Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Flunk the IDiots

Casey Luskin recently offered advice on the The Top Three Flaws in Darwinian Evolution. [see The Top Three Flaws In Evolutionary Theory ] At the end of that post he referred readers to The College Student's Back-to-School Guide to Intelligent Design. This is a remarkable document. It's designed to teach students how to debate their professors and/or disguise their true beliefs in order to pass a class.

Why do the IDiots need such advice? It's because Intelligent Design Creationism is under attack from dogmatic professors who can't think critically and who don't have open minds. The opening section lists examples, such as ...
A professor of biochemistry and leading biochemistry textbook author at the University of Toronto stated that a major public research university “should never have admitted” students who support ID, and should “just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students.”
That sounds familiar. The reference is to an article on Evolution News & Views back in 2006: Leading Biochemistry Textbook Author: Pro-ID undergraduates "should never have [been] admitted". That article refers to a post I made on Sandwalk: Flunk the IDiots. Here's the entire post ...
Casey Luskin over at the Discovery Institute reported that University of California, San Diego Forces All Freshmen To Attend Anti-ID Lecture. Apparently, the university has become alarmed at the stupidity of its freshman class and has offered remedial instruction for those who believe in Intelligent Design Creationism.

Salvador Cordova has picked up on this at Dembski's blog, Uncommon Descent in an article titled "Darwinian indoctrination required at UCSD? Or will the other side be heard someday?". He notes that 40% of the freshman class reject Darwinism.

I agree with the Dembski sycophants that UCSD should not have required their uneducated students to attend remedial classes. Instead, they should never have admitted them in the first place. Having made that mistake, it's hopeless to expect that a single lecture—even one by a distinguished scholar like Robert Pennock—will have any effect. The University should just flunk the lot of them and make room for smart students who have a chance of benefiting from a high quality education.
It's hard to tell whether the IDiots are simply irony-deficient or whether they are deliberately transforming a humorous post into something much mroe serious. In any case, it's time to revisit my statements to see whether there's any truth in them.

In a followup to my original post [They Just Don't Get It], I quoted the following press release: Designed to create controversy
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.
I then asked ...
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?
This is a serious question. Let's say you have an entrance exam for students who want to enrol in a biology program at a leading university. Imagine that the exam contains a series of question designed to find out whether the student understands and accepts evolution as the best scientific explanation for the history of life on Earth.

Do you admit students who deny that fundamental part of biology? No, you should not admit students into a university biology program if they reject science. That seems pretty obvious to me.

What about students who find their way into biology classes by hook or by crook? If the course is about evolution, and if by the end of the course there are still students who reject evolution, should they pass the course? I don't think so.

Let's take some specific examples from Casey Luskin's top three flaws in evolution. Should a student pass an evolution course if they think ...
  • "... that the fossil record often lacks transitional forms and that there are "explosions" of new life forms, a pattern of radiations that challenges Darwinian evolutionary theory"?
  • ... that the fact that "... many scientists have challenged the ability of random mutation and natural selection to produce complex biological features" is a serious threat to evolution?
  • ... that the because "vertebrate embryos start out developing very differently, in contrast with the drawings of embryos often found in textbooks which mostly appear similar" the evidence for "Darwinian evolution and common descent is weak"?
  • ... that because "DNA evidence paints conflicting pictures of the 'tree of life'. There is no such single 'tree'," the evidence for "Darwinian evolution and common descent is weak"?
  • ... that the obvious truth of the following statement: "Evidence of small-scale changes, such as the modest changes in the size of finch-beaks or slight changes in the color frequencies in the wings of "peppered moths", shows microevolution, NOT macroevolution" is in any way significant?
My answer is that any student who believes these things should not pass the course. Since these are basic tenets of Intelligent Design Creationism, then I'm in favor of flunking the IDiots if that's what they believe.



47 comments:

  1. So Larry,

    Am I irony-deficient or is this a serious post and you are really saying that ID proponents should be flunked out of biology courses and not allowed into graduate biology programs?

