May 2005 Archives

While researching the nematode work by Azevedo, I ran across the following [url=]website[/url] called ‘Design vs. Descent: A war of predictions”. The original article can be found at the Idea Center

While the article has many problems, one in particular caught my eye

Finally, a study which compared many proteins in humans, nematodes, arthropods, and yeast found that 2 starkly different trees were produced, depending on which genes were used.25 This pattern of different genes yielding very different phylogenetic trees is very common in the scientific literature, and shows that molecular data fail to give a consistent picture of the alleged common descent ancestry of organisms.

25. Mushegian A, Garey J, Martin J, Liu L. Large-Scale Taxonomic Profiling of Eukaryotic Model Organisms: A Comparison of Orthologous Proteins Encoded by the Human, Fly, Nematode, and Yeast Genomes. Genome Research 1998;8:590-8.

The Supreme Court today ruled in a case called Cutter v. Wilkinson that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) does not violate the First Amendment. This decision is the latest step in a back-and-forth between Congress and the Supreme Court over the degree to which the federal government can give religious groups special accommodations. Below, I’ll explain the history of the case, and its holding, and then why it’s important to the evolution/creationism controversy.

Gambusia

Maybe half of my audience here will be familiar with this problem. You're a man, and you're hauling this massive, ummm, package around in your pants everywhere you go. Other men fear you, while the women worship you…yet at the same time, your e-mail is stuffed to bursting with strange people making friendly offers to help you make it even bigger. It's a dilemma; you think you would be even more godlike if only it were larger, but could there possibly be any downside to it? (There is a bit of folk wisdom that inflating it drains all the blood from the brain, but this is clearly false. Men who are stupid when erect are also just as stupid when limp.)

A couple of recent studies in fish and spiders have shown that penis size is a matter of competing tradeoffs, and that these compromises have evolutionary consequences. Guys, trash that e-mail for penis enlargement services—they can make you less nimble in pursuit of the ladies, or worse, can get you killed.

Continue reading "The burden of bearing a massive penis" (on Pharyngula)

A creationist named Cowan who teaches science at the University Place School District in Washington state has written an essay that was published in the Christian Science Monitor. In part, it talks about how teaching the “controversy” regarding evolution is a stimulating pedagogy.

I wrote a letter to a few of the administrators of the high school at which Cowan works. I’ll show what I wrote on the flipside.

Jonathan Witt aruges that:

There is a factual error in the story’s headline and lead sentence. They suggest that the science documentary makes a case against biological evolution. In fact, the film doesn’t even touch on the subject.

The Privileged Planet focuses on cosmology and astronomy, and on Earth’s place in the universe. One could be a strict Darwinist and still agree with the argument in The Privileged Planet. In fact, that accurately describes at least two of the prominent scientists who endorsed the book upon which the documentary is based.

Another Tangled Bank is imminent

The Tangled Bank

The next Tangled Bank will be on Wednesday, 1 June, at Organic Matter. Get those links in to Chris, host@tangledbank.net, or me by Tuesday!

Teach the uhh… our controversy

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As reported by Reed Cartwright, the strict comment policy of IC blog sites and other websites, is ‘explained’ by Jay Richard by claiming that

the ID contributors ruled out comments because the debate about intelligent design often becomes malicious. “We would have one post and 30 comments that are vitriolic,” he said.

ASA: Bias in Science, Part 2

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Randy Isaac Wrote:

In part 1 I spoke of prejudicial bias, in which there is a tendency for a prejudice, or an a priori desire or preference for a particular result, to influence the analysis and the outcome of a scientific investigation, and a scientific bias, in which there is a tendency for anomalous results, namely those not expected on the basis of established scientific knowledge, to be rejected, particularly if the results directly contradict previously well-documented results.

In this post, I’d like to take a closer look at Baumgardner’s paper http://www.icr.org/research/AGUC-14[…]mgardner.pdf which elicited the concern a few weeks ago that it might be rejected by peer-reviewers due to an inappropriate bias. Specifically, Vernon Jenkins wrote on April 4, 2005: “There can be little doubt that Baumgardner et al would be more than happy to publish these findings in peer-reviewed form if a relevant journal could be found to accept their work. However, the sad truth is that a paper challenging the accepted uniformitarian paradigm - irrespective of its intrinsic quality - invariably meets with editorial and reviewer hostility.”

Read more at Bias in Science, Part 2, on the Calvin Reflector

Gonzalez said this common charge isn’t true and reflects mistaken beliefs about science by its critics.

“They come from a specific philosophical point of view,” he said. “Any explanation apart from law and chance is not permitted in science.”

October 12, 2004 A universal debate By Lucas Grundmeier Daily Staff Writer

What else is there other than law and chance? Ignorance?

