April 2005 Archives

For some years now, we have been hearing about Paul Nelson's forthcoming monograph On Common Descent, which one assumes will stem from his now nearly seven year old PhD in philosophy Common Descent, Generative Entrenchment, and the Epistemology in Evolutionary Inference. As the DI/CSC website notes, "[h]is forthcoming monograph, On Common Descent, critically evaulates the theory of common descent, and is being edited for the series Evolutionary Monographs." The Wedge document notes:
William Dembski and Paul Nelson, two CRSC Fellows, will very soon have books published by major secular university publishers, Cambridge University Press and The University of Chicago Press, respectively. ... Nelson's book, On Common Descent, is the seventeenth book in the prestigious University of Chicago "Evolutionary Monographs" series and the first to critique neo-Darwinism.
Ignoring that the book has been in press for nearly seven years now (surely a record!), these references had been puzzling me for some while. Though trained as an evolutionary biologist, I had never read "the prestigious University of Chicago 'Evolutionary Monographs' series" and had never seen it referred to in research papers. Indeed, I had - wrongly - assumed that the Evolutionary Monographs series had something to do with the University of Chicago Press. Checking the UCP website revealed no such series. So, off to the library I went.

Read more at Stranger Fruit.

A man for this season

Over at his website, Bill Dembski had published the front matter [pdf] for A Man For This Season: The Phillip Johnson Celebration Volume to be published by InterVarsity Press in 2006, and edited by Dembski and Jed Macosko. The volume is a festscrift for PEJ that stems from the celebration that was held at the opening of the Intelligent Design and the Future of Science conference that was held in Biola in April 2004. This is the conference, you will remember, that PEJ received the first Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth "honoring lifetime achievements of an individual who has expanded the scope of academic freedom and truth-seeking."

Dembski is known to all, Jed Macosko perhaps not so. Macosko holds the PhD in chemistry from UC Berkeley, and in his portion of the introduction he recounts living in Johnson's basement for a period while in grad school. He is an ISCID fellow, and was a DI/CSC fellow between 2001 and 2003. He is currently an assistant professor (of biophysics) at Wake Forest University. Unlike most ID supporters, he seems to actually publish peer-reviewed scientific research, though none of it appears to offer a theory of intelligent design or any explicit discussion of design.

Over at Stranger Fruit, I offer some thoughts on the volume and its constituent papers. This is - obviously - not a review as I have not read the book and I will no doubt comment more when I do so next year.

Meyer vs. Meyer


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I’ve gotten a hold of five amicus briefs recently filed in support of the disclaimers placed on Cobb Country, GA biology textbooks. These briefs have been filed with the 11th circuit court and can be found here along with other documents.

The lowlights:

  • The states of Alabama and Texas argue that separation of church and state does not exist, that biology books are innately hostile towards religion and thus may require a disclaimer to make them neutral towards religion, that the disclaimers accommodate religious students–Do these states accommodate blind students by requiring all textbooks be in Braille?–and that the disclaimers have no creationist language.
  • Chemists and other scientists, organized by the Discovery Institute, use the standard (and discredited) intelligent design talking points to argue that “neo-Darwinism” and the “chemical origin of life” are controversial, despite the fact that neither of these things are mentioned in the disclaimer. (This brief is a reworking of an amicus brief submitted to the trial court.)
  • Roy Moore and his Foundation for Moral Law argue that the Lemon test is unconstitutional and that First Amendment does not apply in this case because the disclaimers are not a law establishing a state church.
  • The Alliance Defense Fund argues that there was only one reason that the trial court found against the disclaimer–There were actually several reasons cited by the trial court.–and that the disclaimer should be upheld because it is similar to anti-liquor, anti-homosexual, and anti-choice laws.
  • Hare Krishnas argue that the disclaimer does not just support Christians, that ruling against it is being hostile towards religion, and that the disclaimer promotes tolerance towards religious people.

Ornithological miracle! (?)


This morning, NPR is reporting that the legendary Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, long thought to be extinct, has been rediscovered in Arkansas (see photo of a model reconstructing the event at left, hosted in the CNN story). NPR did a detailed radio expedition story and interviewed the players. These are a large number of seasoned, professional birders, well aware of the bigfoot phenomenon and the similar woodpecker species, the pilleated woodpecker, and they think they’ve found it. Evidently this has been cooking for several months, but the word recently leaked out, and a paper has been rushed to the online edition of Science.

It would be great if this were true. I want it to be true. Several independent professional observers say it is true. But I gotta say, I just read the paper (Fitzpatrick et al. “Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) Persists in Continental North America, free online”), looked at the supplementary material, and watched the video, and I’ve got a bad feeling that hopes are going to be dashed again. What they’ve put up in terms of data is scans of field notes and a detailed analysis of one very short video that is being interpreted right at the limits of its resolution. They don’t have audio recordings, and the digital photo they have is a photo of model in a “reconstruction” of the video observation. Hopefully my utterly amateur opinion is wrong, and the professionals are right, but with this much psychic energy pushing for the existence of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, it pays to be extra-careful.

Who actually accepts or supports the theory of biological evolution? Traditionally, one gets different answers to this question from scientists and from creationists / “Intelligent Design” advocates.

Most scientists agree that it is scientists - those practicing science - who accept and support evolution. However, according to New Mexico’s chapter of IDnet, “evolutionists” are instead those who adhere to Philosophical Naturalism:

…evolutionists, because of their philosophical commitment to Naturalism, insist as a matter of dogma that the process of evolution is undirected and without purpose.

