Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy new year to our friends in the NCSE

View From the Pulpit - ex Creationist speaks out

From here;

Sadly, the situation in the UK is advancing in the opposite direction with the number of churches supporting a creationist position increasing. I notice that there is now one church in Scotland which requires belief in young earth creationism in order to be a member.  I had predicted the likelihood of this happening in a previous posting to this blog.

Two of the over-riding factors in the expansion of creationism in UK evangelical churches is the increase in support from the USA (both financially and through visiting influential preachers) and the distillation of the declining church to a narrower group of people with an increasingly complex system of belief.

I believe this is a temporary blip in the development of the church in the UK and that it will reach a peak and then decline as it has done in the USA.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Debunking corner: More evidence that Behe is wrong

More from Jerry Coyne's blog;

The paper, by Sidi Chen, Yong Zhang, and my friend Manyuan Long, appears in this week’s Science: “New genes in Drosophila quickly become essential.“  It’s a clever piece of work.
. . .

The data of Chen et al., then, show that new genetic information can arise quickly, at least on an evolutionary timescale, and that the new genes rapidly assume new functions.  (Note: I am using Behe’s characterization of “new genetic information” as involving only new FCTs.  I don’t agree with this, since new genetic information can also arise when a single gene copy changes sufficiently to do something new.)
Although this doesn’t answer the question of what proportion of new evolutionary traits involve changes in gene sequence versus changes in gene regulation, it does show that a substantial part of the genome in one group of eukaryotes arises by the evolution of new FCTs that become involved in new developmental networks.  In other words, Behe’s conclusion from short-term lab studies of bacteria and viruses doesn’t apply to this well-studied group of organisms—and probably not to other eukaryotes, either.  All the evidence tells us that a rapid and important way to create new genetic information is through the duplication of genes and then their divergence by natural selection.

. . .
I suppose Behe and his minions will find a way to explain these two patterns by intelligent design, but that’s because ID theory isn’t science: there is no conceivable observation that can prove it wrong.  Every bit of data, no matter what it is, can always be fitted into the ID scheme, especially since its advocates allow a little bit of Darwinian evolution and posit an unpredictable and unknowable Designer.  But let us not tarnish the nice results of Chen et al. by using them to cast aspersions on ID.  They are a valuable contribution to the real science of evolutionary biology, showing how fast new genetic information can arise by gene duplication.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Ark Man to tour the UK

If you were jealous of recent news that the US is to get it's very own replica of Noah's Ark then fret no longer.

Rod Walsh is touring the UK next September and promises to explain the following;

  • How big was the Ark and how did all the animals fit?
  • Were dinosaurs on the Ark?
  • Where did all the water come from?
  • Where did all the water go?
  • What evidence do we see today for a global Flood?
  • How could the world have been populated in just 4,500 years since the Flood?
He is available for bookings now - Skeptics in the Pub - are you listening?

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

UK Creationist leads team to Science Award: and once again proves creationists are wrong

Dr Andy McIntosh is a professor of Thermodynamics at Leeds University and he thinks the world is just 6,000 years old.

He isn't shy about saying this.  I watched him give a talk at York Christian Union were he claimed with a straight face that the evolution of bird lungs was "impossible" because any and all possible intermediate stages between reptile lungs and bird lungs simply don't work.

He also went on to point out to me that dead fish float and therefore only Noah's Flood could have produced a fish fossil.

In that same talk he also claimed that science is intrinsically biased against him simply because he is a Christian as the vast majority of scientists are atheists who want to hide the truth from people.

It took me about 3 minutes on Google to work out his bird lung claim was false and no time at all to say "Are you joking?" to the Noah's Ark fish fossil claim, but it has taken until just a few weeks ago for Andy himself to prove false his own claim about biased science.

The BBC reported;

Beetle defence inspires University of Leeds research
The beetle can turn its spray in virtually any direction and hit its target with extreme accuracy
The deadly defence system of a tiny African beetle has inspired award-winning research into a new generation of technology.
The 2cm (0.8in) long Bombardier beetle defends itself with toxic steam which it can blast up to 20cm (8in).
A team of scientists from the University of Leeds have developed a technology which is based on the beetle's spray mechanism.
They say it may lead to improvements in the automotive and health industries

So his engineering skills aren't in doubt, well those of his team really, it is a team award.

Well whatever happened to atheistic science censoring him just because he is a creationist?  Of course this work had nothing at all to do with creationism or Intelligent Design.

This removes yet another fig leaf from the topiary hiding Creationisms modesty (lack of science).

So is Andy retracting his view?  Not at all, this just goes to show he was right all along!

For independent confirmation from a fellow creationist have a look at Ken Ham's site here where you can also see some of the talks that Andy has done or has lined up for the UK.  You can also get a taste of Andy's globetrotting lifestyle with some of his future speaking dates in the US and Japan.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Debunking Corner: An experimental evolutionist replies to Behe

Here are some excerpts of a response to Behe's recent "paper" in QRB;

What surprises me is that anyone would consider this absence of novelty in experimental evolution studies to be surprising, given what we know both about evolution and about the nature of the experiments. 
Answers to these problems aren’t yet available simply because we simply have not applied much effort.  Indeed, there is still much we have yet to understand about the seemingly more mundane process of point mutation evolution in the simplest environments.  As I noted above, we do have many dozens of ‘directed evolution” studies in which various functions and activities haven been evolved from random libraries of RNA molecules, and those studies have shown that selection can be a powerful and creative force.