Also remember that in Privileged Planet, Gonzalez et al do not eliminate chance and law, only chance. In other words, they accept that laws can explain the universe. Why is it that ID proponents have no problem accepting front loading in astronomy but insist on intervention in biology?

In “Darwin”s Black Box” (DBB), ID”s arch-biochemist Behe glibly labeled evolutionary hypotheses for the origin of “irreducibly complex” systems as “hops into the box of Calvin and Hobbes” (for those who don”t know what the heck this refers to, go here to learn about Calvin and Hobbes, and here for info on their box, or even better go spend some time here, and come back tomorrow). This overconfidence has come back to haunt him as more and more evidence accumulated in support of the evolutionary origin of his various IC systems, from the flagellum to the complement and clotting cascades.

The topic where the idea of unevolvability of IC systems has probably taken the most beating is the vertebrate adaptive immune system, where not only evidence for evolution has accumulated at a steady pace, but even more embarrassingly for Behe, it has developed exactly along the lines predicted by those “Calvin and Hobbes jumps” he originally dismissed. A recent paper in the journal PLoS Biology [1] is the latest turn in the death spiral of irreducible complexity of the immune system, and I think provides a good opportunity to take a look at how science works, as opposed to ID navel-gazing.

I’m quoted in Science & Theology News criticizing ID’s new blog:

Unlike most blogs, however, Intelligent Design The Future does not let readers respond online to the posts. Reed Cartwright, a contributor to the evolution blog called The Panda’s Thumb, said preventing readers from adding their comments to the online discussion about intelligent design, also known as ID, shows that those who created it are not interested in running an actual blog.

“If ID is the future, as the title of the blog advertises, can’t it withstand criticism?” said Cartwright, a doctoral candidate in genetics at the University of Georgia. “I think that it is ironic that a movement, which claims to want ‘more discussion’ about biology in schools, does not allow discussion [on their blog].”

In an online press release on 2005/05/25, Oklahoma state Senators Mike Mazzei & Clark Jolley announced, "Henry Nominee for Textbook Committee Opposed".

Interesting... what, in particular, made them think that the nominee in question, Dr. Virginia Ann Dell, should be opposed?

“Despite her impressive academic degrees and her service as a teacher at the Oklahoma School of Science and Math, her errant belief that the teaching of the Intelligent Design Theory blurs the line between the separation of church and state is the first of many problems to arise with her nomination,” stated Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.

Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, stated, “Nothing exists in state or federal law that prohibits the discussion of creationism or Intelligent Design theory in the classroom. Let’s encourage open and honest discussion of all theories so students can learn to think critically and, with their parents’ guidance, develop their own worldview.”

Dell’s responses to questioning in the Senate Education Committee showed she is unwilling to even allow a mention or discussion of alternative theories on the origins of the universe.

So, someone with actual academic training, experience as a science teacher, and apparent familiarity with the legal status of antievolution efforts (such as Epperson v. Arkansas, McLean v. Arkansas, and Edwards v. Aguillard, which show Mazzei to be behind the times as far as legal issues go) is definitely someone to keep away from helping make decisions on textbooks in Oklahoma.

Continue reading "Oklahoma, Textbooks, and Ignorance" (on The Austringer)

Word has reached the ears of the Thumb (!) that the Discovery Institute has managed to get the Smithsonian to co-sponsor an ID-friendly presentation, surprising us to say the least. (Indeed, Prof. Steve Steve was as crestfallen over the matter as anyone with a fixed expression could be.)

How could the Smithsonian, the quintessential archive of evolution as natural history in our nation, have agreed to co-host this video? How could the director be “Happy to announce” this private screening? Does the director even know if any Pandas were harmed in the production of this film?

Today, the NY Times has an article that explains the situation. We’ll discuss this and other possible violations of Panda rights on the flipside.

It’s rather like a puddle waking up one morning— I know they don’t normally do this, but allow me, I’m a science fiction writer— A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks: “This is a very interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact it fits me so neatly… I mean really precise isn’t it?… It must have been made to have me in it.” And the sun rises, and it’s continuing to narrate this story about how this hole must have been made to have him in it. And as the sun rises, and gradually the puddle is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking— and by the time the puddle ceases to exist, it’s still thinking— it’s still trapped in this idea that— that the hole was there for it. And if we think that the world is here for us we will continue to destroy it in the way that we have been destroying it, because we think that we can do no harm.

Douglas Adams

What is wrong with Behe? This interview in the Christian Post contains one of the most illogical, stupid, idiotic excuses for the Intelligent Design hypothesis I've read yet. The writer asks a simple question, one I'd like to see answered by the IDists, but Behe's answer is simply pathetic.

Do you see ID having enough evidence?

