Now I know what to do for Darwin Day

I got a notice from LinkedIn, of all places, informing me that my name had been invoked by Creation Today, Eric Hovind’s silly site of nonsense. Sunday is Darwin’s birthday, and they have suggested things you can do for Questioning Darwin Day.

Ideas for celebrating Darwin’s Day:

  1. Invite friends over for finger foods and a movie about Darwin.
  2. Invite a Creation Speaker to come speak to your church or group.
  3. Find an event already planned for your area.
  4. Print “15 Questions for Evolutionists” and distribute in a public location.
  5. Join The Question Evolution event on Facebook.
  6. Use Question Evolution graphics on various social media outlets.
  7. Wear your favorite creation T-shirt.
  8. Engage the culture with tracts or signs about evolution.
  9. Pray for seeds to be sown and souls saved. (Matthew 9:38)
  10. Enjoy a can of Primordial Soup.

Where am I in that list? It’s the first item: he recommends some good movies to watch that day, and here’s one of them.

EVOLUTION VS GOD – Hear expert testimony from leading evolutionary scientists from some of the world’s top universities:

• Peter Nonacs, Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA
• Craig Stanford, Professor, Biological Sciences and Anthropology, USC
• PZ Myers, Associate Professor, Biology, University of Minnesota Morris
• Gail E. Kennedy, Associate Professor, Anthropology, UCLA

A study of the evidence of vestigial organs, natural selection, the fifth digit, the relevance of the stickleback, Darwin’s finches and Lenski’s bacteria—all under the microscope of the Scientific Method—observable evidence from the minds of experts. Prepare to have your faith shaken.

That’s about as dishonest a description of the participation of those four people I can imagine, although I’m gratified that my little liberal arts college is listed as one of the world’s top universities. At least he got one thing right. However, none of those four present anything to support creationism — unless you want to claim that the revelation that Ray Comfort will dishonestly edit interviews to be something that will shake your faith.

So here’s what I’m going to do to Question Evolution. I’m going to answer questions about evolution! Leave questions you’d like to discuss here, on this thread. On Sunday, I’ll fire up the ol’ YouTube Hangout machine (say, around noon Central time) and I’ll go through them…and try to address any other questions you might bring up during the discussion. Maybe I’ll also try to dig up a few other biology/philosophy types to also be on-screen for the conversation, or you can volunteer yourself here, if you have some expertise in the field. Of course I will have to wear a favorite evolution t-shirt, but there will be no praying.

Does anyone have a recipe for that Primordial Soup? I’m afraid it would be hot, acidic, and sulfurous, so I might prefer recipes for something I can make from the blood of my enemies.


  1. rietpluim says

    I have a question! If young earth creationism comes from Christian fundamentalism, why is there still Christian fundamentalism?

  2. johnlee says

    One thing I have wondered is this: We have a much longer childhood than other mammals. The benefits of this obviously outweigh the drawbacks, and I assume that it is an important part of our success as a species.
    Why then, are there so many bad parents? Why do so many parents harm their children, physically or phsycogically? Why are so many children neglected or ignored by the same animals – their parents – that stand to benefit genetically from the child’s successful passage into adulthood? Do other animals have similar behaviour, or is it unique to humans? Or is biology not relevant here?
    Please share your thoughts on this.

  3. Nemo says

    Maybe I’ll watch “Creation” on that day; it’s been sitting on my TiVo for ages.

    My favorite creation t-shirt:

  4. says

    Ideas for celebrating Darwin’s Day:

    Invite friends over for finger foods and a movie about Darwin.
    Invite a Creation Speaker to come speak to your church or group.
    Find an event already planned for your area.
    Print “15 Questions for Evolutionists” and distribute in a public location.
    Join The Question Evolution event on Facebook.
    Use Question Evolution graphics on various social media outlets.
    Wear your favorite creation T-shirt.
    Engage the culture with tracts or signs about evolution.
    Pray for seeds to be sown and souls saved. (Matthew 9:38)
    Enjoy a can of Primordial Soup.