BCSE - UK Creationism Updates and a new report on "The World Around Us"

As 2010 comes to an end, I think we are close to being able to come to a conclusion about what is happening in the creationist movement right now in Britain.

There are, in fact, two groups within the movement - the popularists such as Answers In Genesis, CMI and Creation Outreach Ministries pushing young earth creationism in the churches and to the public and the strategists, a coalition of Truth in Science, Genesis Agendum, the Biblical Creation society and the Centre for Intelligent Design. The strategists are concentrating on pushing Intelligent Design into education (as usual, you'll find Andy McIntosh up to his neck in it all - been like that since the Creation Activists conferences of the 1990s).

Follow the money. The coalition is based on pushing Explore Evolution and its associated web site, The World Around Us and C4ID's activities and is specifically targeting state education. The strategy began to be implemented in late 2009. My estimates suggest the coalition has, since then, spent around £80,000 in the distribution of Explore Evolution (minimum £25k), the World Around Us (£8k) , the set up and running costs of C4ID (£14k minimum) and the Michael Behe tour of Britain in November (£33k).

We haven't a damn clue as to where most of this money came from. We can account for around £33,000 (the takings from the Behe tour) and that's it. Some one somewhere has put up around £50,000 (and I suspect, possibly £70,000 - I'm being conservative in my estimates).

It's a lot of money to spend on what is purely public relations. Who is, or are, the sugar dadies for this new influx of funding?

Who is Mr Big driving Genesis Agendum now that Geoff Barnard has stepped down and retired to Israel?

I've just posted to our wiki a big report on The World Around Us web site which, in it's conclusion, summarises how the British creationist movement is now in sync with the US Intelligent Design movement.

By Roger Stanyard

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Behe’s review in context, or "What’s the point?"

by Paul S. Braterman, University of Glasgow; Professor Emeritus, University of North Texas, BCSE committee member

As you know by now, Behe has actually had a paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal (Behe M.J., Quarterly Review of Biology 85(4), 2010, 419-415). Well, not exactly a paper, more of a literature review. Well, not exactly a literature review, more a review of previous reviews, reinterpreting their findings according to his own criteria. The publication itself is shoddy piece of work. I have written numerous reviews myself, and would never have dreamed of basing them on earlier reviews, rather than my own up-to-date literature search. But let that pass.

Behe constructs an elaborate apparatus for classifying mutations as “gain”, “modification”, or “loss” of what he calls a Functional Coded Element (FCT). The definition is skewed to make “gain” as difficult to prove as possible. The process needs to be understood at the molecular level, rather than simply in terms of phenotype expression. This enables him to dismiss as of unproven relevance the Lenski group’s famous demonstration of E.Coli acquiring the ability to metabolise citrate under anaerobic conditions. Moreover, advantageous removal of inhibition is treated as “loss”, but advantageous disruption of a function by IS duplication and insertion is classified as “modification”, rather than “gain”. Using these restrictive and asymmetric criteria, Behe classifies most sufficiently well-understood mutations in laboratory-bred bacteria as loss or modification, although he does recognise a few gains.

Why bother with this eccentric-seeming enterprise? Here we need to look at the broader context of Behe’s involvement with the Discovery Institute.

The context makes him a colleague of William Dembski, who notoriously claims that undirected evolution cannot even in principle generate novel information. So Behe is concerned to minimise the importance of cases where evolution has demonstrably done just that. The techniques he uses invite analysis along the lines of the deconstruction by Boudry et al. of creationist strategy, which (through good luck, or cruel judgement, who knows?) appeared in the same issue of Quarterly Review of Biology as the article under discussion. (Boudry M., Blancke S., Braeckman J., Quarterly Review of Biology 85(4), 2010, 473-482.)

The advocates of supernatural causation start with the bold initial claim: that organisms cannot acquire new functions by natural processes, since new information cannot be generated without the intervention of an intelligence. Notice that this is a claim that such things cannot happen, even in principle.

But there are numerous well-known counterexamples, many of them discussed in this review.

The next stage is rhetorical dismissal of such counterexamples. Here the strategies include limiting the search (ignoring the massive creative role of gene duplication and polyploidy in eukaryotes, and of horizontal transfer followed by selection in bacteria themselves), narrowing the criteria (new functions don’t count unless they can be demonstrated to arise from additions, rather than any other kinds of alterations, to the molecular machinery), and inventing additional constraints (creation of a new category, the FCT, classifying the process as a loss if either material or function is lost at any stage in the change being discussed, dismissing changes in function as mere transformations, rather than novelties). This stage switches the emphasis from what is possible in principle, to the demand that each case be demonstrated in practice, and fully analysed in detail, at the molecular level.

Finally, any counterexamples still surviving this moving of the goalposts and restricting and tilting of the playing field are dismissed as untypical, and therefore unimportant. Another leap of logic, as the present case shows. For even if losses (according to Behe’s criteria) outnumber gains, losses are in general unlikely to be dramatic without being lethal—there are some obvious well-known exceptions, such as the evolution of parasitism—whereas dramatic gains such as gene duplication, horizontal gene transfer, or polyploidy, can and do have the most profound effects imaginable.

The whole process is a study in indirection, closely related to the technique of the stage magician. We are supposed to nod our heads wisely, and agree that real and difficult problems have been raised, rather than noticing displacement of our attention away from the initial claim. This, let me remind you, was that something is impossible even in principle, and was more than adequately refuted by the very first counterexample.

