Coyne quotes the NCSE:
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. We educate the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supply needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels....The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.Coyne asks, perceptively:
So why does the NCSE, which supports every shade between faith and atheism, have a "Faith Project" but not an "Atheism Project"?Good question. The NCSE is an odd organization. To begin with, it's oddly named. It's not really a national center -- it's a small fringe organization based in Oakland. And it's hardly promoting science education; its primary activity is to supress critique of Darwin's theory -- that is, to suppress science, which is inherently dialectic, not dogma. "National Center for Selling Evolution" seems a better fit for the acronym.
The NCSE has had a "Faith Project," so to speak, for quite a while; people of faith have long been the target of NCSE litigation. For several decades, the NCSE has worked feverishly to prevent parents from determining the biology curriculum for their own children in their own schools with their own taxes. Parents who ask that the strengths and weaknesses of Darwin's theory be taught to their children are dragged to federal court by the NSCE, placed under injunction, and threatened with court-imposed financial ruin of their school districts.
But NCSE censors have come to realize that the increasing public support for balanced teaching of evolution in schools might be related to their own tactics. So some P.R. is in order. The Faith Project is born.
An analogy to the NCSE's Faith Project would be Michael Vick's announcement of a Dog Project. Yet Coyne, who is an enthusiastic supporter of the NCSE's jackboot tactics, is quite annoyed with the NCSE's Faith Project. Coyne asks; why would the NCSE have a Faith Project, but not an Atheism Project?
Coyne has a point. Evolutionary illiteracy is widespread in America- among atheists no less than Christians. America's atheists surely could use some remedial education. Philosophical illiteracy, materialist delusion, and coprolalia are endemic in the atheist community. Ask an atheist-in-the-street to define "punctuated equilibrium," he'll likely reply that it's a grammar rule. Ask him about "evolutionary saltation," he'll reply that it's some kind of condiment. "Sexual selection" -- he'll reply that of course he supports gay marriage.
Imagine the inroads that evolutionary education -- an Atheism Project -- could make among our nation's atheists. Why is the NCSE so reluctant to address the enormous unmet need for evolution education among atheists, but so anxious to remedy the percieved unmet need for evolution education among Christians?
Sure, NCSE functionaries speak at
So I'm perplexed. Atheists need just as much science education as theists, yet the NCSE deems them so much less in need of outreach. Don't they like atheists? Of course, equal-opportunity non-denominational outreach would be appropriate for dissemination of scientific information, but quite inappropriate for... for...a metaphysical marketing scheme.
Actually, I think that I've figured out why the NCSE finds no need to reach out to atheists. So to help Dr. Coyne understand why the NCSE needs a Faith Project, but not an Atheism project, I'll ask these rhetorical questions:
Does the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops need an outreach program to Catholics?
Does the Southern Baptist Convention need an outreach program to southern Baptists?
Does B'nai B'rith need an outreach program to Jews?
For Dr. Coyne, a prominent professor of evolutionary biology, I'll pose the salient question as a multiple choice question:
Why does the NCSE have a Faith Project but not an Atheism Project?
a) The NCSE deplores atheism.
b) The NCSE considers atheists unimportant.
c) The NCSE is too busy.
d) The NCSE is an organization whose sole purpose is to shield atheism's creation myth from public scrutiny, and there's no reason for atheists to reach out to atheists.
Whereas enzyme reactions ordinarily occur in a matter of milliseconds, the same reactions proceed with half-lives of hundreds, thousands, or millions of years in the absence of a catalyst. Yet life is believed to have taken hold within the first 25% of Earth's history. How could cellular chemistry and the enzymes that make life possible, have arisen so quickly?" [Internal citations omitted]Indeed this is one of the problems with origin of life scenarios, particularly those scenarios that presume a metabolism-first world (as opposed to an RNA-first world). The half-life of certain reactions without a catalyst can be millions of years, but studies show that the emergence of early bacteria could be dated as far back as 3.5 billion years (see ENV post on a cold origin of life and Schopf, J. William, "The First Billion Years: When Did Life Emerge?" Elements vol 2:229 (2006) for more on this). This means there was a limited amount of time for fundamental biological reactions to occur. Reaction kinetics can be prohibitive. However, the authors of this paper have a theory to solve the reaction kinetics problem.
This article mentions, by way of example, several biologically significant reactions. Normally, these reactions, either done in the lab or in nature, require a catalyst. Catalysts usually serve to stabilize intermediates in a reaction, which lowers the energy barrier. By lowering the energy barrier, the reaction can complete much more quickly -- as in a matter of seconds, instead of a matter of millions of years.
But we don't have the luxury of catalysts in an origin of life scenario because catalysts for many biological reactions are specific to those reactions and too complex for early earth reactions. Another way to speed up a reaction is to add energy, usually in the form of heat. The authors of this article propose that many of these biological reactions which are prohibitively slow are sped up if they are in a hot environment, such as boiling water. They justify their theory by showing how reaction rates of certain biologically essential reactions, such as OMP decarboxylation or DNA phosphodiester hydrolysis decreases significantly at 100oC compared to 25oC. Furthermore, the authors point out that the slowest uncatalyzed reactions are most sensitive to temperature. Some examples that they report from the literature:
- Urea hydrolysis (half life of 500 years at 25oC) increases about 3,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100oC
- Hydrolysis of O-glycosidase bonds (half-life of 18 million years at 25oC) increases about 190,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100oC
- Hydrolysis of aliphatic phosphate monoester dianions (half life of 1.1 x 1012 years at 25oC) is accelerated about 10,000,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100oC
The most interesting idea in this paper is the proposition that enzymes evolved to operate by lowering the enthalpy of reaction because these reactions are so temperature dependent:
From an evolutionary standpoint, it is unlikely that the common enthalpy-lowering effect of present-day enzymes is fortuitous. As the environment cooled, a primitive catalyst that reduced delta H (double dagger) would have offered a selective advantage over a catalyst that raised T(delta S) by an equivalent amount...We propose that enthalpy-lowering mechanisms became common because they are so temperature-dependent; and because there is almost no limit -- at least in principle -- to the benefit that might arise from the action of a purely 'enthalpic' catalyst. Natural selection has presumably resulted in the evolution of enzymes toward greater catalytic power and specificity...
However, there is very little specific information or data to go along with this statement. It is really speculation, which is interesting, but not compelling without additional explanation for how exactly these catalysts were formed, how the original biological reactions happened, and how the energy added through heat is harnessed and controlled in such a way as to protect the intermediates and products of the reactions from degradation or unhelpful side reactions.
Dembski and Wells state the overall problem best in their work, Design of Life (2008):
Whenever origin-of-life researchers accept plausibility rather than evidence as their standard for scientific truth, they in effect give up the search for what really happened or for what with reasonable probability could have happened. Plausibility, as Stewart and many origin-of-life researchers understand the term, implies no effort to estimate probability. Instead, they settle for what they can imagine was possible or could have happened. In this way, they substitute opinion and prejudice for experiments and data. (241)
Have you heard of the next big horror movie?
Could be as big as Avatar? My creationist masters forced me to do it!