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September 27, 2005

Evolution

New Analyses Bolster Central Tenets of Evolution Theory Pa. Trial Will Ask Whether 'Alternatives' Can Pass as Science By Rick Weiss and David Brown Washington Post Staff Writers Monday, September 26, 2005; A08 When scientists announced last month they had determined the exact order of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee, it was no surprise that the sequence was more than 96 percent identical to the human genome. Charles Darwin had deduced more than a century ago that chimps were among humans' closest cousins. But decoding chimpanzees' DNA allowed scientists to do more than just refine their estimates of how similar humans and chimps are. It let them put the very theory of evolution to some tough new tests. If Darwin was right, for example, then scientists should be able to perform a neat trick. Using a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory, they should be able to predict the number of harmful mutations in chimpanzee DNA by knowing the number of mutations in a different species' DNA and the two animals' population sizes. "That's a very specific prediction," said Eric Lander, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and a leader in the chimp project. Sure enough, when Lander and his colleagues tallied the harmful mutations in the chimp genome, the number fit perfectly into the range that evolutionary theory had predicted....

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September 24, 2005

Dawkins - The Ancestor's Tale

Here is the audio of Richard Dawkins reading from his book The Ancestor's Tale from the Seattle Science Lecture in November of 2004. If you're a Dawkins fan you won't want to miss this one, and if you're not a Dawkins fan you will be after listening to this program. Link Click to icon to play 12.3 MB 53'43 (audio only)...

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September 18, 2005

Evolution

Richard Dawkins on the Al Franken Show 9/20/05 (thanks to Dan for the audio) Click to icon to play 3.6MB 15'49 Richard Dawkins is undoubtedly the best there is at explaining evolution. As part of a New Scientist article on The World's 10 Biggest Ideas he explains the basics in six of the best written paragraphs I've ever read on the subject. The world is divided into things that look designed (like birds and airliners) and things that don't (rocks and mountains). Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed (submarines and tin openers) and those that aren't (sharks and hedgehogs). The diagnostic of things that look (or are) designed is that their parts are assembled in ways that are statistically improbable in a functional direction. They do something well: for instance, fly. Darwinian natural selection can produce an uncanny illusion of design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant. So powerful is the illusion of design, it took humanity until the mid-19th century to realise that it is an illusion. In 1859, Charles Darwin announced one of the greatest ideas ever to occur to a human mind: cumulative evolution by natural selection. Living complexity is indeed orders of magnitude too improbable to have come about by chance. But only if we assume that all the luck has to come in one fell swoop. When cascades of small chance steps accumulate, you can reach prodigious heights of adaptive complexity. That cumulative build-up is evolution. Its guiding force is natural selection. Every living creature has ancestors, but only a fraction have descendants. All inherit the genes of an unbroken sequence of successful ancestors, none of whom died young and none of whom failed to reproduce. Genes that program embryos to develop into adults who can successfully reproduce automatically survive in the gene pool, at the expense of genes that fail. This is natural selection at the gene level, and we notice its consequences at the organism level. There has to be an ultimate source of new genetic variation, and it is mutation. Copies of newly mutated genes are reshuffled through the gene pool by sexual reproduction, and selection removes them from the pool in a way that is non-random....

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September 5, 2005

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

School board: Intelligent design isn't To borrow a line from Dorothy: We're not in Kansas anymore. ��� Unlike the Kansas School Board, which earlier this summer approved allowing educators to teach theories in addition to evolution that explain life on Earth, the Utah Board of Education on Friday unanimously approved a position statement supporting the continued exclusive teaching of evolution in state classrooms. "By definition, science does not attempt to explain the world by invoking the supernatural," University of Utah bioengineering professor Gregory Clark told the board. ���"Intelligent design fails as science because it does exactly that - it posits that life is too complex to have arisen from natural causes, and instead requires the intervention of an intelligent designer who is beyond natural explanation. Invoking the supernatural can explain anything, and hence explains nothing."...

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September 1, 2005

Teach The Right Controversy

Learn More About Evolution Here One side can be wrong Accepting 'intelligent design' in science classrooms would have disastrous consequences, warn Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne Thursday September 1, 2005 Guardian It sounds so reasonable, doesn't it? Such a modest proposal. Why not teach "both sides" and let the children decide for themselves? As President Bush said, "You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes." At first hearing, everything about the phrase "both sides" warms the hearts of educators like ourselves. One of us spent years as an Oxford tutor and it was his habit to choose controversial topics for the students' weekly essays. They were required to go to the library, read about both sides of an argument, give a fair account of both, and then come to a balanced judgment in their essay. The call for balance, by the way, was always tempered by the maxim, "When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong."...

