Friday, November 08, 2013

Evolution: A Course for Educators: Week One

I'm taking a MOOC! It's called Evolution: A Course for Educators. The principle instructors are Joel Cracraft and David Randle of the American Museum of Natural History in New York (USA).
Welcome to Evolution: A Course for Educators! We’re excited to have almost 13,000 students enrolled in the course and look forward to spending the next four weeks together as we learn about the Tree of Life, natural selection, the history of life, and human evolution, as well as how to incorporate an exploration of these issues into your classrooms.
You can earn a "Verified Certificate" by paying $29.00.

Additional support staff ...

Samuel Crane holds a Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior from the Biology Department at City University of New York. His research focuses on the molecular ecology and evolution of small populations, chiefly agricultural pests. He has developed science curricula for NYC public high schools, taught undergraduate courses in biology, and was an NSF GK-12 Teaching Fellow.

Armistead Booker is a media and information designer at the American Museum of Natural History with a background in geology, art history, education, and digital strategy. He produces the visual elements of the Museum's professional development courses and other online resources for students and teachers.

Dan Wolff is the project coordinator for Seminars on Science at the American Museum of Natural History. He earned a B.S. in Geology from Vassar College and an M.S. in Environmental Studies from Montclair State University. Dan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Science Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Maria Janelli is the manager of Online Teacher Education Programs at the American Museum of Natural History. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Saint Peter’s University, an M.A. in English Literature from Rutgers University, and an M.A. in Anthropology from Columbia University. She has spent the past decade working in the educational technology world.

The course began with short (about 15 minutes) videos and essays. I didn't find them very stimulating. What I was most interested in was the overall perspective of the course. That's why I focused on the topic of the second video that was all about defining evolution. Joel Cracraft gave a rather rambling description that included four definitions,
  • Change over time
  • Change in heritable features over time within populations
  • Origin of new life forms (species and groups of species): diversity
  • Descent with modification: descendants inherit their characteristics from common ancestors
He didn't stress any one in particular although he seemed to be more sympathetic to "descent with modification" than the others.

Cracraft then went on to describe Darwin's two most important ideas: descent with modification and natural selection.

The only way that a MOOC can really be effective is in the discussion groups. Ideally, these should be mandatory and they should consist of small numbers of students, like a real tutorial. There are 13,000 students enrolled in the course. This is impossible.

There are several threads in the discussion forums. The most popular is the "Introduce yourself" thread where there are 175 posts. I think this represents about 150 different students for a whopping 1.3% of the class! That thread has 766 views but that's likely to represent only 500 different students. I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of students are not going to participate in the discussion groups.

I started a lively discussion on "What is evolution?" There are 63 posts but that only represents about 30 students. It's clear that most of those students have never heard of random genetic drift and have no idea why why we should even bring it up. Most of them think that this course should be taught at the same level as a typical American high school course since that's the level that they will be teaching at.

The debate, such as it was, attracted the attention of Joel Cracraft who posted this message a few hours ago.
First, I specifically did not want to define evolution. I did present a slide showing how various scientists see evolution. As many of you pointed out, some see evolution as gene change, descent with modification, origin of species etc. Those views are generally along disciplinary lines. So population geneticists have often seen evolution as gene change, systematists think in terms of speciation or descent with modification. But evolution is all of these things, and encapsulating them in a single definition is difficult and not entirely useful to describe a broad field of knowledge. Evolution as change over time is fine, and that applies to all evolutionary systems (physical, chemical, geological, biological).
That pretty much sums up what this course is going to be like for the next few weeks. The instructor doesn't even seem to mind if we mix up biological evolution with other forms of evolution. Nor does he care whether the change is genetic or whether it is individuals who are changing or populations. Any change will count.

My blood pressure may not allow me to finish this course.


  1. Heh...thanks for the warning...I signed up for it as well, since I do teach high school bio, but I haven't had a chance to do more than look over the structure and bookmark the sites. I better get to it this weekend, there is a quiz or something due on Monday, eh?

    Maybe there will be some half-assed resources for the classroom, if nothing else.

  2. uiz was easy. The discussion's been interesting. I don't have much time either but we had a 1/2 day today and a long weekend. I don't have to grade papers ALL weekend, do I?

