September 2004 Archives

Why Evolution Is Like Economics


A great post from A Stitch in Haste.

Nova: Origins


A late notice:

After the successful series on ‘Evolution’, PBS has started airing another excellent miniseries, this time on Origins. (Origins will appear on PBS on Sept. 28-29 at 8:00 p.m. EDT. (Check local listings).)

See Nova Origins website

This series documents in detail the historical trail allowing science to understand the historical links between the Big Bang all the way to our existence.

The website provides a wealth of resources, additional links and interviews.

Deja vu again. Again.


Well, although it took us an oddly long time to notice it, it is now clear that Meyer’s infamous PBSW paper was not the second, but the third time Meyer has published his “Cambrian Information Explosion” material as a putatively “peer-reviewed” article. The text-dissection-by-Perl has been carried out elsewhere (see the PT post Meyer and Deja Vu Revisited), so I would like to give readers a bit more background on recent Meyer-related writings, and critique Meyer’s recent open letter responding to some of the press coverage of the controversy over his paper.

A scientific model of segmentation


Intelligent Design creationism is bad theology, bad politics, bad education, and bad science. That last point is made for me every day as I read the real science literature, and see what a contrast it makes with the ideological press releases that come out of the Discovery Institute. In particular, as I was reading a recent review article by Peel (2004), I was struck by the way scientific work builds on past observations, integrates multiple lines of evidence, and makes justified predictions about the natural world that are amenable to testing…all things deplorably absent from ID creationism.

The common theme in ID creationist research seems to be an assertion of the negative: science can't explain X. Y is an impenetrable barrier. Z can't possibly happen. You can't get here from there. Dembski, Behe, Meyer, and Nelson are all taking this approach, and worst of all, justifying it by carefully omitting all the evidence that shows that X can be explained, Y can be crossed, Z did happen, and of course we got here from there. It's also a failure as a research program, because their point of view is utterly dependent on not finding evidence.

So let's take a look at how scientific minds deal with an awkward problem in evolution.

Continue reading "A scientific model of segmentation" (on Pharyngula)

Celebrate your right to read


This is the week the American Library Association celebrates "Banned Books Week." The Association keeps track of attempts by parents to remove books from school curricula or school libraries--or even attempts by citizens to have books removed from public libraries--as well as more extreme forms of book banning in the past. The ALA urges you to celebrate your right to read, by reading a great banned book like Huckleberry Finn, or The Handmaid's Tale. (In fact, of the 100 titles on the Modern Library's recent list of best twentieth century novels, a third have been banned, or actually censored, in American history!)

Fortunately, no books on the ALA's list of this year's most frequently banned books have been targeted due to content about evolution. But in a famous Supreme Court decision on the subject, Board of Ed. Island Trees Union Free School Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982), parents attempted to remove several books from the school library, including one on evolutionary theory: The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris.

Sternberg Replies


Richard von Sternberg has created this website to reply to the various criticisms of his editorial judgment in publishing Stephen Meyer's ID paper in The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.

I read with great interest what he had to say, and I have posted a reply in this post over at EvolutionBlog. It seems to me that at times his phrasing is just a bit too cagey, and his reply leaves me wondering about a number of things.

Vatican Accepts Evolutionary Science

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“A recent Vatican document analyzed evolution in the light of faith, stepping into an area that has long been a religious and scientific minefield. “ Thus starts an article on the recent work by the International Theological Commission.

First, it accepts as likely the prevailing tenets of evolutionary science: the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in a “big bang”; the earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago; all living organisms on earth descended from a first organism; and man emerged some 40,000 years ago with the development of the larger, human brain. John Travis Creative tension: omnipotence of God vs. dynamism of a universe

Noticable quote by U.S. Jesuit Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory:

“But I think the question itself is wrong. It’s not just necessity or chance, it’s also opportunity. We live in a universe that statistically offers so many opportunities for the life-building processes to work together,” he said.

Icons of ID: Carl Woese the final word?

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Carl Woese is regularly quoted by ID proponents as ‘rejecting common descent (Dembski)’ or arguing that ‘the Darwinian emperor has no clothes (Meyer)’.

