Monday, December 28, 2009

Creationists in print.

I have found that the "journalist" writing I have attempted at is unrewarding. Instead, I was again taken-over by the need to refute an idiot creationist. The creationist this time is a small town preacher with a blog, Jim Wilson


Famous creationist Duane Gish was very fond of debating scientists. He had perfected a technique of spewing so many misrepresentations, and bald-faced falsehoods in a few minutes that most scientists debating him were left gasping- unsure where to even begin untangling the web of lies.

James A. Wilson has not come up, or down, to the expert frauds of Duane Gish. But, he has made a serious attempt to maintain the same level of performance. First, the USA article was published months ago, August 10, 2009. Second, it is freely available at:

We believe in evolution — and God.

I mention this so that readers know that Wilson has apparently had considerable time to check his information and verify sources. Also, Wilson could have provided the actual source article URL. In the sciences, we are very careful to give proper sources.

The first falsehood, or at best a grossly incompetent statement, by Wilson is that Gilberson and Falk claimed that, “the argument between supporters of evolution and supporters of intelligent design is an argument between those who accept science and those who do not.”

What they wrote at the start of their article was, “Like most scientists who believe in God, we find no contradiction between the scientific understanding of the world, and the belief that God created that world.” And they included in this “scientific understanding” the theory of evolution. What Wilson claimed was directly opposite. Now, I urge all interested readers to go to the link to the real Gilberson and Falk article and search for the words “intelligent design.”

Did you find them?

Of course not, because that is the second part of Wilson’s falsehood. His entire response was to an argument that did exist.


Wilson wrote that Gilberson and Falk “claim and lament” that about 44% of Americans believe that “humanity came into being in the last 10,000 years because their fundamentalist pastors keep telling them so.”

What they actual said was, “Alas, a 2008 Gallup Poll showed that 44% of Americans reject evolution, believing instead that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years." Gilberson and Falk are largely focused on the general rejection of nuclear physics, and geochemistry, as well as biology by a sizable number of Americans. The “fundamentalist pastors” part is only in Wilson’s imagination. And, a minor error by Wilson is that they made the “claim” that this was not so. In fact, Gilberson and Falk refer to a well respected professional polling firm. And like good scientists, they provided the direct citation and a link to the original study.

Wilson is very creative, if making up falsehoods is creative.


According to the Gallop Poll, 44% of adult Americans believe that, "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."

Wilson seems to have been unable to grasp the meaning of such a simple statement of fact. I’ll try to break this down into simple parts; forty four percent of Americans believe; humans were created in their present form, this happened by divine fiat, this happened instantly, this was in the last 10,000 years.

Wilson next smokes some really weird cow manure. He presents a list of “flaws” of evolutionary theory which he thinks that we “theorists” are “frantic” to repair. First that, “brontosaurus being a composite of two animal species.” This is something I have seen recently enter the creationist alternate universe. Their problem is most charitably attributed to ignorance of scientific naming. In the naming of species begun by Carol Linnaeus in the 1700s, the rule was made that the first person to describe a species got to give it a name. What ever name was first given got to be the name, even if there were other people who had given later names to the same species.

How could that happen? Well, there are millions of different species, and thousands of different people who are finding new types of plants, or critters. It is very hard to keep up. So, sometimes a plant or animal is given more than one name because it is “discovered” by more than one person who may have not even lived at the same time.

In the case of the Brontosaurus, it was first named by Othniel Charles Marsh in 1879. However, in 1903, Elmer Riggs pointed out that “Brontosaurus” was nearly identical to Apatosaurus ajax. Apatosaurus had also been described first by Othniel Charles Marsh, but in 1877. Since the first name, Apatosaurus, was older by two years, it became the official name for all of the related fossils. This never reached the public, but the scientific literature stopped using “Brontosaurus” as a proper name over one hundred years ago.

This is the sort of “frantic flaw” that Wilson pathetically thinks damages evolutionary biology.


Wilson next soils his Kleenex by claiming that there is a, “complete lack of transitional species from - say - the proto horse to an actual horse.”

This counts as two really gross errors. First, there are mounds of transitional fossils. The higher in the naming structure, or “taxonomy,” the easier it is to find transitional fossils. It is only at the very finest grade that it is difficult. What creationists never admit, or don’t even know is that at this finest grade it is hard to tell one species from another even if they are living species available in the millions. I have personally stood on the side of a hill arguing with another scientist that one plant at our right was a different species than a very similar plant on our left. I lost the argument because science is very conservative- we are very resistant to naming new species.

The evolutionary record of the horses is very fascinating and very well documented. This should not even need mentioning as any half educated person should be able to use the internet to find one of the best reviews on the internet.

If you prefer the original scientific publications, I suggest starting with;
“Fossil Horses--Evidence for Evolution” Bruce J. MacFadden

We have horse transitional fossils literally by the tons. I have even got to chip a few loose from their rocky tombs as a project volunteer. Some of my former students have found world class transitional fossil species in other lineages.


Wilson is equally confused about human genetics. He imagines that there are, “DNA evidence pointing to a single human ancestor.” This is nonsense.

In the 1987, the late Allan Wilson of the University of California, Berkeley proposed the existence of a "mitochondrial Eve." The mitochondria are the energy centers of every cell and have their own DNA, mtDNA. Even more interesting is that we inherit our mitochondria only from our mothers. Allan Wilson, and his graduate students studied the sequences of mtDNA from human cells from around the world. They used statistical methods that indicated there was an ancestral form that had existed in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The idea was dubbed the “mitochondrial Eve."

Now, think for a moment how a particular mitochondrial lineage can be extinguished. It is rather easy if populations are small, say a few tens of thousands. Any woman who has all male offspring will have her mitochondrial heritage erased. Any woman who’s daughters either have all male children, or have non-reproducing daughters will have her mitochondrial heritage erased. This is exactly what did happen, and as a result all modern humans share the mtDNA derived from a single female lineage. There are of course many variations found around the world, mtDNA undergoes mutation and selection like all genetic material. Comparison of mitochondrial genes that that evolve slowly (we say they are highly conserved), indicate that Allan Wilson’s initial results were surprisingly accurate that the human mtDNA was from about 200,000 years ago. We are necessarily cautious, because it cannot be ruled out with certainty that there could not be other mtDNA lineages surviving somewhere in Africa today. Another point of caution comes from the discovery in the late 1990s that in rare instances, paternal mitochondria can actually recombine with the maternal. This might lead to an error in estimating the time of convergence.

However, there is additional evidence that humanity originated in Africa based on studies of the Y chromosome. This chromosome is transmitted exclusively from male to male. Since the mtDNA studies had called up the image of “Eve,” the Y chromosome studies were promptly labeled “the search for Adam.” However, this search was much more difficult. One problem was that the path of the Y chromosome “Adam” seems to have left Africa some 50,000 years later than mtDNA “Eve.” And then to complicate matters further, the Y chromosome was modified in Asia, and then reintroduced to Africa by a back migration. All the cautions regarding mtDNA “Eve” apply to Y chromosome “Adam,” and then some more. Particularly problematic is that the Y chromosome is much more vulnerable to mutations than the X chromosome. Then famously, some males are incapable of producing Y chromosome baring sperm (think of Henry the VIII) and so have all female off-spring. The following generations will have potentially a very different looking Y chromosome.