The ultimate in indirection is the promulgation of a new rule, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the old, while pretending to the same level of significance. In the present case we have, to quote the article’s peroration:

This reasoning can be concisely stated as what I call “The First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”:
Break or blunt any functional coded element whose loss would yield a net fitness gain.
It is called a “rule” in the sense of being a rule of thumb. It is a heuristic, useful generalization, rather than a strict law; other circumstances being equal, this is what is usually to be expected in adaptive evolution 
(Emphasis in the original)
In other words, when it is advantageous to lose an element of the molecular machinery, selection pressures are likely to lead to its loss.

Did we really need 27 pages of prime journal space to tell us this?

This item is cross posted at Panda's Thumb and is covered by their Creative Commons License

If Creationism is so silly why is it so "successful"?

A New Gallup Poll on Evolution.

Of course by "successful" in this context we mean popular, which is not always the same thing.

The founding principle of biology is very often not taught in US schools, thanks to the actions of creationists.  Many science teachers are effectively censored by pressure from parents or local church groups and this means that children are not taught a unifying principle of a science that increasingly underlies more and more aspects of the modern world.

And remember, the USA has a constitution which specifically prohibits the promotion of religion in publicly funded schools.

We don't have that in the UK.

This just in; human family tree (web) sprouts new branch (thread)

In the words of the NSF press release, “Sequencing of ancient DNA reveals new hominin population that is neither Neanderthal nor modern human”. This group, named “Denisovans” after the cave where their remains were discovered, was more closely related to the Neanderthals than to modern humans, but, like the Neanderthals, interbred with them, and contributed specifically to the ancestry of present-day Melanesians.

References: Reich, David,  et al. “{Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia}.” Nature. 468 (2010): 1053-1060; News and Views non-technical commentary, ibid. 1044-1045; see also Krause, Johannes, et al. “The complete mitochondrial DNA genome of an unknown hominin from southern Siberia.” Nature. 464 (2010): 894-897.

Commentaries and discussions at

Now on Facebook

BCSE is now on facebook here.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Learn how to be a Creationist with AIG UK

See here for details of the event on 12th March in Essex.

8th BCSE Newsletter

This is the text of the 8th BCSE Newsletter sent out today;

Dear friends of BCSE,

The last few months have been a very busy period for creationists in the UK.  Visiting guest "celebrity" creationists, a new creationist organisation (vehemently denying their roots and the nature of their own arguments) and more attempts to get creationism into UK schools.

Of course all this means that we have also been exceptionally busy digging into the new "we aren't creationists this is just science" creationist organisation and monitoring and analysing what has been going on.

Here are links to some of the main events and publications since the last newsletter;

First of all a warm welcome to a new committee member, Robert Saunders, BSc (Hons), PhD;

I blog at and maintain several websites, including Wonderful Life, where I blog about “biology and atheism in an overly religious world”, with a strong focus on creationism.  It’s this blogging activity that led me to the BCSE, and subsequently to joining its committee.  I hope to offer an additional genetics-based perspective of the claims of creationists, whether they be from the young earth, biblical literalist or intelligent design camp.

BCSE is now on Facebook and Twitter.

A new creationist front organisation "The Centre for Intelligent Design"  (C4ID) opened it's doors in Glasgow.  We have extensive coverage of the group of literal biblicists behind it and their claims;

Podcast  of a discussion between our own Paul Braterman, the 21st Floor and Skeptics in the Pub about C4ID, their claims and tactics.

How not to attack Intelligent Design - make sure that you are clear in your own thinking when challenging those who chose to deny reality in theirs.

A series of posts analysing the claims made by the C4ID.

C4ID versus a modern university biology course.  We compare the claims of ID to actual science textbooks - guess who comes out looking silly?

Paul Braterman sums it all up in this article; Behe in Britain, Miller's mousetrap, and the origins of malaria

We have developed more freely available downloadable resources specifically addressing the claims made by ID.

Look here for a detailed analysis of C4ID and the people behind it.

Look here for an up to date analysis of some creationist funding in the UK and here for an update on the situation in Northern Ireland.

In the past few months BCSE has delivered talks to several groups around the UK.  Please contact us if you want the BCSE to talk to your group.  Remember that we are religiously neutral and would particularly value dialog with religious groups concerned with the activities of creationists.

Our "Creation-Watch" campaign continues with many more opportunities in 2011.

With best wishes for Xmas and a happy new year,

Mark Edon
on behalf of
BCSE committee

- - -


If you want to know more about the BCSE please check out our wikiblog and discussion forum.

If you want to join us then please click here.

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The BCSE is able to give talks on creationism - get in touch - committee at bcseweb dot org dot uk

- - -

If you have questions or concerns about a situation at your school please contact us in confidence at creationwatch at bcseweb dot org dot uk

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If you know of anyone else who would benefit from these email updates please ask them to email us at subscribe at bcseweb dot org dot uk and we will add them to our distribution list. If you do not wish to receive any further updates from us then please send a blank email to unsubscribe at bcseweb dot org dot uk .

Friday, 17 December 2010

Behe in Britain, Miller's mousetrap, and the origins of malaria

(A version of this article is appearing in The Beacon, house organ of the [New Mexico] Coalition For excellence in Science and Mathematics Education)

Prof Behe (yes, him again) has been touring United Kingdom, as the guest of a new obscurantist organisation calling itself the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID). The Centre's president, Prof Norman Nevin, believes that Genesis 1 through 11 (garden, talking snake, Noah's Ark, the lot) is literally and historically true, and the Centre's list of friends is a rollcall of religiously motivated UK creationists. And three of Prof Behe’s lectures were delivered in churches, one in a biblical literalist church in Belfast, one in London’s Notting Hill (preceded by hymn singing), [1] and one in Westminster. According to the published itinerary, the last of these was held “in association with Premier Christian Radio.” However, C4ID, like Prof Behe himself, assures us that Intelligent Design concerns itself with science, not religion, and has nothing to do with creationism. At the lectures, the Discovery Institute's fake [2] textbook Explore Evolution was on sale, alongside copies of Ben Stein’s thoroughly discredited [3] movie, Expelled; no Intelligence Allowed. The Centre nonetheless assures us that it is completely independent of the Discovery Institute, which has merely supplied its ideas, its materials, its inaugural speaker and, one fears, its standards of intellectual integrity.

