Monday, August 27, 2007

The answers about Answers in Genesis-part 2

To the quote mines we go- part 1

Is Answers in Genesis, probably the site most highly-regarded by young-earth creationists and much used as a source by Marcsana, a reliable and reputable source that is above quote mining?

Um- no.

To start with, AiG touts the book That Their Words May Be Used Against Them – Quotes from Evolutionists Useful for Creationists, a 500-page book of nothing but hundreds of quotes, without context or information. It’s clear from the title of the book what its purpose is- and that purpose is most definitely not careful, thoughtful scholarship. Indeed, of the four quotes from scientists that I discussed in my first installment on quote mining, all four appear in this book! Undoubtedly, many of the creationist quote mines in existence are drawn totally from this compendium. No scholastically-responsible organization would promote such a book; this is even lower than a Cliffs Notes of creationism in scholarship.

This book-shilling takes place on AiG's own quote mine page. To explore all of the problems here would take a book- not only are the usual out-of context quotes offered here, there are quotes over a century old, quotes from sources that have nothing to do with evolution at all,
vicious personal attacks
Both of these statements [on atheism]1,2 were made by an arch-enemy of creationists, scientist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. His irrational atheism, the reason for his opposition to creationism, showed quite plainly in these two statements that the argument over creation/evolution is not about facts. When it comes to science, Asimov claimed to be interested in reducing the lack of knowledge, but when it comes to God, Asimov preferred to remain ignorant. And let’s not forget that this is exactly what Asimov was—deliberately ignorant. He was always interested only in the facts which suit him, not in all the facts, as is plainly shown in these two quotes.

and even quotes from mass murderers .

The first link on this page, after the book sale, is “99 Quotable Quotes.” A quote mine within a quote mine! The vast majority of these quotes have absolutely nothing to do with science and are not from scientific sources, unless one considers the Satanic Bible or News of the Weird works of science. I will take a look in my next posting at some of the ones that sound even marginally scientific.

In addition. AiG also has a series of webpages, variously called “Quotable Quotes” and “Quotes to Note,” featuring the latest quotes they have mined, again, with no context or explanations. In many cases, the true origin of these quotes is impossible to track down- many are said to be from lectures, often given in another language.

Many of the quotes that AiG cites are remarkable in their lack of context. Without any explanation or background, these quotes are so innocuous- or so true- as to puzzle non-creationists as to their reasons for inclusion- are they objectionable simply because they mention evolution or the political machinations of creationists? These are a few such quotes, presented in their entirety as they are on AiG's webpages.:

From “99 Quotable Quotes.”
43 “Human beings are made up mostly of water, in roughly the same percentage as water is to the surface of the earth. Our tissues and membranes, our brains and hearts, our sweat and tears—all reflect the same recipe for life, in which efficient use is made of those ingredients available on the surface of the earth…”
“But above all we are oxygen (61 percent) and hydrogen (10 percent), fused together in the unique molecular combination known as water, which makes up 71 percent of the human body.
So when environmentalists assert that we are, after all, part of the earth, it is no mere rhetorical flourish. Our blood even contains roughly the same percentage of salt as the ocean, where the first life forms evolved. They eventually brought onto the land a self-contained store of the sea water to which we are still connected chemically and biologically. Little wonder, then, that water carries such great spiritual significance in most religions, from the water of Christian baptism to Hinduism’s sacred water of life.”

Al Gore, “Earth in the Balance”, pp. 99-100
45 “Human evolution, of course, is responsible for our very long period of childhood, during much of which we are almost completely dependent on our parents. As Ashley Montagu first pointed out decades ago, evolution encouraged the development of larger and larger human brains, but our origins in the primate family placed a limit on the ability of the birth canal to accommodate babies with ever-larger heads. Nature’s solution was to encourage an extremely long period of dependence on the nurturing parent during infancy and childhood, allowing both mind and body to continue developing in an almost gestational way long after birth.”

Al Gore, “Earth in the Balance”, p. 229
59 “As for the claim that evolution is an unproved theory, that’s nonsense, Evolution is a fact, established with the same degree of confidence as our ‘theory’ of disease, and the atomic ‘theory’ of matter. Yes, there is lively debate about the particular evolutionary mechanisms that caused particular changes, but the existence of evolutionary change is not in doubt. Our own bodies provide walking evidence.”

Jared Diamond, “Who Are the Jews?”, Natural History Vol. 102, No. 11, November 1993, p. 19
60“Actually, there is superabundant evidence for animals evolving under our eyes: British moths becoming darker since the Industrial Revolution (industrial melanization), insects evolving DDT resistance since World War II, malaria parasites evolving chloroquine resistance in the last two decades, and new strains of flu virus evolving every few years to infect us.”

Jared Diamond, “Who Are the Jews?”, Natural History Vol. 102, No. 11, November 1993. p. 19,

From Quotable Quotes:
The problem won’t go away—we face a highly organized, well financed effort to legislate creationism—religious doctrine—into public education. … individuals opposing this effort to introduce theology masquerading as science into biology classrooms desperately need the help and support of professional biologists

Wayne A. Moyer
Executive Director
National Association of Biology Teachers (U.S.A.)
in Bio Science March 1980
Taken completely out of context, as AiG did, these quotes, if anything, support the theory of evolution. Of course, in many cases, AiG has convoluted arguments elsewhere on their site that attempt to refute the premises behind some of these quotes. But, standing alone without background, explanation, or reason, these quotes in and of themselves seem like statements of reason, not the ranting of the disillusioned.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Changes and memories

Last weekend, as part of my research on creationist quote mining, I visited parts of the UCSD campus I haven't seen in years. I planned a trip first to the Undergraduate Library on Revelle campus (they should have Science and Smithsonian) and then a jaunt to the Science and Engineering Library in Urey Hall. While I've paid several visits over the years to old haunts on Muir campus, it has been many years since I've been to Revelle.

I parked behind the Revelle dorms near the Undergraduate Library building, on a summer day where even the La Jolla coast was 95 degrees. Not a day for hiking. I headed up the ramp to UgLi...which was now some sort of computer lab. No books in sight. I guess the undergrads at UCSD don't need their own library any more...

Ah well, on to Urey. I knew they had remodeled the building a while back when earthquake-retrofitting it. There were new buildings behind and in front of it, all that stood out as glaring inaccuracies in my old visions (that shouldn't be there!) On my way, I passed the Revelle Commuter Lounge- a place that holds more memories for me that any other save the stairwells of Muir Campus. The endless impromptu bridge games, political punditries on the blackboard, birthday parties, first meetings... I was relieved to see it still existed- larger now, the couches looked comfier, and the walls were covered with murals.

So I got to Urey, walked in the glass doors (same whoosh, same distant elevator sounds, same smells of old paper and cement) and found that where the library once stood were now offices for the Bio department. I knew the library still existed... I had looked up the hours to make sure it was open on a Sunday. But where did it go? I poked around, wilting in the heat, and finally spied a grad student with a red Mohawk, who gestured in the distance and stated "They moved it to Geisel."

Geisel? Perhaps that was one of the new buildings? No, wait...I had seen a story in the paper a while back- that was the new name for Central Library, the architectural symbol for the whole campus. Of course, Central was also a fair walk from Revelle! So off into the heat...and into more disruptions of my mental maps! Gone were the wood-paneled buildings of the Student Center between Muir and Revelle; they were in the process of being replaced by a gigantic glass edifice from which wafted smells of curry and cinnamon buns. Mandeville was refreshingly unchanged; even the art galleries looked the same. As I descended into the Rectilinear Forest behind Mandeville, I could see that the Ugly Bird remained on his perch, but the bare stone arch was now completely covered with ivy.

