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Greetings, and welcome back to GW!

The blog is about to become live again, as a new group of students start to post.  I have removed all of you as authors on the blog.  If you receive an email about this post, it means that you have signed up to follow the blog.   You are very welcome to do so.  However, should you not wish to get regular updates from Darwin’s Legacy, now is a good time to visit your WordPress account, navigate to the Blogs I Follow page, and unselect this one.

Best wishes for a happy and intellectually invigorating academic year!

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No More Accommodating!

title

You can find this New York Times article here.

David Barash uses this article to lay out his hard-line position on the coexistence of science and religion, a position that is controversial and hopefully thought provoking!

Barash is a biology professor, who looks at evolution the same way our friend Jerry Coyne does, noting that “many Americans don’t grasp the fact that evolution is not merely a ‘theory,’ but the underpinning of all biological science.” He feels it is an essential part of his class, but finds that many of his religious students are troubled by how to reconcile their faith and evolution. To address these concerns, he delivers The Talk.

He begins by discussing the idea that religion and evolutionary biology are compatible. Some thinkers, like Stephen Jay Gould, say that religion can deal with values, science can deal with facts, and everyone can be happy. Barash believes this is a harmful misrepresentation, but acknowledges the widespread acceptance of this “accommodating” way of thinking.

Barash counters this concept by pointing to several pillars of belief that evolution has undermined. First is the argument of complexity, which claimed that the incredible beauty of the Earth must have a creator- the development of complex systems was explained by natural selection. Second is the idea of human centrality and purpose- evolution has shown that we are all animals, and all linked in the same biological chain. Additionally, natural processes are full of death and pain, showing no signs of a benevolent creator.

Barash concludes that these discoveris have made the acceptance of religion and science untenable. His students may continue with their faith, but “they will have to undertake some challenging mental gymnastic routines.” In any case, science should no longer have to jump through these religious hoops.

Bold words! Do you place yourself in the Gould’s camp (coexistence) or Barash’s (not)? Did reading the article shift your position? Will enough evidence ever completely edge out religious beliefs and make us all like Barash? How does Barash’s firm declaration compare to other statements we’ve heard from the pope or Islamic study centers?

Barash, David P. “God, Darwin and My College Biology Class.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 27 Sept. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

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The Clergy Letter Project

In 2004 nearly 200 clergy signed a letter in support of teaching evolution in schools when the Grantsburg, WI school district passed several anti-evolution laws. After such a large number of clergy showed interest in promoting the teaching of evolution Michael Zimmerman decided to create a nationwide advocacy website called the Clergy Letter Project.

Zimmerman created the site to encourage clergy to sign their names to a statement supporting the collaboration between science and religion. The idea brought about a community of religious figures who supported scientific teachings but did not have any support in their own communities. Not long after it’s inception the Clergy Letter Project announced an annual “Evolution Weekend” for like-minded members to gather in groups across the world and discuss the relationship between science and religion. The events are primarily for “Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world [who] understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God.”

In fact, the diversity is a big influence for the Project. The Project currently has several religious denominations with their own letters including Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and Buddhist letters. In total the letters have over 13,000 signatures from clergy members across the world. Here is an except from the Christian Clergy Letter:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests.

The site provides clergy with several resources including a database of scientists to answer any questions they may have about evolution and sermons about the topic for the clergy  members to use for their own congregations. Recently the United Methodist Church officially endorsed the Project which has expanded to advocating for the educational rights of Texas students. A new site was launched by the Clergy Letter Project in corroboration with the Center for Inquiry Austin called “Teach Them Science” in an effort to ensure Texas students are being taught science in an appropriate way.

The Project faced criticism from Ken Ham of the Answers in Genesis organization as well as the Discovery Institute, a creationist organization, who created their own anti-evolution petition entitled A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism. Communications director Rob Crowther  of the Discovery Institute stated in an article for Inside Higher Ed that intelligent design supporters see the issue as “purely a scientific debate” so the views of clergy members “don’t make any difference,” because “We don’t think there is anything religious at all to the theory of intelligent design.” Zimmerman responded by saying that these types of ideas are the problem by turning the science of the natural world into the science of the super natural.

Considering that Crowther believes intelligent design is a purely scientific topic, does that help of hinder his point and how? What can the Clergy Letter Project do to help get their message out more effectively? How does the Project affect the average church members? Should the Project be open to including the average church member?

http://www.theclergyletterproject.org

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2006/02/21/clergy

http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org

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Bill Nye the Science Guy!

For those of you who went, Bill put on a great show. Or rather conversation. He spoke about many different topics including his debate with Ken Ham, climate change and how we as a generation can contribute to helping feed the world and provide clean water to places in need.

