Darwin still rules, but some biologists dream of a paradigm shift

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Originally published in Tuesday’s, June 26, 2007, New York Times’ Science section, here’s a viewable copy published in the English language Bangkok Post:

Darwin still rules, but some biologists dream of a paradigm shift
by Douglas H. Erwin
Bangkok Post (Thailand), page 36.
02 Jul 2007

Is Darwin due for an upgrade? There are growing calls among some evolutionary biologists for just such a revision, although they differ about what form this might take. But those calls could also be exaggerated. There is nothing scientists enjoy more than the prospect of a good paradigm shift.

Paradigm shifts are the stuff of scientific revolutions. They change how we view the world, the sorts of questions that scientists consider worth asking, and even how we do science. The discovery of DNA marked one such shift, the theory of plate tectonics another.

Many scientists suffer from a kind of split personality. We believe that this is the most exciting time to be working while yearning for the excitement of a revolution. The philosopher of science Thomas S. Kuhn gets some of the blame for this state of affairs since he distinguished normal science from paradigm shifts in his 1962 landmark The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. What ambitious scientist would not want to be part of a paradigm shift? Who wants to admit to doing ‘‘normal’’ science? Not surprisingly, this yearning occasionally manifests itself in proclamations that a revolution is at hand.

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U.S. fans will be able to see Lucy’s bones

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It’s official. Lucy will be coming to America now that the U.S. State Department has given approval to allow the Lucy fossils into the United States. Last October 2006 the Houston Museum of Natural Science issued a press release [Word document] about the partnership with the Ethiopian government. The negotiations with the Ethiopian government took seven years to conclude. See also the official press release, The Exhibition “Lucy Legacy: Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia”, from the Honorary Consul General of Ethiopia. The arrangements have not been without controversy as reported by National Geographic and other news agencies. While the most public criticism against moving the fossils revolve around their supposed fragile condition, there appears to be an undercurrent of concern about how much money is being paid the Ethiopian government and their National Museum. The Cleveland Plain Dealer buries the fact that an estimated $5 – $7 million will be generated by just the Houston leg of the tour. Nature magazine’s Rex Dalton quotes palaeoanthropologist Bernard Wood about how lucrative this is for Ethiopia:

“I don’t think original fossils should be moved without good scientific reason,” says Bernard Wood, a palaeoanthropologist at George Washington University in Washington DC who signed the 1999 policy. Wood, however, concedes that a lucrative series of US exhibitions could help the Ethiopian museum. “African museums are badly underfunded,” he says, adding that the exhibition could be justified if enough of the proceeds go back to the museum in Addis Ababa. The terms of the proposed deal have not yet been negotiated.

Answers in Genesis speaker Dr. David Menton has several critiques of Lucy’s evolutionary significance. See Making Man Out of Monkeys or Farewell to “Lucy”, and even a DVD: Lucy—She’s No Lady! A Critique of One of the Supposed Ancestors of Man. AiG also features a sample of the video.

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U.S. fans will be able to see Lucy’s bones
Feds OK visit by earliest hominid ancestor
by Natasha T. Metzler
San Francisco Chronicle, page A2
28 Jun 2007

The State Department gave final approval Wednesday for one of the world’s most famous fossils — the 3.2 million-year-old Lucy skeleton unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974 — to tour the United States on exhibit for the first time.

The Smithsonian has objected to the idea, however, because museum experts don’t think the fragile remains should travel. So Lucy won’t be stopping at the National Museum of Natural History, but at other U.S. museums instead.

Smithsonian scientists feel that certain artifacts, such as Lucy, are too valuable for the stresses of travel and should remain in their homes, according to National Natural History Museum spokesman Randall Kremer.

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Yes, the universe looks like a fix. But that doesn’t mean that a god fixed it

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Paul Davies has long been quoted by creationists and ID proponents as being ‘friendly’ or ‘open’ to the idea that the universe shows evidence of design. In the Comment & Debate section of the June 26, UK newspaper, The Guardian, Davies dispells any notion that he’s in either camp.