Very little of the Rectilinear Forest remained. The then-new Staff Center was encroaching on one edge when I left UCSD, now a scramble of buildings had invaded from the Warren side as well. If anything, the remaining eucalyptus trees seemed scrawnier than I remembered. The Purple Volleyball Net still meandered through the forest- but now it was blue. The Talking Trees still murmured; one seemed to be giving a recitation of bird calls from a field guide.

I finally made it to Central- oops, Geisel- and into air-conditioned bliss. The card catalogs had changed; the black and green terminals of Melvyl had matured into the full-color Internet-enabled Roger- but the hunt remained the same. The atavistic joy of lifting down a musty old volume of bound journals, turning the yellowed pages until I found what I sought- that, at least has not changed in the past 20 years, no matter how the surroundings have changed in the interim.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The answers about Answers in Genesis-part 1

Anyway, if you want a good angle, stop treating this as a matter of a religious organization making a brave effort against the forces of godless science. It's not. It's an exceptionally lucrative business organization profiting off the ignorance of large numbers of people making a major push to increase their influence and income.
Answers in Genesis (AiG) is perhaps the best-known of the creationist organizations in the US. It maintains a huge and attractively-designed website, sells an entire library of creationist materials, and runs the "Creation Museum" in Petersburg, KY. AiG is registered with the IRS as a 501c3 tax-exempt charity and pulled in over 13 million dollars in revenue in fiscal year 2005-2006. Of that 13 million, almost six million was paid out in salaries to board members and employees.

Charity Navigator, one of the most well-respected evaluators of charities, gives AiG 2 out of 4 possible stars, a rating that equals "Needs Improvement." For 2006, AiG performed worse than over 70% of other charities in how much it spent on programs and services, and its program expense growth was greater than its primary revenue growth, resulting in a net negative working capital ratio. AIG's rating has dropped steadily for the last 3 years, even as it has taken in more and more money.

Ministry Watch, which reviews only Christian ministries, although it names AiG one of its favorite ministries on the strngth of its evangelical fervor, rates AiG 405th of 430 organizations in financial efficiency.

So where is the money coming from, and where is it going? As a 501c3, AIG files Form 990 with the IRS every year. I looked at the data from 2002-2006.

Several interesting points can be made. AiG's chief staff are making an extremely comfortable living from their "ministry." Here are the highest-paid staffers and board members for 2006:

Ken Ham-President/CEO $124,615
Dale Mason- Vice President $114,301
John Pence-Director of planned giving/legal counsel- $96, 577
Mike Zovath-Vice President $88,269
James Hatton- Controller $88,269
Mark Looy-VP of Ministry Relations- $88,269
Kathy Ellis- Director of Administration- $82,038
Carl Kerby-Board Member $80,580
Patrick Marsh- Director $75,288
Dan Zordel- Director of Product Development $67,916
Mike Riddle- Speaker $67,769
Paul Varnum-Director of Video Productions $67,570
Tom Miller- Director- Events Outreach $66,269
Rod Martin- Director of Internet Services $64,848

In contrast, of the 22 religious charities in the same expense bracket as AiG that were rated as four-star charities by Charity Navigator and had Form 990s on file, none had the number of highly-paid board members and employees that AiG does. While AiG has 28 employees or board members with salaries of over $50,000 a year, only one organization, World Harvest Mission, had as many people with salaries over $50,000- but they were all employees; all of its board members served at no cost. Across all of the 22 organizations, the average number of board members paid over $50.000 was 2 and the average number of employees paid over $50,000 was 4. Ten of the organizations had no employees who received compensation over $50,000 and six had no board members who received any compensation at all. In contrast, AiG had 9 board members and 19 employees who received salaries of $50,000 or more in 2006.

In the following table, "Year" is the year of the Form 990 on file, "BM" is the salary of the highest-paid board member, "Employee" is the salary of the highest-paid employee, "Emp. 50K" is the number of employees paid over $50,000 yearly, and "BM 50K" is the number of board members paid over $50,000 yearly.

Examination of Form 990s reveal some other interesting patterns as well. For example, in 2003, former CEO Bill Wise bought a 2002 Toyota Camry from AiG. Although the car was valued at $15,089, Wise payed only $7.00- yes, seven dollars- for it. That same year, Wise received a computer worth $1105 for zero dollars. It is interesting that 2003 was Wise's last year on the board...

In future installments, I will look at some even more unsavory practices of AiG, such as their numerous ventures into quote mining and their legal woes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The quote mine collapses

In our discussion of evolution, Marcsana has made generous use of quotations, mostly unreferenced. However, in discussion of the second post in the series, he presented a list of quotes titled "Scientific Authorities speak on the 2nd Law [of Thermodynamics]." When called to task on the veracity of these quotes, his response was simply "Ignore the quotes at the end then if you want to."

No, I will not ignore them. They are prime examples of creationist quote mining, and they absolutely mandate a response. The use of such quotes is not fair debate; it is unethical and indefensibly shoddy scholarship.

Quote mining is defined as
...the use of a (usually short) passage, taken from the work of an authority in some field, which superficially appears to support one's position, but [from which] significant context is omitted and contrary evidence is conveniently ignored.
- The Quote Mine Project
Quote mining is so common in creationist propaganda as to be ubiquitous. There are dozens of sites that contain little content other than such disjointed, out-of-context quotes.

Obviously, such quote mining is not ethical, reputable or tolerable scholarship. Why, then, do creationists do it?

There are three possible reasons that I see:
  • Deliberate misrepresentation
It is clear that the original users of these quotes deliberately and knowingly used them inappropriately. There can be no other conclusion when the quote is taken out of context, and all material contrary to the creationist's point is deleted.
  • Ignorance
Some creationists truly may be unaware that some of the material that they read is deceptive or untrue. They may believe that those who write creationist materials would never be deliberately deceptive or misleading. They may be so unaware of the scientific method or of the process of logical thought and debate that they believe that lists of quotes can, by themselves, somehow prove something.
  • Laziness
Undoubtedly, much of the creationist quote mining is due to simple mental sloth. Fact-checking quotes and making sure that they actually are a true representation of an author's viewpoint can be hard work. Documenting the five quotes I discuss below took a couple of hours of Internet research and trips to two university libraries, plus time to actually read the original source materials. However, even a cursory search for the originals would have turned up enough information to document that the quotes were most likely not being used in an appropriate, context-sensitive way. For example, anyone who had even a vague understanding of the work of Ilya Prigogine would know enough to realize the usage of the quote discussed below was not accurate, and a very short search would have documented that the quote was taken from a paper on how evolution under the Second Law of Thermodynamics is possible. This would be enough to cast doubt on the usage of such a quote.

The following is a discussion of each of the quotes Marcsana used. The "References on creationist websites" is how many hits I got on Google for the complete quotation. In many cases, other websites exist that use different versions of the quotation. In the "Actual Quote" section, text missing from Marcsana's quotes appears in blue. "Selective quotation" refers to whether only those portions favorable to a creationist viewpoint were quoted, thus distorting the quote.