None of this can be distorted to support Jim Wilson’s absurd notion that DNA studies are a problem that require “the sometimes frantic efforts of theorists themselves to plug holes.”


Jim Wilson’s errors are in nearly every sentence he wrote. His assertion that a Zogby poll showed that, “78% of Americans believe the intellectual and scientific flaws in the theory of evolution should be taught in schools alongside the theory itself.”

There are multiple problems with this statement. First it is incomplete. The poll was commissioned by the creationist Discovery Institute. The DI is the leading center promoting “intelligent design” creationism. They are the same outfit that hyped the list of “Scientists who dissent from Darwinism." They got nearly 800 “scientists” to agree that the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory should always be considered.

In fact, I would have no problem with this, except that it was used to promote the false claim that this was support for creationist nonsense. Scientists are always looking for weaknesses in existing theory- that is how we earn a living by improving theories. If you cannot find a weakness, you cannot find your next publication, lecture or grant. However, the “weaknesses” of evolutionary theory are of the sort when we ask if sympatric evolution is common or rare? We ask if mutation to HoX genes are more significant than mutations to coding genes. We ask if epigenetic control of gene expression derives from the chemistry of bacterial bio-films? We ask if there are unique conditions that result in “purifying selection?”

These are the real open questions. They are not the stupidities commonly found from creationist websites, or Discovery Institute “fellows,” or those we see in Mr. Wilson’s editorial. What a group of us started when the Discovery Institute’s list was around one hundred “scientists,” was a counter list we called “Project Steve.” It was a list of real scientists in biology or closely related fields (the creationist lists allow engineers, dentists and weather men to claim to be experts in biology) who categorically indorsed the validity of evolutionary theory, and its exclusive place in education. The catch is that all signatories had to be named Steve, in honor of Steven Jay Gould. We did loosen the criteria to allow Nobel winners, such as Stephen W. Hawking, to become signatories. Project Steve currently is at #1127 signatures.

Wilson manages to admit there are young earth creationists, but hides from the fact they are the dominant faction in the creationist efforts to subvert science education in the United States today. He then suggests that there are alternate translations of the Hebrew word “yom,” evoking the day=age arguments of the early 1800s. For a substantive discussion of the theology and geology of Genesis, I recommend reading;

Young, Davis A.
1995 “The Biblical Flood: A case study of the Church’s Response to extrabiblical evidence” Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Paternoster Press

Young, Davis A., Ralf F. Stearley
2008 "The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth" Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press

Wilson seems unaware that the men he is criticizing are largely his colleagues- committed Christians who are quite in agreement with Wilson on the age of the earth, and so on. Their thinking and study has progressed, dare we say evolved, to understand that biology is no more a threat to the Bible than was geology. For example see, Karl W. Giberson’s latest book, 2008 “Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and believe in evolution” (2008 New York: HarperCollins). Giberson is a physicist, and I think that some of his historical and biological sections could be improved, but it is none-the-less an excellent account of how a Christian can reconcile their faith and biological science.

And this is the crux of Wilson’s dilemma- he wants to salvage Christianity from the presumed threat of evolutionary theory. Instead, he has weakened the argument in favor of Christianity by parading falsehoods as the basis for his faith. This is certainly not a new problem, Thomas Aquinas (c.a. 1225 – 1274) wrote in 1273CE, "In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing." Summa Theologica, Prima Pars, Q68. Art 1.


Mr. Wilson writes that, “a complex system like your eyeballs cannot develop over millennia from small mutations without killing off the species it is supposed to help survive.” This is definitely an example of “Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring(ing) untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions…” Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430).

The visual system of a light-receptor, and some sort of neural connection between it and the rest of the body is both ancient, and fairly easy to evolve. One indication that eyes are not hard to evolve is how many different solutions to the problem of seeing that the evolutionary process has produced. We find that the most basic of all eyes is just a patch of pigmented cells rich in molecules that absorb light energy and add it to an electron. (To fully discuss the evolution of these molecules, rhodopsins, really needs the support of the full classroom. We find them in bacteria, and the same core chemistry is found in every eye). The light-sensitive-patch eye is still found today in many organisms, the most familiar is the flatworm, or planaria.

Nilsson and Pelger, in their 1994 article "A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an Eye to Evolve," (Proceedings of the Royal Society 256: 53-58) isolated eight stages of eye evolution from the light-sensitive-patch to the most complex adjustable-camera-lens type eye we mammals have, as do squid. For every identified stage, there are living organisms with these kinds of eyes. There is even a group little critters called the Box Jellyfish that have six of the eight stages, and no brain at all. (The most notorious is Chironex fleckeri, the lethally stinging species found along northern Australian beaches). Nilsson and Pelger found that with minimal selective pressure the mammal type eye could have easily evolved in a mere few hundred thousands of generations. In terms of the years required, we need to remember that a “generation” even in many mammals is less than a year.

However, the point that explodes Wilson’s argument was that there are living organisms with eyes of every single evolutionary stage found by Nilsson and Pelger. If as Wilson falsely claimed, these simple eyes could not exist, “without killing off the species,” we would not find any of them today.


Wilson’s next mangling of reality is a bit complex. He first misrepresents what Gilberson and Falk wrote, then contradicts himself, and finishes with a totally inaccurate account of history and science. That is a creationist double quadruple gainer (but who’s counting).

Wilson writes, “The authors claim that early Darwinists lacked the equipment to date the earth, but humanist philosophers posited a theory of evolution decades before Darwin's 1859 voyage and decided the earth must be four billion years old to accomplish it. “

Is it merely a “claim” when you are categorically correct? When G&F wrote “no reliable way existed to determine the age of the Earth, and the physicists said it was too young to accommodate evolution” they were entirely, 100% correct. To sort his out will take several posts. First, what was the real history of estimates on the Earth’s age?

The history of efforts to scientifically determine the age of the earth really should start with Benoit de Maillet (1657-1738) who thought that the earth was constantly losing water to space, and that starting with a water covered surface, he could determine the rate of loss, and then calculate the age of the earth. He was so frightened of the Christian Church attack on the idea that non-biblical sources of information could be used to study this question, that his thesis was not published until ten years after his death. He was grossly wrong in his assumptions and calculations, but de Maillet was the first westerner to use physical rather than scriptural evidence for the age of the Earth. His minimum “age” of the earth was 2.4 million years old, but that on reasonable assumptions, as much as 2 billion years could have transpired.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) never directly proposed an age of the earth. He did however propose in 1687 that the Earth had begun in a molten state, and that the amount of time it would take to cool to modern temperature was +50,000 years based on the specific heat of iron. He offered no idea as to how long ago that might have been. Like Newton, his competitor Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz proposed that the specific heat (and hence the cooling rate) of molten iron could be used to estimate the age of the Earth. And, again like Newton, Leibniz never offered an actual number. Both men, aside from their intellectual abilities, both depended financially on government positions vulnerable to Church (Roman and Protestant) interference. This might explain why Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), was the first to directly test the speculations of Newton and Leibniz, and cast the results as a direct estimate of the age of the Earth. Buffon inheritied both a title and lands. Unlike many, he expanded his holdings and wealth through a number of brilliant forward looking innovations. He founded one of the world’s first commercial tree nurseries to support his timber and lumber business. He established a very successful iron foundry, which also contributed to his scientific as well as financial independence. Buffon was also one of the first western scientists to suggest that biological species were not fixed for all time.