However ID proponents are not totally to be blamed for their flawed interpretation of Woese since mainstream press articles make similarly flawed assertions [1], [2], [3], [4]

Eugenie Scott and Glenn Branch already made this clear to Meyer in Teaching the controversy: response to Langen and to Meyer

In clause (ii) of Meyer’s definition, it is perhaps sufficient to observe that he conflates the undebated idea of common ancestry in general with the actual debate about whether it is possible to identify a single universal common ancestor. Woese’s work (e.g. [7]), to which Scott was alluding in the forum that Meyer mentions, contributes to the latter debate. There is no reason not to sketch Woese’s basic idea in a pre-university biology class. However, it would be scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible to pretend that it challenges the common ancestry of primates, tetrapods, or eukaryotes, or that it constitutes evidence for a special creation of the three domains, or that it is anything but a necessary refinement of the idea of common ancestry. Scott and Branch in “Teaching the controversy: response to Langen and to Meyer”

Recently Carl Woese has corrected these interpretations so this should be the end of it. But will it?

Woese scoffs at Meyer’s claim when I call to ask him about the paper. “To say that my criticism of Darwinists says that evolutionists have no clothes,” Woese says, “is like saying that Einstein is criticizing Newton, therefore Newtonian physics is wrong.” Debates about evolution’s mechanisms, he continues, don’t amount to challenges to the theory. And intelligent design “is not science. It makes no predictions and doesn’t offer any explanation whatsoever, except for ‘God did it.’” Ratcliffe as quoted by PZ Myers

Meyer and Deja Vu Revisited


The story of the antecedents of the recent paper published by Stephen C. Meyer is turning into a saga of its own. Back on September 8th, 2004, I documented that Stephen C. Meyer’s recent paper in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington – a paper which is being trumpeted far and wide by the Discovery Institute – was in fact copied in substantial part from a previous “peer-reviewed” paper published in Darwin, Design, and Public Education. There are four variants of essentially the same paper that have been identified so far:

  • Meyer 2004, published in PBSW (2004b): Meyer, Stephen C. 2004. The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2):213-239.
  • Meyer 2004, published in “Debating Design” (2004a): Meyer, S. C. 2004. The Cambrian information explosion: evidence for intelligent design. Debating design: from Darwin to DNA. W. A. Dembski and M. Ruse. Cambridge, United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press: 371-391.
  • Meyer, Ross, Nelson, and Chien 2003, published in “Darwin, Design, and Public Education” (2003): Meyer, S. C., Ross, M., Nelson, P. and Chien, P. 2003. The Cambrian explosion: biology’s big bang. Darwinism, design and public education. J. A. Campbell and S. C. Meyer. Lansing, Michigan, Michigan State University Press: 323-402.
  • Meyer, Nelson, and Chien 2001, published to the World Wide Web (2001)

Here, I’m going to compare the various documents and report the proportions of text taken from earlier versions that appear in the later versions.

The sanctimonious bombast of George Gilder


Yesterday, I was reading a good article in the October 2004 issue of Wired: "The crusade against evolution", by Evan Ratliff. It gives far more column space to the voices of the Discovery Institute than they deserve, but the article consistently comes to the right conclusions, that the Discovery Institute is "using scientific rhetoric to bypass scientific scrutiny." Along the way, the author catches Stephen Meyer red-handed in misrepresenting Carl Woese (by the clever journalistic strategem of calling Carl Woese), and shows how the DI's favorite slogans ("Teach the controversy" and "academic freedom") are rhetorical abuses of the spirit of the ideas behind them. It's darned good stuff. I should probably say more about the good article, but I'm still picking magma out of my ears after reading a one page insert in the article -- a ghastly, ignorant broadside by George Gilder that prompted a personal eruption. I've calmed down now, so I can tear it apart more delicately than I might have yesterday.

I'm still a bit peeved at the fool, so I'm going to remonstrate against him first—but maybe later I'll say more about the Ratliff article.

Continue reading "The sanctimonious bombast of George Gilder" (on Pharyngula)

Thoughts on KC Star Editorial


In the thread “Update on Kansas - KU Speech” (9/18/04), Jay Manifold pointed out that the Kansas City Star had an editorial here about the Kansas science standards issue today. (Thanks for the heads-up, Jay.)

The editorial makes some very good points, which I would like to highlight, although it also says some things that I would like to take a bit of exception to. Let’s look at the highlights first:

Kansans should follow the debate, view the proposals, and weigh in with their elected state board members.

Heads up, Kansans! It’s time to start thinking about science standards for the public schools again. …

Kansas is on the verge of breaking into the bioscience research field in a big way. With efforts on both sides of the state line, the Kansas City area could become a hub for bioscience development, attracting top-rate students, scientists and companies.

