Showing posts from June, 2009

The horse series and creationism

There are many topics that are "hot-buttons" for creationists. These are arguments that creationists get very passionate about (even though I'm not always certain why). If you've been involved in creationism at all, you could probably list a dozen or two. One such hot-button is horse evolution. It's been the subject of denial and derision for years, although creationist attitudes have softened recently. Creationist resistance continues however. I guess that such a popular example of evolution is just too tempting a target for many folks.

I described my own interaction with the horses in an article for Answers, Horse fossils and the nature of science. In a nutshell, using baraminology techniques, I found (to my surprise) that all fossil equids appear to belong to a single baramin, and are thus descended from an ancestral pair of horses on the ark. To be blunter than I could be in Answers, the evolutionists got that one right, and we creationists appear to h…

Evolution2009: Finale

I started Monday morning with a really ingenious talk by Robert Thomson of UC Davis. The title of his talk was "Rapid Progress on the Vertebrate Tree of Life," which, though accurate, barely describes what he did. Basically, he downloaded all the vertebrate sequences from GenBank and assembled a ginormous supermatrix. Then, he divided it up by year, so that he had supermatrices corresponding to all the sequences available in GenBank in 1993, 1994, 1995, up to 2008. Now we all know that GenBank has undergone an exponential growth since it's beginning, and he showed a graph showing a similar trend in phylogeny publications. So it stands to reason that our ability to resolve nodes in the vertebrate tree of life must also have increased over the same stretch of time. And voila, sure enough, his results confirmed that the number of resolved nodes goes up right along with the sequence content and number of phylogeny papers. I really like those "big picture" ki…

Evolution2009: blog traffic

Holy cow, the hits on my blog have gone through the roof this weekend. I guess everyone wants to know what the idiot creationist thinks about the evolution meeting. (To be honest, I've had a good time. Learned a lot. I always do.) Or maybe they're all just waiting for me to say something stupid so they can laugh at me. Well, stick around. I'm bound to say something stupid sooner or later. Wouldn't want to disappoint you.

You're probably expecting a summary of today's activities, but I had some business from back home I had to take care of tonight that prevented me from writing up a summary. I'll be back sometime tomorrow with a final wrap-up of the conference.

Evolution2009: Sunday

Today was more interesting for me after attending a few talks of direct relevance to our ongoing work at CORE. I began my day with the winners of the ASN young investigators award. I'm just going to record a few impressions rather than give exhaustive summaries

First was a talk by Luke Harmon of the University of Idaho on adaptive radiation. He opened by discussing the problem of defining an adaptive radiation, taking the pragmatic (but admittedly unsatisfying) tactic of "I know it when I see it." He also cited Dolph Schluter's definition, "evolution of ecological disparity within a rapidly multiplying lineage." That seems unsatisfactory, since it is more of a description of the origin of radiations than an actual definition, by which you could recognize a radiation in the present. Nevertheless, he's been using a method to identify statistically significant differences in taxon birth/death rates in different parts of the gnathostome tree, which sho…

Time out for Answers

I'm taking a break from the Evolution coverage to tell you how excited I am about the newest issue of Answers magazine. AIG just posted the table of contents, and they've got some pretty great stuff in this issue. The theme is the Fall and curse on creation. I've already mentioned Gary Phillips's article, and I also saw Gordon Wilson's article on defense mechanisms. In addition to that, this issue has articles from Joe Francis on microbes, Rick Oliver on snakes, and Jud Davis on thorns. I've heard Jud's thorn paper before at BSG, and it's great. You're in for a treat. In a stroke of sheer editorial genius, they got Joni Eareckson Tada to write an article on "Why do God's children suffer?" What a perfect choice! I can't wait.

There are many other articles and features as well, so check out the AIG website for more information.

I'll be back later with a recap of the cool stuff I heard about at Evolution2009 today.

Evolution2009: Saturday

I must be jetlagged, because I got very little sleep last night. Yeah, definitely jetlag. This summary will be short. I spent almost the whole day in little 15 minute science talks.

I kicked off the day learning about placentation evolution in Poeciliopsis, egg dimorphism in penguins, the weird soldier caste of Copidosoma wasps, and plasticity in flesh flies, among other topics.

My favorite talk of the morning was given by Diya Sen from the University of Idaho describing her ongoing project to sequence 100 promiscuous plasmids. Promiscuous or broad host range plasmids can be transfered between many species of bacteria. They can also carry useful phenotypes like toxic metal metabolism or antibiotic resistance. She only described 13 plasmids from Scandinavian mercury-resistant bacteria. Not surprisingly, there was pretty large variation in gene content in the plasmids. There was also evidence of sequence divergence, as much as 25-50% different between plasmids that nevertheless co…

Evolution2009: Eugenie Scott

I've made no secret of my disdain for the ongoing creation/evolution propaganda war. I find that both sides usually trivialize and oversimplify the opposition, so that they're fighting nonexistent straw men. So I wasn't terribly excited about listening to Eugenie Scott's talk tonight. Given what I've read of her work and the material coming out of the NCSE, I don't see any reason to modify my opinion of these particular promoters of anticreationist propaganda.

I was therefore a little humbled to find myself agreeing with much of what she said tonight. Truth be told, I nitpicked here and there, and I definitely disagree with her assessment of the culture in the US, but she made a lot of good points.

