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2008 Annual Report

“Getting Ready for the Darwin Bicentennial Celebration”

Dear Friends and Supporters of ARN:

We would like to take a moment out of our busy schedule, and yours, to communicate news from this past year and thoughts about the coming year.  At the close of this report we  discuss several creative ideas on how to participate in the Bicentennial Celebration of the birth of Charles Darwin (1809-2009) scheduled for 2009.

We have a broad charter at Access Research Network covering a wide range of topics that fall under the general category of science, technology and society. We are committed to quality science education, helping students develop critical thinking skills, advancing scientific research, ethical issues, environmental issues, academic freedom, and exploring how science and technology interact with our culture at large.  But underlying all these topics is the lens through which these topics are viewed. 

The majority of the leaders in the scientific and academic communities prefer to view these issues through the lens of methodological naturalism, which assumes that all of life can be explained through mechanistic, reductionist, and naturalistic processes. Our charter is to view these same topics through the lens of intelligent design, which assumes that the universe, and the life within it, is instead the result of a purposeful, intelligent agent.

Science then, from an intelligent design perspective, is about the business of looking for patterns in nature that are best explained by intelligent causes, and reverse-engineering the world around us to better understand how it works. We then apply those findings to the advancement of science, technology and society.

At its core, this difference in worldviews boils down to what we call the Darwin and Design debate.  Which features of our world are best explained by chance events and natural processes, and which features are best explained by intelligent, purposeful design?  We would like to review a few key news stories from this past year that we think shed further light on this age-old question (the underlined words below are links to further information about these news stories that can be viewed in the online version of this report posted at www.arn.org/report/2008.htm).

Leading Biologists Marvel at the “Irreducible Complexity” of the Ribosome. In January 2008 the transcripts were released from the previous summer’s “Life: What a Concept” meeting at Eastover Farm in Bethlehem, CT. Craig Venter, a leader in genomics and the Human Genome Project, stated: “We talked about the ribosome; we tried to make synthetic ribosomes, starting with the genetic code and building them — the ribosome is such an incredibly beautiful complex entity, you can make synthetic ribosomes, but they don't function totally yet. Nobody knows how to get ones that can actually do protein synthesis.” George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Center for Computational Genetics, similarly marveled at the complexity of the ribosome: “The ribosome, both looking at the past and at the future, is a very significant structure — it's the most complicated thing that is present in all organisms. Craig does comparative genomics, and you find that almost the only thing that's in common across all organisms is the ribosome. And it's recognizable; it's highly conserved. So the question is, how did that thing come to be? And if I were to be an intelligent design defender, that's what I would focus on; how did the ribosome come to be?”

Origin of Life Requires a Skilled Chemist. Origin of life researcher, Leslie E. Orgel, published a paper posthumously in the January issue of PLOS Biology attacking self-organizational models for the origin of life. Orgel, although not a proponent of intelligent design, states that cyclic metabolic pathways are irreducibly complex systems that require a large number of parts in order to function—including parts that allow them to avoid many side pathways that will disrupt the cycle. In Orgel's view, it is not plausible to contend that such complex systems, with all of their numerous required components, would simultaneously come into existence. Orgel concludes that many catalysts would be required for cyclic metabolic pathways and such catalysts “could be constructed by a skilled synthetic chemist,” but it is very questionable that they “could be found among naturally occurring minerals or prebiotic organic molecules.”