    Um, I expect most people are unaware of Darwin’s Day, and that it’s not a hugely celebratory day, so why is Hovind treating it like it’s super bowl Sunday?

  5. quiet heretic says

    I have a serious question about evolution – or at least genetics. We know that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes and other apes have 24. Human chromosome 2 is a fusion of two ape chromosomes. Presumably, this mutation happened in one individual and then spread throughout the population. How can a sperm with 24 chromosomes fertilize an egg with 23 chromosomes or vice versa (we don’t know if the mutant was male or female)? Wouldn’t that have messed up the recombination process during fertilization? And how often would this happen? Have we ever seen organisms with the wrong number of chromosomes for their species?

  6. fusilier says

    I once saw an old video where Julia Childs – yes THAT Julia Childs – whipped up a batch of Primordial Soup.

    Can’t find it right now, sorry.

    James 2:24

  7. Usernames! (╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ says

    Back when cyanobacteria evolved the ability to photosynthesize oxygen, eventually resulting in the Cambrian Explosion (maybe):

    Because animals require oxygen, an increase in late-Neoproterozoic oxygen concentrations has been suggested as a stimulus for their evolution. The iron content of deep-sea sediments shows that the deep ocean was anoxic and ferruginous before and during the Gaskiers glaciation 580 million years ago and that it became oxic afterward. The first known members of the Ediacara biota arose shortly after the Gaskiers glaciation, suggesting a causal link between their evolution and this oxygenation event. A prolonged stable oxic environment may have permitted the emergence of bilateral motile animals some 25 million years later.
    SCanfield, D. E., S. W. Poulton, and G. M. Narbonne. “Late-Neoproterozoic Deep-Ocean Oxygenation and the Rise of Animal Life.” Science 315.5808 (2007): 92-95.

    The question: why photosynthesis instead of some other energy-harvesting process? Is there something about the structure of cyanobacteria that gave it a propensity to develop photosynthesis, or is photosynthesis an easier way to generate chemical energy for organisms other than anaerobic respiration?

  8. Big Boppa says

    My question isn’t about evolution so much as basic evolution education. With the current installation of Betsy DeAmway into the position of destroyer of public education, I’m very concerned about my grandchildren. I have 2 in school at the moment, 4th grade and 2nd. The 4th grader has begun to show an interest in human origins. I bought him Jared Diamond’s book, The Third Chimpanzee, but it seems to be just a little over his head for now. I realize this may be out of PZ’s wheelhouse but there are a lot of very smart people reading this blog so I’m asking for recommendations on some good books and materials that I can pick up to supplement what I’m afraid he will not be learning at school.

    Thanks in advance

  9. numerobis says

    I was just reading about evidence the first bacteria evolved in hot soup — near boiling — and faced selective pressure for enzymes that worked in colder temperatures as the earth cooled.

    So, leave me out of drinking primordial soup. It’s going to be toxic and dangerously hot.

  10. madtom1999 says

    #8 if you can think of any other reaction that produces as much available energy as photosynthesis would even at say 0.1% efficiency e-mail it to me and I’ll send you some very large dividend checks.

  11. ccwscott says

    Where do you fall in the debate of whether evolution is better understood from the perspective of genes, from competition among individuals, or competition among groups? Hopefully I’ve worded that correctly, or I’ve gotten close enough to something coherent that you can guess at what I mean.

  12. ccwscott says

    What are we going to do about Betsy DeVos? How long do you think we have left as a species?

  13. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Quiet Heretic: “How can a sperm with 24 chromosomes fertilize an egg with 23 chromosomes or vice versa (we don’t know if the mutant was male or female)?”

    Actually, surprisingly, no. Fusion of chromosomes is actually not uncommon. The best discussion I’ve seen of this was in Sam Kean’s “The Violinist’s Thumb,” (Highly recommended), but here’s another popular treatment:

  14. John Harshman says

    #6 quiet heretic:

    How can a sperm with 24 chromosomes fertilize an egg with 23 chromosomes or vice versa (we don’t know if the mutant was male or female)? Wouldn’t that have messed up the recombination process during fertilization? And how often would this happen? Have we ever seen organisms with the wrong number of chromosomes for their species?