    In a discussion about Wallace someone already posted the Disco Tute's Klinghoffer's post on ENV.

    I'm just finishing up genetics in my HS bio class and am excited to start on evolutionary theory. I prefer to use the definition of evolution as change in allele frequencies--my students are now very familiar with the term "allele".

  3. Larry,

    What do you take those courses for? Does the U of T make you? From what I have read on this blog so far, you and Joe F. John H and the rest should be teaching courses like that...
    Almost every scientific article that comes out, especially on certain issues (like junk DNA), people like you and the rest don't agree. What is going on?

    A very influential person in science business-because it is a business like any other business-told me once to keep an eye on 2 sites; yours and uncommondescent/evolutionnews. So, here we are... Why does an authority one would think like you, reads articles instead of writing them? Is that a fair question? I hope so....

    1. I do teach courses. It's my day job. I lectured today. I am just about to post the audio recording of my lecture on the course web site (and the lecture projections are there too). A little creative searching and you will find them, without having to sign up for a MOOC.

      Quest is as usual just trying be inflammatory and is pointing to disagreements between scientists (junk DNA) and to (gasp!) the fact that Evolution News and Views doesn't agree with evolutionary biologists. The "business" stuff is more inflammatory trolling intended to discredit evolutionary biology.

      So how many papers has Quest written?

    2. Joe,

      I have been waiting for this moment a long time...

      Pleas tell the audience, how many papers have you written on the fundamental issues of science-the origin of life. Would you like to present your first 100 and then I will present my 1... ? How about 200? 1000? Sorry Joe, but I only have one... You go ahead and beat the shit out of my paper, so that I never, ever present this fundamental issue in your science ever again. ...Just make sure Joe, I can test it.... Don't make me wait to

    3. The fundamental issue of science is (of course!) not the origin of life, as interesting as that is. It is the grand unification of the theories of physics.

      I don't work on the OOL. If you do (or did) bully for you.

      So, Quest, you silly troll, what about that discussion on junk DNA? You were asserting here that a paper on vision in mice showed that there was no junk DNA. I and others looked at the paper, and guess what? It did not establish at all that there was any serious constraint on the sequences in the heterochromatin. So it didn't at all do what Quest said it did. So we said that and ... guess what? Silence from Quest. Want to behave like a scientist? Start there.

    4. What is it then Joe? Materialism? If that is the case you'd better be ready to talk quantum mechanics... If I'm a troll what evidence do you have for the origins of life? I will tell you- 0-zero. Nada, niet, nic, nothing. Don't call me a troll, if you have no answers for my logical questions.

      Oh! Junk DNA? I forgot that you have "answered" based on an assertion that the other assertion must be right. Therefore the other assertion must be true. Why did you answer that evolution must be true because evolution asserts that evolution must be true.? Yeah, if you don't know what to say then say it has evolved...It will fit somehow, somewhere in to the so-called "scientific paradigm"....

    5. Still no admission by Quest that the mouse vision example did not show that most of the genome was junk-free.

      Quest is the very definition of a silly troll.

    6. I for one would be fascinated to read Quest's paper on the OoL. Don't be coy - you must have intended it to be read!

    7. Quest et al. 200?
      Yes it would be interesting to read. What is the reference to your paper Quest?

    8. @ Joe Falsentein:

      Hey Joe, stop feeding the troll. Really. Even Robert Byers at least tries to say something productive but fails, while the coward Quest is just a little no-one trying to stir-up shit.

      @ Miller SRM

      Quest's "paper" on the origin of life is as real as his scientist brother-in-law who flies in a private jet, Quest's countless travels to the Galapagos, Quest's scientific work in biotech related to biofuels, his PI position in his lab that gets millions of dollars in funding per year, and other such BS. Quest rarely makes a single scientific statement, and when he does he gets it miserably wrong every time. There's no scientific knowledge there, just hot smelly air.

      Stop feeding him.

    9. Oh, I'm well aware of the protocol on troll-feeding, and Quests's "go on, punch me!" demeanour. But he will either post a link or he won't. Don't see the harm, myself.

    10. Well, there's no harm, truth be told. Having some fun with the trolls is sometimes irresistible, I admit. Plus, they don't bite back (they don't have the scientific "teeth" for that) and are only capable of making even more fools of themselves, actually aiding in making ID look even worse than usual.