Following the 1749 publication by de Mairan on the cooling of the Earth’s interior, Buffon had his iron foundry construct a series of ten iron spheres. When they were heated to “white hot” the time they took to cool to room temperature was carefully recorded. Based on these measurements, de Buffon concluded that the Earth was at least 168,123 years old. However, he had communicated to friends, and left manuscripts that suggested that adding the geological evidence of erosion and sedimentation, the Earth might have been even 3 billions years old. These estimates were not published until after a century after his death.

There is one other interesting early effort to determine the age of the Earth. It was proposed by Edmond Halley (1656-1742) in 1715, who suggested that the amount of salt in the oceans could be compared to that in lakes and rivers. The difference might be used to calculate the amount of time that the oceans (assumed to have been initially fresh water) had accumulated salt. There were no methods available at the time of Halley’s suggestion to actually measure the amount of salt in freshwater, and the idea was forgotten. What is very amusing is that modern creationists have recycled this old idea to “invalidate” an ancient Earth.

It was after the publication of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” that William Thompson, later named Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) published the first of his estimates of the age of the Earth. From 1862 to his death, Kelvin published estimates from 20 to 400 million years. These were widely considered authoritative as Kelvin was the most popularly respected physicist living between Newton and Einstein. Geologists in general rejected Kelvin’s estimates as based on his using too simplistic assumptions, and inconsistence with geological data. Charles Darwin, who had studied geology at Cambridge under such greats as the Revds Adam Sedgwick and William Whewell, respectively professors of geology and mineralogy, thought that Kelvin was wrong, but deferred to the latter’s opinion. Darwin merely observed that evolution had happened in what ever amount of time was available.

In 1895, following the discovery of radioactive minerals, Kelvin privately acknowledged he had been most likely wrong, and that the Earth “might as well be 4 billion years old.”

It was not until the late 1970s following the development of radiometric dating, the Apollo Moon Mission, and the analysis of hundreds of meteorite samples that we came to a firm date of the origin of the Earth- 4.5 billion years old.


Wilson writes, “The authors claim that early Darwinists lacked the equipment to date the earth, but humanist philosophers posited a theory of evolution decades before Darwin's 1859 voyage and decided the earth must be four billion years old to accomplish it. “

So, what can we next try to correct? The weird use of “humanist” as a pejorative? No, that is very common among right-wing creationists. Best ignored.

That gross mistake of, “Darwin's 1859 voyage?”

Sure, The voyage of the HMS Beagle embarked in 1831, and returned in 1836. In 1859, Darwin was 50 years old, and rarely left his home in Downe, Kent where he and his family moved in 1842. These are such basic facts that I wonder that Mr. Wilson is allowed to wander out alone. 1859 was the year that Darwin published the famous, “On the Origin of Species.”

The early ideas about the “mutability of life,” later called evolution began with Comte de Buffon, as Darwin himself points out in “An Historical Sketch” in the front-pages of “On the Origin of Species.” But, most historians agree with Darwin that the first serious theory was proposed by Lamarck in his publications between 1809 and 1815. Darwin cites and discusses nearly a dozen authors, including his grandfather, who had some ideas about the change in species over time.

None of them, including Charles Darwin, made any estimate as to how long it might have take for evolutionary force to have produced the modern species. None of them suggested as per Mr. Wilson, “the earth must be four billion years old to accomplish it.”


Wilson wrote, “Current research dates the earth a good deal older while maintaining that a mere few million years passed between conditions for life ripening and the actual appearance of complex life.”

Lazcano & Miller wondered about how much time was available for life to have originated. They observed that, "stromatolite-building phototactic prokaryotes were already in existence 3.5 x 10(9) years ago. Late accretion impacts may have killed off life on our planet as late as 3.8 x 10(9) years ago. This leaves only 300 million years to go from the prebiotic soup to the RNA world and to cyanobacteria." And, they thought that this is further constrained “… because the intermediate compounds would have been destroyed due to the passage of the entire ocean through deep-sea vents every 10(7) years or in even less time. Therefore, it is likely that self-replicating systems capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution emerged in a period shorter than the destruction rates of its components.


Wilson wrote, “When dating methods were introduced researchers simply calibrated their equipment according to their theory.”

For a fan of Hugh Ross who is an Old Earth creationist, I am puzzled at Wilson’s ambiguous position regarding the age of the Earth, and how we know it. Even more since he was also insisting that, “the controversy over thousands versus millions of years is a straw man.” As a matter of fact, scientists did not simply calibrate their methods according to theory. For example, radiocarbon dating is calibrated against known annual events such as tree rings, lake varves, ice cores, and so on. Accuracy improved as our methods improved over the last 50 years of study.

A very good article on radiometric dating written for Christians by a Christian is, “Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective” by Dr. Roger C. Wiens.


Wilson wrote, “Contemporary astrophysicists believe four billion years is not even in the ballpark as to how much time a genuinely randomized life would require to develop.

“There is no reason at all to pay attention to an “astrophysicist” about the biochemistry, and geochemistry of origin of life studies. It is possible that an individual could develop an interest and personally read enough professional scientific literature to gain a background, say Hugh Ross who happened to study astronomy once upon a time, and wrote a very bad book about the origin of life. I have read rather more about abiogenesis research than Hugh Ross, or his coauthor Fazale Rana. I invite you to read my review of their 2004 book, "Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off" (Colorado Springs: NavPress) at the National Center for Science Education.

What I have been amused by for a few days are mental images conjured by Wilson’s absurd phrase, “genuinely randomized life.” The “Bass-o-Matic” skit by Dan Aykroyd for “Saturday Night Live” comes closest. That was one randomized fish.

The age of the Earth was accurately determined to be 4.57 billion years ago only recently. The validity of evolutionary theory was acknowledged by rational people much earlier. Wilson's attempt to enlist legions of imaginary “Contemporary astrophysicists" opposed to abiogenesis is a best a silly exaggeration. One might as well ask if Wilson takes his car to be repaired by his dentist?

There are several good reviews of Origin of Life Research available for general readers. I recommend;
Schopf, J. William
1999 "Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth's Earliest Fossils" , Princeton University Press

Iris Fry,
2000 "The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview" Rutgers University Press

Schopf, William (editor)
2002 "Life's Origin: The Beginnings of Biological Evolution" University of California Press

Hazen, RM
2005 "Gen-e-sis" Washington DC: Joseph Henry Press
If you have too much free time, and money to waste, read Rana and Ross's "Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off."


Wilson takes offence when Gilberson and Falk wrote, “Challenging accepted ideas is how America churns out Nobel Prize-winning science and patents that will drive tomorrow's technology. But challenging authority can also undermine this country's leadership in science, when citizens reject it.” I would have written Gilberson and Falk’s latter sentence better. “But challenging the validity of science as a way to understand nature can also undermine this country's leadership in science, when citizens reject it.”

Wilson’s reaction is to make a raft of false claims regarding recent science entirely unrelated to evolutionary theory which perfectly illustrated G&F’s observation. In fact, I count seven falsehoods in only five sentences.

First error: Wilson claimed G&F are “distorting history” (Wilson’s specialty) when they are actually making a prediction that the USA is squandering its scientific advantage by rejecting science in favor of superstitious nonsense like creationism.

