Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three Tips for Students Going Back to School to Study Evolution

For students heading back to the class room and need some help in thinking through evolution, the following article is helpful. Also, check out Sean McDowell and William Dembski's book Understanding Intelligent Design.

Three Tips for Students Going Back to School to Study Evolution (HT / Evolution News)

After attending public schools from kindergarten through my masters degree, I learned a few lessons about staying informed while studying a biased and one-sided origins curriculum. My large, inner-city public high school was rich in diversity, and I learned to appreciate a multiplicity of viewpoints and backgrounds. Unfortunately, this diversity did not extend into the biology classroom. There I was told there was one, and only one, acceptable perspective regarding origins: neo-Darwinian theory. As students head back to school this year, I want to share some tips I’ve learned to help students stay informed on this topic:

Tip #1: Never opt out of learning evolution. In fact, learn about evolution every chance you get.

Evolutionary biologist Patrick J. Keeling claims in a recent letter to the editor in the journal Science that, after “a creationist visited my biology class,” his class was promised a lecture in evolution, which “never materialized.” He writes, “I wanted to know what we were missing, and why.”

I can empathize with Keeling. I had an analogous but opposite experience studying evolution in high school. At the end of our stridenly pro-Darwin unit on evolution, my public high school biology teacher promised us a debate, which like Keeling’s evolution lecture, never materialized. Then in college, I took many courses covering evolution at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. But just like my experience in high school, there was virtually no meaningful debate or dialogue over the fundamental questions. Neo-Darwinian evolution was always taken as a given. Exactly like Keeling, I wanted to know what I was missing.

Despite the one-sided nature of my education, I’m glad I studied evolution. In fact, the more evolutionary biology I took, the more I became convinced that the theory was based upon unproven assumptions, contradictory methodologies, and supported weakly by the data.

So my first tip is to never be afraid to study evolution. But when you do study evolution, always think critically and keep yourself proactively informed about a diversity of viewpoints (see tips 2 and 3 below).

Tip #2: Think for yourself, think critically, and question assumptions.

Though my professors rarely (if ever) would acknowledge it, I quickly discovered in college that nearly all evolutionary claims are based mostly upon assumptions. Modern evolutionary theory is assumed to be true, and then the data is interpreted based upon Darwinian assumptions. The challenge for you, the truth-seeking student, is to always try to separate out the raw data from the assumptions that guide interpretation of the data.

Keep your eyes out for circular reasoning. You’ll see that very quickly, evolutionary assumptions become “facts,” and future data must be assembled in order to be consistent with those “facts.”

Realize that evolutionary thinking often employs contradictory logic and inconsistent methodologies. The logic employed to infer evolution in situation A may be precisely the exact opposite of the logic used to infer evolution in situation B. Here are a couple examples:

• Biological similarity between two species implies inheritance from a common ancestor (i.e. vertical common descent) except for when it doesn’t (and then they appeal to processes like "convergent evolution" or "horizontal gene transfer").
• Neo-Darwinism predicts transitional forms may be found, but when they’re not found, that just shows that the transitions took place too rapidly and in populations too small to (statistically speaking) become fossilized.
• Evolutionary genetics predicts the genome will be full of useless junk DNA, except for when we discover function for such “junk” DNA. Then evolution predicts that cells would never retain useless junk DNA in the first place.

When both A and (not) A imply evolution, you know a theory is based upon an inconsistent scientific methodology. Keep an eye out for assumptions and contradictory methodologies, for they abound in evolutionary reasoning.

Finally, you must be careful to always think....(more)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Darwin's Dilemma - Coming Soon to DVD

(description HT / www.arn.org) This documentary will examine what many consider to be the most powerful refutation of Darwinian evolution-the Cambrian fossil record. Charles Darwin realized that the fossil evidence did not support his theory of gradual, step-by-step evolutionary development. He hoped that future generations of scientists would make the discoveries necessary to validate his ideas. Today, after more than 150 years of exploration fossil evidence of slow, incremental biological change has yet to be excavated. Instead, we find a picture of the rapid appearance of fully developed, complex organisms during the outset of the Cambrian geological era. Organisms that embody almost all of the major animal body plans that exist today. This remarkable explosion of life is best explained by the existence of a transcendent intelligence.