I wanted to base this conversation off some of the questions that the moderator asked Bill, which he never really answered.

Can you have faith and be a critical thinker? If the origins of the earth and where we came from are concretely true, could you still believe in a faith? Lastly, Bill called for the separation of religion from science. What do you think he meant by this?

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Sex, Trees, and Other Things

http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2014/11/16/bill_nye_my_prom_and_sexual_selection.html

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT THE EXTRA CREDIT POST FOR BILL NYE. THIS IS A REGULAR FRIDAY BLOG POST THAT HAPPENS TO BE FROM BILL NYE’S ARTICLE.

But you all should definitely go check him out at GW’s Lisner Hall on Wednesday night!

Many of us know Bill Nye the Science Guy as the quirky man who popped up on our classroom projectors explaining what cells are and how they work or other topics from science. In this article, he takes on a new topic that I think will make his young viewers a little uneasy: sex! To be more accurate, he explains how sexual selection is an evolutionary trait, something that exists so that all biological organisms could evolve. Nye starts his article with a comedic introduction, for all of the readers out there who might be uncomfortable with this topic, by saying that the best evidence for sexual selection is when he caught himself staring at his hot cousin. Obviously, this means that our sex drive is a biological characteristic that is instilled in everyone.

Nye points out that not only humans experience sexual selection but animals, plants, trees, bugs all have to mate to produce offspring. The article highlights the unique, and often difficult, sexual processes of different organisms. Like apple trees, they put in immense effort to produce the trunk, branches, leaves, and apples, all in hopes that some other organism will take an apple and plant the tree’s seed somewhere else. He speculates that sexual selection began with two primordial microbes that shared genes with each other and these began to develop into complex genes which lead to the invention of sex.

To simplify natural selection and sexual selection, he describes the latter as the first step in a stream of reproduction. Organisms must first select a mate to make “good-enough” offspring with. Nye argues that this concept of producing “good enough” offspring is more practical than saying the “fittest” offspring.

Referring back to Nye’s explanation of the birth of sexual selection, he maintains that the reason why there are only two binary sexes is because sex began with two microbes, one being the recipient and the other the donor. With the rise in awareness of the queer culture, does Nye’s argument of a two-sex society conflict with people who identify as intersex or transexual? Or does it provide a different insight on this society? Adn what about asexual people, who have little to no desire to mate? Where do sexual selection and eugenics differ and is the urge to produce a child that is physically and mentally “good enough” an unconscious factor that influences mate selection?

If you are not familiar with terms used by the queer community then here is a link to some definitions: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/

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The evolution of… Zombies?

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20131025-zombie-nation

In this article, Barber takes us through a condensed history of zombies and their reemergence into popular culture. According to Barber, the movie 28 Days Later (2002) was the catalyst that sparked our collective imaginations. However, zombies are not a new concept. Many cultures throughout time have had some kind of zombie in their folk lore. The earliest recorded mention of a zombie-like character dates back to 18th century BC in The Epic of Gilgamesh. There are also a few passages in the Bible which talk about the dead rising up and walking among us.

The concept of an apocalypse has been around for quite a while too. Just like zombies, almost every culture/society/religion has its own version of how the world will come to an end. The method of the apocalypse comes in many different forms ranging from world wide natural disasters or a holy war with one God or another coming down to punish us for our sins. For most societies in the past, the apocalypse was very final. It meant total annihilation of life on earth.

Our society, however, has taken the concept of an apocalypse to its next logical step. What if everybody doesn’t die? Our fascination has moved beyond impending apocalypse to post-apocalypse. And, we have also thrown zombies into the mix, as if the notion of a ravaged dystopian  world is not frightening enough.

Zombies are horrifying creations that mix together multiple different fears within the human psyche. Most rational humans fear death and the prospect of getting eaten alive is usually pretty low on the “To-Do List”, as well. So, what is it about the undead that captivates our imagination and keeps us coming back for more?

In popular culture, zombies were long seen as supporting cast for a larger more sinister narrative, but just within the last decade they have taken center stage as the main attraction. Television shows like The Walking Dead have cashed in on the zombie apocalypse in a big way with 16.1 million people tuning in to watch the Season 4 premier. That tops the Breaking Bad finale by more than 5 million viewers.  Even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is jumping on the zombie bandwagon with a “Zombie Preparedness” guide.

http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm

The CDC admits that it started out as a joke, but soon realized that it was an effective way to get important information out to the public. The zombie narrative appealed to an entire demographic that the CDC did not normally have access to. They have embedded important and useful information into the zombie narrative so people can learn and have fun at the same time. It is a clever trick that is similar to smothering a plate of broccoli with cheese and bacon in order to get a child to eat their vegetables.

