Ok, first, I'd like to clarify something. Theory of evolution isn't perfect and isn't absolute. It has advantages, but also some flaws or rather unclear moments. Then why I protect it so fiercely?
Evolution is a scientific theory. It deals with facts, or at least, it tries. It measures stuff and then try to plug them in the big puzzle. It's not perfect, but scientific tools are working ,very very well as we can see from other sciences.
The point is it tries to make a model on known facts and extends it to unknown, if something is controversial or irrational, it gets re-evaluated ,if it's again irrational, the theory gets re-evaluated. And changed, eventually, with another scientific theory.
Intelligent Design, however, isn't a scientific theory. It doesn't use scientific tools, instead, it uses facts that are questionably trustworthy or irrationally interpreted. You can always argue that this is subjective. It might be, but the TRUTH isn't subjective. It is absolute. There was only one past of this Planet and we have to discover it on the base of objective research, unconnected with religion or ideology. I'm not particularly fond of archaeology, since it shows signs of ... limitedness. But the dating of a fossil is very straight-forward and that I do believe. I believe machines and geology, not interpretation. And ID dosn't correspond to those machine data. It doesn't fit critical facts and this makes it not science. It makes it mythology. And mythology isn't to be taught in science classes. That's all. Now, the articles. First two show the argument between evolutionists and id-ists. The second two show evolution in action. And my personal fascination on intelligence of ants. The guy from the last article is a genious and if I find some spare time, I'd gladly contact him since I have very similar feeling on ants and collective (he calls it social) evolution.
- New legal threat to teaching evolution in the US
- Creationist critics get their comeuppance
- Taking a Cue From Ants on Evolution of Humans
- Quick-thinking ants trim foliage to fit
New legal threat to teaching evolution in the US
- 09 July 2008
BARBARA FORREST knew the odds were stacked against her. "They had 50 or 60 people in the room," she says. Her opponents included lobbyists, church leaders and a crowd of home-schooled children. "They were wearing stickers, clapping, cheering and standing in the aisles." Those on Forrest's side numbered less than a dozen, including two professors from Louisiana State University, representatives from the Louisiana Association of Educators and campaigners for the continued separation of church and state.
That was on 21 May, when Forrest testified in the Louisiana state legislature on the dangers hidden in the state's proposed Science Education Act. She had spent weeks trying to muster opposition to the bill on the grounds that it would allow teachers and school boards across the state to present non-scientific alternatives to evolution, including ideas related to intelligent design (ID) - the proposition that life is too complicated to have arisen without the help of a supernatural agent.
The act is designed to slip ID in "through the back door", says Forrest, who is a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert in the history of creationism. She adds that the bill's language, which names evolution along with global warming, the origins of life and human cloning as worthy of "open and objective discussion", is an attempt to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial.
Forrest's testimony notwithstanding, the bill was passed by the state's legislature - by a majority of 94 to 3 in the House and by unanimous vote in the Senate. On 28 June, Louisiana's Republican governor, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, signed the bill into law. The development has national implications, not least because Jindal is rumoured to be on Senator John McCain's shortlist as a potential running mate in his bid for the presidency.
The new legislation is the latest manoeuvre in a long-running war to challenge the validity of Darwinian evolution as an accepted scientific fact in American classrooms. Forrest played a pivotal role in the previous battle. It came to a head at a trial in 2005 when US district judge John E. Jones ruled against the Dover area school board in Pennsylvania, whose members had voted that students in high-school biology classes should be encouraged to explore alternatives to evolution and directed to textbooks on ID.
The Dover trial, during which Forrest presented evidence that ID was old-fashioned creationism by another name (New Scientist, 29 October 2005, p 6), revolved around the question of whether ID was science or religion. Jones determined it was the latter, and ruled in favour of the parents who challenged the Dover board on the basis of the provision for separation of church and state in the US constitution.
The strategy being employed in Louisiana by proponents of ID - including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute - is more subtle and potentially more difficult to challenge. Instead of trying to prove that ID is science, they have sought to bestow on teachers the right to introduce non-scientific alternatives to evolution under the banner of "academic freedom".
"Academic freedom is a great thing," says Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California. "But if you look at the American Association of University Professors' definition of academic freedom, it refers to the ability to do research and publish." This, he points out, is different to the job high-school teachers are supposed to do. "In high school, you're teaching mainstream science so students can go on to college or medical school, where you need that freedom to explore cutting-edge ideas. To apply 'academic freedom' to high school is a misuse of the term."
"It's very slick," says Forrest. "The religious right has co-opted the terminology of the progressive left... They know that phrase appeals to people."
The new usage began to permeate public consciousness earlier this year with the release of the documentary film Expelled: No intelligence allowed. Starring actor, game-show host and former Nixon speech-writer Ben Stein, the film argues that academic freedom is under attack in the US from atheist "Darwinists". The film's promoters teamed up with the Discovery Institute to set up the Academic Freedom Petition. Their website provides a "model academic freedom statute on evolution" to serve as a template for sympathetic legislators.