Marcsana's quote: There is thus no justification for the view, often glibly repeated, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is only statistically true, in the sense that microscopic violations repeatedly occur, but never violations of any serious magnitude. On the contrary, no evidence has ever been presented that the Second Law breaks down under any circumstances.
Purported to be from: A.B. Pippard, Elements of Chemical Thermodynamics for Advanced Students of Physics (1966), p. 100.
References on creationist websites:
3, example Institute for Creation Research
Actually from: The source is correct.
Actual quote:
Although very few hypothetical experiments employing fluctuations have been analyzed in such detail, it appears most probable that they all fail to violate the second law on account of the necessary entropy generation by the observer who controls the process. There is thus no justification for the view, often glibly repeated, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is only statistically true, in the sense that microscopic violations repeatedly occur, but never violations of any serious magnitude. On the contrary, no evidence has ever been presented that the Second Law breaks down under any circumstances, and even the entropy law appears to have an almost universal validity, except in such futile experiments as we have discussed above, the removal and reapplication of constraints.
Selective quotation:
Yes. This quote is discussing an entirely different concept than the common, unspecific definition of "entropy," and, as it applies only to closed systems, is even more irrelevant to discussions of evolution.
Out-0f date:
Yes. This is a quote from a textbook that is 50 years old- first published in 1957. Explanation: As is fairly obvious, this quote is from a physics textbook. The entire textbook is searchable online. The chapter it is in, titled "The Thermodynamic Inequalities," is specifically about the effects of entropy in closed systems, not open ones. In addition, this discussion is strictly about the strict physics definition of entropy as the unavailability of energy to do work. Nothing in this quote (or in this book) has any relevance to the probability of evolution. In fact, the word "evolution" appears nowhere in this book.

Marcsana's quote:No matter how carefully we examine the energetics of living systems we find no evidence of defeat of thermodynamic principles.
Purported to be from:
Harold Blum, Time’s Arrow and Evolution (1962), p. 119.
References on creationist websites: 8. Example: Scientific Evidence for Creation
Actually from: The source is correct.
Actual quote: No matter how carefully we examine the energetics of living systems we find no evidence of defeat of thermodynamic principles, , but we do encounter a degree of complexity not witnessed in the nonliving world. As compared to the in vitro photochemical and autoxidative reactions with which the chemist is more familiar, the complexity of autotrophic processes seems obvious, as is also the complexity of the step reactions in biological oxidations compared to the direct combustion of the same substances. To be sure, it is altogether probable that as investigation continues a relatively simple theme will be found connecting all the more or less isolated facts regarding energy metabolism in living systems, and indeed we have already evidence of that theme. But it seems certain that, simple or not in a general sense, quite complex molecules are involved. To be convinced of this one need only recall the role of enzymes in both the expenditure and accumulation of free energy. Most of the steps in biological oxidation require these substances, and their presence is also obligatory for CO2 reduction, whether by photosynthesis or chemosynthesis. The enzymes themselves are highly complex molecules, the specificity of their action being apparently associated with this complexity. But such molecules, and the reproduction of their complex patterns, is a subject to be taken up in the next chapter.
Selective quotation: Yes. This chapter was discussing some implications of the First Law of Thermodynamics (matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed) and how they related to energy production and storage in living systems. The chapter following this discusses how complex molecules are formed.
Out-0f date: Yes
. This book was first published in 1951 and is now 56 years old. Explanation: This book, while now significantly outdated, was perhaps the first to attempt to explain how evolution was possible under the Second Law (the "Time's Arrow" of the title.) It went into quite a bit of detail on how complex molecules could form, for example. Here are some of the author's discussions on the Second Law.:
(page 204) The second law of thermodynamics says that left to itself any isolated system will tend toward an increase in its entropy or randomness. Yet we see living sytems developing and maintaining what appears to be high complexity and organization, out of what seem relatively random surroundings. Does this mean that they do not obey the second law of thermodynamics, which we take for granted applies to all nonliving things? It has been pointed out repeatedly in the foregoing chapter that such a question only arises if we fail to grasp what is implied in the term "isolated system" when used in a thermodynamic sense, that is, a system which is isolated from exchange of energy with its surroundings. [He then goes on to give the example of sugar crystals forming in a cooling saturated solution, where the orderliness of the crystals is set off by the increase in entropy as heat is lost from the reaction.]
(pages 5 and 6) Within our short span of life we are continually aware of the irrevocable passage of time- aware that the same events never exactly repeat themselves whether we wish or no. Viewed in perspective, evolution is characterized by the same one-wayness in time, occasional statements as to its reversibility notwithstanding. It would be useful to us, as evolutionists, if there were some measure of this one-wayness of events. Science offers only one widely general principle which seems applicable; the second law of thermodynamics. One way of stating this law is to say that all real processes tend to go toward a condition of greater probability. Sir Arthur Eddington showed insight into the bearing of this law upon our problem when he described it as "time's arrow." This implies that the second law of thermodynamics points the direction of all real events in time, although giving no indication of the speed with which they happen. It should be tempting, then, to explore the relationship between time's arrow and organic evolution. Few, if any, physical scientists would hesitate to apply the second law of thermodynamics to the evolution of the nonliving world; yet even here its applicability may be worth examining. For the second law is in a sense an empirical and pragmatic law which owes its acceptance to the fact that it has worked whenever it has been put to test. The second law can be tested by setting up a self-inclusive system, deducing the changes that should occur, and accurately measuring these changes to see if they agree with prediction. In a sense, we may be accused of rigging the data to obtain agreement, but the fact that we have never failed to obtain it encourages our belief that we deal with a universal principle. Before any claim of a failure of the second law of thermodynamics with regard to any aspect of the nonliving world could be taken seriously, there would have to be absolute assurance that the system involved had been properly set up for examination. There have been numerous successful applications of the second law of thermodynamics to different aspects of living systems; these encourage the belief that this principle also applies there in a more general sense. Nevertheless, there are from time to time assertions that living organisms manage in some way to violate this principle. In such instances it does not appear that the system has been set up in such a way that it would be possible to reach the conclusion implied, but such statements are likely, because of their dramatic character, to have unwarranted influence on general thought.
In short, then, Blum explains yet again what has been detailed many, many times- evolution does not violate the Second Law.