Given that popular culture is usually a good reflection of society at any point in time, what is it about our society and culture that makes it a prime environment for zombies? Andwhat is it about our society that makes us focus on the post-apocalypse, instead of an impending apocalypse like societies in the past?

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Genitalia and Irreducible Complexity

Please read Preface first:

Straight Forward Article: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/41392/title/A-Tale-of-Two-Genitals/

More Detailed Article: http://www.bostonglobe.com/news/science/2014/11/05/harvard-researchers-unravel-evolution-genitalia/LVnJz0bvjxmUYz4rWuw7rM/story.html

“If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory (of evolution) would absolutely break down.” – Charles Darwin 

The argument for the existence of God initially stems from many earlier philosophical quarrels concerning what is real or where we came from. One of the most prominent, and mind boggling, is the Teleological Argument (Irreducible Complexity) by William Paley. Paley’s argument states, “If I stumbled on a stone and asked how it came to be there, it would be difficult to show that the answer, it has lain there forever, is absurd. Yet this is not true if the stone were to be a watch.”

The inference he makes here is that, whereas a stone is not complex at all, a watch is. The function and complexity of the watch naturally implies that the watch has a maker. He then takes this inference of a watch and a maker and applies it to the universe. The universe is vast and infinitely complex, thus we can assume it too has a maker.

There is an analogous example to Paley’s watch for modern times. This more “current” argument uses an organism known as a Bacterial Flagellum. Under the definition of an “Irreducibly Complex Organism” given by Micheal Behe, who wrote an anti-evolution book mainly concerning Irreducible Complexity, states that,

“An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by numerous, successive, slight modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. …. Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on.” (Behe 1996b)

The Bacterial Flagellum comes into play because it is an example of an Irreducibly Complex organism; a biological system whose parts can only work when put together, and would cease to function if even one part was missing.

Do you all believe in God now?

Hold up. Recently, through their research concerning the relation of male reptiles who have two penises, scientists at Harvard have determined that, “external genitalia develop from the same cells that give rise to hind legs…”, and similarly, genitalia in mammals, birds and crocodilians derive from the tail bud. Essentially, developing the genitalia of either type of creature comes from the same signal and genetic programs that would produce hind legs or a tail.

“While mammal and reptile genitalia are not homologous in that they are derived from different tissue, they do share a ‘deep homology’ in that they are derived from the same genetic program and induced by the same ancestral set of molecular signals.”

Similarly, it is known that when some babies are born with malformations in their legs, the often times have malformations in their gentials as well.

Assuming that genitalia can be considered irreducibly complex (IR), did scientists just discover an instance where an IR organ can be produced purely by random? In which case, can we infer from such a discovery that complex organisms such as humans (or even pre-humans) must have had an original maker? What objections, if any, can you make against Paley’s argument? Is Paley’s watch/universe analogy viable?

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Reformation – Reformation – Read All About

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/10/28/pope-francis-evolution-big-bang/18053509/

The article I chose to write my post on was on an article, by USA Today, on the recent statements by Pope Francis concerning the compatibility of evolutionary theory with the Catholic Church and its teachings. The article covers the address of the Pope to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, on the topic of changing concepts within nature, where the Pope stated that “[e]volution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.”

The article pointed out the history of the Church’s compatibility with evolution in recent times, in contrast to the concept’s common-held opposition found in Evangelical America. Referencing Pope Pius XII and St. Pope John Paul II’s statements on the lack of opposition between evolution and Catholicism, in 1950 and 1996 respectively. The Pope’s statements come as a continuation of St. Pope John Paul II’s ministry, after the 7 year tenure of Pope Benedict XVI, a supporter of Intelligent Design.

While the statements are seen as a part of recent reforms spearheaded by Pope Francis and his ministry, such as the recent reconciliatory statements on homosexuals in the Church, some have stated, in articles like the one below from The Blaze, that the news is being hyped for no reason, as Pope Francis is merely affirming positions taken by the Church for more than 60 years, officially starting with the publication of Pope Pius XII’s Humani Generis, a papal encyclical “concerning some false opinions threatening to undermine the foundations of Catholic Doctrine”.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/10/30/pope-francis-comments-about-evolution-the-big-bang-and-god-not-being-a-magician-with-a-magic-wand-spark-big-response/

Whether the statements should be receiving as much attention as they are is regardless, rather the impact of getting a general image of the union of the scientific theory with the world’s largest denomination of faith in the public eye is of huge importance, with the seeming battle between science and religion in the United States. How do the Pope’s statements change the playing field in the ongoing creationist/ID-evolution “battle” in the United States? Could this acceptance of scientific theory into a major Christian faith lead to a shift in thought among American Christians? How might reform of an ‘old’ faith to ‘new’ ideas affect the future relationship between religion and science? Do you think it is possible for a religion to be completely compatible with scientific thought and is this union the future for American devotees of faith?

