Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Richard Dawkins interviews Father George Coyne

source: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3410,Richard-Dawkins-interviews-Father-George-Coyne,Richard-Dawkins-RichardDawkinsnet

and checkout all 300+ comments.
This is the full uncut interview with Father George Coyne which was omitted from Richard Dawkins' television program "The Genius of Charles Darwin" for Channel 4 in the UK.

We will be releasing many more uncut interviews from "The Genius of Charles Darwin" on DVD soon through http://RichardDawkins.net/Store


Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po0ZMfkSNxc
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjjDDhE8R5k
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyyySnUqCug
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eEmnhmAwPM
Part 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl1xmkVOyRw
Part 6: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwDTBW8oxug
Part 7: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qPHIS3n7Lw

Friday, March 27, 2009

Creationism in the classroom

source: http://richarddawkins.net/article,3680,n,n

Evolution is a scientific fact – except, perhaps, in Texas, where the school board is trying to cast doubt on it

Imagine that your state legislature has decided to revamp the way that health and medicine are taught in public schools. To do this, they must tackle the "germ theory of disease", the idea that infectious disease is caused by microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. The legislature, noting that this idea has many vocal opponents, declares that it is "only a theory". Many people, for instance, think that Aids has nothing to do with viruses, but is the byproduct of a dissipated life. Christian Scientists believe that disease results from sin and ignorance, spiritual healers implicate disturbed auras and shamans cite demonic possession.

In light of this "controversy", the legislature sets up a school board that includes not only doctors, but also shamans, faith healers and, for good measure a few "psychic surgeons" who pretend to extract veal cutlets from patients' intact bodies. Taking account of these diverse views, the board recommends that from now on all teaching of modern medicine must be accompanied by a discussion of its weaknesses, including the "evidence" that Aids results from drug use and malnutrition, as well as from impure thoughts and evil spirits. And our failure to understand the complexities of chronic fatigue syndrome might be seen as reflecting its causation by an inscrutable and supernatural designer.

You would rightly be furious if all this happened. After all, the "germ theory" of disease is more than just a theory – it's a fact. Like all scientific theories, it might be wrong, but in this case that chance is roughly zero. That is because the germ theory works. Antibiotic and antiviral drugs really do cure diseases, while spiritual healing does not. Only an idiot, you'd say, would try to tamper with medical education in this way.

But this is precisely what is happening in Texas with respect to another well-established theory of biology: evolution.

Like the "germ theory" of disease, the "theory" of evolution is also a fact, as firmly established as the proposition that bacteria cause tuberculosis, or viruses cause Aids. And the fact of evolution is supported by mountains of evidence from many areas of biology. Every one of the thousands of sequences of DNA that have been studied support the theory of evolution.

What's more, evolution explains many puzzling observations about biology, like the existence of transitional fossils, vestigial organs and nonfunctional genes, that are incomprehensible under any creationist view. No serious biologist doubts the major tenets of the modern theory of evolution, which are these: life began around 3.5 billion years ago, all living species have common ancestors, descent involves evolution (genetic change over time), lineages divide, forming new species that lead to the branching tree of life, this change took immense spans of time, and that, in the vast majority of cases the diversification and change was due to natural selection and other well-understood evolutionary processes.

So what do creationism and its new incarnation of "intelligent design" explain? Nothing.

Despite all this, the Texas school board will vote this week on a bill that requires educators and textbooks to play up the "problems" with evolution, emphasising both its "strengths and weaknesses". The weaknesses supposedly involve "the insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." This is nonsense, of course. There is a mountain of evidence for common ancestry – ancestry that clearly explains the "sequential nature of groups in the fossil record".

The bill also requires schools to teach "the insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of cells." More nonsense, straight out of the playbook of intelligent design. Of course we don't understand everything about the evolution of cells – if evolution had all the answers it would be a dead field – but there is plenty of evidence that natural selection was involved in cell evolution, and not a shred of evidence that it wasn't.

The mention of "sudden appearance" of species leaves no doubt about the bill's motivation, which is to promote Biblically-based creationism in public schools. Tellingly, the Texas bill is not aimed at discussing the "strengths and weaknesses" of chemistry, physics or astronomy. It singles out evolution for one reason alone: it is the only branch of science that some Christians perceive as endangering their theology.

It's no surprise, then, that seven of the 15 members of the Texas state board of education have a socially conservative agenda, several of them explicitly endorsing creationism. And the head of the school board, one Don McElroy, is a creationist dentist whose pedagogical experience is limited to teaching Sunday school. McElroy also holds the Biblically-based view that the world is only 6,000-10,000 years old. How can it be that someone with such preposterous views is given any say in the education of our children?

What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas. That state is a sizeable consumer of public school textbooks, and it's likely that if it waters down its science standards, textbook publishers all over the country will follow suit. This makes every American school hostage to the caprices of a few benighted Texas legislators.

