Posted tagged ‘mechanisms of inheritance’

What does EVOLUTION really mean?

September 30, 2013
This AP Biology laboratory activity works just fine without the controversial word

This AP Biology laboratory activity works just fine without the controversial word “evolution” included. “Population Genetics and Inheritance” would be a better title.

The Evolution of “evolution”

The word “evolution” can mean a lot of things, which in turn leads to a lot of confusion! A brief look at the etymology reveals that “evolution” was originally a Latin word for “an opening of what was rolled up,” as in the growth of a plant from a seed. Charles Darwin actually used the word only once in Origin of Species, as he preferred “descent with modification.”

Today though, “evolution” is not so easily defined. Now, evolution might refer to anything from Darwin’s idea of descent with modification, to the idea that the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena. Or, it may just mean “change,” which is the way I used it to describe how the term “evolved,” or changed over the years. The many faces of the modern definition have obvious scientific, historic, and religious implications. Let’s briefly explore these implications, and see how they may or may not relate to the creationism/evolutionism battle.

Evolution and Science

Evolution does indeed have a scientific component to it. For example, there are creationists who have PhD’s in evolutionary biology and actively work in this field. Some of you are probably thinking “how can a creationist be an evolutionist?!” Well, think about it. Darwin’s idea of “descent with modification” does occur, right? We are not all clones, right?

You look similar, yet also different, from your parents. You are walking proof that limited descent with modification is real. There is some obvious “phenotypic plasticity”, or more simply, built-in flexibility, that, within limits, allows organisms to adapt and change. So, a creationist can be an “evolutionist” in the sense that he/she is conducting research on mechanisms of inheritance. The problem is not that the creationist is being a heretic and rejecting the Genesis account, where God clearly says He created different kinds of organisms. The problem is the many faces of the word “evolution,” and applying the “universal progression” idea of evolution in this instance is improper.

The photo above is from my DIVE Biology curriculum. Lab activities designated “AP” are recommended by the College Board, creators of the AP exams that high schoolers can take to receive college credit for high school work. However, because of the confusion over what “evolution” means, tagging on that word alongside “population genetics” is unnecessary. If, by evolution you mean the “universal progression” idea, then it is laughable if you think this lab activity is going to prove that. The lab is actually just a card-type game that uses multiple forms of the same gene, called alleles, to show the effects of a lethal mutation on a population. It also teaches students about the inheritance mechanism known as genetic drift.  However, if by “evolution” you mean the self-evident truth that limited “descent with modification” occurs, then this lab does a pretty good job of showing how some genetic mechanisms of inheritance work. Because of confusion over the word evolution though, it would be more appropriate for the College Board to title the lab simply “Population Genetics”, or “Population Genetics and Inheritance.”

But what happens when an evolutionary biologist, who is not a creationist, finds out creationists oppose the teaching of “evolution” in schools? Well, they may end up saying pretty crazy things! For example, take evolutionary biologist Dr. Justin Bahl, who in a recent opinion article in the Houston Chronicle, claimed that creationists opposed research on pathogenic viruses!   Obviously, his confusion is over the word “evolution.” Creationists object to the naturalistic “universal progression” idea of evolution. However, I have yet to hear of a creationist who opposed research on how diseases develop resistance! Instead, a creationist who is also a scientist would use every inheritance mechanism currently known in an effort to discover disease cures.

Viruses, bacteria, etc. develop drug resistance. This is self-evident. It is also self-evident that viruses and bacteria almost never show the “universal progression” idea, which would require they create new, functional information, and lots of it. They have never displayed anything more than a limited “descent with modification.”

Rapid evolution” is another growing area of “evolution” research that interests creationists. A Google search of the phrase “rapid evolution” produced 130,000 results! So what is “rapid evolution,” and how is that different from just normal evolution? Well, the difference lies in Darwin’s idea that evolution requires millions of years of “numerous, successive, slight modifications” (Darwin’s own words in Origin of Species). But Darwin’s “gradualism” is really part of the unscientific “universal progression” idea.

Darwin said his theory would “absolutely break down” if it could be demonstrated that a complex organ formed without involving gradualism. Well, that’s exactly what happened in a transplanted population of wall lizards, who developed a “brand new structure”, without any known genetic changes! But, they are still just wall lizards, with no change of kind.

So what is “rapid evolution”? Well, it is exactly what scientists like Dr. Bahl study! “Rapid evolution” is about studying fairly significant changes in populations that occur in just a few generations. It occurs in everything from the viral pathogens Dr. Bahl researches, to plants, to trout and more. To a creationist though, “rapid evolution” is mainly just adaptation, and the more we learn about it, the more it confirms what creationists already knew, that life was designed to adapt! Also, “rapid evolution” is what creationists sometimes refer to as “microevolution.”