Reports are in of the actual content of Prof Behe's lecture, [4] and I feel as if I have travelled backwards in time. He spoke about the “irreducible complexity” of a mousetrap, an argument that first appeared in Darwin's Black Box, way back in 1996. Ken Miller's hilarious deconstruction (of the mousetrap, as well as the argument) is available online, [5] as is Prof Behe’s lame attempt [6] to put it back together. His next exhibit, believe it or not, was the bacterial flagellum. But what about all the evidence linking it to its simpler precursors, he was asked. Irrelevant, because until it became a complete flagellum, it was not functioning as such, so it is indeed irreducible. A rather unconvincing semantic trick, worked by changing the meaning [7] of “irreducible” in mid-argument. We also got the claim that since mutations are the result of copying errors, they must involve degradation, or loss of function, so they couldn't explain the elaboration of function anyway. The flood of counterexamples that immediately come to mind merely serve to illustrate the effects of Intelligent Design. When asked about Kitzmiller v Dover School Board, he explained that the judge was not in a position to give an informed opinion, since he was not a scientist, and was taking his opinions from the scientific establishment. The same scientific establishment that, he said, stops him from publishing his views in the peer-reviewed literature. ID, it seems, comes with its own conspiracy theory. Prof Behe, I conclude, is completely sincere, unsinkable, and factproof.

Very recently, [8] Prof Behe has published a paper in Quarterly Reviews of Biology in which he aims, rather unsuccessfully, to minimise the constructive role of mutation combined with selection. He does this by confining attention to prokaryotes grown in isolation, by introducing his own asymmetric criteria as to what would count as constructive, and by admitting for consideration only those relatively few cases where the mutation and its operation are understood at the molecular level. Limiting the playing field, tilting the playing field, and moving the goalposts closer together. Even so, he has to admit some cases of gain of function, any one of which would suffice to destroy the argument for design. By a delightful coincidence, if such it be, the same issue of the journal contains a detailed philosophical analysis [9] of the logical errors and rhetorical devices used by Prof Behe and his associates, some of which I have mentioned here.

Malaria, unlike the mousetrap, does not merit an index entry in Darwin's Black Box, but featured in his UK lecture, and plays a major role in his 2007 book, The Edge of Evolution. Here he explains at some length [10] why he does not consider the emergence of chloroquine resistance in the malaria parasite to be a Darwinian process. This book, too, has been mercilessly dissected by reviewers far more qualified than I am, [11] as has the specific claim regarding chloroquine resistance. [12] So I'll content myself at this stage with the observation that if chloroquine resistance really is the result of intelligent design, that tells us something rather disconcerting about the Designer.

Malaria itself is a parasitic disease involving two separate species, a vertebrate host and an insect vector. The full life-cycle involves a number of separate phases depending on the exact species, [13] with infection of the host by an insect bite, migration to the liver and thence to red blood cells, asexual reproduction within the red blood cells, and formation of male and female gametes. When the insect takes a blood meal from a host, the gametes recombine within its stomach, giving rise to a new generation and a new cycle. The parasite is a magnificent (if that is the correct word) example of adaptive evolution in action. Like any infectious agent, it needs to evade the host's immune system. It does this, first by hiding in the liver, and later by hiding within the red blood cells. It prolongs the bodily residence time of the infected blood cells by increasing their stickiness, causing them to cling to the walls of blood vessels, rather than making their way to the spleen, which would remove them. This, incidentally, is among the ways in which it induces weakness in the hosts, making them less capable of defending themselves against the insect carriers. Since the parasites cannot remain fully hidden as they migrate, hosts (including humans) do tend to build up immunity over time. The parasite counters this by the position of the sexual phase in its life cycle. The function of sex, as always, is to juggle information (sex, after all, is not necessary for reproduction), so that each new infection will bring parasites with rearranged genomes, coated with proteins that the host has not seen before.

Malaria type parasites have been identified in the abdominal cavity of a biting midge trapped in early Cretaceous amber. The midge seems to be adapted to feeding on cold-blooded animals, and indeed it has been suggested that malaria was among the many diseases afflicting the dinosaurs. [14] Molecular evidence [15] suggests an even older origin for the disease, around 130 million years ago, with malaria both in mammals and in birds having originated from a form parasitic on reptiles. The vectors for human malaria are several species of Anopheles mosquitoes, and the parasites that they carry are closely related to those causing similar diseases in the other great apes. It was long believed that the protozoan Plasmodiaum falciparum that is responsible for the most virulent form of human malaria came from chimpanzees, but the most recent studies [16] show that its closest relative is one that infects gorillas. Either way, malaria, like HIV, is among the human diseases that have found their way to us from our close relatives. P. falciparum is most prevalent in hot, damp climates, and appears (from molecular studies) to have started spreading widely among humans around 6000 years ago, perhaps as a result of the higher population densities and irrigation practices associated with agriculture. [17]

Like all parasites, Plasmodium must at some stage have evolved from free living organisms. It seems plausible that these were aquatic, and acquired the ability to recognise, feed on, and finally live within insect larvae. Every parasite has the problem of moving from one individual host animal to another, and for this genus, the problem is solved by transfer of fluids when the vector insect is feeding. A necessary cost of the parasitic lifestyle is exposure to extreme changes of environment, which parasites deal with by adopting different phases at different stages in their life cycle. This is an option open to protozoans and to multicellular parasites, which have large enough genomes to include the instructions for all the necessary quick change acts, and which respond to environmental clues that determine which set is activated.