Have Cosmologists Lost Their Brains? Naked brains floating in space, disconnected from reality – this describes the minds of some modern cosmologists, lamented Dennis Overbye in a shocking article in the New York Times, January 15.  While attempting to be sympathetic to the smart guys who can cover a blackboard with equations about higher dimensions, it was clear he was about to call these guys nuts.  His title: “Big brain theory: have cosmologists lost theirs?” Some of the ideas being seriously proposed by cosmologists include: disconnected observers in space (of which you might be one, imagining you really are here on Earth); universes bubbling off in all directions all the time; universes that make observers in a snap; reincarnation; and the possibility of a quantum fluctuation leading to a bang that would destroy us and the universe in a flash.  According to Overbye, “If you are inclined to skepticism this debate might seem like further evidence that cosmologists, who gave us dark matter, dark energy and speak with apparent aplomb about gazillions of parallel universes, have finally lost their minds.” Yet the article describes the opinions of leaders in the field: Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, Leonard Susskind, Lisa Dyson, and others, who debate their paradoxes and imaginative scenarios in all seriousness, run impressive calculations, and deduce alternate realities that could not be scientifically tested even in principle.  At least intelligent design theory attempts to work within the bounds of observable evidence (fine-tuning, irreducible complexity, the explanatory filter).

Design-based Biomimetics Yields Tangible Results. Biomimetic research is based on the premise that the natural world is information-rich and that reverse engineering methodologies are likely to be fruitful. The significance of two articles published in the 22 February 2008 issue of Science is that the natural world does not just provide examples of materials that are interesting to scientists and engineers - they demonstrate "mechanical design principles". There is an underpinning rationale which, when grasped, is of both theoretical and practical importance. It is not just a case of finding a feature in the natural world that works, but of recognizing holistic, information-rich designs in living things. Meanwhile the July 8 issue of ScienceDaily reported that engineers are turning to marine biology for insight into building better turbine blades and wings. The article reports that "the shape of whale flippers with one bumpy edge has inspired the creation of a completely novel design for wind turbine blades. This design has been shown to be more efficient and also quieter, but defies traditional engineering theories." Apparently small bumps on the leading edge of the flippers create vortices as the whale moves through the water, and this uneven flow "helps to generate more lift without the occurrence of stall, as well as enhancing maneuverability and agility." Design-based methodologies in biomimetics are yielding tangible results.

The Altenberg 16. Freelance reporter Suzan Mazur (Scoop, March 4) pulls back the veil on one of evolution's little known secrets — Darwinism is dead as a theory of evolution: “It's not Yasgur's Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock. What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature – let's call them ‘the Altenberg 16’ – who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accommodate ‘other’ new phenomena.” Mazur explores the views of the Altenberg 16 “self-organization proponents” and their attack on Darwinism as they desperately search for another materialistic explanation for life in a six-part E-Book.  Proceedings from the Altenberg summit are to be published by MIT Press in 2009.

Darwin’s ‘Tree of Life’ Declared Not Scientific. The March 6 issue of ScienceDaily highlighted a new study, “Tree Of Animal Life Has Branches Rearranged.” The article reported, “The study is the most comprehensive animal phylogenomic research project to date, involving 40 million base pairs of new DNA data taken from 29 animal species.” According to the article, the study yielded surprising results: “Comb jellyfish -- common and extremely fragile jellies with well-developed tissues -- appear to have diverged from other animals even before the lowly sponge, which has no tissue to speak of. This finding calls into question the very root of the animal tree of life, which traditionally placed sponges at the base.” The fundamental problem for neo-Darwinism is that phylogenetic trees based upon one gene or characteristic will often conflict with trees based upon some other gene or characteristic. Furthermore morphology-based trees commonly conflict with DNA-based trees. Meanwhile Lars Vogt contributed a thoughtful analysis of contemporary evolutionary thinking in the February issue of Cladistics with a paper entitled: "The Unfalsifiability of Cladograms and its Consequences" where he concludes “seeking phylogenetic trees does not represent a scientific endeavor and cladograms represent no scientific but metaphysical hypotheses."

Multifocal optics for well-focused color vision in early vertebrates. The Journal of Experimental Biology (211, 1559-1564, 2008) reports “The presence of at least four visual pigments . . .in the last common ancestor of jawed and jawless vertebrates suggests that the earliest vertebrates were able to sample a rich spectral light environment and enjoy the many advantages of color vision. Our findings suggest that the eyes of these ancient animals were capable of forming well-focused color images.” This should give Richard Dawkins (and others who think that eyes evolved easily) something to think about, as the ability to create well-focused color images with complex multifocal optical systems would have had to evolve very early and rapidly in life history (Cambrian-Recent).