Marcsana's quote: Another way of stating the second law then is: ‘The universe is constantly getting more disorderly!’ Viewed that way, we can see the second law all about us. We have to work hard to straighten a room, but left to itself it becomes a mess again very quickly and very easily. Even if we never enter it, it becomes dusty and musty. How difficult to maintain houses, and machinery, and our bodies in perfect working order: how easy to let them deteriorate. In fact, all we have to do is nothing, and everything deteriorates, collapses, breaks down, wears out, all by itself -- and that is what the second law is all about.
Purported to be from:
Smithsonian Institute Journal, June 1970, p. 6
References on creationist websites: 7. Example: ChristianAnswers
Actually from: Isaac Asimov, "In the Game of Energy and Thermodynamics, You Can't Break Even" Smithsonian, August, 1970
Actual quote:
Another way of stating the second law then is: ‘The universe is constantly getting more disorderly!’
Viewed that way, we can see the second law all about us. We have to work hard to straighten a room, but left to itself it becomes a mess again very quickly and very easily. Even if we never enter it, it becomes dusty and musty. How difficult to maintain houses, and machinery, and our bodies in perfect working order: how easy to let them deteriorate.
In fact, all we have to do is nothing, and everything deteriorates, collapses, breaks down, wears out, all by itself -- and that is what the second law is all about.
You can argue, of course, that the phenomenon of life may be an exception. Life on earth has steadily grown more complex, more versatile, more elaborate, more orderly, over the billions of years of the planet's existence. From no life at all, living molecules were developed, then living cells, then living conglomerates of cells, then worms, vertebrates, mammals, finally man. And in man is a three-pound brain which, as far as we know, is the most complex and orderly arrangement of matter in the Universe. How could the human brain develop out of the primeval slime? How could that vast increase in order (and therefore that vast decrease in entropy) have taken place? The answer is it could not have taken place without a tremendous source of energy constantly bathing the Earth, for it is on that energy that life subsists. Remove the Sun and the human brain would not have developed-or the primeval slime, either. And in the billions of years that it took for the human brain to develop, the increase in entropy that took place in the Sun was far greater- far, far greater- than the decrease represented by the evolution of the brain.
Authority of authors: Asimov is extremely well-known and wrote many books on science for the layman. He was a professor of biochemistry.
Selective quotation:
Yes- very much so! As can be seen, all of the text following the quote is extremely relevant, but was omitted in its entirety.
Out-0f date: Yes, but still relevant
- published 37 years ago, but on some fairly basic facts about thermodynamics.
This one is pretty clear, It's an extremely egregious selective quotation. In addition, the source citer is obviously wrong, as there is no such thing as the " Smithsonian Institute Journal" and few sites even attribute the quote properly to Asimov.

Marcsana's quote: The point is that in a non-isolated [open] system there exists a possibility for formation of ordered, low-entropy structures at sufficiently low temperatures. This ordering principle is responsible for the appearance of ordered structures such as crystals as well as for the phenomena of phase transitions. Unfortunately this principle cannot explain the formation of biological structures.
Purported to be from:
I. Prigogine, G. Nicolis and A. Babloyants, Physics Today 25(11):23 (1972)
References on creationist websites: 6. Example: Darwinism Refuted
Actually from: I. Prigogine, G. Nicolis and A. Babloyants, "Thermodynamics of Evolution (I)" Physics Today 25(11):23 (1972)
Actual quote:

The point is that in a non-isolated [open] system there exists a possibility for formation of ordered, low-entropy structures at sufficiently low temperatures. This ordering principle is responsible for the appearance of ordered structures such as crystals as well as for the phenomena of phase transitions.

Unfortunately this principle cannot explain the formation of biological structures.
The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small. The idea of spontaneous genesis of life in its present form is therefore highly improbable, even on the scale of the billions of years during which prebiotic evolution occurred.

The conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that the apparent contradiction between biological order and the laws of physics--in particular the second law of thermodynamics--cannot be resolved as long as we try to understand living systems by the methods of the familiar equilibrium statistical mechanics and equally familiar thermodynamics.

Selective quotation: Yes; note how carefully the creationists left out the actual title of the journal article! This two-article series, as detailed below, is actually an explanation of how evolution does not violate the Second law; part of the body of work that earned Ilya Prigogine the 1977 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In addition, this quote is simply a prologue to Prigogine's explanation of how evolution is possible with non-equilibrium thermodynamics.
Out-0f date:
No. Although quite old, this research is still a valid explanation of how evolution does not contradict the Second Law.
The above quote explains how it is difficult to reconcile standard thermodynamic theory and evolution. Therefore, a different way of looking at the problem is needed. Prigogine proposed that "nonequilibrium thermodynamics describes how such systems come to terms with entropy." He described the theory of "dissipative structures" which are systems that lose (dissipate) heat while increasing order. Thus, in a non-equilibrium (open) system, such systems can be examples of increasing order, as they produce more entropy (heat dissipation) than the order that they gain, even as they become more orderly. As some examples, he gives patterns of convection in heated liquids and generation of light by lasers. There is much more to the theory than this, but it explains it in a nutshell without becoming too technical.

In specific regards to evolution, he states:
What is the thermodynamic meaning of prebiological evolution? Darwin's principle of "survival of the fittest" through natural selection can only apply once pre biological evolution has led to the formation of some primitive living beings. A new evolutionary principle, proposed recently by Manfred Eigen, would replace Darwin's idea in the context of prebiotic evolution. It amounts to optimizing a quantity measuring the faithfulness, or quality, of the macromolecules in reproducing themselves via template action. We here propose an alternative description of prebiological evolution. The main idea is the possibility that a prebiological system may evolve through a whole succession of transitions leading to a hierarchy of more and more complex and organized states. Such transitions can only arise in nonlinear systems that are maintained far from equilibrium; that is, beyond a certain critical threshold the steady-state regime becomes unstable and the system evolves to a new configuration. As a result, if the system is to be able to evolve through successive instabilities, a mechanism must be developed whereby each new transition favors further evolution by increasing the nonlinearity and the distance from equilibrium. One obvious mechanism is that each transition enables the system to increase the entropy production.

Marcsana's quote: As ice forms, energy (80 calories/gm) is liberated to the surroundings... The entropy change is negative because the thermal configuration entropy (or disorder) of water is greater than that of ice, which is a highly ordered crystal... It has often been argued by analogy to water crystallizing to ice that simple monomers may polymerize into complex molecules such as protein and DNA. The analogy is clearly inappropriate, however... The atomic bonding forces draw water molecules into an orderly crystalline array when the thermal agitation (or entropy driving force) is made sufficiently small by lowering the temperature. Organic monomers such as amino acids resist combining at all at any temperature, however, much less in some orderly arrangement.
Purported to be from:
C.B. Thaxton, W.L. Bradley, and R.L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin: Reassessing Current Theories, Philosophical Library, New York, 1984, pp. 119-120.
References on creationist websites: 1. Example: True Origins
Actually from: Source is correct
Actual quote:
Presumably the same.
Authority of authors:
Authors are advocates of creationism/intelligent design. From the review mentioned below-"The authors are listed on the cover as PhDs in chemistry, materials science, or geochemistry. Not one is listed in American Men and Women of Science, 14th edition."
Selective quotation:
Out-0f date: Yes; book was published 23 years ago.
This is the one book I was unable to find; however, I found plenty of information about it. This quote is not from a scientific text. The quoted book was written by creationists.It received scathing reviews from scientists due to its extensive quote mining rather than presentation of any original work. As Dr. Sidney Fox, a professor at the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Evolution at the University of Miami, wrote in the journal The Quarterly Review of Biology:
Many of the negative criticisms consist of citing one "origin-of-lifer" vs. another; such literature is of course abundant in scientific journals in a frontier field. Although the presentation of such objections is thorough, a number of published rebuttals of statements conforming to the authors' thesis are not cited. For many readers the frequency of such omissions will raise thoughts about the ethics of such asymmetric scholarship.
So, in closing, in just these five quotes we have seen a wealth of selective quotation and misrepresentation. The prevalence of such shoddy scholarship in creationist works truly casts a very poor light on their efforts.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

No birdbrains here

I ran across this fascinating article today- BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Cleverest crows opt for two tools.

It discusses the New Caledonian crow, a bird whose toolmaking and tool-using skills put even the great apes to shame. These clever birds recognize the need for a tool, then manufacture it in order to get the specific job done. They also realize which tools are best for which job. In the research described in the BBC article, the birds were presented with a short stick, a long stick in a cage, and a piece of meat in a Plexiglas box which could not be reached with the short stick. On the first trial, four out of six birds tested immediately picked up the short stick, used it to fish out the long stick, and then used the long stick to get the meat out of the box. There are incredible videos of the crows at work.