Yes, he thinks the universe looks designed, but ‘god’ didn’t do it. Paul Davies now works at Arizona State University and directs BEYOND: The Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science.

The Hindu, one of India’s most widely read and respected English language newspapers, titled the same Davies’ article Flaws in creationists’ arguments. They have reprinted other Guardian editorials by Davies: Computers can help tease out the origins of life.

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by Paul Davies
The Guardian (UK), page 23
26 Jun 2007

Scientists are slowly waking up to an inconvenient truth — the universe looks suspiciously like a fix. The issue concerns the very laws of nature themselves. For 40 years, physicists and cosmologists have been quietly collecting examples of all too convenient “coincidences” and special features in the underlying laws of the universe that seem to be necessary in order for life, and hence conscious beings, to exist. Change any one of them and the consequences would be lethal. Fred Hoyle, the distinguished cosmologist, once said it was as if “a superintellect has monkeyed with physics”.

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Avec les pelerins du Grand Canyon

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Here’s a French newspaper’s coverage of Tom & Paula Vail’s Canyon Ministries.

by Philippe Gélie
Le Figaro (France)
26 Jun 2007

En Arizona, des groupes de chrétiens, convaincus de la véracité littérale de la Bible, descendent la rivière Colorado, qui serpente au fond du Grand Canyon, afin d’y observer les « preuves » du Déluge et de la création du monde en six jours. Aux États-Unis, le débat sur les origines, entre évolutionnistes et créationnistes, est intense.

De notre envoyé spécial dans le Grand Canyon (Arizona).

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Europe cancels vote on Darwin: Schools faced ban

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by Gilbert Reilhac, Reuters News Agency
The Washington Times Daily, page A10
26 Jun 2007

Strasbourg, France — Europe’s main human rights body yesterday canceled a scheduled vote on banning creationist and intelligent design views from school science classes, saying the proposed resolution was one-sided.

The resolution, which the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly was expected to vote on yesterday, said attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted “in forms of religious extremism” and amounted to a dangerous attack on scientific knowledge.

Believers in creationism or intelligent design argue that some life forms are too complex to have evolved in accordance with Charles Darwin’s theory. read more…

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Despite what Bush says, Field Museum sold on evolution

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Field Sold on Evolution
by Tom McNamee
Chicago Sun-Times, page 24
25 Jun 2007

Right from the get-go, there on a sign at the entrance to the Evolution exhibit at the Field Museum, real science takes a stand:

“Evolution is one of science’s best-supported theories.”

Perfect. A profound truth flatly stated, without a hint of equivocation.

Why this pleases me so much, I’m not sure. What did I expect from one of the world’s great natural science museums? A diorama of Adam and Eve tossing Frisbees to dinosaurs?
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Chicago Sun-Times, page 2
25 Jun 2007

Evolution is, to be sure, one of science’s most solid theories. But step outside the realm of real science and rational thought and you might pick up a different impression.

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What does that Darwin know anyway?

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by Rebecca Dube
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
19 Jun 2007

If your picture of creationists is limited to barefoot hillbillies and Republican U.S. presidential candidates, it’s time for your thinking to evolve.

New polls show that a larger share of Americans – 53 per cent – believe in evolution than do Ontario residents, only 51 per cent of whom believe that “human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years.”

Over all, 59 per cent of Canadians said they believe in evolution, according to the Angus Reid poll of 1,088 adults conducted June 12-13. Twenty-two per cent agreed that “God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years,” and 19 per cent told pollsters they weren’t sure. read more…

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Teachers urged to defy creationism

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by Paul Gorman, Science reporter
The Press (New Zealand)
20 Jun 2007

Evolution teachers are being told to confront creationism in the classroom and make sure students understand what sets science apart from other subjects.

At the Evolution 2007 conference in Christchurch yesterday, Dr Elizabeth Elle, of Simon Fraser University in Canada, outlined how teachers of evolutionary biology at all levels should deal with resistance from students.

While most of that resistance would come from those with strong religious beliefs, some just had ‘‘misconceptions of the world’’, she said.

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