Tag Archives: uncommon descent

Dandelion Sex, Or The Lack Thereof

Dandelion (From Wikipedia)

Dandelion (From Wikipedia)

I’ve just finished reading Frogs, Flies, & Dandelions: the making of species by biologist Menno Schilthuizen –an engaging and informative book on species formation. Here’s a little taste of what I learned; it illustrates that genetics isn’t perfect, and evolution is beautifully adaptive.

Historically, the common dandelion, that ubiquitous and irritating weed found in gardens and fields throughout North America and Europe, has been a puzzle to botanists. For a long time, no one was sure how many species existed. In the 1700’s, Carolus Linnaeus said only one; in the 20th century, Scandinavian botanists claimed more than two-thousands existed. But with DNA testing, came the answer. Many dandelions are, in fact, clones. In place of normal sexual reproduction with two sets of chromosomes being divided into sex cells, the ovules and pollen, some dandelions reproduce by parthenogenesis, or virgin birth, because at one point in their history they mutated into having three sets of chromosomes, a number which is sexually indivisible. The mutant dandelions instead produce unfertilized –but still viable– seeds, each with a triple set of chromosomes –in other words, a clone.

What’s most illuminating is that the same mutation has popped up several times. So there are several strains with triple chromosomes, all sexually isolated from one another because they can only reproduce by cloning themselves. But it gets better; the clones still produce pollen, except it is completely sterile. Only in the light of evolution does this sordid asexual tale make sense. Why waste the time and energy producing “irregular pollen” if it’s never going to be used? Perhaps god takes a sadistic pleasure in irritating people’s allergies. Or he’s invested heavily in big pharmaceuticals. If so, I hope he had Bernie Madoff sitting on his nest egg.

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Filed under Biology, Evolution, Science

A Conservative Christian Slacker

After reading a particularly fatuous opinion piece, I’m reminded of the stale joke about the man who climbs into a cab and asks the driver how to get to Carnegie Hall. The driver says, “practice”. In my version, the man asks the driver how to get to the creation museum. And the diver says, “sleep in science class.” Well, a creationist slacker named Victor Medina, who writes a column called When Liberals Attack for the Dallas Republican Examiner, opened his latest scrawl with these words:

It would seem the free marketplace of ideas has entered a new Dark Age. Rather than keeping their [the Darwinist’s] minds open and allow for all viewpoints, the powers that be are squashing all dissent, until theirs is the only voice heard.

Irony might as well be a Klingon word to Medina, for the intellectual stagnation of the Dark Ages was the result of the church’s absolutism and its slavish adherence to scripture. And are we to believe that Medina sees all viewpoints as being equal –that Christianity stands only as tall as the next religion? Having a discriminating –or discerning– eye when it comes to ideas isn’t a bad thing; it’s how science works –by weeding out the good explanations from the bad ones. So, when Medina calls for a “free marketplace”, he’s being blatantly disingenuous. Next, he betrays his ignorance, and lack of research skills:

Darwinists, who believe in a strict following of Darwin’s theory of evolution, aren’t satisfied with blacklisting anyone who disagrees with them. Now, they want to make Darwin more accessible, hip and relevant. To do this, they have declared 2009 “The Year of Darwin.” Really. These same left wing radicals with way too much time on their hands are also promoting “Darwin Day” as an alternative to Christmas. Really. No word on the traditions of Darwin Day, but I would suggest instead of exchanging gifts, Darwinists take after their simian ancestors and throw their feces at each other.

If one were to glance at the scientific literature published since 1859 –the year when Charles Darwin presented his grand theories to the world– one would find that Darwin’s colleagues have consistently dissected his ideas and basted him with heaps of criticism –more than any creationist could ever muster. Darwin’s good ideas, like natural selection, have stood the test of time, while his bad ones have been rejected. And Darwin Day (Feb 12) is presented annually simply as a day of science education and admiration of Charles Darwin, the scientist and explorer. Medina’s hyperbolic attempt to characterize it otherwise is childish, and what I’d expect from a closed mind. And it may also surprise Medina to learn that Michael Behe, the leading proponent of ID, accepts the common ancestry of humans and apes. So, let the feces fly.

