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Scudderia sp.

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Photograph by Richard Meiss.

Photography contest, finalist.

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Scudderia sp. – Scudder’s bush katydid nymph, bedded down for the night in the flower of a lily (Lilium maculatum [?]). Not shown in this view are the several species of ants that have also found this refuge to be congenial. For (temporarily) flightless insects, such cover must have some survival value.

Macaca fuscata

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Photograph by Dan Moore.

Photography contest, finalist.

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Macaca fuscata – snow monkey, or Japanese macaque, mountains of Nagano, Japan, due west of Tokyo, March, 2016. These monkeys have adapted to the cold more than any other subspecies, and they have adapted to almost totally ignoring humans (which is good for photography).

Chapman’s Peak

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Photograph by Neil Taylor.

Photography contest, finalist.

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A group of (shortly to be long distance running*) Homo sapiens enjoying the sunset at Chapman’s Peak, Capetown. Chapman’s Peak is an offshoot to Table Mountain and hence has the same geology. There is a famous and very beautiful road between Noordhoek and Hout Bay which has been cut right into the vertical cliff which makes up the southern side of the peak. The photo is at one point on the route where they’ve had to blast a cutting into the cliff to get the road through. We are standing on one side of the cutting with the shadow cast on the cliff on the other side of the road. Table Mountain is about 10 km to the North. [*Mr. Taylor explains that the 56 km Two Oceans Ultra Marathon was run the next day, and he and all the shadows ran it.]

Lyssomanes viridis

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Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.

Photography contest, runner-up.

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Lyssomanes viridis – magnolia green jumping spider, juvenile female. All jumping spiders have excellent binocular vision for use in obtaining food, but since the cornea is a fixed part of the exoskeleton, the eyes must move internally. With the magnolia green jumpers, the exoskeleton is translucent enough to allow the internal movement of the eyes to be seen, and they can move independently. I had captured this one and was keeping it in a small terrarium, providing appropriately-sized prey, and when it snagged a small midge while perched on a weed, I was able to move the entire plant out to obtain a decent photography angle.

Guest post by David MacMillan.

David MacMillan is an author, engineer, and researcher who formerly wrote for Answers in Genesis before obtaining his degree in physics. He now writes about science and culture for Panda’s Thumb, the Huffington Post, and several other blogs.

In the buzz of excitement surrounding Opening Day at the Ark Encounter, the team of writers at Answers in Genesis continues their struggle to explain how all terrestrial life could have been shoved onboard the Ark and then exploded back out into millions of species in only a few dozen centuries. The more they write, however, the more difficult it becomes to make sense of their approach. Nathaniel Jeanson has a new post that further compounds my confusion.

One of AIG’s youngest writers, Jeanson sports an impressive Harvard degree in cell biology and has previously worked with the Institute for Creation Research. Given his degree, it must be assumed he has enough education to understand the subjects he is writing about. Jeanson appears sincere, and it is evident he believes his conclusions fervently. He has to know, though, that his arguments are completely detached from those conclusions. He writes with the awkward obfuscation of someone trying to defend a sinking ship while earnestly attempting to remain tenuously bound to the uncomfortable constraints of reality.

2016 Contest Winner.

Bentonite clay, by Alan Rice.

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Slot canyon in soft bentonite clay – Panaca formation, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

And the 1st of August is his birthday. I will list some of his real biological achievements below the fold, and dispell some myths. We've discussed this every year, so I will keep this short. Suffice it to say that the inscription on his statue in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris declares that he was the "Fondateur de la doctrine de l'évolution", and there is a good argument that he really was.

Here are the finalists of the 2016 photography contest. We received 38 photographs from 14 photographers. We had considerable difficulty choosing a half-dozen finalists – most of the pictures were excellent, as you will no doubt see during the coming months. We finally enlisted our wife to help with the choices, which are displayed below the proverbial fold. Unfortunately, the submissions did not lend themselves to being divided into categories, so we present one general category (which includes as much variety as we could muster). The text was written by the photographers and lightly edited for consistency.

The finalists are presented in alphabetical order of last name. Please look through their photographs before voting for your favorite. You will have to be logged in to vote in the poll. We know it is possible to game these polls. Please be responsible and vote only once. If we think that the results are invalid, we will cancel the contest.

Polling will close Friday, July 29, at approximately 12:00 CST.

Reed Cartwright contributed to this post.

One thing I’ve loved about living in Australia this past year is how much more generally pro-science the culture seems to be (PT blogmeister Reed Cartwright was just in Canberra to visit collaborators, but sadly he forgot Prof. Steve Steve). We have the annual Australian National Science Week coming up next month – can you even imagine having a National Science Week in the United States?

2016-04_Australasian_Science_cover_373.jpgAnother thing I’ve loved is how there seem to be many independent media outlets interested in science. I got to write a short popular article on the Evolution of Antievolutionism paper, which ended up on the cover of Australasian Science, for instance, and participate in several other talks or radio shows.

The most recent radio show was:

… and Ark Park responds predictably.