Yes, I certainly do. Well, I am a biochemist and biochemistry studies molecular basis of life. And in the past 50 years, science has discovered that at the very foundation of life there are sophisticated molecular machines, which do the work in the cell. I mean, literally, there are real machines inside everybody’s cells and this is what they are called by all biologists who work in the field, molecular machines. They’re little trucks and busses that run around the cell that takes supplies from one end of the cell to the other. They’re little traffic signals to regulate the flow. They’re sign posts to tell them when they get to the right destination. They’re little outboard motors that allow some cells to swim. If you look at the parts of these, they’re remarkably like the machineries that we use in our everyday world.

The argument is that we know from experience that machinery in our everyday world that we use in our everyday world required design, required an intelligent agent that put it together, who understood how it was going to be used and who assembled the parts. By an inductive argument, when we find such sophisticated machinery in other places too, we can conclude that it also requires design. So now that we found it in life and in the very foundation of life, I and other ID advocates argue that there is no reason to not reach the same conclusion and that in fact, these things were indeed designed.

Seriously. This is the best the man can do? He's asked for the evidence, and what does he give us? Irrelevant word games ("scientists call 'em 'machines'!"), and asinine metaphors. Calling cytoskeletal transport proteins "trucks and busses" does not make them so. If I call Michael Behe bird-brained, it does not mean I think he has feathers and can fly; it especially does not mean he should jump off a tall building, confident in his avian abilities.

And no, if you look closely at them, they are nothing like the machineries with which we are familiar. When scientists call them machines and pumps and signals and motors, they are making broad but severely limited analogies in order to communicate their function to other human beings who are familiar with machines and pumps and signals and motors. They are not trying to imply that Ford has the contract to manufacture annexins for the phylum Chordata, or that there are little winking green, yellow, and red lights in the cell. Most importantly, there is no intent to imply designers.

One other interesting omission in the article: nowhere does Behe even mention "irreducible complexity". I guess that's one concept the IDiots have learned belongs on the junkheap, yet it's the one thing that made Behe famous.

On my desk I have a copy of the Encyclopedia of Science and Religion (Wentzel Van Huyssteen ed., 2003), a very useful reference work on the interfaces between science and religion. I’ve been flicking through it on and off over the past few weeks. Contributers include Francisco Ayala, Ian Barbour, John D. Barrow, John Hedley Brooke, George Coyne, Ted Davis, Bill Grassie, John Haught, David Knight, Simon Conway Morris, Nancy Murphy, Ted Peters, John Polkinghorne, Philip Quinn, Holmes Rolston, Howard van Till, and Keith Ward. Quite an all-star cast. As many readers will know, these individuals - and the majority within the science & religion community - are very much sympathetic to theological arguments in an age of science. The volumes 1070 pages offer a good overview of the interactions between science and religion and can be considered a good place to begin any research into this area. With that in mind, let’s look at how ID appears within the volume.

Read on at Stranger Fruit

Strigamia maritima

Strigamia maritima

The journal BioEssays has a lovely series called "My favorite animal", in which biologists get to wax rhapsodic about their favorite creatures. It's a great idea, since not only does it mean we get some enthusiastic writing, but more exposure is given to organismal biology. I read so many papers that go on and on about some specific molecule and in which the only illustrations are photos of gels and blots that it's nice to see whole animals for a change.

This month, Arthur and Chipman wrote about a centipede, Strigamia maritima, and its development—so not only do I get animals, I get embryos. Oh, happy day!

Continue reading "Strigamia maritima" (on Pharyngula)

A reader sent me a link to this horrid anti-evolution guest column in the MetroWest Daily News (I presume this is a suburban branch of the Boston Herald). It's appallingly bad, but so typical of the creationist strategy: fast and furious falsehood flinging, and the presumption no one will have the initiative or the ability to crosscheck the claims. It's also all stated in a pompous, self-satisfied style, as if the author knows more about biology than all those biologists out there…yet as becomes quickly obvious, the man knows nothing about genetics.

Well, I know a little about biology and genetics, and I'm willing to rip his dishonest essay apart, and there's always Mark Isaak's Index to Creationist Claims, which is a wonderful resource that makes it easy to tear into articles like this. It always surprises me, though, how unimaginative creationists are—it's always the same old bogus nonsense, repeated over and over again, with such oblivious confidence. Everything in Marty Pomeroy's essay has already been refuted.

Continue reading "Marty Pomeroy, advocate for anti-science" (on Pharyngula)

Sub-cellular ID Spin

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In the past, I have made the claim in public talks that ID could theoretically turn itself into a valid scientific endevour. At The ID Report, Denyse O'Leary (journalist, post-Darwinist, and fan of the fun boys at Telic Thoughts) feels that ID is already there. Writing of Well's recent Rivista di Biologia paper (see here for some comments), she notes:
Wells makes clear in the paper that his assumptions are based on the thesis that the centriole is a designed object, like a machine, and should be studied as one.
(As an aside, it is probably more true that his thesis is based on the assumption that the centriole is a "designed object".)

