#0002 RRS Newsletter for June 1, 2007

hellfiend666's picture

First off today, I want to invite you all to the first RRS MI meeting on July 4th! Consider it an informal meet-and-greet/bbq party. I will be cooking the main courses which will include baby back ribs, a variety of different fish, chicken, some game, burgers and hot dogs (and, for those of you that didn't know, I am a chef that has been in fine dining for ten years). This will be a byob event, and if anyone wants to bring a side dish to add to the spread, I won't object! I will be posting more info as an event invite tomorrow. So I hope to see all of you locals here, and you schmucks in Canada too!

Anyhow, on with the show!

I was poking around the internet last night and came across a slew of interesting things to post today. Much of this is for the science buffs, concerning human evolution and astronomy. This first one is from the National Geographic site, it's an interactive "tour" of human evolution. I recommend that you explore it completely, facinating and very informative!

Atlas of the Human Journey

This next link is to an article on that smae site concerning how stellar sound waves increase the temperature of the Suns chromosphere.

Sun's "Ring of Fire" Stoked by Sound Waves"

Yet another from the same site, this time an article on the discovery of planetary systems outside our own, and the probability of life in those systems.

Many "Earths" Are Out There, Study Says

I have a few more articles I could post, but I will save those for tomorrow, since there is so much I want to get to today. These next couple videos are from a very prolific Youtube poster, most of you may be familiar with him, but I thought he warranted mention.

So , now on with the best of the posts I've recieved today!
Enjoy!

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From:
ATHEISTS AGNOSTICS SKEPTICS & HUMANISTS ON MYSPACE
Date: May 31, 2007 9:59 PM

Rational Animal

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From: ATHEISTS AGNOSTICS SKEPTICS & HUMANISTS ON MYSPACE
Date: May 31, 2007 10:47 PM

Cheryl

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 1, 2007 7:15 AM

I guess this destroys those rumors that Carson was a born again. And who knew Carson still had a show? Anywho, good job, Carson. Thumbs up.

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From: Brian the Dilettante
Date: May 31, 2007 3:25 PM

A few weeks ago, Carson Daly weighed in on the RRS vs. Way of the Master debate.

Check it out at the link below:

http://www.nbc.com/Last_Call_with_Carson_Daly//video/#mea=110316

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 1, 2007 8:05 AM

When you look to cure Cancer, you accidently solve...
----------------- Bulletin Message -----------------
From: Welcome to the Jesterspace
Date: May 31, 2007 3:41 PM

.. the energy crisis. This guy might be the next Edison..

If he can cure cancers AND solve the energy crisis.. Hell.. I'LL give him an award.

I see our very own healthy addict in this next video, quite a few times too!

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 1, 2007 10:28 AM

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From: Ohio Rational Responders
Date: May 31, 2007 7:21 PM

May 28th 2007 60,000sq ft of Family Fun Prepare to Believe?

It was a two hour journey south to visit the brand-new Creation Museum in Petersburg Kentucky. I traveled down there with a few friends not in support, but in protest of this slap in the face of science.

We all realized that this $27,000,000 "museum" wasn't going anywhere, however we had to partake in this Rally for Reason. How could we just sit around and let this place that is deeming itself to be a place of science slide? It is trying to tell children that the Earth is only around 6,000 years old, and dating fossils that are millions of years old only 3,000 to 5,000 years. They throw all that we know today as science out the window, and disreguard the scientific method. (I could cover more on this topic alone, however I will save that for my next entry.)

The rally itself was an excellent turnout! Many recognizable names, such as Edwin Kagin (American Atheists Kentucky - he ran the event), Herb Silverman, Lawrence Krauss (keynote speaker), Frank Zindler, Nicole Smalkowski (and her family's band Blue Rose Rocket), and Hemant Mehta attended and spoke at the event. There were about 200 protesters (possibly more), theist and nontheist alike, full of energy, holding their signs while cars passed by. Most cars in passing tried not to look our way, while others yelled, or shook their heads.