      But it pains me to see good people like Joe actually trying to answer trolls with reasoned arguments. Like someone else said, you can't reason a person out of a position they didn't reason themselves into. It's a waste of time, like trying to convince the Pope that he's wrong. We should save our breath for people who, theists or not, actually want to have a honest and productive discussion. Clearly, not Quest's case.

    11. I knew Quest was a clown, was not expecting a serious answer. My bad.

    12. Quest wrote to JF: "What is it then Joe? Materialism? If that is the case you'd better be ready to talk quantum mechanics.."

      What does quantum mechanics have anything to do with this subject? I don't get it. Are you referring to the origins of life, evolution, junk DNA or something else? Make it clear because I happen to know 1 or 2 things about QM and I can't see the correlation. Correct me if I'm wrong. Also, even if you right about origins of life, and I support you on this issue 100%, that is why I wrote the comment on it below, how did you get to origins on this particular blog: "Evolution: A Course for Educators: Week One? Am I missing something or some comments are missing?

    13. Joe Felsenstein wrote:

      """I knew Quest was a clown, was not expecting a serious answer. My bad."""

      You didn't do anything wrong, Joe. This isn't my blog either, so maybe I should have refrained from saying to stop feeding the troll. It's just that you're a nice, honest individual who just happens to be wasting his Latin with reasoned arguments to answer the mindless provocation from mediocre wannabes like Quest. Save it for people with an honest desire to learn.

    14. I'm not defending Quest. His got his own issues. The desire to learn should have one goal-to learn to where the evidence leads you and not to where you what the evidence to lead you. You have already made up your mind. Why do you even bother mentioning something that is so obvious??? You want to learn what YOU WANT TO LEARN and not where the evidence will lead you. Join Jerry Coyne's blog. He loves people like you. Larry, I got to give it to him, he is the most liberal and great scientist I know. That's why I pray for him. I hope he doesn't mind?

    15. I'm not defending Quest. His got his own issues.

      LouiseG, is Quest your sidekick, or the other half of your split personality -- the Mr Hyde to your Dr Jekyll? You appeared here about the same time and seem to be trolling as a team. Does either of you have anything more to show than dumb arguments from personal incredulity? Where does the evidence (WHAT evidence) lead YOU?

    16. Witton, You have to wait until about 10pm estern. The Leafs are playing and most people here are Canadians except Larry :)

    17. "John Witton", if you happen to have any Polish roots, don't mention it too often. It's the only favour you can do to the land of your ancestors.

    18. LouiseG,

      Here is what I mean by talking about QM vs materialism. If you know QM you should get it...

  4. "The only way that a MOOC can really be effective is in the discussion groups. Ideally, these should be mandatory and they should consist of small numbers of students, like a real tutorial. There are 13,000 students enrolled in the course. This is impossible."

    This is quite a common complaint about MOOCs, but I'm not sure it's really valid. There wasn't much discussion going on in most of my undergraduate courses (which typically had 200+ students). This is the reality in most large research universities. Some courses did have discussion sections run by TAs, but in most classes the TAs just existed to grade exams and we never saw them. I don't really see how the experience of MOOCs is much different, frankly.

    1. You haven't been paying attention, as usual.

      My position on MOOCs has always been that they aren't much worse than the typical university course. My position has always beeb that we need to improve teaching by getting students more involved. That's not too difficult in a classroom on campus but almost impossible in on online course.

      Try and keep up.

    2. Larry, why are you being so hard on Jonathan?

    3. Yeah, I also thought Moran was being unusually hard on Badger for no apparent reason.

    4. "My position on MOOCs has always been that they aren't much worse than the typical university course"

      Okay, if that's your opinion of MOOCs, I agree -- I've enrolled in about a dozen of them (mostly CS and statistics) and completed about half of them. Others seemed poorly taught, some required more mathematics than I know, and in others actual work and life got in the way of getting the assignments in on time. They're definitely a mixed bag to be sure and no, I don't believe the hype of those who think that they will replace traditional university education. But they aren't *all* hype and nonsense -- there is no way I could fit a traditional statistics course into my own research schedule so they are an incredible resource in that regard.