Over at Stranger Fruit, I examine Wells' theory in light of design.

Dawkins’ Gift to Kansas

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Richard Dawkins has penned another good article on evolution. Read through it and we’ll discuss it on the flipside.

Two days ago, word of a survey reached the ears of the Panda’s Thumb. (Not to mix metaphors too much.) A Jewish theological seminary in New Jersey had polled doctors to see what their feelings were on evolution, intelligent design, etc. Additionally, they stratified the results based on religious identification. The results were hardly surprising to those who have been critics of the intelligent design movement. As the resident doctor here at the Thumb, I deferred commenting on this particular survey because the results were so predictable.

Well, the Discovery Institute is shopping around the idea that this survey provides evidence of a growing body of scientists that endorse ID creationism. (To be fair, their language only said that this survey was evidence of “a lively debate,” as though their enthusiasm was less about any scientific breakthrough and more about simply being prominent.)

We’ll discuss this survey on the flip side…

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting today that efforts are now under way in Cobb County, GA to remove the evolution disclaimers placed on science textbooks.

The county is still appealing, and if they manage to eventually win, we may see the disclaimers placed back on textbooks.

DEVOLUTION by H. ALLEN ORR Why intelligent design isn’t.

Overall a good overview of the arguments made by Intelligent Design and why they fail.

Orr documents a beautiful case of argument from ignorance, in addition to an admission that IC really does not mean anything much

Design theorists have made some concessions to these criticisms. Behe has confessed to “sloppy prose” and said he hadn’t meant to imply that irreducibly complex systems “by definition” cannot evolve gradually. “I quite agree that my argument against Darwinism does not add up to a logical proof,” he says—though he continues to believe that Darwinian paths to irreducible complexity are exceedingly unlikely. Behe and his followers now emphasize that, while irreducibly complex systems can in principle evolve, biologists can’t reconstruct in convincing detail just how any such system did evolve.

Bobby Henderson, a concerned citizen, has written an open letter to the Kansas school board about the attempts to put “intelligent design” creationism into the science curriculium. In the letter, he advocates for his view of creation to be included as well:

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

BBC News is reporting that scientists have discovered the irony centers of the brain. The only reason this study is surprising is that PT posters and readers were not the primary research subjects. Most of us had our irony neurons burned out long ago (I bet you would see some nice dark spots on brain scans, right next to our hypertrophied pun centers). This is why we have to compensate with irony meters, which, sadly, have been taking quite a beating lately.

There's been a small, sudden flurry of news about Intelligent Design creationism in the Netherlands recently. Their education minister in the Christian Democratic Party is a proponent, triggering strong protests from other parties. A reader has sent in some translations of Dutch articles on the subject that I have posted on Pharyngula.

This is a report of my trip to Grand Canyon on May 4, where I assisted NCSE‘s Eugenie Scott in her investigation of sightings of a creationist book in Grand Canyon bookstores. First, though, I gave Dr. Scott advice on her powerpoint talk to interpreters. She had been invited to address them during their annual training session before the Grand Canyon National Park gears up for the summer season.

On A Scientific Dissent on Darwinism we find a Discovery Institute press release which includes Philip S. Skell who is described as an Emeritus Prof. Of Chemistry. Strangely enough, in a more recent press release from the Discovery Institute we read

Dr. Phil Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences** and a professor emeritus of biochemistry at Pennsylvania State University, has just sent an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education encouraging them to revise the state’s science standards to allow students to learn the scientific evidence both for and against biological and chemical evolution.

What happened? Chemistry or biochemistry… Intelligent design or evolution…

Rubinstein: cut-rate Hovind

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Remember Dr Rubinstein? The historian who bloviated foolishly on evolutionary biology? He has replied on the Social Affairs Unit site (scroll down to find it). Orac is already on it, so I don't need to say much, other than…geez. What a wanker.

Rubinstein is still clueless, still protests that he is not a creationist, but still makes nothing but stupid arguments ripped straight from the creationist literature. His new claim is to offer $100 to anyone showing the evolution of a new species within the next ten years. Of course, one must recall his expression of understanding of what evolution is, "one species producing an offspring which was clearly of another, different species", and his hypothetical examples of cats evolving "into cats which look like kangaroos" or a cat giving birth "to kittens which looked like raccoons".