Expelled #1 Political Documentary of 2008. Ben Stein’s Expelled rolled out in 1,000 theaters across the U.S. on April 18 and quickly climbed to the number 1 political documentary of 2008.  Citizens across the nation learned the cold truth that academic freedom and free speech are not so “free” when it comes to doubting Darwin. While the major news outlets viciously attacked the movie (understandable since the film identifies the media as part of the problem), the film revealed a systematic, unfair, and deeply un-American suppression of criticisms of Darwinian theory and distortion of any alternative thought in the academy. In response to the film over 17,000 people have signed the petition at www.academicfreedompetition.com.  (see our Expelled Super Bundle offer at the end of this report).

Slaughter of the Dissidents by Jerry Bergman. Just months after Expelled was released in the theaters, Dr. Jerry Bergman’s new book established that discrimination against Darwin doubters is not the whimsy of a couple of filmmakers, but a pervasive pattern in our culture that qualifies as  America’s newest hate crime. Expelled reveals just the "tip of the iceberg" regarding the discrimination that exists in academic and media communities against those who challenge Darwin's theory of evolution. With the release of Jerry Bergman's new book, Slaughter of the Dissidents, we are introduced to the rest of the Titanic-sized iceberg. Bergman experienced the slaughter of his own career over thirty years ago while teaching at Bowling Green University, which started him on a life-long quest to document the academic and religious discrimination exhibited against students, scientists and educators who dare to doubt Darwin. Bergman interviewed over 300 people in his quest to document one of America's growing hate crimes.

Biologic Institute Releases Stylus: A System for Evolutionary Experimentation. Scientists working at the Biologic Institute, where researchers are exploring intelligent design concepts in biology from experimental, computational, and theoretical perspectives, published a peer-reviewed paper in PLoS One (June 4) on their state-of-the art open-source evolution simulation program, Stylus. Over the past decade there has been considerable hype about computer simulations of Darwinian evolution. The most hyped is Avida at the MSU Digital Evolution Laboratory. Avida researchers claim their work is not a simulation, but actually is Darwinian evolution in action. Why is Stylus significant? Researcher Douglas Axe explains that if realism is important, Stylus shows how far Avida falls short as an "instance of evolution." Stylus is also going to open new avenues of research into how much or how little organisms can evolve and whether it really is possible to go from the simplest building blocks of life to the more complex and necessary functions of life without any guiding intelligence at all.

Louisiana Academic Freedom Act. Just two months after Expelled hit the theaters, the Louisiana state senate passed a landmark academic freedom bill with a 36-0 vote, protecting teachers that encourage critical thinking and objective discussion about evolution and other scientific topics. Known as the Louisiana Science Education Act, the bill was previously passed by the state’s House of Representatives with a 94-3 vote. This year, six states have considered academic freedom legislation designed to protect teachers who teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.

A Molecular Clutch Discovered in the Flagella. The rotary motor in the E. coli bacteria has long been the poster child of intelligent design theorists.  Their case became more compelling in 2008 as scientists reported in the June 20 issue of Science the discovery of a nanotechnology clutch that disengages the bacterium flagellum's tail from the engine that powers its rotation. The clutch “solution” is a neat, effective and potentially reversible mechanism. The researchers have identified a gene epsE responsible for making the EpsE protein which engages with the critical protein transmitting torque to the flagellum and removing the link to the source of power. The measure of complexity is in the unique shape of the EpsE protein and its ability to engage with the torque-transmitting protein so that power is no longer transmitted. The team is now “looking for a protein that disengages the clutch and reconnects the motor.” The science community is well aware that nanotechnology successes are achieved only by the application of sophisticated science and intelligent engineering design.