    5. MOOCs are intriguing but scary. I haven't had time to try any. I have been tempted to try to teach one, but the time involvement is clearly too much. My university, like lots of others, is trying to get involved in lots of online course-giving. But some issues that would come up puzzle me:

      * How will the students get feedback? From a massive corps of online TAs?

      * Can the students accumulate some kind of credit for taking the course?

      * If there are exams or homeworks, who grades them?

      * If the exams are multiple-choice over the net, how do we know that it was the student that actually filled out the exam?

      * If the subject is technical, how do we get the students to understand that they must expect (say) a lot of mathematical arguments and exercises?

      Right now most MOOCs seem given by sincere, knowledgeable, and talented people. But based on the statements of commenters at the blogs I read, there must be a large fraction of people who pay for a MOOC but never have time or energy to finish it.

      The openness is attractive -- we could teach people in many parts of the world, without requiring that they register in our universities. But there do not seem to be very effective ways of solving the above problems.

    6. Right now most MOOCs seem given by sincere, knowledgeable, and talented people.

      That's not what I see when I look at MOOCs in the fields of biochemistry and evolution. I don't doubt that the majority of instructors are sincere. Unfortunately, many of them don't seem to be knowledgeable. They seem to think that they can create a MOOC out of the same old lectures they've been giving for years without bothering to check to see if the material is correct. In most cases all they would have to do is have a few of their students check their videos by comparing the material to what is in the most up-to-date textbooks.

    7. Yeah, the verification aspect is difficult from the standpoint of actually giving credit for MOOCs. I know somebody who is taking part in the (paid) on-line biostatistics program given by Johns Hopkins and they actually require people to take tests offline in centers monitored by actual proctors checking for id and cheating. But I think there are plenty of people wlike myself who aren't interested in formal credit who take MOOCs just because they want to learn something.

  5. Joe Felsenstein, Scientific papers=many.
    Their value without the foundation=nothing.

    Excerpt. Evolution is valueless without any proof whatsoever that life originated spontaneously...unless one like Joe admits that a higher power "created life" but he can't. This would mean a disaster for the scientific community.... If they ever admitted to such a sin, it would be a disaster for this kind of "science" lol
    Why? People would say why did you spend billions of dollars for something that was so obvious? We could have figured it out ourselves.... with out your shitty science....

    1. Joe Felsenstein, Scientific papers=many.
      Their value without the foundation=nothing.

      If you have been paying attention to this blog at all, this assertion is true of all science. Hence the "stand on the shoulders of giants" catch phrase. Your observations and results must be placed in the context of what is known, even if you can't find the paper on the first page of a pubmed search. This is why there is so much annoyance of ENCODE. They are ignoring 50+ years of research in the search of some self-flattery.

      The problem for IDers and creationists is that evolution is one of the most well supported theories out there, despite your personal clinging to you religious myths. One would be a poor scientist to not use evolution as a foundation, even in unexpected places (BLAST search...). And so far every novel observation about biology has supported common descent and evolution of life. Even the things that were unknown to Darwin et al. in the beginning, like genetics, sequence homology and endsymbiosis.

      The theory has gotten more and more support. Your gaps to stuff god into are getting smaller. Why not just do what the Catholics and Todd Wood have done and remove your god as an active, non-material agent the scientific mechanism? Keep your faith, but stop getting an ulcer over us figuring out how life works.

    2. Excerpt. Evolution is valueless without any proof whatsoever that life originated spontaneously
      Non-sequitur. It doesn't follow.

      Congratulations, you've failed at elementary logic.

    3. TheOtherJim (to Quest the Troll) If you have been paying attention to this blog at all, this assertion is true of all science.

      Actually, it isn't, given what Quest means by "foundation". He doesn't mean earlier research. His claim is that without a theory of abiogenesis the theory of evolution has no "foundation" and therefore no explanatory value. It's like claiming that physics makes no sence because we have no ultimate Theory of Everything.

    4. @Piotr, Thanks. Then his/her assertion is even more nonsensical than I thought. The theory of gravity does quite well without the observation of a gravity wave or a graviton particle.

  6. Quest, since you obviously don't accept life's origin and/or evolution via material, natural processes/events/results and since you obviously believe that there was and/or is a particular 'designer-god', will you please provide your scientific theory (or better yet, "proof) regarding the origin and evolution of life, including the details of how, when, and where your 'designer-god' was and/or is involved and the evidence that supports your theory? And since a genius like you would never want to be guilty of doing "shitty science", you will avoid making assertions that have no foundation in evidence or "proof", won't you?

