IDA: Darwinius Masillae

IDA: Darwinius Masillae

This is an important fossil find due the the age and completeness of the fossil, and coming from 47 MYA it’s at an important branch in evolution. It’s not the missing link, it’s another missing link. Please watch the report, keep in mind that the news story is a bit overdone as is the style of all Murdoch outlets, and come to think of it most science reporting everywhere.

More on how this might not be “the” missing link that that news outlets are painting it as at Evolving Thoughts. It’s definitely important and shows some characteristics that are exciting, but more data needed before it can be known if IDA is mainline or offshoot from our path.

More from Carl Zimmer

PZ Meyers has more at Panda’s Thumb

Charles at Little Green Footballs has more as well in the ongoing debate over science and the Republican party. This is just the latest fossil that the shills at the Discovery Institute and their flacks are working to dismiss, a tedious kneejerk reaction.

The hype, the documentary, the book has the science community all abuzz with how this was released. There’s a good and bad side to it. Sensationalizing science does gain public attention to science which is sorely needed in the years ahead, on the other hand overblown reporting allows misinterpretation, and niches that Discovery Institute can claw into with “controversy” in mind. With their stable of prolific spin meisters and outright liars they’ll have the conservative public believing this is a plastic model before you know it.

Why Darwin Matters: Evolution, Intelligent Design and the Battle for Science and Religion

Why Darwin Matters: Evolution, Intelligent Design and the Battle for Science and Religion

Michael Shermer on why Darwin matters in this lecture at the Division of Biological Sciences and the Helen Edison Lecture Series at the University of California, San Diego.

UPDATE: It’s really a disservice to put up such a great lecture without also pointing you to the book Michael is talking about, so apologies for not doing this originally. Michael Shermer : Why Darwin Matters


Gay Marriage, Swine Flu, and Dissension in the Ranks of Evolution Supporters

Gay Marriage, Swine Flu, and Dissension in the Ranks of Evolution Supporters

Gay Marriage
Iowa has become the third state to legalize Gay Marriage, and as a supporter of Gay Marriage that’s good news to me. I don’t however see a tidal wave of states rushing to adopt similar legislation, most will go for Civil union instead. That’s problematic in it’s own right due to federal code that prevents SSI and other benefits from going to children of gay parents, which doesn’t seem too “pro family” to me. It would be good if the sections defining benefits as going only to married heterosexuals were extended to permit that, otherwise there will be no compromise in states proposing civil union as opposed to marriage.
I like the idea of this controversial social issue working at state level with the sole exception of that benefits question. Given time and test social issues are best initially solved state by state: because in a legislative labratory of fifty states eventually someone will hit on method that’s best for everyone and then it will become adopted in widespread manner. I dislike the contentious and hysterical people trying to decide this issue yesterday at both ends of that spectrum.

Flu Outbreak
A good article at Pajamas Media goes into the panic attack over the flu outbreak, and states that some might be profitting from the panic. I agree; it’s the flu, and people die every year from variations of it. The panic posts might get hits, but it’s sliding into yellow journalistic ground to artificially inflate panic by not comparing to the flu outbreaks we have every year:

With the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, there always has to be something to say. You need excitement. “We’re all gonna die!” sells papers and gets people talking. What’s missing is a sense of proportion. Somehow, the way these things get blown up is never a big story — and hardly anyone is appropriately horrified.

Evolution, Pragmatism or Agnosticism?

In the Evolution discussion Richard Hoppe at Panda’s Thumb dissents from the Coyne/PZ Meyers view. I’m in agreement with Hoppe, but it’s not pragmatism alone that makes it so.

The pragmatism goes like this: Since we hope to convince more conservatives that teaching religion in science class is a bad thing, then we shouldn’t hand out the big smackdown to religion by essentially agreeing with Discovery Institute’s dichotomous view that to be a good Christian you must be opposed to science, since the Coyne/Meyers version of that is just the obverse wedge: If you support science then you must automatically deny G-d.

One is philosophy, the other religion – neither wedge should be allowed in science. Ayn Rand said “Politics is philosophy in action.” If we allow the teaching of a politics in science that denies G-D, then not only are we diminishing Science and being unpragmatic, we are also proselityzing a philosophy.