Now, two new pundits weigh in with answers to this age-old question. And the answers are in substantial agreement, despite their different sources - one is Christian pastor and parent Ray Mummert, from Dover, PA, and the other is Geoff Brumfiel, Nature’s Washington physical sciences correspondent.

As many of you know, I am here in Lawrence, Kansas to cover the Kansas State Board of Education’s hearings kangaroo court on whether Intelligent Design Science should be included in the state science standards.

Since many of you might not have known that there was such a thing as “Intelligent Design Science” (as contrasted with “Intelligent Design Creationism”, which label seems to throw the Intelligent Design Creationists into a tizzy fit), I’ve persuaded one of my arch nemeses, the esteemed legal flak “Dr.” Courtney Kangaroo, to explain it all to us.

Steve Steve: Good morning, “Dr.” Courtney.

Courtney K.: Hi Steve. I heard those quotation marks. I am a real doctor, you know. I have a Ph.D. in Quantum Apologetics from a little place you might have heard of called MIT.

S2: Really? I didn’t know that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave out apologetics degrees!

CK: Oh. No. I meant the Marsupial Institute of Theology. It’s in Australia.

A parent and ID creationist in Roseville, California, has filed a libel lawsuit against National Center for Science Education Director Dr. Eugenie Scott on the basis of statements made in her recent article in California Wild magazine. The parent, Larry Caldwell, claims that Dr. Scott has impugned his character and should pay for it. But in fact, the lawsuit is a frivolous waste of the court's time and a character study in the mind of the modern ID creationist activist.

PZ Myers notes that toads are exploding for reasons unknown in Hamburg, Germany. This story is apparently not made up, although I am not yet convinced that we are getting the straight story from the media – after all, the widely reported three-headed British frog of 2004 was, after vigorous discussion, decided to most likely merely be multiple amplexus, inexpertly observed, on one Evolution/Creationism forum (see also “Three-headed frog – not!” for the apparently definitive analysis).

Let’s assume that frogs really are exploding. Unexplained phenomena like this are a great chance to test William Dembski’s Explanatory Filter to see if it detects intelligent design. Let see: Is the phenomenon specified? You bet. In fact, it is specifiable in advance. Humans have been blowing up animals for some time now – for example, in 1970, the Highway Department of my beloved home state of Oregon decided to dispose of a stinky eight-ton whale carcass with 20 cases of dynamite. See the Exploding Whale Website for the video. Can known natural laws account for the explosion of live frogs? Apparently not. The known natural laws say that frogs, particularly live ones in a cool climate, shouldn’t be exploding (dead ones in the hot sun might be another matter – see the story about the natural exploding of a 60-ton sperm whale in Singapore in 2004). Can chance explain exploding frogs? Nope. Chance might explain some dead toads, but I estimate the chance of 1,000 dead toads, exploding rather than just dying, and all in Hamburg, to be less than 1 in 10^1,000 (and this is very generous probability estimate). Furthermore, we know that intelligent designers can and do blow animals up intentionally. So, we can safely conclude intelligent design is the best explanation for Hamburg’s exploding toads. QED. Somebody alert the authorities.

What Pico means

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In a post below, Ed Brayton mentioned the controversy in Gull Lake, Michigan. One item in the Thomas More Law Center's press release particularly caught my eye (and you know how painful that can be): TMLC repeatedly cites the 'confiscation of thirty copies of the book Of Pandas and People' by school authorities.

Now, Pandas And People is the standard collection of creationist claptrap which has been dealt with many times before. And the letter that TMLC sent to the school protesting this 'confiscation' is full of many misrepresentations and unsound scientific claims—for example, it refers to 'the standard Darwinian ‘random chance' explanations' of evolutionary change, when, of course, neither Darwin nor his successors have ever claimed that evolutionary change results from randomness. But set aside the questionable science for a moment. What about this book confiscation?

Last week, Bob Collins of Alabama Citizens for Science Education discovered that the third creationist bill of the 2005 Alabama Legislature had been introduced late in the legislative session (see older NCSE news on Alabama for a history of this bill). A hearing on the bill before the House Education Committee was scheduled for last Wednesday, and although the hearing was apparently not announced on the website of the Alabama Legislature, Bob Collins and others organized rapidly to speak out against the bill.

A committee vote is scheduled for next Wednesday. Bob Collins has asked that the following message be as widely distributed as possible, so I am posting it to PT for any Alabamans that might be reading.

Hi, folks, the last few days I’ve been in Lawrence, Kansas visiting Jack Krebs, the vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science and member of the crew here at the Panda’s Thumb. Of course, there is a big event coming up in a few weeks (starting May 5), affectionately known around here as the kangaroo court hearings. At this event three anti-evolutionary members of the Kansas State Board of Education are going to supposedly judge whether Intelligent Design stuff should be included in the Kansas science standards.

But as a warm-up, I attended an afternoon conference Thursday entitled “A Public Meeting on Evolution and Kansas Bioscience,” at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence. See this news story from Friday’s news paper.

Jack gave a speech on the theological nature of ID and more generally on why people in Kansas should be concerned about the current situation. (I’m sure he’ll report on this when he has time.) Of course I volunteered to help in any way I could. Here’s a picture of me offering some suggestions for one of Jack’s slides.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune has a series of articles on their op-ex page today on the Intelligent Design creationism "debate". It's not bad; they set the tone with a set of quotes on the front page from Darwin, Einstein, Twain, and Pope Pius XII that provide no comfort to creationists at all.