The evolution of chloroquine resistance in P. falciparum is a matter of enormous practical importance, since malaria kills something like 1 million people a year. The precise genetic mechanism, involving a sequence of changes to one particular protein, is under active investigation, as is the intriguing fact that a parasite lineage that has acquired resistant to one drug can have increased sensitivity to others. [18] Such are the fruits of the “materialistic explanations” that Behe and his colleagues wish to replace [19] with “theistic understanding”.

Addendum: shortly after Behe's review appeared, an extensive study of the evolutionary history of 3,983 gene families across the three domains of life (Archaea, Eubacteria, Eukaryotes) was published in Nature.[20] To quote the MIT press release,[21] “The work suggests that the collective genome of all life underwent an expansion between 3.3 and 2.8 billion years ago, during which time 27 percent of all presently existing gene families came into being.” As Figure 1 (publicly available; see Footnote 20) clearly shows, the generation of new function outstrips and precedes the loss of older function. This is a massive refutation of Behe's line of argument, and of the use that the Creationists and their allies would wish to make of it.

“Intelligent design” or effective science? There is not room for both.

Paul Braterman
Professor Emeritus, University of North Texas
Honorary Sr. Research Fellow in Chemistry,
University of Glasgow

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7 More exactly, the referent; it is the flagellicity, not the complexity, that on Behe's terms really is irreducible
8 The Quarterly Review of Biology, December 2010, Vol. 85, No. 4, 419-445.
9 Ibid., 473-482
10 The usual statistical sleight-of-hand, pretending that sequential changes in a highly variable protein have to happen simultaneously.
11 For a particularly scathing and detailed analysis by Jerry Coyne, see 
12 Matzke NJ, The edge of creationism, Trends in ecology and Evolution 22, 566, 2007, and references therein
14 Poinar G, jr and Telford, SR Parasitology 131, 79, 2005; What Bugged the Dinosaurs?, Poinar, G., jr and Poinar, R., Princeton University Press, 2008.
15 From analysis of cytochrome B: Yotoko, KSC and Elisei, C. Malaria parasites and their relationships with their hosts.. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 44, 265, 2006
16 Liu W et al. Origin of the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in western gorillas. Nature 467, 420, 2010.
17 Hume JCC, Lyons EJ and Day KP, Malaria in antiquity: a genetics perspective, World Archaeology 35, 180, 2003
18 See e.g. Johnson DJ et al., Evidence for a Central Role for PfCRT in Conferring Plasmodium falciparum Resistance to Diverse Antimalarial Agents, Molecular Cell, 15, 867, 2004,
19, p4, “Governing Goals”

20 Nature 469, 93-96 (19 December 2010); Abstract, and figure referred to, publicly available at

. . . and more Creation Watch opportunities

More events added to our creation-watch page;

8 Jan Dominic Statham in Conwy, Wales
15 Jan 2011 Dominic Statham in London
16 Jan 2011 Dominic Statham in London
28 Jan 2011 Dominic Statham in Whitchurch
6 Feb 2011 Dominc Statham in Hastings, East Sussex
11 Feb 2011 Dominic Statham in the Wirrall
24-26 Feb 2011 CMI stall at Peterborough
2 Mar 2011 Dominic Statham in Hull
12 Mar 2011 Dominic Statham in Nottingham
13 Mar 2011 Dominic Statham in Nottingham
15 Mar 2011 Philip Bell "ministry to school students" in Exeter
19 Mar 2011 Dominic Statham in Newark
2 Apr 2011 Philip Bell in Lincolnshire

21st Floor podcast with Paul Braterman (BCSE), Les Ogilvie (21st Floor), and Ian Scott (Skeptics in the Pub)

Thursday, 16 December 2010

"Evolution and its rivals" - special issue of Synthese

A special issue of the philosophy journal Synthese focused on the creationism/evolution controversy — was just published. 

  • Glenn Branch's introduction
  • Robert T. Pennock's "Can't philosophers tell the difference between science and religion?: Demarcation revisited"
  • John S. Wilkins's "Are creationists rational?"
  • Kelly C. Smith's "Foiling the Black Knight"
  • Wesley Elsberry and Jeffrey Shallit's "Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski’s 'complex specified information'"
  • Bruce H. Weber's "Design and its discontents"
  • Sahotra Sarkar's "The science question in intelligent design"
  • Niall Shanks and Keith Green's "Intelligent design in theological perspective"
  • Barbara Forrest's "The non-epistemology of intelligent design: Its implications for public policy"
  • James H. Fetzer's "Evolution and atheism: Has Griffin reconciled science and religion?" 
Access to Synthese is free until December 31, 2010.

C4ID hits back against Ekklesia’s take on ID creationism

Alastair Noble, the Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, has responded to an article at the Ekklesia website, on behalf of C4ID (Intelligent Design is an explanation not an apolgetic – a response to Ekklesia). Noble doesn’t supply a link to the Ekklesia article, so here it is – ‘Intelligent Design’ is a flawed apologetic.