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    1. I'm actually saying that if students reject evolution and common descent then they should flunk the course. Jonathan Wells should flunk, Casey Luskin should flunk. I'm not so sure about other creationists like Michael Behe and Michael Denton.

      Some other creationists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller should probably pass the course but I don't know if they could get an "A."

      What do you think? Do you think that IDiots who believe the things I've listed above should pass an evolution course?

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    2. I got into a respected chemistry graduate program without believing in quantum mechanics :D

      As Einstein said "God does not play dice"

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    3. Anonymous - but quantum mechanics is not a basic part of chemistry, while evolution is for biology. It's like getting a PhD in chemistry while saying the periodic table of elements is complete and utter BS.

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    4. Badger -

      "[Q]uantum mechanics is not a basic part of chemistry."

      What?

      Of all the things I might write here, let me restrict myself to saying your statement would very much surprise the professor and graduate assistant who taught my first-year physical chemistry course in 1972. Just what is it you think determines whether elements will combine so that we have any chemistry at all? And what is it that governs the behavior of chemical "bonds" (i.e., electron interaction between atoms) when combination does occur?

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    5. This is kind of silly, quantum mechanics isn't something covered in the first year of chemistry, it probably doesn't even get covered until you take something like Physical Chemistry, which only, for the most part, chemistry majors take.
      The closest anyone every gets to it is when considering the position of an electron in it's orbital, and there all they really have to know if that the position within the orbital is only probabilisticly defined. And they really only need to know that in order to answer a question that asks exactly that; no one's determining if they're going to get an acid or base based on this.

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    6. This is kind of silly, quantum mechanics isn't something covered in the first year of chemistry, it probably doesn't even get covered until you take something like Physical Chemistry, which only, for the most part, chemistry majors take.

      Physical Chemistry was my first-year chemistry course. (Actually first semester, as the course I took was compressed from the normal 3 credit hours for each of two semesters to 6 credit hours in one semester.) I did not major in chemistry, though I did have to take a test to qualify for the course.

      I personally was thrilled to learn a little quantum mechanics, being tired of hearing about "valence theory" as the reason why various elements form the bonds they do. To me it was like being taught about phlogiston. Why teach kids something wrong because you think the truth is too complex? (I didn't think it was too complex, at least on the level required to learn a little about physical chemistry.)

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  2. I don't think you can grade people on their private beliefs, but if people put the wrong answers on the tests, you have no choice to give a bad grade. This is science, one of the places where there are right and wrong answers to many questions. It's not interpretive dance. This is the central flaw in a huge amount of IDist teach "both" sides propaganda. You might as well teach both round-earthism and flat-earthism.

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    1. I don't think you can grade people on their private beliefs, but if people put the wrong answers on the tests, you have no choice to give a bad grade.

      What about those students who you've gotten to know? You know what they actually think but they lie on the test.

      If you knew medical students who believed in homeopathy and rejected vaccinations, would you give them an M.D. degree just for writing down the answers you wanted to hear on a test?

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    2. Suppose you are conducting tests for driver's licenses. A driver arrives, sober, and drives flawlessly throughout the test. But he also claims that being intoxicated would not affect his driving ability. Does this constitute grounds for flunking him? What if you happen to know that he holds this belief, but he doesn't mention it during the test? What if your knowledge of his beliefs on driving under the influence is based on hearsay? What if he held the belief at some point in the past (last month or last year), but you have no grounds for deciding whether he holds it at present?

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    3. What about those students who you've gotten to know?

      I still think if they supply the answers requisite of a pass, that's all that matters. I'm not Christian, but if I took a course on the tenets of the faith and the professor flunked me on the basis that, "yeah, you got the answers right, but you don't actually believe in God", you better believe I'd be talking to the administration. I think the point is to learn, understand, and be able to apply the principles of the course. Whether or not I subscribe to their foundation is my own business.

