece into The Gray Lady. In fact, the piece was written by, err, Contributing Op-Ed writer Margaret Renkl.

Renkl’s point is that followers of Jesus need to get with the program, and drop the whole pro life thing. After all, Jesus had nothing to say about abortion.


The argument isn’t even wrong, and yet there it is. Complete absurdity parading as words of wisdom, as if in some Hans Christian Andersen story.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Evolutionists: Our Findings Suggest That Similarities in Bilateria Evolved Independently

Not Even Wrong

This week one of the top scientific journals in the world published what would seem to be a ground breaking paper. The paper claims to have found evidence for the independent evolution of nervous system similarities across the Bilateria. As the abstract explains:

Our findings … suggest that the similarities in dorsoventral patterning and trunk neuroanatomies evolved independently in Bilateria.

By the end of the manuscript the authors are even more confident:

Therefore, the expression of dorsoventral transcription factors evolved independently from the trunk neuroanatomy at least in certain bilaterian lineages

This is a monumental claim, but there is only one problem: It is blatantly false. The paper’s findings did not “suggest” the evolution, independent or otherwise, of the transcription factor expression patterns. They certainly did not demonstrate, show or find such an incredible conclusion.

It would be difficult to overstate how misleading this paper is. It provided literally zero evidence for any such evolution. Nothing. Nada.

There simply is no such scientific evidence in the paper. The claim that they found that the expression of dorsoventral transcription factors evolved independently in certain bilaterian lineages is not even wrong.

Let’s be clear about this. I am not saying their claim is weak. I am not saying their claim is faulty. I am not saying they failed to make their case conclusively. The problem is they don’t have any case at all.

We cannot criticize the science because, well, there is no science. For a paper entitled “Convergent evolution of bilaterian nerve cords,” one would have expected at least some evidence and explanation for the evolution of bilaterian nerve cords.

Unfortunately papers such as this inform journalists and science writers. They report that scientists have now discovered yet another aspect of evolution. It is yet another example of how science proves evolution.

In fact, if one is looking for a meaningful takeaway, what the study did find is that the expectations of evolution—that nervous system similarities would align with the evolutionary tree—turned out to be, like so many other of evolution’s predictions—false. But that doesn’t fit the narrative.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Protein Mutations Are Highly Coupled

A Rugged Fitness Landscape

A new study from Michael Harms’ laboratory at the University of Oregon finds that potential amino acid substitutions in protein sequences are highly coupled. That is, if one residue mutates to a new amino acid, the swap impacts the other possible substitutions—they now have a different impact on the protein tertiary structure. As the paper explains:

Proteins exist as ensembles of similar conformations. The effect of a mutation depends on the relative probabilities of conformations in the ensemble, which in turn, depend on the exact amino acid sequence of the protein. Accumulating substitutions alter the relative probabilities of conformations, thereby changing the effects of future mutations. This manifests itself as subtle but pervasive high-order epistasis. Uncertainty in the effect of each mutation accumulates and undermines prediction. Because conformational ensembles are an inevitable feature of proteins, this is likely universal.

This coupling leads to a “profound unpredictability in evolution,” and the authors conclude that “detailed evolutionary predictions are not possible given the chemistry of macromolecules.”

This finding seems to confirm what many evolutionists have said for decades—that evolution is a contingent, not law-like, process:

These [macro]evolutionary happenings are unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible.” – Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1957.

Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques” for explaining evolutionary events and processes. – Ernst Mayr

What science needs are “plausible scenarios for a fully material universe, even if those scenarios cannot be currently tested.” – Victor Stenger, 2004

any replay of the tape would lead evolution down a pathway radically different from the road actually taken. – Stephen Jay Gould

All of this is in direct contradiction to the science, which reveals undeniable patterns in biology that have been repeated over and over. From the pervasive instances of convergence, recurrence, and all kinds of other “ence’s”, to the non adaptive patterns discussed by Michael Denton, the biological is anything but haphazard or random. Clearly, the same solution, for whatever reason, is used repeatedly across a wide range of species, in various patterns.