They've also got an article by yours truly, Pseudoscience would waste teaching time (which I've also put on Pharyngula, if you don't want to register with the Strib), and another pro-science article by a staff writer, When two core beliefs go head to head. There's a peculiar (to this atheist's way of thinking) article on the religious viewpoint, Truth of faith doesn't depend on this debate, which basically supports the theistic evolutionist's point of view, while arguing for the importance of faith.

Then there is, of course, the token article for "balance", Students should learn the weaknesses of evolutionary theory, too. It's by Dave Eaton, who has no credentials in biology at all, but was appointed by the conservative creationist who used to run our state board of education to be on our standards committee. That article is a stunning pile of drivel, as you'll discover if you'd care to read my critique.

By the way, there is a big bold invitation on the op-ex page.

An invitation to readers on ID/evolution.
We're interested in your thoughts on intelligent design, evolution, and their proper places in school curricula. Write us an e-mail of no more than 150 words and send it to opinion@startribune.com, with the word "evolution" in the subject line. Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number so we can contact you if we decide to publish your response. Please reply by Monday, May 2.

Dr. Eugenie Scott appeared on the MSNBC interview show "Hardball" on April 21st. There is a transcript available here. Along with host Chris Matthews, there was Reverend Terry Fox on the program. The topic was the push in Kansas to change public school science standards. Dr. Scott was able to make several good points despite the tendency of Matthews to interrupt his guests.

Continue reading "Dr. Eugenie Scott on 'Hardball'" (on The Austringer)

The Thomas More Law Center, the same legal group defending the school board in Dover, PA, is threatening to file a lawsuit against the Gull Lake Public Schools for telling two junior high science teachers that they could no longer teach creationism in their classrooms. Michigan Citizens for Science, an organization whose board I sit on, has been involved with this case for several months behind the scenes, since being notified of what was being taught there by a parent whose child was in the class. That parent is a biologist and was shocked when his daughter brought home not only pro-ID material, but young earth creationist material as well, including classroom material claiming that the Grand Canyon had formed in a single year as a result of Noah's flood. The parent contacted us and we made contact with the Gull Lake administration, the school board and the teachers. We worked to resolve the situation without the bounds of the law and responsible curriculum standards, even holding an in-service day with the teachers to show them the lack of scientific credibility in the material they were using.

At one point, an agreement was reached within the school district. They appointed a 7-member committee internally to review the situation and reach a decision. That committee included the two teachers who were using the material, the principals of both the junior high and high school, the superintendent and two other science teachers. They all agreed that the committee would review the situation, hold a vote, and then all 7 of them would back the decision of the committee regardless of how it went. That vote was 5-2 against using the creationist materials in the science classes, with the two teachers obviously being the only dissenting votes. But the teachers decided not to honor their agreement and are now threatening a lawsuit.

The fact that the lawsuit will be coming from the teachers instead of from the ACLU or Americans United is an important distinction between this case and the Dover case. It changes the legal claims entirely because the plaintiffs must challenge the constitutionality of the policy. In Dover, the plaintiffs, being the ACLU on behalf of local parents, are claiming that ID is an essentially religious idea and therefore to teach it violates the establishment clause. But in Gull Lake, the teachers must claim that their constitutional rights are somehow violated by not being allowed to teach what they want to teach, and that is a much tougher case to make. The letter that the TMLC wrote to the Gull Lake school board hints at the legal argument they will attempt to make, which is that not allowing the teachers to use creationist material violates their academic freedom. This is an argument that has consistently lost in court.

Also ironic is that the TMLC makes a point of arguing that ID is not creationism, yet the teachers in this case used a mixture of ID and traditional young earth creationist material. This will be fun to watch the ID crowd deal with, as they are loathe to have their ideas associated in any way with "creation science", despite the fact that all of their arguments originated in creationist material. But here we have ID and YEC material mixing together, even while their attorneys attempt to claim they have nothing to do with each other. Stay tuned for much, much more on this one.

Dino-Blood Redux


On 24 March 2005, a team of paleontologists lead by Mary Higby Schweitzer published their discovery of dinosaur soft tissues recovered from the cortical bone of a T. rex femur. The three page paper in Science magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, presents the striking discovery of apparently preserved organic tissues. These include several cell types that the authors feel able to delineate by direct comparison to modern cells recovered from a recent ostrich femur. (Schweitzer MH, Wittmeyer JL, Horner JR, Toporski JK (2005) Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex. Science 307(5717):1952-1955). Within hours of their story’s release creationist email lists and bulletin boards were blazing around the world about the new scientific “proof” of the Earth’s recent creation. One small, and hopeful change from Schweitzer’s similar 1990s ‘discovery’ is that this time both she and Horner have made direct statements that this find is neither a contradiction of the sciences, nor of an ancient Earth.

Some people have wondered why Panda’s Thumb did not immediately post a response to this discovery. And because I have written on the creationist distortion of earlier dinosaur soft tissue research published by Schweitzer, Dino-blood and the Young Earth, on the TalkOrigins archive, some have wondered why I haven’t personally reacted. I even received a few emails that demanded that I retract that article. This is an absurd misunderstanding of that article, the evidence it was based on, and the research published by Schweitzer and various colleagues since the early 1990s.

It may surprise a few people, but I am not interested in dinosaurs. I rented the first Jurassic Park movie when it came out on videotape, and I skipped the rest.

