False Counsel

Experts – who needs them? In the face of the sheer number of scientists and other educated people who agree with evolution, creationists need to find some way to dismiss their expertise. Andrew Schlafly has his “best of the public” concept, claiming that these people (generally, those that agree with him) are “better than a group of experts.” For his November 2012 Acts & Facts article James J. S. Johnson too asks What Good Are Experts?

Buried deep within his article Johnson does make some good points about not trusting arguments from authority, especially when the authority is talking about something beyond their area of expertise. But these small nuggets of wisdom – so easy to acquire elsewhere – are few and far between. The bulk of the article, as you might expect, is an entirely nonself-critical attack on the expertise on anyone and everyone who disagrees with the position of Johnson and the ICR. He begins his article like so:

How should we react to “experts” who smugly announce that the Bible is disproven? What about science “authorities” who have assured us that the Higgs boson particle “proves the Big Bang,” contradicting Genesis 1:1? Do experts ever jump to unwarranted conclusions? If so, how do we know? And do experts ever inflate their credibility by stretching their credentials—if a scholar holds an astronomy Ph.D. is that a qualifying reason to believe the man’s opinion about biblical Hebrew?

The Higgs boson reference is cited to Jake Hebert’s September article, covered here. I am yet to find anyone actually making the quoted claim, and it’s unfortunate that the ICR is running with it as if somebody actually did. All in all, not a great start. Continue reading

Professor Lenski’s Amazing Citrate-Eating E. coli

These guys again

You’ve heard of Richard Lenski’s long-term E. coli experiment before, I assume. It’s widely cited as a counterexample to a subset of creationist claims, and is particularly famous for Andrew Schlafly’s hillarious attempt to challenge Lenski’s findings in 2008. RationalWiki summarises what you should already know:

On June 9, 2008, the New Scientist published an article describing preliminary results of a long-running experiment started by Lenski [ED: link]. Lenski and his team had taken a single strain of the bacterium E. coli, separated its descendants into twelve populations, and proceeded to observe their mutations over the course of twenty years (a process discussed on Lenski’s website). The E. coli were fed a measured amount of glucose every day. At one point, one of the populations exploded far beyond the parameters of the experiment. Lenski eventually discovered that this population had evolved the ability to “eat” citrate, an organic molecule which was part of the solution the E. coli lived in, but which E. coli cannot normally digest. Thus, evolution had been visibly observed, with an exquisite amount of evidence establishing the timeline along the way. Not only that, but the experiment was repeatable; Lenski started new experiments with the frozen “archives” of the population which exploded, and found that beyond a certain point, that particular population of E. coli were highly likely to evolve the ability to digest citrate. The paper also highlighted the role of historical contingency in evolution and the role of potentiating mutations.

There is an additional, less commonly known but still important fact to note: your average E. coli can already metabolise citrate, just not in the presence of oxygen. Indeed, not doing so is a defining characteristic of the species* – does this experiment then qualify as the creation of a new “kind” of organism, I wonder?

Anyway, that’s what we already knew. While the appearance of citrate metabolism was well-documented, with huge quantities of data to wade through only now (with a new paper in Nature) do we have an insight into the changes at the genetic level that allowed the phenotypic changes be observed. Perhaps in a desire to become the next Schlafly, Brian Thomas writes Bacterial ‘Evolution’ Is Actually Design in Action. Continue reading