This is a clear falsification of an evolutionary expectation expressed across many years, and widely held by a consensus of experts.

But there is another problem with these protein findings. In addition to confirming the complexity and coupling of protein folding, the findings also seem to corroborate what theoretical and experimental studies have shown for years, that the fitness landscape of macromolecules in general, and proteins in particular, is rugged.

The problem of evolving a protein is difficult for several reasons. First, protein function drops off rapidly with only a few mutations. Very quickly a protein loses its function as you move away from the native sequence.

Second, random or starting sequences are stuck in a flat and rugged fitness landscape. There is little sign of a the kind of smooth and gradually increasing fitness landscape that would aid evolution’s enormous task of figuring out how proteins could evolve.

These problems are just getting worse, and this new finding a good example of that trend.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Blindness in Cave Fish is Due to Epigenetics

Evolutionists Say “We See”

A recent paper out of Brant Weinstein’s and William Jeffery’s laboratories on eye development, or the lack thereof, in blind cave fish has important implications for evolutionary theory (paper discussed here). The study finds that the loss of eyes in fish living in dark Mexican caves is not due to genetic mutations, as evolutionists have vigorously argued for many years, but due to genetic regulation. Specifically, methylation of key development genes represses their expression and with it eye development in this venerable icon of evolution. But the finding is causing yet more problems for evolutionary theory.

Darwin appealed to the blind cave fish in his one long argument for evolution. It is a curious argument in many ways, and the first sign of problems was in Darwin’s presentation where he flipped between two different explanations. At one point he explained the loss of vision in the cave fish as an example of evolutionary change not due to his key mechanism, natural selection. Instead, the Sage of Kent resorted to using the Lamarckian mechanism or law of “use and disuse.” Privately Darwin despised and harshly criticized Lamarck, but when needed he occasionally employed his French forerunner’s ideas.

Elsewhere Darwin hit upon a natural selection-based mechanism for the blind cave fish, explaining that elimination of the costly and unneeded vision system would surely raise the fitness of the hapless creatures.

This latter explanation would become a staple amongst latter day evolutionary apologists, convinced that it mandates the fact of evolution. Anyone who has discussed or debated evolutionary theory with today’s Epicureans has likely encountered this curious argument that because blind cave fish lost their eyes, therefore the world must have arisen by itself.


To understand the evolutionary logic, or lack thereof, one must understand the history of ideas, and in particular the idea of fixity, or immutability, of species. According to evolutionists, species are either absolutely fixed in their designs, or otherwise there are no limits to their evolutionary changes and the biological world, and everything else for that matter, spontaneously originated.

Any evidence, for any kind of change, no matter how minor, is immediately yet another proof text for evolution, in all that the word implies.

Of course, from a scientific perspective, the evidence provides precisely zero evidence for evolution. Evolution requires the spontaneous (i.e., by natural processes without external input) creation of an unending parade of profound designs. The cave fish evidence shows the removal, not creation, of such a design.

The celebration of such evidence and argument by Darwin and his disciples reveals more about evolutionists than evolution. That they would find this argument persuasive reveals their underlying metaphysics and the heavy lifting it performs. It is all about religion.

We are reminded of all this with the news of Weinstein’s new study. But we also see something new: The insertion, yet again, of Lamarck into the story. The irony is that the epigenetics, now revealed as the cause of repressed eye development in the cave fish, hearkens back to Lamarck.

Darwin despised Lamarck and later evolutionists made him the third rail in biology. Likewise they have pushed back hard against the scientific findings of epigenetics and their implications.

The environment must not drive biological change.


Well such biological change must not be transgenerational.


Well such inheritance must not be long lasting, or otherwise robust.

False again.

This last failure is revealed yet again in the new blind cave fish findings.

False predictions count. A theory that is repeatedly wrong, over and over, in all of its fundamental expectations, will eventually be seen for what it is.

The rise of epigenetics is yet another such major failure. Evolutionists pushed back against it because it makes no sense on the theory, and that means it cannot now be easily accommodated.

One problem is that epigenetics is complex. The levels of coordination and intricacy of mechanism are far beyond evolution’s meager resources.