In other experiments, the crows bent wire into hooks that they used to retrieve small buckets of food from a pipe, and showed that they had a preference for using tools on one side or the other of their beaks.

In the wild, the birds fashion tools from the leaves of the pandanus (screw pine) tree, which have serrated edges. They carefully snip out sections of leaf- wide, narrow, or skillfully-crafted "stepped" tools that taper- and use them to extract grubs from holes. They also make hooked tools by whittling small branches- there is video of this process at the same link as above.

The videos are amazing not just for the skill of the birds, but their obvious attention to detail. In the film of the crows making hooked tools, we see them eye candidate twigs from every angle, then stop frequently while fashioning the hooks to check their progress. There is obviously much more going on here than simple instinct.

These crows are, of course, the object of much scientific study. One of the most intriguing theories being examined is the the crows have a toolmaking culture, where young crows have an inborn propensity for tool use which is developed by watching older crows. Older crows develop better tools and then pass the skill on to younger crows. Researchers believe that the "stepped" pandanus-leaf tools came about in this fashion.

Why are these crows so smart? Research is focusing on that now. It may be that the same evolutionary method is at work here as with keas- extreme generalization. It may also be that these crows are just good tool-users and not so smart in other areas. The researchers are hoping, as they put it, "to test between the adaptive specialisation and general intelligence accounts of the evolution of complex cognition." Studying crows may help us learn how we evolved intelligence as well.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

News Flash! Common Garden Hose Shows The Earth is Really, Really Old!

Interviewer (yeah, really me, talking to myself) So what's all this then?

Cris: Well, I had this epiphany while watering my goats....

Interviewer: Um, does it involve any burning bushes or signs from Heaven?

Cris: No, nothing of that sort. You see, I turned on the hose, and it has a leak, you see. A little leak. I've tried to fix it, but it sprung another leak. It's had this leak for ages.

The hose in question

Interviewer: Okaaay...and this has what to do with geology?

Cris: Well, I live in Southern California. The ground is really, really hard here. Harder than lots of sedimentary rocks. So hard you need a backhoe to dig your garden. I could spend all day with a shovel and never get anywhere, certainly not to China.

Interviewer: That's a bit geological, then. Is there more?

Cris: Of course, we haven't even gotten to the best part! You see, the water comes out of the leak pretty slowly, and the hose is only on for 5-10 minutes at a time. But look at the canyon it's carved! I predict that, in 4.7 million years, if I let the hose trickle all the time, I could have the Grand Canyon in my backyard. But I think my husband would complain about the water bill.
Jamul Canyon

Wow, look at that steep bank!

The real Grand Canyon
Interviewer: That really does look a bit like the Grand Canyon in miniature. Why not just bring in a big tanker truck full of water and let it all loose here? Then you might at least have enough of a canyon to go whitewater rafting in.

Cris: I don't think that would work too well. I think if you dump out all the water at once, it won't carve a nice canyon. It will spread out over the ground and drain away. It might form some small channels, but not the Grand Canyon. Here, let's try it. OK, I have a large volume of water here, scientifically equal to the amount necessary to fill one empty Tidy Cat container. So here comes the deluge! Thunder and lightning please!
Experimental apparatus
The flood begins!
Aftermath of the flood

A closeup

Interviewer: Hmm, that doesn't look like the Grand Canyon at all, does it?

Cris: Not at all. It does look a bit like the area surrounding Mt. St. Helens, though.
Mt. St. Helens

Interviewer: That it does.

Cris: Well, I am just glad that a leaky old garden hose could give such an eloquent lesson in geology.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A creationism vs. evolution discussion, Part 10

And now for the last of Marcsana's original comments:

Question 20:
What is the main argument given by scientists for why creationism should not be given 'equal time' in our science classes?
Possible answers:
  • Scientists do not believe in God
  • Most scientists accept creationism
  • Scientists think that they have all the answers
  • Science is not a democratic process
The correct answer is Science is not a democratic process.
We should decide which scientific theory is superior and should be used in education by its power to explain successfully, not on how popular it is. Creationism is not a science, it is a religious belief system. As such, it may have its place in a humanities class, alongside other religious belief systems, but not in a science class.

Marcsana’s response:
20. Science, if anything, has displayed massive evidence and proof for creationism. Mount St. Helens destroyed many evolutionary myths about many things ranging from the formation of canyons to the making of fossil fuels. Science is not a democracy. Rather than revamp the theories to make room for the new information, evolutionary scientists cling to evolution without letting anything else matter the strength of the evidence.

My response:
The first statement, “Science, if anything, has displayed massive evidence and proof for creationism” is simply absurd. As has been shown throughout this discussion, creationists have no scientific basis whatsoever for their claims, which use twisted and flawed interpretations of science, not science itself. The distance between science and creationism is made even greater by the fact that less than 1% of scientists working in the fields of earth or life science believe in creationism.
A humorous illustration this is Project Steve. In answer to an Answers in Genesis webpage that currently lists 193 scientists who oppose evolution, the National Center for Science Education, in honor evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould, started Project Steve, a list of scientists who support evolution…all named Steve (or some cognate of Steve, such as Stefan or Stephanie.) As of this writing, 810 scientists have signed on to Project Steve. And, unlike the AiG list, which includes dentists, science teachers and linguistics specialists, some with only bachelor’s degrees, the Project Steve list is composed only of scientists with a Ph.D. in biology, geology, paleontology, or a related scientific field. According to the NCSE, census figures show that approximately 1.6% of males and approximately 0.4% of females -- so approximately 1% of U.S. residents have names that would fit the Steve criterion, so by extrapolation at least 81,000 scientists support evolution. In contrast, AiG's list contains only 4 Steves...

As for the argument that “Rather than revamp the theories to make room for the new information, evolutionary scientists cling to evolution without letting anything else matter the strength of the evidence”- it is a classic of double-speak. In many other places, the AiG writers criticize scientists for changing their theories when new information invalidated old theories! As we have discussed earlier, while creationists cannot afford to have their belief system threatened, science is not afraid of change. Scientists do not support evolution due to orthodoxy; they support it because it’s the best explanation for how things came to be.

And now onto Mt. St, Helens…
A view of Mt. St. Helens from Hidden Gardens Nursery in Camas, WA

For those unfamiliar with the creationist viewpoint, they believe the following about the 1980 eruption:

Claim: The eruption showed how coal or fossil beds with trees protruding from them could form very rapidly, because trees were found floating roots-down, with layers of debris on top of them. Geologists had previously believed that trees found in coal beds were buried slowly as the beds formed.
Rebuttal: This claim surprised me because, for the first time, I actually found a publication by a creationist in a scientific journal (albeit an obscure one) that advanced this argument.
However, this argument has been criticized on several fronts. Such trees are called “polystrate fossils” by creationists (it is not a geologic term) as they cross multiple fossil strata. There are many very reasonable explanations for their formation, and geologists have never claimed that quick burial and subsequent fossilization cannot occur. “All known upright fossils were buried in days, a year or so, or else periodically across perhaps a few decades. They occur all over the world, because swamps, river deltas and volcanoes also occur all over the world.” In addition, it is very clear from the fossil record if trees were buried as they grew or ripped up and deposited elsewhere. Trees buried as they grew have their rootlets intact, ripped-up trees do not. A detailed explanation of how polystrate trees occur can be found here. An incredibly detailed analysis and refutation of AiG’s articles on coal can be found here.
One also must ask- industrial geologists have as their greatest stake finding coal or oil-bearing strata for their customers and estimating their yields. They have no reason to support conventional geology that states that the Earth is billions of years old if it doesn’t improve their ability to locate such strata. So why then, when writing about finding coal and gas deposits in the Pacific Northwest, do they use the conventional timetable and explanations of scientific geology? If the creationist theory truly gives better insight into when where and how coal and gas are produced, why hasn’t it become the standard?