What's next? Since there are many who deny the Holocaust, can we expect legislation requiring history classes to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of the idea that Nazis persecuted Jews? Should we teach our children astrology in their psychology classes as an alternative theory of human behaviour? And, given the number of shamans in the world, shouldn't their views be represented in medical schools?

Our children will face enormous challenges when they grow up: global warming, depletion of fossil fuels, overpopulation, epidemic disease. There is no better way to prepare their generation than to teach them how to distinguish fact from mythology, and to encourage them to have good reasons for what they believe.

How sad that in the 21st century the Texas legislature proposes the exact opposite, indoctrinating our children with false ideas based squarely on religious dogma. Can't we just let our kids learn real science?

Jerry Coyne's latest book is Why Evolution is True (Viking), which summarises the many lines of evidence for evolution.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lords celebrate Darwin

Lord John Birt, member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group and former BBC Director-General, spoke in a debate yesterday in the House of Lords, celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Darwin.

Lord Birt described Charles Darwin as having ‘ushered in the era of rationalism’, yet he also expressed some dismay about the continuing reliance by some on religion and superstition.

He said, ‘If Darwin would have approved of our growing respect for nature, he would surely have been disappointed by the slow march of rationalism—here I strike a slightly dissonant note from other speakers. Fewer people now may believe in the supernatural and life after death, but some still take solace in cults or homeopathy. Some defy science and embrace creationism and intelligent design. Many still cling to the comforts of the old religions, which sought to explain existence before science did. Darwin might well be surprised that Britain still has a state religion, hardwired into our constitution.’

Lord Birt continued, ‘The challenge for humanists and for other children of Darwin is to create a world based on respect both for nature and for each other, a world where science and evidence displace prejudice and bigotry, a world based on ethical values which aim to maximise the sum total of human happiness here on earth. The most celebratory and life-enhancing funeral that I have ever attended was conducted by humanists, but the movement is not yet woven into our social tapestry.’


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Suzie exposes the Biblical Creation Story

Blogging the Origin

Darwin 200 / by Edit Staff / January 28, 2009

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, chapter by chapter

John Whitfield has a confession. As an evolutionary biologist and science writer, he has frequently documented the role that evolutionary principles play in biology, literary criticism, language, and antiterror policy, but — 

like so many today who study and write about evolution — he had never actually read the landmark work that started it all: Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

“It’s possible to have a professional relationship with evolution while remaining ignorant of its foundations,” Whitfield says. Because Darwin lacked the specialist knowledge of genetics and mathematical analysis that dominates the study of evolution today, many of his techniques are of little use to modern biologists.

So Seed set Whitfield to the task of parsing The Origin’s introduction and 14 chapters, examining them from the perspective of a 21st-century evolutionary biologist and blogging the experience.

Should The Origin be filed away as just another yellow-paged Victorian artifact, or do Darwin’s ideas still stand up in light of what genetics, ecology, and paleontology have taught us about evolution? Whitfield spent the past month teasing out this question. The result is an edifying and often amusing analysis of one of the most influential scientific works of our time. Read along.

Coming Out
“Let’s use part of our brains to try and ignore all that we now know about Darwin’s biography and legacy, pretend that this is our first encounter with his theory, and that evolution must stand or fall on the quality of the science and writing in The Origin.

“[T]he route into his theory begins, not with something obviously ‘extreme,’ like an elephant or a giant squid, but a bird that you would be pretty much guaranteed to see on a stroll in the woods around Down House.”

Chapter 1: Variation Under Domestication
“If it was down to you to invent biology, where would you begin? Darwin takes the time-honoured path of sacrificing realism for tractability, and studies a simplified and controlled version of nature: farming. He recognized that animal breeders were the biotechnologists of his day, and possessed the nearest thing to a body of experimental biological knowledge.”

Chapter 2: Variation Under Nature
“I felt like I’d gone from 1859 to 1959 in the turn of a page. Besides staking out the ground for population genetics, Darwin, in half-a-dozen dense pages at the end of the chapter, outlines many of the patterns in the diversity, abundance, and distribution of living things that ecologists are still trying to understand.”

Chapter 3: Struggle for Existence
“If I were running an undergraduate ecology course (which, for everyone’s sake, we can be glad that I am not), I would make this chapter the first thing on the reading list. It’s a capsule textbook, and about twenty-eight times more exciting than any of the required reading I encountered as a student.”

Chapter 4: Natural Selection
“Mathematicians and physicists speak of a result ‘falling out of the equations,’ implying that if you set things up properly, the rest takes care of itself. Chapter 4 of The Origin, ‘Natural Selection,’ is where evolution falls out of the machinery that Darwin has spent the three previous chapters assembling.”

Chapter 5: Laws of Variation
“To a man with a hammer, said Mark Twain, everything looks like a nail. The better your hammer, I would add, the more nail-like everything looks. In natural selection, Darwin had crafted one of the best hammers of all time. And in chapter 5 of The Origin, ‘Laws of Variation’,,’ you can hear him umming and aahing about various alternative mechanisms of evolutionary change before deciding that, actually, you know what this needs…hold ‘er steady…Thwack!”