Second, and third errors; Kendrick Frazier (not “Frasier”) is the editor of “Science Under Siege,” not the principle author. No where in the two short sections written by Frazier does he claim that climate change denial, or opposition to stem cell research “undermines our democracy.” In his introduction, Frazier wrote, “But debates in the public that concern science rarely involve the actual scientific content and frequently characterize and stereotype both scientists and the scientific process. In the public arena partisans increasingly misuse or misrepresent the science. This distorts the democratic process and leads to poorly informed decision making.” He favorably notes that the Obama administration has begun to reverse antiscience policies of the Bush era, including restrictions on stem cell research. The two short pieces written about climate change, both by Dr. Stuart Jordan, reviewed the arguments of denialists and argued that real climate scientists have an obligation to do a better job communicating to the public and to policy makers.

Fourth, error: Wilson, relying on a Zogby poll, claims that 80% of Americans want “more open-minded inquiry in public schools” and that to oppose this is “undermining democracy.” The Zogby poll was commissioned by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the center of intelligent design creationism. The poll question was phrased in such a way that I could have answered with the majority. Here is the question,

Which statement comes closest to you opinion?

“Statement A: “Biology teachers should teach only Darwin’s theory of evolution and the scientific evidence that supports it.”

Statement B: “Biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.”

Creationists, like Wilson, have been touting this as support for teaching creationism in public schools when there is nothing in the question that referred to creationism. The dishonesty goes deeper. What is taught in schools today is not Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the last 150 years of continuing research we have gone far beyond Darwin’s understanding, and have actually rejected large parts of his original theory. The question is meaningless.

Fifth error (in the same sentence): I would call violating the US Constitution “undermining democracy.” Since the 1970s, the Courts have consistently found creationism in all of its masks to be nothing other than religion. And, since we know that Wilson is advocating teaching religion in public school science classes, he is advocating that we abandon our Constitution. This is not democracy, it is mob rule.

(Wilson jokingly suggests that he is “crazy.” It is a real possibility, or perhaps he is merely dishonestly hoping to increase donations to his “ministry”).

Sixth error: “the globe has cooled by a couple of degrees in the past decade” Wilson supposedly has a copy of “Science Under Siege” and supposedly has read it. I suggest he re-read the chapter on climate denialists by Stuart Jordan. For a direct refutation of the “Global Cooling” nonsense written in a very simple style see, “Global cooling? Statisticians reject claims that climate trend is shifting” by Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press, Oct. 26, 2009.


Wilson wrote that, “stem cell researchers have spent billions of tax dollars without a shred of benefit to show for it. (Yet adult stem cells yield more than eighty successful therapies to date.) So much for scientific consensus - and so much for the objectivity of some scientists.”

Initially, I counted this as a single error, but really it is three lies, and two pernicious innuendos. Obviously, Wilson is making a distinction between embryonic stem cell research and adult stem cell research. When you say embryo, many people think of some poor little baby, and their emotional reaction is “Save the Baby!” When an egg is fertilized, there is a start of cell division. The first series of divisions results in cells that are all identical to one another. They have not started to turn into a liver cell, or any other type of specialized cell. Each one could lead to any type of specialized cell. This is the point at which stem cell research is interested. At this point, there is merely a speck of cells. You lose more cells if you scrape your knee. Even before the Bush ban on human embryonic stem cells in medical research, the majority of embryonic studies were with fruit flies, mice, and zebra fish. But, these cannot by used to provide life-saving medical treatments, for that, only human embryonic cells will work.

But, won’t that tiny speck of cells become a human? No, it won’t. This is because all human embryonic stem cells used are from frozen surplus material from infertility treatments. These fertilization procedures typically produce extra fertilized eggs which are then discarded. The Bush ban didn’t save any embryos, they were simply wasted - in fact flushed.

So, Wilson next lied about how much funding human embryonic stem cell research had received from government sources. During the years of the Bush years, US funding for human embryonic stem cell research was a fairly steady 40 million dollars a year. This year and the next, funding is expected to double. Even if we took the highest spending levels prior to the Bush research ban, there were not “billions of tax dollars” spent on human embryonic stem cell research. Now that the ban has been lifted, we expect a rapid number of therapies to move forward. Neither in the past, now, nor in the projected 2010, 2011 Federal budgets does human embryonic stem cell research exceed 11% of all stem cell research, and is small fraction of one percent of all funded medical research. (National Institutes of Health budgets are all online).

So, the Bush ban on human embryonic stem cell research did not save anything. It did give several other nations a major step up in scientific research, two in particular, China and Singapore where human embryonic stem cell research went into high gear following the 2001 Bush ban. This is best seen in the pattern of US patents awarded for stem cell research products. This data source (I used Google Patent search) shows that the number of relevant patents, and applications shifted between 2000 and 2009 away from US start-up companies and universities, to Asian and multinational corporations. Way to go, George, you flushed the embryos and the economy!

The statement by Wilson that, “adult stem cells yield more than eighty successful therapies” is at best a fantasy, or something copied from some other person who simply made it up. The awarded patents for stem cell therapies number in the hundreds. But, careful reading shows that a single therapeutic technique can generate dozens of patents. There are far fewer than “eighty successful therapies” from stem cells of any type, period. A majority of current therapies with adult stem cells are bone marrow derived cells for enhancing hematopoiesis (blood cell production). A good review published June of this year in BMC Medicine is “New perspectives in human stem cell therapeutic research” by Dr. Trounson of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. The majority of current therapies use the patients own blood marrow stem cells, and are the result of nearly thirty years experience. They are restricted to cells that can be recovered from the patient and are limited to a small number of tissues. It is expected that total human stem cell research will climb to well over 3 billion USD in the next year, with embryonic stem cell research accounting for a modest percentage.

The final jab Wilson takes is at all science, and scientists. This is such an unintended irony that it deserves its own post as it perfectly illustrated the argument found in the Gilberson and Falk essay that prompted this entire effort.


Wilson denies that abandoning the validity of science will damage America’s national security by ceding our scientific and technological advantage to other nations. Wilson claimed that the “the creative use of history” by Gilberson and Falk was “chilling.” He then proves Gilberson and Falk correct by spewing out a string of frauds and falsehoods, all of which he summarized as rejecting the objectivity and validity of science.

Now that is chilling.

And true to form, Wilson tries to back his falsehoods with a Bible quote, “the Heavens declare the glory of God.” But consider another of the Psalms, Psalm 85:11 reads, “Truth springs from the earth; and righteousness looks down from heaven.” The Hebrew word emet, translated as “truth,” basically means “certainty and dependability.” The Bible demands believers to acknowledge that God is truthful and forthright. The Bible also demands that believers acknowledge the Creation as an honest testament to God’s existence and nature. And in the Book of Job, Job challenges his scoffing friends, “Ask the animals, they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.” — Job 12:7-8.

The physical Creation, including the animals, birds and fish are a testament. And that testament categorically supports the evolutionary theory Wilson rejects.