As long as he's setting up ridiculous challenges based on his misunderstanding, he should have gone whole hog—if my cat* happens to give birth to a mixed litter of raccoons and kangaroos, I'm going to collect Kent Hovind's $250,000 reward, rather than wasting time with that piker Rubinstein's piddly $100 prize.


*Our cat, Midnight, is a neutered male, which makes the demonstration only slightly more difficult.

A couple of days ago (infinity in blog-time), Chris Mooney had an interesting post about a 20 year-old article on the creation/evolution debate. As Chris writes…

I have just been reading an interesting article: Thomas F. Gieryn; George M. Bevins; Stephen C. Zehr, “Professionalization of American Scientists: Public Science in the Creation/Evolution Trials,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 50, No. 3 (Jun. 1985), 392-409. What the article reveals is that during the 1981-1982 McLean v. Arkansas case, anti-evolutionists were using a very similar strategy to the one promulgated today: Attacking evolution for its own alleged religious (i.e., atheistic) biases.

Mooney produces some choice quotes from the article that I won’t bother to reproduce here (you should go to his blog to read them). The article was written in 1985, but it could have been written yesterday; the motives and tactics of today’s anti-evolution movement have changed little. At least in 1985, they were honest enough to still call themselves creationists.

John Calvert’s impending legal strategy (which seems to be the standard strategy for the ID movement) was aired during the recent Kansas kangaroo court. As reported by Stan Cox, it tries to paint evolution as necessarily atheistic, and therefore demands that ID be brought in for balance. Not only is this strategy not new, it’s already dead. One thing that Mooney neglects to mention is that this strategy backfired badly the first time around. Let’s take a look…

Andrew Gumbel, a correspondent for the London-based Independent, attended the recent intelligent design show trial in Topeka. His write-up at LA City Beat is recommended reading. Although he develops several good themes in his essay, there is one point in particular I would like to highlight.

Another manifestation of the misdirection of the ID movement is the ludicrous notion that high schools are the appropriate venue for intricate debate about the finer points of evolutionary science. Any public school science teacher will tell you it’s already a minor miracle if a 16-year-old can accurately summarize The Origin of Species, or pinpoint the Galapagos Islands on an atlas. Raising questions about the cellular structure of the flagellum is unlikely to exercise most students until grad school.

The only reason for raising such questions before state education authorities is not to deepen the scientific understanding of teenagers but rather to sow deliberate confusion. It is about denigrating mainstream science as biased against religion – which it is not; it merely regards questions of the supernatural to be outside the realm of scientific inquiry – and by extension bringing God and open avowals of faith into the public school system. (Emphasis mine.)

Many authors have correctly explained that the testimony of ID proponents in Topeka only criticized evolution. Indeed, in an effort to allay concerns that the rejected proposals were written to mandate the teaching of creationism, John Calvert articulated this point numerous times directly. Until Gumbel’s article, though, media coverage has failed to identify the desire by ID creationists to confuse the public. In other words, Gumbel is one of the first journalists to point out that, to an intelligent design creationist, the whole point of criticizing evolutionary theory is to criticize evolutionary theory.

It is important for advocates of science to recognize this strategy because there is a clear link between the beliefs creationists hold, the threats to those beliefs that they perceive from verified science, the fear they have from those threats, and the reactions to those threats that they make. Several points and implications about this understanding of creationist strategy merit mention and they will be developed below the fold.

Bar Maintenance

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As a virtual bar, the Panda’s Thumb relies on passing packets to enable the contributors to say their stuff and the commenters to put in their two cents. Well, for various reasons the management hasn’t been completely happy with the current packet-passer, and has arranged for a new packet-passing service. Unfortunately, this means that in the switchover, there may be a longish period where the name and the particular address used aren’t matched up. We have to change the “domain name service” (thanks, “wbrameld4”) entries for PT tonight, and these may take up to 48 hours to propagate. So don’t be surprised if you can’t get to PT this weekend. We hope that it won’t take that long for the DNS entries to propagate, but here we’ll give you fair warning.

Missouri Bill

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NCSE is reporting that the Missouri legislature has ended and its anti-evolution bill has died in committee.

I am working on a joint statement from Citizens for Science groups about “intelligent design” creationism influencing education. I already have several groups on board but am wondering if there are any I’ve missed. If you are a member of a Citizens for Science organization, either local, state, national, or international please email me the contact information and background of your organization.

Don’t forget to spread the word.

[Enable javascript to see this email address.]

(Comments will be disabled to make people email me.)

I have not had time yet to reflect in writing on the Kansas hearings, but here is one of the best stories I’ve seen on what actually went on in the hearings. About the author, it says

Stan Cox lives in Salina, Kan. He has a Ph.D. in plant breeding and cytogenetics and has been a plant breeder for 22 years.

I encourage anyone interested in the Kansas hearings to read this article. If you think it is appropriate, you might send him an email at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] or offer a comment at the alternet site.