A repeat of the embarrassing episode in 1999 could put a damper on those plans and hopes. Krebs will outline that fear in an address titled “Kansas Science Standards – 2004: Will It Be 1999 All Over Again?” on Tuesday at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

He says Kansas would be “making a statement to the rest of the country that you can’t count on Kansas”…”We are just going to go back and forth depending on political whim as to what we think kids ought to learn in science class. That is not a strong statement to a bioscience industry trying to locate in Lawrence or Kansas City.” …

Kansans should follow the debate, view the proposals, and weigh in with their elected state board members. Much damage will be done if the state board gets sidetracked on this issue again.

Introduction to Multiple Designers Theory

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The last dozen years has seen a recrudescence of the Payleyist Argument from Design, the argument that because biological phenomena may appear to be designed, there must be an Intelligent Designer of those biological phenomena. A persistent focus of the Wedge-based Intelligent Design movement (headquartered at the Discovery Institute) over the last decade has been to attempt to persuade state legislatures and state and local boards of education to teach “alternatives” to the modern theory of biological evolution. The Discovery Institute has sent emissaries bearing that message to bodies ranging from the Darby, MT, local school board through the Ohio State Board of Education to the U.S. Congress.

Unfortunately, there are no scientific alternatives to evolutionary theory available to be taught. Mainstream Intelligent Design theory as it is represented in the published work of Phillip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, and their brethren is conspicuous by its absence. I can find no reasonably extended description of what mainstream Dembski/Behe/Johnson/Meyer ID “theory” actually is beyond the naked claim that “something must have designed this thing”, nor any description of what an ID “explanation” of some biological phenomenon would actually look like beyond the bare assertion that “this thing is/was designed”. There are no ID hypotheses to be tested against data and therefore no systematic or coherent ID research program.

Mainstream Intelligent Design is proving itself to be scientifically vacuous. While Dembski has his Explanatory Filter and Complex Specified Information and Specified Complexity, and Behe has his Irreducible Complexity, no actual research program utilizing those concepts has emerged from the mainstream Intelligent Design movement. Therefore a revolutionary change in the conception of ID is necessary to rouse it from its empirical and theoretical slumber and to provide appropriate material for school boards and legislatures who want an alternative to modern evolutionary theory to be taught in secondary schools. Multiple Designers Theory is that revolutionary change.

Now here’s a miracle


This isn’t evolution, but it is biology related.

During and after college, I spent several summers working for the Oregon State University Forestry Department, Forest Sciences lab, and for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. Many of these jobs involved some combination of measuring trees, surveying vegetation, and otherwise being ecological. It was great fun, and I think that it’s hard to really understand biology unless you’ve really spent some time out in the field not just hiking around, but carefully examining and identifying some of the ridiculous number of organisms out there.

Validating Designer Discrimination Methods


I. Introduction: Designer Discrimination Algorithms

A significant problem in developing a revolutionary new theory is the parallel development of methods and technologies appropriate to testing the theory. As I have said a number of times in response to criticisms of Multiple Designers Theory, the absolutely necessary first step in the MDT research program must be the development and validation of designer discrimination methodologies. In the Introduction to Multiple Designers Theory above I saidthat in developing a design discrimination methodology, MDT has the same task as mainstream ID. First the methodology must be systematized and formalized. Then it must be empirically validated on test materials for which we already know the histories. The first task of MDT is to develop a formalized researcher-independent methodology that, when it is eventually applied to phenomena whose provenance and history we do not know, it can be legitimately expected to reliably tell us something of interest about the phenomena. Mainstream intelligent design has so far avoided that task: there are no validation data at all on its principal design detection methods. MDT, however, has begun the task of validation and calibration of its methodologies.

Meyer: Recycling arguments


In Meyer 2004 and Deja Vu All Over Again Wesley Elsberry demontrates how Meyer seems to have recycled over 30% of a previously published source in his latest paper. Elsberry is not the first to notice how Meyer tends to recycle his arguments.

Meyer in a Limits of Natural Selection a Reason to Teach All Theories (The News Tribune, May 12, 1996) laments that

(underlined words are some noticable changes)

Current biology instruction presents only half the scientific picture. For example, [u]none of the standard[/u] high school biology texts even mentions the Cambrian explosion, arguably the most dramatic event in the history of life. Indeed, fossil studies reveal “a biological big bang” near the beginning of the Cambrian period 530 million years ago. At that time, [u]at least fifty separate[/u] major groups of organisms or “phyla” (including all the basic body plans of modern animals) emerged suddenly without clear precursors. Fossil finds have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of explosive appearance and prolonged stability in living forms�not the gradual step-by-step change predicted by neo-Darwinian theory.

the same claim is recycled in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Biology Instruction (The Washington Times, July 4th, 1996)