Dr Noble is a man who cannot (or will not) grasp an understanding of biological systems. I add the possibility “will not” because I suspect that his willingness to accept a natural explanation for the diversity of life around us is in large part informed by his religious beliefs. Indeed, it comes as something of a surprise that he emphasises that Intelligent design creationism

[...] is not a religious apologetic but a scientific explanation of the observed data.

In actual fact, and despite his protestations to the contrary, Intelligent Design creationism is not a scientific explanation. It is untestable and makes no predictions. Intelligent Design creationism was invented by the Discovery Institute with the explicit purpose of inveigling teaching of creationism into US schools, where it is prohibited by the constitution. Is Dr Noble really unaware of this?

I have worked my way through the document ‘An Introduction to Intelligent Design’ (my comments can be read here), which was prepared by Dr Noble and his colleagues at C4ID. Noble continues:

The information in living systems is real and raises, to an enquiring scientific mind, the question of its origin.  To make a valid inference about this we need to offer an explanation which is known to apply elsewhere and to operate in the way we propose.

In actual fact the scientific explanations of the origins and evolution of biological information are comprehensive and do explain its diversity. Intelligent Design makes no explanation of the diversity, unless a designer/creator did it. We may not yet know (and may never know) the chemical origins of complex biomolecules, but stooping to “I don’t know, so a supernatural entity must have been responsible” is rather unsatisfactory, and the kind of explanation nomadic goat herders in the bronze age might have come up with, without the benefits of the scientific method.

Well it’s not hard to see what it is.  The only known source of specified functional information is intelligent mind and to infer that the information in living systems has a similar source is entirely consistent with scientific deductions.  To propose the alternative that this all somehow self-assembled, which curiously almost everybody accepts without question, is contrary to all human experience and reason.  It is about as unscientific as you can be.

If this is not an argument from ignorance, I don’t know what is.

Dr Noble seems to think that the ‘establishment’ finds Intelligent Design creationism unacceptable because it departs from a ‘philosophy of materialism’…

I think what is really unacceptable to the establishment about ID is that it departs from the philosophy of materialism which now dominates the pursuit of science.  This philosophy says, essentially, that only physical or material processes can be considered as valid explanations.  Any other explanation, such as an intelligent cause of the universe, must be ruled out before you begin to assess the evidence.  ID, on the other hand, prefers to go where the evidence leads.

If, in the matter of origins, science wishes to cripple itself with a commitment to rule out, by definition, any non-material explanation for the universe such as intelligent causation, it might be better to do the honourable thing and leave the field because its tools are clearly inadequate to the task of assessing the actual evidence.  But there is no need for science to do that if it is prepared to go where the evidence leads.

And I think there we have it. This paragraph reveals Intelligent Design creationism for what it really is. Dr Noble advocates a non-material explanation for the universe. If he is indeed supporting ‘intelligent causation’, who or what is he proposing as the entity that performed this ‘intelligent causation’? If it’s not his particular deity, it’s remarkably close to the sort of power he attributes to his god. In my more mischievous moments, think that maybe this is some kind of super-deity, that created the god Noble worships?

Please Dr Noble, what is the evidence for a Designer/Creator, other than you cannot understand the science (or that you are blinkered by your religious beliefs)? Oh, and while we’re at it, please could you suggest what designed the Designer?

Noble concludes with a section entitled ‘Debate the Controversy’. Please. Intelligent and educated people realise there is no controversy. It is entirely manufactured by individuals with a religious agenda specifically because they don’t like the potential impact that evolutionary biology might have on their belief system.

So are we up for dialogue?  Of course we are.  That’s why the Centre for Intelligent Design (C4ID) is here.  If ID is soon to be debunked, as Bob Carling suggests, let’s have some credible scientific arguments and not the tired reiteration of neo-Darwinian speculation.

On the contrary, biology provides the best explanations of biological diversity, if anything the C4ID website is a tired reiteration of creationist bunkum masquerading as science.

[by Robert Saunders, BSc (Hons), PhD]

New Creation Watching Opportunities

We note with further concern this comment from the BCM Engagements page for 2011;

Note: Meetings are also arranged in schools and colleges but details are not advertised.
We are aware of such meetings having previously taken place without the knowledge or consent of parents and in some cases without the knowledge or consent of head teachers.

Perhaps anyone attending Paul's talks can ask him about this kind of behaviour and how he justifies it.

Perhaps Creationwatchers can keep their eyes and ears open in schools on or around the dates given on the Creation-Watch page.

Just added to our Creation-Watch page;

12 Dec 2010 Paul Garner Suffolk

8 Jan 2011 Paul Garner Northamptonshire

12 Jan 2011 Steve Fuller Birmingham

14 Jan 2011Paul Garner at a Youth Group in Cambridge

28 Jan 2011Paul Garner at a Youth Group in Cambridge

29 Jan 2011 Paul Garner at a theological course in Norfolk

2 Feb 2011 Paul Garner at a Ladies meeting in Cambridgeshire

4 Feb 2011 Paul Garner Ely, Cambridgeshire 

7 Feb 2011 Paul Garner at a training seminar Reading

11 Feb Paul Garner at a Youth Group in Cambridge

13 Feb 2011Paul Garner in Suffolk

25 Feb 2011 Paul Garner in Hertfordshire

27 Feb 2011 Paul Garner in Cambridgeshire

4 Mar 2011 Paul Garner at a Youth Group in  Cambridge

11 Mar 2011 Paul Garner in Soham Cambridgeshire

18 Mar 2011 Paul Garner at a Youth Group in Cambridge

26-27 Mar 2011Paul Garner & Steve Lloyd Hampshire

1 Apr 2011 Paul Garner at a Youth Group in Cambridge

23–24 Apr 2011 Paul Garner in Watford

18 May 2011 Paul Garner in Kent

10-11 Sep 2011 Paul Garner in Feltham

14 Oct 2011 Paul Garner in Swansea

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

More analysis of Behe's new paper from Coyne

From here;