Things went great, and we didn't have any trouble... except for one irate woman, and her much calmer husband. They came to bother all the protesters yelling (well the woman was yelling at least) "Jesus loves you!" while handing out certificates "signed" by Jesus, and dumdum pops. These dumdums had a little piece of paper attached that stated:

If there is no God…… A believer loses nothing at death. If there is a God…… An Atheist loses everything at death. Who, then, is being a dum dum?

Got to love Pascal's Wager.

I was out at the protest from about 9am-3pm... then went to the museum to see what all the hype was about, and exactly the 'science' that I was protesting against.

I will cover the detail of this "museum" in my next entry. Until then, check out this video footage of the Rally for Reason.

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 1, 2007 12:33 PM

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From: Brian the Dilettante
Date: May 31, 2007 5:17 PM

As we all know, so many extreme fundamentalist groups seem to feel that their obligations to morality end when it comes to telling the truth.

Take this article, for example. It is currently on the site of The Traditional Values Coalition...

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High School Girls Charged With ‘Hate Crimes’ Against Homosexuals

May 24, 2007 – Police in Crystal Lake, Illinois have charged two 16-year-old girls with committing a hate crime against homosexuals for distributing flyers critical of homosexual conduct.

According to McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi, the girls clearly committed hate crimes by distributing flyers showing two boys kissing, along with negative statements about homosexuality.

Under Illinois law, a person commits a hate crime if he targets another person’s race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin.

“This is a perfect example showing why ‘hate crime’ laws are so dangerous to freedom of speech,” said TVC Executive Director Andrea Lafferty. “Criticism of homosexual sex acts is protected speech under our Constitution, yet homosexual activists want to silence any factual statements about the health risks of homosexual acts. The First Amendment is being dismantled by homosexual radical.”

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This story, as presented by the TVC, does seem to show a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Being that I am all too familiar with the deceptive tactics used by fundamentalist groups, I decided to hit Google to find the whole story.

Surprise, surprise... it seems that the TVC left out the key details that made this incident a hate crime.

Here is the article as presented by CBS2 in Chicago...

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Girls Charged With Hate Crime For Anti-Gay Fliers Prosecutor: 'This Is What The Legislators Wanted Us To Stop'

(Northwest Herald) CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. Some classmates on Wednesday defended two Crystal Lake South High School students who appeared in juvenile court this week on hate-crime charges.

But McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi said the students clearly broke the law when they printed and distributed fliers that showed a male student and another boy kissing, along with inflammatory statements about homosexuality.

Police charged two 16-year-old Crystal Lake girls last week with committing a hate crime, disorderly conduct, and obstructing justice. The girls, whose names were not released because of their age, appeared in juvenile court Tuesday and are scheduled to return to court next Tuesday.

Crystal Lake South juniors Ryan Diamond and Crystal Erdman said the fliers stemmed from a recent dispute between one of the girls who was arrested and one of the boys who was pictured.

The pair used to be best friends but recently feuded, Erdman said, and one of the girls posted the picture on her MySpace page before police said she and another girl printed the fliers and distributed them in the school’s parking lot.

Diamond said authorities went too far and described the incident as a prank that had been blown out of proportion.

“I don’t care that people are gay,” Diamond said. “If my best friend told me he was gay, I’d be fine with it. I just don’t think my friend should be arrested for that. Give them a warning, give them a fine, that’s one thing, but to arrest them, that’s bull.”

Bianchi said the students targeted a specific person and his sexual orientation. Under Illinois law, a person commits a hate crime when he or she commits a crime against another person based on that’s person race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, or national origin.

“This is a classic case of the kind of conduct that the state Legislature was directing the law against,” Bianchi said. “This is what the legislators wanted to stop, this kind of activity.”

Investigators and school officials would not specify the flier’s contents or whether the students remained in school this week. But classmates said the flier showed a picture of two boys kissing along with the words, “God hates fags.”

Tom Carroll, first assistant state’s attorney for McHenry County, said penalties for the girls could range from probation to a 30-day sentence in the Kane County Juvenile Detention Facility. If they were convicted, Carroll said, the girls’ records would be cleared at age 18 but those records would remain available to law-enforcement agencies.

Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the case illustrated a complex struggle between protecting targeted groups of people and protecting the First Amendment.

In fact, the issue is so divisive that the ACLU of Illinois differed from its national organization’s support of a federal hate-crimes law that passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now is in the U.S. Senate. The law would include gender and sexual orientation as protected groups in hate-crime laws, as Illinois already does.

“We have a rather strong and historic strain of protecting free speech in this affiliate in a way that caused us to differentiate from the national organization,” Yohnka said.

District 155 spokesman Jeff Puma said the district needed to provide a safe and comfortable environment for students to succeed.

“Our focus is to make sure that each of our students is able to learn while at school and is in a situation where they feel comfortable coming to school and learning,” he said.

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A rather stark difference, is it not? These girls were NOT charged for simply stating that they do not agree with homosexuality. They were charged because they specifically targeted a fellow student out of sheer malice.

I pose this open question to the TVC, AFA, and the countless other fundamentalist groups spewing this venomous bile...

"If you are so convinced that the truth is on your side, then why do you feel the need bend, distort, omit, and flat-out break the truth in order to further your hateful agenda?"

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www.fundamentallyflawed.com

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 1, 2007 6:09 PM

This is great idea. We encourage everyone to repost this message. Thanks.

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From: Crocoduck
Date: May 31, 2007 5:52 PM

thanks:
Richie MacCool
Damned Goods

Listen please people. I simply do not understand why each and every person does not repost missing children bulletins. I understand it's not the typical posting material for most of us, but really... it's so worth it. I just look at it like this: If it were my child, I would hope to see every little bit of attention given to it as possible, even if it's just a quick mention on myspace!

Thank you!
Anthropology Professor Evans
Date: May 31, 2007 4:12 PM

Missing From: TAHOE CITY, California Missing: May 21, 2007 Click photo for additional details

Endangered Missing NAOMI RILEY DOB: Aug 4, 1991 Height: 5'3" (160 cm) Eyes: Brown Race: White Age Now: 15 Sex: Female Weight: 120 lbs (54 kg) Hair: Brown
Naomi was last seen on May 21, 2007. She may be in the company of an adult male. They may travel to Mexico ANYONE HAVING INFORMATION SHOULD CONTACT Placer County Sheriff's Office (California) 1-530-889-7800
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 1-800-843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST) --------------------- Missing From: BETHEL, Alaska; Possibly in Arkansas Missing: Aug 11, 2006 Click photo for additional details

Endangered Missing ALICIA EBERTZ DOB: Mar 1, 1996 Age Now: 11 Sex: Female Race: White Hair: Blonde Eyes: Blue Height: 4'10" (147 cm) Weight: 90 lbs (41 kg)

MITCHELL EBERTZ DOB: Nov 20, 1998 Missing: Aug 11, 2006 Age Now: 8 Sex: Male Race: White Hair: Blonde Eyes: Green Height: 4'6" (137 cm) Weight: 70 lbs (32 kg)
Alicia and Mitchell may be in the company of their non-custodial mother, an adult male, and a juvenile male. They were last known to be living in Arkansas. Alicia's ears are pierced. Her nickname is Ali. Mitchell's nickname is Mitch. ANYONE HAVING INFORMATION SHOULD CONTACT Bethel Police Department (Alaska) 1-907-543-3781
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 1-800-843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST)

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 1, 2007 6:13 PM

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From: Rational Animal
Date: May 31, 2007 6:16 PM

----------------- Bulletin Message -----------------
From: Reverend AtheiStar
Date: 31 May 2007, 01:57 PM

http://www.myspace.com/batteredbelieverssyndrome

Just like the spousal syndrome it's named after, this disorder is characterized by the inability to see anything but love in the actions of the abuser. Every hit is the victim's fault as this is the only rationalization to keep the image of someone who is loving alive.

And so it is with the believer. No matter what terrible event happens in their life they can't see their god as anything but a loving father. He never gets any of the blame. It's either a lack of faith, too much sin or perhaps not enough praise that day.

