Thursday, August 28, 2008

Carnival of Evolution #1

I sit now, preparing to hear Barack Obama’s Democratic Nominee acceptance speech, hoping that soon science and intellectualism will once again take strong root within our government and culture. I know, I know – it’s there already to a degree – but sometimes I find it hard to see hope through the forests of ignorance that have sprouted from school boards and government education priorities across this country - decrying the single Theory that manages to explain this incredible order and complexity that has arisen around us and that has created us.

But I do have hope, mainly because of the hundreds of like-minded individuals I have managed to discover recently on these great internets. There is an entire underworld of scientist bloggers out there, reaching out to the masses or speaking out to almost no one and hoping to reach a single pair of eyes.

I am currently much closer to the latter.

Nonetheless, it is with this desire to reach out, to educate, and simply to marvel at the wonders of evolution that I have created this first Carnival of Evolution.
I know not yet how often this Carnival will be updated. I hope that enough may find it interesting and worthwhile, allowing this Carnival to take a life of its own. I hope that it may evolve itself. If you have an interest in evolution, volunteer to host an issue yourself.

Some Blog Carnival hosts manage to weave posts into a coherent theme or narrative. For this first short carnival, I shall simply lay out several recent posts dealing with evolution that I have managed to find throughout the cybersphere.

And since I am starting this Carnival of Evolution, I will start with a post I recently wrote on
biochemicalsoul in which I talk about the prospects of directing our own evolution and enhancing ourselves, from the perspective of developmental biology. I doubt our cultural barriers will ever allow this to the extent I dream. But I still have hope.
“There is no doubt that we will eventually have all the pieces of the puzzle of our own development (assuming we last long enough). But there is one key element glossed over in discussions of how we apply our scientific knowledge to human enhancement: experimentation and research on developing embryos. I think that regardless of how much data and understanding we obtain from animal studies and studies of human disease and genetics, we will never be able to apply any directed changes without experimentation on humans. This is a simple fact.”
Ricardo Azevedo at Evo.Sphere has written an excellent and intriguing summation of the history of the initial formation of the theory of Natural Selection, with a focus on some of Darwin’s contemporaries, and also containing the following beautiful poem on evolution written by Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin.
"Where milder skies protect the nascent brood,
And earth's warm bosom yields salubrious food;
Each new Descendant with superior powers
Of sense and motion speeds the transient hours;
Braves every season, tenants every clime,
And Nature rises on the wings of Time."
GrrlScientist at Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) considers the evolution of an arms race between cuckoo and their hosts.
“This cuckoo specializes in laying a single egg in the nests of fairy-wrens, but sometimes parasitizes nests of other species such as thornbills or robins. The cuckoo chick has a shorter incubation period than the hosts' chicks, and after the cuckoo chick hatches, it pushes the host's eggs out of the nest and imitates the begging calls of the host's offspring, thereby deceiving the parent birds into feeding and caring for the interloper.”
Andrew at The Evolving Mind has written on the evolution of spicy Mexican food. Well, technically it’s about the evolution of the capsaicinoids that make peppers hot and delicious and also just happen to prevent fungal growth.
“The buffet tables of evidence for evolution keep multiplying. Oh sure, a person can get narrow-minded and select an anomaly à la carte. Or he/she can turn to the kiddies menu and settle on the “Happy Argument from Ignorance” (because I can’t wrap my brain around it, it must be wrong).

My attitude toward both cuisine and ideas is identical: bring it on! For man does not live well by stale bread alone.”
For anyone who teaches evolution, Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology has posted his excellent and informative syllabus for his new course on Human Evolution and Diversity.
“I felt that anthropologists needed to respond to Fraser’s ideas (as well as a lot of other things) with a serious biological anthropology unit on evolution and diversity in humanity. But our department has, of late, been offering almost entirely sociocultural anthropology, as many European and Australian departments do. And that’s how I got to offer a unit, ‘Human Evolution and Diversity,’ for Macquarie first-year students.”
Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog has written a series of reports on the Sixth International Conference on Creationism. In part four he tells of a rather hilarious researcher who has found patterns (Fingers of God he calls them) in clusters of galaxies, which to him indicate that Earth is the center of the Universe. Jason does an excellent job refuting these claims in entertaining ways.
“Matthews joined the party by pointing to the fingers and saying that you can see them, plain as day. They weren't an illusion. I pointed out that constellations weren't an illusion either. I also pointed out that you could pick out other spots on the diagram where an astronomer might notice little lines of galaxies as well.”
Scott Nance at Life, The Universe… reports on a recent study suggesting that binocular eyes originally evolved not so much for the depth perceptive abilities, but for an “X-ray” ability – an ability to see “through” things immediately in front of the eyes, such as leaves of a forest. It’s basically a slightly different way of thinking about the selective advantages gained by having two eyes with overlapping fields.