The following is a guest post from Steven Thomas Smith. Steve is on the Senior Technical Staff in the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT, and more importantly is a Project Steve Steve. He attended the Jay Wexler/Francis Beckwith debate on the constitutionality of teaching ID in public schools at Harvard Law School, and gave us this report. We welcome this submission and encourage others to send us well-reasoned and insightful guest blog essays, particularly if your name is Steve.

Harvard Law School, said by some to be the world’s second best, demands of its students a “record of marked distinction.” Last year, Harvard Law Review editor Lawrence VanDyke, 2L, achieved this lofty status by publishing a besotted review of Francis Beckwith’s book about the constitutionality of Intelligent Design creationism in public schools. VanDyke’s insipid and error-filled piece (“not even wrong” in Pauli’s words) would have been eminently ignorable had it not appeared in the often respected Law Review, and this fact alone attracted a dogpile of criticism involving political columnists, science policy writers, lawyers, biologists, and the Panda’s Thumb. VanDyke, revealing that his motives were those of a clueless dupe, and not a Machiavellian operator, actually responded to this withering barrage with an even more cluelessly clueless post at HLS’s Federalist Society (in which he cites “Project Steve” as proof that 1% of scientists doubt evolution!), ensuring that much fun was had by all.

An anniversary for the Tangled Bank

The Bathroom Wall


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.

Hot-blooded crocodiles?

croc heart

Crocodiles are beasts with an odd mix of features: they are ectothermic (meaning that they derive their body heat from their environment) reptiles, like lizards and snakes, but unlike those smaller critters, they have a fairly sophisticated, high performance cardiovascular system: they have a true four-chambered heart, just like us mammals and birds, and they also have a diaphragmaticus, a muscle analogous to our diaphragm that is used to inflate the lungs. At the same time, their hearts are relatively small—heart mass is roughly 0.15% of body mass, compared to 0.4%-0.7% of body mass for mammals—and generates relatively low systemic blood pressure.

It's weird. It's like they have this fancy, sophisticated engine in low-tech chassis, that the animal never revs up to its full potential. How did it get in there, and why do crocodiles have such fancy hearts?

The answer may be that they inherited it from more active, endothermic ancestors.

Continue reading "Hot-blooded crocodiles?" (on Pharyngula)

Everyone with a serious interest in biology is aware of PubMed and Genbank, the major literature and sequence databases at NIH. But there are a large number of more specialized and professionally curated databases that allow the researcher unparalleled glimpses into an organism’s genetics, molecular biology, physiology and evolution. Over the next few articles, I’d like to highlight some of these databases, showing how they are used and how critical they are for an understanding of the organism. These databases often have deep and highly technical content, but they also have much that is accessible to the non-specialist. And in genomics there are always more questions being asked than there are people to supply answers. As with planetary image analysis and observational astronomy, there may be some areas of opportunity for talented amateurs (especially those with a computational background) who wish to make a contribution to the field.

Down with phyla!

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Are phyla “real”? Is there really a well-defined “number of animal phyla” extant and in the fossil record? Does the term “bodyplan” or “bauplan” have any consistent definition? Many paleontologists, notably Stephen Jay Gould (1989, Wonderful Life), have written books that take these concepts for granted, and, observing charts with many animal phyla appearing in the Cambrian, and few appearing afterwards, have reached the conclusion that there was something extra-special and unique about the Cambrian “explosion”. Creationists, both the traditional and “intelligent design” variety, have been only to happy to put their own spin on this situation, and argue that God, for reasons that remain obscure, engaged in a particularly active period of special creation for a few dozen million years back in the Cambrian. Recent examples include Stephen Meyer’s hopeless paper “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories”, the three or so previously-published versions of that paper, and Paul Nelson’s work in general (see a recent powerpoint presentation).

The Tangled Bank is nearly a year old

The Tangled Bank

The Tangled Bank has been running for about a year now; here's the initial announcement from 13 April 2004, and the very first edition, on 21 April 2004. Now we have the 26th Tangled Bank coming up this week at Circadiana, so let's celebrate a year of science blogging! Send those links in to <coturnix1 AT aol DOT com>, or to me, or to host@tangledbank.net by Tuesday.

The Discovery Institute’s blog ‘Evolution News and Views,’ supposedly in existence to correct ‘misreporting’ in the media about Intelligent Design, isn’t doing such a hot job itself.

Their latest post by Rob Crowther (here) is entitled ‘AAAS Issues Gag Order to Scientists, Seeks to Stifle Debate.’

The article starts by listing a number of public debates (just the kind of thing the DI like to point as evidence that Intelligent Design is credible) between such people as Nelson and Shanks, Provine and Meyer, and so on.

Then Crowther writes,

But, no Darwinist will testify to the Kansas board of education. Amazing. Simply amazing.

Why? Because the Darwinian high priests at the American Association for the Advancement of Science have issued a sort of scientific papal bull, a gag order to scientists, telling them not to debate the flaws in Darwin’s theory before the Kansas State Board of Education.

What a bunch of uninformed and dishonest bull!

Greetings to all Panda’s Thumbers!

Recently I had an opportunity to visit the town of Princeton, in lovely central New Jersey[1]. Princeton is called by some the “Berkeley of the East Coast,” and for good reason! There’s a university there, for one thing. And, like Berkeley, Princeton is at one end of the Axis-of-Intelligent-Design. I knew that this was one place that I definitely wanted to see!!! And along the way, I took pictures, so that you could see it too.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the sights of Princeton: ID capital of the upper Eastern seaboard[2].