Current biology instruction presents only half the scientific picture. For example, [u]none of the standard[/u] high school biology texts even mentions the Cambrian explosion, arguably the most dramatic event in the history of life. Indeed, fossil studies reveal “a biological big bang” near the beginning of the Cambrian period 530 million years ago. At that time, [u]at least fifty separate[/u] major groups of organisms or “phyla” (including all the basic body plans of modern animals) emerged suddenly without clear precursors. Fossil finds have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of explosive appearance and prolonged stability in living forms-not the gradual step-by-step change predicted by neo-Darwinian theory.

and in 2002 in the Seattle Times Darwinism Would Love This Debate

Current biology instruction presents only half the scientific picture. For example, [u]few[/u] high school biology texts even mention the Cambrian explosion, arguably the most dramatic event in the history of life. Indeed, fossil studies reveal “a biological big bang” near the beginning of the Cambrian period 530 million years ago. At that time, [u]40 separate[/u] major groups of organisms or “phyla” (including all the basic body plans of modern animals) emerged suddenly without clear precursors. Fossil finds have repeatedly confirmed a pattern of explosive appearance and prolonged stability in living forms – not the gradual step-by-step change predicted by neo-Darwinian theory.

Read the three articles side by side!!!

See Pennock’s article DNA by Design?: Stephen Meyer and the Return of the God Hypothesis. in Debating Design. New York: Cambridge University Press for more examples of how Meyer recycles his claims.

As a somewhat ironical side note I would like to point out that it seems that in Meyer’s latest paper he fails to present the other half of the scientific picture.

Evolution and God


An interesting conference on Evolution and God: 150 years of love and war between science and religion will be held on October 15-17, 2004

at the Strosacker Auditorium of the Case Western Reserve University

Darwin’s revolution was not limited to the scientific world. It reverberates to this day in theology, philosophy and politics. As a result, in America today, people hear more about evolution from evangelists preaching against it, than they do from their high school teachers. This highly charged political nexus has delivered a false impression about the history of evolutionary theory and its interactions with walks of life outside the scientific world. This conference is committed to achieving a more accurate historical understanding of these issues among historians and philosophers, and bringing that view directly to the public.

This post is the one-stop shop for information on the publication of Meyer, Stephen C. 2004. The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2):213-239.

A few years ago the Cobb County (GA) Board of Education installed the following disclaimer in their biology textbooks. (Contrary to what you might think, Cobb County is the most affluent and one of the least Georgian counties in the state. Damn conservative Yankees making my state look bad.)

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

After two years and three classes of students that have had their science education undermined by the Cobb County disclaimer against evolution, the ACLU suit against the disclaimers is finally going to trial. Federal Judge Clarence Cooper recently ruled against the Cobb County Board of Education’s latest motion to dismiss the suit.

The suit is the only legal action being taken by any community against the latest wave of assaults on science education. While they are prepared with witnesses, evidence, and a truly strong case, they are again, as they were for the taking of depositions, in need of funds to meet the costs of prosecution. Over a year ago, they asked for help, and it came through. People raised sufficient funds to pay for the sorely needed depositions. With the trial on the horizon, they are again asking for help.

We’re up to a dozen Tangled Banks now

The Tangled Bank

A new Tangled Bank is up, hosted at LeanLeft. Go read!

The next edition will be at Preposterous Universe. Send links to your science writing to carroll [at], to, or to—they'll all end up in the right place.

We're also on the prowl for new hosts. Volunteer! It's fun and easy, and you'll be doing your part to propagate scientific thinking on the web.

A: All of them.

R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a long article on Meyer's publication, titled Panicked Evolutionists. He gets everything wrong, right from the title onwards.

The theory of evolution is a tottering house of ideological cards that is more about cherished mythology than honest intellectual endeavor. Evolutionists treat their cherished theory like a fragile object of veneration and worship--and so it is. Panic is a sure sign of intellectual insecurity, and evolutionists have every reason to be insecure, for their theory is falling apart.

It's always a bit discombobulating to find a creationist damning evolution as a "mythology" and "object of veneration and worship", as if those are terms of scorn to a Southern Baptist. That really is no fair. We academics are so finely attuned to irony that it sidetracks us somethin' terrible.

But to force myself to address his point rather than the subtext, he's wrong on all counts: biologists aren't panicking over creationism, nor is the theory of evolution showing any signs of weakness. Rather, we're mostly disgusted at the fact that a strongly supported scientific principle is being attacked by political creatures who are misrepresenting the theory. Mohler gives us an excellent example of using bad logic and bad science to pretend that an ideological cartoon has a legitimate scientific foundation.