Suppose a believer's child was murdered. Can she conceptualize her god idly watching as the event took place, doing absolutely nothing? Yes, but it was for a reason. Her god still loves her, of course -- that's what she been programmed to believe. She'll probably come up with the standard answer designed to preserve the love like "god works in mysterious ways," "it was for the greater good," or "god wanted him in heaven."

All these answers skirt the real issue, though. To see how one need only exchange the deity in the equation with a person. What if a police officer sat and watched silently as a child was murdered even though he had the power to stop it? Oh, the rules are different now, aren't they? Why, though? Different programming, basically.

People are programmed to see police officers as people who have to help and should even risk their lives saving people. If one of them doesn't help, they're not doing their job and they become just as bad as a criminal. They are neglecting their duties to the people.

Gods and goddesses, on the other hand, whose "actions" are based on the hit and miss randomness of chance events, are expected to not do anything in many situations. These beings are also endowed by their creators, us, with great magical powers and control our destiny in the afterlives we made up. Add to this equation the endless stream of loving propaganda that is shot into the believer's brain and the resulting mix of expectation of inaction, fear and love combine to make a powerful formula able to transform an abuser into an angel.

Atheism frees a person from this madness. Instead of wondering why some invisible cloud father would allow or cause something to happen, we take it as it is: reality. Why did it happen? We look to real causes. Why was her son murdered? Look at the the murderer himself. Look at the events in his life that led up to the event. Where were the police? Could a stronger police presence have thwarted this? Look at the safety precautions the mother in this story could have taken in order to prevent this tragedy. Look at what the boy himself could have done to avoid such a situation in the first place.

By thinking critically, instead of superstitiously, we affect the real world in a positive way. We can come up with real solutions instead of asking for divine intervention that never arrives. It is only us who can save ourselves.

~Reverend AtheiStar

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From: The A-Team
Date: Jun 1, 2007 6:38 PM

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From: Crocoduck
Date: May 31, 2007 7:27 PM

thanks:
Damned Goods
Dinosaur Jesus

Opponents of evolution want to make a place for creationism by tearing down real science, but their arguments don't hold up

By John Rennie

When Charles Darwin introduced the theory of evolution through natural selection 143 years ago, the scientists of the day argued over it fiercely, but the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt. Today that battle has been won everywhere--except in the public imagination.
Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy. They lobby for creationist ideas such as "intelligent design" to be taught as alternatives to evolution in science classrooms. As this article goes to press, the Ohio Board of Education is debating whether to mandate such a change. Some antievolutionists, such as Philip E. Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Darwin on Trial, admit that they intend for intelligent-design theory to serve as a "wedge" for reopening science classrooms to discussions of God.

Besieged teachers and others may increasingly find themselves on the spot to defend evolution and refute creationism. The arguments that creationists use are typically specious and based on misunderstandings of (or outright lies about) evolution, but the number and diversity of the objections can put even well-informed people at a disadvantage.

To help with answering them, the following list rebuts some of the most common "scientific" arguments raised against evolution. It also directs readers to further sources for information and explains why creation science has no place in the classroom.

1. Evolution is only a theory. It is not a fact or a scientific law.

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty--above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution--or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter--they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'" The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling.

All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists' conclusions less certain.

2. Natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest.

"Survival of the fittest" is a conversational way to describe natural selection, but a more technical description speaks of differential rates of survival and reproduction. That is, rather than labeling species as more or less fit, one can describe how many offspring they are likely to leave under given circumstances. Drop a fast-breeding pair of small-beaked finches and a slower-breeding pair of large-beaked finches onto an island full of food seeds. Within a few generations the fast breeders may control more of the food resources. Yet if large beaks more easily crush seeds, the advantage may tip to the slow breeders. In a pioneering study of finches on the Galápagos Islands, Peter R. Grant of Princeton University observed these kinds of population shifts in the wild [see his article "Natural Selection and Darwin's Finches"; Scientific American, October 1991].

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The key is that adaptive fitness can be defined without reference to survival: large beaks are better adapted for crushing seeds, irrespective of whether that trait has survival value under the circumstances.

3. Evolution is unscientific, because it is not testable or falsifiable. It makes claims about events that were not observed and can never be re-created.