    To answer your questions, in order:

    1. In the usual way. Fertilization doesn’t involve chromosome pairing. Neither does mitosis.

    2. Recombination doesn’t happen during fertilization. It happens during meiosis in gametogenesis. Yes, chromosomes have to pair in meiosis, but if each separate chromosome can pair with the homologous region of the fused chromosome, there is not much loss of fertility.

    3. It’s a rare event in population terms, but common in evolutionary terms. Then again, a single mutation in an individual is much more common than that mutation rising to high enough frequency in the population to become detectable, or even fixed.

    4. What do you mean “wrong number”? There are no chromosome police. But there are quite a few known populations in which chromosome number is polymorphic. Google “chromosome number polymorphism” and you will find lots of examples.

  15. slatham says

    Darwin apparently studied and wrote about the intelligence of worms. Big Question: What would a respectable research program on the evolution of intelligence look like today?
    Smaller sub-questions: How to measure intelligence? Ha!
    Could brain mass or energy use of the brain be used as a proxy for intelligence (or “intellectual capacity”) across evolutionary time or taxa?
    Or should “intelligence” be scrapped for the study of some brain parameters that we can better define and measure? Maybe range of behaviour?
    How does education (broadly defined) relate to intelligence or brain capacity or range of behaviour or … in an evolutionary sense? Like, if some dolphin species spends more time teaching offspring a lot of behaviours in the wild, what could be inferred about their brains relative to another species that spends less time? And how to test that inference?

  16. SqueakyVoice says

    If humans came from primordial soup, how come there’s still soup?

    How come there’s no evidence of monkeys eating soup?

    Actually I once saw a monkey smash a tomato up and then lick up the juice. Is this primitive gazpacho guzzling monkey the missing link?

    If humans evolved from fish, how did the fish eat their soup before humans gave them bowls to eat it from?

  17. says

    Long time stalker, first time commenter but maybe this is a good time to ask a question I’ve always wondered. What canI do to see evolution happen? I don’t have a lab, a biology degree or any specialist training but I’ve always kind of assumed that if I can get some sort of population of some sort of creature with a short lifespan and introduce some sort of gradually increasing pressure to the population…but I don’t know. Can I, using not too expensive materials available from the internet or otherwise easy to obtain, create a new species that is visually distinct from their “parent” (visually because numbered amongst the massive list of equipment I don’t have is “a way of looking at DNA” ). Is that a realistic goal? Where should I start?

  18. blf says

    Vestigial “organs”(there’s probably a better term) are, broadly speaking, organs which have lost most or all of their original function and — as far I “know” — are essentially useless, but presumably not significantly dangerous, else they presumably would have been further “selected”(again, probably not really the best term) for elimination or at least less danger. It seems to me it’s at least theoretically possible for a vestigial organ to acquire a new (and hopefully “useful”(another case of dubious terminology)) function and hence no longer be “vestigial”(at least as defined in this comment). Has that, (presumably-)functional₁ → (probably-)vestigial → (different-)functional₃, ever been discovered / observed / suspected?

  19. erichoug says

    Couple of things I noticed about the creation today web site. Just raw observations.

    1) The site appears to be, first and foremost, about selling thing to you and seeking money from you. Much of the main page is given over to a storefront type setup. Not as in adds but as in here’s what we have to sell. and the DONATE button is always prominent.

    2) There is no way to comment on any of the articles. I realize that they aren’t required to provide a comment/feedback link but it’s not a good sign. If they want to be taken seriously, they really need to open up to comments.

    3) The site is BLATANTLY dishonest about things that are easily verifiable. Ignore the whole creationism thing for a second. This site is still purveying the myth that Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide prenatal care at many of their facilities. I was raised in a fairly conservative Lutheran family and lying was always a big no no . But, the Hovinds seem to feel it is OK if it serves their cause. Sorry, as we all learned on the playground, a liar can’t and shouldn’t be trusted.

    Aside from that, I’m sure a lot of those stock photography models are not happy how their images are being used.