Continue reading "Q: How many things can a creationist get wrong in a single article?" (on Pharyngula)

The dozenth Tangled Bank is coming up

The Tangled Bank

This is a Tangled Bank week, so get your entries submitted to Kevin at Lean Left,, or This week's edition will appear in all of its informative glory on Lean Left!

Ooops: Kevin's e-mail seems to be bouncing. Send your submissions to me for now, and once the e-mail problem is resolved, I'll forward them on. Kevin, contact me: I tried to tell you that your e-mail was broken in e-mail, but your e-mail is broken.

“unintelligent non-design” and reviewers

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William Dembski has for years made claims that his “Explanatory Filter” (EF) provided a theoretical basis for “pre-theoretic” sciences such as archaeology and forensics. I am an archaeologist who also has forensic experience as a consultant to law enforcement, and trial expert witness. Plus, I worked as a private investigator for several years. So, finding no comparison with the EF and my professional experience, I was always somewhat irritated when reading Dembski’s books. For this reason, I was very happy to have been asked to contribute a chapter to “Why Intelligent Design Fails” (WIDF).

A story about peer review


As the publication of Meyer’s paper in a peer-reviewed journal has stirred a discussion of the merits of the peer-review system, perhaps a story from my personal experience may be of some interest to Panda’s Thumb’s denizens. In 1949 I submitted a paper to a prestigious journal Izvestia Akademii Nauk SSSR. It is published by the Academy of Sciences of (then) USSR - now the Russian Academy of Sciences. It has several branches. The one I submitted my paper to was for Technical Dynamics as it contained some formulas I derived for critical speeds of rapidly rotating shafts (the so called Laval shafts). The editorial office was in Leningrad (now again St. Peterburg). In about two months I happened to be in Leningrad attending a conference. The editorial office of Izvestya happened to be in the same building where the conference took place. I walked into the editorial office to inquire about the fate of my paper.

Update on Kansas - KU speech


Although most Panda’s Thumb readers are probably not in northeast Kansas, I would like to announce here a speech I will be giving at the University of Kansas on September 28th. The speech is being sponsored by the science departments and the Office of the Chancellor. Complete information can be found here.

If you or people you know might be interested in this and able to attend, please pass the word on to them.

For those of you are who are watching Kansas from a distance, let me explain that there are issues here that we should all be concerned about. If for no other reason, watching what happens in Kansas will help prepare science activists for episodes that might show up in your backyard.

Friday chaetognath blogging

spiky arrowworm head

The phylum Chaetognatha ("spiny jaws") consists of a few species (there are only about 120 of them) of obscure marine worms that are mostly planktonic predators, drifting with the ocean currents. Most people will have never seen one, and would be unimpressed if they had—most are small, only a few centimeters long and slender, and even the largest is only 15cm long.

Their evolutionary relationships have also been problematic, but some recent work on their mitochondrial genome takes us a step closer to resolving them.

Continue reading Friday chaetognath blogging (on Pharyngula)

William A. Dembksi, mathematician, philosopher, and theologian, now has his next job lined up.

Dembski is moving east, to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He will head up the newly formed “Center for Science and Theology” there.

This story was scooped by Jeff Robinson at the Baptist Press News.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. announced Sept. 16 the establishment of the Center for Science and Theology along with the appointment of renowned philosopher of science William A. Dembski as its first director.

William A. Dembski Wrote:

“Theology is where my ultimate passion is and I think that is where I can uniquely contribute … I am looking forward to engaging students and theological students have always been my favorite to deal with because for theology students, it’s not just a job, but a passion, especially at a place like Southern, because they want to change the world.”


“This is really an opportunity,” Dembski added, “to mobilize a new generation of scholars and pastors not just to equip the saints but also to engage the culture and reclaim it for Christ. That’s really what is driving me.”

Can an old gene learn new tricks?


From EurekAlert:

The morphological complexity of mammals, as compared to invertebrates, is thought to have arisen through advantageous genetic changes that occurred during the course of evolution. A new research study published in the September issue of Developmental Cell suggests that the evolution of higher-order vertebrate organ systems can result from primitive developmental genetic programs that are, in a sense, recycled for entirely new structures.