It’s not going to happen.

Another problem is the implied serendipity. For instance, one epigenetic mechanism involves the molecular tags places on the tails of the DNA packing proteins called histones. While barcoding often seems to be an apt metaphor for epigenetics, the tagging of histone tails can influence the histone three dimensional structures. It is not merely an information-bearing barcode. Like the tiny rudder causing the huge ship to change course, the tiny molecular tag can cause the much larger packing proteins to undergo conformational change, resulting in important changes in gene accessibility and expression.

This is all possible because of the special, peculiar, structure and properties of the histone protein and its interaction with DNA. With evolution we must believe this just happened to evolve for no reason, and thus fortuitously enabled the rise of epigenetics.

Another problem with epigenetics is that it is worthless, in evolutionary terms that is. The various mechanisms that sense environmental shifts and challenges, attach or remove one of the many different molecular tags to one of the many different DNA or histone locations, propagate these messages across generations, and so forth, do not produce the much needed fitness gain upon which natural selection operates.

The incredible epigenetics mechanisms are helpful only at some yet to be announced future epoch when the associated environmental challenge presents itself. In the meantime, selection is powerless and according to evolution the incredible system of epigenetics, that somehow just happened to arise from a long, long series or random mutations, would wither away with evolution none the wiser.

These are the general problems with epigenetics. In the case of the blind cave fish, however, there is possible explanation. It is a longshot, but since this case specifically involves the loss of a stage of the embryonic development, evolutionists can say that genetic mutations caused changes in the methylating proteins, causing them to be overactive.

This explanation relies on the preexistence of the various epigenetic mechanisms, so does not help to resolve the question of how they could have evolved. What the explanation does provide is a way for evolutionists to dodge the bullet presented by the specter of the cave fish intelligently responding to an environmental shift.

Such teleology in the natural world is not allowed.

So the evolutionary prediction is that these proteins will be found to have particular random changes causing an increase in their methylation function, in particular at key locations in key genes (i.e., the genes associated eye development).

That’s a long shot, and an incredible violation of Occam’s Razor.

My predictions are that (i) this evolutionary prediction will fail just as the hundreds that came before, and (ii) as with those earlier failures, this failure will do nothing to open the evolutionist’s eyes.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Monday, October 23, 2017

World’s Oldest Tree is World’s Most Complex Tree

Makes Perfect Sense

We have often discussed the problem of “early complexity,” and how as we peer back in time—whether in the geographic strata or by phylogenetic reconstruct—things don’t get simpler. This makes no sense on evolution and this week’s news of a fossil specimen in northwest China, revealing and ancient, and highly complex, tree, just makes it worse. As one of the authors admitted:

This raises a provoking question: why are the very oldest trees the most complicated?

Fortunately evolution is a fact.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Welcome to Alt-Science


Sometimes it’s obvious, as in the case of the scientific research paper that was rejected after it was accepted. While the paper was well accepted and given positive comments from peer reviewers, certain members of the editorial board of a seemingly scientific journal noticed that the results had negative implications for evolution. And so months after the editor had told the authors he was happy “to proceed with publication,” the paper suddenly was, “on further reflection and discussion,” summarily rejected.

And what exactly was the “discussion” about? That “the unspoken implication of the article is that, probabilistically, random undirected evolution is impossible.”

And that, dear scientists, is not allowed.

Random undirected evolution is, by definition, a fact. Break that ground rule, and pay the price. This isn’t about science or truth. This is the alt-science that seeks to control everything from publications and textbooks to careers and funding.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Monday, October 2, 2017

But, But, But, … The Origin Of Life Was All But Solved!