She began with a basic model of how science works that is almost identical to the one I presented at Calvin College several years ago. She distinguished between core concepts in science and frontier ideas. Core concepts are very well established and are not going…

Science from Idaho

This week's Science has an interesting paper tracking 1930 genotypes from Pneumococcus. (That's a lot of work, by the way.) The authors Hanage et al. surveyed six genes and found that there was a good deal of recombination between the species. Most importantly, they found that recombination was correlated with antibiotic resistance. Regular readers know that I'm somewhat obsessed with the concept of environmentally-induced genetic modification (read here, here, and here). This new paper would suggest that antibiotic resistance genes are not the only thing getting shuffled around during those times of environmental stress. Very nifty.

Hanage et al. 2009. Hyper-recombination, diversity, and antibiotic resistance in Pneumococcus. Science 324:1454-1457.

Meanwhile, despite parking-lot traffic in downtown Atlanta, an automatic check-in kiosk at the Atlanta airport that didn't know who I was, and a massive allergy attack on the flight to Seattle, I have arrived mostly …

Genesis Kinds Reminder

Don't forget to sign up for the BSG conference this summer. The conference is co-sponsored by the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College and features the same set of presentations from the February conference in England. There is more information about the conference at the Genesis Kinds website.

Conference registration is available for the summer Genesis Kinds conference right HERE. The conference will be at the Holiday Inn Hurstbourne. You can get a discount on the room rate by calling the Holiday Inn at (502) 426-2600.

The conference begins with a Wednesday dinner as usual. Thursday will consist of contributed talks from BSG and geology group members (which are still being edited), and Friday will be the "Genesis Kinds" presentations. Remember that registration includes all conference events, meals, and copies of the proceedings and Genesis Kinds: Creationism and the Origin of Species.

The early registration deadline is July 8, 2009 (a month from yesterday) s…

From the Library: Evolution, Creation, and Science

For those just joining us, "From the Library" spotlights interesting items in the library of the Center for Origins Research at Bryan College.

I first read Frank Marsh's Evolution, Creation, and Science about nine years ago, and I was amazed. I kept thinking to myself how "mature" it was, by which I meant that it seemed advanced for a book more than 50 years old. I'm not sure if that's a testament to Marsh's abilities or a commentary on the state of creationist biology at the time.

The book is by no means perfect, however. Marsh has more than one agenda here, and sometimes those agendas clash. He tries to be naturalist, apologist, and Bible scholar all at once, sometimes leading to puzzling and contradictory claims. Overall, however, the book was an influential step in the development of modern creationist biology. In my own book Understanding the Pattern of Life, I portrayed Marsh as a great innovator. Having done a lot of reading since then, …

Evil Answers

I guess it's kind of silly to point out what AIG is posting at their website, since they get gazillions more visits every day than I do, but I really like what they're doing with Answers magazine, and I like to encourage anyone who hasn't given it a try to see what it's like. [Wow, that was a ridiculously long sentence. Oh well, it's just a blog. Not like real publishing.]

Their summer issue is themed around the Fall, and I noticed that they just posted a sneak peak article by Gary Phillips called Lessons from the Fall. I especially like the sidebar at the end of the article, "Who picked Adam to represent us?"
...consider how representative headship is to our benefit. Apparently angels "fell" without a representative head, and there is no hope of restoration for them. They sinned individually and are beyond recovery. In contrast, we sinned representatively as well as individually, and our sin can be forgiven and overcome. Just as we have a rep…

Dead apes and penguin poo

Another newly-described primate fossil was unveiled this week with much less fanfare than Ida, but I suspect it will turn out to be more significant. Anoiapithecus brevirostris is actually thought to be a hominoid, which means it's more human-like than Darwinius (Ida). It raises again in my mind the question of why God made primates at all. Why not just people? It's all part of that similarity problem that keeps me occupied.

In other news, this sounds fascinating: Scientists map penguins from space by locating their feces. I'm so glad tax dollars are well spent.

Moya-Sola et al. 2009. A unique Middle Miocene European hominoid and the origins of the great ape and human clade. PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.0811730106.

Polonium halos at The New Creationism

I was going to post something else entirely this morning, but then I read Paul Garner's post on polonium halos, and I thought I should just direct you there. This is a great example of what I consider to be the real maturation of creationism that has occurred over the past twenty years that most folks (creationists included) are unaware of. The initial work on radiohalos was conducted with the assumption that the halos were records of the initial creation of the granites in which they occur. Beginning in the 1980s, creationists began questioning this interpretation. Paul can explain the rest:

Are polonium radiohalos primordial?

I find the history of radiohalos very encouraging. Good science is (in part) a process of making observations and revising interpretations. Revising interpretations, rejecting inadequate explanations, and proposing newer and better theories is a good thing.

And just for the record, I do not howl.

SOS and mobile DNA

I'm catching up on some back reading this afternoon, and this paper was really interesting:

Guerin et al. 2009. The SOS response controls integron recombination. Science 324:1034.

There's a lot I could say about this, but let me try to boil it down to this: I've long argued that God must have made organisms truly adaptable. Creating organisms in some fragile state in which inevitable mutations irreversibly degrade them is just incompetent design. God's better than that. One could also argue that the amount of speciation after the Flood is too great to attribute to some kind of random variation/selection/drift mechanism; those speciation changes were designed. Likewise, some of the differences exhibited between species of the same baramin are adaptive, suggesting that they were also designed and not random. Since the genomic changes within baramins are sometimes extensive, standard Mendelian scenarios advocated by some creationists are not adequate. Critters wer…