March 20, 2005 - March 26, 2005 Archives

The first, and most important, question that I asked Calvert was:

There are millions and millions of people who from a religious point of view do not buy your argument that science is antithetical to theism. I would hope that you would respond to that.

What do you think about these people who don’t believe that just because science seeks natural explanations it’s inherently materialistic and atheistic? They don’t believe the theory of evolution teaches their children they’re mere occurances. They believe that religious beliefs incorporate scientific beliefs about the physical world and other beliefs about meaning, purpose and values. To put it bluntly, do you think they’re wrong? How do you respond to this large silent majority of religious people who are being wedged out of the conversation?

Calvert’s answer, both in his emails to me and in his other writings, basically reiterates his position without addressing the issues:

I have had a short email exchange with John Calvert concerning the questions I have asked him in the past (See…) He did provide some short answers to the questions, but he didn’t give me permission to make his responses public, and he didn’t want to continue the discussion. Therefore, I will paraphrase his answers, with occasional short quotes.

One of the things he said was that he had a number of published works that one could consult to see his take on things. The problem with this response is that he thus avoids responding to criticism of his ideas. I know what his ideas are, because I have read his works: what I want him to do is subject his ideas to scrutiny - to listen to critiques, answer questions, and otherwise defend his views.

I asked two sets of questions, one on religion and “theistic evolutionists,” and the other on the “theory of Intelligent Design.” I’m going to discuss the “theory of Intelligent Design” questions here, and the religion ones in a separate post. Let me take the questions in reverse order of interest.

The Florida Legislature is considering a “Student & Faculty Academic Freedom Bill.” The bill “provides student rights to academic freedom; provides postsecondary student & faculty academic bill of rights; specifies student, faculty, & instructor rights; requires dissemination of copies of act to state universities & community colleges.” The bill is sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley ® a funeral director from Ocala, but it is not original. It is part of a movement among conservatives to “fix” a public education system that they think is anti-conservative.

HEROic Steves


A nice write-up on Project Steve appeared today in HERO, also known as Higher Education & Research Opportunities. The piece, “Steve-olution,” consists of an interview with NCSE’s always-erudite assistant director Glenn Branch. If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of Project Steve, check out previous Panda’s Thumb posts and the NCSE Project Steve website.

The Steve-o-meter currently sits at 553, in case you were wondering. The Steve-o-meter on the much-vaunted Discovery Institute list of scientists (well, some of them aren’t scientists, but who is counting?) kinda-sorta-vaguely doubting certain parts of “neo-darwinism” reads, at last count, four. Even if you have heard of Project Steve, you might not have heard the Steve Song yet. Sort of like the Monty Python spam song, but slightly different.

The Bathroom Wall

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With any tavern, one can expect that certain things that get said are out-of-place. But there is one place where almost any saying or scribble can find a home: the bathroom wall. This is where random thoughts and oddments that don’t follow the other entries at the Panda’s Thumb wind up. As with most bathroom walls, expect to sort through a lot of oyster guts before you locate any pearls of wisdom.

Just because this is the bathroom wall does not mean that you should put your #$%& on it.

The previous wall got a little cluttered, so we’ve splashed a coat of paint on it.

Dembski’s continuing contradictions

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Dembski has ‘responded’ to Wesley Elsberry’s and Mark Perakh’s criticicsm at ARN

Panda’s Thumb.

Does the discussion at the Panda’s Thumb advance the discussion we had on this board about that paper? As I mentioned in another post, that paper will be the basis for my technical lecture at the Trotter Prize Lecture Series at Texas A&M coming up the beginning of April. I’d enjoy meeting any critics on this board there (as well as supporters, of course).

Other than the usual self inflation, Dembski has little to say about the critiques themselves.

When pressed for details as to how Dembski ‘abuses’ critics, Dembski responded:

Challenge Accepted

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USA Today has a short article about the on-going creationist attacks on science education, and the understandable irritation this is causing among leading scientists and educators: ‘Call to Arms’ on Evolution.