I recently got a copy of the new 2nd edition of Marvin Lubenow's book Bones of Contention, a creationist book about the evidence for human evolution. I'll do a fuller review of it later, but there's one thing I want to comment on now. In 2002, the discovery of a new hominid skull from Dmanisi, Georgia, was announced. This skull had a very small brain size of 600 cc, in the Homo habilis range. Two other skulls which had been announced in 2000 had brain sizes of 650 cc and 780 cc. The skulls had a mixture of features from H. erectus and H. habilis and although the smallest one seemed slightly more primitive, the discoverers saw no reason not to put them all in the same species.

I found these skulls particularly interesting because they nicely straddle the gap that creationists like to claim separates humans from non-human primates. Generally the less-incompetent creationists (i.e. those who don't still think that Java Man and Peking Man are ape or monkey skulls) have a dividing line of about 700 cc; usually anything above that is human, and anything below it isn't. Although there are a couple of fragmentary habilis skulls estimated to be in the 650-700 cc range, there weren't any moderately complete hominid skulls between about 620 and 720 cc, so that became the "gap" separating humans from non-humans. But now we have three skulls from the same place, the same time, and of the same species, sitting smack on top of that gap - above, below, and in it. How, I wondered, would Lubenow handle it?

The Tangled Bank

What else could you expect from a Medical Mad House? It's a quirky Tangled Bank #28.

Davison’s Soapbox

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This thread is for John A. Davison to hold forth, and those permitted to post on PT who wish to interact with him may do so here. Already banned persons should go elsewhere.

Update

We have removed the last of John A. Davison’s comment privileges for hyperbolic, offensive rhetoric.

Davison Wrote:

This post is destined for oblivion in the Welsberry gas chamber as just another example of his Nazi tactics. in comment 23402

In a recent post, I noted in passing that modern evolutionary theory is no more atheistic than other sciences that seek natural explanations for the natural world. Yet for some reason, Phillip Johnson and the rest of the ID camp think that it is evolution in particular that is inconsistent with Christianity. As Johnson stated in yesterday’s Washington Post article,

‘I realized…that if the pure Darwinist account was accurate and life is all about an undirected material process, then Christian metaphysics and religious belief are fantasy. Here was a chance to make a great contribution.’

Now, imagine how silly it would seem if Phillip Johnson had said this:

‘I realized…that if the pure scientific meteorologist account was accurate and weather is all about an undirected material process, then Christian metaphysics and religious belief are fantasy. Here was a chance to make a great contribution.’

According to a literal reading of the Bible, the evidence that God controls the weather is, if anything, much stronger than the Biblical evidence that God specially created organisms. PT poster Wesley Elsberry ran a search on an online Bible and found a slurry of quotes explicitly describing God’s influence on the weather. The Bible is shot through with such statements, from Old Testament to New. They are re-posted below for posterity.

Jellyfish eyes

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cubozoan eyes

This very strange object was peering out at me from the cover of last week's Nature…and "peer" is exactly the right word. Those are some of the eyes of a cubozoan, a box jelly, of the species Tripedalia cystophora. These eyes have some very peculiar features, and show that once again nature trumps the imaginations of science fiction artists.


Continue reading "Jellyfish eyes" (on Pharyngula)

Tangled Bank at a Madhouse

The Tangled Bank

On Wednesday, The Tangled Bank will be held at Chronicles of a Medical Madhouse. You don't have much time left to send in links to MadhouseMadman@gmail.com, so get posting!

It looks like the Washington Post has just seen fit to publish a long, fairly uncritical profile piece on Phillip Johnson. The ID people are already crowing and the ID skeptics are already booing. It is true that the article contains inaccuracies (“[Johnson] agrees the world is billions of years old” – no, he doesn’t); some strangely-quoted, or clueless, comments from some of Phil Johnson’s critics; and little resembling scientifically-informed reporting. The reporter, Michael Powell, has done capable reporting on ID in the past, but perhaps the Discovery Institute’s systematic harassment of reporters and news organizations has finally had an impact.

On the other hand, the article is good in giving us a lot of detail about Phillip Johnson’s crisis of faith and conversion experience in the 1980’s, and showing rather clearly that Johnson is first and foremost a religious apologist on a crusade against evolution, and accurate science is way down his list of priorities. Unlike most IDists, he often doesn’t even try and hide his motives and goals.

It's difficult not to laugh at the Discovery Institute, with their transparent attempts to pretend that they don't have a religious agenda, and their nonstop media spinning. Recently there's been the hilarity of the Kansas Board of Education hearings. Before that there was the claim by DI fellow Jay Richards, a philosopher and theologian, that he thought there was a problem with the theory of relativity, based on his reading of magazine articles. In Paul Myers' words, it's like "a circus where they've fired all the acrobats and animal trainers and it's clowns, clowns, clowns all the time".

