Sunday, November 19, 2006

They Just Don't Get It

The discussion about UCSD students being ignorant of evolution was stimulated by an article that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune on February 16, 2006 ["Designed to Create Controversy"]. The article quotes UCSD evolutionary biologist Joshua Kohn,
At UCSD, which is known for its strength in science and engineering, faculty members are realizing they need to pay more attention to the controversy. Two years ago, a UCSD survey found that 40 percent of incoming freshmen to the university's Sixth College – geared toward educating students for a high-tech 21st century – do not believe in evolution, said the college's provost, Gabriele Wienhausen.

The university now requires students who major in biology to complete a course in biological evolution, Kohn said. The policy became effective with freshmen who enrolled last fall. Professors had discussed the change for years, he said, but the Sixth College poll made it more urgent.

“Our own faculty has gotten sensitized to the issue that there's a bunch of people that just don't get it,” Kohn said.
If UCSD is accepting such a large number of students who don't understand one of the basic tenets of science then maybe it's time to re-examine their admissions policy? I wonder how many of the students are from Kansas?


  1. It all depends on what is meant by "evolution". Everyone knows it has several meanings from the generic change in allele frequency over time to common descent from some unknown population(s) of single-celled organisms via stochastic/ blind watchmaker-type processes.

    And given that the data in the lab and in nature points to wobbling stability I would question anyone who accepted Common Descent.

    However evolutionists could help themselves by actually substantiating their claims (IOW don't blame the students for your failure):

    1) How could we test the premise that the bacterial flagellum "evolved" via purely stochastic/ blind watchmaker-type processes?

    2) How could we falsify that premise?

    3) What is the evidence that demonstrates a population of bacteria can "evolve" into something other than a population of bacteria?

    4) What is the evidence that demonstrates a population of single-celled organisms can "evolve" into something other than single-celled organisms?

    And to further that point we don't even know what makes an organism what it is beyond the following from geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti:

    Chapter VI “Why is a Fly not a horse?” (same as the book’s title)

    ”The scientist enjoys a privilege denied the theologian. To any question, even one central to his theories, he may reply “I’m sorry but I do not know.” This is the only honest answer to the question posed by the title of this chapter. We are fully aware of what makes a flower red rather than white, what it is that prevents a dwarf from growing taller, or what goes wrong in a paraplegic or a thalassemic. But the mystery of species eludes us, and we have made no progress beyond what we already have long known, namely, that a kitty is born because its mother was a she-cat that mated with a tom, and that a fly emerges as a fly larva from a fly egg.”

    Time to step up to the plate and actually do something other than preach from the gospel of evolutionary wishful thinking.

  2. Congratulations, Larry! You've got your own 'net loon! Gans will be so jealous!

  3. Don't be so hard on yourself Johnny-boy...

  4. Good question, how do we test evolutionary scenario of the bacterial flagellum you ask. Well, that's exactly what Matzke has done. How could such a premise be falsified? By failing to find homologues.

    See for instance This link

    Or the more recent paper

    Pallen MJ, Matzke NJ. (2006). “From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella.” Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4(10), 784-790. October 2006. Advanced Online Publication on September 5, 2006. [PubMed] [Journal] [DOI] [Google Scholar]

    In the recent Dover trial, and elsewhere, the ‘Intelligent Design’ movement has championed the bacterial flagellum as an irreducibly complex system that, it is claimed, could not have evolved through natural selection. Here we explore the arguments in favour of viewing bacterial flagella as evolved, rather than designed, entities. We dismiss the need for any great conceptual leaps in creating a model of flagellar evolution and speculate as to how an experimental programme focused on this topic might look.

  5. UCSD's results verify something most of us have observed for a long time: Secondary schools don't teach evolution.

    The question I would ask is, with no one seriously being taught what evolution theory is, why do only 40 percent reject it?

