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If you are interested in evolution, get this book

EVOLUTION: What the Fossils Say and why it Matters, Donald R. Prothero (2nd edition)

If you are interested in evolution, get this book. And make sure that your library gets it. And your children’s highschool library. Incidentally, it’s incredible value; list price $35.00/£27.95 from Columbia University Press, with over 400 lavishly illustrated pages.

The book is a comprehensive survey of the fossil record, supplemented at times with other evidence, and framed as one long argument against creationism. It opens with a general discussion of the ideas behind current evolutionary thinking, moves on to a survey of specific topics in (mainly animal) evolution, from the origins of life to the emergence of humanity, and concludes with a brief discussion of the threat that creationism poses to rational thinking. The argument is laid out clearly in the seemingly artless prose of an accomplished writer in love with his subject matter, with plain language explanations that presume no prior knowledge, while the detailed discussions of specific topics give enough detail to be of value, I would imagine, even to a professional in the field. The author is an experienced educator and researcher, with thirty books ranging from the highly technical to the popular, some 300 research papers, and numerous public appearances to his credit, and the work is copiously illustrated with photos, diagrams, and drawings by the author’s colleague, Carl Buell. These illustrations are an integral part of the work, graphically displaying the richness of the data at the heart of the argument. Read the rest of this entry

Casey Luskin leaves Discovery Institute; I will miss him

Center_for_Science_and_Culture_(logo)Casey Luskin has just announced his departure from the Discovery Institute, in order to further his studies. We will miss the enlightenment that he brings. For example, in his farewell piece, he tells us that

Evolutionary biologists are now admitting we need “post-Darwinian” models to explain the Cambrian explosion.

Casey is right; we really do need “post-Darwinian” models to explain the Cambrian explosion. Things like Mendelian inheritance, mutation, population genetics, and, in this context, palaeogeochemistry, which is why evolutionary biologists have been decidedly post-Darwinian since around 1905.

Casey does not tell us what he is going to study, but I rather hope that it will be chemistry. Then, in due course, he will be fully equipped to explain to us that Dalton couldn’t even get the structure of water right, that Faraday’s electrical theory of bonding needs to be revised in the light of quantum mechanics, that many of the postulated intermediates in chemical reactions have never even been observed, that (as predicted by Intelligent Alchemy) many of Lavoisier’s elements turn out not to be elements at all, and that our schools should allow students to evaluate for themselves the unwarranted metaphysical assumptions of chemical materialism, and the merits of the phlogiston theory.

Disclosure: unlike many far better people, I have been insulted by Casey only once, when he accused me and the British Centre for Science Education of concealing our atheism for tactical reasons. Guilty as charged; we conceal it so well that one of BCSE’s most prominent members at the time, now its official spokesman, is an Anglican priest. Devious, these evolutionists. You need to watch them.

Casey, you will be sadly missed.

Update; more here: The word is that he will be replaced by Ann Gauger, who knows more biochemistry and therefore has, and uses, a  much greater capacity for misunderstanding.

The Creationist Obsession with Darwin; from Louisiana to Discovery Institute to Glasgow

From Louisiana through the Discovery Institute to Glasgow, examples of the creationist obsession with Darwin (and inability to quote him correctly) continue to accumulate.

You may have heard of the Louisiana Science Education Act (how’s that for protective colouring?), which allows creationism to be taught in the State’s publicly funded schools in the name of “academic freedom.” The law was apparently suggested to State Senator Ben Nevers by the Lousiana Family Forum, whose upcoming Leadership Academy, to be addressed by Governor Bobby Jindal, promises to “teach you how to defend Conservative principles within policy!” (Exclamation mark in original. I set the last two links at “No-Follow”)

And now here’s the bit that’s relevant to my theme, courtesy Zack Kopplin. To quote Sen. Nevers, the Louisiana Family Forum “believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin’s theory.” So there are scientific data relevant to creationism (what, I wonder?), but a century and a half of evolutionary science are merely “Darwin’s theory”. As in, the Earth goes round the Sun in an elliptical orbit is “Kepler’s theory”, and stuff is made out of atoms is “Dalton’s theory”.