“The origin of life is among the greatest open problems in science”

With everyone from the National Academy of Sciences to science writers such as Carl Zimmer proclaiming that the origin of life problem has essentially been solved, we wonder why we continue to find researchers, this time Yehuda Zeiri at Ben-Gurion University, admitting that:

Despite decades of research, how life began on Earth remains one of the most challenging scientific conundrums facing modern science.

and Sara Walker resorting to hope and luck:

The origins of life stands among the great open scientific questions of our time. While a number of proposals exist for possible starting points in the pathway from non-living to living matter, these have so far not achieved states of complexity that are anywhere near that of even the simplest living systems. A key challenge is identifying the properties of living matter that might distinguish living and non-living physical systems such that we might build new life in the lab. This review is geared towards covering major viewpoints on the origin of life for those new to the origin of life field, with a forward look towards considering what it might take for a physical theory that universally explains the phenomenon of life to arise from the seemingly disconnected array of ideas proposed thus far. The hope is that a theory akin to our other theories in fundamental physics might one day emerge to explain the phenomenon of life, and in turn finally permit solving its origins. […] If we are so lucky as to stumble on new fundamental understanding of life that allows us to solve our origins, it could be such a radical departure from what we know now that it might be left to the next generation of physicists to reconcile the unification of life with other domains of physics, as we are now struggling to accomplish with unifying general relativity and quantum theory a century after those theories were first developed.

But “hope” is not a good science strategy.

One sign of this problem is the proliferation of hypotheses, indicating, as we have pointed out many times, the lack of any good solution. Or as Alex Berezow a bit more bluntly puts it:

The origin of life is a profound mystery. Once life arose, natural selection and evolution took over, but the question of how a mixture of various gases created life-giving molecules that arranged into structures capable of reproducing themselves remains unanswered. Many theories have been proposed, some of which are popular (e.g., RNA World), and some of which are a far-fetched (e.g., aliens). Unlike politics, more ideas are not necessarily better; in science, a diversity of theories tends to betray the reality that scientists have no idea what's going on.

No idea what’s going on? It must be time for Jeremy England to find another Ilya Prigogine idea.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Your Own Evidence For Evolution

The Nature of Evidence

Charles Darwin would approve of this video showing evidence for evolution found in the human body.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

What Does Abortion Portend For Evolution?

An Unsolved Puzzle

While much has been said about the link between evolution and abortion, and how the former sanctions the latter, little has been said about the reverse. If evolution supports abortion, what does abortion say about evolution?

To appreciate fully what we can learn about evolution from abortion, we first need to understand the evolution of behavior. In the past half century evolutionists have elucidated how complex behaviors, such as altruism, evolved. A key concept is kin selection, and much of the early theoretical work was done by William Hamilton in the early 1960s.

For our purposes here, what is important is that studies in the evolution of behavior have been forced to resort to enormous levels of complexity, nuance and precision. Somehow unguided genetic modifications must have resulted in genes for a wide range of attitudes and behaviors. The list is staggering. There are of course the obvious behaviors such as love, hate, guilt, retribution, social tendencies and habits, friendship, empathy, gratitude, trustworthiness, a sense of fulfillment at giving aid and guilt at not giving aid, high and low self-esteem, competition, and so forth.

These behaviors are supposed to have evolved according to the kin selection criteria, along with many more nuanced behaviors. For instance, love not only evolved, but in varying degrees depending on the degree of shared genes. It is weaker within the extended family than within the family. Low self-esteem behavior not only evolved, but the art of not hiding it can be advantageous and so also evolved. Sibling rivalries evolved, but only to a limited degree. In wealthy families, it is more advantageous for siblings to favor sisters while in poor families siblings ought to favor brothers. So those behaviors evolved. Mothers in poor physical condition ought to treat daughters as more valuable than sons. Likewise, socially or materially disadvantaged parents ought to treat daughters as more valuable than sons.

We’ll stop here but the list of incredibly detailed, subtle behaviors that evolution must have precisely crafted goes on and on. Evolution must have an incredible ability to produce finely tuned and highly specific behaviors.

With that understanding, we are now ready to consider abortion. The question is: how and why did evolution produce such a behavior? What fitness calculation is satisfied by terminating the life of your own child?

I can just imagine evolutionist’s contriving just-so stories to justify such an absurdity. Killing your own child would, after all, allow one to avoid the costly physical and emotional investment of raising a child. One would be better off, and so better prepared to … To do what?

To have another child.

