In several other posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here) I have discussed the spectacular scientific success of students who were fortunate enough to have a young-earth-creationist science education in high school. Simply put, those who learn science from a young-earth-creationist perspective are way ahead of their peers when it comes to university-level science. There are many reasons for this, and a recent article in the journal Science discusses what is probably the most important one: A young-earth creationist science education teaches students how to analyze scientific claims critically. Unfortunately, most evolutionary-based science programs simply do not.
As the article says:
Critique is not, therefore, some peripheral feature of science, but rather it is core to its practice, and without argument and evaluation, the construction of reliable knowledge would be impossible…Science education, in contrast, is notable for the absence of argument 1
The author of the article (Jonathan Osborne) marshals several lines of evidence to indicate that in order to achieve success in science education, teachers and textbooks must emphasize the argumentation involved in science. I couldn’t agree more.
I expect nearly every creationist and Intelligent Design blog will eventually discuss this, but I thought I would throw in my “two cents” about a study that has serious implications for the creation/evolution controversy. Laura Poliseno and her colleagues have published a study in Nature that has demonstrated a function for a class of pseudogenes.1 The study will result in a radical change in biology’s understanding of what has been disparagingly called “junk DNA.”
Let’s start from the beginning. A pseudogene is a section of DNA that looks a lot like a gene that exists in another section of an organism’s genome. However, despite this similarity, the pseudogene does not produce a protein. In other words, suppose a researcher finds a gene that produces a given protein. Let’s call it “gene A.” If the researcher finds another part of the organism’s genome that looks incredibly similar to “gene A” but with a few modifications that make it impossible for the organism to turn it into a protein, that part of the organism’s genome is called a pseudogene.
Since pseudogenes cannot be turned into proteins, it has long been thought that they are the result of a gene being duplicated at some point in history and then being mutated to the point where the gene cannot be used anymore. Indeed, as a commentary in the same issue of Nature says:
Pseudogenes are considered to be defunct relatives of known genes. 2
What Poliseno and her colleagues have conclusively demonstrated is that at least some pseudogenes are anything but defunct, and they might not even be relatives of known genes.
As you can see by the links on the right, I am a fan of the Discovery Institute. As its website says, “The Institute discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty.” Those are three concepts that are very near and dear to my heart. As a result, I get their Discovery Institute Views, and I read with interest the Summer 2010 edition.
On the front page of that newsletter, there was an article about Wesley J.
Smith, senior fellow at the Institute’s Center for Human Rights and Bioethics. He is a champion of human exceptionalism, the seemingly obvious concept that people are more valuable than other forms of life on this planet. At first, it seemed a bit odd to me that this concept needs a champion, since it is, as one of my chemistry professors used to say, “intuitively obvious to the most casual observer.” As I learned from the article, however, there are people who actually attempt to argue against this self-evident idea.
One such person is Peter Singer, professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and laureate professor at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. In 1979, he published a textbook called Practical Ethics. In 1993, a second edition was published, and that’s the one I found at the library. After skimming parts of the book and reading other parts, I can definitely say that this is one guy who has taken the hypothesis of evolution and twisted it into lunacy.
Dr. Hunter had a post on his blog a few days ago dealing with evolution and whether or not it could be falsified. As he states, falsification is an incredibly important part of science. Indeed, the great philosopher Sir Karl Popper pointed out that science cannot prove anything. Instead, the best science can do is pile up evidence to support a theory. The more evidence that supports the theory (and the less evidence that opposes the theory), the more reasonable it is to believe the theory. However, the theory can never be proven.
In Popper’s view (and I agree with him), while you can never prove a scientific theory, you should be able to demonstrate it to be incorrect. In other words, a scientific theory should be falsifiable. There should be the possibility that some discovery would end up demonstrating that the theory is false. If a scientific theory can accommodate any data, it is not a scientific theory. This, of course, makes sense. If a theory is so plastic that it can be molded to fit any data, it is definitely not scientific.
Dr. Hunter says that evolution is not falsifiable because it is a negative argument. As he puts in in the post mentioned above:
Evolution is, and always has been, motivated by failures of creationism and design. If god did not design or create this world, then it must have evolved. Somehow. Evolutionists perform research to try to figure out how evolution could have happened, but it must have happened—that much they know. That is a metaphysical position, not a scientific position, based on a negative argument. It is not falsifiable.
While I agree with the last sentence in that quote, I don’t agree with anything that comes before it.
If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably recognize the name “Norwegian Shooter.” He is a regular commenter, and even though he relies on character assassination,distraction, and quoting out of context, his comments were entertaining. I don’t know of anyone else who has so clearly demonstrated the irrationality of the atheist point of view.