The rejection of the Earth as testament is not a new problem. It was addressed by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) who advised Christians trying to interpret Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim). The following translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” {Augustine here has referred to 1 Timothy 1.7}

The Protestant theologian, John Calvin wrote on Genesis, "For to my mind this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy and the other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere.” And later he stated, “It must be remembered, that Moses does not speak with philosophical acuteness on occult mysteries, but states those things which are everywhere observed, even by the uncultivated, and which are in common use." (Genesis, I, 79 & 84 (1554)

Wilson would do well to listen to these words from his wiser brethren. While he seems to have grasped the reality of the age and expanse of the creation, he is oblivious to the realities of evolution occurring right under his nose.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I cannot think of a better excuse.

He "was in no haste to publish his theory; for he was one of those who are much more delighted with the contemplation of truth, than with the praise of having discovered it” John Playfair regarding James Hutton, 1805.

I'll employ it often.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A new biographic note for the Center for Inquiry.

Gary S. Hurd received a doctorate in Social Science from the University of California, Irvine in 1976 (emphasis in Anthropology). He subsequently served on the faculties of the California College of Medicine (UCIMC), the Medical College of Georgia (Psychiatry), and held numerous adjunct appointments. In 1985, he returned to archaeology, the original focus of his early research. He has publications ranging from topics in psychiatry, mathematics and chemistry to insect frass, fish digestion, prehistoric ceremonialism and forensic taphonomy. He was also honored for including undergraduates in published research, and named teacher of the year.

Hurd became actively involved in the creationist anti-science debate over ten years ago while the Curator of Anthropology, and Director of Education for the Orange County Museum of Natural History. His critique of Intelligent Design Creationism was published in "Why Intelligent Design Fails: A Scientific Critique of the New Creationism," 2004, Rutgers University Press, Matt Young and Taner Edis, editors. This chapter was used in the cross-examination of ID proponent Michael Behe, and cited by the Court’s decision in the famous 2005 Dover creationism trial.

Now a frequent academic guest lecturer, Hurd tries to reach popular audiences through such web sites as No Answers in Genesis;

“A Response to a Dubious Diluvium: A Tas Walker Creationist Fantasy”

“Oard's Moonbeam”


“Dino-blood and the Young Earth”
“Dino Blood Redux”
“Ancient Molecules and Modern Myths”

The National Center for Science Education;
"Why Reinvent the Crystal?”

And science blog "The Panda’s Thumb," which he co-founded;

“Dembski's Five Questions: Number One”

His current projects include intermittent bursts of writing on three books;

“Someone to Blame: How Creationism Exploits the Holocaust”
“You’ve Got to Be Kidding: The Pious Frauds of Creationism”
“Where Did The Bible Say That?: How Creationism Violates Scripture”

Biblical and Koranic criticism
Evolution, creationism, and intelligent design
Religion and genocide
Science and religion
Science and pseudoscience
Archaeology and the Bible

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A day spent off-shore

I went out of Seaforth Landing in San Diego, California aboard the Eclipse. We had a great day of fishing.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Create the controversy

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press have released a report on the American public’s science knowledge and opinions regarding science and scientists. (Links are to the AAAS news release, and the Pew report).

While there is much of interest and for concern, the most interesting topics for the evol/creato activist are the questions related to human evolution.

The “teach the controversy” position pushed by the creationists needs for a controversy to actually exist, at least in the minds of the general public. This is a Big Lie approach straight from the playbook written by the tobacco industry. With only a handful of industry “scientists” funded through the Tobacco Institute, the industry created a story that “the science linking tobacco and cancer is disputed” and “there is legitimate controversy about the effects of tobacco smoking among scientists.” And there is evidence that this lie is working for creationists.

The AAAS/Pew survey found that among scientists, there is a 97% agreement that humans, and all living things have evolved via natural selection. Yet, 28% of the public believes that scientists are not in general agreement that evolution occurred. And, 43% of creationists (mostly White Evangelicals, and about 31% of the general public) claim there is no scientific consensus on evolution.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Why Re-Invent the Crystal?

My short piece on the movie Expelled and cyrstals, written for the National Center for Science Education" has been posted to their website.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

“The End of Darwinism”

“The End of Darwinism” would have disappeared as another self published creationist screed had not Pat Buchanan puffed it on WingNutDaily. There have been a half dozen science bloggers who have taken Buchanan’s piece apart, but I waited until I could read Mr. Windchy’s book myself.

Windchy states that he had worked on this book since 1993. I found this very strange as he makes basic errors of fact that could be corrected with a few minutes of internet search. The errors begin immediately and they range from minor factual mistakes to gross mistakes in fact and scholarship.

One example of a minor error of fact is on page 14 when Windchy claimed that, “The German Darwin (Ernst Haeckel, gh) was convicted of fraud by a faculty court at the University of Jena, his employer in Prussia …” This is not true. In fact, there was never a “faculty court” in the first place. This particular creationist lie has been repeated in their echo chamber so often that it occasionally has appeared in the popular press. This has been pointed out by

Haeckel was accused of publishing drawings of embryos that were fraudulently presented, or altered to make his theoretical argument appear better supported. In only one instance did Haeckel need to issue a retraction. This was in his illustration of the “sandal stage” of “dog, chicken, and turtle” embryos in his first edition (1868) of “Natürlich Schöpfungsgeschlichte.” These were actually the same woodcut, apparently of the chicken embryo at this stage of development, that had been repeated. (To see the illustration in question, look at Fig. 7.12 of “The Tragic Sense of Life” by Robert J. Richards, 2008). This particularly outraged Ludwig Rütimeyer, and Wilhelm His.

Haeckel corrected this in the second and later editions. The point he had been making was that embryologists could not tell one species from another at that early stage of development, which was certainly true at the time, and had been earlier remarked on by other scientists such as von Baer well before Darwin ever wrote about evolution. In another instance it was the accuser, Arnold Brass, who had to retract his false claims of fraud in 1908-1909.

Haeckel’s pet theory of “recapitulation” or “biogenesis” was totally wrong and forms no part of evolutionary theory. He proposed that as organisms underwent embryonic development, the stages of the embryos replicated each of the adult forms of their evolutionary predecessors. However, his observations that embryonic development is more similar the more closely the species are related, and that the earlier development of vertebrate embryos are all very similar, were substantially correct. With our new ability to track the fate of individual cells in embryos, these observations are even stronger today than they were in 1870. Windchy has obviously not bothered to become informed about Haeckel, or his contributions to science, or what modern embryology is about. After supposedly spending 16 years, one would expect better. Instead, he regurgitates creationist lies and slanders- using century old controversies to try and obscure that science of evolution is the most successful explanation of life available.

Robert J. Richards
2008 “The Tragic Sense of Life” University of Chicago Press

Troy Britian
2001 Haeckel's Embryos

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

It is offical

I have been appointed to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science panel. What this is will be better explained by either their official website, or the Wikipedia page.

I have not totally disappeared

A creationist recently asked, (lame-ass - punctuation - as in the ORIGINAL !!11!!)
Just one more - how well qualified was darwin to propose a theory - hundreds of years ago- that is still believed but not proven - he was a theologian - but was he a scientist or an amatuer taxonomist ? The average biology student knows more than Darwin who thought a cell was a blob. How come darwin did not need qualifications ?

I’ll first eliminate the argument that Darwin was some how unqualified to do science. Darwin’s childhood education was at a classical school- much memorization of Greek and Latin, and some mathematics. However, he did assist his father in his father’s medical practice which involved a modicum of physical knowledge. He was also an avid collector of beetles, and studied the taxonomic literature of the time.