      I'm not big on the idea that a lot of doctors, present and future, think there's an invisible man moving molecules around to make what they do possible. But at the end of the day, if they're willing and able to apply the knowledge they've acquired and it makes no difference to the outcome, then ultimately I don't care that they need to believe an agency is necessary for carbon molecules to get married and start having making little DNA molecules. Whatever. Just like I can capably argue the merits of various Christian dogmas without ever once genuinely believing they have any other origin than a bunch of people in the Middle East puzzling over the nature of life.

      If you knew medical students who believed in homeopathy and rejected vaccinations, would you give them an M.D. degree just for writing down the answers you wanted to hear on a test?

      Frankly, yes. That's what the test is there to measure. Anything more strikes me as faintly Orwellian. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and if I go to this guy for the flu shot and he tells me to drink magic water instead, that'll be the last he sees of me or any other patient with an IQ over 90. The great thing about the sciences is that unlike certain governments we could name, it really DOES come with a working system of checks and balances and I really do think if it quacks like a duck, it won't be a doctor for long.

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    4. I still think if they supply the answers requisite of a pass, that's all that matters.

      That's why I ask questions like: "What is your best explanation for the cause of the Cambrian Explosion?" or "Do you think the evidence for the common ancestry of humans and chimps is convincing?" or, "The original proponents of the Modern Synthesis thought that macroevolution could be explained by microevolution. Do you agree with them? Explain your answer."

      In my experience, most creationists will lie when answering these questions. I usually don't have any way of telling if they lie.

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    5. A lot of life is tied up in know and toeing the party line. I don't think people really have a choice about it starting out. If you're down the road a few years and you've proven your chops, you can start coming out with the "edgy" stuff. I'm thinking of Michael Behe, for example. Odds are, he gave the anticipated answers when he was in university. Once his wings were dry, he could start coming forth with his own ideas. I'm okay with that in both senses. Let's be honest... there are probably thousands of scientists in the biological sphere who probably WEREN'T convinced when they were giving the "right" answers, but BECAME convinced over the years by the results they consistently got. But if we penalize them today, we never get those convinced minds of tomorrow. It's a gamble, but that's the nature of a free society.

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  3. I believe that medical doctors are required to practice approved medical techniques and principles. If they don't they would be subject to losing their licenses and criminal prosecution. So yes, I would give them an M.D. degree.

    So it's good to know that you are a member of the Thought Police, Larry. Frankly, if I had the authority right now, I would remove you from your teaching position.

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    1. I presume that Prof. Moran has tenure so Mr. Bilbo would have to find cause to fire him. I entirely agree with Prof. Moran. A student who believes in creationism, who is planning to major in biology, should be given the heave ho, just as a student planning to major in astrophysics should be given the heave ho if he/she insists on geo-centrism.

      The question arises as to whether someone majoring in physics should be expelled if he/she is an old earth creationist. Since my PhD thesis adviser was an old earth creationist, I would have to respond in the negative as it had no effect on his teaching or research. Now if he had been a YEC, that would be a horse of a different color.

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    2. "Frankly, if I had the authority right now, I would remove you from your teaching position."

      Then why are you complaining about Larry's stance?

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    3. So it's good to know that you are a member of the Thought Police, Larry. Frankly, if I had the authority right now, I would remove you from your teaching position.

      I can't tell if you're a Poe or you really never have heard the word "irony", Billy. :) I'm reminded of bit from National Lampoon back in the 1980s called "People who should be taken out to be shot", with the final panel being "People who really WOULD take people out to be shot".

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    4. Since the job of an university instructor is to students thoughts.......

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  4. "The university now requires students who major in biology to complete a course in biological evolution": meaning it didn't in the past?? This is like saying that students who major in mathematics have to complete a course in calculus.

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    1. Shocking, isn't it? In my university evolution is a third year course, and it is not required. I have protested often. I agree that it is as if math mayors did not take calculus. I am so stealing this argument!