Claim: Heat and shock such as occurred at Mt. St Helens can turn trees to coal in a very short time.
Rebuttal: There is more to the formation of coal than this. Coal is found in sedimentary rock- in fact, it is classed as a sedimentary rock; the layers formed at Mt. St, Helens are igneous. The Pacific Northwest, while having a great number of volcanoes, has very little coal.
Coal deposits in the US

Claim: Sunken tree bark formed peat beds that were before thought to take thousands of years to form at one inch of peat per thousand years.
Rebuttal: It is actually quite common for thick layers of peat to form very quickly; up to a foot every six years. However, the material at the bottom of Spirit Lake is not peat, and does not resemble peats that typically form coal.

Claim: Volcanoes erupt due to water pressure. Most of what comes out of a volcano is water vapor, showing that many volcanoes spewing at once could produce a great flood.
Rebuttal: Water vapor is vapor, not liquid water. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of water vapor to put a system under great pressure; certainly not enough produce a huge flood. In addition, the number of volcanoes throughout the world (many of which show no signs of having erupted) would not be enough to produce such a great amount of water. Again, common sense alone can refute this argument.

Claim: The rapid reappearance of life at Mt. St. Helens after the eruption demonstrates that animals from the Ark could easily repopulate the Earth.
Rebuttal: Plant and animal populations have not fully recovered, even nearly 30 years later even though they are repopulating an area of just over 200 square miles surrounded by good habitat, not billions of acres of barren earth as the flood story would have it.
[Botanist John] Bishop said it could be at least 200 years for a forest to take root in the harsh environment of the pumice plain… The [invasive, willow-eating] beetle is far from the only hurdle vegetation must overcome. At 4,000 feet above sea level, plants and animals must overcome winter snow and 80 inches of annual precipitation. In normal terrain, even dead plants offer the spark of life to the next generation by leaving behind basic elements such as nitrogen and phosphorous.
"Here, there is virtually no soil," Bishop said. "When lupine dies, nutrients in the lupine don't have a chance to be taken up by anything else. Nitrogen washes out of the dead matter in rain during the winter."

Without a healthy plant community in place, animals cannot thrive. While some animals, such ar rodents and amphibians, have recolonized quite successfully, others have not.
Only the initial stages of succession have occurred among birds in the Mount St. Helens blast area… forests have not developed yet in the blast area… streams [in the blast area] had not developed conditions suitable for fish, and decades will likely pass before these streams can support fish.

Claim: Just as hunting drove elk into Mt. St Helens, human pressure could have influenced the post-Flood spread of animals.
Rebuttal: This argument strains credulity. Replacement stock of all native animals was located right next to the blast zone. It’s a much quicker trip from Cougar, Chehalis, Cinebar or Castle Rock to Mt. St. Helens than from Turkey to Trinidad, Taiwan or Tennessee! There are a lot fewer oceans in the way, too :>)

Claim: The deposition of layers of ash after the eruption shows that layers of shale in the Grand Canyon could have formed in the same way.
Rebuttal: Layers of ash will form igneous rock. The method of formation of igneous rocks and of sedimentary rocks like shale and sandstone are very different. In addition, the layers of ash found at Mt. St. Helens form what one would expect of vast quantities of material released at once- the heaviest components are on the bottom, middle-weight in the middle, and lightest on top. This is opposed to most geologic strata, where the layers are not sorted by size or weight; layers of very fine-grained material can be below heavy large rock layers.

Claim: The release of water at Mt. St. Helens carved 150-foot deep canyons through hard rock in less than a day. This demonstrates that canyons like the Grand Canyon could have been created in a very short time.
Claim: The rapid formation of badlands, rivers, and other geographic features at Mt. St. Helens showed that they could have formed that way in the rest of the world as well.
Rebuttal (to both above claims)There is a huge difference between water cutting through soft igneous rocks and through hard shale or limestone. Badlands and scablands have long been known to be created by sudden catastrophic events (such as the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington formed when the Columbia River burst.) There is a huge difference between the topography of the Channeled Scablands or the braided, sediment-choked channels of the Toutle River and the gentle meander of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is formed from sedimentary rocks, not igneous.
A local geologist provides further refutation for comparions to the Grand Canyon:
First, there are no comparisons to Step Canyon (What YECers like to call the “Little Grand Canyon”) and the (real) Grand Canyon. Step Canyon goes through fields of unconsolidated pyroclastic flow deposits that is subject to easy erosion from the wet Pacific Northwest climate and there is a 2000 foot elevation drop within 1 mile, further adding to the erosion. The claim that there are fossilized trees at Mount St Helens is also nonsense. The trees in Spirit Lake has not fossilized because there had been no exchange of silica and since Spirit Lake has no silica, it is very unlikely that any of the trees in the lake will fossilized anytime soon. Mount St Helens had been active for 50,000 years and there are buried trees around the mountain from past eruptions and mudflows(about 17 explosive eruptions in the last 4,000 years), but none of these trees have fossilized either. They have however, served as a useful tool date previous eruptions of the mountain. Finally, I would hold off on filing a mining claim at Spirit Lake for coal. The bottom of the lake is 33 degrees F, which is far to cold for the microbe activity needed to form peat, let alone coal.
Let's compare!
(all pictures courtesy of Google Maps)
The Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon again
Mt. St. Helens crater, Step Canyon to the north
Land between the crater and Spirit Lake
They don't look all that similar, do they...

Claim: The eruption produced layers of sedimentary rock that already contain fossils.
Rebuttal: The rock produced by the eruption is, of course, not sedimentary. Furthermore, studies have shown that the deposits, due to high acid content, are unlikely to produce fossils.
Trees buried by ash from previous eruptions over 4000 years ago also have not yet fossilized. Spirit Lake does not contain the silica necessary for fossilization.

Claim: Rocks formed in 1980 by the explosion have radiocarbon dates of millions of years old.
Rebuttal: The rocks involved were dated using the potassium-argon method. This method is rarely used by scientific geologists any more, and is almost always used in combination with other, more accurate tests such as uranium-lead concordia-discordia dating or rubidium strontium dating. None of these other methods were used as independent verification in the creationist tests. The creationists who chose this method most likely did so deliberately, knowing that K-Ar dating would likely give false results, as it is not an accurate method for dating young rocks. In addition, they did not perform 40Ar/39Ar dating to eliminate test errors from nonradiogenic argon.

The creationists admit that they used deception when submitting the samples.
These were submitted for potassium-argon analysis to Geochron Laboratories of Cambridge, MA, a high quality, professional radioisotope dating laboratory. The only information provided to the laboratory was that the samples came from dacite and that "low argon" should be expected. The laboratory was not told that the specimen came from the lava dome at Mount St. Helens and was only 10 years old.