  20. quiet heretic says

    #17 – Thanks for the answers. Obviously by “wrong number” I meant “number that’s not common with the rest of the species” or something like that. I would imagine that for any species there’s a number of chromosomes which has become fixed.

  21. handsomemrtoad says

    RE: “…all under the microscope of the Scientific Method…”

    This is one of my pet peeves. There is no such thing as THE Scientific Method. “THE Scientific Method” is a myth, created by non-scientists who have never actually done any science. In fact, each scientific field has a different scientific method. Different standard experimental techniques, different demands for reproducibility, and for experimental controls, different levels of reliance on numerical/quantitative analysis vs. qualitative description, different modes of debate, different objectives and goals, different standards for confirming or rejecting hypotheses. Many scientists don’t try to confirm hypotheses at all, they focus on accomplishing particular scientific tasks–making a new molecule or a brighter laser or an emptier vacuum, or measuring a higher-resolution spectrum, or getting a compound to form a large single crystal suitable for structural analysis by x-ray diffraction.

  22. archangelospumoni says

    #24 rtoad:
    1 Please find the nearest Drumpfheteer as part of their famed “THE scientific method” experiment. (Preferably not a Drumpfheteer with a concealed weapon carry permit.)
    2 Please go through these examples, verbatim. (Or not.)
    3 Observe Drumpfheteer confusion, rapid eye-blinky blinky, frustration, precursor to lashing out blindly
    4 Enjoy Drumpfheteer head explosion.

    Get back to us once you have done these, please.

  23. says

    For Darwin Day I’d watch pretty much anything by David Attenborough (the stuff he scripted, not the stuff he voiceovered). Or I’d watch “Marjoe” which a brief study of the evolution of religious con-artists.

  24. dhabecker says

    Questions on evolution:
    Is there a known correlation between the number of individuals in any species and the rate of change?
    Bacteria vs humans say.
    Does the rate of change vary depending on the size of the individual in a species? Bacteria vs elephants.
    Or lifespan of an individual in a species.
    Did god create creation t-shirts?
    Are all four questions equally stupid?

  25. monad says

    Yay, questions! I don’t know if these are good ones, but I’ll offer them anyway.

    I know genes are much more shaped by drift than by selection, but then that’s not particularly surprising, because most genes don’t seem like their variants would change that much about the organism anyway. I’d be interested to know how often “features” are selected – things like appearance of stripes, the particular structure of a limb, etc. My guess is that’s much too vaguely defined to have any answer, but maybe you know of a more useful version.

    Also, not directly about evolution except in that all biology is shaped by it, but possibly still in your area is the first few steps of embryonic development. There has been lots written about how things like hox factors trigger differentiation into front and back, different limbs and organs, and so on. But what controls the basic arrangement of cells, for instance the difference between spiral and radial cleavage? How do they know which direction to divide?

  26. jd142 says

    @quiet heretic –
    Most places on-line show the diploid number, so humans show up as 46.

    Horses have 64 chromosomes and donkeys have 62, yet mules(63) happen pretty much whenever it is too late to close the barn door. So having exactly the same number of chromosomes isn’t a requirement to produce offspring. And in fact it is possible, though exceedingly rare, for a mule to be fertile. About 10 documented cases every century for the past 600 years, 60 total according to wikipedia.

    My guess would be that most mules are not given the opportunity to breed with horses or donkeys, so the actual percentage of fertile offspring is probably higher. Also, it seems that almost only female mules are likely to be fertile.

    I don’t know if there’s any biological law that offspring of different species always always always have the average number of chromosomes of the parent. I also don’t know if other species are more forgiving when mixing the number of chromosomes. Some one better versed in biology can answer that one. I just know that mules happen all the time and they can be — but very rarely are — fertile.

  27. John Harshman says

    #23 quiet heretic:

    I would imagine that for any species there’s a number of chromosomes which has become fixed.

    While that’s true for most species, it isn’t true for a fair number of species. Once again, I suggest you google “chromosome number polymorphism”.