The whole point of “fitness,” in an evolutionary context, is reproduction. One has higher “fitness” if one can have more offspring. Fitness does not refer to physical fitness in the colloquial sense. It does not refer to financial fitness. It refers to having babies. Lots of babies.

That’s what evolutionary theory is based on. Reproductive advantage. Not physical, spiritual, emotional, or financial advantage, but reproductive advantage.

Abortion as a behavior is a flat contradiction and falsification of evolutionary expectations. It makes no sense.

If I can't run very fast for some reason, then that indirectly reduces my fitness as it may impact my survivability or otherwise my reproductive abilities (or it may not). But if I kill my child, that directly deducts from my evolutionary fitness. Abortion is a much bigger, more direct, fitness penalty.

Indeed, abortion is the ultimate fitness penalty. All the positive fitness attributes I may have are instantly and completely wiped out if I engage in abortion. Selection would weed it out immediately.

Under evolution abortion would be rapidly eliminated. Remember, in the past half century evolutionists have insisted that evolution must have crafted our many nuanced behaviors with incredible precision and specificity. Abortion would not have accidentally evolved.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Creationists Demolish Evolutionists in Annual Football Game

Don’t Know What They’re Doing

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Galileo and a New Climate Study

A Durable Myth

Science writer Katherine Ellen Foley has another article on anthropogenic global warming, or AGW, in Quartz this past week. The AGW theory states that civilization’s production of green-house gases, such as carbon dioxide, is causing a hockey-stick like rise in the Earth’s temperatures. This has led to a range of dire environmental warnings in recent decades, some of which have already failed. Nonetheless AGW is the consensus theory amongst virtually all climate scientists. How much of this consensus is formed by non empirical factors—more common in science than is often understood—is an open question. Leaked emails have revealed strong-arm tactics—including pressure on publishers—used to squash dissent. Of course none of this means AGW is necessarily anything less than completely true. But it does compromise unsupported claims that AGW is a strong, empirical theory. Press conferences claiming a case closed won’t cut it—that kind of trust and legitimacy was lost years ago. The guiding light here must be the raw science.

All of this means that AGW appears to be another fascinating example of how science, for better or for worse, works. What I find particularly interesting are high truth claims for ideas that are politically or metaphysically charged and not obviously empirically supported. The problem with science, as Del Ratzsch has pointed out, is that it is done by people. Non empirical influences are, gasp, sometimes at work and we simply must understand the underlying science rather than blindly accept authoritarian pronouncements.

I am not arguing for or against AGW, but I am arguing for a depth of understanding that too often is missing from partisan accounts. This, unfortunately, characterizes Foley’s Quartz article, which asks the question: What about the research papers questioning AGW? While the vast majority of the literature falls squarely within the AGW-is-true paradigm, there is nonetheless a tiny sliver of papers questioning the theory.

To be sure those papers aren’t having much influence, but according to Foley AGW critics often invoke Galileo as a comparison. Just as Galileo met stiff opposition, so do these AGW dissenters. The implication is that, like Galileo, these researchers will prevail in the end.

Foley explains this is all wrong, both because it is a false analogy and because those papers are scientifically flawed. Specifically, Foley explains that Galileo’s “fellow scientists mostly agreed with his conclusions—it was church leaders who tried to suppress them.” And furthermore, a study of those dissenting papers found them to be biased and faulty.

Foley’s article hit the mark. It has instantly been reposted and retold across the Internet, on blogs, forums, and even videos, such as this one by Jeff Waldorf. Unfortunately Foley’s article is little more than AGW cheerleading, and Waldorf and the others are only too quick to pile on, assigning nefarious motives to anyone who would doubt the consensus theory. It is precisely this kind of hostile, social atmosphere which can be so stifling to science.

Foley’s article is largely a copy and paste job from other sources, and she employs the usual rhetorical devices, such as labelling her targets as “climate-change-denying papers.” Of course they are no such thing. The papers are questioning AGW, not “denying” climate change.  This sort of rhetoric, targeted at reasonable skepticism, is a sign of fake news.