My first stop was 112 Mercer St., home of the somewhat well-known physicist Albert Einstein, who worked nearby at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Einstein’s house had a fence so beautiful that I had to get a picture with it.

Dembski comments on his career


Dembski presented a series of lectures at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2003.

Arguing that declaring support for ID in science ends one’s career (one very sharp fellow working in ID is waiting until he gets tenure), Dembski makes the following remark:

Dembski Wrote:

In my case my cards have been on the table, my career is ruined so (laughter) it doesn’t matter at this point but eh I say just what I want in this regard but it’s a real problem.

A pelvis can say so much

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It's an impressive piece of detective work to take a fragment of a fossil and learn something about the behavior of dinosaurs. This is a fossil that consists of only the pelvic region of an oviraptor, which also happens to have a pair of large eggs nestled inside it. This poor female was pregnant at the time of her death, and was just about ready to lay these eggs.

It doesn't sound like much, but here's what we learn from it:

  • -Oviraptors had two functional oviducts, like modern crocodiles. They laid their eggs in pairs.
  • -These are large eggs, and the animal didn't have a lot of room in there—so it only laid a few at a time. It wasn't like modern sea turtles, dumping a load of eggs in a nest all at once.
  • -Oviraptor nests have been found, and they contain many eggs. This had to have been done by repeated visits and multiple egg-laying sessions, suggesting a fair amount of parental investment in the nest.
  • -The pointed end of the egg is pointed caudally. In oviraptor nests, the eggs are all in circular rings, with the pointed end outward. From this we can infer that the mother oviraptor stood in the center of the nest when laying the eggs.

Isn't it cool where a little evidence and logic will take you?

(See a larger image on Pharyngula)

This morning four Kansas organizations, including Kansas Citizens for Science, announced the formation of a coalition in support of the state science standards committee’s work and opposing the kangaroo court hearings in May. The coalition released a position paper which states in part:

We urge all Kansans to join us in adopting the following positions:

1. We request that the State Board of Education adopt the final draft of the standards offered later this spring by the writing committee, without revisions.

2. We request that the State Board of Education cancel all special opportunities for the Intelligent Design minority to present their views. We especially urge the Board to cancel the so-called “science hearings” scheduled in May. The minority proposals were considered and rejected by a two-thirds majority of the science standards writing committee. The BOE should accept that and give the minority group no further special privileges.

See the KCFS News Forum to read both today’s News Release and the Position Paper.

Cryptic Ichthus


Bill Dembski complains of the injustice of being referred to, with his Discovery Institute colleagues, as an “Intelligent Design Creationist.” It’s possible, he writes, to believe in Intelligent Design and to not be a creationist, therefore the term “Intelligent Design Creationist” cannot be accurate. This criticism makes the logically dubious claim that since some ID advocates are not creationists then “Intelligent Design Creationists” don’t exist. However, as long as there is a brand of creationism that is identifiable as being of the “Intelligent Design” flavor, then there is such a thing as “Intelligent Design Creationism.” (It is this flavor of creationism, as creationism, that Rob Pennock and Barbara Forrest address in their criticisms.) The “Intelligent Design” strain of creationism deserves special notice because it is particularly insidious. Unlike its predecessor “Scientific Creationism,” IDC has attempted to present a false public face devoid of any commitment to theological particulars.

The emergence of “Intelligent Design Creationism” from “Scientific Creationism” is not a haphazard conjecture. The connections are very well researched, and many of the players and their tactics are exactly the same. As the current advocates of ID, including Bill “any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient” Dembski make clear (when they are speaking to an audience of like-minded believers), Intelligent Design is the bridge between science and theology (see, for example, Dembski, W., 1999, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science & Theology, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill.).

Who is Matt Collins?


Everyone remembers the widely-blogged Scientific American April Fool’s editorial, “OK, We give up: We feel so ashamed.” The editorial claimed that Scientific American had given up on reporting on real science and agreed to let intelligent design and other forms of ideological pseudoscience into its pages.

Apparently, the article acquired a mutation early in its trip around the blogosphere, the addition of someone named “Matt Collins” as author. Like an old-fashioned chain-letter (ironically enough, Scientific American did a story on the evolution of chain-letters a few years back), the Matt Collins attribution was dutifully copied, and soon people were sending hate mail and fan mail to the magazine addressed to Matt Collins, and Matt Collins was even listed as author when the article was reprinted in The Guardian. However, SciAm editor John Rennie says that no such person works at the magazine. The identity of Matt Collins is a mystery to him – he suggests it somehow got added while being scanned and blogged.

I have a hypothesis.

Quammen gets award


Scientific American‘s John Rennie has definitely discovered the joy – perhaps “grim pleasure” would be a better word – of blogging about evolution and the silliness of creationists. Today, he announced that the American Society of Magazine Editors just gave science journalist David Quammen and National Geographic‘s editor, William L. Allen, the 2005 National Magazine Award in Essays for the November 2004 National Geographic article that asked and answered the question, “Was Darwin Wrong?

Thanks for 500,000 visits


Sometime this morning the Panda’s Thumb received its 500,000 visit, according to our site meter.

I just would like to offer my thanks to our many visitors. I really appreciate the many thoughtful comments people offer. Both the breadth and depth of my perspective have grown by being a part of (often just as a lurker) the converstaions here.

Everyone should have a round of your favorite Panda’s Thumb digital beverage on me. :-)

What if you held a debate and nobody but your supporters came?