That’s probably just as unconstitutional as teaching religion as science, and as you will see below it’s not scientific. If the rabid atheists  must have that view taught then like religion it belongs in history, philosophy, and social classes, but not in science classes.

One of my heroes in this ongoing political struggle is Genie Scott and she explains this much better than I in the video below.

Even as a child I did not have faith, and PZ in many ways is like an ex-smoker in that he had faith and changed his mind – now he wants everyone else to. So he’s taking a hardline and saying that Evolution’s defenders should go on offense in his reply to Hoope here.

Science is Agnostic

Science is Agnostic

Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education gives an excellent lecture on why the dichotomy presented by the Discovery Institute is false, and why importing atheist philosophy into science class isn’t right either. Eugenie’s new book is also available at Amazon, see the link below the video.

Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction

Computational Genomics: Deconstructing DNA to Determine Evolutionary Paths

The Evolution of the Bacterial Flagellum

And why is this important? See Ken Miller explaining the Kitzmiller intelligent design trial below.

The Problem With ID and Discovery Institute

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Even though I am atheist, I don’t have a problem with intelligent design, or the existence of G-D: both are distinct possibilities if you are talking about the origin of  the universe, or of life itself. The issue isn’t with Intelligent design and belief in a creator as the movie “Expelled” poorly attempts to portray. Ir’s about their markedly political agenda to discredit evolution and to stop its teaching in science class. 

When I said poorly above it’s because there is a certain amount of deceit in the movie. You have to wonder why they leave an interview with a Christian evolutionary biologist on the cutting room floor if the movie’s really about academic freedom? 

You don’t have to disbelieve G-D to oppose the Discovery Institute and their aims. You don’t get special credit in heaven for supporting them either, because they are attacking truth as scientists know it today through deceit. As the good book says  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

While there certainly are rabid atheist secularists out there like Richard Dawkins, they are the exception, not the rule. Interviewing Dawkins on a subject such as this would be like interviewing Fred Phelps in a documentary about Christianity – you would be guaranteed some juicy bits, but would you really be portraying Christianity truthfully? I think not.

Forty percent of scientists believe in G-D in one form of religion or another. So why would the film attack atheism? Why would it attack science with the blood libel that they created the holocaust?

Those are not rhetorical questions: those are questions you need to ask yourself; and then you need to read the Wedge Document here which was leaked from the Discovery Institute. Before you accuse me of trusting wiki etc. be aware that the Institute, and the documents creators have admitted that it is real, however they do make serious attempts to downplay it, as noted here. (There are plenty of links at the bottom, citations, as well as a photocopy of the cover of the doc.)

The theory of evolution makes no claim to “knowing” how life started, or how the universe originated. How life and the universe began are hot topics of controversy within science, they are unsettled fields, and they are exciting fields. Religious scientists want to find truth every bit as much as the atheist and agnostics do, I would imagine they look upon it as discovery of G-D’s work.

So Ben sets up one strawman argument, and then rebutted himself. The other strawman shaken in our faces in the movie is the assumption that evolutionary theory is never challenged. This is somewhat over the top as it does get challenged regularly, not only by creationists, but also by scientists themselves. The debate over the details and mechanisms of evolution has raged across science for a long time, and it will continue to do so for it helps fuel new discoveries.

One of the strategies of the Discovery Institute is to attack and invalidate evolution by “teaching the controversy” – however when I studied evolution they were ahead of the DI. In other words my teachers did teach that there were gaps in fossil records and that there were controversies in Evolution. Teaching what we don’t know is an important part of science education.  The unanswered questions are the exciting parts for scientists and for students after all.

In the end you have to wonder who is closer to G-D – a scientist who studies wonders such as this in daily awe at the universe, or a disingenuous PR flack for a neo-luddite political think-tank?

Other resources:

Expelled exposed – a site that exposes the deceit and flaws in the movie

The Discovery Institute – the think tank

The Panda’s Thumb – an evolution blog

Talk Origins FAQ – records and debunking of the various claims against evolution