August 2011

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Well, well, well, another publicity email for C4ID’s conference falls into my mailbox, bearing with it another link to a brief video by one of their speakers.

This time it’s Dr Geoff Barnard on “survival of the fertile”. This seems to be brief excerpt from a longer presentation, but since this is what C4ID have pushed out for us to look at, this is what I’ll look at.  Who is Geoff Barnard? The email from C4ID says:

Dr Geoff Barnard – a geneticist now based in Israel – is one of the conference speakers.

You can read Barnard’s web page at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School.  The BCSE wiki has this on Barnard:

Geoff Barnard is one of the leading advocates of young earth creationism to have been active in the last two decades.

Dr Geoff Barnard was a senior researcher at the Cambridge Veterinary school but is believed to have retired and is now living in Israel. To our knowledge he’s been involved in at least four British creationist organisations as well as the Euro Leadership organisation alongside Andy McIntosh.

He was a leading speaker in Genesis Agendum where he was also a trustee. He was a founding participant and trustee in Biblical Creation Ministries, the evangelising arm of the Biblical Creation Society. He’s been involved in Truth in Science and, as at November 2010, was helping with the launch of the Centre for Intelligent Design

However, surprisingly, he was not a signatory to the 2002 Estelle Morris letter. This was the letter which basically gave the game away that there was an interconnected freemasonary of young earth creationist activists in Britain.

There is a bio on him at http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/bios/g_barnard.asp. [I note that the Creation Wiki entry on Geoff Barnard links to that AIG site, but has a photo that looks distinctly unlike the speaker in the C4ID video.  How many Geoff Barnards are there…]

C4ID also summarise the video’s message as: “Everybody knows that Darwinism is about the survival of the fittest – but is that circular claim actually the crux of the matter? ”  Interestingly, the origins of the phrase “Survival of the Fittest” do not lie with Darwin, but with Francis Galton.  As Wikipedia (Survival of the fittest) has it:

Survival of the fittest” is a phrase which is commonly used in contexts other than intended by its first two proponents: British polymath philosopher Herbert Spencer (who coined the term) and Charles Darwin.

Herbert Spencer first used the phrase – after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones, writing, “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

Darwin first used Spencer’s new phrase “survival of the fittest” as a synonym for natural selection in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869. Darwin meant it as a metaphor for “better adapted for immediate, local environment”, not the common inference of “in the best physical shape”. Hence, it is not a scientific description.

The phrase “survival of the fittest” is not generally used by modern biologists as the term does not accurately convey the meaning of natural selection, the term biologists use and prefer. Natural selection refers to differential reproduction as a function of traits that have a genetic basis. “Survival of the fittest” is inaccurate for two important reasons. First, survival is merely a normal prerequisite to reproduction. Second, fitness has specialized meaning in biology different from how the word is used in popular culture. In population genetics, fitness refers to differential reproduction. “Fitness” does not refer to whether an individual is “physically fit” – bigger, faster or stronger – or “better” in any subjective sense. It refers to a difference in reproductive rate from one generation to the next.

So, from the start, there is the usual deliberate misrepresentation, probably to set a straw man argument.  Additionally, the C4ID email goes on to say:

Geoff will carefully explain in his sessions at the conference on Saturday September 10th by reference to detailed biological considerations why he makes this claim. That evidenced claim has, as he says, ‘killer’ consequences for Darwinism.

Ah yes, the classic creationist usage of the word ‘Darwinism’, rather than the more appropriate ‘evolutionary biology’.  But I suppose for those of a religious bent, such as Noble et al of C4ID, referring to a bearded patriarchal authority figure comes rather more naturally than any reference to a century and a half of biological research spanning a multitude of disciplines, all providing evidence of evolution as both a fact and theory.  In the video Barnard says [my approximate transcript, so errors will be mine]:

It’s vital to maintain integrity of chromosomes.  Something to ponder. Follow the argument.

Shows a slide entitled “Something to ponder
– Meiosis cannot begin without synapsis and recombination
– Synapsis cannot happen without the maintenance of chromosomal integrity
– No meiosis – no sperm or egg
– No meiosis – no survival

Another slide:

Conclusion
– It is the survival of the fertile
– Maintenance of fertility requires maintenance of chromosomal integrity
– Maintenance of fertility and Darwinism are incompatible

He asks – Is it actually the survival of the fittest? Says “more accurately survival of the fertile”

Somewhat bizarrely, he then says “Doesn’t have a mechanism, folks.  Of course there’s variation but there’s a limit to common descent that will be measurable in genomics in due course”.

Quite an astonishing farrago.  I’ve no idea what came before this clip, but the video material is just so astonishingly bad, I am surprised C4ID circulated it.  Unless they didn’t expect those with a biology background to watch it (you can only view it at YouTube if you have the link – here it is.)  I can’t actually make much of this nonsense out.