It’s quite likely that you’d be able to boast about the poor reception your opponent got from the audience.

This seems to have been what happened at a debate held last week on the Princeton campus between Lee Silver, a Princeton molecular biologist, and Bill Dembski, a seminary professor. The debate, titled “Intelligent Design: Is It Science?” was sponsored by the “Intercollegiate Studies Institute” (a conservative think tank in Wilmington, Delaware). Notably absent was any publicity that might have resulted in the attendance of scientists, or even of unscreened Princeton students.

The Wichita Eagle had an excellent editorial today in support of the boycott of the Kansas state BOE’s upcoming kangaroo court meant to showcase Intelligent Design. (See here for a list of the Intelligent Design illuminati being invited at tax-payer expense)

Here is the editorial in its entirety – it’s short, powerful, and to the point. ‘Nuff said, as they say.

You might consider sending author Randy Scholfield, writing for the Eagle editorial board, a note of appreciation, or writing a letter to the editor in support of the Eagle’s opinion. See here for contact information.

Zimmer vs. Wieland


Compare these two: Carl Wieland of Answers in Genesis vs. Carl Zimmer. It's no contest. Zimmer refers to the scientific literature and accurately describes recent advances in AIDS research, while the creationist evades the key points, makes up false assertions about the data, references out-of-date creationist misinterpretations, and flings out non sequiturs wildly.

This is typical.

Funniest comment in Wieland's article: the suggestion that Zimmer should have "checked this website [AiG] first". Yeah, and maybe he should have also visited the circus and consulted a few dancing monkeys, too.

FYI: Intelligent Design on NPR


Join the studio audience of National Public Radio’s award-winning public affairs debate show, Justice Talking. Host Margot Adler leads the nation’s top advocates in informative, entertaining debate on today’s headline issues, with questions from the audience. Tuesday, April 19 7:30 – 9 pm National Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street, Philadelphia

Francis Collins on ID.


Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, was interviewed on Tucker Carlson’s Unfiltered. Here’s what he had to say about ID:

Carlson: What do you think of this statement read to the Dover, Pennsylvania public school children that the theory is just a theory and explaining briefly intelligent design? Is that that be read to kids?

Collins: It sounds as if it’s a good idea to suggest anybody listening to a discussion about science to keep your mind open and to be sure that facts are actually backed up by data. But, of course, that statement is full of a lot more than scientific facts and data and concerns about them. It is a statement that reflects a battle that’s going on right now. And in my view, an unnecessary battle. So let me explain why I say that. As somebody who has watched our own D.N.A. sequence emerge, our own instruction book over the course of the last few years, all three billion letters of our code, and watched how it compares with that of other species, the evidence that comes out of that kind of analysis is overwhelmingly in favor of a single origin of life from which various forms were then derived by a process which seems entirely consistent with Darwin’s view of natural selection. By saying that, some people listening to my words will immediately conclude that I must therefore be opposed to any role for god in the process that’s not true. But I’m not an advocate of intelligent design, either.

Carlson: Why?

Collins proceeds to lay the smack-down.

The whole interview is interesting, as Collins is a theistic evolutionist with strong Christian convictions, yet is perfectly comfortable with science. There are thousands of scientists like him, which pretty much puts the lie to the frequent cre/ID refrain that one can’t accept both evolution and believe in God at the same time.

(Hat-tip to “ex-preacher” on IIDB.)

Reverence for the long dead and the not-so-long dead


Since PZ is apparently too shy to suggest this himself, I will do so on the chance that there’s a smidge of non-overlapping readership between here and Pharyngula. Those who have not yet done so, go to Pharyngula and read this essay. It’s also on The American Street. It’s a keeper.


A new report in Science has come out firmly in favour of the Homo floresiensis not being a “pathological microcephalic”. Read more [URL =http://evolvethought.blogspot.com/2[…]pinhead.html]here[/URL].

That may sound strange to rational people, but if you visit a diner in Dunlap, Tennessee, you’ll find out that it’s perfectly plausible. It appears that Kent Hovind, aka Dr. Dino, isn’t content with poisoning the minds of children down in Pensacola, Florida. He’s now wormed his way north to the land of Scopes. Joe Meert, a geologist and long-time follower of creationism, had this discovery to share on the IIDB forum:

I took a group of students on a field trip to Tennessee, NC and Virginia. We stopped at a small diner in Tennessee for breakfast. My 7 year old son was with me on the trip and as the waitress was setting our table, she put down a ‘childrens activity’ place mat. I did not think much of it until my son said, “Dad, did you know that T-rex could breathe fire?”. I said where did you hear that? He said, look at my placemat. I did and there were many other ‘fun-filled’ dino facts from one “Dr Dino”!!

He’s done us favor of scanning the placemats:



There’s not much more that needs saying. The kiddie script is just so appropriate.

Mathews at it again…


A couple of weeks ago, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post wrote a poorly considered article on why he thinks ID should be taught in schools. (As hard as it is to believe, his primary justification is that biology is boring.) I critiqued it here. Now he’s come out with another article dove-tailing on his previous one:

Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Me.

It’s one of those “I was wrong but I was really right” articles that pundits are so fond of when they get justifiably skewered for writing something dumb. Mathews reproduces portions of some well reasoned emails he received criticizing his prior article, and notes that he anticipated this reaction (biology teachers he consulted before hand told him the same thing), yet he went ahead and wrote it anyway. And check out his bizarre rationale.

While the ID folks continue to blather about the impossibility of complex systems evolving naturalistically, real scientists are busy unravelling the steps by which such evolution actually occurred.