Chapter 6: Difficulties with Theory
“Up until now, our route into the theory of evolution by natural selection has been all downhill. One thing has led effortlessly to another, with Darwin giving the occasional nudge to steer things in the right direction. Not any more.”

Chapter 7: Instinct
“If, like Darwin, you didn’t know about genetics, and thought that inheritance was a process of blending, it’s difficult to see how you could have made any more progress along this line of thought than he does here.”

Chapter 8: Hybridism
“What I think Darwin is doing in this chapter — and in other parts of the book where he seems to get bogged down in data, such as the second half of chapter 5 — is testing the limits of generalization in his science.”

Chapter 9: On the Imperfection of the Geological Record
“‘Paradigm’ is an overused word, but it’s a measure of the paradigm-shifting nature of The Origin that in much of it, such as in chapter 9 ‘On the imperfection of the geological record’, Darwin flies blind.”

Chapter 10: On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings
“Whether palaeontology gives Darwin quite as much support as he thought is an open question. The fact that many organisms remain recognizable across massive stretches of geological time suggests that stabilizing, or purifying, selection is also an important force, selecting against the extremes.”

Chapter 11: Geographical Distribution
“In the way it brings together Darwin the explorer and observer, Darwin the experimenter and Darwin the theorist, this chapter contains some of the most thoroughly convincing parts of the entire book.”

Chapter 12: Geographical Distribution, continued
“It’s been said that all European philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. Well, all ecology is a series of footnotes to Darwin.”

Chapter 13: Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs
“In [chapter 13], Darwin tackles the science of classification — perhaps more than in any other part of the book, I sensed that he was addressing his fellow pros (or gentlemen amateurs).”

Chapter 14: Recapitulation and Conclusion
“This relentless piling, sorting and re-arranging of evidence can make Darwin seem a little OCD, like an intellectual version of Wall-E. But he also knows that beneath all the case studies, there’s a logical core to evolution by natural selection, even if he can’t put it in an equation.”

“Biology doesn’t erase its past. It just forgets to cite it. The Origin is biology’s hub — all the routes that the science has taken since seem to pass through it.”

condensing 4.6 billion years of history into a minute

A video experiment in scale, condensing 4.6 billion years of history into a minute.

Vatican says Evolution does not prove the non-existence of God

Evolution and the Biblical account of Genesis are "perfectly compatible" claims the Catholic Church

The Vatican has rejected the claim by Richard Dawkins, the biologist and campaigning atheist, that evolutionary theory proves that God does not exist, proclaiming that on the contrary Darwinian evolution and the account of Creation in Genesis are "perfectly compatible".

At a five day conference held to mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species this week,

Vatican theologians said while Christians believed that God "created all things", the Vatican "does not stand in the way of scientific realities".

Vatican officials joined biologists, paleontologists, molecular geneticists and philosophers for the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, which ends tomorrow. Rafael Martinez, professor of the Philosophy of Science at the Santa Croce Pontifical University in Rome, said

although the reaction of Catholic theologians, intellectuals and priests to Darwinian theory had been "generally negative" in the 19th century, "recent declarations by Popes have asserted the full accordance of Catholic doctrine and evolutionary biology".

He said, however, that this was not widely known, and the false impression had arisen "that the Holy See is opposed to evolution".
Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which co-organised the conference with Notre Dame University in Indiana and support from the John Templeton Foundation, said
there was "no a priori incompatibility between evolution and the message of the Bible".

He noted that

Darwin had never been condemned by the Catholic Church, and that On the Origin of the Species had never been placed on the Index of forbidden books.
Cardinal William Levada, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said the assertion by Richard Dawkins and others that evolution proves there is no God was "absurd".

Cardinal Levada also attacked "those who have a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible which they want to see taught to their children in the schools alongside evolution or instead of it."

Ronald Numbers, professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, said Creationism, the literal interpretation of the Genesis account, and Intelligent Design, its modern descendant, had spread beyond the United States and had become "globalised", with variants springing up within Islam and Judaism as well as Christianity.


Francisco Ayala, a former priest and now professor of biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California at Irvine, said ID and Creationism were "blasphemous" to both Christians and scientists.

Marco Politi, Vatican watcher of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said

the conference marked "the end of the guerrilla warfare conducted against evolutionism by some sectors of the ecclesiastical hierarchy who had felt they were protected by Pope Benedict".

He noted that the Pope had remarked on the "lacunae" in Darwinian theory at a seminar on evolution at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence, in September 2006, and that the year before Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, who is close to the Pope and seen by some as a possible successor, had appeared to embrace the idea of Intelligent design in an article in The New York Times.

"The music has now changed radically however" Mr Politi said. Gennaro Auletta, who teaches science and philosophy at the Gregorian University, said ID was "not a scientific theory, even if it passes itself off as such".

L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, said

the idea that Darwinism and the Church were at odds had always been "false", noting that in 1996 Pope John Paul II had said in an address to the Pontifical Academy for Sciences that the theory of evolution was “more than a hypothesis.”