    In contrast, kids in Texas are taught the Bill of Rights at least three times if they stick in Texas schools all the way through, and there is a state-law-required teaching of the good qualities of the Constitution annually. About 40% of any class claims the First Amendment goes too far -- equal to the 40% of creationists, I'd say.

    If we can only get 60% of the kids with three years required and annual booster shots on the Bill of Rights, which has no science in it, isn't it a bit of a miracle that evolution ranks so high?

    I'd suggest that the power of the idea and the strength of the evidence count for evolution -- what self-respecting kid doesn't understand that Flintstones is a cartoon (as opposed to Answers in Genesis, which appears to think Flintstones is cutting edge science).

    Some students pay attention to the business news, in my experience. Any student who does that realizes that in the real world, especially that world where investment bankers put billions of dollars down on ideas that work and deny funding to ideas that do not work, evolution is traded every day on the New York Stock Exchange (e.g., Genentech), and creationism and intelligent design are non-starters. Failed ideas often get 40% approval ratings (are we yet under 50% of Americans who think Iraq had a role in the 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center?).

    The wonder is, with the massive amounts of money for public relations, why can't ID catch on even with the academically unwashed?

  6. PVM,

    The question isn't whether or not the bac flag evolved- it is the MECHANISM(s) that is being debated. For example it could have evolved via design.

    Also just showing that possible homologs exists in no way answers anything- it does not answer how the structure was assembled, nor does it answer how the command and control center arose. For without command and control the bac flag would not function.

    And it also could be that the alleged homologs really aren't. I know you know about homoplasy.

    What Nick and co. need to do is take their premise into the lab just as Dr Behe suggested in the Dover trial. That evos refuse to do such an experiment should give any objective person reason to doubt the validity of the paper you cite.

  7. Ah, the bluster!

    Joe G, it's not scientists who refuse to take their stuff into the lab. Behe's the guy who hasn't published in years.

    Projection is so powerful among the IDists that the Rosicrucians are thinking of suing for patent infringement . . .

  8. Gee Ed D, then why hasn't the proposed experiment been conducted?

    And why does all observation in the lab AND in nature point to wobbling stability?

  9. If UCSD is accepting such a large number of students who don't understand one of the basic tenets of science then maybe it's time to re-examine their admissions policy?

    ... not to mention (although it's kinda an obvious statement) raising some serious questions about the systems feeding into said institution.

    I don't want to beat up on those system unfairly--evolutionary biology hasn't been 'round quite so long as, say, heliocentricism, and I guess part of this is still that the cultural groups that are so offended by the former have mostly had to accept the latter and move on...

    But still, in terms of the intrinsic difficulty of the science, I see no particular reason why it should be so easy for PR firms like the DI to so confuse the issue... And thus why IDC crowd is taken any more seriously than the flat earthers is still a bit hard for me to fathom.

    So here's a vote for more and better education on evolutionary biology. And earlier.

  10. Ask Behe, Joe. He's the guy who claims his reputation is on the line.

    As to real scientists doing real science, I'm not willing to say that the experiments being done don't include the disproof of Behe's claims. All I know for sure is that the paper Behe told me he had in the works some seven years ago has never appeared, and now he claims he's out of the business.

    Every year there are 10,000 papers reaffirming evolution or based on evolution, published in juried science journals. In the past 19 years, there have been two shoddy papers supporting ID sneaked into science journals. When creationists claimed in 1981 that science journals are biased against them, they were found in federal court to have no evidence to support such a claim. In the recent trial in Pennsylvania, the claims of bias against anti-evolution research were again found to be fantasies.

    What are you guys smoking, Joe? Why not quit and do some research instead?

  11. "What is the evidence that demonstrates a population of single-celled organisms can "evolve" into something other than single-celled organisms?"

    Boraas, M. E. et al. 1998 Evol. Ecol. 12, 153-164.