“Spore” Video Game Explores Evolution and Intelligent Design. Rather than debating the evidence for Darwin and Design, curious minds from age 8 to 80 can now experience the concepts in a new video game. Legendary “Sims” game creator, Will Wright, released Spore and admitted that the interactive game about evolution also puts the player in the role of an intelligent designer: “I think the game is really trying to give an overview of evolution in a way that is very toy-like and caricature-like. We put the player in the role of an intelligent designer. When we first started the prototypes (of Spore) that wasn't the case. We had the game carefully mutating things and it just was not emotionally engaging. When we put the players in the role of intelligent designer then people were much more emotionally attached to what they made.” The release of the Spore  game spawned articles about ID and evolution in nearly every major news media from the NY Times to USA Today to Wired.

A Call for an End to Pseudo-Darwinian Hype. In the September 9, 2008 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Austin Hughes calls for an end to pseudo-Darwinian hype: “Sequences of DNA provide documentary evidence of the evolutionary past undreamed of by pioneers such as Darwin and Wallace, but their potential as sources of evolutionary information is still far from being realized. A major hindrance to progress has been confusion regarding the role of positive (Darwinian) selection, i.e., natural selection favoring adaptive mutations. In particular, problems have arisen from the widespread use of certain poorly conceived statistical methods to test for positive selection. Thousands of papers are published every year claiming evidence of adaptive evolution on the basis of computational analyses alone, with no evidence whatsoever regarding the phenotypic effects of allegedly adaptive mutations.”

Royal Society Expels Director of Education. Illustrating that academic freedom regarding origins is a worldwide problem, the British Royal Society expelled its Director of Education in September for stating that students should be exposed to concepts of creation and evolution. Professor Michael Reiss, speaking at the British Association Festival of Science at the University of Liverpool, estimated that about one in 10 children was from a family which supported a creationist rather than evolutionary viewpoint.  He said his experience had led him to believe it was more effective to include discussion about creationism alongside scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution - rather than simply giving the impression that such children were wrong. Reacting to his stepping down, Lord Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, said: "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself: "This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists.”

The Rise of the Non-material Neuroscience Movement. An article in New Scientist (October 22) described a battle brewing over what controls your brain: nature or your mind. The author identifies, with alarm, a growing ‘non-material neuroscience’ movement:  “They are attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism – the idea that brain and mind are two fundamentally different kinds of things, material and immaterial – in the hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul.” The article reviews the work of non-materialist researchers and scholars Jeffrey Schwartz, Mario Beauregard, Angus Menuge, J. P. Moreland and the Discovery Institute. The author commented on an experiment Schwartz used to support the independent existence of mind, saying, “these experiments are entirely consistent with mainstream neurology”.

Paley’s Watch Found in Bacteria. A review article in Science (October 31) describes what is currently known about the circadian clock present in cyanobacteria. Proteins are the “moving parts” of the clock. The Authors describe “cogs and gears” in the “clockwork mechanism” evident in the Kai-ABC proteins.  Each protein, in turn, is made up of multiple parts, composed of hundreds of amino acids.  KaiC, for instance, is a barrel mechanism with two donut-shaped rings, each made of six toothed parts that make it look like a gear wheel.  The clock runs on ATP energy pellets.  It accumulates hydrogen bonds through phosphorylation events that force it to “tick” like a ratchet in one direction.  It keeps an accurate 24-hour cycle, releasing its energy for the next round in conjunction with feedback loops from the nucleus and cytoplasm. A clock with cogs, gears and ratchets that keeps accurate time – what more could William Paley wish for?  The 18th century natural theologian used the illustration of stumbling upon a watch in a heath as an example of reasoning from design to a Designer – as from watch to watchmaker.  Skeptics like David Hume challenged such reasoning of the natural theologians as a mere argument from analogy: living things are very different from mechanical machines, he argued.  One can only wonder how their debate would unfold with the discovery of a ticking watch inside one of the simplest forms of life.