      Sure, we talk about evolution all the time. Everything biology touches on evolution, but a course in that specifically is still necessary to clean up misconceptions, many of these don't come from creationism as such, but from the media and the common parlance.

      Anyway ...

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  5. Larry, you are the biggest idiot of them all - anyone who asserts that functional regions of the genome are "junk" should not hold academic tenure.

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    1. I have never said that functional regions of the genome are junk. I have always said that functional regions are NOT junk [What's in Your Genome?].

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    2. And in that article you state that intergenic regions are "probably junk". Yet we have known for close to a decade now that this section of the genome is heavily involved in gene regulation:

      The regulatory content of intergenic DNA shapes genome architecture.(2004).Craig E Nelson, Bradley M Hersh and Sean B Carroll

      http://genomebiology.com/2004/5/4/r25

      Enough of this nonsense, Larry. Just admit that you are woefully mistaken and offer a contrite retraction.

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    3. And in that article you state that intergenic regions are "probably junk". Yet we have known for close to a decade now that this section of the genome is heavily involved in gene regulation:

      Maybe that's why, in that very same article, I state that about 0.6% of our genome is regulatory sequences? Maybe that's why I devoted a separate posting to explaining the importance of regulatory regions? [Junk in Your Genome: Protein-Encoding Genes]

      Enough of this nonsense, Larry. Just admit that you are woefully mistaken and offer a contrite retraction.

      The problem with you guys is that no matter how often we explain the science, you continue to ignore it and drag out papers that we've already taken into account. These are usually papers that attribute function to a tiny percentage of the genome. But sometimes they are papers that show the exact opposite of what you IDiots think they show.

      In this paper (Nelson et al. 2004) the authors are looking at small, relatively compact, animal genomes. They claim that genes with large regulatory regions are likely to be further apart, on average, than those with small regulatory regions. In other words, when the genomes have lost most of their junk we can see the real extent of regulatory sequences since those regulatory sequences are conserved.

      The obvious conclusion is that in animals with huge genomes, most of the intergenic space is not involved in regulation.

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    4. No, Larry. You definition of a "regulatory sequence" in DNA is so narrow and precise that it excludes large swathes of the the genome known to play a role in gene regulation and expression, as well as chromosomal replication and DNA repair.

      Oh, look! Here is a paper on LINE retrotransposons that demonstrates a previously unknown epigenetic and essential function:

      http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1000354

      LINE Retrotransposon RNA Is an Essential Structural and Functional Epigenetic Component of a Core Neocentromeric Chromatin.

      These results indicate that LINE retrotransposon RNA is a previously undescribed essential structural and functional component of the neocentromeric chromatin and that retrotransposable elements may serve as a critical epigenetic determinant in the chromatin remodelling events leading to neocentromere formation.

      Of course, you will no doubt retort by asserting that most LINEs are in fact defective and not transcribed via RNA. I await your definitive evidence of this.

      The Nelson paper clearly shows that intergenic distance is as important a factor as any regulatory motifs that may be found. The authors show how coded sequences of complex function seem to require more intergenic material than ones which are more basic. We just don't fully understand why.

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  6. Konrad, another member of the Thought Police.

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  7. Excuse me, Konrad. I meant SLC, not you.

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  8. Larry: "Alice, you got 100% correct on the mid-terms and finals and successfully completed all the lab work, but it's come to my attention that you are a Young Earth Creationist. Therefore, I'm flunking you.

    Larry: "Ben, you barely passed the finals and mid-terms with 75% correct, and your lab work was sloppy and incomplete. But it's come to my attention that you think all ID proponents are IDiots. Therefore I'm passing you."

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    1. Bilbo, your anger in obviously blinding you to what is actually being said. This post is a strawman, though and though.

