Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Confronting Intelligent Design arguments directly in the scientific literature
A representative from Wiley publishing sent me a link to an interesting new paper. Entitled "Using Protistan Examples to Dispel the Myths of Intelligent Design" by Mark Farmer, from the University of Georgia and Andrea Habura, from the University at Albany, New York. It is from the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology and is based upon a presentation they gave at a workshop at a conference.

Basically, the article is a detailed discussion of how examples relating to microbial eukaryotes (I hate the term protist ...) that are used by Intelligent Design advocates are, well, BS. And the article discusses the evidence that refutes the ID arguments.

One thing they discuss is the issue of the Cambrian Explosion. ID supporters, such as Stephen Meyer have made many arguments about they feel the diversification in the Cambrian is not explainable through evolutionary processes. Farmer and Habura refute this by pointing out that the diversity seen in microbial eukaryotes at the time of the Cambrian was immense and that what came out of the "explosion" was actually not that spectacular relative to what already existed in the microbial eukaryotes:
The extant diversity of the protists should therefore be seen as the "background radiation" of the eukaryotic Big Bang, with the Cambrian radiation of the metazoa being a subsequent event within a specific group.
They go on to discuss examples involving speciation, the fossil record, evolution of drug resistance in Plasmodium, and a few other things. In each case they discuss a claim by ID supporters and then discuss evidence for why this claim is not valid. Overall the paper is worth reading if you are involved in any discussions with ID supporters.

I note that when I finished the above writing, I went to look at Pubmed to find other examples of people taking on ID arguments in the literature with a focus on issues in microbes. Here are two other recent examples:
Some discussion of this has now popped up on the web:

FARMER, M., & HABURA, A. (2010). Using Protistan Examples to Dispel the Myths of Intelligent Design Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, 57 (1), 3-10 DOI: 10.1111/j.1550-7408.2009.00460.x


  1. Dammit you beat me to it (blogging-wise) >.< I knew sitting on that paper for a month or so wasn't a good idea...but I figured I'd be about the only blogger who reads JEM religiously, and then finds the hard copy issues in another lab, and rereads them, and drools over them, and oogles at ciliate pr0n... you get the idea ^_^

    RE microbial eukaryotes: Kelps are pretty damn MACROscopic, IMO.

    Protist, despite its paraphyly, is much more sensible/concise to say than "eukaryote that is not an animal, land plant or fungus". Microbial implies they're all unicellular and/or small, which is a common fallacy that I personally find really freaking annoying.

  2. OK - PSI - you have convinced my "microbial eukaryotes" is not good --- still do not like "protists" though -- will think about a solution

  3. Jonathan,

    While researching some (all) of the terms in your entry above, I came across a term that allows me to ask a question that I have been thinking for a while now. Has gene sequencing technology changed the taxonomy of the tree of life. (I'm not sure that is the proper vernacular.)

    I understand that the old method of classifying life forms, was by looking at them for similar features, and the study of how the life form reproduced.

    Q) Are "phylogenetic-based classifications" changing the look of the "tree of life" I learned about in grade ten biology?

    Is there a site where someone has produced a pair of trees that show what we knew 30 years ago, along side a tree showing what we know now?

    Michael Holloway

  4. Michael - without a doubt gene/genome sequencing has changed our perspective on the tree of life. There are many many dozens of examples of new groupings that are based on sequencing that are different than old groupings.
    Perhaps the best example of this is the change in the 1970s/80s from a world where we thought all organisms without nuclei (called prokaryotes then, though I dislike the term now) should be grouped together and now they are not grouped together.

    As for whether someone has explicitly compared the tree and how it changes over time, I am not sure. But we did this a little bit in my Evolution textbook where there is a section on the changing view of the tree of life over time.

  5. Jonathan,

    The online sections are a magnificent resource. This will take me far.

    Thank you.

    Michael Holloway

  6. Hey there, Let’s start with the term the “theory of evolution.” A scientific theory is In the sciences generally, a scientific theory (the same as an empirical theory) comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules (called scientific laws) that express relationships between observations of such concepts. A scientific theory is constructed to conform to available empirical data about such observations, and is put forth as a principle or body of principles for explaining a class of phenomena.4 Notice I emphasized observable phenomena, because for something to be a scientific theory there has to be observable proof that verifies the scientific theory itself. There has to be physical evidence of evolution occurring (remember from now on when I mention evolution I am talking about macro-evolution. The belief that our ancient ancestor was pond scum). So what am I saying, for something to be a scientific theory there has to be evidence that you can look at of the theory occurring. Here is where the first problem lies no one has ever witnessed the occurrence of evolution. NO ONE! Also there is no proof that verifies evolution ever occurred, so to say in its most basic form that evolution is a theory, according to the definition of a scientific theory is wrong. So evolution is not even a theory because there is no observable evidence that it ever occurred.


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