Simon Conway Morris still thinks “God did it” is a scientific statement

I’ve just picked up Larry Moran’s teaser “Can You Guess Who Wrote This?” on his Sandwalk blog. As the words are a restatement of Paley’s classic but long ago debunked Watchmaker analogy and the Sandwalk article is accompanied by a photograph of the paleontologist and champion of theistic evolution, Simon Conway Morris, there isn’t much of a mystery.  There original article by Conway Morris, Darwin was right. Up to a point, appeared in Thursday’s Guardian as part of its Darwin 200 coverage.

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David Attenborough: Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life

David Attenborough’s new documentary, Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life, was broadcast earlier this evening on BBC1 in the UK, and will be available on iPlayer for a few days.  Watch it while you can, grab the DVD when it’s made available.

Meanwhile even if you’re outside the UK (and therefore unable to see this documentary immediately) you might like to pop over to to see the animation that forms the central core of one of the segments of  Attenborough’s 60 minute documentary.

Attenborough takes an ecological theme, starting with a reading from Genesis, in leading to Gen 1:28 implying that man has dominion over living creatures and can use them for his purposes, and moving on through Darwin’s “long argument”, which leads to a very different message: we do not have dominion over the animals, we are animals, and we are controlled by the same forces that control them.

Electron transport chain may provide a mechanism for evolutionary feedback

Science Daily reports that a team working in the Frick Laboratory at Princeton has investigated the Electron Transport Chain (ETC) in mitochondria and believe it has found evidence that the protein chains involved in the transport generate mutations in response to suboptimal conditions by generating mutations, thus providing a positive feedback mechanism driving evolution.

A member of the team associate research scholar Raj Chakrabarti, says:

The discovery answers an age-old question that has puzzled biologists since the time of Darwin: How can organisms be so exquisitely complex, if evolution is completely random, operating like a ‘blind watchmaker’?  Our new theory extends Darwin’s model, demonstrating how organisms can subtly direct aspects of their own evolution to create order out of randomness.

Their findings were published recently in Physical Review Letters.

The team identifies the underlying optimization process as a phenomenon in Control Theory known as “bang-bang extremization.”  Chakrabarti explains:

In this paper, we present what is ostensibly the first quantitative experimental evidence, since Wallace’s original proposal, that nature employs evolutionary control strategies to maximize the fitness of biological networks.  Control theory offers a direct explanation for an otherwise perplexing observation and indicates that evolution is operating according to principles that every engineer knows.

Reiss fried by Nobel laureate

The Guardian website yesterday carried a blistering attack on Michael Reiss by Nobel prizewinner Harry Kroto, over Reiss’s recent advocacy of teaching creationism as a “cultural worldview” in British science lessons.  Kroto is having none of it, and says the problem is that as a church minister Reiss was in the wrong job.   “It really does not matter whether one believes a mystical entity created the universe 5,000 or 10,000 million years ago – both are equally irrational unsubstantiated claims of no fundamental validity.”  All religious people, including Reiss, “fall at the first hurdle of the main requirement for honest scientific discussion because they accept unfound dogma as having fundamental significance.”

Kroto frames it as a matter of intellectual integrity:

“An ordained minister must have accepted that there was a creator (presumably more intelligent than he is?) thus many of us (maybe 90% of FRSs) cannot see how such a person can pontificate on how to tackle this fundamentally unresolvable conflict at the science/religion interface. Reiss cannot have his religious cake in church and eat the scientific one in the classroom. “

Reiss stepped down as Education Director of the Royal Society this month after his controversial comments.

Türkiye’de Yasaklandı. Türkiye’de Bakınız Richard Dawkins burada.

Banned in Turkey. Read Richard Dawkins in Turkish here.

Richard Dawkins’ website has been banned in Turkey, but mine has not.

For those living in Turkey, here’s an update from the website:

  • The Turkish edition of Dawkins’ book. The Ancestor’s Tale, sold out within a day
  • There is a Turkish translation of the offending article. See below.

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Very straightforward: Obama’s responses to Nature on an evolution and stem cell questions

PZ Myers reports on Nature’s election 2008 edition,  He is understandably very proud of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s response to a question on evolution:

I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated. I do not believe it is helpful to our students to cloud discussions of science with non-scientific theories like intelligent design that are not subject to experimental scrutiny.

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Church of England to launch website promoting Darwinism

Saturday’s Times reports that the Church of England is to produce a website promoting the evolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin.

Some Anglican clerics opposed Darwin’s ideas when they were first introduced, but the view of the Church of England has long been that religion and evolution are compatible.  The brainchild of the Rev. Dr Malcolm Brown, the website is to be launched on Monday.

The church is concerned at the resurgence of creationism.

Examining a creationist argument on the fossil record

This is a followup to an earlier posting that examined the first part of this posting by somebody who calls himself Sirius Knott.  Creationists tend to make bold claims that attempt to rubbish the consensus of biologists, geologists and paleontologists, reveal their ignorance of the field, and wonder why nobody takes them seriously.  Sirius seems to follow the same pattern.

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Examining a creationist case against modern geology

I encountered this posting by Sirius Knott and asked him to read some textbooks.  After a bit he got bored with my patient requests that he educate himself, and even grew tired of taunting me.  Fair enough.  Time for me to deal in detail with his errors–because there are a lot of people who have ideas like this and they probably, deep down, are seeking some kind of response from the scientific point of view.  I’ll present my response by links to standard answers, for the most part, because these objections have been raised by creationists many times in the past, and they have no scientific credibility.  There is absolutely nothing new about creationism or intelligent design.  The same arguments have been raised again and again down the decades, but not one of them has convinced the scientific community.

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Pennsylvania University museum exhibition refutes “Intelligent Design”

The Wall Street Journal recently carried an article about the new multimedia exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, “Surviving: The Body of Evidence”.   Using exhibits such as a life-sized transparent model of a recumbent woman, the exhibition demonstrates the features that life has evolved to enable it to survive.  The message is that our bodies, being a product of natural selection, are functional, but far from perfect.  The exhibition took five years to put together, and was created by Janet Monge and Alan Mann, two academics who formerly taught a course on human adaptation at the university.  It is part of a year long Philadelphia-base project known as the Year of Evolution.