  7. His inability to form coherent sentences, pointless rambling, failings on basic science, hiding behind a pseudonym, and unwillingness to admit error all point to the likelihood of Quest not having any papers at all in scientific journals, or perhaps having published his claimed paper in a junk journal. In short, a typical creationist.

  8. From what I've seen of Quest here, it looks as there is no use trying to engage him in a meaningful discussion.

    The basic assumption of evolution based on evidence from many different branches of science, is that life already was in existence on this planet at some point in time between 4.6 to 3.0 billion years ago. With clear evidence of life, it also is reasonable to assume that there must be a reason why that life got there.

    But as scientific theories go, we don't have to know why there is gravity in the first place to develop a theory of gravity, like Newton did.

    Therefore, with the support of numerous fields of science and research, we explain the evidence of the emergence of species diversity by what is know as the theory of evolution.

    We don’t need to know the why and how of why there is life on the planet. Although as natural for mankind, we will of course do our best to find out. Since most of the old beliefs about the nature of things already have been replaced by the forces of nature, there is little reason to think that life would be an exception. Time will show.

  9. The statement from Cracraft seems to be that coming up with a definition simple and concise enough to be easily understood by high school teachers is difficult (I'd say that's true) and that therefore he never intended to attempt it in his course for high school teachers. Seems to me doing so is not the option he seems to think it is.

  10. Here is one of Quests' many comments on this blog about the major problem with the origins of life:

    Here are the comments, refutations and links to papers explaining Quests' question by:

    Larry Moran-0
    Joe Felsenstein-0
    Allan Miller-0
    John Harshman-0
    Jeffrey Shallit-0
    Rolf Aalberg-0

    I don't know much about anything, but if Quest is a clown, troll and uneducated creationist, why can't you refute his claims? Just shut him up (and me and others at the same time) with some clear-cut evidence and he will move on. It should be a piece of cake for the cream of the cream scientists like you, shouldn't? If this is just a problem for people like us, prove us wrong. Otherwise its going to look like (and it still does) that you don't have anything to prove us wrong with.

    1. LouiseG, you seem to have overlooked the reply from Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen just a few posts later, demonstrating that one of the premises of Quest's question was simply false, as a result of which Quest's argument collapses entirely:

      He then provided some references to support his position:

      Quest's argument having been so completely demolished w/ a single, swift stroke, I hardly see that the people you list need waste their time humiliating Quest further. Do you?

    2. I disagree. Quest asked for further clarifications from Mikkel and he only got links. I have read them. They are neither answering his initial question nor refute the premise. Just because you don't like his premises, it doesn't make them wrong. We are talking about scientific honesty here, which is always lacking when it comes to the origins of life. Belief doesn't make it true or right. Scientific evidence is required to support such a belief which stretches faith to the breaking point.

    3. LouiseG - peptides can be formed without ATP. Therefore the modern synthetic pathway is not necessary for the formation of the earliest peptides. That kills the whole objection Quest had.

    4. Even if this true, my and other logically thinking people, whole problem with the origins of life (Quests' too I seem to remember) is that even if peptides or other more complex amino acids or molecules can be formed "spontaneously" it is still light years away from forming life. Quest pointed some issue out ahead of me, so I didn't want to write more or less the same thing. But some of his premises are very powerful. I know all of you don't like it. But my most controversial issue is not necessarily why intelligent beings can't recreate life-which is an issue itself-but by going back to the fundamentals of the origins of life-one issue can't be explained in my view is how energy can be creatively directed. This issue, in my view and many others, can't be resolved by any logical explanations but one.

    5. The evidence that evolution occurs once living things exist is overwhelming. This process happens and it explains much, including the origin of humans. Even if God waved his magic want to start life 3 or 4 billion years ago, evolution has been happening ever since. But now to the question asked:

      How did life first evolve?

      We don't know.

      That doesn't really disturb me. After all, "We don't know" is where I work, where all scientists work, trying to find out new information. The subject I study (variation and classification of plants) is much simpler than the origin of life, but it's still really hard. (Sedum! So pretty and so confusing!) Therefore, I'm not surprised that biologists and chemists haven't yet figured out the origin of life.