Filmed on four continents, this fascinating documentary examines some of the most important fossil discoveries ever made... and, with them, a mystery deeper than Darwin ever imagined. The Cambrian explosion was actually an explosion of biological information: assembly instructions in DNA and embryonic blueprints that directed the development of the first complex animals...information that points unmistakably to foresight, purpose and intelligent design.

Darwin's Dilemma is a high-quality documentary that includes interviews with world-class paleontologists Simon Conway Morris and James Valentine, as well as leading intelligent design theorists and scientists Paul Nelson, Jonathan Wells, Stephen C. Meyer, Paul Chien, Doug Axe, and Richard Sternberg.

As with the first two Illustra Media ID documentaries, Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet, Darwin's Dilemma is full of high quality animations to help the viewer visualize the amazing complexity and design of the Cambrian creatures. You can watch a trailer for Darwin's Dilemma is here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Did God Evolve?

Recently Dinesh D'Souza, author of "What's So Great About Christianity" reviewed The Evolution of God by Robert Wright for Christianity Today.

"There are three kinds of people: those who believe in God, those who don't, and those who believe in belief. Robert Wright is a member of the third group. He calls himself an unbeliever who holds that "gods arose as illusions" invented by mankind. At the same time, he thinks it is an excellent thing for others to believe in God. Since he advocates belief largely for secular and social purposes, Wright insists that religions evolve in the direction that he considers most conducive to social harmony and global peace.

It may seem odd that someone would take the trouble to write a 576-page book making this argument. Even so, I approached Robert Wright's new one, The Evolution of God (Little, Brown and Company), with anticipation. Years ago I enjoyed Wright's The Moral Animal (1994), which competently summarized then-recent research of evolutionary biologists on the origins of altruism. Wright presented his findings in a supple, breezy style that made the book a pleasure to read.

The Evolution of God is also engaging, and when you consider the topic you might wonder if the book is yet enough to do it justice. According to the publisher's summary, Wright seeks to provide nothing less than a "sweeping narrative that takes us from the Stone Age to the Information Age," a span of about 7,000 years. Besides, Wright's book covers the entire world, drawing on multiple fields including anthropology, history, biology, philosophy, and theology. Even great polymaths from Voltaire to Thomas Jefferson never attempted anything so ambitious, and Wright deserves credit for trying.

His thesis is simply stated upfront: While the gods arose as illusions, "the story of this evolution itself points to the existence of something you can meaningfully call divinity," Wright argues. Moreover, religion has "matured" so that it is now closer to modern ideas of tolerance and scientific truth. In Wright's words, "the illusion has gotten less and less illusory."

This may seem a strange way to justify religion, and it is. Oddly enough, Wright considers himself a friend of religion. His massive narrative is intended to show that religion has slowly gotten its act together and its story right, and he is hopeful that religion will continue to evolve away from its harsh, primitive roots, toward less exclusivity and more tolerance, so it can be reconciled with modern secular liberalism. Wright sees himself as making a kind of defense of God, although "not exactly the kind of God that most religious believers currently have in mind."

Wright begins by claiming that polytheism persisted much longer than the Old Testament lets on, and that even Jews persisted in worshiping many gods despite their monotheistic God's jealous demands for exclusive allegiance. So far, he isn't saying anything controversial.

Wright proceeds to make claims about Jesus and Muhammad that are equally banal. He insists that Jesus didn't say some of the things that are attributed to him, something Christians have been hearing for a century and a half, and something that rests on questionable assumptions. The logic behind such an approach is that scribes in subsequent centuries may have made up the good stuff attributed to Christ, but they surely wouldn't have made up things in the Bible that make Christ look bad. But no one applies these principles to Socrates or any other historical figure. Imagine if you deleted all of Socrates' good arguments, imagining these to have been exaggerations concocted by his enthusiastic disciples Plato or Xenophon, and only credited Socrates with his bad arguments. We would have an entirely different picture of Socrates today. While there is indeed controversy about how accurately the disciples of Socrates pictured him, no philosophy student would stand for such a tendentious, one-sided mode of historical interpretation. By the same token..."
(Rest of article).

These days "evolution" as a concept is applied to anything and everything. The latest is God. Dinesh highlights some of the problems with this view.