So far, representatives from six states have taken up the idea. In Florida, Missouri, South Carolina and Alabama, bills were introduced but failed. An academic freedom bill now in committee in Michigan is expected to stall there.
Louisiana is another story. A hub of creationist activism since the early 1980s, it was Louisiana that enacted the Balanced Treatment Act, which required that creationism be taught alongside evolution in schools. In a landmark 1987 case known as Edwards vs Aguillard, the US Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, effectively closing the door on teaching "creation science" in public schools. ID was invented soon afterwards as a way of proffering creationist concepts without specific reference to God.
That way, those who wish to challenge Darwinian evolution have "plausible deniability" that this is intended to teach something unconstitutional, says Eric Rothschild of the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton, which represented the parents at the Dover trial. "They are better camouflaged now."
Supporters of the new law clearly hope that teachers and administrators who wish to raise alternatives to evolution in science classes will feel protected if they do so. The law expressly permits the use of "supplemental" classroom materials in addition to state-approved textbooks. The LFF is now promoting the use of online "add-ons" that put a creationist spin on the contents of various science texts in use across the state, and the Discovery Institute has recently produced Explore Evolution, a glossy text that offers the standard ID critiques of evolution (see "The evolution of creationist literature").
Because the law allows individual boards and teachers to make additions to the science curriculum without clearance from a state authority, the responsibility will lie with parents to mount a legal challenge to anything that appears to be an infringement of the separation of church and state.
Even if a trial ensues, a victory by the plaintiffs will only mean that some specific supplementary material is ruled unconstitutional - not the law itself. Separate lawsuits will be needed to address each piece of suspicious supplementary material.
Ultimately, if a number of suits are successfully tried, a group like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) could take the law itself to court, citing various cases in which it was used to bring religious material into the classroom. Representatives from the ACLU and from Americans United for Separation of Church and State have already told Louisiana state officials that lawsuits will follow if the law is used for religious ends." source
Creationist critics get their comeuppance
It's one of the most dramatic examples of evolution in action ever seen, and because Lenski freezes samples of the population every 500 generations, it is possible to go back and track how the ability developed. Lenski and his team are now doing so, and hope to have a detailed history of the ability developing, mutation by mutation.
All in all we thought it was a pretty excellent piece of research, and plenty of other sites agreed: Pharyngula, for instance, devoted a lengthy post to it. However, such an unambiguous example of evolution in action was always going to bring the kooks out of the woodwork.
First up was Michael Behe, the intelligent design proponent and biochemist, who argued in his Amazon blog that Lenski's work was in fact excellent evidence for intelligent design. His argument is a variant on the usual "it's just so improbable" line: the ability to metabolise citrate required several different mutations (true), which each have a low chance of happening in a given time (true), and it may even have been necessary for them to happen in a particular order (true), therefore Darwinian evolution can't explain it. Er, no, it just means it would take evolution a little while to manage it. 20 years, as it turned out.
However, a far more amusing response came from Andrew Schlafly, the boss of Conservapedia. This, you may recall, is an alternative version of Wikipedia that aims to "correct the biases" of the original site - it has, for example, a young-Earth creationist viewpoint on evolution.
Schlafly wrote a brusque open letter to Lenski, expressing "skepticism" about his claims and demanding to see the data. Lenski replied, saying that the data were publicly available in the paper, and correcting a major misunderstanding in Schlafly's letter (he misread our article as saying there were three new proteins in the mutant culture, which we didn't say and was not the case). Schlafly wrote back, in shirty tones, demanding the data in their raw form for "independent review" - meaning that Conservapedia should be allowed to reanalyse it, without it being mucked about by corrupt evolutionist scientists. And at this point Lenski must have had enough.
His response was long and detailed. He patiently explained the science (again), pointed out (again) that all the data were available, and explained that in theory he could send them samples of the bacteria so they could test them for themselves (but that in practice this was illegal as they lacked the proper facilities). source
Quick-thinking ants trim foliage to fit
Faced with a restrictive obstacle in the path between a foraging site and their nest, leaf-cutter ants simply cut leaves into different shapes to ensure they their production line is uninterrupted.
Audrey Dussutour at the University of Sydney, Australia, built a low plastic roof across the path used by the ants to see whether this would cause traffic jams.
The roof was low enough to make it hard for the ants to carry their usual sized leaf cuttings underneath. To stop the ants finding an alternative route, the researcher situated the roof above a bridge that was only way back to the ants' nest.
Dussutour filmed the ants as they adapted to the new challenge. "Amazingly, the traffic jams never happened because the ants quickly learned to cut smaller fragments right at the foraging site, five minutes away from the roof", she says.
After 24 hours, the ants were not only cutting fragments that were smaller, they were also making them rounder. By changing the shape, the ants maximised the fragment area they could comfortably transport below the roof.
"It's a total surprise they did this and suggests they are a lot smarter than we thought," says Dussutour.
The leaf-cutter ants tweaked their strategies in other ways too. The proportion of ants carrying leaf fragments tripled when the bridge was in place, allowing them to make up for smaller individual loads.