His formal medical education was in Edinburgh. Darwin received practical instruction in taxidermy from a “blackamoor” named John who was the former slave of Charles Edmonstone. John had also traveled extensively as a servant and companion for the famous explorer Charles Waterton. In November of 1826, Darwin took a course from Robert Jameson in “Natural History” in addition to his medical studies.

Jameson’s 200 page geological illustration addendum to his translation of Curvier’s Essay on the Theory of the Earth was part of Darwin’s reading that term. Darwin later wrote that he found Jameson’s lectures, “… incredibly dull. The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology or in any way to study the science.”

Darwin made several studies of marine life while at Edinburgh under the encouragement of Dr. Robert Edmund Grant, who shortly after became Professor of comparative anatomy and zoology at London University, (1827-1874). Grant referred in print to two of Darwin’s original discoveries made in 1826; that the so-called "ova of Flustra" were in fact larvæ, and that the little globular bodies which had been supposed to be the young state of Fucus loreus were the egg-cases of the worm-like Pontobdella muricata. Darwin had read papers on these observations to the student’s “Plinian Society” founded by Professor Jameson.

Two years later, Darwin had given-up medicine. He could not stand the sights, sounds, and smells of the surgery. Instead, his disappointed father sent him to Cambridge to prepare for the clergy. But more significantly, Darwin became closely acquainted with the Revd John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany, and the Revds Adam Sedgwick and William Whewell, respectively professors of geology and mineralogy. These men totally changed young Darwin’s early resolution to avoid geological science. Whewell sought to reform the practice of science into a more formal profession. In fact, he was the man who coined the word “scientist.” Sedgwick and Henslow both lead field trips that Darwin attended. Fieldwork is much superior to lectures for learning geology and what we would call ecology today. The famous voyage around the world Darwin took from Dec. 27, 1831 to Oct. 2, 1836 was through the recommendation of Henslow. It was Sedgwick who sent Darwin off on the HMS Beagle with a copy of Charles Lyell's "Principles of Geology," which Darwin said, “Allowed me to see with the eyes of Hutton.”

By the time Darwin returned to England, he was considered a respected scientist- but as a geologist. Particularly well received was his theory on the formation of coral atolls and reefs. This work has been shown to be correct in every regard. While working on his “big book,” Darwin also spent years in the study of the biology of barnacles, publishing numerous papers and culminating in the still well regarded books; 1852 Living Cirripedia, A monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species. The Lepadidæ; or, pedunculated cirripedes, Volume 1, and 1854, Living Cirripedia, The Balanidæ, (or sessile cirripedes); the Verrucidæ, Volume 2, London: The Ray Society.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Emergence of New Species

(Most recent up-date 2018)

I have collected some examples of speciation that are handy to have available when a creationist claims there are none.

We have of course directly observed the emergence of new species, conclusively demonstrating common descent, a core hypothesis of evolutionary theory. This is a much a "proof" of evolution as dropping a bowling ball on your foot "proves" gravity.

Edit 2018, this is a real classic. Darwin's Finches had a recent rapid speciation by hybridization;
Lamichhaney, S., Han, F., Webster, M.T., Andersson, L., Grant, B.R. and Grant, P.R., 2018. Rapid hybrid speciation in Darwin’s finches. Science, 359(6372), pp.224-228.

Here is another. These are gall flies diverging based on host plant selection which is similar to Apple Maggot Fly (Rhagoletis pomonella discussed below;

Craig, T. P., Itami, J. K., Abrahamson, W. G., & Horner, J. D. (1993). Behavioral evidence for host-race formation in Eurosta solidaginis. Evolution, 1696-1710.

There was a very odd example just pointed out to me that could not have occurred in nature, "Laboratory synthesis of an independently reproducing vertebrate species" Aracely A. Lutes, Diana P. Baumann, William B. Neaves, and Peter Baumann

Here we report the generation of four self-sustaining clonal lineages of a tetraploid species resulting from fertilization of triploid oocytes from a parthenogenetic Aspidoscelis exsanguis with haploid sperm from Aspidoscelis inornata.

A multi-species review is;

Abrahamson, W. G., Eubanks, M. D., Blair, C. P., & Whipple, A. V. (2001). Gall flies, inquilines, and goldenrods: a model for host-race formation and sympatric speciation. American Zoologist, 41(4), 928-938.

Here is one I had missed before now (14 Aug, 2014):

"Speciation By Hybridisation In Heliconius Butterflies" Jesús Mavárez, Camilo A. Salazar, Eldredge Bermingham, Christian Salcedo, Chris D. Jiggins and Mauricio Linares, Nature, 441: 868-871 (15th June 2006)

I want to add a link to Cornell University biologist Allen MacNeill's blog article on the emergence of new species.

A new emerging species is added to the list from a recent publication, “Hybrid speciation in sparrows I: phenotypic intermediacy, genetic admixture and barriers to gene flow” (JO S. HERMANSEN, STEIN A. SÆTHER, TORE O. ELGVIN, THOMAS BORGE, ELIN HJELLE, GLENN-PETER SÆTRE, Molecular Ecology, Volume 20, Issue 18, pages 3812–3822, September 2011). What makes this particular example interesting is four fold. First, it is a bird species, and vertebrate examples are less common. Second, it resulted from a hybrid between two similar species, which has not been considered a likely pathway to speciation in vertebrates. Third, the researchers have been able to identify the actual genetic differences between the three species. Finally, the event is incomplete, and still in process.

A large review of multiple species is, Sergey Gavrilets and Jonathan B. Losos "Adaptive Radiation: Contrasting Theory with Data" Science 6 February 2009 323: 732-737

Some specific examples for plants, insects, fish, birds, lizards and mammals follows.

Here are five examples sampled from: "Observed Instances of Speciation" by Joseph Boxhorn, 1995

Evening Primrose (Oenothera gigas)

While studying the genetics of the evening primrose, Oenothera lamarckiana, de Vries (1905) found an unusual variant among his plants. O. lamarckiana has a chromosome number of 2N = 14. The variant had a chromosome number of 2N = 28. He found that he was unable to breed this variant with O. lamarckiana. He named this new species O. gigas.

Vries, H.D., 1905. Ueber die Dauer der Mutations-periode bei Oenothera Lamarckiana. Berichte der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft, 23, p.382.

(Added April 11, 2011)

The former “Answers in Genesis” gang claims they have found a problem with using O. gigas as an example of polyploidal speciation. There are so many good examples of new species emerging, both in the wild, and in laboratories, that I would not want to use one that is incorrect.

The notorious creationist website “Creation Ministries,” disputes O. gigias as a valid example of polyplodial speciation. (Feedback, March 31, 2007 “Speciation Observed? Was this Evolution?” As I have found them to be grossly wrong on many occasions, I also checked their citation list. The creationist claim that O. gigas is not an example of speciation has only two supports; an article in 1943, and that they did not find botanical materials named O. gigias in on-line Botanical nomenclature reference collections. Oenothera names are a mess, but not as bad as Asteracea. O. gigias was apparently found to be a synonym, and is disused. This is trivial, and does nothing to change using the spontaneous emergence of the tetraploidal new species.