1.  Luskin doesn’t mention that Behe’s analysis concentrated only on short-term laboratory studies of adaptation in bacteria and viruses.
2.  Luskin also doesn’t mention that these experiments deliberately excluded an important way that bacteria and viruses gain new genetic elements in nature: through horizontal uptake of DNA from other organisms. This kind of uptake was prohibited by the design of the experiments.
3.  Luskin implies that Behe’s conclusions extend to all species, including eukaryotes, even though we know that members of this group (and even some bacteria) can gain new genetic elements and information via gene duplication and divergence.  And we know that this has happened repeatedly and pervasively in the course of evolution.

Creationism in the TES

The TES scottish supplement appears to be promoting a creationist web site to science teachers;

Science - Virtually beyond Darwin

We will have lots more on this web site and the folks behind it soon.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Reaction to Behe's new paper - Jerry Coyne

From here;

While Behe’s study is useful in summarizing how adaptive evolution has operated over the short term in bacteria and viruses in the lab, it’s far less useful in summarizing how evolution has happened over the longer term in bacteria or viruses in nature—or in eukaryotes in nature.  In this sense it says nothing about whether new genes and gene functions have been important in the evolution of life.  Granted, Behe doesn’t make such a sweeping statement—his paper wouldn’t have been published if he had—but there’s no doubt that his intelligent-design acolytes will use the paper in this way.
Finally, this paper gives ID advocates no reason to crow that a peer-reviewed paper supporting intelligent design has finally appeared in the scientific literature.  The paper says absolutely nothing—zilch—that supports any contention of ID “theory.”

The Incoherence of Irreducible Complexity

From here;

Advocates of intelligent design creationism often tout the concept of irreducible complexity (IC) as a withering critique of Darwinian evolution. But Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman, (Ghent University, Belgium) argue that IC as defined by its most vocal proponent, Michael Behe, is a conveniently vague concept. IC advocates use the grey areas in the concept's definition to evade criticism from evolutionary biologists. "Indeed, in the past two decades the concept of IC seems to have found receptive mental soil among anti-evolutionists," the authors write. "An analysis of the convenient conceptual equivocations inherent in IC, as well as of the rhetorical strategies with which IC has been presented, helps us to understand this remarkable fertility." 

Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman, "Irreducible Incoherence and Intelligent Design: A Look into the Conceptual Toolbox of a Pseudoscience" 

Answers in Genesis – Down and Out in the UK?

A Warning from the USA

© Roger Stanyard 2010

Answers in Genesis UK, at first face, looks to be a spent force. According to its accounts filed with the Charity Commission, its income for the year ending 30th June 2009 was £279,730, a wopping drop from £352,227 during the previous financial year (when it lost the best part of £200k). Whilst this may partly be attributable to the economic recession, its annual income has been dropping for years. It peaked at £833,224 for the year ending 30th June 2005.

Clearly a huge part of the decline is a result of the split with the Australian head-quartered Creation Ministries International and the consequential fall in subscription revenues from its creationist publications. However, reading the commentary accompanying the accounts suggests a far worse position – its volunteer base has also collapsed – down to 200 hours of work over a year. It received donations of £101k in the year and, in turn, this generated gift aid tax funds of £17k, The number of employee, full time equivalent, fell from 11 to 6. It also had an 'AiG USA Museum Fund' with £10k in it at year end. This was intended for Answers in Genesis's Kentucky 'museum'.

Interestingly, the submission did not show where its offices and warehouse are now located but, presumably, the need for the latter has seriously declined as it admits to a huge stock clearance exercise during the financial year. As far as we can make out, Answers in Genesis UK now operates through a PO Box number in Leicester. It's senior speaker, Paul Taylor. Appears to currently have only one speaking engagement a month.

Rival Creation Ministries International UK now looks to be a bigger operation in Britain. It's UK accounts for the year ending 30th June 2009 show an income of £310,028, up from £229,043 over the previous year., its first year of operations.

A word of caution, though. Answers in Genesis can, and does, sell directly through its US web site – there isn't a separate one for the UK. There is no technical reason why such sales to people in the UK would be recorded in the financial accounts of Answers in Genesis UK if the goods are shipped or posted directly from abroad to the customer.

As the BCSE detailed some years ago, Answers in Genesis UK's problems are a direct result of Ken Ham's ambitions in the USA. It was dispensable to the ruthless and determined Ham.

The long established Portsmouth-based Creation Science Movement doesn't appear to have benefited from Answers in Genesis's troubles; its accounts for year ended 31th August 2009 show its annual revenues still static at £89k. (£90 previous year). It's roughly on a par with Cambridgeshire-based Biblical Creation Ministries which had an annual income for the year ending 31st March 2009 of £67,989, up from £42,265 the previous year. However these figures appear to exclude the revenues of the Biblical Creation Society which, although closely associated, is not registered with the Charity Commission.

Interestingly, Biblical Creation Ministries says it had some 80 speaking engagements during the year, shared amongst its two evangelists.