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    2. Bilbo... let me play devil's advocate for a moment. I don't believe in God. But I'm a good student and I have a penchant for esoterica; I took Christian instruction as an adult and I have a good grasp of the rudiments. If I decided to parlay that general knowledge into a career, and I went to Bible college for a while, grasped the fundamentals, and could ace any test they threw at me... all without for a second believing in the deeper reality of any of it... well, what's your take on my candidacy for the ministry? Should I be ordained? Should I be instructing people who come to me with their moral challenges, or teaching the next generation about the divine will and plan? Would it be okay for someone like me to take my living out of the collection plate? I'm just curious where you stand on the other side of the looking glass.

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  9. Personally, I just try to teach YEC students as much about evolution as possible. If they protest, I tell them that even if they disagree with evolution, they need to know more about it so they don't say stupid things and make all people of faith look stupid. (Yes, I know what you're going to say, but this communicates with them.) They usually quiet down and we go on with class. I insist that they answer test questions accurately or take the hit in their grade. I honestly don't want to throw YEC students out of biology -- they may do some good here, despite their self-inflicted handicap. I just hope that what they're learning sometimes loosens the hold of religious dogma upon them.

    And to the extent that you've joking around -- students in general and YEC's in particular have no sense of humor. Criticizing IDiots for failing to get humor is like criticizing a toddler for shooting you with the loaded gun you gave him. (So I try to leave my sense of humor behind in class. Sigh. And sometimes I fail. Sigh again.)

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  10. Why did I take a peek at the damn "guide to intelligent design"? Why? Can't I learn my lessons? The hypocrisy! "Intelligent design does not oppose common descent ..." Sure? then why do these damn IDiots say things like "the evidence for Darwinian evolution and common descent is weak"?

    And there's so much more! My irony-meter broke down again, and I had an extra powerful model!

    IDiots! IDiots! IDiots! Damn hypocrites!

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  11. It amuses me that Larry Moran assumes that because something is not conserved it is likely not functional! But, for evolution to occur, things must change! Also, large swathes of non-coding DNA, such as long RNA genes and DNA binding sites, are not conserved in sequence but they are in function. Larry also doesn't seem to understand that introns and intergenic regions may function partly as spacer sequences. There is a real lack of imagination and creative thinking about the Toronto professor of biochemistry. He is stuck in his ways.

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    1. He is stuck in his ways.

      Thank heaven he has people up-to-date in the latest Bronze Age theories of the formation and sustenance of life to straighten him out.

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    2. But Larry does himself live in the dark ages of the 1970s when the term "junk DNA" first emerged. He is an intellectual Neanderthal who refuses to evolve and adapt to the science of the 21st century. His ideas are destined to go extinct.

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    3. It amuses me that Larry Moran assumes that because something is not conserved it is likely not functional!

      I give several examples of functional regions of the genome that are not conserved. Some part of introns, for example, and the DNA between regulatory (DNA binding) sequences.

      Real scientists look for functional regions of the genome whether they are conserved or not. The evidence shows that the vast majority of DNA in our genome is not conserved. There's no evidence that a considerable fraction of this DNA has a function.

      Also, large swathes of non-coding DNA, such as long RNA genes and DNA binding sites, are not conserved in sequence but they are in function.

      Please define "large swathes." What percentage of the genome are you talking about? Please give some examples of DNA binding sites that are not conserved.

      Larry also doesn't seem to understand that introns and intergenic regions may function partly as spacer sequences.

      Yes he does. I've even written blog postings about it. Unfortunately for you, those postings date back to 2008 when you were probably still in eight grade.

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    4. Admittedly, long ncRNA sequences and cis-regulatory elements constitute only a tiny fraction of the genome (as far as we can tell), but the fact is that they can be found to be poorly conserved (degenerate) because the sequence itself appears to be so malleable. I would read this paper:

      An arthropod cis-regulatory element functioning in sensory organ precursor development dates back to the Cambrian.

      http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/8/127

      An increasing number of publications demonstrate conservation of function of cis-regulatory elements without sequence similarity.

      If you understand the concept of a spacer sequence, then you will grasp that the arrangement of base pairs is not so important as the length of the sequence itself. It likely has a subtle effect on the timing of protein production.