The March 18 issue of Science contains this research report and accompanying technical article (only available by subscription, apparently), about recent work on the evolution of swim bladders in fish. Meanwhile, Bryan Fry of the University of Melbourne in Australia has published this article in which he unravles some of the mysteries of snake venom evolution. This work is described in layman's terms by Carl Zimmer in this article from The New York Times.

Covering the creationism beat is usually an unhappy job, consisting of report after report of yet more stupidity bubbling up. There is hope, though. A Fellow of the Discovery Institute, Paul Nelson, paid a visit to my university (the University of Minnesota Morris) last night to lecture us on problems in macroevolution and the promise of Intelligent Design creationism in explaining them. He had a large crowd show up, and the wonderful thing is how UMM students responded. They didn't sit back passively, they didn't throw rotten fruit…they hammered him with solid, critical questions. The Q&A session went on longer than the talk itself, and with only one exception, the questions and comments were all smart and uniformly anti-pseudoscience.

That is how it is done. That's how we win this battle—with a well-prepared and intelligent generation of students who can recognize BS when they hear it.

(PLUG: Looking for a good liberal arts university? Prefer a school in the public system because it's less expensive? Want a place with access to the resources of a major research university system, but the student/teacher ratios of a small town college? Take a look at the University of Minnesota Morris. Plus, our students are brilliant.)

Old Man of Georgia

Dmanisi old man

A fabulously interesting hominin skull has been found at the Dmanisi site in Georgia. It's old in two different and significant ways: the individual lived 1.77 million years ago, and he was ancient at death, almost completely toothless. He'd also been toothless for several years before death, judging by the complete resorption of the tooth sockets.

It's a touchingly human thing, that so long ago our ancestors weren't entirely brutish, but did care for the infirm to some degree.

Continue to the pictures of "Old Man of Georgia" (on Pharyngula)

As Reed Cartwright noted in a short, brilliantly titled essay yesterday, Discovery Institute Senior Fellow Jay Richards thinks he has found a flaw in the theory of relativity. The theory of relativity is one of the most successful scientific theories ever, and it has been verified time and again with remarkable precision. This month’s issue of Discover Magazine, for example, notes that a clock runs measurably faster at a high altitude than at sea level. A nonscientist criticizing relativity is about like a lawyer criticizing evolution; both are in over their heads.

My own knowledge of relativity, while evidently more profound than Mr. Richards’s, is still not up to par, so I contacted my colleague Victor Stenger, author of Has Science Found God? and asked him to comment on Mr. Richards’s essay. Here is the bulk of his reply, beginning with a quotation from Mr. Richards’s essay.

Tangled Bank XXV

The Tangled Bank

There's a new Tangled Bank at Respectful Insolence—learn how to annoy an editor and never, ever get published in a scientific journal again while perusing a large collection of science posts.

The next Tangled Bank will appear on 20 April Circadiana. Send new submissions to <coturnix1 AT aol.com>, host@tangledbank.net, or to me. We're also always looking for new hosts, so if you want to join in the fun, volunteer.

John Rennie, editor of Scientific American, has blogged an interesting piece on his experience at a meeting with university presidents. Rennie was disappointed at the evasive answers that the presidents gave to his questions, but I was glad to see that Rennie, and also Ira Flato, were actively sticking up for science. Rennie also puts his finger on the kind of thing that would really make university presidents pay attention to evolution education: biotech. One of the few forces that could substantially change the current dynamics of the evolution/creationism controversy would be biotech companies realizing that it is their ox that gets gored if evolution is cut out of the schools or diluted with pseudoscience. “Reading” the human genome would be almost totally impossible without the lab organisms – fruit flies, mice, zebrafish, etc. – that are related to humans to various degrees. Uneducated students will be less likely to enter the highly educated biotech workforce, and an uneducated public will be less likely to support the government research dollars that produce the basic research upon which biotech rests. Why bother with the chimp genome, if humans aren’t any more related to chimps than anything else?

Send in the clowns

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In the I am not making this stuff up category, the ID crowd is planning on sending a battalion of pseudoscientists to Kansas this May for the upcoming ID Kangaroo Court. On the front page of the Intelligent Design Network‘s “we’re not promoting ID” website, we find:

PUBLIC HEARINGS ON MINORITY REPORT. A Committee of the State board has scheduled hearings to provide for an in-depth examination of the Minority Report and its proposed changes. The hearings will be conducted in Topeka on May 5, 6 and 7, and May 12, 13 and 14 at a place to be announced. CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF WITNESSES TO BE CALLED TO TESTIFY FOR THE MINORITY REPORTIDnet science standards website

And what a list it is!

The Discovery Institute’s Wishful Thinking Division has a piece by Jay Richards arguing against relativity based on an insight derived from a New Yorker article: “ Did Einstein really show that time is an illusion?.”

Sean Carroll at Perposterous Universe has taken it apart: “Time-saving tips for understanding Einstein.”

And here’s a little request for anyone else who wants to point out flaws in Einstein. Whatever else you might think, Einstein was a smart cookie. Nothing he said was sacred (my first published paper proposed a theory that violated some of Einstein’s ideas, as have several of my subsequent papers), but you should at least understand what he said before you claim to improve on it. So take a gander at the problem sets for my course in general relativity, and have a go. If you get an average of over 50% on all the sets (as all of the students in my class did), I’ll give your ideas a respectful hearing. Otherwise, you should go back and hit the books if you expect anyone to take you seriously.