The next problem is with her retelling of the Galileo Affair which is all Warfare Thesis. No it wasn’t science versus religion—that is the myth that Foley is propagating. Galileo did not heroically lead a scientific consensus with powerful and unambiguous empirical evidence against ecclesiastical resistance. Church leaders did not “tr[y] to suppress them.”

Nonetheless this gets picked up and amplified by Waldorf and the others, and historians now have yet another round of Galileo mythology to reckon with. The Galileo myth serves as yet another non empirical mandate for ideas like AGW and evolution, and that is why it is so resistant and durable.

As if to support her Galileo claims, Foley links to a 2011 phony New York Times article by Henry Fountain who provides this absurd retelling of the myth:

Galileo, whose astronomical observations confirmed the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun, was basing his assertions on empirical knowledge and faced opposition from the Roman Catholic Church, which supported the Ptolemaic view of an Earth-centered universe.

Of course Galileo’s observations did not “confirm the Copernican theory.” Nor were his “assertions based on empirical knowledge.” Galileo flatly ignored Kepler’s finding that ellipses perfectly described the planetary orbits (as opposed to the lousy circles Galileo advocated which required epicycles). And the lack of stellar parallax observed in the seventeenth century flatly refuted Galileo’s heliocentrism. Furthermore Galileo studiously avoided mentioning Tycho Brahe’s hybrid model which competed well against heliocentrism. Galileo carefully framed the debate as strictly heliocentrism versus geocentrism.

Nor did Galileo face any kind of unified opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. That is another myth. There were many in the church who had no problem with Galileo pursuing his ideas, and the Pope had been a benefactor of Galileo before, that is, Galileo turned on him.

The Galileo Affair is far more complex and nuanced than these pathetic retellings would have it. As one historian put it, it was Galileo’s religion versus the Church’s science. But that, of course, would not service Foley’s message.

Next Foley appeals to a 2015 paper—passed off as something of recent importance—arguing that research papers skeptical of AGW are all flawed.

That’s curious.

Why does Foley now resurrect a 2015 review of even older AGW skepticism? Foley generously draws upon a 2015 Guardian article to fill in her story.

Could this retelling of an old story have anything to do with more recent research posing serious challenges to AGW? Could this be an attempt to forestall emerging skepticism, and delegitimize research that points to AGW’s on-going problems?

Consider a new study by John Abbot and Jennifer Marohasy that is suggesting a rather fundamental failure of AGW. The study shows that pre industrial climate data robustly models twentieth century temperatures.

That should not be the case if AGW is true.

If later nineteenth and twentieth century greenhouse gas emissions are causing a hockey stick temperature rise, it should not be consistent with the older data. AGW says that the climate has changed.

Now perhaps Abbot’s and Marohasy’s new research is flawed. Perhaps they have made a mistake, and so AGW is unharmed by their work.

But doesn’t that make for a more interesting article in 2017 than rehashing old myths?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Kneecaps: “Ultimately, there might not be a simple pattern”

We can only say that so it is

Why do ostriches have four, rather than two, kneecaps? A new study has found several possible biomechanical advantages. Perhaps they allow the ostrich to straighten its leg more quickly, helping the animal to run quickly. Perhaps the lower kneecap protects the joined tendons crossing the front of the knee. One reason that does not help to explain the ostriches four kneecaps is evolution. That is because this unique design is not predicted, and makes no sense, on the theory. As one article admits: “Bizarrely, many of the ostrich’s closest relatives don’t have kneecaps at all.” Similarities across the species were a strong argument for evolution, but in fact biology is full of unique designs, particular to one or a few species. Such one-off, “lineage specific,” designs are “bizarre” for evolutionists. So while there are design reasons for the ostriches four kneecaps, on the ordinary view of the evolution of each being, we can only say that so it is.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rob Stadler and the NABT

The Scientific Approach to Evolution

It’s no secret that the origins debate is highly polarized. Many people have their minds made up and too often there is no place for a reasoned evaluation of the science. That’s tragic because that is where things become interesting. I once spoke to a roomful of high school science teachers, explaining that they could accurately teach how the science bears on the theory of evolution—both positively and negatively. The response I got was that this would confuse the students who needed to be given a simple, unambiguous message. One teacher was concerned that anything other than an obvious, “evolution is true,” message would be detrimental to the learning. To be sure there can be a tension between detail and clarity in classroom settings. High school students learn introductory history lessons out of necessity. They simply are not ready for research-level topics. Clarity sometimes comes at the cost of less detail. But there is a difference between simplifying a lesson and biasing a lesson. I was again reminded of all this when I heard about how the National Association of Biology Teachers responded to Dr. Robert Stadler’s new book, The Scientific Approach to Evolution.