Evolution and History

Creationists have no objections to testable, repeatable science. So what is this creationism/evolutionism battle about then? Well, it is a battle over how to interpret history. Scientific research is about conducting experiments and verifying the results with further experimentation. Natural history research is ultimately about interpretation, not verification. It really boils down to storytelling. In fact, a common phrase geologists like to use is “every rock has a story.” Under what conditions was it formed? What is it composed of? When was it formed? Geologists and other naturalists can perform a variety of scientific tests that can then be used to help them write a story about the past. However, any story they come up with, creationist or otherwise, is still an interpretation, not a verification, of the past.

But if history is about interpretation and storytelling, while scientific endeavors are about repeatability and verification, then why is history part of a supposedly scientific course like biology? Well, history does matter, so you cannot completely exclude it. However, when a biology textbook writer inserts the unscientific “universal progression” idea of common descent from single-celled organisms, to the exculsion of ideas related to uncommon descent, then that’s a problem. In a biology textbook, the natural history component should be very minor, and should not dogmatically assert the “universal progression” idea, using descriptions like “animals arose from bacteria,” etc. One focus of any historic component in a biology course should be on using the body of past scientific research to further unlock the mysteries of the various mechanisms of inheritance.

Evolution and Religion

Ironically, while confused scientists like Dr. Bahl are making false claims that creationists are “anti-science,” it is actually the evolutionists who are stifling scientific progress! A glaring example is Eugenie Scott, the soon-to-retire director of the evolutionist propaganda mill known as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Behaving like a villain of science, Scott recently proclaimed that the 21st Century Science of epigenetics was too hard for high school students  to learn! This is completely false. Epigenetics relates to the set of biological information that directs the genes, switching them on and off at certain times and places. Epigenetics is like the captain that directs the “ship” known as the genome. This is an analogy a 5-year old could understand! Epigenetics is also another mechanism of inheritance that is contributing to our understanding of human health-related topics like those Dr. Bahl studies.

But why would an organization like NCSE, whose purpose is supposedly to defend the teaching of evolution, be opposed to teaching evolution? Once again, it depends on what you mean by “evolution”. The evolution NCSE is defending is the “universal progression”, naturalistic form, and they make this abundantly clear. As dogmatic Darwinists, they presuppose a simple cell filled with one-dimensional (linear) DNA that randomly mutates and magically generates new information.

But 21st Century science reveals that the cell is anything but simple, and DNA actually works in 3-dimensions (4 if you include time), not one! To say a cell is “simple” is as false as saying the infrastructure running New York City is “simple.” Since dogmatic naturalistic beliefs also presuppose gradualism, they often feel a need to suppress new discoveries related to cell complexity.

And yes, naturalism is a religious belief system. As a recent lawsuit filed in a federal court states, naturalism directs one to ask “ultimate religious questions” such as “where do we come from?” Ultimate questions like this are not scientific questions, because we can’t use scientific methods to answer them. There really is no conflict between science and religion. The “battle” is about religious belief systems, like naturalism and Christianity. And it is a battle, not a war, because the war has been won through Christ!

While secular humanists and atheists almost always have naturalism and its related components like evolutionism as core tenets of their religion, many other religious people view God as using evolutionism to bring about life. So, it is not just atheist/humanist folks who incorporate the “universal progression” form of evolution into their religious beliefs. Many theists do as well, which is why it is right to say that it is a violation of the 1st and 14th amendments when a public school uses naturalism in an effort to address origins questions.

Should scientists drop the word “evolution?”

Journalists, who are typically not scientists, are almost always confused about evolution, to the point that some even think Texas has banned the teaching of evolution! Of course, that is as false as Dr. Bahl’s claims that creationists are against the study of diseases. But, because so many are so confused about evolution, mainly because it can mean so many different things, wouldn’t it be better to just stop using the word in scientific circles? Instead of “evolutionary biology”, we could have “hereditary biology.” This wouldn’t change Dr. Bahl’s job a bit, as he would still be studying how pathogens use different mechanisms of inheritance to develop drug resistance. And instead of studying “rapid evolution”, scientists could study “adaptation” instead, as this is mainly what is happening. Environmental conditions change, and organisms adapt.

So yes, scientists should drop the word “evolution,” and put the “universal progress” form of it in a philosophy, history, or religion class. In America, the time is past due to take the religious, “universal progress” form of evolution out of the public school science classroom where legally, it doesn’t belong.