More specifically, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a “warning” to more than 1000 school districts in Kentucky and neighboring states, advising them against field trips to the Ark Park. The Ark Park, says FFRF, is a Christian ministry (as opposed to an educational museum), and they quote Ken Ham as having penned a letter, “Our Real Motive for Building Ark Encounter,” in which he writes:

Our motive is to do the King’s business until He comes. And that means preaching the gospel and defending the faith so that we can reach as many souls as we can.

FFRF says,

Taking public school students to a site whose self-professed goal is to convert children to a particular religion and undermine what is taught in public school science and history classrooms would be inappropriate.

And they add that courts have summarily rejected arguments that making the field trip “voluntary” makes it constitutional.

Ark Park today responded predictably, if a bit hysterically:

The atheists are on the rampage again, and this time their target is our just-opened Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky.

Their lawyers crafted a response, which is largely pabulum, but the gist of which is

If classes are coming to the museum or Ark in an objective fashion, however, to show students world-class exhibits and one group’s interpretation of the origin of man [sic] and earth history, then the field trip is just fine as an exceptional and voluntary educational and cultural experience.

I suppose that would be true if that group’s “interpretation of the origin of man and earth history” were not a purely religious interpretation. The author of the article, Mark Looy, goes on to say that the atheists “can’t handle the truth” and accuses them of being “secularists,” which I suppose is true, and of being specifically anti–[fundamentalist] Christian, which I rather doubt. Mr. Looy repeats the pretense that the Ark Park is an educational museum:

Such antireligious zealotry causes secularists to grossly twist the First Amendment and then scare educators with a misinterpretation of the First Amendment. To repeat: as long as a school trip fits an educational, recreational, or historical purpose, for example, it would be constitutionally appropriate.

The secularist religion of humanism and naturalism is being taught in the public education system without challenge in most schools. This false teaching is deceiving many young people. Students are being taught that there is no God and that they are merely the products of random processes. [Italics added]

The FFRF letter provides chapter and verse, if you will pardon the expression, to explain why “it is unacceptable to expose a captive audience of impressionable students to the overtly religious atmosphere of Ham’s Christian theme parks” and concludes that

Ham is free to erect monuments to his bible, but public schools are not permitted to expose the children in their charge to religious myths and proselytizing.

Ark Park on opening day

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The Ark Park opened July 7, and our colleague Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, attended and provided us with these photographs.

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The “Ark” on opening day. Mr. Phelps observes, “I suspect there is moisture getting under some of the laminated veneer on the side of the Ark. Note the darker splotches and discoloration. It has rained a lot here recently.”

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Queue to enter the “Ark.” Mr. Phelps writes, “When you arrive, you have to stand in line even if you already have a ticket, board a bus, then go to the Ark, where you again stay in a long line watching an incredibly dumb film about Noah.” Mr. Phelps said that there were a “[h]uge crowd and long line when I got there at ~9:30 am. Rather thin by 3 pm. Probably 3000+ there early in the morning.” Channel 5 in Cincinnati revealed that over 4000 people had entered the facility by mid-day, and “Ark” employees estimated that the total attendance for the day would be approximately 6000.

Nerodia sipedon

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Nerodia sipedon – northern water snake, with an unfortunate fish in his mouth, Goose Creek, Boulder, Colorado, June 29. According to the clock in my camera, the topmost picture was taken at 10:37:23, the center picture at 10:37:39. By 10:38:21, less than 0.5 min later, there was no sign of the fish (not shown). The bottom picture was exposed at 10:39:07. I trust that some herpetophile will correct me if I have misidentified the snake; snakes are not within the domain of my pattern-recognition system.

David MacMillan sent the following e-mail to me and a handful of others. He directed us to this article from the Sacramento Bee, which describes how a biologist, Michel Milinkovitch, discovered a bearded dragon that lacked both scales and beard. He bought the reptile from a breeder and, with his graduate student, Nicolas Di-Po, sequenced its genome and discovered that the same gene codes for scales in reptiles, feathers in birds, and hair in mammals. The only sensible conclusion that may be drawn is that reptiles, birds, and mammals share a common ancestor. Herewith, Mr. MacMillan’s e-mail, reproduced with permission:

A bearded dragon was born without any scales, leading to what may turn out to be one of the most exciting evolutionary discoveries of the decade.

Can’t wait to see how creationists – particularly the ones at Answers in Genesis – try to spin this.

This lizard was found by a biologist in a pet store. Curious, he decided to buy it and have its DNA sequenced. By comparing its DNA to “normal” bearded dragon DNA, they were able to locate the gene that is typically responsible for the formation of scales in reptiles. Big surprise: it’s the exact same gene responsible for the formation of feathers in birds and hair in mammals.

It was already known that the gene for feathers in birds matched the gene for hair in mammals. Because common descent requires that birds and mammals both evolved from reptiles, this commonality represented a major limitation on the origin of scales. If the gene for scales didn’t match, it would seriously challenge a major framework of common descent.