The “Creation Ministries International” phonies also cited a 1943 plant genetics article, “An amphidiploid in the F1 generation from the cross Oenothera franciscana x Oenothera biennis, and its progeny” (Davis, B.M., Genetics 28(4):275–285, July 1943). It is available on-line in PDF at:

Read it for yourselves, if you like. It has nothing relevant to de Vries, or his O. gigias being used as valid examples of speciation. This is the sort of misrepresentation typical from professional creationists, who expect their followers to lack either the education, or motivation to actually dig through the science.

For a more recent review of the role polyplodial plants play in evolution, read;

"Duplicate genes increase expression diversity in closely related species and allopolyploids" Misook Haa, Eun-Deok Kima and Z. Jeffrey Chen, PNAS February 17, 2009 vol. 106 no. 7 2295-2300

And, here is a broader review on plant evolution and genome doubling that is also a bit easier to read;

"Genetic and epigenetic alterations after hybridization and genome doubling" Ovidiu Paun, Michael F. Fay, Douglas E. Soltis, and Mark W. Chase, Taxon. 2007 August; 56(3): 649–56.

Kew Primrose (Primula kewensis)

Digby (1912) crossed the primrose species Primula verticillata and P. floribunda to produce a sterile hybrid. Polyploidization occurred in a few of these plants to produce fertile offspring. The new species was named P. kewensis. Newton and Pellew (1929) note that spontaneous hybrids of P. verticillata and P. floribunda set tetraploid seed on at least three occasions. These happened in 1905, 1923 and 1926.


Owenby (1950) demonstrated that two species in this genus were produced by polyploidization from hybrids. He showed that Tragopogon miscellus found in a colony in Moscow, Idaho was produced by hybridization of T. dubius and T. pratensis. He also showed that T. mirus found in a colony near Pullman, Washington was produced by hybridization of T. dubius and T. porrifolius. Evidence from chloroplast DNA suggests that T. mirus has originated independently by hybridization in eastern Washington and western Idaho at least three times (Soltis and Soltis 1989). The same study also shows multiple origins for T. micellus.

Drosophila paulistorum

Dobzhansky and Pavlovsky (1971) reported a speciation event that occurred in a laboratory culture of Drosophila paulistorum sometime between 1958 and 1963. The culture was descended from a single inseminated female that was captured in the Llanos of Colombia. In 1958 this strain produced fertile hybrids when crossed with conspecifics of different strains from Orinocan. From 1963 onward crosses with Orinocan strains produced only sterile males. Initially no assortative mating or behavioral isolation was seen between the Llanos strain and the Orinocan strains. Later on Dobzhansky produced assortative mating (Dobzhansky 1972).

Apple Maggot Fly (Rhagoletis pomonella)

Rhagoletis pomonella is a fly that is native to North America. Its normal host is the hawthorn tree. Sometime during the nineteenth century it began to infest apple trees. Since then it has begun to infest cherries, roses, pears and possibly other members of the rosaceae. Quite a bit of work has been done on the differences between flies infesting hawthorn and flies infesting apple. There appear to be differences in host preferences among populations. Offspring of females collected from on of these two hosts are more likely to select that host for oviposition (Prokopy et al. 1988). Genetic differences between flies on these two hosts have been found at 6 out of 13 allozyme loci (Feder et al. 1988, see also McPheron et al. 1988). Laboratory studies have shown an asynchrony in emergence time of adults between these two host races (Smith 1988). Flies from apple trees take about 40 days to mature, whereas flies from hawthorn trees take 54-60 days to mature. This makes sense when we consider that hawthorn fruit tends to mature later in the season that apples. Hybridization studies show that host preferences are inherited, but give no evidence of barriers to mating. This is a very exciting case(Rhagoletis pomonella). It may represent the early stages of a sympatric speciation event (considering the dispersal of R. pomonella to other plants it may even represent the beginning of an adaptive radiation).

What I find personally fascinating is that the increasing genetic isolation of the two races of R. pomonella has led to the reproductive isolation/speciation of the parasitic wasp Diachasma alloeum (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) which feeds on the rapidly evolving fly. (See "Sequential Sympatric Speciation Across Trophic Levels" Andrew A. Forbes, Thomas H.Q. Powell, Lukasz L. Stelinski, James J. Smith, Jeffrey L. Feder, Science 6 February 2009 323: 776-779).

So, even when there might still be limited inter-fertility in the diverging, R. pomonella, there is already a related speciation in an associated insect.

Here are two speciation examples sampled from: "Some More Observed Speciation Events, 1992-1997" by Chris Stassen, James Meritt, Anneliese Lilje, L. Drew Davis

Rapid speciation of the Faeroe Island house mouse, which occurred in less than 250 years after man brought the creature to the island. (Test for speciation in this case is based on morphology. It is unlikely that forced breeding experiments have been performed with the parent stock.) Reference: Stanley, S., 1979. Macroevolution: Pattern and Process, San Francisco, W.H. Freeman and Company. p. 41

Formation of five new species of cichlid fishes which formed since they were isolated less than 4000 years ago from the parent stock, Lake Nagubago. (Test for speciation in this case is by morphology and lack of natural interbreeding. These fish have complex mating rituals and different coloration. While it might be possible that different species are inter-fertile, they cannot be convinced to mate.) Reference: Mayr, E., 1970. Populations, Species, and Evolution, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press. p. 348

Nevo, E., 1991, Evolutionary Theory and process of active speciation and adaptive radiation in subterranean mole rats, spalax-ehrenbergi superspecies, in Israel, Evolutionary Biology, Volume 25, pages 1-125.

There is a large literature on new species emerging among newly introduced colonies of Anole lizards. Here are just a few examples:

Anolis oculatus undergoes rapid subpopulation isolations following drought, or the introduction of a preditor, Anolis sagrei. Reference: Roger S. Thorpe "Population Evolution and Island Biogeography" Science 16 December 2005 310: 1778-1779

New species of Anolis on Indian Ocean Islands. Reference: Marguerite A. Butler, Stanley A. Sawyer, Jonathan B. Losos "Sexual dimorphism and adaptive radiation in Anolis lizards" Nature 447, 202 - 205 (10 May 2007)

Anurag A. Agrawal "Phenotypic Plasticity in the Interactions and Evolution of Species" Science 12 October 2001 294: 321-326

This next one is very interesting. It is a vertebrate (a lizard species), and the new species was produced experimentally as a hybrid cross. This is the same kind of genetic novelty as found in plants, e.g. Evening Primrose (Oenothera gigas) that I mentioned earlier.

"Laboratory synthesis of an independently reproducing vertebrate species" Aracely A. Lutesa, Diana P. Baumann, William B. Neaves, and Peter Baumann (Published online before print PNAS May 4, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1102811108)


Speciation in animals commonly involves an extrinsic barrier to genetic exchange followed by the accumulation of sufficient genetic variation to impede subsequent productive interbreeding. All-female species of whiptail lizards, which originated by interspecific hybridization between sexual progenitors, are an exception to this rule. Here, the arising species instantaneously acquires a novel genotype combining distinctive alleles from two different species, and reproduction by parthenogenesis constitutes an effective intrinsic barrier to genetic exchange. Fertilization of diploid parthenogenetic females by males of sexual species has produced several triploid species, but these instantaneous speciation events have neither been observed in nature nor have they been reconstituted in the laboratory. Here we report the generation of four self-sustaining clonal lineages of a tetraploid species resulting from fertilization of triploid oocytes from a parthenogenetic Aspidoscelis exsanguis with haploid sperm from Aspidoscelis inornata. Molecular and cytological analysis confirmed the genetic identity of the hybrids and revealed that the females retain the capability of parthenogenetic reproduction characteristic of their triploid mothers. The tetraploid females have established self-perpetuating clonal lineages which are now in the third generation. Our results confirm the hypothesis that secondary hybridization events can lead to asexual lineages of increased ploidy when favorable combinations of parental genomes are assembled. We anticipate that these animals will be a critical tool in understanding the mechanisms underlying the origin and subsequent evolution of asexual amniotes.