According to the expression patterns in the fruit fly, Drosophila, the ancestral action of the Hmx gene was limited to the development of the central nervous system (CNS). Dr. Thomas Lufkin from the Genome Institute of Singapore and colleagues show that the mouse Hmx2 and Hmx3 genes have apparently interchangeable functions in CNS development and have overlapping yet distinct functions in the development of the vestibular system of the inner ear, an organ that has no counterpart in Drosophila. The researchers found that when mice are genetically engineered to lack Hmx2 and Hmx3, Drosophila Hmx can substitute for the mouse Hmx3 gene in CNS development and, surprisingly, can also direct development of the inner ear. Therefore, a Drosophila gene can direct formation of an organ system that does not even exist in the Drosophila body.

“These results demonstrate that the evolution of higher vertebrate characteristics can result from the recycling or redeployment of ‘old’ genes in new parts of the embryo, rather than through mutation of gene protein-coding sequence alone. Old genes can be given a new purpose through ‘reassignment’ to organs undergoing evolutionary advancement. The reassignment likely comes through a shuffling of existing regulatory elements to generate new combinations that are specific to the new organ,” explains Dr. Lufkin.


Weidong Wang, J. Fredrik Grimmer, Thomas R. Van De Water, and Thomas Lufkin: “Hmx2 and Hmx3 Homeobox Genes Direct Development of the Murine Inner Ear and Hypothalamus and Can Be Functionally Replaced by Drosophila Hmx”

Developmental Cell, Volume 7, Number 3, September 2004, pages 439-453.

BioMedCentral news report

The Paradox of Toleration


I discovered a very interesting, and slightly disturbing article by Richard Garnett--a thoughtful legal scholar at Notre Dame. Assimilation, Toleration, And The State's Interest in The Development of Religious Doctrine, 51 UCLA L. Rev. 1645 (2004) argues that government has a legitimate interest in shaping the development of religious doctrine: a position which one tends to associate with social conservatism, but which, Garnett shows, is equally common among social liberals.

Microdissecting Meyer

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The extensive, 6,000 word review of Meyer's recent 'peer-reviewed' Intelligent Design paper by Gishlick, Matzke, and Elsberry takes a broad look at all of the flaws in the work, and gives us the big picture view of why it is poor science that shouldn't have made it past any qualified reviewers. I'm going to take a much more narrow approach, and look at a single paragraph and show why it represents poor, biased scholarship. I'm motivated in part by a ridiculous critique from Joe Carter. One of the things he does (in his second point, if you bother to read it) is a practice creationist pseudoscientists are getting very good at, and that Meyer also practices in his paper: throwing a bunch of scientific references at the reader that, in Carter's case, the creationist has never read, or in Meyer's case, may have read but misrepresents. How many people would bother to check that these esoteric references are being reported accurately? How many of us who actually are comfortable with the scientific literature have the time to cross-check and report all of the misrepresentations being made?

I sure don't. That's why I'm just going to pick on one paragraph.

Serbia wises up


Good news! Serbia has retracted their retraction of evolution from their schools.

The Serbian government has reversed an order to ban Charles Darwin's theory of evolution from schools, following widespread criticism from scientists.
"I have come here to confirm Charles Darwin is still alive," said deputy education minister Milan Brdar.
His boss, Ljiljana Colic, who had announced the controversial policy, had gone "away on business", he said.

I sincerely hope "away on business" is not a euphemism for anything harsher, but this is excellent news for the schoolkids of Serbia.

Fresh Tangled Bank!

The Tangled Bank

A new edition of the Tangled Bank is available at Archy: go read Tangled Bank #11 and follow the links to more science articles. This time around, we have eight excellent articles and one incomprehensible mish-mash that is apparently an evil plan for world domination via mutant zebrafish.

The next edition will be hosted by Lean Left on the 22nd of September. Send your links to Kevin at Lean Left,, or

You may suspect from the name that Lean Left has a political bias, and if you've read my site, you know I'm a flaming liberal. The Tangled Bank is apolitical, however. Any conservatives who want to counter the perception that all rational scientific thought on the web is coming from the left wing are encouraged to volunteer submissions or to host the Tangled Bank themselves. In fact, I dares ya. I double-dog dares ya.

I've gotten several e-mails about this sad situation: Serbia has decreed that evolution not be taught.

Serbian Education Minister Ljiljana Colic has ordered schools to stop teaching children the theory of evolution for this year, and to resume teaching it in future only if it shares equal billing with creationism.
The move has shocked educators and textbook editors in the formerly communist state, where religion was kept out of education and politics and was only recently allowed to enter the classroom.
"(Darwinism) is a theory as dogmatic as the one which says God created the first man," Colic told the daily Glas Javnosti.
Colic, an Orthdox Christian, ordered that evolution theory be dropped from this year's biology course for 14- and 15-year-olds in the final grade of primary school. As of next year, both creationism and evolution will be taught, she said.