Unfortunately, because he refused to observe a basic request from me regarding his comportment (most likely as a result of his frustration at being demonstrated wrong time and time again), he has been banned from commenting on this blog.
I was reading PZ Myers’s blog today, and I found out that he has been nominated for several blog awards. One of those awards is for the Best Religion Blog, and he seems a bit confused about that. He says:
I’ve been nominated for what?
OK, what is this thing? I’ve been nominated for Best Blog About Stuff, which is OK, but then…Best Celebrity Blogger? Somebody has a very slack definition of “celebrity”. Then there’s Best Religion Blogger — this is an atheist blog…
I am not sure why PZ is confused. He seems to think that his blog shouldn’t be characterized as a “religious” blog because he happens to be an atheist. This, of course, is nonsense. While I know some atheists who are not religious, PZ is most certainly a very, very religious man. Thus, I am not surprised that he has been nominated for the honor of Best Religion Blogger.
Bioluminescence is an amazing thing. Many living creatures use it to “light up” so they can communicate with others, more easily find food, or defend themselves against predators. In the picture above, for example, there are millions of single-celled organisms (called “dinoflagellates”) in the water. When they are disturbed, they use bioluminescence to glow. They are glowing in the picture because the wave is disturbing them. This is actually a defense mechanism. If the water is disturbed by an animal that eats them (such as a manta ray), the dinoflagellates glow, and the light might attract a predator that will eat (or scare away) the manta ray.
E. A. Widder wrote a review1 of bioluminescence in the May 7th issue of the Journal Science, and it is fascinating. As Widder points out, there are over 700 genera (the classification level above species) of organisms that use bioluminescence, and most of them (about 80%) live in the ocean. The mechanisms by which this process works are elegant and amazing, and they certainly defy any coherent evolutionary explanation.
It seems simple enough. The sun warms our planet. Thus, if one is wondering what is happening to the temperature of our planet, one should look for changes that are occurring in the sun. Sure, there are a lot of other things one must investigate as well, but the sun should be a major priority, right?
Well, not according to the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC). In their 2007 report,1 which claims that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that there is a “very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming,” they state:
Solar irradiance contributions to global average radiative forcing are considerably smaller than the contribution of increases in greenhouse gases over the industrial period.
So the IPCC says that the huge ball of thermonuclear reactions upon which the earth depends isn’t nearly as important when it comes to climate change as the relatively recent 35% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Fortunately, not everyone thinks the IPCC is serious about science. As a result, some climate researchers are actually trying to figure out how important changes in the sun’s activity are when it comes to the overall temperature of the earth. Not surprisingly, current research is showing that the conclusions of the IPCC are wrong.
Before the human genome was sequenced, it was thought that humans had well over 100,000 genes. This reasonable conclusion was based on the fact that that the human body is estimated to produce 120,000 – 140,000 different proteins. Since biology had determined that a gene tells a cell how to make a protein, it was assumed that 120,000 – 140,000 proteins would require 120,000 – 140,000 different genes.
As is often the case with science, however, the data turned out to be very surprising. When the human genome was initially sequenced, it was estimated to contain about 30,000 genes. Today, it is thought that the human genome contains 20,000–25,000 genes.1
So if a human cell requires a gene in order to make a protein, and if the human body produces as many as 140,000 different proteins, how can it do so with “only” 20,000–25,000 genes? A large part of the answer to that question has to do with an amazing process called alternative splicing.
As I have mentioned previously, I get lots of E-MAIL (and a few letters) from students who have used my courses and are now at university. They generally report that they are significantly better prepared for university-level science than their peers, and they often say that my courses are what inspired them to continue to study the sciences at the university level. This is not surprising, as a young-earth-creationist education is not only the best science education you can have, but it also tends to inspire a true love for science.
I got another one of those wonderful E-MAILs yesterday, and I want to post some excerpts from it because they illustrate an important point about the nature of home education.
I am a freshman at Ohio University Eastern (OUE). I was home-schooled kindergarten through 12th grade, and in high school I used [your] Physical Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics…My mom has no formal training in the sciences; so I relied solely on the books and help line to instruct me…Tonight at the campus’s commencement ceremony, I was awarded the “Outstanding Chemistry Student of the Year” award. One student receives this award if the chemistry professor, Dr. Zachariah, thinks that there is an eligible student. Last year, Dr. Zachariah did not give out the award. (emphasis mine)
First, let me congratulate this student publicly. It is one thing to win an award that is given out every year, but that simply means you are the best student that year. While it is an accomplishment, it might not mean much, depending on the other students taking chemistry that year. To win an award that is given out only if the professor thinks someone deserves it shows that you are truly an outstanding student. Well done!