The researchers think this shift towards more ants transporting leaves happens via a process called social facilitation. In this instance, with the roof in place, loaded ants spend more time on the trail, which means that more unloaded ants have a chance to bump into them.
These encounters prompt these ants to cut fragments at the foraging site themselves. "If you see lots of people with ice cream, you want to buy some too," says Dussutour.
Nigel Franks at the University of Bristol in the UK says that to discover how ants learn to change their cutting technique, researchers will need to mark individuals – for example with paint – and follow their progress from the moment they pass under the roof for the first time.
"We have good reason to think that ants can learn very quickly what not to do," he says.
Taking a Cue From Ants on Evolution of Humans
To reach Edward O. Wilson’s office on the Harvard campus, is a space that holds the world’s largest collection of ants, some 14,000 species. Curators are checking the drawers, dominated by the tall figure of Dr. Wilson, who is trying to contain his excitement: the 14,001st ant species has just been discovered in the soils of a Brazilian forest. He steamrolls any incipient skepticism about the ant’s uniqueness — the new species is a living coelacanth of ants, a primitive throwback to the first ant, a wasp that shed its wings and assigned all its descendants to live in earth, not their ancestral air. The new ant is so alien, Dr. Wilson explains, so unlike any known to earthlings, that it will be named as if it came from another planet.
Dr. Wilson is generating a storm of literary output that would be impressive for someone half his age. “The Superorganism,” with Bert Hölldobler, a new book with information on termites, wasps, bees and ants, will be published in November. Dr. Wilson is at work on his first novel. He is preparing a treatise on the forces of social evolution, which seems likely to apply to people the lessons evident in ant colonies. And he is engaged in another fight.
Dr. Wilson was not picking a fight when he published “Sociobiology” in 1975, a synthesis of ideas about the evolution of social behavior. He asserted that many human behaviors had a genetic basis, an idea then disputed by many social scientists and by Marxists intent on remaking humanity. Dr. Wilson was amazed at what ensued, which he describes as a long campaign of verbal assault and harassment with a distinctly Marxist flavor led by two Harvard colleagues, Richard C. Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould.
The new fight is one Dr. Wilson has picked. It concerns a central feature of evolution, one with considerable bearing on human social behaviors. The issue is the level at which evolution operates. Many evolutionary biologists have been persuaded, by works like “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, that the gene is the only level at which natural selection acts. Dr. Wilson, changing his mind because of new data about the genetics of ant colonies, now believes that natural selection operates at many levels, including at the level of a social group.
It is through multilevel or group-level selection — favoring the survival of one group of organisms over another — that evolution has in Dr. Wilson’s view brought into being the many essential genes that benefit the group at the individual’s expense. In humans, these may include genes that underlie generosity, moral constraints, even religious behavior. Such traits are difficult to account for, though not impossible, on the view that natural selection favors only behaviors that help the individual to survive and leave more children.
“I believe that deep in their heart everyone working on social insects is aware that the selection that created them is multilevel selection,” Dr. Wilson said.
Last year he and David Sloan Wilson, a longtime advocate of group-level selection, laid out a theoretical basis for this view in an article in the Quarterly Review of Biology. Their statement evoked a heated response from Dr. Dawkins in New Scientist; he accused them of lying on a minor point and demanded an apology.
Proposing an idea heretical to many evolutionary biologists is one of the smaller skirmishes Dr. Wilson has set off. In his 1998 book “Consilience,” he proposed that many human activities, from economics to morality, needed to be temporarily removed from the hands of the reigning specialists and given to biologists to work out a proper evolutionary foundation.
“It is an astonishing circumstance that the study of ethics has advanced so little since the 19th century,” he wrote, dismissing a century of work by moral philosophers. His insight has been supported by the recent emergence of a new school of psychologists who are constructing an evolutionary explanation of morality.
Dr. Wilson’s treatise, on the shaping of social behavior, seems likely to tread firmly into this vexed arena. Morality and religion, he suspects, are traits based on group selection. “Groups with men of quality — brave, strong, innovative, smart and altruistic — would tend to prevail, as Darwin said, over those groups that do not have those qualities so well developed,” Dr. Wilson said.
“Now that, obviously, is a rather unpopular idea, very politically incorrect if pushed, but nevertheless Darwin may have been right about that. Undoubtedly that will be another big controversy,” he said without evident regret, “and that will be my next book, when I get through my novel.”
Looking back at the “heavy mortar fire” that rained down on him over “Sociobiology,” he said he had risked his academic career and feared for a time that he had made a fatal error. His admiration for the political courage of the Harvard faculty is not without limits; many colleagues told him they supported him, but all did so privately. Academic biologists are still so afraid of inciting similar attacks that they practice sociobiology under other names, like evolutionary psychology.
Though Dr. Wilson is a fighter when necessary, he is also a conciliator. In his most recent book, “The Creation,” he calls for scientists and religious leaders to make common cause in saving the natural life of the planet.source