Texas Law Bans the Mention of Evolution in Textbooks

September 18, 2013


It’s a typo, and a funny one at that! But wait, some are saying this might not be such a bad idea : “Imagine. What if all theories about changes in life forms over time advanced in textbooks had to go by content-based names like genetic drift, horizontal gene transfer, symbiosis, and natural selection? The explanations would have to make way more sense, thus be open to evidence-based objections in given cases.”

Now, I don’t know of anyone who disagrees descendents differ somewhat from their ancestors. Change happens, and if you want to call that “evolution”, fine (I prefer “adaptation”, or “change”) but why not be more specific, as the article linked above describes?

Why not just focus on the various mechanisms of inheritance, without reference to evolution? Think about it. The “banning evolution” story by WFAA news in Dallas was published last night, and broadcast over the evening news, and nobody caught the typo! They have since discovered the blunder, and the text was edited and video taken down this morning. But how does a major news station in a major United States city miss something so obvious?

Graduating ideologues, not scholars

The problem is that people are confused, really confused, about the whole creation/evolution battle. And this confusion is evidence of a complete breakdown in not just higher education, but all education. As this fantastic Wall Street Journal article states, at today’s academic institutions, “Whatever your stance regarding the “culture wars” and the politics of higher education, it is undeniable that a great many graduating students have little idea of what genuine intellectual exploration involves. Too often, learning to think is replaced by ideological scorekeeping, and the use of adjectives replaces the use of arguments.”  

Yesterday (Sep. 17, 2013), the Texas State Board of Education heard public testimony regarding new textbooks up for adoption. Review panels are selected by board members to supposedly check for factual errors and ensure that the books are meeting state standards. Because one or two reviewers suggested teaching “creation science”, the anti-creationists went ballistic. Armed with plenty of adjectives, the ideologically driven Texas Freedom Network staged a protest. Similar to the dinosaur history protest in front of a recent Texas homeschool convention, they even brought some of the same adjective-filled signs!

For several hours, the board heard from over 50 testifiers, the majority of which parroted the same thing: keep creationism out of textbooks. From concerned parents to Univ. of Texas professors to the ACLU, over and over the board heard ideological comments laced with adjectives. If you wanted proof of the claims made in the WSJ article mentioned earlier, this was the place to be. It was a sea of anti-intellectualism, complete with people running around in dinosaur costumes!

Standing up for Science

But a few of us did show up to encourage intellectual exploration and encourage the board to approve textbooks that give students the best 21st Century Science education they could get. In my public testimony, which you can download here, I encouraged board members to reject textbooks unless they revised them to include the subject of epigenetics. I gave them all a copy of the Mysterious Epigenome, signed by the author. I also gave them a course map for the next biology standards revision. My course map included 4 big ideas, and was based off a course map for the University of Texas’ introductory biology course. I added an idea on “mechanisms of inheritance”, that does not mention evolution, but instead focuses on testable, repeatable science surrounding the various mechanisms for inheriting biological information. 

In a 21st Century biology course, you might as well not even teach it if you aren’t going to include a discussion of epigenetics. But what is epigenetics? Well, just think of your DNA (which each cell has an identical copy of) as the “ship”. A ship stays in port unless it has a captain to direct it. The “captain” is the epigenome, a set of information that switches the DNA on and off at different times and locations. Think about this, how did you go from a single cell to a human body with over 200 different cell types, all with the same DNA? The answer? Epigenetics! Or how did scientists recently produce hundreds of different varieties of plants in just a few years, all with the same DNA? Epigenetics!

Biologists with an ideological torch to wave are “nervous” about epigenetics, because it causes changes without a change in DNA, the “sacred cow” of evolutionism. Real scientists however, find it absurd to be “nervous” about epigenetics, and are pushing us farther and farther into this amazing field. In my own courses, my students are learning about epigenetics, as well as other 21st Century biology topics. My products are primarily for home-educated students, but private and public schools are certainly welcome to use them. But what will happen to public school students who are given a textbook filled with 19th and 20th Century biology concepts, many of which are just untested speculation? How far behind will these students be when they get to college and career?

Sitting Down for Science

The answer? Compared to my students and those in other countries that focus on science instead of ideology, American public school students will be way behind. And one of the main reasons they will be behind is anti-creationist ideologues who oppose anything a creationist mentions, even if it has to do with getting 21st Century Science into textbooks. Prior to TFN’s dinosaur costume party, I met up with Ron Wetherington, an anti-creationist activist and anthropology professor at SMU. Being a natural history researcher, I did not expect him to know much about epigenetics, but I asked him what he thought about getting it into textbooks. He didn’t think it was a good idea. When I tried to keep the discussion going, he was not able to give a reasonable answer and politely excused himself from the conversation.