This was done even though the Geochron labs website clearly stated "We cannot analyze samples expected to be younger than 2 M.Y."
A snapshot of the Geochron website from 1998 (read the text in the grey box!)

K-Ar dating cannot be used accurately on very young rocks because they may still contain air, which is 1% argon. Some young-Earth proponents recently reported that rocks were dated by the potassium-argon method to be a several million years old when they are really only a few years old. But the potassium-argon method, with its long half-life, was never intended to date rocks only 25 years old. These people have only succeeded in correctly showing that one can fool a single radiometric dating method when one uses it improperly. The false radiometric ages of several million years are due to parentless argon, as described here, and first reported in the literature some fifty years ago. Note that it would be extremely unlikely for another dating method to agree on these bogus ages. Getting agreement between more than one dating method is a recommended practice.

In addition, the submitted samples contained xenoliths- inclusions of older rocks. These will, of course, affect the supposed age of the rocks.

So there we have a shining example of creation "science"- intentional, willing deception for the sake of propaganda.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A creationism vs. evolution discussion,. Part 9

Now back to Marcsana’s comments on my quiz.

Question 17:
Creationists claim that fossils are the remains of the living organisms that perished in Noah's Flood. The Karoo Formation in Africa contains the remains of over 800 billion vertebrate animals. If this were a true representation of how many vertebrates were killed in the flood, how many vertebrate animals would each acre of land on Earth have held at the time of the flood?

Possible answers:
The correct answer is 2100.
Obviously, this would be a very crowded Earth!

Marcsana’s comment:
17. You may want to recheck yourself on the Karoo fossil graveyard. There is no problem here at all. IF the 800 billion number is accurate (which is an educated guess at best), there is still not a problem.

My comments:
First of all, just a FunTrivia editorial comment- I don’t allow numerical questions in Sci-Tech any more (this quiz was written in 2001) as numbers are so subject to quibbling.

Secondly, note that Marcsana provides absolutely no evidence to show that this is “not a problem.” As usual, his probable source turns out to be Answers in Genesis- “The Karoo vertebrate non-problem- 800 billion fossils or not.”

The article is primarily an example of what I mentioned above- quibbling over numbers. As usual, it lacks any scientific merit.

This is an in-depth explanation of the Karoo problem:
Too Many Animals

Whitcomb and Morris cite with approval a paleontologist who estimates that the Karroo Formation of southern Africa is believed to contain 800 billion fossil vertebrates with an average size of the fox.38 There are 126 billion acres on the surface of the earth. Only 30 percent of this area is land, giving a land area of 38 billion acres. If 800 billion animals were spread over the 38 billion available acres, there would be 21 animals with an average size of a fox, per acre, from this deposit alone. This does not include all the vertebrate fossil deposits throughout the rest of the world. Assuming that the Karroo beds are only 1% of the fossil vertebrates in the world (the Karroo beds occupy much less than 1% of the sedimentary column) means that 2100 animals per acre occupied the preflood world. Since an acre is 4840 square yards, each animal would have only 2 square yards, or 18 square feet, of territory. That is an area only 4.2 wide by 4.2 feet long. This can be put in a setting that most Americans can understand. The average house lot is about a quarter acre. Can you imagine every house in your neighborhood surrounded by 525 hungry animals the size of a fox? I, for one, would not venture out of doors. Obviously this is far too many animals. [I don't believe Morris' numbers but if they are right, then this is the consequence .]

In the article that Marcsana cites, the creationists claim that there is no problem because there would have been plenty of food for all those hungry reptiles:

Those anti-creationists who proclaim that such
population densities are impossible are in for a rude shock.
Simple studies of actual reptile population densities show
that the requisite densities of reptiles not only are possible
but do in fact exist even on todayĆ­s earth.11 It should be
stressed that these are locally-supported populations and
not local congregations of animals. And such population
densities are nowhere near the levels needed to tax the
requisite vegetation required to support such a highly-
populated food chain, much less the sunlight necessary
to support the ecosystem.12

Unfortunately, cites 11 and 12 in this paper are to another creationist paper authored by one of the authors of this paper, not an independent cite to verifiable information. Without any independent verification, these claims are far too ludicrous to be taken at face value.

So let’s make a brief review of what is known about the Karoo animals’ sizes and how that compares with reptile densities today.

A table of the main reptiles found in the Karoo formation lists the following genera- I have added comparisons to the sizes of modern-day animals:

  • Aulacephalodon- cow
  • Cistecephalus- mole
  • Cynognathus- wolf
  • Daptocephalus- otter
  • Diademodon- small cow
  • Dicynodon- wolf
  • Diictodon- fox
  • Dinocephalian- rhinoceros
  • Endothiodon- wolf
  • Eodicynodon- wolf
  • Kannemeyeria- cow
  • Lystrosaurus- wolf
  • Pareiasaurus- cow
  • Pristerognathus- wolf
  • Procolophon- lizard
  • Robertia- rabbit
  • Tapinocephalus- rhinoceros
  • Thrinaxodon- fox
  • Tropidostoma- wolf
  • Whaitsia- wolf

So, most of the species found in the Karoo were actually quite a bit larger than a fox. Of course, if 99% of the animals were the lizard or rabbit-sized ones and only 1% were the larger animals, then that could skew things a bit. So it’s important to know which fossils are most commonly found in the Karoo. Sources state that the fox-sized diictodon and wolf-sizd dicynodon are the commonest fossils.

So an estimate of at least fox-size for the average animal size appears accurate. The average red fox weighs around 6-15 pounds; let’s take an average of 10 pounds for simplicity’s sake. So, 2100 fox-size animals per acre would weigh 21,000 pounds, or 10.5 tons. That’s an elephant on every acre!

Well, what about the assertions that some areas support huge populations of reptiles? They do- but those reptiles are very small. I did some research looking for very large densities of reptiles, and found a couple of studies:

Individual and population energetics of a lizard on a Mediterranean islet
Population density in the lacertid lizard Podarcis lilfordi on the Mediterranean islet of Nitge, Menorca, Balearic Islands, was found to be 12 190 ind · ha-1 (SE, ±2135), exceeding densities reported for other island or mainland lizard populations.
This equals 30,109 lizards per acre.

10 grams would be a large weight for one of these lizards (the average is about 5-9 grams) but even with this generosity, 10 grams per lizard x 30109 lizards = 66 lbs per acre.

Population Density and Energetics of Lizards on a Tropical Island
This study looked at the weights and numbers of lizards in a fertile tropical habitat.
Population density and biomass estimates of these populations were
1318, 561, and 4200 individuals/ha and 4.2, 15.4, and 3.5 kg/ha, respectively.
Although these densities are not exceptional for other Carribbean islands,
they greatly exceed lizard densities reported for mainland communities.
That’s 19-83 pounds of lizard per acre for this study. We are a long way from an elephant!

So the creationists have a long way to go to explain the density of the Karoo fossils. There are other problems with their theories that we have not even dealt with here, such as why such a gigantic accumulation of fossil remains contains only reptiles (and a few amphibians,) all of which are now extinct, if it supposedly represents a nearly-instantaneous burying of all living animals in the area? Why are there no fossils of lions, impalas, Cape buffalo, kudu, or any other animals that now live in the Karoo?

Information, please- Part 3

In this installment, let’s actually look at the genetic basis for showing that new information in organisms has appeared many, many times.

