Bacterial Evolution Disproves Conservatism?

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Creationists (I mean, Intelligent Designers) often cite the dictum by IDer William Dembski that non-intelligent processes cannot produce new information. From this they conclude that biological evolution is impossible. But what to do when a researcher shows bacteria evolving new capabilities?

http://bigpicture.typepad.com/writing/images/2008/02/15/eat_survive_reproduce.gif

Evidently, the right answer (pun intended) is to accuse the researcher of faking his data. Ars Technica describes the sorry effort by denizens at Conservapedia, the self-described "encyclopedia written from a conservative point of view," to attack the research of Michigan State biologist Richard Lenski and colleagues. Lenski grew thousands of generations of E. coli that normally live off of glucose. More than 30,000 generations later some developed the capacity to metabolize citrate. However, according to the savants over at Conservapedia this couldn't occur. Ars Technica explains what happened next:

Clearly, Lenski's bacteria appear to have evolved a significant new capacity. Fortunately, the residents of Conservapedia found a way out of this logical conundrum: Lenski was either misinterpreting his data, or he faked it. In an open letter to Lenski, Conservapedia's Andy Schlafly (an attorney with an engineering background) wrote, "skepticism has been expressed on Conservapedia about your claims, and the significance of your claims, that E. Coli [sic] bacteria had an evolutionary beneficial mutation in your study." Their solution? Show them the data: "Please post the data supporting your remarkable claims so that we can review it, and note where in the data you find justification for your conclusions."

Lenski replied, noting that the whole purpose of scientific paper is to discuss and display data and to use them to justify conclusions; the data were in the paper itself. He also pointed out he'd placed a copy of the paper on his website for those without subscriptions to PNAS. Lenski also spent some time reexplaining some of his conclusions, and pointing out errors and misconceptions in the letter he had received. This response prompted a second letter from Schlafly, suggesting he wanted to review the data underlying the data presented in the paper, and noting that the work is taxpayer funded, giving him a right to it as a taxpayer.

From here on out, standard Internet drama ensued. By the time of his next reply, Lenski had apparently read the discussion pages attached to the letters, and discovered that Schlafly hadn't actually bothered to read the paper he was demanding the data for. He has also discovered that some Conservapedia members were simply calling the whole thing a hoax, and accusing him of having engaged in research fraud. As a result, Lenski was apparently very annoyed, and his second letter is far more assertive.

Lenski again notes that the paper actually contained the relevant data, and that Schlafly's complaints suggested he wouldn't know what to do with any further data were Lenski to provide it to him.

To their credit, some Conservapediaists backed up Lenski. Ideological purity being more important than scientific accuracy, the dissenters have evidently had their accounts blocked.

If you want some really insightful discussions about biological evolution and conservatism, I highly recommend that you head over to Northern Illinois University philosopher Larry Arnhart's Darwinian Conservatism blog.

Whole Ars Technica post here.

Heads up: On July 12 at Freedomfest 2008 in Las Vegas, Skeptic magazine's Michael Shermer and I will be debating Discovery Institute IDers Steve Meyer and George Gilder on the question, "Is there scientific evidence for intelligent design in nature?"

P.S. I tried linking to relevant items over at Conservapedia and couldn't get through.

Hat tip to C. Oliver.

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  1. Is there scientific evidence for intelligent design in nature?

    Sure there is. Look at dog breeds or thoroughbred horses. Of course, thats assuming that humans are intelligent.

  2. LOL@”Conservatives”

    Struggling mightily to conserve their ignorance or reality.

    Of course, don’t confuse “conservatives” with conservatives. I’m referring to the fundy moron variety who are only interested in conserving their myths.

  3. Ugh! “or reality” should be “of reality”. Damn!

  4. Why do those jackasses get to call themselves conservatives?

  5. I reject your reality and substitute my own!

  6. I love that some people think that Vacation Bible School is a weighty addition to their vita.

  7. To their credit, some Conservapediaists backed up Lenski. Ideological purity being more important than scientific accuracy, the dissenters have evidently had their accounts blocked.

    That’s just pathetic.

  8. denizens at Conservapedia, the self-described “encyclopedia written from a conservative point of view,”

    There is no evolution, and the internet was created by Jesus (not Al Gore as liberals believe) so that fundies could have their own encyclopedia to combat the liberal propaganda machine that is Encyclopedia Brittanica.

  9. Someone needs to tell Lenski not to play Calvin ball. When they eventually get worn down by those nettlesome facts, they’ll just declare that a divine miracle an intelligent design occurred in his lab.

  10. This does not fall in line with my chosen belief of how the world works, and therefore someone is doing something dishonest or stupid.