The real oddity is Genesis Agendum, a purely speakers operation, whose annual revenues shot up from £4,523 in the year ending 31st March 2009 to £31,549 for y/e 31st March 2010. It's costs shot up to £29k as well. As no details were provided to the Charity Commission, we remain puzzled by this. As far as we can make out Genesis Agendum is now largely defunct.

Australian John Mackay's UK arm of his Creation Research Trust raised £21,700 in the year ending 31st December 2009, much the same as in the two previous years. However, we suspect this will fall in 2010 as he is not expected to be in Britain during the period.

The tiny West country-based Creation Resources Trust reported an increase in income resulting from the Darwin 150/200 year activities – from £22,826 for year ending 31st December 2008 to £30,158 the following year. It's a one-man-band operation.

We've long wanted to know more about Truth in Science's finances but it is still not registered with the Charity Commission and, if it were to, the BCSE would make a formal complaint. Truth in Science has spent the last five years unsuccessfully trying to get creationism into schools.

We've also got no data on two Northern Irish operations, Creation Outreach Ministries or the fundamentalist evangelical Caleb Foundation. Neither are registered with the Charity Commission or the new Charity Commission for Northern Ireland.

Moreover, this brief insight into the world of professional creationists ignores recent developments such as the Centre for Intelligent Design, registered as a charity in Guernsey, operations such as Noah's Ark Zoo Farm near Bristol , various one-man-band operations and the Democratic Unionist Party. The latter has a strong movement within it promoting creationism.

We can stab at a guess at the Centre for Intelligent Design's revenues for 2010. It's main revenue generation came from Michael Behe's tour in November. Behe is one of the leading American protagonists of Intelligent Design. He attracted an aggregate audience of around 3,000. Assuming that eight events attracted 2,700 each paying £6.50 and one paying £50, the total is £32,500 plus book and DVD sales and donations.

The overall picture is one of a professional creationist movement that is stable, neither significantly growing nor declining. What the data doesn't show at all, though, is the effectiveness of the movement in terms of the number of people who accept either creationism or Intelligent Design. The evidence we have indicates that organised religion is increasingly accepting creationism, especially in Northern Ireland. However, it has not had even the slightest impact on the scientific world.

Of the creationist organisations we have detailed above, though, there is one that we seriously fear – Answers in Genesis.

Recent developments in the USA have yet to impact on Britain. The US operations of Answers in Genesis have now turned into a giant cash flow machine which, sooner or later, will have ripple effects on these shores.

Answers in Genesis USA has moved from an $8 million a year operation to an expected $40 million a year set up. Its new 'creation museum' in Kentucky has been a huge “success” and it is now launching a stupendously tacky $150 million 'Ark Encounter' theme park. It has become the dominant creationist organisation world wide and its head, Ken Ham, is now 'Mr Big' (by a long margin) of the creationist movement. We expect further developments – perhaps a TV channel distributed world-wide or even attempts to replicate the Ark/museum set up in Europe. It is clear from comments by Answers in Genesis that Ark Encounter will be marketed internationally.

Answers in Genesis has become an international mega-church; its church buildings are theme parks; it's head a theologically unqualified and unordained autocrat unaccountable to its congregation, its ambitions, theocracy. As its absurd name implies, it is a church that worships the Bible, not God. A sink of ideology, scientific and theological ignorance and bigotry. A very dangerous combination, indeed.

(Notes: BCSE has a very big wiki covering the background to the above report. It can be accessed through or web home page at There is also a search engine available there to navigate you way around.)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

BCSE talk - Cambridge 15th December

Mark Edon is giving a talk to Cambridge Humanists on 15th Dec at The Friends Meeting House, 12 Jesus Lane, CB5 8BA at 7.45 for 8pm.

"Creationist conspiracy?"

Any and all welcome.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

C4ID’s Introduction to Intelligent Design: Part 15

The Centre for Intelligent Design website features a set of brief (sometimes very brief) pdf documents which collectively form an Introduction to Intelligent Design, credited as written by Dr Alastair Noble, C4ID Director. This pamphlet sets out C4ID’s manifesto for ID. Often these documents are written in a way that could be seen as persuasive to the uninformed. On closer inspection, there is nothing new – the arguments are the same as those demolished in Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District. It’s all the more remarkable that this nonsense can still be pushed out to the public five years after that milestone judgement.
This one of the briefest sections of the pamphlet. But at least it includes a list of further reading, albeit one resting heavily on the work of Meyer, Behe, Dembski and Fuller.
It [Intelligent Design] is variously described as the end of reason, the corruption of science and the refuge of idiots. Some critics say it takes us back to the dark ages. Others claim that it is religion disguised as science or politics dressed up as philosophy. How come, you might wonder, that an idea can generate such passionate and at times intemperate criticism? Is it in the same league as racism, fascism or terrorism?
I find Intelligent Design objectionable because it is a deceitful concept intended to push a religious view into science education. I cannot speak for the motives of the Centre for Intelligent Design, but given that the President of C4ID is on record as a believer in the literal truth of Genesis, one does have to question C4ID’s agenda.
The strength of Intelligent Design is that it is, strictly, a position which argues solely from scientific evidence. Although ID has philosophical and religious implications, it is not based on any such presupposition.
Does Noble think that making this statement so often will make it true?
This is the final part of my critique of the Centre for Intelligent Design’s introduction to Intelligent Design.  C4ID have sponsored a UK tour by Michael Behe, one of the chief architects of Intelligent Design Creationism.  Read more about the Centre for Intelligent Design, and how it’s seeking to get religious creation beliefs into UK schools in the disguise of Intelligent Design.
Robert Saunders, BSc (Hons), PhD