They [the Darwinists] insist that intelligent design has no scientific standing whatsoever. Why then, are they so afraid to even discuss such a theory if it is so flimsy?…This blacklisting is seen in full detail in Ben Stein’s hit documentary “Expelled,” in which some highly regarded scientists and academics were blacklisted for even considering intelligent design. Despite the fact that mainstream science has already called into doubt some of Darwin’s theories, including having to rethink the basis for the Big Bang…

Metaphorically speaking, here Medina’s calling rain without ever having watched a game or stepped on the playing field. I dare say there are at least an equal number of books by scientists discussing the intelligent design hypothesis as there are books by creationists promoting it. Academics haven’t been afraid to discuss it in the least, nor have they been “blacklisted for even considering” it. Typically it’s creationist authors who are afraid of evolution, so much so that they conveniently leave out its scientific details from their writings in order to further their ideology. Keeping their audiences ignorant of the scientific facts is their modus operandi. And yes, ID has no scientific standing because it’s not science. What research has the ID community presented other than subjectively declaring organic structures to be complex? At best ID is an untenable conclusion –and a thinly veiled religious one at that, and as such is incompatible with scientific methodology. Spokespeople for the Discovery Institute regularly and loudly promote ID as a secular proposition, but quietly –to friendly audiences– they admit it to be a Christian one. So, if intelligent design is religion, how can it be science? Finally, Medina calls Ben Stein’s movie Expelled a “hit documentary” when in reality its box office receipts were lukewarm to room temperature.

With one factual error after another, Victor Medina shows himself to be an intellectual slacker, who’s loath to do the most basic of research on a subject he clearly knows nothing about. He concludes his sermon with some projection and a Hitler invocation:

In their world, there isn’t even room for debate. There is only one way to think, their way. All other thought is pointless and irrelevant. It’s very Darwinian. It’s also very Adolf. [My emphasis]

No one’s ever said the only path to salvation is through Darwin.

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Filed under Christianity, Intelligent Design

Genome Size and Complexity

the groups in this figure are arranged along made-up "scala naturae" to emphasize the lack of relationship between genome size and intuitive notions of organismal complexity -- please do not construe this figure as an endorsement of a progressionist view of evolution!).

(Note: the groups in this figure are arranged along made-up “scala naturae” to emphasize the lack of relationship between genome size and intuitive notions of organismal complexity — please do not construe this figure as an endorsement of a progressionist view of evolution!).

The chart above and note are from genomesize.com

As the note says, the bars in the chart indicate ranges of genome size. The measurements are given as a C-value, which here is a measure of weight in picograms. As we can see, genome size and complexity do not go hand in hand. Salamanders, flatworms, and algae are just a few of the groups which have members with genomes sizes larger than that of the mammals. Et tu, Chondrichthyes? Members of the protozoa have the largest. Isn’t it bad enough that humans have to deal with penis envy, now this? If there is a creator, he has an “inordinate fondness” for amoebae. All that sexy amoebic swaying and oozing is what did it. It’s a damn popularity contest. The swimsuit contest lost us the most points; the amoeba slipped out of its top, showed some membrane, and won the day.

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Filed under Biology, Intelligent Design

When Creationist T-Shirts Go Bad

Searching the web for creationism is sometimes like sifting through trash and finding the occasional humorous but, completely worthless, object. You feel darn conflicted. You’re dirty from the trash but the “prize” makes the whole ordeal somehow worthwhile. Behold, the rotten fruit of my labors.

Irony

Irony

It actually says “Science From Dumbies”. This ironic work of art is from a website called Evolving Minds, but they’re selling them on eBay, too. Their “mission” statement is:
We are a new ministry dedicated to the fight against the theory of Evolution. We think it is important to defend ourselves against the falsehood of Evolution and the lies that are associated with it… Our mission is to reach out to the lost, mainly those who believe in Evolution. We hope to change their thinking and challenge their faith in the theory of Evolution. Our goal is to fully equip anyone who has the drive to debate this topic. We are in this fight together and want to offer our resources to help destroy the work of the devil.
The back of this devil fighting t-shirt has a popular misquote from Charles Darwin’s Origin Of Species. It’s on the origin of the eye, and Talk Origins explains the details of their mistake. Also, the EvolvingMind’s links page contains both Kent Hovind (DrDino) and Ben Stein (Expelled: The Movie). I guess the Young Earth Creationists operating this ministry didn’t read the memo about Intelligent Design ostensibly being a secular theory, or see the news about Kent Hovind’s imprisonment on tax fraud. Wait… I’m still laughing hard at the shirt.

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Filed under Trawling For Creationism

Uncommon Descent’s “Special Audience”

Uncommon Descent is William Dembski’s blog. (Dembski, one of the princes of intelligent design propaganda). The target audience of his blog is “special”. What I mean by that is that Dembski and his guest bloggers stick to a script – a political / religious / social message – and the commetors lap it up like starving puppies. The “puppies” stick to their own script too, but they do it out of ignorance, stupidity, and laziness. Let’s look at an example. Continue reading

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