It would all be very funny if it wasn't so serious. Even though ID may be dead in the water scientifically, it is a real threat to science education, and ID-friendly initiatives are popping up all over the United States.

All of which gives me an excuse to present the following cartoon, the caption of which seems appropriate. This is a classic Australian cartoon from 1933:

Clueless in Wales

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Every once in a while you encounter something that is so blindly oblivious, so … well … so pig-ignorant (there’s no more delicate way to put it), that you can only wonder what the purveyor of that ignorance is using to think with. An extraordinary example is provided by a benighted piece on the Social Affairs Unit, a British site primarily devoted to conservative political, economic, and cultural affairs. Like their American counterparts, the SAU folks seem to feel that they must weigh in on scientific issues about which they are supremely uninformed. From David Hadley via Pharyngula, we are pointed to a ludicrously bad piece by an historian titled The Theory of Evolution: Just a Theory?. (You can see it coming, can’t you?)

It’s always nice when someone who has some clue about the relevant science decides to write an article on the ID issue. I would like to highlight this article by Sanjai Tripathi, a microbiology grad student at Oregon State University. His opinion piece appeared in the OSU Daily Barometer, and no, even though I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, I didn’t have anything to do with it.

One minor quibble: Tripathi uses the “reducing irreducible complexity” rhetoric. But the core issue is not really whether or not a system is irreducible, it is whether or not a system is unbuildable. This is a very different thing. A system that is currently irreducible for its current function might well be buildable anyway, most obviously via change-of-function. Tripathi talks about change-of-function anyway, so he basically knows what is up. But as a general rule, it is important for ID skeptics to keep in mind that “irreducible complexity” has never received a consistent definition, and that various ID proponents and ID opponents use the term to mean some very different things. See the entry on “definitional complexity” at Evowiki.

Well, the Kansas Kangroo Court is over, and it did not produce the outcome that the anti-evolutionists wanted. “Experts” from around the world were flown to Kansas to put on a state funded advertisement for intelligent design creationism because the local lay people were not doing a good job of it. Well, the “experts” that came to Kansas didn’t do a much better job. They routinely answered questions by admitting non-expertise. They were even caught having not read the standards they were supposedly testifying about. (Let’s be honest, the hearings were not about science education in Kansas but about giving intelligent design creationism a forum to advertise.) These revelations did more harm than good for the school board’s impending decision to accept the minority revisions to the standards.

Steve Abrams, chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education, has gone into damage control with a letter to the Wichita Eagle. Steve Case, chair of the Kansas Science Curriculum Standards Committee, has written a letter in response which was read by Pedro Irirgonegaray on the final day of the hearings.

If anyone needed any more evidence that the scientists’ boycott of the Kansas Kangaroo Court was an excellent idea, and that the Kangaroo Court didn’t go at all well for Intelligent Design Creationists (most of the ID proponents were proved to be straight-up creationists at the hearings) – well, here it is.

William Dembski, in a post entitled “The Vise Strategy: Squeezing the Truth out of Darwinists,” is now fantasizing about “the day when the hearings are not voluntary but involve subpoenas that compel evolutionists to be deposed and interrogated at length on their views.”

As a bonus feature, the post features photos of a stuffed Darwin toy with his head being squished in a vise (see photo, above left). (Let me be the first to pass on the indignant cry of Professor Steve Steve and condemn this flagrant abuse of plush toy rights.)

The New York Times has an article today about a new rodent discovered in Southeast Asia that’s so different, it’s been placed in its own family.

‘Oddball Rodent’ Is Called New to Science.

They live in the forests and limestone outcrops of Laos. With long whiskers, stubby legs and a long, furry tail, they are rodents but unlike any seen before by wildlife scientists. They are definitely not rats or squirrels, and are only vaguely like a guinea pig or a chinchilla. And they often show up in Laotian outdoor markets being sold as food.

It was in such markets that visiting scientists came upon the animals, and after long study, determined that they represented a rare find: an entire new family of wildlife. The discovery was announced yesterday by the Wildlife Conservation Society and described in a report in the journal Systematics and Biodiversity.

The new species in this previously unknown family is called kha-nyou (pronounced ga-nyou) by local people. Scientists found that differences in the skull and bone structure and in the animal’s DNA revealed it to be a member of a distinct family that diverged from others of the rodent order millions of years ago. “To find something so distinct in this day and age is just extraordinary,” said Dr. Robert J. Timmins of the Wildlife Conservation Society, one of the discoverers. “For all we know, this could be the last remaining mammal family left to be discovered.”