Atheists and Agnostics Defend ID. Darwin v. Design public debates took an interesting turn in 2008 as atheists and agnostics took up the torch for ID and Christians went to bat for Darwin. This surprising role reversal was most evident at a November 7 debate in Texas where agnostic Dr. David Berlinski, a well-know skeptic of Darwinism and Design, and Dr. Bradley Monton, an atheist philosopher of physics, both defended intelligent design, while theistic evolutionist Dr. Denis Alexander, a biochemist and editor of Science & Christian Belief, and well-known atheist and physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss defended evolution. Monton explains in a podcast interview why intelligent design deserves a place at the table in the scientific debate, despite extreme pressure to the contrary from his Darwinist peers.  Another example of this trend was agnostic philosopher and sociologist Steve Fuller’s defense of ID in his newest book Dissent over Descent and the ensuing public debate about the book in the online pages of the New Humanist.  Meanwhile atheist New York University Law professor Thomas Nagel authors an article defending the constitutionality of teaching ID.

‘Junk’ DNA Proves Functional. An article in PhysOrg (November 4) is one among many this year that have claimed ‘Junk’ DNA now proves functional.  Repetitive strands of DNA, seemingly lacking in information, have been shown to be crucial either in regulating genes or providing binding sites for RNA transcription machines. Another article in Nature (May 22) indicates a function for mouse pseudogenes in regulating gene expression by means of the RNA interference pathway.

Two-Stroke Machine Discovered in the Cell. Proteins need a protected space to fold, and the cell provides it: the GroEL-GroES chaperone. Chaperonins are large, complex proteins shaped somewhat like a barrel with a lid.  When a newly-joined chain of amino acids comes off the ribosome assembly line, it is subject to damage from the beehive of activity going on in the cytoplasm.  It needs a quiet place to fold.  The chaperone lid opens, the polypeptide enters, the lid closes, and safe inside, the chain collapses into its precise shape it needs to function.  Then the lid opens and the protein exits>. More details keep coming in about this “protein dressing room” as scientists continue to probe its secrets.  Two new papers in the November 6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team at University of Maryland and College Park reveal that this is no passive cavity.  The system acts like a two-stroke engine with two timers.

Celebrating the Darwin Bicentennial

What do Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln have in common? They were both born on the exact same day (February 12, 1809), and their Bicentennial Birthdays will be celebrated in 2009.  Darwin enthusiasts are tying Darwin to Lincoln and putting Darwin on a pedestal as the greater liberator.  Robert Stephens, an American who in 1995 founded the annual Darwin Day Celebrations, was interviewed on BBC.  The reporter asked how best to celebrate Darwin alongside Lincoln.  Stephens answered, “Feb. 12, 1809 was a very good day for our planet because Lincoln became the great emancipator of the slaves in America, and Darwin became the great emancipator of the human mind!" 

And the celebration will not end in February.  In fact it will build to a second climax on November 24th.  That date marks the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Just check out the cascade of festivities planned in dozens of countries at www.DarwinDay.org and www.Darwin200.org

I don’t know about you, but to me, celebrating Darwin as the great emancipator of the human mind seems to be a bit of a reach.  Especially after reading the news stories above from this past year. Darwin’s tree-of-life declared unscientific, Darwinism declared dead as a theory of evolution by the Altenberg 16, and widespread discrimination against Darwin doubters.  From my vantage point it appears Darwin is the great enslaver of the human mind, not the great liberator. As a culture we are stuck on a 150 year old theory that no longer fits the data, even though the theory has been modified many times to try and force it to fit.  Science has moved on and left Darwin’s molecule-to-man theory behind.