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August 11, 2005

Nightline - Intelligent Design

Excellent, Nightline did a great job on this program. Evolution is the only scientific explanation. "For two hundred years there has been a consensus among the practcioners of science that doing science meant explaining the phenomena naturlistically and a scientist would go as far as he or she could along those lines and if you douldn't do it, if something was too complicated to explain that constituted a scientific puzzle, a challenge for your sucessors down the road to solve, and It's cheating to say oh, okay, this is really a tough one so let's just quit and say God did it."—Ronald Numbers - University of Wisconsin-Madison related: P.Z. Meyers Giving Darwin The Finger Framing the debate with images. Click on Picture to Play Quicktime Video 15.6 MB 20'32 Click on icon to play Quicktime Audio Only 3.6MB 21'12 Quicktime Required (free download)...

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Back to Back ID-Evolution

Debate Over Intelligent Design was really quite an enjoyable program. It wasn't really a debate but rather back to back interviews with the guests, first George Gilder and then Richard Dawkins. I was particularly impressed with Dawkins uncompromising but reasonable approach to the subject. I think the out he provides for Christians in this exchange with the host of the program Tom Ashbrook is a good one. Tom Ashbrook: What about this , at the very point of origin there of life which you describe as a lucky chemical accident, you know and you can hear many religious americans, really struggle with that. As an atheist what's added, even as an opponent of religion, a great advocate of science, an illuminator of life, attitudinally, lets leave the education, the reading aside for a moment attitudinally what's your advice to a very religious person someone who wants to reach out and embrace science, what's the attitude that allows those to co-exist knowing that you're not one of those religious people. Richard Dawkins: Well, if I were one of those religious people what I'd probably say is that evolution is God's method of creating life. I've personally always found that a very unconvincing line of argument but it's a very widspread one. I would suggest reading maybe Kennth Miller's book Finding Darwin's God I haven't recommended one of my own books but Kenneth Miller is a very devout Christian, his book, Finding Darwin's God contains the finest and most devastating destruction of design theory that I've read. I would recommend that. Here is the direct link to the Real Audio stream...

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May 24, 2005

Ignorance is God's Gift To Kansas

Link to Original Creationism: God's gift to the ignorant As the Religious Right tries to ban the teaching of evolution in Kansas, Richard Dawkins speaks up for scientific logic Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it: �Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.� Science mines ignorance. Mystery � that which we don�t yet know; that which we don�t yet understand � is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do. Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. Worse, it threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect that creationism or �intelligent design theory� (ID) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well financed. ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name. It isn�t even safe for a scientist to express temporary doubt as a rhetorical device before going on to dispel it. �To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.� You will find this sentence of Charles Darwin quoted again and again by creationists. They never quote what follows. Darwin immediately went on to confound his initial incredulity. Others have built on his foundation, and the eye is today a showpiece of the gradual, cumulative evolution of an almost perfect illusion of design. The relevant chapter of my Climbing Mount Improbable is called �The fortyfold Path to Enlightenment� in honour of the fact that, far from being difficult to evolve, the eye has evolved at least 40 times independently around the animal kingdom....

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April 30, 2005

You, sir, are an ignorant bigot

The atheist Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains why God is a delusion, religion is a virus, and America has slipped back into the Dark Ages. By Gordy Slack Richard Dawkins is the world's most famous out-of-the-closet living atheist. He is also the world's most controversial evolutionary biologist. Publication of his 1976 book, "The Selfish Gene," thrust Dawkins into the limelight as the handsome, irascible, human face of scientific reductionism. The book provoked everything from outrage to glee by arguing that natural selection worked its creative powers only through genes, not species or individuals. Humans are merely "gene survival machines," he asserted in the book. Dawkins stuck to his theme but expanded his territory in such subsequent books as "The Blind Watchmaker," "Unweaving the Rainbow" and "Climbing Mount Improbable." His recent work, "The Ancestor's Tale," traces human lineage back through time, stopping to ponder important forks in the evolutionary road. Given his outspoken defense of Darwin, and natural selection as the force of life, Dawkins has assumed a new role: the religious right's Public Enemy No. 1. Yet Dawkins doesn't shy from controversy, nor does he suffer fools gladly. He recently met a minister who was on the opposite side of a British political debate. When the minister put out his hand, Dawkins kept his hands at his side and said, "You, sir, are an ignorant bigot."...