      I am encouraged to think that the question may be answered because scientists have answered some of the preliminary answers about how life could begin. Can organic compounds form without the help of living things? Yes. Can membranes form without living things? Yes -- easily. Can other organic compounds get into little membrane-bound bubbles? Yes. Could some sites on early earth have conditions that would allow complex organic molecules necessary for life to form? Yes. Can genetic material made in the lab and not growing in cells evolve to become more stable and to replicate more reliably? Yes, though results so far are no more than baby steps toward figuring out the origin of genetics.

      What we don' t know about how life can originate is much bigger than what we do know, but people are working on some of the issues. People are tackling the origins of genetics and of metabolism (independent of genetics). Some day we may know how life can evolve, though we may never know exactly how it did here on earth.

      Louise, you seem to have decided already that even if humans create new life forms from non-living substrates, that won't demonstrate that life can arise by itself from non-living substrates. If that's how you feel, your asking for evidence is a smoke screen, a waste of time. Is this actually an open question for you?

    6. LouiseG,

      I don't know much about anything, but if Quest is a clown, troll and uneducated creationist, why can't you refute his claims?

      Neither you nor Quest care one bit about answers. You both just pretend to ask. For one, these other guys are compassionate enough to translate Quest's "claims" into something that makes sense, while I read them and I notice that those claims don't make sense. For example, Quest talks about proteins being loving inside a cell, but not outside a cell, and asks what makes them "loving" inside the cell. That is nonsense. It shows that Quest has no idea, that Quest read something, did not understand it, and now rewords that in his lack of understanding. I suspect what that means, but I have no reason to translate it knowing that the phrasing betrays Quest's lack of the most basic knowledge. Under such situation, trying to refute Quest would require first a translation that might be way off from what Quest's original source misinformed him about (because this idiot reads creationist crap and rephrases it without understanding it). Then we would have to make sure that the issue becomes understandable. Maybe we would need to teach Quest the most basic principles of chemistry. Why do so if his comments show that he might be unable to understand even that? There's too much to teach this imbecile before he could just clarify his "claim." Not worth trying since Quest does not care anyway.

      When the claims have a meaning, they are refuted by the most basic logic. Example, those ATP-protein-ATP circles that were already refuted. We know of ways of producing ATP without proteins, and such, but even if we didn't, there's no reason to think that those circles have always been there.

      That leads to the important point: we don't know everything. It is reasonable to ask details about how life started. But our lack of a detailed answer does not mean gods did it any more that not understanding volcanoes meant that volcanoes were gods. Creationists like you will always find something we don't know. As answers are found, they will move on to something else, or more details, then something else, and so on. But they will never be any better than those tribes imagining that thunder and volcanoes were gods. Sorry.

    7. Barbara wrote: "Louise, you seem to have decided already that even if humans create new life forms from non-living substrates, that won't demonstrate that life can arise by itself from non-living substrates."

      To me, that would be proof that an intelligence could design life.

    8. Let's not kid ourselves. Quest isn't here to ask how life arose naturally, he's here to argue that it can't and that it requires the christian god to have created it in the past. That's why he doesn't simply ask "how did life originate?" - but actually attempts to formulate an argument with premises, such as:
      If X is required to make Y, and Z is required to make X, and Y is required to make Z bla bla bla

      It's obvious that Quest, like so many others of the visitors on Larry's blog, is a religious believer who wants to convert people to the christian faith, or at the least, prevent deconversions by nasty evolutionist, materialist science. So he's here propagandizing with apologetic arguments. We are supposed to conclude from his argument that life cannot arise naturally, and so required his supernatural designer god to make it.

      It's supposed to be an irreducibly complex system where you can't "make" any of the components without all the others already in place. That's not a question, that's an argument.

      Therefore, we don't need to actually explain how life originated in all details, we need only point out that his opening premises are wrong to dismiss his argument.

      The claim that to make enzymes, which are basically just chains of amino acids that can catalyze chemical reactions, can only take place under the conversion of ATP, is simply false. This collapses his whole argument (that thing that isn't a question, but a claim), because his system therefore isn't irreducibly complex. One of the components, the one required for the synthesis of all the others(DNA, RNA, membrane phospholipids), enzymes made of amino acids, can be made without all the others under natural conditions.