It’s kind of the same old thing – presenting it as a he-said/she-said issue and giving the ID advocates space to state their falsehoods. But of course that’s not good enough for the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division, which finds it necessary to complain about every news article that doesn’t specifically advocate ID using pro-ID talking-points and spin. The DI’s Rob Crowther has a lot of silly things to say about the article, but this is the silliest:

The letter [from the NAS] singles out for criticism people who don’t believe in the big bang, that the earth is older than 10,000 years a [sic] plate tectonics. Please. I challenge you to find a serious, leading intellectual ID proponent who does not subscribe to the big bang or does not believe the earth is billions of years old. It’s ludicrous to try and demean design theory by mistakenly equating design theorists with other non-scientific anti-evolutionists.

Challenge accepted.

The possible discovery of a non-Mendelian form of inheritance in the tiny mustard plant Arabidopsis thaliana – the lab rat of the plant world – has hit the news in a big way this week. See e.g. Carl Zimmer’s blog post “Move Over, Mendel (But Don’t Move Too Far)“, the New York Times story “Startling Scientists, Plant Fixes Its Flawed Gene,” a blurb from the NSF, “Cress overturns textbook genetics” at Nature News, and the actual March 24 Nature article, Lolle et al. (2005), “Genome-wide non-mendelian inheritance of extra-genomic information in Arabidopsis,” Nature, 434, 505-509.

Basically, there is a gene, HOTHEAD, abbreviated HTH, and the recessive null mutant of this gene, hth, produces plants with fused flowers. When HTH/hth heterozygotes are self-fertilized, the progeny phenotypes are 75% normal and 25% mutant, as Mendelian genetics predicts. However, when hth/hth plants are self-fertilized, instead of producing 100% hth phenotypes, up to 10% of the progeny are HTH/hth and have the HTH phenotype.

As Project Steve Steve Steven Jacobsen put it in Nature News: “It’s really weird.”

As was mentioned in a comment, the Star Telegram of the Fort Worth/Dallas area is reporting (reg. req) that the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History has reversed its decision not to show the Imax film Volcanoes of the Deep Sea because of evolutionary content.

Museum Director Van Romans, with the blessing of the board of directors, reversed the museum’s decision and said the film will open in Fort Worth “before summer.” The film is already being promoted on the museum’s Web site.

”We’re going to show things that have scientific credibility, and people can make their own decisions,” Romans said Wednesday. “That’s a very personal choice. But we are a science and history institution. We have a responsibility to the public to share with them.”

Everyone’s favorite defender of the 10 Commandments, Roy Moore, has spoken out against evolution on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”

Everyone’s probably seen it already, but Jay Mathews has written an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post about teaching ID in schools titled Who’s Afraid of Intelligent Design?.

Mathews, who is not an ID advocate, argues that we should teach ID and have public school children debate the issue in order to liven-up biology class. I made a good sized post last week about why this is not a good idea in response to a similar argument put forth by Brad Plumer on Political Animal.

Since my last post was generic enough to cover most of Mathews’ claims as well, I won’t go into detail and repeat everything I wrote previously. But there are a few things I would like to address, just to make things clear.

Chaz has a posse

Colin Purrington of Swarthmore has done it again, exploiting the media to spread a subversive message. This time, it's another pro-evolution theme: Darwin has a posse. And it's just in time for the Panda's Thumb birthday party! Download the pdfs and follow the instructions to create bookmarks, labels, temporary tattoos, etc., all bearing the logo to the left.

Tangled Bank #24

The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank #24 is now available, and it's richly populated and diverse. Set aside a good chunk of time to scan through all of this fascinating science.

The next Tangled Bank will be held on April 6 over at Respectful Insolence. You can submit your science related posts to Orac, me, or

Today, March 23, 2005, marks the Panda’s Thumb weblog first year of service. Now we have nearly 900 posts, nearly 22,000 comments, and over 450,000 visits logged by Sitemeter. We’re around ranking #508 in the “Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem”. Site traffic runs about two-thirds that of the TalkOrigins Archive. Happy Birthday, Panda’s Thumb!

This past year, PT brought its readers the first public notice of the Stephen C. Meyer article in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. As a scoop, it was a doozy, leading notice in Nature, Science, and other venues. PT also led with a technical critique of a paper by Michael Behe and David Snoke on evolving complex adaptations. (Both of these are also linked in the “Must Read” sidebar on the right of the PT main page.) This sort of leadership did not go unmissed: Panda’s Thumb ran high in the vote tallies for the Koufax Awards in the “Best Group Blog” category.