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April 27, 2005

Just One Thing

If you could teach the world just one thing 2005 - announced as Einstein Year - marks the centenary of the publication of Albert Einstein's equation E = mc2. To mark this occasion, spiked, in association with NESTA and science communicator Alom Shaha, conducted a survey of over 250 renowned scientists, science communicators, and educators, including 11 Nobel laureates. Each was asked: what would you teach the world about science and why, if you could pick just one thing...? Here are two of my favorites so far: Richard Dawkins Charles Simonyi professor of the public understanding of science at the University of Oxford, and science writer and broadcaster The scientific principle that I wish everyone understood is Darwinian natural selection, and its enormous explanatory power, as the only known explanation of 'design'.The world is divided into things that look designed, like birds and airliners; and things that do not look designed, like rocks and mountains. Things that look designed are divided into those that really are designed, like submarines and tin openers; and those that are not really designed, like sharks and hedgehogs. The diagnostic feature of things that look designed is that they are statistically improbable in the functional direction. They do something useful - for instance, they fly. Darwinian natural selection, although it involves no true design at all, can produce an uncanny simulacrum of true design. An engineer would be hard put to decide whether a bird or a plane was the more aerodynamically elegant.Not only can natural selection mimic design; it is the only known natural process that can mimic design. And now, here is the most difficult thing that I wish people understood. True design can never be an ultimate explanation for anything, because the designer himself is left unexplained. Designers are statistically improbable things, and trying to explain them as made by prior designers is ultimately futile, because it leads to an infinite regress.Natural selection escapes the infinite regress, because it starts simple, and works up gradually - step by step - to statistical improbability, and the illusion of design. Engineers and other designers are ultimately made, like all living things, by natural selection.So distant are many people from understanding this, they seriously believe that the existence of functional improbability is evidence in favour of intelligent design - the greater the improbability, the stronger the evidence. Truly, the precise opposite is the case. I wish that more people understood this. Susan Haack Cooper senior scholar in arts and sciences, professor of philosophy, and professor of law at the University of Miami in Coral Gables There are methods and procedures used by everyone engaged in empirical inquiryIn his essay 'Physics and reality', Albert Einstein writes that scientific inquiry is 'nothing but a refinement of everyday thinking'.The important idea behind this is that, rather than there being a special method of inquiry available to all scientists but only scientists, there are methods and procedures used by everyone engaged in empirical inquiry. And there are an extraordinary array of special techniques and devices - such as instruments of observation, mathematical techniques from numerals to the calculus to the computer, etc - which enable scientists to extend their evidential reach, and to refine their assessment of the worth of evidence.This stress upon continuity with, and refinement of, everyday thinking, suggests that we should stop worrying - as philosophers of science have long done - about the problem of demarcation of science from non-science, and about the ever-elusive scientific method. We should think instead about the constraints and demands upon all empirical inquiry, and the ways in which the sciences have refined and amplified human cognitive capacities....

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April 16, 2005

William James on Science

When one turns to the magnificent edifice of the physical sciences, and sees how it was reared; what thousands of interested moral lives of men lie buried in its mere foundations; what patience and postponement, what choking down of preference, what submission to the icy laws of outer fact are wrought into its very stones and mortar; how absolutely impersonal it stands in its vast augustness—then how besotted and contemptible seems every sentimentalist who comes blowing his smoke-wreaths, and pretending to decide things from out of his private dream—William James, "The Will to Believe"...

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January 25, 2005

From The Mailbag

Continuing the discussion on evolution onegoodmove reader Lara writes: "I was listening to some of Feynman's lectures over the weekend and I chanced upon this passage in which he discusses left-right asymmetry in biological molecules and ties it to evolution. The argument is not new but it is delivered in Feynman's inimitable style." Lara has also provided an audio mp3 (7'0 1.6MB) . The excerpt is taken from the lecture that forms the basis for the last chapter (Symmetry in Physical Laws) in Volume 1 of the Feynman Lectures on Physics. This is great stuff give it a listen....

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