Coturnix at A Blog Around the Clock has written a truly excellent article on the difficulties in teaching evolution to creationists. It is also a reaction piece to the NYT column by Olivia Judson on the importance of teaching evolution.

Adrian Hayter at The Atheist Blogger hilariously debunks Ray Comforts redefinition of taxonomic relationships between species.
“At least we have a reason why Ray Comfort doesn’t understand Evolution. When you redefine basic tenets of Biology so that the theory of Evolution collapses, of course you will think that it doesn’t work! Using Ray Comfort’s methodology I will now debunk a couple of “popular” scientific notions.”

Michael White at Adaptive Complexity gives us an educational multi-part review and summary of a new book, The Plausibility of Life, by Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart, in which he talks about evolution’s most important molecular inventions.

Mike the Mad Biologist asks whether focusing on molecular evolution when teaching evolution is a better way to get the core concepts across (due to the “hardness” of molecular science).


  1. Erasmus Darwin was not Charles' father but his grandfather.

  2. Darwinian evolution builds a whole case without a foundation. It cannot answer the basic question of what happened in the beginning.

    Atheistic evolution as a worldview can not handle the simple fact that creation proves the Creator.

  3. michael - good catch. Typo fixed.

    justin - it's called a convergence of evidence. Look it up.

    You saying that evolution cannot answer the basic question of what happened in the beginning is a bit like me saying that Christianity can't answer the question about why God kills people with hurricanes (spooky mysterious ways). Both are, in essence, unknowable. However, using science we will soon have working examples of how life CAN arise on it's own, if not the exact specific method it DID arise.

  4. irradiatus, please don't go into that intellectual free zone. You know scientifically life cannot come from nonlife. And as far as your objection to Christianity, all you really said is you don't understand the mind of God. You have done nothing to actually discredit the belief system. I, however, have pointed to a fundamental flaw with your worldview. Your wordview does not have a foundation. You have built up a whole system of belief and then are going back to see if you can find a way to support the beginning by saying "science we will soon have working examples of how life CAN arise on it's own". If you were really scientific, you wouldn't assume the conclusion. You would make a hypothesis and test it, but you wouldn't say for sure "such and such WILL happen". You are now showing you are biased by making the conclusion before the evidence. In fact, even if you were going to make a hypothesis, you should say that because of the scientific laws saying life does not come from non-life, atheistic evolution cannot account for the beginning.

  5. "You have built up a whole system of belief and then are going back to see if you can find a way to support the beginning by saying"

    This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of science as a way of obtaining knowledge. The system of belief was not built first - in fact you could argue that my initial belief was Catholicism (as a very very small child). It looks like someone hasn't taken freshman biology. Here's your lesson for the day (with very very simple examples).

    For me, first came anecdotal evidence that did not support the religious view (e.g. "hey, dinosaur fossils!").

    Next came the Observational or Descriptive research (e.g. "hey, look - my organs look similar to other animals' organs")

    Mountains of correlational findings came next (e.g. the age of fossils based on dating seems to closely match the calculated time of evolution based on molecular mutations").

    Finally, controlled experiments iced the cake (e.g. Richard Lenski's group just demonstrated this summer the evolution of a novel trait - the ability to metabolize citrate - in a single population of bacteria during a twenty-year experiment.)

    Thus, Anecdotes, Observational and Descriptive Research, Correlations, and Controlled Experiments make up the four primary types of evidence that result in Theory. The convergence of these mountains of evidence is what forms the foundation of my worldview.

    Just because you state "Your worldview does not have a foundation" does not make it so.

    You said "If you were really scientific, you wouldn't assume the conclusion."

    I was not assuming the conclusion. I was simply displaying my optimism that science will continue along the track it's been plunging. Sure, it might turn out that we can't find a set of conditions that lead to life naturally. But I think we will.