    Abstract: Predation was a powerful selective force promoting increased morphological complexity in a unicellular prey held in constant environmental conditions. The green alga, Chlorella vulgaris, is a well-studied eukaryote, which has retained its normal unicellular form in cultures in our laboratories for thousands of generations. For the experiments reported here, steady-state unicellular C. vulgaris continuous cultures were inoculated with the predator Ochromonas vallescia, a phagotrophic flagellated protist (`flagellate'). Within less than 100 generations of the prey, a multicellular Chlorella growth form became dominant in the culture (subsequently repeated in other cultures). The prey Chlorella first formed globose clusters of tens to hundreds of cells. After about 10-20 generations in the presence of the phagotroph, eight-celled colonies predominated. These colonies retained the eight-celled form indefinitely in continuous culture and when plated onto agar. These self-replicating, stable colonies were virtually immune to predation by the flagellate, but small enough that each Chlorella cell was exposed directly to the nutrient medium.

  12. Behe was asked on the stand in Dover if he had conducted the experiments that might falsify his hypothesis. His response was that he had not, that it was the job of his critics to do the experiments, and essentially he was sure he was right and had more fruitful things to spend his time on.

    No wonder these guys can't get published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. "It hasn't been disproven yet" might impress the Disco boys, but scientists are a bit more demanding.

  13. I am sure UCSD is ranked higher than Canuck U., so why don't you worry about your own students.

  14. "What is the evidence that demonstrates a population of single-celled organisms can "evolve" into something other than single-celled organisms?"

    All the life on earth today, for starters, which shares the same genetic material.

    Only scientifically illiterate morons fail to grasp this elementary point.

  15. Here's an idea for a laugh riot: a creationist quiz bowl between UCSD undergrad morons and Cornell undergrad morons.

    Allen McNeill can host.

  16. That smells like GWW has landed at Sandwalk.

  17. LOL, Bob O'B!

    Say, did you get your Creationist Pinup Calender in the mail, yet?

    It features Denyse O'Leary and Hannah Maxson.

    You'll need to switch calenders after February.

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  19. joe g,
    So what exactly are ID's jeopardizable hypotheses again?

  20. On at least two blogs and three posts today, JoeG has repeated the same list of questions.

    From the Loom I note:
    "A warning to anyone new to the creationism/evolution discussion: Don't get sucked into arguing with Joe G. He loiters around Dembski's site UncommonlyDense and is a particularly stupid creationist, like Salvador Cordova-level stupid.

    Posted by: steve s | November 20, 2006 03:32 AM" ( )

    But of course two can play the cut-and-pasting game:
    "The question isn't whether or not the bac flag evolved- it is the MECHANISM(s) that is being debated."

    You asked for tests for evolution, and those have been provided: we observe the remnants from known mechanisms. It was a falsifiable test which evolution passed.

    "How can one test the premise that a bacterial flagellum evolved"
    By studying the different types (several) and examples of flagella and similar structures like secretion systems, in bacterias and elsewhere, the evolution becomes obvious. As a side note, after 150 years of success of such models, it is a perfectly sensible null hypothesis. Which mean if you aren't interested in details you can assume it was evolved until observations make it impossible. (See the answer to your second point.)

    More specifically, here exaptations and homologs explain all but the "Total number of indispensable proteins that are also unique: 2" ( , ).

    Even assuming no further homologs are discovered and the two proteins are somehow dependent to work, the evolution of two such subsequent mutations has already been described and verified. ( )

    "How can that premise be falsified?"
    No necessary signs of evolution such as homologs or exaptations had been detected. Too late now.

    About Behe and his ideas:
    IC is observable and falsifiable as a block for evolution. It has indeed been falsified since evolution have been shown to have both mechanisms that produces it and produces from it.

    It was a poor idea anyway - it is local simplicity, and global simplicity is an illdefined concept. “given a system S, you cannot in general show that there is no smaller/simpler system that performs the same task as S.” (… ) In other words, you can be sure that there are workarounds to simpler or more complex systems unless you can show a specific exception.

  21. Everyone knows the flying spaghetti monster created life on this planet, it even created evolution to confuse all your people.