I'm not exactly thrilled with the peculiar implication that keeping religion out of the classroom has something to do with being a communist state…after all, we have our own creationists trying to manipulate the school system, and they tend to be anti-communist. This is a sad day for the school children of Serbia, unfortunately. Their education is getting compromised.

"Both theories exist in parallel and legitimately in the rest of the world," Colic asserted. "The evolutionist, which says man is descended from the ape, and the one which says God Almighty created man and the entire world."

It's not at all surprising to see a creationist lie like that. No, creationism is not a legitimate theory anywhere in the world.

Belgrade University biology lecturer Nikola Tucic called the education minister's ruling a "disaster."
"This is outrageous…We are slowly turning into a theocratic state and in the 21st century we are going back to the Book of Revelations," Tucic told Glas Javnosti, referring to the final section of the Christian Bible.
"Where did the minister get the idea that Darwin's theory was dogmatic? There were attempts like this in several U.S. states, but they were rejected. It turns out that our fundamentalists are much more successful," he said.

I see how it could be worse here in the US, and we can be thankful we don't have a Ljiljana Colic in charge of our educational system. That doesn't change the fact that this is a waste of many children's minds, and we should all be distressed at this unfortunate turn.

Whilst reading Stephen C. Meyer’s latest publication, I had the strangest feeling that I had seen it before somewhere. Well, given that Meyer is an “intelligent design” advocate, the feeling that one is not getting a pure feed of innovative, novel prose is perhaps simply to be expected. It didn’t take long to find the source of a substantial chunk of the “new” paper:

S.C. Meyer, M. Ross, P. Nelson, & P. Chien. 2003. The Cambrian explosion: biology’s big bang. Pp. 323–402 in I. A. Campbell & S. C. Meyer, eds., Darwinism, design and public education. Mich�igan State University Press, Lansing.

That reference comes right from the citations in Meyer 2004. It is cited in the paper in support of a couple of specific claims. It is not noted as a substantial source of the text of the Meyer 2004 article.

But Meyer et al. 2003 is a source of a substantial proportion of the Meyer 2004 text. Read on for the details…

The Steve-o-sphere


Everyone has heard of the Blogosphere. It appears that a new -sphere, the Steve-o-sphere, is being born.

The Improbable Blog, the blog of the journal Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), has blogged the recent AIR paper “The Morphology of Steve.” Here is a link to the online PDF with lower-res graphics; go buy the issue for the full resolution version, plus other ground-breaking research, such as “The Importance of the Hyphen to Naked Astronomers”. The Steves post has gotten a half-dozen trackbacks already, and this post adds another one for good measure. See also the previous PT post on the paper, and the post previous to that on Project Steve. More evidence of the beginnings of a Steve-o-sphere is found in the fact that “The Morphology of Steve” has been added with pride to the online CVs and blogs of Steves such as Stephen J. Taylor (CV, full ref), Stephen Thorsett (blog), and Steve Renals (homepage).

Digit numbering and limb development


Answers in Genesis has evolutionary biology on the run now. In an article from 2002, Ostrich eggs break dino-to-bird theory, they explain that development shows that evolution is all wrong, since developmental pathways in different animals are completely different, and can't possibly be the result of gradual transformations.

The first piece of evidence against evolution is the old avian digit problem. Birds couldn't have evolved from dinosaurs, because they have the wrong finger order!

The research conclusively showed that only digits two, three and four (corresponding to our index, middle and ring fingers) develop in birds. This contrasts with dinosaur hands that developed from digits one, two and three. Feduccia pointed out:
‘This creates a new problem for those who insist that dinosaurs were ancestors of modern birds. How can a bird hand, for example, with digits two, three and four evolve from a dinosaur hand that has only digits one, two and three? That would be almost impossible.'

The second problem is that frogs and people develop hands in completely different ways, ways that are even more different than the order of the digits.

This is not the only example where superficially homologous structures actually develop in totally different ways. One of the most commonly argued proofs of evolution is the pentadactyl limb pattern, i.e. the five-digit limbs found in amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. However, they develop in a completely different manner in amphibians and the other groups. To illustrate, the human embryo develops a thickening on the limb tip called the AER (apical ectodermal ridge), then programmed cell death (apoptosis) divides the AER into five regions that then develop into digits (fingers and toes). By contrast, in frogs, the digits grow outwards from buds as cells divide (see diagram, right).