This blanket dismissal of evolution ignores important distinctions that divide the field into at least two broad areas: microevolution and macroevolution. Microevolution looks at changes within species over time--changes that may be preludes to speciation, the origin of new species. Macroevolution studies how taxonomic groups above the level of species change. Its evidence draws frequently from the fossil record and DNA comparisons to reconstruct how various organisms may be related.

These days even most creationists acknowledge that microevolution has been upheld by tests in the laboratory (as in studies of cells, plants and fruit flies) and in the field (as in Grant's studies of evolving beak shapes among Galápagos finches). Natural selection and other mechanisms--such as chromosomal changes, symbiosis and hybridization--can drive profound changes in populations over time.

The historical nature of macroevolutionary study involves inference from fossils and DNA rather than direct observation. Yet in the historical sciences (which include astronomy, geology and archaeology, as well as evolutionary biology), hypotheses can still be tested by checking whether they accord with physical evidence and whether they lead to verifiable predictions about future discoveries. For instance, evolution implies that between the earliest-known ancestors of humans (roughly five million years old) and the appearance of anatomically modern humans (about 100,000 years ago), one should find a succession of hominid creatures with features progressively less apelike and more modern, which is indeed what the fossil record shows. But one should not--and does not--find modern human fossils embedded in strata from the Jurassic period (144 million years ago). Evolutionary biology routinely makes predictions far more refined and precise than this, and researchers test them constantly.

Evolution could be disproved in other ways, too. If we could document the spontaneous generation of just one complex life-form from inanimate matter, then at least a few creatures seen in the fossil record might have originated this way. If superintelligent aliens appeared and claimed credit for creating life on earth (or even particular species), the purely evolutionary explanation would be cast in doubt. But no one has yet produced such evidence.

It should be noted that the idea of falsifiability as the defining characteristic of science originated with philosopher Karl Popper in the 1930s. More recent elaborations on his thinking have expanded the narrowest interpretation of his principle precisely because it would eliminate too many branches of clearly scientific endeavor.

4. Increasingly, scientists doubt the truth of evolution.

No evidence suggests that evolution is losing adherents. Pick up any issue of a peer-reviewed biological journal, and you will find articles that support and extend evolutionary studies or that embrace evolution as a fundamental concept.

Conversely, serious scientific publications disputing evolution are all but nonexistent. In the mid-1990s George W. Gilchrist of the University of Washington surveyed thousands of journals in the primary literature, seeking articles on intelligent design or creation science. Among those hundreds of thousands of scientific reports, he found none. In the past two years, surveys done independently by Barbara Forrest of Southeastern Louisiana University and Lawrence M. Krauss of Case Western Reserve University have been similarly fruitless.

Creationists retort that a closed-minded scientific community rejects their evidence. Yet according to the editors of Nature, Science and other leading journals, few antievolution manuscripts are even submitted. Some antievolution authors have published papers in serious journals. Those papers, however, rarely attack evolution directly or advance creationist arguments; at best, they identify certain evolutionary problems as unsolved and difficult (which no one disputes). In short, creationists are not giving the scientific world good reason to take them seriously.

5. The disagreements among even evolutionary biologists show how little solid science supports evolution.

Evolutionary biologists passionately debate diverse topics: how speciation happens, the rates of evolutionary change, the ancestral relationships of birds and dinosaurs, whether Neandertals were a species apart from modern humans, and much more. These disputes are like those found in all other branches of science. Acceptance of evolution as a factual occurrence and a guiding principle is nonetheless universal in biology.

Unfortunately, dishonest creationists have shown a willingness to take scientists' comments out of context to exaggerate and distort the disagreements. Anyone acquainted with the works of paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University knows that in addition to co-authoring the punctuated-equilibrium model, Gould was one of the most eloquent defenders and articulators of evolution. (Punctuated equilibrium explains patterns in the fossil record by suggesting that most evolutionary changes occur within geologically brief intervals--which may nonetheless amount to hundreds of generations.) Yet creationists delight in dissecting out phrases from Gould's voluminous prose to make him sound as though he had doubted evolution, and they present punctuated equilibrium as though it allows new species to materialize overnight or birds to be born from reptile eggs.