The is also discussed on the Web at Panda's Thumb, and Nobel Intent.

One more on fish;

Andrew P. Hendry, John K. Wenburg, Paul Bentzen, Eric C. Volk, Thomas P. Quinn "Rapid Evolution of Reproductive Isolation in the Wild: Evidence from Introduced Salmon" Science 20 October 2000: Vol. 290. no. 5491, pp. 516 - 518

So, common descent is established by direct observation of speciation, and various selective pressures are seen to be effective. Depending on population size, and starting variability, selective pressures can be strongly acting resulting in rapid emergence of new species.

Phillip Skell, Liar or Ignorant?

Re: "The Dangers Of Overselling Evolution"
Forbes Online 02.23.09, 01:47 PM EST

Philip S. Skell is a computational chemist. He disparages paleontology, and evolutionary biology. He is a creationist, and anything he writes must be interpreted with this in mind. His core argument is that evolutionary theory founders on the; "... origin of life, speciation, the essences of our fossilized ancestors, the ultimate causes of their changes, etc."

The origin of life, typically studied under the umbrella of abiogenesis, or astrobiology, is conceptually independent of evolutionary theory. Contemporary research is as much chemical as biological. Perhaps more so. As Darwin himself observed, concluding that there was a unique solitary original cell was merely the result of analogy, "But, analogy may be a deceitful guide." The core of evolutionary theory, common descent and natural selection, is unaffected by any origin of life scenario.

Skell seems unaware that speciation, the emergence of a newly isolated reproductive population is neither unknown, nor uncommon. We have directly observed the emergence of new species, conclusively demonstrating common descent, a core hypothesis of evolutionary theory. Depending on population size, and starting variability, selective pressures can be strongly acting resulting in rapid emergence of new species.
This is a much a "proof" of evolution as dropping a bowling ball on your foot "proves" gravity.

Skell is equally uninformed about the interplay between molecular genetics and paleontology. We have recently seen the publication of a draft genome of the extinct hominid, Homo Neadertalis. More tellingly, there has been a decades long exchange of opinions regarding whale evolution where hypotheses generated from both genetics and morphology have finally converged with the paleontological discovery of several new whale ancestors, particularly Ambulocetus natans, and Pakicetus.

Skell wrote that evolutionary theory is irrelevant to "doctors, veterinarians, farmers and other practitioners of biological science." He even mentioned that the discovery of penicillin was not a direct out come of evolutionary theory. And, of course it was not- it was a lucky accident. However, the subsequent and continuing development of antibiotics, including penicillin, was implicitly an application of evolutionary principles. It is either ignorant in the extreme, or dishonest, for Skell to claim that hereditable variations that result in altered population genomes under selection (evolution) are not critical to the study of antibiotic resistance. Equally, that evolutionary theory was not directly employed to alter clinical antibiotic prescription practice recommendations.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The new issue NCSE Reports has been released

It is focused on the gross lies from the producers and writers of the propaganda film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

Hopefully some of the material will be made available on the NCSE website, or their "Expelled Exposed" website soon.

I have a short piece on Ben Stein and the film's egregious lies about origin of life research which was fun to see in print.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Another day, and more creationist bullshit

W. Edward Murphy wrote, "I could support teaching Darwinism as fact PROVIDED that the advocates of Darwinism can supply answers to a few of my questions.”

I’ll take Mr. Murphy at his word, and expect that he will begin supporting teaching science in science classes. This will of course include biology, and all biological science is evolutionary science.

First, as others have noted, Mike Behe is a devout Roman Catholic. In his testimony under oath in the Dover Trial he has admitted that 1) his rejection of evolution was religiously motivated, and 2) that the notion of Intelligent Design was plausible to the extent that you believed in creationism, 3) that no experimental evidence for ID creationism existed, and 4) that his concept of “irreducible complexity” was deeply flawed but that he had neither improved nor replaced it.

Second, any new species emerges from a population and not single progenitors. The clearest examples are subspecies that interbreed with closely related subspecies, but with reduced fertility outside their subspecies. We even see occasional hybrids between different species that, while very rare, can be fertile. As the ancestral species Homo erectus spread throughout Eurasia and Africa there were many isolated and diverging populations. Archaeological evidence and genetic evidence both indicate that this lead to new subspecies which were basically compressed back to Africa during the ice ages of the Pleistocene. Two large populations, the Neanderthals and our species emerged, and we are the only current members of our genus. Even today, we observe that individuals are able to reproduce even with widely divergent genes, and even chromosome misalignments.

Next, egg laying has a much longer history than internal incubation. We have excellent fossil data demonstrating that dinosaurs had well developed nesting behavior and even parenting. We also have irrefutable evidence that all of today’s birds are evolved from dinosaurian ancestors. Simply, the egg came first.

Evolutionary biology generates systematic quantitative observations from experimental situations in both laboratory and natural settings. The results of these studies are used to refine theory and make new predictions for tests of that theory. There are dozens of evolutionary experimental results and theoretical discussions published every week in just the science journals I read. Globally there are dozens published every day. (By the way, there was no such idealized model of “science” in the 17th century, and philosophers are still debating today just how they would define “science”).

We have any number of transitional fossils. The denial of this fact is the oldest of creationist lies. The higher in the taxonomic categories one looks, the easier the intermediates are to identify. Many paleontologists in the 1970s and ‘80s debated about the relative status of the lowest levels of taxonomy. Since in animals like birds, many species are first isolated into new species by behavior rather than gross alteration of their bones. Obviously, the evolution of those new species would be invisible paleontologically since it is extraordinary that behavior could be fossilized. (Rare, but not impossible. Dinosaur nesting behavior is an example). Today the combination of secure dating methods and the global geological data produced by the oil industry, enable us to make specific targeted excavation for transitional fossils of particular interest. Examples are the transition from sea to land by Devonian fish, and the return in the Eocene by those land mammals that were the ancestors of today’s whales.

But we do not even need fossil evidence of evolution because we have directly observed the evolution of new, reproductively isolated new species. There are examples in all major phyla from worms, insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Even more examples are from plants.

Mr. Murphy finally indulges in what is known as “quote mining” which is take a snippet of text out of context to distort and mislead. Darwin began a section titled “Organs of extreme Perfection and Complication” with the sentence misappropriated by Mr. Murphy. In the same paragraph, Darwin responds, “Reason tells me that if numerous gradations from the simple and imperfect eye can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certainly the case; … the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.”

In the last one hundred and fifty years, we have learned much more about the evolution of eyes in all of the hundreds of forms they have taken. The eye is, as Darwin himself argued, not a problem- rather it is a further confirmation of evolutionary theory.

I would like to expect that Mr. Murphy will send a new email to the Texas Board of Education. But I won’t hold my breath.

Gary Hurd, Ph.D.