Next, University of Texas molecular biologist Dr. Arturo De Lozanne spoke during the protest, proclaiming students deserve the best science education based on the latest research. Afterwards, I spoke with him about getting the latest research, which would include epigenetics, into textbooks. I told him I was a creationist, which immediately stoked the anti-intellectual fires in this otherwise intelligent man. Amazingly, Dr. Lozanne was not in favor of teaching something as fundamental as epigenetics to high school students! But minutes before he said he was for teaching the latest research. This irrational response could only be because, to agree with me would mean that he agreed with a creationist, which would be politically incorrect and an ideological blunder.

Dr. Lozanne was holding a sign that said “Kids deserve a future”, so I asked him if he thought ALL kids deserve a future, include unborn children. He said that wasn’t relevant to the discussion. To an ideologue, it’s irrelevant, but to a moral, scientifically minded person, it is 100% relevant. You see, science has confirmed life begins at conception, so if you are against protecting a human, just because they are developing inside rather than outside their mother, then you are anti-science. I was able to show Dr. Lozanne that his lack of desire to care for all kids was anti-science, at which point he was not able to give me a reasonable answer and made up a reason to excuse himself from the discussion.

I also talked to anti-creationist Zack Kopplin, who, like Dr. Lozanne, is a nice person. Zack is a history major from Rice University, which does seem appropriate considering the creation/evolution battle is primarily about interpreting history. Anyways, I tried to get his thoughts on teaching the fundamentals of epigenetics. I told him I was teaching it to my students, and that our company has higher standards for math and science than any state in the nation. Even so, he was not in favor of including epigenetics in the Texas textbooks. He was also unable to give me a reasonable answer and made up a reason to excuse himself.

Next up was Aron Ra, the self-proclaimed “YouTube Atheist”. Unfortunately, Aron is so intolerant of those who disagree with him that he would not even shake my hand. I tried to ask him  multiple times what he thought about including epigenetics in Texas biology texts, but he kept diverting the discussion to natural history, claiming that he could prove, without a time machine, common descent. When I kept pressing him to talk about scientific things instead of historic things, he was not able to give me a reasonable answer and conveniently excused himself.

During public testimony, I was able to talk to a couple of ideologues, including Josh Rosenau of the so-called National Center for Science Education. Josh was “tweeting” about every person who came up to testify, and I “tweeted” back appropriate responses on several occasions. Before he went up to testify, I spoke with him, joked about our “Twitter battle”, and then asked him what he thought about my testimony and including epigenetics. A friendly young man, Josh’s response was just more of the same, claiming that epigenetics was “too hard” for high school students to learn. This is an incredibly lame excuse, because, as I mentioned earlier, you can refer to the epigenome as the “captain” and the genome (DNA) as the “ship”. A 5-year old could understand that! Josh knows I’m a creationist, and I encouraged him that he doesn’t have to oppose everything creationists say.

Last up was Kathy Miller, President of the Texas Freedom Network. I also encouraged her to think harder about all of this. Kathy is not a scientist, and stated that on matters of science, she consults with her experts, nodding at Josh Rosenau of NCSE (who is actually not a scientist or a science teacher). I told her that I am a scientist, and a science teacher, and I could probably help her if she wanted a different opinion. To her credit, she did accept my gift of a copy of Mysterious Epigenome, and I encouraged her to let her children read it. I also told her she didn’t have to agree with everything in the book, but I assured her there would be many things she would agree with.

So what did I learn from these exchanges? Well, there are a lot of nice people out there who reject science and reason to support their ideology. And that is a huge part of the problem, if not THE problem with the whole creation/evolution battle in America. Some people, mostly liberals, have become so blinded by their “ideaological scorekeeping”, that they think it is impossible to agree with “them” about ANYTHING. Instead of a desire to engage in “genuine intellectual exploration”, we have otherwise intelligent people engaged in rampant anti-intellectualism, denying the very science they claim to be standing up for.

Solving the problem of rampant anti-intellectualism

What can we do to release the irrational and anti-intellectual stranglehold on America? First, pray, because it is God who changes hearts, and it is God who is Author of all knowledge and reason. Second, engage others. Be salt and light. Expose their foolishness while showing genuine care for them and for others. MAKE THEM THINK. For unbelievers, it is important to realize that by rejecting God, they reject reason (Psalm 14:1), so you can’t expect to have a rational conversation with them. Don’t let that frustrate you, and don’t push too hard to “prove God” or “win” the argument. God doesn’t need us to prove that He exists, everybody knows it already (Romans 1:20). And third? Well, if you have children, homeschool them!

Will Texas textbooks include fundamental topics that give students a 21st Century Science education, or will homeschoolers continue leading the way in American science and math education? Time will tell. Final textbook approval is in November.

wfaa mistake, bans evolution