When confronted with a quotation from a scientific authority that seems to question evolution, insist on seeing the statement in context. Almost invariably, the attack on evolution will prove illusory.

6. If humans descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

This surprisingly common argument reflects several levels of ignorance about evolution. The first mistake is that evolution does not teach that humans descended from monkeys; it states that both have a common ancestor.

The deeper error is that this objection is tantamount to asking, "If children descended from adults, why are there still adults?" New species evolve by splintering off from established ones, when populations of organisms become isolated from the main branch of their family and acquire sufficient differences to remain forever distinct. The parent species may survive indefinitely thereafter, or it may become extinct.

7. Evolution cannot explain how life first appeared on earth.

The origin of life remains very much a mystery, but biochemists have learned about how primitive nucleic acids, amino acids and other building blocks of life could have formed and organized themselves into self-replicating, self-sustaining units, laying the foundation for cellular biochemistry. Astrochemical analyses hint that quantities of these compounds might have originated in space and fallen to earth in comets, a scenario that may solve the problem of how those constituents arose under the conditions that prevailed when our planet was young.

Creationists sometimes try to invalidate all of evolution by pointing to science's current inability to explain the origin of life. But even if life on earth turned out to have a nonevolutionary origin (for instance, if aliens introduced the first cells billions of years ago), evolution since then would be robustly confirmed by countless microevolutionary and macroevolutionary studies.

8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.

Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times.

As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence "TOBEORNOTTOBE." Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days.

9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.

This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts.

The Second Law actually states that the total entropy of a closed system (one that no energy or matter leaves or enters) cannot decrease. Entropy is a physical concept often casually described as disorder, but it differs significantly from the conversational use of the word.

More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun's nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. Simple organisms can fuel their rise toward complexity by consuming other forms of life and nonliving materials.

10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features.

On the contrary, biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism's DNA)--bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example.

Mutations that arise in the homeobox (Hox) family of development-regulating genes in animals can also have complex effects. Hox genes direct where legs, wings, antennae and body segments should grow. In fruit flies, for instance, the mutation called Antennapedia causes legs to sprout where antennae should grow. These abnormal limbs are not functional, but their existence demonstrates that genetic mistakes can produce complex structures, which natural selection can then test for possible uses.

Moreover, molecular biology has discovered mechanisms for genetic change that go beyond point mutations, and these expand the ways in which new traits can appear. Functional modules within genes can be spliced together in novel ways. Whole genes can be accidentally duplicated in an organism's DNA, and the duplicates are free to mutate into genes for new, complex features. Comparisons of the DNA from a wide variety of organisms indicate that this is how the globin family of blood proteins evolved over millions of years.

11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.

Evolutionary biologists have written extensively about how natural selection could produce new species. For instance, in the model called allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, if a population of organisms were isolated from the rest of its species by geographical boundaries, it might be subjected to different selective pressures. Changes would accumulate in the isolated population. If those changes became so significant that the splinter group could not or routinely would not breed with the original stock, then the splinter group would be reproductively isolated and on its way toward becoming a new species.

Natural selection is the best studied of the evolutionary mechanisms, but biologists are open to other possibilities as well. Biologists are constantly assessing the potential of unusual genetic mechanisms for causing speciation or for producing complex features in organisms. Lynn Margulis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and others have persuasively argued that some cellular organelles, such as the energy-generating mitochondria, evolved through the symbiotic merger of ancient organisms. Thus, science welcomes the possibility of evolution resulting from forces beyond natural selection. Yet those forces must be natural; they cannot be attributed to the actions of mysterious creative intelligences whose existence, in scientific terms, is unproved.

12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.

Speciation is probably fairly rare and in many cases might take centuries. Furthermore, recognizing a new species during a formative stage can be difficult, because biologists sometimes disagree about how best to define a species. The most widely used definition, Mayr's Biological Species Concept, recognizes a species as a distinct community of reproductively isolated populations--sets of organisms that normally do not or cannot breed outside their community. In practice, this standard can be difficult to apply to organisms isolated by distance or terrain or to plants (and, of course, fossils do not breed). Biologists therefore usually use organisms' physical and behavioral traits as clues to their species membership.