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Creation Museum: Dinosaur Skeleton Proves the Biblical Flood Happened 4,300 Years Ago

http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/05/why-the-creation-museum-is-so-excited-about-ebeneezer-its-new-dinosaur-skeleton/371526/

http://creationmuseum.org

The Creation Museum is raving about its new fossilized dinosaur, Ebenezer. The skeleton, discovered in northwestern Colorado, was donated Elizabeth Streb Peroutka Foundation to the museum. Young Earth Creationists hopes that the fossil will not only prove to visitors that “dinosaurs roamed the Earth only 4,300 years ago” but that it will attract scientists to come and examine the fossil.

For those of you who do not know what the Creation Museum is, I encourage you to explore their website through the link provided above. Essentially, it is a museum in Petersburg, Kentucky intended to promote young earth creationist view on the creation of the universe and man. Its exhibits include a planetarium that presents an alternative explanation to the Big Bang Theory and a display of Lucy, the “poster girl of human evolution”.

The article illustrates the movement by Young Earth Creationists to gain credibility through the use science. I think Ken Ham’s quote underlines this well:

“For decades I’ve walked through many leading secular museums, like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and have seen their impressive dinosaur skeletons, but they were used for evolution. Now we have one of that class for our museum.”

Ken Ham, the founder of the Museum, stated that the fossil “fulfills a dream I’ve had for quite some time.” Whether the fossil leaves any lasting impact on the argument for young earth creationism is yet to be seen. So far, no scientist has taken the Museum up on its offer to examine the fossil. Perhaps participation of outside scientists could transform the Creation Museum into a scientific institution.

I would like all of you to examine the exhibits of Creation Museum on their website. Do you see any comparisons with the Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian? What do you guys think about the Young Earth Creationists utilizing the fossil to prove the scientific validity of Creationism and the Flood? I would like to hear all of your thoughts on the Creation Museum as well.

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The Martians Are Coming!

Martian War MachinesWhen H. G. Wells published War of the Worlds in 1897 (it first appeared serially, much like a Dickens novel), he was grappling with concerns about the future of humankind.  Natural selection suggested that humanity’s place at the top of the food chain was not preordained, which meant that it might not be permanent, either.   In a piece published in 1891, Wells wrote the following:

There is . . . no guarantee in scientific knowledge of man’s permanence or permanent ascendancy. . . . The presumption is that before him lies a long future of profound modification, but whether that will be, according to present ideals, upward or downward, no one can forecast. Still, so far as any scientist can tell us, it may be that, instead of this, Nature is, in unsuspected obscurity, equipping some now humble creature with wider possibilities of appetite, endurance, or destruction, to rise in the fulness of time and sweep homo [H. sapiens] away into the darkness from which his universe arose. (reprinted in Philmus, ed., H. G. Wells: Early Writings in Science and Science Fiction 168)

Wells referred to this evolving “humble creature” as “the Coming Beast.” The concerns he raises here also appeared in Wells’ fiction, especially in War of the Worlds. Forty years later, when Orson Wells produced his radio play of the story, did the fear of a “Coming Beast” still drive the plot? Or were other themes from the original novel more salient? What about the specter of total war (a devastating phenomenon that had never been a historical reality at the time Wells wrote)? Or of hubris and complacency right on the brink of disaster? The field of cultural studies works with the assumption that, by studying changes to a cultural text over time, we should be able to learn something about the values and anxieties of their audiences. Further, while you might expect that any adaptation ought to be true to the original, in fact that might not be a good thing, or even possible. The adaptation of a cultural text, whether from one medium to another (such as literature to film) or one era to another, will entail reworking the tale to fit the needs of its new audience. Wells’ book has been made into at least two radio plays and seven films, and presumably each one is distinct.

With that in mind, what themes did you note in the radio play? And—this question may be related—what goals did the radio play have? For example, in addition to entertaining its audience, I would argue that it clearly wanted to scare them. Did it perhaps want to fool them, as well? What did Orson Welles and the other creators do to try to achieve those goals? We might also investigate the attitude towards science and scientists expressed in the play: is it more or less positive than our attitude today, do you think? Are the scientists we meet in the radio play trustworthy or not? Self-correcting or blinkered? Cowardly or brave? Aside from the scientists themselves, what role does science play in the narrative itself? Does it make the story more persuasive, or does it detract from it?

Those of you interested in more details about audience responses to Welles’ radio production could check out this story at Slate.

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