  11. I am glad I fully recovered from my former conservativism before the creation of “Conservapedia”. Damn, that site would make me ashamed to call myself a conservative. Even at my most conservative I did not believe that the story of Genesis should be taken literally. Come on people, even Jesus taught in parables.

  12. Yeah, you might think that incontrovertible proof that the earth goes round the sun complex life forms evolve from simpler ones, since it undermines their entire belief system, would cause them to abandon it, but they never do.

  13. “fundies could have their own encyclopedia to combat the liberal propaganda machine that is Encyclopedia Brittanica”

    If I’m remembering this correctly, much of Wikipedia is composed of encyclopedias that are in the public domain. I think many of the articles are from the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1911 with updates, add-ons, and revisions.

    Which I guess means that these retards have even less justification for whatever the fuck it is that they are trying to accomplish.

  14. pinko –
    To those who frequent Conservapedia, even their dog must have a liberal bias.

  15. Yeah, you might think that incontrovertible proof that the earth goes round the sun complex life forms evolve from simpler ones, since it undermines their entire belief system, would cause them to abandon it, but they never do.

    What some call “proof”, others call “Satan’s cunning attempts to subvert the truth”.

  16. I am pretty sure conservapedia was mentioned before, but may I state again that this is one of the best (unintentional) humor sites on the web?

    Check out rationalwiki.com if you are interested in seeing more of the sillyness all put together in a nice snarky package.

  17. Facts have a liberal bias.

  18. yes, conservapedia is quite a humorous site indeed.

    Glad someone here is also reading Ars Technica. I find their insights on the FISA laws, media sharing, and of course technology to be consistently informative and more indepth than other sites.

  19. It’s very interesting to compare the “libertarianism” entries from Conservapedia and rationalwiki.

  20. Is there an anarcho-capitalist biased wiki?

  21. Ironic:

  22. If y’all are seeing what I’m seeing, this is a win at failing regarding my tag screw-up.

  23. It’s very interesting to compare the “libertarianism” entries from Conservapedia and rationalwiki.

    Wow. The Rationalwiki entry makes me feel like they co-opted the word “rational” just as Conservapedia co-opted “conservative.”

  24. Conservatives who think belief in intelligent design is a prerequisite to being a conservative are nearly as stupid as libertarians who think atheism is a prerequisite to being a libertarian.

  25. joshua corning,

    You know why so many libertarians are atheists? Because why shuck off the chains of temporal authority to only still drag around the chains of supernatural authority. You still need the comfort of someone to tell you what to do. Awesome. Have fun with that.

  26. Nigel,

    Thanks!

  27. Evidently, the right answer (pun intended) is to accuse the researcher of faking his data.

    IDers certainly do that.

    They also sometimes appeal to a false distinction they’ve created. That “microevolution” vs. “macroevolution” bullshit story some of them try to sell. You see, apparently single cell organisms do evolve but more complex organisms do not.

    Goal-post moving? You betcha.

  28. “Conservatives who think belief in intelligent design is a prerequisite to being a conservative are nearly as stupid as libertarians who think atheism is a prerequisite to being a libertarian.”

    I have never come across someone who thinks atheism is a prerequisite to being a libertarian. Not even objectivists say this (many Objectivists do not even consider themselves libertarians even though they are because Ayn Rand disliked the libertarian movement so obviously there is not value in it)

  29. Conservatives show no propensity for independent thought, thus they are easily duped on silly notions like Creationism.

  30. I would think conservatives, rather than adopting outright denial, would realize that recognizing that natural selection and adaptation of organisms occurs does not automatically equal atheism and naturalistic spontaneous generation of life.

  31. That’s not quite right, Buck.

    If you read right-wing blogs, you’ll fine some incredibly creative, unique applications of some pretty high-caliber intellects, put into the service of defending silly notions like Creationism.

    Why, the “irreducable complexity” concept itself – that is some very creative, out-of-the-box thinking in its own right. A lack of independent thought is not really the problem here.

  32. “I would think conservatives, rather than adopting outright denial, would realize that recognizing that natural selection and adaptation of organisms occurs does not automatically equal atheism and naturalistic spontaneous generation of life.”

    I did that very thing when I was a conservative.

  33. CFfisher,

    The Catholic Church didn’t fight back so hard against the heliocentric solar system idea becasue they were just sticks-in-the-mud who didn’t want to admit they got a scientific quesiton wrong. They resisted it so long, because they used that conception of the universe as an argument for their moral, doctrinal, and political systems. If the Earth isn’t the center of the solar system, then the purpose of the universe is not to revolve around, and demonstrate God’s plan to, humanity. The physical shape of the universe, the thinking went, was supposed to be a demonstration of the proper order here on Earth.

    This is similar – the process of creation is supposed to demonstrate certain things they want to believe in. For example, that man is prior to, and therefore rightfully above, woman, or that humans are solely and uniquely made in the image of God, and that they have divine sanction to be the stewards of the Earth.