      No, this still isn't life by any stretch, but it's enough for his argument to have lost all value. His premise is false, so the argument is unsound. It would be irrational NOT to dismiss it when it has been demonstrated to be unsound.

      This is basic logic.

    9. Andy, is "that an intelligence could design life" proof that "an intelligence" DID originally design life from scratch? Is it "proof" that "an intelligence" is the so-called 'God' that you believe in? And why are you and many other god pushers so ashamed to just say what you actually believe? Why do you use terms like "an intelligence" or 'intelligent designer' or 'design'? Why don't you just say yhwh, or allah, or jesus, or holy ghost, or shiva, or zeus, or whatever name has been applied to your imaginary god, and why don't you just say 'create/created/creation'?

      I don't see that "an intelligence" (e.g. humans or aliens on another planet) designing life is such a big deal, and especially how it would prove that some sky daddy or mommy designed life in the first place. All of the necessary ingredients for life exist, so it isn't as though humans or aliens have to create all new ingredients from scratch. It's just a matter of coming up with the right recipe. Sooner or later humans, and maybe aliens, are likely to figure out the recipe. An intelligence (humans) can make mud pies or automobiles but that doesn't mean that a supernatural sky daddy or mommy designed and created mud and automobile ingredients.

      In some ways humans already do "design life". Humans have designed/created dogs, cats, cows, horses, plants galore, and many other organisms, and even humans are designed/created by humans. Babies are born to people who could not have babies naturally, and the means for designing/creating babies with particular attributes are available. There's also transplanted organs via designed surgery, design/creation of body parts via stem cells, designed removal or modification of defective organs/body parts, designed/created medications that alter people in 'designed' ways (both physically and mentally), designed/created teeth, and even designed/created food and water.

      Many animals design/create things too.

      Now I'm pretty sure that you're thinking that the original, alleged design and creation of the universe, our galaxy, our solar system, the Earth, and life is THE BIG THING and that none of it could have happened without design and creation by "an intelligence" (i.e. your chosen god) and that even though humans and animals (and maybe aliens) can and do design/create things, it doesn't even come close to designing and creating a universe, galaxy, solar system, Earth, and life from scratch. Well, if that's what you're thinking then you and all others who think that way should STOP using assertions/comparisons/arguments about humans and/or animals and/or aliens designing/creating things in an irrelevant attempt to support the existence of a generic or particular supernatural designer-god. If there's no valid comparison between the designing/creating abilities of humans/animals/aliens and your supernatural designer-god then stop comparing them.

    10. TWT asks: "Andy, is "that an intelligence could design life" proof that "an intelligence" DID originally design life from scratch? Is it "proof" that "an intelligence" is the so-called 'God' that you believe in? And why are you and many other god pushers so ashamed to just say what you actually believe? Why do you use terms like "an intelligence" or 'intelligent designer' or 'design'?"
      My, answers are: Of course not. That was not the point I wanted to make. I'm not the least *ashamed*. I do not in general use the term "intelligence" for God, but in the case of humans creating life it seamed like an apt expression -tongue in cheek- of course.

    11. To me, that would be proof that an intelligence could design life.

      Yes, so any scientific finding can be distorted and misrepresented in such a way as to be presented as an argument for creationism. Thanks, Andy. I already knew that was the case, but it's rare for a creationist to actually come out and admit it.

    12. Almost all of you people make ma laugh and cry at the same time. All these supposed refutations and easy explanations seem to you so true, that creating simple life in the lab should be a piece of cake. For some reason it is not and I know you would say "no yet". Well, I also know that if that even ever happens, you would also say: "Aha, we created life. Now we have proof that life could have emerged without Intelligent Designer or God". That is logic to you. Well, I think Michael Behe said it recently: " It is next to impossible to convince one of something, when he/she had already made up his mind." Same applies here.

    13. Louise, things are always more difficult before they're accomplished than after they're accomplished, and whatever difficulty humans have or will ever have in accomplishing things does not support or prove that there is a designer-god.

      Some early humans figured out how to control camp fire, and some current humans have figured out how to control nuclear fission. Learning takes time. Even the most intelligent and industrious humans are limited (and not just by their intelligence or abilities), and most humans are more interested in and devoted to their favorite TV sitcom or their imaginary god than in advancing scientific discoveries and productivity.