Of course it’s vital to maintain chromosomal integrity (it’s what I research into).  To say that meiosis cannot begin without synapsis and recombination is a little odd, as synapsis and recombination are part of meiosis rather than a preceding stage. Maybe he’s making an argument from incredulity here.  It’s probably also true to say that meiosis can’t proceed without DNA replication, or adequate nutrition, or correct gonad development.  (And by the way, male Drosophila melanogaster manage their meiosis very well in the absence of recombination, so I doubt that recombination is an absolute requirement!)  So I imagine that the first slide shown here must relate to a prior statement on the importance of synapsis and recombination for the correct progression through meiosis.  The rest of the bullet points in the first slide are fairly obvious.

In the second slide we get a reference to survival of the fertile.  How odd.  The reality behind survival of the fittest is really that those organisms best suited to their environment (which includes other organisms) are most likely to contribute to the next generation (see the Wikipedia article).  This is the basis of natural selection (I’m ignoring chance effects such as genetic drift here).  Organisms with reduced fertility may or may not make a lesser contribution to the next generation – it’s a bit more complicated that Barnard would have us believe in this video clip, and there are other factors beyond just fertility that come into play.

Barnard’s closing lines are also a bit peculiar.  It’s not clear to me what he’s referring to as lacking a mechanism, nor what the basis is for his assertion there’s a limit to common descent.  And if the profusion of genome sequencing projects has achieved anything, it has been direct evidence supporting common descent.

It all makes me wonder if there will be any published output from this exciting conference.  On the other hand, the email’s closing sentence suggests they’re having a spot of bother recruiting attendees:

If you come yourself to the full weekend and bring one new person to the Conference for the same period, each will receive a free 2010 Oxford Conference DVD on arrival and signing up for our free e-bulletin

So maybe we’ll see video footage from the 2011 conference, though at a likely price tag of 20 quid a pop, I certainly won’t be rushing out to score one.

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The Christian Today website reports somewhat breathlessly that the creationist school proposed by the Everyday Champions Church in Newark has got the go-ahead from our somewhat underwhelming Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove (Evangelical school gets the go ahead in Nottingham | Christian News on Christian Today).  This appears to be another of the hopefully over-optimistic articles from the christian lobbies.  It begins

A school that will teach that God created the world has been given approval to open in Nottinghamshire.

An application by the Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, has been accepted by the Department for Education.

But then later in the article says:

Now it has emerged that a panel of civil servants interviewed Everyday Champions Church leaders last week after their initial application was approved. It is not known if they agreed to drop plans to teach creationism.

So what gives?  If Michael Gove has approved an application from these nutters, where will it end?  Why should the nation fund schools run by idiots who say

“Creationism will be embodied as a belief at the Everyday Champions Academy but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory.”

Doesn’t our foolish Secretary of State for Education realise this is creationist code?  I do wonder whether they will teach some alternative to the Theory of Gravity – perhaps while the teachers are all bouncing off the ceiling.  To hand education of our nation’s children to evangelical buffoons could be seen as sanctioning child abuse.

Update:  Visiting the Everyday Champions Academy website, one can see the following text in big bold letters:

Contrary to press coverage ECA has NOT been given approval to open by the DfE and will not receive an update on its progress to pre-opening stage until late September/early October. If the proposal is successful the Academy will NOT be teaching ‘creationism’ or ‘intelligent design’ in any science lesson in line with national curriculum guidelines.

So there is hope yet…

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The British Humanist Association has launched a petition on the UK Government’s new e-Petition website (BHA launches Government petition: Teach evolution, not creationism!):

Teach evolution, not creationism

Responsible department: Department for Education

Creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. At the same time, an understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. Currently, the study of evolution does not feature explicitly in the National Curriculum until year 10 (ages 14-15). Free Schools and Academies are not obliged to teach the National Curriculum and so are under no obligation to teach about evolution at all. We petition the Government to make clear that creationism and ‘intelligent design’ are not scientific theories and to prevent them from being taught as such in publicly-funded schools, including in ‘faith’ schools, religious Academies and religious Free Schools. At the same time, we want the Government to make the teaching of evolution in mandatory in all publicly-funded schools, at both primary and secondary level.

A slightly confused story at the Daily Mail online (Evangelical church application to set up new free school where it will teach creationism is approved) seems to suggest that the ridiculous idea that a bunch of evangelical christians are responsible enough to the trusted to run a school has been accepted by the Government.

An evangelical church with creationism at the heart of its belief system has been given outline approval to run a free school.

An application by the Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, Nottinghamshire, has been accepted by the Department for Education.

The church intends to teach the biblical belief that God created the world in six days, but evolution will only be taught as a ‘theory’.

That isn’t education, it’s teaching stupidity.

Anyway, it may be that the article is being a bit premature – accepting an application isn’t the same as approving an application, and the article goes on to say:

Now it has emerged that a panel of civil servants interviewed Everyday Champions Church leaders last week after their initial application was approved. It is not known if they agreed to drop plans to teach creationism.

Officials told the Daily Telegraph they could not comment on the application but each one would be treated with ‘due diligence.’

Meanwhile the church’s leader, is quoted as saying:

‘Creationism will be embodied as a belief at the Everyday Champions Academy but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory.’

Clearly the typical ignorant and scientifically illiterate creationist then.  Will the kids be taught alternatives to theories such as the Theory of Gravity?

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