  34. What’s silly is not a belief in a god, but belief in The Bible, or any other sacred text. To try to take something human and deify it cannot lead to enlightenment.

  35. “This is similar – the process of creation is supposed to demonstrate certain things they want to believe in. For example, that man is prior to, and therefore rightfully above, woman, or that humans are solely and uniquely made in the image of God, and that they have divine sanction to be the stewards of the Earth.”

    Just as there litterally was a tortis who beat a hare in a race.

  36. To try to take something human and deify it cannot lead to enlightenment.

    When the robots make their own robots…that is when we will have something that will lead to enlightenment.

  37. When the robots make their own robots…that is when we will have something that will lead to enlightenment.

    ?

  38. The difference between rationalwiki and conservapedia is that conservapedia is supposed to be serious. Rationalwiki is pretty much 95% snark making fun of everything they disagree with (and many things they do), and a small amount of analysis of pseudoscience (which also normally contains a huge amount of sillyness).

    One calls itself the trustworthy encyclopedia. The other calls itself a collaborative blog/forum/wiki.

  39. Soda: That “microevolution” vs. “macroevolution” bullshit story some of them try to sell. You see, apparently single cell organisms do evolve but more complex organisms do not.

    I don’t think that’s quite what they mean by micro- vs. macro- evolution. Microevolution refers to small changes within a species – any species. The smart IDers will concede that this occurs. Macroevolution is large changes at a higher taxonomic levels – fish evolving into mammals, say. That’s what they deny.

    They are able to accept microevolution because the Bible says something about God creating everything within its own “kind”. Originally, creationists behaved as if “kind” meant “species”, but then when speciation was directly observed, they used the term’s vagueness to move the goalposts by redefining “kind” as some higher order of classification. So they are willing to accept evolution within a “kind” (whatever that is), just not evolution from one “kind” to another.

    Perhaps eventually, when enough irrefutable evidence accumulates, they’ll just redefine “kind” to mean “fundamental biochemistry” (i.e., carbon-based, silicon-based…)

    No. Probably not.

  40. Not to say that their libertarian page didn’t bug me anyway, but when you compare the two sources, they are very different entities.

  41. Fools!!!! All fools!!!! The earth is balanced on a giant tortoise!!! Heresy will not be tolerated!!!

  42. P.S. I tried linking to relevant items over at Conservapedia and couldn’t get through find any.

  43. Please don’t conflate conservatism with Conservapedia. The two inhabit different universes.

  44. One calls itself the trustworthy encyclopedia. The other calls itself a collaborative blog/forum/wiki.

    I guess if one wants to get lies and agenda based analysis disguised as serious and trustworthy “fact” you will just have to go to the New York Times.

  45. Now this is the great difference between evolution and global warming.

    Evolution being an actual empirical concept, the scientist is perfectly willing to hand over his data and openly discuss how he made his observations and derived his results. In this case he actually considered and confirmed the theory of evolution by open, experimental testing.

    The global warming folks, on the other and, are denying freedom of information requests for their data and insisting that the public has no business in how they go their results. http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=3208

  46. Thank you, Salvius. I stand corrected.

  47. Andy Schlafly

    Is this Phyllis’s kid?
    If I were a fascist, I’d advocate a law that says you absolutely cannot go into the same line of work as your folks. This way people like Andy, Jonah Goldberg, Bill Kristol would have to succeed on their own merits rather than the family name. Who knows, they even may actually learn a useful skill like accounting or carpentry. Unfortunately, Paris Hilton would actual pass this threshold; it’s hard to tell what business she’s in, but it’s not the hotel business (although it could be said she’s been in the hospitality industry)

  48. The Catholic Church didn’t fight back so hard against the heliocentric solar system idea becasue they were just sticks-in-the-mud who didn’t want to admit they got a scientific quesiton wrong. They resisted it so long, because they used that conception of the universe as an argument for their moral, doctrinal, and political systems. If the Earth isn’t the center of the solar system, then the purpose of the universe is not to revolve around, and demonstrate God’s plan to, humanity. The physical shape of the universe, the thinking went, was supposed to be a demonstration of the proper order here on Earth.

    The sad thing about this is that they were not even fighting to validate the Bible proper. They were fighting to validate church dogma.

    I believe in God and I believe, therefore, that we were created in some fashion over some length of time.

    How exactly He did it (whether through direct intervention or via setting up natural rules and processes and guiding the entire thing from paramecium to Adam) does not particularly impact my life or my faith.

  49. Bacterium are neat. When they are under stress, their mutation rate goes up.

  50. After observing the biological evidence and the municipal planning board, I have concluded that intelligent design is impossible.