Stephen Meyers’ Darwin’s Doubt uses similar tactics, from the title on in. The contents give us three references to Darwin in its 23 chapter and section headings; “Darwin’s Nemesis”, “After Darwin, What?”, and “The Post-Darwinian World and Self-Organisation”. Darwin’s name also occurs seven times on the book’s front flap. This (free view on Amazon) presents one short argument, to introduce one very long book, based on compressing the Ediacaran and Cambrian radiations, ignoring everything we know about the events leading up to them (see Robert Hazen’s Story of Earth for a good brief overview), and comparing the resulting mystification with the problem of the origin of life. The index gives ten subheadings and 21 page references for Darwin, and sixteen subheadings and 43 page references to “Darwinian evolutionary theory”. These include six to “Agassiz’ challenge”; that’s Louis Agassiz, who was generously acknowledged by Darwin for his discovery of the Ice Ages, and died 1873. And I nearly forgot: twentysix subheadings and 38 page references for “neo-Darwinism”.  For comparison, Carl Zimmer and Douglas J. Emlen’s Evolution; Making Sense of Life (one of the few textbooks I have come across that is actually a pleasure to read) has 16 subheadings and 33 page references to Darwin. And for “Darwin’s theory”, “Darwinian theory”, or “neo-Darwinism”? None at all. Indeed, I cannot recall when I last came across those expressions, other than from a historian or a creationist.

And of course Glasgow’s own Centre for Intelligent Design, a Discovery Institute echo chamber, has done its poor best to support Stephen Meyer. How? By mangling Darwin to totally shift his emphasis, and refocus it on Meyer’s chosen pseudoproblem. You will find the full gory details here on my friend Robert Saunders’ blog, Wonderful Life. There is also more about Meyer’s book on the BCSE website; I discussed it here, but think Nick Matzke’s dismemberment may be impossible to improve on. Disclosure: I lectured about “Dalton’s theory”, though I didn’t call it that, to Alastair Noble, now the Centre’s Director, many years ago. I like to think my teaching has improved since then. But at least I wasn’t responsible for teaching him about biology, or geology, or complex systems theory, or elementary logic, so perhaps I shouldn’t blame myself too much for what he’s been up to since.

Discovery Institute’s vanity press style promotion of Stephen Meyer’s latest

Tuesday saw the launch of Stephen Meyer’s latest book, Darwin’s Doubt. I doubt if I will be reading it, but here’s a little of what the blurb on says about it:

In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this [the Cambrian] explosion of animal life—a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal. During the last half century, biologists have come to appreciate the central importance of biological information—stored in DNA and elsewhere in cells—to building animal forms.

Expanding on the compelling case he presented in his last book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer argues that the origin of this information, as well as other mysterious features of the Cambrian event, are best explained by intelligent design, rather than purely undirected evolutionary processes.

So there you have it. Stephen Meyer is unaware of the roots, stretching back into the Ediacaran and beyond, of what he lumps in together with the Cambrian explosion. And he still doesn’t understand how evolving systems accumulate complexity, and thinks that saying an intelligence (or even an Intelligence) put it in there from the outside by unspecified means counts as an explanation. And of course, he uses the old old trick, which I have written about before, of bypassing our present-day understanding by linking the discussion back to Darwin.

The Discovery Institute also uses another old trick, which The Sensuous Curmugeon, much as I admire him, seems to have missed. Passing the hat round to buy publicity. The Curmudgeon writes:

Whenever a creationist’s book is trumpeted in a press release, we immediately consider it to be a candidate for our series on Self-Published Geniuses. That’s where we write about creationists and others who pay for press releases to promote vanity-published books about their imaginary discoveries and pseudo-science ravings.

But Meyer’s book doesn’t qualify for that list.

The Curmugeon is much too kind. Let me draw his attention to this, sent out by the Discovery Institute to its supporters (don’t ask me how I got hold of it, but I promise you it’s genuine, including emphasis and bullets):

As you know, we are hard at work, preparing the way for the release of Darwin’s Doubt with media projects, online and print advertising, radio interview campaigns, and more. Many have come alongside of us in supporting this project, and believe me, every bit helps in our goal of raising $50,000 to help promote this book.

All types of participation in this coordinated effort are vital to its success. Here are a few ways you can help:

Pre-order the book at [link in original], if you have not already done so.

Tell your friends and family about the book and encourage them to pre-order a copy.

Donate [link in original] to support the many ways we will be bringing attention to the book:

  • $35 will send the book to an opinion maker.
  • $100 will purchase an online advertising spot.
  • $150 will pay to set-up one radio interview for Stephen Meyer.
  • $400 will pay for the production of a podcast.
  • $2,000 will pay for the production of a promotional video short.

Thanks to a generous donor, every $2 we raise through this campaign will be matched by another $1. And, because of the donations already made and several offline donations, we now only need to raise about $27,500 to make our goal by the end of this month.

Please consider helping to pave the way for the release of Darwin’s Doubt by DONATING NOW [link in original].  With your help, this book will change the course of the origins debate for generations to come.

So now you know.

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