  28. John Harshman says

    #24 dhabecker

    Is there a known correlation between the number of individuals in any species and the rate of change?
    Bacteria vs humans say.
    Does the rate of change vary depending on the size of the individual in a species? Bacteria vs elephants.
    Or lifespan of an individual in a species.

    1. Yes, or at least there are theoretical reasons to expect it. Given that most evolution is through drift, while neutral evolution doesn’t depend on population size, nearly neutral evolution, or the fixation of slightly deleterious mutations, does. The smaller the population, the higher the rate of nearly neutral evolution. There are also theoretical reasons to suppose that the rate of evolution due to selection should be higher in larger populations.
    2. Not size, per se, but of course both population size and life span are correlated with size. There are theoretical reasons to suppose that the rate of neutral evolution depends not on lifespan but on generation time (also somewhat correlated with size), though there’s surprisingly little data to support that expectation. The longer the generations, the slower the evolution. Potentially this may be true for selection as well.

  29. Pierce R. Butler says

    A while ago, I found my old copy of Jeremy Campbell’s Grammatical Man: Information, Entropy, Language, and Life (1982), which introduced me to an intriguing idea I haven’t seen in later lay works on evolution/genetics:

    [Dr. Lila L.] Gatlin points out that … we are talking about two different kinds of redundancy. … The first kind of redundancy, which she calls D1, is the statistical rule that some letters are more likely to appear than others, on the average, in a passage of text. D1, which is context-free, measures the extent to which a sequence of symbols generated by a message source departs from the completely random state… The second kind of redundancy, D2, which is context-sensitive, measures the extent to which the individual symbols have departed from a state of perfect independence from one another, departed from a state in which context does not exist. These two types of redundancy apply as much to a sequence of chemical bases strung out along a molecule of DNA as to the letters and words of a language.

    Increasing D1, the context-free redundancy, Dr. Gatlin shows, is a safeguard against error, because it makes the sequence more predictable. If a page of print has a larger proportion of x’s than of e’s, it is clear that something is amiss. … context-free redundancy is expensive, because if it is increased too much, it places severe limits on the variety of messages which can be sent. …

    … Context-sensitive D2 also makes the sequences of symbols more predictable, because it sets up a relationship between letters. As a result, it is often possible to guess what the next letters in the sequence will be, on the evidence of the letters which have already appeared. Yet context-sensitive redundancy is not as expensive as context-free redundancy. It can be increased by a reasonable amount without cramping the message source too severely. …

    Lower organisms, Gatlin suggests, may have more context-free redundancy in the information system of their genes than context-sensitive redundancy, insuring that the signals sent along the channel from DNA to protein are low in errors, but at the same time limiting the system to a very narrow range of simple messages. …

    … vertebrate DNA, Gatlin argues, is more like a human language, in that, while the total amount of redundancy is quite high, it is richer in the context-sensitive than in the context-free type. … It is a sort of informational barrier, which once surmounted, leads to increasing complexity. If this is correct, evolution is not simply a matter of random changes in proteins, selected for fitness by purely external factors like ecology, population clusters, food supply, and competition among and within various species. It has an internal, abstract side to it, which must be understood in terms of the laws of information and communication. … It was this extra freedom, safeguarded by redundancy, that moved life forward to mroe complex forms. Like the acceleration of Western civilization after the invention of printing, evolution may have acquired a forward momentum of its own. …

    Gatlin writes: The vertebrates and their ancestors were the first living organisms to achieve the stabilization of D1, thus laying the foundation for the formulation of a genetic language. They then increased D2, while allowing D1 to increase from zero only up to the optimal boundaries fixed by the genetic code.Hence they increased the reliability of the genetic message without a great loss of message variety. They achieved a reduction in error probability without paying too great a price for it, and an information theorist would recognize this as the utilization of Shannon’s second theorem.

    – pp 118-121

    Valid? or just another journalistic over-interpretation-from-insufficient-knowledge?

  30. says

    @Pierce R. Butler #30

    The “problem” with that is its kind of difficult for me to, physically with my unaided vision, see. I’m not trying to prove anything here or even really to advance humanity’s understanding of anything. I just think it would be a cool thing to do, and even cooler if I got to name any potential new fruit fly species or whatever.