Standing on Darwin’s Shoulders

But rather than demonize Darwin as some want to do, or put him on a pedestal as the great emancipator of the human mind as others want to do, I recommend a third alternative. I recommend we stand on Darwin’s shoulders during this coming Bicentennial year and look to the future. What do I mean by “Standing on Darwin’s Shoulders”?  Darwin gave us several gifts, and I think we should graciously accept those gifts for what they are and move on.  First, he gave us the gift of observation.  Darwin was a naturalist of the highest order and his ability to observe and document the natural world is something we should all aspire to.

Second, Darwin was a rhetorical genius.  His ability to use the success of the British artificial breeding industry to build broad support for his concept of natural selection was brilliant.  In a nutshell Darwin gave us a very successful formula in his Origin of Species for overthrowing the current scientific paradigm. We would be well served to study his formula carefully as we attempt to replace his theory of random mutations and natural selection with a theory of design.

The third gift Darwin gave us was the courage to put forth a bold idea. While some of his ideas have advanced our understanding of the world we live in, we have learned over the past 150 years that it is not the whole picture. There must be something else that explains how life originated from non-life. There must be something else that explains where the gigabyte of information in our DNA comes from. There must be something else that explains why the laws of physics and our universe appear to be finely tuned for our existence.  So let us stand on Darwin’s shoulders and have the courage to proclaim our own bold ideas of design in nature to which the evidence continues to point.

Darwin Bicentennial Celebration Party Favors

Darwin Balanced Teaching Bookmarks (Free): We’ve put together some party favors to help you celebrate the Darwin Bicentennial in 2009. The first is our Darwin Featured Author page at ARN (www.arn.org/authors/darwin.html).  Here you can find links to free online editions of Darwin’s major books, as well as audio versions you can listen to. I must admit that it requires some mental fortitude to read Origin of Species from cover to cover, but those who do will be rewarded with some little gems like this quote from the introduction:

We are in such complete agreement with Darwin’s sentiments about teaching the pros and cons of his own theory that we have put this quote on a bookmark that you can download for free at the bottom of the ARN Darwin author page and distribute far and wide.  You can also order this quote on a t-shirt or coffee mug at www.cafepress.com/accessresearch/953427.

Darwin Bicentennial Celebration: A Retrospective Look at the Origin of Species ($25). For 2009 we are re-releasing our interview with John Angus Campbell, one of the world’s leading authorities on the rhetoric of Charles Darwin. In this one hour DVD Dr. Campbell reveals why Darwin’s rhetoric was so persuasive in overturning the origins theory of the day, even though his data was lacking in so many ways. After watching this interview, you will know more about Origin of Species than 99% of the world’s population, you will appreciate Darwin’s talents and gifts to us, and you will be able to articulate his bold idea and why it is not the whole story.

Expelled Super Bundle ($50).  To further help you celebrate the Darwin Bicentennial we’ve put together the Expelled Super Bundle to highlight the lack of academic freedom that exists today to explore both sides of Darwin’s theory, as he advocated. In addition to the Expelled DVD, the Super Bundle includes a copy of Dr. Jerry Bergman’s new book Slaughter of the Dissidents, which dives even deeper into the issues raised in Expelled.  To make this bundle even sweeter we are throwing in free copies of three of the best DVD documentaries on intelligent design: The Privileged Planet, The Case for a Creator, & Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  Purchased separately these products would cost $125, but since we want to help get you in the party mood for 2009, the entire bundle can be yours for only $50.

ID DVD Give Away. Finally, as our way of saying “thank you” for your year-end donation to the ongoing work at ARN, we would like to send you a free set of the three ID documentary DVDs for each $25 you donate. I can’t think of a better party favor to be handing out during the 2009 Darwin Bicentennial Celebration than The Privileged Planet, The Case for a Creator, & Unlocking the Mystery of Life.  Just indicate on the reply form how many sets you would like with your donation.

For the staff here at ARN,
Dennis Wagner
Executive Director

P.S. If you would like to receive our monthly e-mail news updates, go to www.arn.org to sign up for ARN Announce.



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12.17.08