We’ve had a lot of laughs at the expense of the Discovery Institute Media Complaints Division, but we’ve also kept in touch with the serious side of all this, which is the integrity of science education in our public schools. There is humor to be had while we take care of serious business, and we’ll be keeping this in mind in the coming year. I’m not sure what to say to the Panda’s Thumb Bar Crew besides, “Thanks, and another round, please.”

Questions for John Calvert

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In an article in the Wichita Eagle about Intelligent Design network leaders John Calvert and Bill Harris here, it says:

But Krebs, who is vice president of pro-evolution Kansas Citizens for Science, said Calvert refuses to answer some questions about the evidence for intelligent design or about Christians who accept evolution.

”There’s some really fatal flaws in his talk, but being a lawyer, he is used to building a case and won’t answer questions,” Krebs said.

Calvert denied dodging questions.

”If you can show me a question I refused to answer, I’d be happy to answer it,” Calvert said.

Well, good. Thanks for the offer, John.

Here are some questions I’ve asked John that he’s refused to answer. I’ll alert him (and the Wichita paper) that the questions are here, and we’ll see if he’s happy enough to answer my questions that he will come here and respond.

[Note: cross-posted to the KCFS forums here]

Clotted rot for rotten clots

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As noted in my previous post, on 16 February Dr. Vincent Cassone debated Intelligent Design advocate Dr. Michael Behe. The debate was sponsored by the TAMU Veritas Forum.

One of the items in this outline of the debate is a recurring theme for Behe.

“Behe … Brings up the clotting cascade, and points out an error made by Russ Doolittle in a Boston Review article in 1997. Doolittle mischaracterized a 1996 paper on double knockout mice lacking two proteins in the clotting cascade. Behe introduces a theme for the evening: if Russ Doolittle, the world’s expert, makes mistakes about the clotting cascade, then there is no evidence that it arose by DEM.”

Behe has brought up Doolittles alleged “mistake” several times. Would it surprise you that Behe is being less than forthright?

The Tangled Bank

The next edition of Tangled Bank will be posted on Wednesday at Syaffolee, so send your submissions to or or by March 22 with the words "Tangled Bank" in the subject line.

In case you're wondering what's involved and what the rewards are, Hedwig has written up her experiences in hosting the last one.

Scientific American Throws in the Towel

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Scientific American, that venerable purveyor of mainstream science to the literate, has decided to change its dogmatic ways. From the April 2005 issue, just out:

In retrospect, this magazine’s coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies.

Moreover, we shamefully mistreated the Intelligent Design (ID) theorists by lumping them in with creationists. Creationists believe that God designed all life, and that’s a somewhat religious idea. But ID theorists think that at unspecified times some unnamed superpowerful entity designed life, or maybe just some species, or maybe just some of the stuff in cells. That’s what makes ID a superior scientific theory: it doesn’t get bogged down in details.

Get ready for a new Scientific American…. This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, not just the science that scientists say is science. (All italics original)


Lenny Flank is a long-time activist for science education. While Lenny has been a participant in many online fora and owns the Yahoo “DebunkCreation” group, Lenny is not “just talk”. His group’s most recent action was to send a box of books as a donation to the Dover, Pennsylvania High School Library. This has opened a new chapter in the ongoing struggle in Dover over the inclusion of “intelligent design” in the high school science curriculum.

The Dover Area School District is reviewing science books donated by an anti-creationism group to determine whether to add the books to its library.

A group called DebunkCreation in St. Petersburg, Fla., donated 23 books of various scientific interests to the high school’s library. Supt. Richard Nilsen said the books will have to be reviewed either by the board’s curriculum committee, the administration, library personnel or a combination of those groups to ensure the books are educationally appropriate.

Some of the books are written by noted scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. All support scientific methods and theories that include Darwin’s theories of evolution.

Lenny Flank, who founded DebunkCreation in 1989, said the donations were made in an effort to “increase knowledge and decrease ignorance.”

York Daily Record, 2005/03/20, “Dover to review donated books”

While Joseph Maldonado’s YDR article is informative, it doesn’t list the books, so I asked Lenny which books the “DebunkCreation” group had sent. He graciously sent me the list, his correspondence with Dover officials, and permission to post it all.

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