  51. Heads up: On July 12 at Freedomfest 2008 in Las Vegas, Skeptic magazine’s Michael Shermer and I will be debating Discovery Institute IDers Steve Meyer and George Gilder on the question, “Is there scientific evidence for intelligent design in nature?”

    Wow, you guys have way too much time on your hands, huh?

    Try arguing with a brick wall, you’ll get just as much value out of such an activity.

  52. Mick | June 30, 2008, 1:45pm | #
    Now this is the great difference between evolution and global warming.

    Evolution being an actual empirical concept, the scientist is perfectly willing to hand over his data and openly discuss how he made his observations and derived his results. In this case he actually considered and confirmed the theory of evolution by open, experimental testing.

    The global warming folks, on the other and, are denying freedom of information requests for their data and insisting that the public has no business in how they go their results. http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=3208

    this bares repeating

  53. It seems to me the correct ID answer would be, “Jesus loves bacteria and gave them the power to metabolize citrate through his wonder-working power.” Let’s see them falsify that!

    @joshua corning: the IPCC report is a consensus based on enormous numbers of scientific reports, similar to the NIE’s produced by the intelligence community. If you go to actual specific scientists and specific papers, the data are there and open to discussion. Real Climate (realclimate.org) is a good place to start.

  54. Informative, I like Mr Bailey. That said, his headline and gist of the article would be more accurate, and less biased against IDers if he actually wrote the story as it was, not as how he hoped it was. That is, the actual story and main point is in his sentence,that some at Conservapedia agreed with him and some did not. HMMMMMMMMMMMM. Could this be the discovery by Mr Bailey that actually there is honesty and fair mindedness amongst conservatives? I await Mr Bailey’s next offering with bated breath

  55. Ahhh another engineer overly enamored with Intelligent Design. What is it about engineers and/or engineering that, seemingly, results in so many of them being fascinated with Intelligent Design? Is it the notion of God as Engineer?

  56. To Mick,

    I see your point about the global warmingists. Interestingly, they dismiss scientists who refute the grand theories with hard facts as being inconsequential or as being paid off shills. So, how about some writings on the over 30,000 scientists who reject ( in some cases, trumped up science) the idea we are all doomed. Meanwhile, check out the increase in Arctic Ice Formation, from last year. http://igloo.atmos.uiuc.edu/cgi-bin/test/print.sh?fm=06&fd=28&fy=2007&sm=06&sd=28&sy=2008

  57. Sadly, some of the biggest kooks in pseudoscience have an engineering background. They trade on the public perception that engineers automatically have a thorough scientific background.

    Many college freshman chemistry and sophomore physics classes for engineers are huge, and designed simply to weed out wannabes by overwhelming them with blizzards of problem sets and other rote work. And that leaves little opportunity to actually learn what science is and how it’s done.

    After getting through the required science courses they set about learning their specialty, making them very clever at specific tasks but with little foundation for the science behind it all.

    Some engineers realize it and set about filling in the gaps. Engineers have a noble and stout tradition for lifelong continuing education. But some think they got it licked already, and thus a crackpot is born.

    This miseducation of engineers leads me to advocate that engineering become a five-year program, like pharmacy in the U.S.

  58. That is, the actual story and main point is in his sentence,that some at Conservapedia agreed with him and some did not.

    Did you miss the part of the story where the dissenters at conservapedia were banned for their sin of dissension?

  59. Kolohe | June 30, 2008, 1:50pm | #
    Unfortunately, Paris Hilton would actual pass this threshold; it’s hard to tell what business she’s in, but it’s not the hotel business (although it could be said she’s been in the hospitality industry)

    I’d say she’s in the business of promoting Paris Hilton.

  60. She’s an actress.

    Think of a green Linda Lovelace, if that helps.

  61. “Is there scientific evidence for intelligent design in nature?”

    It’s gonna be a short debate. As near as I can tell Intelligent Design makes no testable predictions. What kind of data would constitute “evidence” for or against it?

    ID is not a theory in any meaningful way. It’s just a slogan.

  62. Today’s lead article: even starlight has a liberal bias. Whew.

    http://www.conservapedia.com/Starlight_problem

  63. The fact that this experimentation was done at all shows how woefully inadequate the theory of evolution is. 31,500 generations later, there is a MINOR variation in e-coli, which, incidentally, remain e-coli. Everyone already knows that there is there is tremendous variation *within the parameters* of canines, for example. So this experiment proves little to me. Blessings, Bob

  64. One of the ways that e-coli is defined is by its inability to metabolize citrate. This is no MINOR variation – it is new information. And, as such, a major challenge to both Creationism and Intelligent Design.

    Furthermore, there IS some debate about whether this bacteria can still be called “e-coli” now that it has evolved this ability.

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