Nevertheless, the scientific literature does contain reports of apparent speciation events in plants, insects and worms. In most of these experiments, researchers subjected organisms to various types of selection--for anatomical differences, mating behaviors, habitat preferences and other traits--and found that they had created populations of organisms that did not breed with outsiders. For example, William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and George W. Salt of the University of California at Davis demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment.

13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance.

Actually, paleontologists know of many detailed examples of fossils intermediate in form between various taxonomic groups. One of the most famous fossils of all time is Archaeopteryx, which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs. A flock's worth of other feathered fossil species, some more avian and some less, has also been found. A sequence of fossils spans the evolution of modern horses from the tiny Eohippus. Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land, and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus helped to make that transition [see "The Mammals That Conquered the Seas," by Kate Wong; Scientific American, May]. Fossil seashells trace the evolution of various mollusks through millions of years. Perhaps 20 or more hominids (not all of them our ancestors) fill the gap between Lucy the australopithecine and modern humans.

Creationists, though, dismiss these fossil studies. They argue that Archaeopteryx is not a missing link between reptiles and birds--it is just an extinct bird with reptilian features. They want evolutionists to produce a weird, chimeric monster that cannot be classified as belonging to any known group. Even if a creationist does accept a fossil as transitional between two species, he or she may then insist on seeing other fossils intermediate between it and the first two. These frustrating requests can proceed ad infinitum and place an unreasonable burden on the always incomplete fossil record.

Nevertheless, evolutionists can cite further supportive evidence from molecular biology. All organisms share most of the same genes, but as evolution predicts, the structures of these genes and their products diverge among species, in keeping with their evolutionary relationships. Geneticists speak of the "molecular clock" that records the passage of time. These molecular data also show how various organisms are transitional within evolution.

14. Living things have fantastically intricate features--at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels--that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.

This "argument from design" is the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution, but it is also one of the oldest. In 1802 theologian William Paley wrote that if one finds a pocket watch in a field, the most reasonable conclusion is that someone dropped it, not that natural forces created it there. By analogy, Paley argued, the complex structures of living things must be the handiwork of direct, divine invention. Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species as an answer to Paley: he explained how natural forces of selection, acting on inherited features, could gradually shape the evolution of ornate organic structures.

Generations of creationists have tried to counter Darwin by citing the example of the eye as a structure that could not have evolved. The eye's ability to provide vision depends on the perfect arrangement of its parts, these critics say. Natural selection could thus never favor the transitional forms needed during the eye's evolution--what good is half an eye? Anticipating this criticism, Darwin suggested that even "incomplete" eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.)

Today's intelligent-design advocates are more sophisticated than their predecessors, but their arguments and goals are not fundamentally different. They criticize evolution by trying to demonstrate that it could not account for life as we know it and then insist that the only tenable alternative is that life was designed by an unidentified intelligence.

15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution.

"Irreducible complexity" is the battle cry of Michael J. Behe of Lehigh University, author of Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. As a household example of irreducible complexity, Behe chooses the mousetrap--a machine that could not function if any of its pieces were missing and whose pieces have no value except as parts of the whole. What is true of the mousetrap, he says, is even truer of the bacterial flagellum, a whiplike cellular organelle used for propulsion that operates like an outboard motor. The proteins that make up a flagellum are uncannily arranged into motor components, a universal joint and other structures like those that a human engineer might specify. The possibility that this intricate array could have arisen through evolutionary modification is virtually nil, Behe argues, and that bespeaks intelligent design. He makes similar points about the blood's clotting mechanism and other molecular systems.

Yet evolutionary biologists have answers to these objections. First, there exist flagellae with forms simpler than the one that Behe cites, so it is not necessary for all those components to be present for a flagellum to work. The sophisticated components of this flagellum all have precedents elsewhere in nature, as described by Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University and others. In fact, the entire flagellum assembly is extremely similar to an organelle that Yersinia pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, uses to inject toxins into cells.