It would be difficult to find someone more qualified than Stadler to analyze how the scientific evidence bears on the theory of evolution. His academic background is in Biomedical Engineering, with degrees from the top universities in the nation (Case Western Reserve University, MIT, and Harvard). And he has twenty years of experience in the field, with more than 100 patents to his name.

Stadler’s interest in evolution skips over the usual culture wars arguments and focuses on the science. Stadler provides an approach that is sorely needed. While there are plenty of texts and popular books that review the scientific evidence for evolution, they invariably fail to provide any kind of accounting of the strength of the evidence. The field outside my window is flat and so is evidence that the Earth is flat. But of course that evidence is weak.

On the other hand, there is plenty of academic work dealing with methods of rigorous, quantitative, theory evaluation, such as Bayesian approaches. But they invariably fail to engage the real-world evidences for evolution, in any kind of comprehensive way.

For all the talk, there is too often a lack of actual practice of analyzing the evidence. Enter Rob Stadler and his thoroughly accessible approach to laying out how the evidence bears on the theory of evolution. Importantly, Stadler explains not just the evidences, but the strengths and weaknesses of those evidences.

Because Stadler’s approach is accessible, it is an excellent classroom resource. Indeed, regardless of what one believes about a scientific theory such as evolution, the learning is greatly enhanced when one is allowed to explore the evidence, think critically about it, form opinions, and defend them in discourse. Rather than rehearse the carefully selected subset of evidences routinely presented in textbooks, the science should be allowed to speak for itself.

Unfortunately those science teachers I spoke to are not the only ones uncomfortable with allowing science such freedoms. Earlier this year Stadler worked with an agency to place an advertisement for his new book with the National Association of Biology Teachers. The contract was signed, funds were paid, and beginning in May the ad was to appear on the NABT website.

But strangely enough, on May 1 the advertisement failed to appear. It was through the ad agency that Stadler learned that the NABT had no intention of running the ad. The agency informed Stadler that the NABT had “concerns” over the content of the book.

And what exactly was the problem? The Scientific Approach to Evolution allows the evidence to speak for itself. According to Stadler’s book, there could be negative evidences, as well as positive evidences.

And that was not acceptable.

The NABT was concerned that “Dr. Sadler’s attempts to address ‘strengths and weaknesses’ in order to establish a climate of controversy in the scientific community regarding evolution  where there is none.”

Ironically, the NABT was also concerned that Dr. Sadler underappreciates that “theories are open to revision and refinement as new data becomes available.” That’s ironic because Sadler’s book does precisely that. Sadler appeals to new data to refine and revise our understanding of evolution.

Indeed, if Sadler’s theory-neutral appeal to the scientific evidence makes him guilty of attempting to “establish a climate of controversy” where there is none, then how can theories such as evolution ever be revised?

The fact is, the NABT’s ground rules are a form of theory protectionism. They won’t even run an advertisement for a book that dares question evolution on scientific grounds.

And rather than address the evidence that Sadler brings forth, the NABT contrives nefarious motives. According to the NABT, Sadler is guilty of dishonest pedagogy, and seeking “to establish a climate of controversy.” In the name of scientific integrity the theory must be protected. Darwin’s supporter TH Huxley called for a very different approach. We must, Darwin’s bulldog explained:

Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.

Huxley insisted that we cast aside our preconceived notions, and follow the evidence to wherever it leads. Otherwise “you shall learn nothing.” Unfortunately Huxley would not recognize today’s classroom. The NABT would do well to heed the warning of Darwin’s most vocal advocate.