September 5, 2004 - September 11, 2004 Archives

The Paradox of Toleration

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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

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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. Mich­igan 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

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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).

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

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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.

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.

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