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Stupidity in Nevada - Elf M. Sternberg
Stupidity in Nevada
I don't normally think of "masonry contractor" when I want someone to educate me on the finer points of biology, but a masonry contractor from Nevada is so concerned with what he sees as the "problems" with evolutionary theory that he doesn't want them debated: he wants the state constitution amended so that teachers would be required to tell students that "some scientists believe it is mathematically impossible that life could have emerged from naturalistic forces," that "nowhere in the fossil record is there found anything that could be described as a transitional fossil," and that "the origin of sex is so unlikely that biologists do not believe an adequate explanation for it will ever emerge."

All three of these are, basically, wrong. Yes, there are a few people with PhDs in economics, or engineering, or mathematics, who have stated that they don't believe that biological processes can emerge from purely chemical ones: suffice it to say that there's nothing biologists or chemists can point to that would agree with them. It is a failure of the imagination that these men suffer from: it seems so complicated they can't imagine how it happened. Well, biologists can.

There are thousands of transitional fossils. You and I are "transitional forms" between our ancestors and our progeny, and if we go far back enough our ancestors are shaped vastly different from ourselves; likewise, our progeny many generations down the line will be different from our current forms. The term "transitional fossil" is a creationist canard, not a term of biology.

The evolution of sex has long been one of contention, but that doesn't mean that it's so mysterious we can't make progress toward understanding it. A paper that appears in last week's issue of Science shows that in species with both asexual and sexual reproductive strategies, those populations where individuals mostly favored the asexual strategy tended to accumulate deleterious mutations faster than those that had sex. Sex, it turns out, is useful because the mixing and matching of genomes shuffles deleterious genes out of the gene pool faster-- fast enough to make the biochemical investment in sexual reproduction worthwhile to the population as a whole.

But Steve Brown doesn't care, and doesn't want to read "hard" science books. He wants his ignorance enshrined in the state constitution. And he wants Nevada's children to share that ignorance with him.

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areitu From: areitu Date: March 8th, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Scary enough is the statistic where more people in the US beleive in ghosts and fairies than evolution.

As for biological processes emerging from chemical ones, some scientists created what they think were the precursor to single celled organisms. Under conditions that would have been found on primordial earth, they got some chemicals to form something vaguely resembling cell walls that divide. Though linking that to how cell walls are now made of lipids might be harder to explain.
_candide_ From: _candide_ Date: March 9th, 2006 03:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Never mind that chimps and humans are 98% genetically-identical, proving once and for all that humans aren't "descended from apes" ... humans are apes.
And speaking of sex, here's another statistical tidbit: 75% of all human conceptions do not lead to pregnancy. (I've also seen the figure placed at 60%.)
3 times out of 4, fertilized egg doesn't implant. Or starts to implant, but doesn't successfully differentiate. Or maybe the fertilized egg divides 2 or 3 times, then fizzles out. 75% of the time, the combination of genes just doesn't work.

But, that's the whole point of sex, isn't it?

Combine genes. Throw out the combinations that don't work. Keep only the 25% that do. (And even then, there are still other obstacles between "implanted blastocyst" and "newborn baby".)

sierra_nevada From: sierra_nevada Date: March 9th, 2006 04:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I promise not to sign his petition. If he manages to collect enough signatures, I promise to vote No.

It has to be voted on twice in two separate general elections before the constitution is actually amended.
elfs From: elfs Date: March 9th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't give it much of a chance in Hell, yet. It's still early, and I can't imagine your fellow citizens are than convinced that it's necessary to amend the State Constitution.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 9th, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Science paper

Seems to me that I've read several other papers along these lines before... Recently, I've been reading Scientific American, and National Geographic, from the 1950s through the 1970s, in a mixed lot that was being thrown out at the local college library. [ They have them all on CD, now. ] and I'm pretty sure that I've seen confirmatory papers in what I've read, so far.

The papers seemed to confirm that asexual or monosexual populations would reproduce more quickly, and fill a given niche more rapidly, but they were at a strong disadvantage when it came to adapting to changing environmental conditions. Since their reproduction didn't throw out nearly as many "mutations" as sexual reproduction did, sexual reproduction seems to give a lot more flexibility in adaptation.

*sigh* Though, the trouble is that the people who most _need_ to read Scientific American and National Geographic are the ones most not to do so.

pteryxx From: pteryxx Date: March 12th, 2006 07:12 am (UTC) (Link)
There's also a strong theory that sexual reproduction exists not because of advantages on a species-evolutionary scale, but on the scale of single generations through resistance to disease. The parents have survived diseases and parasites to reproduce, but during their lifetimes the diseases themselves have gone through hundreds of generations of adaptation to their hosts. Sexual reproduction insures that the offspring have proven genes, yes, but different combinations than either parent had. Thus they'll have an advantage against disease, until the diseases adapt again. This is generally called the Red Queen hypothesis - because we have to run as fast as we can to stay in the same place, to maintain the status quo.
mothball_07 From: mothball_07 Date: March 13th, 2006 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
None of which addresses the concern that the mason has.

How on earth could penises and vaginas and all the related stuff form independently and yet simultaneously as would be required to be a useful adaptation. (After all, what good is a penis alone? Don't answer that...)

I've always found it ironic that eyes are the other oft-cited example of "too complex to be explained by evolution" and yet *that* mechanism is one of the easier to show the evolutionary path to, starting with cells that sense heat and light.

I wouldn't worry too much though. In order to use this argument, they have to talk about S-E-X.
pteryxx From: pteryxx Date: March 14th, 2006 04:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Incrementally. Just like parasites adapt to their hosts, and herbivores to specific plants. There's a famous example of moth tongues matching the length of their favored nectar sources... when the host changes to make interaction a little more difficult, or a little more specific, then its partner tends to evolve along with it. So we get specialized pairings like the koala that can only eat eucalyptus, or the guinea worm that requires a human host and no other animal will do. There's lots of things that could prey on humans, and lots of other animals the guinea worm can come in contact with (such as the cattle belonging to the humans) but the guinea worm has specialized in humans to the point where it can't use any other host. In the case of sex, the male and female of a species pretty much have to change together, since they don't have the option of turning to a different 'host'.

An article that discusses the orchid-moth bit in more detail:

mothball_07 From: mothball_07 Date: March 14th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sorry - I wasn't clear that my post was rhetoric. I'm familiar with the mechanisms. I *ass*umed the eye example made that clear. My point was that sex *seems* pretty discrete. After all, if you don't have all the right functional parts at the same time, it doesn't work. But of course there are all sorts of intermediates those folks never think of. External sexual reproduction (ala fish), for example. And then animals that can reproduce in either manner. And then...
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