The key is that the flagellum's component structures, which Behe suggests have no value apart from their role in propulsion, can serve multiple functions that would have helped favor their evolution. The final evolution of the flagellum might then have involved only the novel recombination of sophisticated parts that initially evolved for other purposes. Similarly, the blood-clotting system seems to involve the modification and elaboration of proteins that were originally used in digestion, according to studies by Russell F. Doolittle of the University of California at San Diego. So some of the complexity that Behe calls proof of intelligent design is not irreducible at all.

Complexity of a different kind--"specified complexity"--is the cornerstone of the intelligent-design arguments of William A. Dembski of Baylor University in his books The Design Inference and No Free Lunch. Essentially his argument is that living things are complex in a way that undirected, random processes could never produce. The only logical conclusion, Dembski asserts, in an echo of Paley 200 years ago, is that some superhuman intelligence created and shaped life.

Dembski's argument contains several holes. It is wrong to insinuate that the field of explanations consists only of random processes or designing intelligences. Researchers into nonlinear systems and cellular automata at the Santa Fe Institute and elsewhere have demonstrated that simple, undirected processes can yield extraordinarily complex patterns. Some of the complexity seen in organisms may therefore emerge through natural phenomena that we as yet barely understand. But that is far different from saying that the complexity could not have arisen naturally.

"Creation science" is a contradiction in terms. A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism--it seeks to explain the universe purely in terms of observed or testable natural mechanisms. Thus, physics describes the atomic nucleus with specific concepts governing matter and energy, and it tests those descriptions experimentally. Physicists introduce new particles, such as quarks, to flesh out their theories only when data show that the previous descriptions cannot adequately explain observed phenomena. The new particles do not have arbitrary properties, moreover--their definitions are tightly constrained, because the new particles must fit within the existing framework of physics.

In contrast, intelligent-design theorists invoke shadowy entities that conveniently have whatever unconstrained abilities are needed to solve the mystery at hand. Rather than expanding scientific inquiry, such answers shut it down. (How does one disprove the existence of omnipotent intelligences?)

Intelligent design offers few answers. For instance, when and how did a designing intelligence intervene in life's history? By creating the first DNA? The first cell? The first human? Was every species designed, or just a few early ones? Proponents of intelligent-design theory frequently decline to be pinned down on these points. They do not even make real attempts to reconcile their disparate ideas about intelligent design. Instead they pursue argument by exclusion--that is, they belittle evolutionary explanations as far-fetched or incomplete and then imply that only design-based alternatives remain.

Logically, this is misleading: even if one naturalistic explanation is flawed, it does not mean that all are. Moreover, it does not make one intelligent-design theory more reasonable than another. Listeners are essentially left to fill in the blanks for themselves, and some will undoubtedly do so by substituting their religious beliefs for scientific ideas.

Time and again, science has shown that methodological naturalism can push back ignorance, finding increasingly detailed and informative answers to mysteries that once seemed impenetrable: the nature of light, the causes of disease, how the brain works. Evolution is doing the same with the riddle of how the living world took shape. Creationism, by any name, adds nothing of intellectual value to the effort.

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----------------- Bulletin Message -----------------
From: RRS_TX
Date: Jun 1, 2007 6:30 PM

Hang out with Brian Sapient, Kelly, Rook Hawkins, and Mike (Yellow#5) tonight in our personal web cam room. Tonights Rational Response Squad show was recorded last weekend when one of our mentors visited from out of town. His name is Jake and atheistnetwork.com is his website and where Rook and Sapient originally met.

You can listen through this window. You can also double click this video window to expand the chatroom.




*RRS Studios are currently experiencing a low bandwith issue (likely due to the God of the internets anger at us). Tonights show might go down from time to time but will likely be back up within a minute each time.

Radio stream is another way to tune in: Winamp Windows Media Real Player iTunes XMMS MPlayer

Before the show begins we'll be playing some clips and previewing some songs from Greydon Square. Greydons album is just a few days away. You can still preorder here!

Well, that's about it for today, take care and keep it rational!
Jack,
and the RRS MI team

The darkness of godlessness lets wisdom shine.