I wrote a letter to the editor of “The Daily Californian” concerning David Berlinski’s op-ed piece that ran there on April 1. I reproduce it here as an open letter.

Re: David Berlinski’s little white lies

David Berlinski claims to be looking for what is true. It is odd, then, that he spreads easily-discovered falsehoods in his April 1st essay.

Hobbit Fossils Damaged…

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Frodo Baggins [L], Aragorn [R]?

Several of the fossils of the celebrated “hobbit-sized” hominid Homo floresiensis have apparently been irreparably damaged by the researcher who spirited them away from the discovery team for months. This strange and sad story first appeared in USA Today on March 21st, and was reported in Science on 25 March 2005; (307: 1848)

Usually Carl Zimmer’s The Loom keeps us up to date on the diminutive Homo floresiensis with great posts like this one, but he must be really busy this week.

Anyway, here follows the sad news from USA Today.

I blogged some time ago about the proposed amendment to NAGPRA—the Native American Graves Preservation and Repatriation Act. This is a federal law that requires archaeologists to turn over human skeletons found on federal land if the skeleton to American Indian tribes, if the skeleton is that of a member of that tribe. The tribes then destroy the skeletons, so that they cannot be researched. Unfortunately, the law was a little bit vague, so there was a long court battle over Kennewick Man—a 10,000 year old skeleton that was not reasonably related to any present-day tribe, but which American Indian creationists nevertheless wanted to seize and destroy. That case went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in the scientists' favor some time ago. The court said that the law only applies if the skeleton is related to a current-day American Indian tribe.

In response, some Senators, including Ben Campbell of Colorado and John McCain of Arizona are trying to amend NAGPRA to ensure that any skeleton, no matter how old, must be handed over to whatever tribe claims it. The Bill, S536, includes a section (section 108) which will amend the current law so that it defines Native American Indian as

of, or relating to, a tribe, people, or culture that is or was indigenous to any geographic area that is now located within the boundaries of the United States.

What this means is that any skeleton found anywhere on Federal land, even if it is hundreds of thousands of years old and in no way related to an American Indian tribe, must be given to a tribe that claims it, rather than to scientists for research, and destroyed rather than studied—all to appease Native American creationists. This is an extremely serious threat to archaeology and anthropology in the United States.

This bill could go before the Senate for a vote this coming week. It is important to contact your Senator to urge them to delete section 108 from this bill. Otherwise religious extremists will be given a veto power over the scientific study of ancient skeletons. More information at the Friends of America's Past.

I was on Tom Conroy’s radio show ‘Conroy’s Public House’ last Wednesday (KLWN, 1320 AM in Lawrence, Kansas), along with lawyer John Calvert of the Intelligent Design network. (I will report more on this as time allows.)

A listener sent this email to Tom with some questions for me, and Tom asked me to reply. These are good questions which contain a number of important misconceptions about science, Here are some brief responses.

The questions

A question of the man defending naturalism (Jack Krebbs) [actually Krebs]. He said that there was no scientific evidence for design. What scientific evidence can he point to that would point to naturalism? What scientific evidence can he present that demonstrates that something must be scientific in order to be true? What scientific evidence is there that demonstrates that the scientific method brings true knowledge?

Flood the Bank!

The Tangled Bank

Orac is busy and is having blogger problems, and we're about to make it worse for him: he's hosting the Tangled Bank this weekend. Pile on. Send him links to your science stories at <orac_usa AT hotmail DOT com> or to host@tangledbank.net or to me. Please include the words "TANGLED BANK" in the subject line to make life a little easier for him, but otherwise, make him even busier…and then look for the next edition to appear on Wednesday at Respectful Insolence.

April Fools?… or not?


I’ve decided that this April 1 Dembski post on the new DI/ID/ARN/ISCID superblog (“ The Truth about How I Got into ID”), and this April 1 op-ed by David Berlinski in the Daily Californian (“Academic Extinction,” hat-tip to Talk.Origins), must be April Fools jokes.

But it’s so hard to tell with these guys. Give your opinions in this thread.

The April 1997 issue of Discover magazine had a pretty good April Fool's joke about a number of Neandertal musical instruments that had supposedly been discovered in Germany. It was an unlikely collection, featuring bagpipes, a tuba, a triangle and a 'xylobone', along with a cave painting of marching musicians. In September 2000 the Institute for Creation Research fell for it and featured this evidence in one of their radio programs. I pointed that out on the Fossil Hominids website about a month later, and the ICR quickly apologized and retracted the claim. However, no erroneous argument ever completely disappears from creationist literature. I've recently noticed the April Fool article cited again in an article by Brad Harrub on the Answers in Genesis website (update: the citation has now been removed). Harrub also thinks that the Java Man skullcap belongs to a gibbon - even though AIG has admitted that this is a discredited argument that creationists shouldn't use any longer. Harrub's article was also published in AIG's 'peer-reviewed scientific journal', the Technical Journal. What is AIG's peer-review process like, if clangers like these can get through it?

Not satisfied with having just the Media Complaints Division, the Discovery Institute has created a new blog, humbly entitled Intelligent Design the Future. Contributors to the blog include C(R)SC fellows like Dembski, Wells, and Behe. The purpose of the blog is to explore “issues central to the case for intelligent design, from the Big Bang to the bacterial flagellum and beyond.” I guess we’re supposed to get some insight into the “evidence” for intelligent design from this new blog. Not surprisingly, they don’t allow comments.

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