  6. Dinosaur bones do nothing to discredit the Bible. Dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible.

    Organs looking similar among species could more easily be attributed to a common designer. You have let your bias guide you.

    As far as dating, that is a fundamental science error being made. See for numerous articles.

    As far as Richard Lenski's finding, mutations which lead to adaptation, termed adaptive mutations, can readily fit within a creation model where adaptive mechanisms are a designed feature of bacteria allowing them to survive in a fallen world.8 Since E. coli already possess the ability to transport and utilize citrate under certain conditions, it is conceivable that they could adapt and gain the ability to utilize citrate under broader conditions. This does not require the addition of new genetic information or functional systems (there are no known “additive” mechanisms). Instead degenerative events are likely to have occurred resulting in the loss of regulation and/or specificity. It is possible that the first mutations or potentiating mutations (at generation 20,000) were either slightly beneficial or neutral in their effect.

    Given the selective pressure exerted by the media of a limited carbon source (glucose) but abundant alternative carbon source (citrate), the cells with slightly beneficial mutations would be selected for and increase in the population. Alternatively, if the mutational effects were neutral the cells with these mutations might remain in the population just by chance, since they would not be selected for or against. Around generation 31,500 additional mutations enabled the cells to utilize citrate and grow more rapidly than cells without the adaptive mutations. Adaptive mechanisms in bacteria work by altering currently existing genetic information or functional systems to make the bacteria more suitable for a particular environment. Further understanding of Lenski’s research is valuable for development of a creation model for adaptation of bacterial populations in response to the adverse environmental conditions in a post-Fall, post-Flood world.

  7. *laughs*

    I give up.

    You win.

    God did it all and we should stop looking. Evolution is a farce.

  8. Justin wrote: You know scientifically life cannot come from nonlife.

    Oh, how do we know this? You're using the "god of the gaps" argument, aka the argument from ignorance.

    You previously wrote: Darwinian evolution builds a whole case without a foundation. It cannot answer the basic question of what happened in the beginning.

    Your belief in a creator, intelligent designer, God, or whatever you want to call it suffers from the same flaw. You can't answer the basic question "Where does God come from?" The usual reply, "He's eternal," is just special pleading.

    So tell us, Justin, where does your creator come from? Please give evidence to support your hypothesis. The Bible doesn't count as evidence.

    BTW, where are dinosaurs mentioned in the Bible? Also, were they like the unicorns, unable to make it to the ark on time? (See the Irish Rovers' song "The Unicorn" for the sad story about how these beasts became extinct.)

  9. Micheal, I will try to answer your questions here, but then I must go. If you want to continue talking, I can answer you at

    As far as life coming from nonlife, we know that ever since Pasteur's experiment people have been trying to make life come from nonlife. They have never succeeded. Observationally, we see that life always comes from nonlife so the educated hypothesis would be that life only comes from life. This is not "god of the gaps". This is based on all the observation done by scientists so far.

    As far as "who made God", this is my response. "To one who examines the evidence, there can be no doubt that God exists. Every building has a builder. Everything made has a maker. The fact of the existence of the Creator is axiomatic (self-evident). That’s why the Bible says, "The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’" (Psalm 14:1). The professing atheist denies the common sense given to him by God, and defends his belief by thinking that the question "Who made God?" can’t be answered. This, he thinks, gives him license to deny the existence of God.

    The question of who made God can be answered by simply looking at space and asking, "Does space have an end?" Obviously, it doesn’t. If there is a brick wall with "The End" written on it, the question arises, "What is behind the brick wall?" Strain the mind though it may, we have to believe (have faith) that space has no beginning and no end. The same applies with God. He has no beginning and no end. He is eternal.

    The Bible also informs us that time is a dimension that God created, into which man was subjected. It even tells us that one day time will no longer exist. That will be called "eternity." God Himself dwells outside of the dimension He created (2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2). He dwells in eternity and is not subject to time. God spoke history before it came into being. He can move through time as a man flips through a history book.

    Because we live in the dimension of time, logic and reason demand that everything must have a beginning and an end. We can understand the concept of God’s eternal nature the same way we understand the concept of space having no beginning and end—by faith. We simply have to believe they are so, even though such thoughts put a strain on our distinctly insufficient cerebrums."

