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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

National Censorship of Scientific Education or whatever you want to call them

Naturalist Congregants of Silly Evolution?   No Creationism Sayeth Eugenie!  EH, whatever the NCSE is, Michael Egnor makes a good point and the thinking series continues tomorrow...

Why Doesn't the NCSE Have an Atheism Project?

Jerry Coyne has an amusing post on the National Center for Science Education's outreach effort to Christians. Coyne, in a post titled "NSCE Becomes BioLogos," laments the rigorous efforts of the NCSE's Faith Project, which is a major outreach program to Christians and other people of faith.
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 atheist Secular Humanist conventions. But that's not really outreach. Eugenie Scott presenting a talk about evolution at a Secular Humanist convention is akin to Archbishop Dolan presenting the homily about Genesis at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Both are public engagement, but neither is outreach, properly understood.

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?
Choose one:

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.

Also, ever notice how Darwinists run hot and cold on the abiogenesis stuff?   Where are the Brothers Grimm when we need them?

Is the Origin of Life in Hot Water?

Is origin of life chemistry in hot water? So it seems according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors address the conundrum of origin of life chemists between the rate of (un-catalyzed) organic reactions and the lack of time available for these reactions to occur. From the article (note: an enzyme is a biological catalyst):
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.

A little chemistry review: Reaction kinetics has to do with the rate of a reaction, or how long a reaction takes to produce products. The products of a particular reaction may be perfectly stable, but that doesn't necessarily mean the reaction is going to proceed any faster, especially if it has a large energy barrier to overcome before getting to those stable products. So if you want to speed up a reaction, you have two options: 1) Add energy, or 2) add a catalyst which lowers the energy barrier.

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:

  1. Urea hydrolysis (half life of 500 years at 25oC) increases about 3,000-fold when the temperature is raised from 25 to 100oC
  2. 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
  3. 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 authors provide no explanation for their choice of reactions, only that these are important biological reactions. How these reactions contribute to the formation of a self-assembled metabolic cycle is not covered in this paper; neither is how the information system of a cell formed, for that matter. Understandably, origin-of-life chemistry has many steps, and these authors are addressing one issue, but for the most part, this article is a lot more about fundamental principles of kinetics and thermodynamics than anything that adds to the study of the origin-of-life. Yes, heat makes many kinetically prohibitive reactions speed up. Yes, enzymes operate by lowering the enthalpy of reaction which does not come into play until temperatures are lowered. As important as these things are for chemistry, where are the starting reactions, how do they assemble, what do they result in, how do the enzymes form, what about the heat degrading products or accelerating side reactions? These are important questions when the premise of a paper is that the geological clock is ticking.
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. 
Only two months ago Evolution News and Views reported on a paper that came out about a cold origin of life scenario. That article dismissed the problem of kinetics and addressed the problem of product stability and concentration, which they claimed was prohibitive in origin-of-life scenarios. If origin-of-life chemists are going to address each and every step in such a piecemeal fashion, hopefully, they will take a step back to realize that they have some competing problems in their current scenarios. Fixing one problem makes the other worse. Heating a reaction does nothing for product stability. Cooling a reaction makes the reaction rate problems worse. Furthermore, neither of these accounts for 1) how DNA became the information-carrying powerhouse that it is nor 2) how the initial cycle of a metabolic cycle came together without competing side reactions and without relying on a previous step in the cycle.

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!


Anonymous said...

If creationists could come up with actual, testable, falsifiable claims that support their hypothesis AND confirm them, all the alleged censorship in the world couldn't stop them.

The real stumbling block for creationists is that they can't do that, and some of them (Radar being a prime example) are too proud to recognize that.

radar said...

Let's start with the law of biogenesis. Testable, repeatable, and Darwinists totally ignore it because it does not fit into their fairy tale. We've been testing for spontaneous generation since at least 1688 and so far the law has held up. How's that for testable and repeatable, bub?

How about information? I can find information in DNA every time and no Darwinist has come up with a natural source for information.

Let's face it, the idea that a Darwinist would ask for testable and repeatable when they cannot find one case of evolution actually occurring in real time and have no clue as to where life or information comes from is kind of ironically funny.

Jon Woolf said...

"Let's start with the law of biogenesis. "

No such thing.

"no Darwinist has come up with a natural source for information."

A lie.

You're running true to form today, Radar.

radar said...

So Woolf lies and claims there is no law of biogenesis and then he lies and claims he gave us a natural source for information?

What is that source, Jon?

Anonymous said...

"What is that source, Jon?"

Do you really not read the comments on your own blog? You've got some catching up to do.

Anonymous said...

Radar, do you really have no sense of embarrassment? It's shameful to behold!