      Scientifically minded people would love to have all of the answers to every question right now but they realize that that's not going to happen anytime soon. Religious people not only want all of the answers right now but believe that they or their 'authoritarian' so-called 'leaders' already have them. Making up ridiculous, supernatural beings and associated fairy tales isn't a credible answer. It's just fearful and ignorant fantasizing. Real knowledge comes with time and effort, and real knowledge accumulates to become even greater knowledge. No one alive right now or even a thousand years in the future has or is going to have all of the answers to every question. Science is doing pretty well at finding answers, especially considering the difficulty of the tasks, the impatience, apathy, or opposition of many or most humans, and the lack of proper funding and freedom to do some or many types of exploration and research.

    14. The origins of life mystery has been resolved again and in 4 different and contradicting ways. You gotta love

      1. fluke

      2. Fluke

      3. Fool

      4. Fools

      Don't you just love science that not only contradicts itself but also makes people who call themselves scientists to look like fools....But hey! We don't have to look far... just look above lol

  11. Hi Larry,

    I must say you are right, the evolution course is not good but not all courses are that bad. I have been a courserian for a little more than a year, almost finishing my 14th course and I can tell you that many of them were really good, Useful Genetics and Virology come to mind...Astrobiology too.

    Useful Genetics was a college level, extremely challenging course but like I said, one of the best I have taken. The teacher (excelent teacher btw), Rosemary Redfield and the TA's were very active in the forums, and the material was really high quality stuff.

    As for Virology, it was also a very good course, great lectures. Eagerly waiting for part 2 .

    There are many teachers that really invest a lot of time and effort in putting together these courses and it shows.

    I think it's kind of unfortunate that you happened to enroll in this course because it is definitely not one of the best.
    I have unenrolled from the course because it was not what I expected it to be but I hope a better one on evolution is offered in the future.

    Would you ever consider giving one?? It would be amazing.

    1. I'm glad you found some good MOOCs. It doesn't surprise me that you like Rosie Redfield's course since she's been telling us how hard she worked on it and she knows her stuff. I'm glad to hear that she and her TAs were active in the forums. Do you know what percentage of the students participated in the forums.

      In spite of the fact that Rosie's course was undoubtedly very good, it's neverthelss true that you were not really in a position to judge the quality of her course. (Or any other course where you are not an expect on the subject material.) For all you know, everything Rosie taught you might be wrong and she might have left out some very important topics. You can't teach everything in a course like that and perhaps other instructors would have done a better job of picking the key subjects.

      That's the problem with MOOCs. There's no way of rating them independently of student satisfaction. .

      The majority of students seem quite pleased with our evolution course, for example. judging by most of the comments in the forum. What do they know?

      You might be interested in seeing Rosie Redfield easting French cuisine with a bunch of evolution types.

      Evoluion and Poutine

    2. Larry,

      I don't know what percentage of students participated in the forums but they seemed to be much more active in the UG course than in the Evolution course.
      In some courses forum participation is high and in others not so much. Of course by high I mean amount of comments per thread and number of threads created per day.
      I'm sure Rosie could fill you in with the details and numbers.

      "The majority of students seem quite pleased with our evolution course, for example. judging by most of the comments in the forum. What do they know?"

      Do keep in mind that many of the participants don't have a formal science education but they/we are eager to learn new things...which is why a good teacher like Rosie is greatly appreciated. She seemed to like the Mooc experience as well, she expressed her contentment in the farewell video.

      I agree with the idea that Moocs will never replace a real classroom but that doesn't mean they are completely worthless.

      If done right, as is the case with Rosie's course, Moocs can be a useful tool to combat the scientific illiteracy epidemic, right?...they are also a good source of entertainment and learning for older folks (there are usually lots of them) and people that can't attend school for health reasons or because they are too busy with work, can't pay, etc. A lot of people love science but feel intimidated or think it's inaccessible.

      It would definitely be good if there could be some sort of quality control but for now as with other stuff in the internet it is up to the student to check the teacher's credentials and evaluate the content of the course.

      Thanks for the link, it so nice to see you all toghether, I follow Jerry on twitter and Rosie....well I just love that lady! My favorite Coursera teacher.