First of all, let’s discuss some principles of population genetics that relate to the definitions of information we discussed last post.

Evolution does not act upon individuals, it acts upon populations. As a population evolves, new alleles (types of a single gene) will appear due to mutation and other events. Some of these alleles will increase fitness, some will decrease it, and some will have no effect at all. As natural selection acts upon the population over time, the frequency of these alleles will change. And that, in a nutshell, is evolution.

Mutations, gene duplications and other events that change the genome can be seen as adding Shannon information. The added information may or may not “make sense,” but it increases the randomness of the genome while decreasing compressibility- the definition of Shannon information. Then, as natural selection acts upon the variation produced by such events, randomness and compressibility is decreased- an increase in complexity information. But this is a dynamic process; as complexity increases in one area of the genome, mutation may cause randomness to increase in another. There is plenty of information here, and it is ever-changing.

A common misconception is that the information content (either in terms of Shannon information or complexity) of a genome is directly related to how “simple” or “advanced” we perceive that organism to be. There is no such relation. Some very interesting data on animal genome size measured in picograms shows this easily.

The organism with the largest genome isn’t us humans. It isn’t even a primate or a mammal. It’s an amoeba, Chaos chaos, with a whopping 1400 pg genome (the average mammal has a wimpy 3.47 pgs)! Among vertebrates, the award goes to the marbled lungfish (talk about primitive animals!) with 132.83 pg. Among mammals, the winner is the red viscacha rat with 8.40 pg. How about the primates? The winner is the tarsier, a bushbaby-like critter with a genome of 5.26 pg.

So how do we stack up with the apes?

Human- 3.50 pg
Chimpanzee- 3.46 to 3.85 pg
Gorilla- 3.52 to 4.16 pg
Orangutan- 3.6 to 4. 1 pg.

So, as this shows, size isn’t everything.

It is also a common misconception that the “purpose” or “trend” in evolution is to produce increasingly-complex organisms. There is no trend in evolution towards ever-increasing complexity, nor is there a reason to be one. Evolution favors what works, not what is most complex. If what works in a population is simple, then simple will be favored, and evolution will show increasing simplicity. This explains, for example, the loss of some features in parasitic organisms. Evolution also has no “purpose” or “direction.” It isn’t headed anywhere in particular.

All right then. The information in genomes changes over time as information is added or subtracted then acted upon by natural selection. So how about some examples of how this happens?

One of the commonest scenarios for the evolution of completely novel information is gene duplication, where part or all of a gene is doubled. When this happens, the organism can often keep functioning normally, as no genetic material is lost. However, as there are now extra copies of some genetic material, that material is free to mutate, as the original copies retain the original function. This is the most common method by which totally new genes are created. These genes are definitely “new information” in any meaningful sense of the word; they often code for proteins never before observed. As we discussed last installment, as long as one accepts that writing sentences in the English language can lead to new information, one has to accept that writing new sentences in DNA leads to new information.

I decided to query the Medline database, which indexes most journals having to do with genetics, for “gene duplication”, and turned up thousands of studies. Here are just a handful of them- all published in the last four months from April 2007 onwards! In each case, I’ve given a very brief synopsis of the research, along with what the authors had to say about the role of gene duplication in evolution, if stated.

Venom and coagulation factor in Australian snakes
(also here and here)
“Proteins with new function originate through gene duplication followed by divergence.”
In several Australian elapid snakes, two similar proteins exist. One codes for a clotting factor very similar to that found in many vertebrates, the other is a venom. The venom arose from a duplication and subsequent mutation of the clotting factor.

Butterfly color
At least four separate duplications of the L-opsin gene and subsequent changes are responsible for blue colors in two families of butterflies. Each duplication has resulted in a different color.

Cichlid potassium channel genes
Thus, the evolution of kir7.1 genes in cichlids provides a typical example of gene duplication-one gene is conserved while the other becomes specialized for a novel function.
Many families of cichlid fishes have an extra copy of the inward rectifier potassium channel gene, kir7.1. This copy arose in a cichlid ancestor through duplication. It has evolved to perform different functions and ins found in different tissues than the original gene.

Fish colors
Fish have more types of pigment synthesis genes than any other vertebrate. This is due to duplications and subsequent modifications of various genes in the different pigment production systems in fish.

SKP in angiosperms
Gene duplication plays important roles in organismal evolution, because duplicate genes provide raw materials for the evolution of mechanisms controlling physiological and/or morphological novelties.
SKP-1, an enzyme that mediates protein degradation, has undergone multiple duplication events, resulting in at least 47 different genes. It is one of the most rapidly-evolving plant genes known.

Shrimp antimicrobials
Penaeid shrimps (the group including most commercially-harvested shrimp) produce several different peptides that fight microbes and funguses. Each of these peptides arose from a novel gene duplication.

Chordate evolution
Internal duplication can enhance the function of a gene or provide raw material for the emergence of a new function in a gene.
The number of duplications present in the genome increases with increasing complexity of the organism. Chordates have more duplication than worms, which have more than fungi.

Corn borer sex pheromones
Female corn borers, a species of moth, attract mates with pheromones. One genus of corn borer, Ostrinia, has an “entirely novel class” of genes producing the pheromones, derived from duplication of one gene that then fused with a retroposon.

Yeast enzymes
Gene duplication in one species of yeast led to “a 'novel' transaminase enzyme” which has a wider range of function than the original.

MHC genes in bank voles
Our findings suggest a snapshot in an evolutionary process of ongoing birth-and-death evolution.
Bank voles are in the process of evolving better parasite resistance. They have at least 26 different alleles of one of the most important genes in the parasite-fighting process, with up to 4 duplications of the gene involved. One group of genes has lost function, one group is being lost due to parasite resistance, and one group functions well.

Mosquito pesticide resistance
Gene duplication is thought to be the main potential source of material for the evolution of new gene functions.
The common house mosquito has, at least three times in the past 40 years, developed pesticide resistance through gene duplication events.

Fish eggs
Ray-finned fishes are the most successful group of vertebrates in terms of species diversity. They evolved with great speed. Originally a freshwater group, hey were able to colonize the oceans when they began to lay eggs adapted to seawater. This adaptation arose when gene duplication and modification produced a modified protein that allowed eggs to survive in seawater.

And, if that’s not enough for you, here are a few more examples from other sources that I found interesting and compelling:

Fish antifreeze
A duplicated gene for a protease (digestive enzyme) mutated into a gene that produces an antifreeze that allows Arctic cod to live in freezing waters.

Leaf-eating monkeys
As scientists piece together the genomes of more and more life forms---from fruit flies to humans---they're finding ample evidence that new genes have often been created through the duplication of existing genes. Of the more than 40,000 genes in the human genome, for example, about 15,000 appear to have been produced by gene duplication.
A duplicated an mutated RNAase gene produces a new enzyme that helps leaf-eating monkeys digest their food.

Bicoid gene in flies
The bicoid gene, which affects egg development, arose from gene duplication.

Looking at all of these examples- which are just a tiny fraction of the articles available on one tiny facet of the possible ways that information arises in evolution- the fact that evolution can and does create new information is blindingly obvious. The only way to deny it is for the creationists to come up with yet more warped definitions of "new" and "information" that will be simply verbal games that ignore what is obvious scientific fact. But those new sophistries, by the creationists' own definitions, cannot be "new," as they will create them from the same tired alphabet of 26 letters which gave rise to the ancestral deceptions.