Dang. I might as well hang it up right now. There is no possible way around these intractable differences. Take me, Jesus, I have seen the ligh…oh, wait a minute. That isn't right. It looks to me like Jonathan Sarfati is just hopelessly confused on the first problem (I can't really blame him, though—it is a complicated issue that has been the subject of scientific arguments for two centuries), and is simply completely wrong on the second (and that one I do blame him for. Tsk, tsk.)

Continue reading "Digit numbering and limb development" (on Pharyngula)

It’s time. Tangled Bank time!

The Tangled Bank

It's that time when all right-minded, science-loving webloggers send in their entries for this week's Tangled Bank.

You aren't a wrong-minded science hater, are you? Then send a link to John McKay of Archy, or to me, right away…the deadline is early Wednesday morning.

We're also always looking for new people to host the biweekly affair, so if you're interested in that, drop a line to

ID creationism

| 40 Comments | 4 TrackBacks

In the thread “Meyer’s Hopeless Monster,” the question of what “creationist” means arose.

At one point., Wesley quoted Phil Johnson:

Persons who believe that the earth is billions of years old, and that simple forms of life evolved gradually to become more complex forms including humans, are “creationists” if they believe that a supernatural Creator not only initiated this process but in some meaningful sense controls it in furtherance of a purpose.

and Richard Wein replied,

Most ID advocates (including, I believe, Sternberg and Meyer) are creationists in a much stronger sense than this. They believe in divine separate creation of “kinds”, not in gradual evolution from common ancestors.

I agree with Richard on this, and would like to discuss more generally this issue of the important sense in which IDists are creationists.

Scurvy, Guinea Pigs, and You


In my last post, Common Design Errors, I proposed a problem for biblical creation. I received one response from a creationist, who cited Inai et al. (2003). This paper compared the largest set of homologous exons between humans, guinea pigs, and rats. You see, guinea pigs, like most primates and a few other taxa, lack L-guluno-gamma-lactone oxidase. Two sections were quoted to me.

More on Meyer

I was delighted to see The Scientist mention the Panda's Thumb's crew's posts regarding the Stephen Meyer article.

Neurulation in zebrafish

Neurulation is a series of cell movements and shape changes, inductive interactions, and changes in gene expression that partitions tissues into a discrete neural tube. It is one of those early and significant morphogenetic events that define an important tissue, in this case the nervous system, and it's also an event that can easily go wrong, producing relatively common birth defects like holoprosencephaly and spina bifida. Neurulation has been a somewhat messy phenomenon for comparative embryology, too, because there are not only subtle differences between different vertebrate lineages in precisely how they segregate the neural tissue, but there are also differences along the rostrocaudal axis of an individual organism. A recent review by Lowery and Sive, though, tidies up the confusion and pulls disparate stories together.

Continue reading "Neurulation in zebrafish" (on Pharyngula)

Hox cluster disintegration


Hox genes are metazoan pattern forming genes—genes that are universally associated with defining the identities of regions of the body. There are multiple Hox genes present, and one of their unusual properties is that they are clustered and expressed colinearly. That is, they are found in ordered groups on the chromosome, and that the gene on one end is typically turned on first and expressed at the head end of the embryo, the next gene in order is turned on slightly later and expressed further back, and so on in sequence. That the tidy sequential order on the chromosome is associated with an equally tidy spatial and temporal pattern of expression in the body has always been one of the more fascinating aspects of these genes, and they are one of the few cases where we see an echo of phenotypic form comprehensibly laid out in the DNA.

However, there are some exceptions to the tidy clustering, and they occur right in two animals that have been central to developmental/genetic research, Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila melanogaster. These animals have broken clusters. Almost everywhere else, the Hox genes are ordered in one place, but in two of the most common research organisms, they've been split apart into two groups…so what's going on? We have what looks a little bit like a universal rule in genetic organization, and then it gets violated with seemingly little consequence. How do worms and flies get away with it?

One way to find out is to look for more exceptions to Hox ordering, and here's a doozy: an animal, the tunicate Oikopleura dioica, has blown its Hox gene clusters to flinders and scattered the individual Hox genes all over its genome, with no detectable linkage between them.

the tunicate, Oikopleura

Continue reading "Hox cluster disintegration" (on Pharyngula)

(Trofim Denisovich Lysenko)

On my own weblog, Freespace, I've been urging readers to join me in helping the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The Foundation needs another $23,000 in order to dedicate the monument in Washington D.C. this October. I thought I'd post a little here about one of the shocking atrocities that communism visited upon the world of biological science, in the person of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko.

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