  31. Pierce R. Butler says

    James Burtoft @ # 36 – Thanks for clarifying that.

    You might look into plant breeding, particularly of the Luther Burbank massive-culling variety (Lu eyewitnessed a lot of new things under the sun…). Human selection illustrates many aspects of natural selection, both by similarity and contrast.

  32. cubist says

    fusilier @7: “I once saw an old video where Julia Childs – yes THAT Julia Childs – whipped up a batch of Primordial Soup.”
    Yep! Googling for julia child primordial soup yields many hits, of which this is one.

  33. raven says

    How can a sperm with 24 chromosomes fertilize an egg with 23 chromosomes or vice versa (we don’t know if the mutant was male or female)? Wouldn’t that have messed up the recombination process during fertilization? And how often would this happen? Have we ever seen organisms with the wrong number of chromosomes for their species?

    These have already been answered.
    Species with varying chromosomal numbers are common.
    Examples include horses, pigs, and mice.
    This is considering, no one is even looking all that hard.

    People with nonstandard karyotypes aka “wrong number of chromosomes for their species” are also common. I’ve seen a few and go out to lunch often with one of them.

  34. says

    Nitric Acid @#37 That video’s awesome! Thanks for making me aware of that.

    Pierce R. Butler@#38 Plants are a good idea. I’ll look in to that. Thanks!

  35. quiet heretic says

    John Harshman: Very interesting. It’s a lot more common than I expected. Thanks for the reply.

  36. rietpluim says

    Print “15 Questions for Evolutionists” and distribute in a public location.
    Why in a public location? It would make more sense to ask an actual evolutionary biologist. I’m sure the public would be interested to hear the answers.

  37. woozy says

    Do I want to know what the “15 questions” are? Can I guess what they are?

    A bunch of hand waving about information transferal which if the average desk jokey doesn’t know the intricate details or which a professional biologist can’t put in a second grade level is declared as a win, and a bunch of irrelevant stuff about the depressing existance of the lack of moral certitude that evolution implies?

  38. dhabecker says

    I was saving this story to be used as the basis for a historical documentary commissioned by a major network, but PZ being a worthy person and all: It is the account of a discovery made by myself and a distant relative I met while tracing my family’s roots on This relative, (unnamed for security reasons), is a street vendor near the Khor Virap Monastery in Armenia, near the border with Turkey and Mount Ararat.
    Long story short, he invited me to visit and during that time this past summer he told me of a small group he belonged to that had sneaked across the border and up the mountain and had in fact, found Noah’s Ark. I said “bullshit” and after translation he said “No way, it’s true, and to prove it you can come along on our next trip.”
    At 16,000 feet, it’s cold as we approached a tight tunnel they had cut into the deep and ancient snow. About three hundred feet in, we came to a large opening framed in wood with a wooden floor which was for sure a gangplank. Holy crap I thought, this might be something.
    My friend pointed out two skeletons of an unknown species they had found just outside the door. They obviously had been trampled by what at this point I assumed was exiting animals and wondered if they were somehow replaced.
    Anyway, sticking to the short version and my reason for exposing these details is to tell of another discovery.
    Inside this ‘vessel’ were many rooms and one had a bench with several clay pots and what looked like a small fireplace. Scratched on the wall was writing that was explained as ancient Hebrew and that it was a formula or recipe if you will. It seems that all of the animals in existence, indeed, would not fit, so this was a formula used to reconstitute those left behind. It contained the dried blood of Abel, various amounts of salts and sulfur and a copious amount of horse shit. It was called Primordial Soup. If you’d like the exact recipe, just send…..

  39. jacksprocket says

    Bit late to respond to this, but.

    I’m told that most of the cells in my body aren’t human, or at best it’s a Trump majority. Whether that’s true, or only a big proportion of our cells are non- human does’t matter much. They are a big factor. And I assume that’s the same for all other complex life (*discuss). So my DD question is, how big a factor in evolution is the ecosystem that complex organisms host?