Pelecanus erythrorhynchos – American white pelican, Walden Ponds, Boulder, Colorado, July 16, 2016. Mea culpa: The birds were just beyond the limit of my equipment, but this was the first time I recall seeing pelicans so late in the season and certainly the first time I have seen a juvenile. It may be sampling error – I do not visit Walden Ponds every week – but I wonder whether they are changing their migration patterns as the climate warms.
Recently in Evolution Category
Joel Velasco of Texas Tech University will debate Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute on the topic, “Is Darwin’s theory flourishing or floundering?” according to an article by Victoria Cavazos in Hilltop Views, the student newspaper of St. Edward’s University of Austin, Texas.
We will not discuss whether it is floundering or foundering; it is doing neither, and 11 science faculty expressed their opposition to the debate, which they called a “debate.” The signatories to the letter, which include a dean and an associate dean, 2 department chairs, and a handful of other professors, state that they “do not recognize any legitimate scientific issues up for debate with respect to evolutionary theory” and go on to say,
We write to state clearly that the theory of evolution has undergone significant review in the scientific literature and remains the best, most coherent explanation of the observed development of life on Earth. While specific mechanisms within evolutionary theory remain the subject of modern research, we reiterate that subject of evolution itself is not up for debate in the scientific community.
They go on to note that many scientific societies “have issued statements on the subject of evolution and intelligent design, confirming the demonstrated success of the former and rejecting the scientific viability of latter. The undersigned faculty in the School of Natural Sciences at St. Edward’s University fully embrace this point of view.”
Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute is probably well known to most readers of this blog. Joel Velasco is an assistant professor of philosophy at Texas Tech University and has an impressive resume. He has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, where his thesis advisor was Elliott Sober, and he specializes in philosophy of biology. I am sure that Professor Velasco has his reasons for agreeing to the debate, but I am frankly disappointed in him, because I would no more debate Paul Nelson than Deborah Lipstadt* (see here and here) would debate a Holocaust denier.
The “debate” will take place at 7:00 p.m., October 21, on the campus of St. Edward’s University. If anyone can attend and wants to report on it, please do so in the Comments section.
Thanks to Glenn Branch of NCSE for the link.
Dan Phelps, President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, invites us to watch a YouTube presentation of a paper he and his colleagues, Kent Ratajeski and Joel Duff, presented at the recent national meeting of the Geographical Society of America. Watch it and, as Professor Ratajeski says, you can save the $40 admission fee, plus the $10 parking fee. And you will also find certain creationist myths debunked by these scientists, two of whom, Professors Ratajeski and Duff, are themselves evangelical Christians and can talk to creationists on their own terms. Here is what we received from Mr. Phelps:
Since I am a long-time critic of creationism and the Ark here in Kentucky and had visited the park on opening day, I was invited to give a talk on the Ark Park at a special session at the Geological Society of America national meeting in Denver late last month. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the meeting because I had used a number of vacation days on my recent trip to Svalbard, Norway. Therefore, I teamed up with Dr. Kent Ratajeski, a geologist and (evangelical Christian) from the University of Kentucky Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He presented the Ark talk at GSA and put together on the attached YouTube video after he returned from the meeting. Although I am not religious, it was great to work with Drs. Ratajeski and [Joel] Duff on alerting the geological community about the remarkable non-science and anti-science being promoted with the aid of tax incentives here in Kentucky. It is very important to work with members of the religious community that are aghast at what Ken Ham and his fellow young earth creationists do to misrepresent not only science, but also religion. The attached YouTube video is Dr. Ratajeski reading his talk and showing the PowerPoint slides. This isn’t him at the meeting itself, since rules prohibit GSA talks from being recorded at meetings.
Photograph by Barbara Gilman.
Notophthalmus viridescens – red eft, Monroe, New York. The red eft is a juvenile stage of the eastern newt. We used to see many of them in that area, but now they have become uncommon.
While we are on the subject of evolution, eft and newt, the words, share a common ancestor. The middle English word for newt was ewte, depending whose spelling you like, and I assume the double-u was pronounced like a vee or an eff in modern English. The final e was dropped, and the word became eft. Someone evidently misheard “an ewte” or “an ewt” and interpreted it as “a newt.” Possibly as a result of the spelling (you will have to ask an expert), pronunciation shifted, and what was originally pronounced “nevt” or maybe “neft” became “noot.” So the words speciated, and eft referred to the juvenile stage, and newt to the adult stage.
Photograph by Richard Meiss.
Photography contest, finalist.
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.
Photograph by Dan Moore.
Photography contest, finalist.
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).
Photograph by Neil Taylor.
Photography contest, finalist.
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.]
Photograph by Al Denelsbeck.
Photography contest, runner-up.
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.
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?
Another 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.
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.
The Ark Park opened July 7, and our colleague Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, attended and provided us with these photographs.
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.”
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 – 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?