    The Bible cannot be discounted as evidence if you are unbiased. Just as you could prove the President lives in the White House, you could prove that truth is in the Bible by looking inside. However, the Bible is not the only evidence.

    Remember, the word dinosaur was invented later. In the Bible, in Job 40:15-24, God describes to Job (who lived after the Flood) a great beast with which Job was familiar. This great animal, called ‘behemoth,’ is described as ‘the chief of the ways of God,’ perhaps the biggest land animal God had created. Impressively, he moved his tail like a cedar tree!
    - AiG

    I look forward to discussion at my blog, but if not then have a nice day!

  10. Justin, you should read a few more versions of the Bible. Yes, the King James says Behemoth "moveth his tail like a cedar", but the Revised Standard Version (generally regarded as a more accurate translation) says "he makes his tail stiff like a cedar".

    Now not too many animals make their "tail" stiff, but there is another appendage that hangs between the legs of about half of the world's mammals, which DOES become stiff.

    The fact that we're in euphemism territory is all the more clear whenn you look at the next line (King James again): "...the sinews of his stones are wrapped together."

    The old Latin Vulgate Bible is even more explicit; the word it uses in place of "stones" is "testiculorum". Now testicles are something that only mammals have, so whatever Behemoth was, it wasn't a dinosaur.

    Taken with the preceding verse, which says "his strength is in his loins" (both King James and RSV), it's clear we're speaking about some animal which was renowned for its virility.

  11. Should of course have said "externally visible testicles". (Reptiles have them, but you'd never know it without dissecting one.)

  12. anonymous, I use multiple translations and usually not the KJV. There is no problem with what you pointed out. It is still likely a dinosaur.

  13. Justin, I know you're never going to change your mind on this, no matter what the evidence, but an animal with visible testicles could not have been a dinosaur. If you want to go on believing dinosaurs and humans coexisted you're going to have to come up with something else.

  14. Sorry, Justin, you get a D-. The only thing keeping you from an F is you gave a coherent response. But you just barely passed once and failed twice.

    You failed to show that life cannot come from non-life. You've claimed that scientists from Pasteur until now can't produce life from non-life. Your claim is almost certainly true, but that's all it is, a claim. Furthermore, just because scientists can't do it now doesn't mean they won't be able to do it in 50 or 100 years from now. Grade: D.

    Then you failed to give any evidence that God wasn't created. In fact, you didn't even attempt to answer this question. Instead, you gave some rigamarol about the existence of god as axiomatic. In other words, you admit that you can't even prove the existence of god, you just assume it. Also, I told you that the Bible isn't evidence of an everlasting creator, a stipulation you attempted to refute. Again you tried to pass an axiom as established fact. Sorry, doesn't work for me. So for both my question that you didn't answer and the question that you tried to answer, Grade: F (twice)

    As for "behemoth" being a dinosaur, you've got to be kidding. Most Biblical scholars consider Job to be allegorical fiction. For those scholars who do try to identify behemoth with a real animal, the guesses are water buffalo, rhinoceros and the elephant, but the most common suggestion is the hippopotamus. So you even fail to get the extra credit question on the quiz.

    Nice try, Justin. Learn something about the real world, stop believing Genesis is a literal description of creation, and maybe you'll do better on the next quiz.

  15. Justin, I visited your blog, christianincollege. I left you a long quote from St. Augustine which shows that a major theologian considered the literal interpretation of Genesis some 1600 years ago. Guess what, your side lost.

    If you're not familiar with Augustine, you might want to read The City of God (De civitate Dei) and his Confessions. The famous quote from Confessions is "Lord, grant me chastity and continence, only not yet."

    See, even an atheist is familiar with religious writings. Of course, I wasn't an atheist all of my life. It was exposure to some of the more ridiculous parts of religion, like Genesis was a literal description of the creation of the Earth, that made me realize how silly the ideas of God and religion are.

  16. Is that like "Frost can not come from non-frost"? Frost looks designed and therefore Jack Frost paints our windows? Snow can't exist because it repeals the law of thermodynamics? Gods can not come from non-Gods? If our world is so complex that someone must have designed it, who designed the designer? What makes Gods different from Santa Claus? -- sees all, knows all, comes down from Heaven, rewards and punishes, so you'd better be good! Except that we're allowed to grow out of believing in Santa Claus.