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    5. So what's your point, Atheistoclast? That there isn't as much "junk" DNA as some people have postulated? Okay... and? If it's the work of an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent god, why would there be ANY? (Yeah, yeah, yeah, "the fall" of mankind, sure... but a "perfect" machine isn't "perfect" if it's corruptible in any way, shape, or form, which invalidates the suggestion at the first hurdle.)

      Ultimately, what is the case to be made? Observation: "not so much junk DNA as before!" Conclusion: "JESUS IS LORD!" Really... is that how you think this works?

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    6. It has nothing to do with religion at all.It has everything to do with the credibility of Larry Moran as a scientist. He believe that an argument from personal incredulity and ignorance is a valid one.

      There almost certainly is a large amount of junk in the genome - the result of degenerative processes - but it is just plain incorrect to assert that 90% of the genome is junk.

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    7. I have an informed opinion about the amount of junk DNA. I think it's about 90% but I'm perfectly willing to debate whether it's 60% or anything in between.

      There is no serious scientific debate about whether the amount of junk DNA could be less than 50%.

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    8. It helps to properly define what is meant by the word "junk" in the context of molecular biology. It seems you interpret anything as "junk" if it doesn't have any immediate, obvious or essential function. I think that is far too strict and conservative and most scientists are beginning to realize the limits of such an approach.

      Plant genomes are replete, not just with retrotransposons that proliferate naturally, but entire spare copies of the their genome. This genomic redundancy may well have an evolutionarily adaptive purpose even if we can likely remove whole chromosomes with no real consequence.

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    9. It has nothing to do with religion at all.

      Uh huh. So why are you self-handled "Atheistoclast" instead of "Just Another Science Dude" or something. Your disingenuousness is showing.

      He believe that an argument from personal incredulity and ignorance is a valid one.

      You're religious. Why would you have a problem with that? Essentially the whole reason you and people like you are here is because you believe personal incredulity is a valid argument against the natural basis for the rise and development of life.

      the result of degenerative processes

      Ding ding ding ding ding ding! Did I call it, or what, folks? Yes, the fall of man in a story about a talking snake as a "principle of science"... completely ignoring both the fact that I just mooted the concept AND my point that a "perfect" being could not, by definition, create a process prone to corruption in any respect without himself being imperfect... again, by definition.

      If your god is perfect, ALL THAT HE CREATES must also be perfect. So whither "junk DNA" in the first place? Even a single instance denies the nature of your god as purported.

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  12. Students fail because they cannot demonstrate that they have an appropriate level of understanding of the subject being assessed. Staff don't "fail" students.

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    1. Good point. I'll try and keep that in mind. Perhaps the title of this post should have been "Why IDiots Fail"?

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    2. Why should anyone be grading students on what they believe rather than what they have learned?

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  13. "...geared toward educating students for a high-tech 21st century – do not believe in evolution, said the college's provost, Gabriele Wienhausen."

    I really wish that people, and especially people who are scientists, science supporters, and/or educators, would STOP saying "believe in evolution". I don't "believe in evolution", I ACCEPT that it occurs. The words "believe in" make it sound like a religion.

    And while I'm on the subject of proper word usage, another thing that irritates me is when people, and especially people who are scientists, science supporters, and/or educators, make no distinction between 'evolution' and 'the theory of evolution' (or 'evolutionary theory'). Evolution, or the theory of evolution, are not the same thing.

    I also don't "believe in" 'the theory of evolution'.

    I do believe (not "believe in") that evolution occurs, but the theory of evolution is just a scientific framework used by humans to explain the occurrence, evidence, and processes of evolution. The theory of evolution is subject to change, it is not cast in stone, and it is not something that anyone should "believe in", any more than believing in the instructions and/or schematics that come in the box with a new TV set.

    Keep in mind that using sloppy terminology gives religious IDiots ammunition to use against their opponents.

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