Not only did the discovery allow scientists to verify this prediction, but it also gave them the information they needed to find and observe scale development in reptile embryos. Sure enough, it too matched the time of hair development in mammals and feather development in birds. Well-informed readers will not that this is not embryonic recapitulation; rather, it is a common developmental cycle resulting from common ancestry. This product of evolutionary science enables new understanding of life in the here and now.

How will Answers in Genesis respond? I’m not sure – but I can make some educated guesses.

“This is a clear example that mutations are always harmful.”

“This lizard, rather than progressing upward, has lost information (an example of microevolution) and has not changed ‘kinds’ (as required by macroevolution).”

Of course these miss the point completely; this particular lizard’s mutation merely allowed for another discovery.

“The belief that this gene can be used to trace common origins of reptiles, birds, and mammals is an evolutionary assumption based on the naturalistic presuppositions of secular scientists.”

“Even if it is proven that this same gene does control scales, feathers, and hair, this would be a demonstration of common design within the Biblical worldview.”

These miss the point that this is a necessary prediction of the evolutionary model.

Any other possible answers?

Micropterus salmoides

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Micropterus salmoides – large mouth bass, Chester, N.Y. I am a little late with this picture, but 10 days ago I visited my brother Michael Gilman in New York. The upper picture is a large mouth bass guarding his eggs. Mike told me that they usually hatch on Father’s Day. Sure enough, he sent me the lower picture, the bass fingerlings, on June 19, Father’s Day. Fish, unfortunately, are not very bright, and (having guarded the nests for who knows how long) they eat their own offspring. Mike said that they saw a few fingerlings on Monday, and none since; presumably, some of the survivors are hiding. I have been a little slow on the uptake, and I decided to run these pictures on Sunday, one week after Father’s Day.

Photography Contest VIII

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Polish your lenses, dust off your tripods, search your archives (and, if you have entered before, remember that you are not limited to 3 good pictures per lifetime) – the eighth Panda’s Thumb photography contest, begins – now!

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Pierce extinction meter, still-camera version. They sold for $1.95 in 1946.

We will accept entries from 12:00 CST, Monday, June 20, through 12:00 CST, Monday, July 4. We encourage pictures of just about anything of scientific interest. If we get enough entries, consistently with Rules 11 and 12, we may assign entries to different categories and award additional prizes, presuming, of course, that we can find more prizes.

The first-place winner will receive a signed copy of Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails), which has been donated by one of the authors. The National Center for Science Education will donate copies of Sahotra Sarkar’s Doubting Darwin: Creationist Designs on Evolution and Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross’s Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design to the second- and third-place winners.

Chrysomela sp.

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Chrysomela sp. – leaf beetle. Thanks to a volunteer at BugGuide for the identification.

… June 20. That is, we will accept entries from noon, June 20, to noon, July 3, where noon is defined by the Panda’s Thumb server, which thinks it is still in Central Standard Time, or UTC(GMT) - 5 h. The rules will be essentially the same as previous years’. We have not chosen categories yet, but please be assured that they (or it) will be all-inclusive.

The number of entries has gone down monotonically or almost so since the first contest in 2009. Thus, we want to dispel the rumor that each person gets only 3 decent pictures per lifetime and encourage our readers to submit up to 3 photographs per person, even if you have already submitted several in past contests and think that you have used up your allocation: There is no Law of Conservation of Complex Specified Photographic Quality!

So wipe your lenses, grease your shutters, check your archives, and be ready!

Hardground with borings

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Photograph by Dan Phelps.

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Hardground with borings from the Grant Lake Limestone (Upper Ordovician, Maysvillian), Maysville, Kentucky. Mr. Phelps explains, “Hardgrounds are surfaces in the geologic record that lithified on the sea floor and then were bored into and encrusted by marine invertebrates, followed by the deposition of more sediments. They are common in Ordovician carbonates of Kentucky.” And adds, “The creationist explanations for hardgrounds can be hilarious. Especially look at the diagram with gas emissions lifting antediluvian hardgrounds to be redeposited in the Flood.”

Recurvirostra americana

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Recurvirostra americana – American avocet, Cottonwood Lake, Boulder, Colorado, 3 days ago.

A retired European geneticist, Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, has made a point that he feels is devastating to population genetic arguments about the effectiveness of natural selection. In a post at the Discovery Institute’s blog Evolution News and Views. He pointed to an argument he made in 2001 in an encyclopedia article. The essence of his criticism is that many organisms produce very large numbers of gametes, or of newborn offspring. Most of those must die. Then

If only a few out of millions and even billions of individuals are to survive and reproduce, then there is some difficulty believing that it should really be the fittest who would do so.

In addition, he was interviewed two days ago by Paul Nelson, in a podcast posted very recently by the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, on their blog Evolution News and Views. You will find it here. He makes the same point (while Nelson misunderstands him and keeps raising an unrelated point about protein spaces).

It is a stunning thought that evolutionary biologists have ignored this issue. Have they? Have population geneticists ever thought about this? Well, actually they have, starting nearly 90 years ago. And the calculations that they made do not offer support to Dr. Lönnig. Let me explain …

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