It sure does look delicious. While I don’t know any details about this new mammal, there are several predictions I can make about it based on our knowledge of evolution:

  • It will have red blood cells that lack nuclei.
  • It will have three middle ear bones.
  • It will have continuously growing incisors.
  • It will be endothermic.

And so on. I can make these predictions based on known synapomorphies within the mammal or rodent lineages. These are characters inherited from the common ancestors that all mammals (or rodents) share. If this new species is not related through ancestry with other rodents and mammals, and was perhaps “specially created”, there is no reason to suspect that it would have these characters, especially since they are not relevant to the morphological appearance of the animal.

Some of you may have heard this story on NPR:

Advertisers are finding new and creative ways to sell their films. Sometimes a movie will be mentioned in the middle of a sitcom, or a star of a film will narrate a documentary, which is paid for by the studio. One studio has even manipulated a scientific discovery to coincide with the opening of a film. A look at some of the tactics studios use to seduce moviegoers to their films.

Specifically, the manipulated discovery was by Jack Horner, who fudged the date of discovery of a T. rex fossil to better accommodate the release date of a Jurassic Park movie. My jaw dropped at that news—that is thoroughly deplorable, and as far as I'm concerned, does serious damage to Horner's reputation, as well as making life more difficult for more ethical scientists.

I'm spared a reason to work up a good rant, though, since you can find a good, thoughtful dissection of the issues at Adventures in Ethics and Science (which seems to be a very fine place to consider the subject of the title, by the way).

As reported in Agape Press, “Ga. Schools Denied Time to Appeal Evolution Disclaimer Ruling,” Brian Fahling, “a constitutional lawyer with the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy,” is doing a lot of projection:

Fahling says the opponents of the evolution disclaimers have been showing a tremendous amount of hostility. “The high priests of evolution, if you will, are becoming increasingly shrill in their attacks on, for instance, the intelligent design scientists,” the AFA Law Center attorney notes, “and the reason for that is they’re not able to answer [the proponents of the intelligent design theory]. They can’t debate them and meet them on intellectual and scientific terms.”

A bill has been introduced in New York that would require “all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state [to] receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution.” Hopefully this is a reminder that creationism is not a political concern for education in just “red” states.

Additionally, Florida’s “Academic Freedom” Act has died. It would have allowed students to sue teachers who stated that evolution is a fact.

How to evolve a vulva

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Creationists are fond of the "it can't happen" argument: they like to point to things like the complexity of the eye or intricate cell lineages and invent bogus rules like "irreducible complexity" so they can claim evolution is impossible. In particular, it's easy for them to take any single organism in isolation and go oooh, aaah over its elaborate detail, and then segue into the argument from personal incredulity.

Two things, one natural and one artificial, help them do this. Organisms are incredibly complicated, there is no denying it. This should be no solace to the anti-evolutionists, though, because one thing natural processes are very good at is building up complexity. The other situation that has helped them is our current reliance on model systems.

We use a few model systems extensively to study development—Drosophila, C. elegans, Danio come to mind—and they give us an unfortunately rigid view of how developmental processes occur. The model systems that are favored for laboratory work are those that have rapid, streamlined development with a great deal of consistency to the pattern—variability is avoided, and we tend to look for reproducible rules. We get a false impression of the rigidity and inflexibility of developmental systems.

How to correct that? We use the model systems as a starting-off point, and look at related organisms. As we start to accumulate information about diverse species, the variability in the patterns of development becomes more prominent, and we see that the evolutionary pathways aren't difficult to see at all. The worm vulva is a great example of how phylogenetic studies of development can inform our understanding of evolution.

vulva evolution

Continue reading How to evolve a vulva (on Pharyngula)

A report from Joshua Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas:

I see things a little differently from Pat Hayes’s metastory.

Red State Rabble explains The Kansas Science Hearings Metastory, concluding that:

The barnstorming brotherhood of bible college biologists came, they saw, they did not conquer.

That remains to be seen. I’ve seen letters to the editor today complaining about the boycott and others criticizing Kathy Martin in harsh terms. I think the metastory (the story about the story) is still congealing.

I’m optimistic. But we will almost certainly have bad standards, and if the public isn’t outraged enough, anything Governor Sebelius does to delay their implementation could make her re-election campaign more complicated.

The other problem is that the coverage was almost uniformly over the ID vs. evolution perspective. That’s only half the story, at best.

The consistent theme of Saturday’s hearings were not so much a criticism of evolution as an attack on science. Any sort of naturalism was decried as an attack on theistic belief. Teaching science as scientists practice it was attacked as disenfranchisement of religious people. Again and again, practical naturalism (or methodological naturalism) was attacked.

That would open up the door not just to ID, but to creationism, flood geology, and Raelianism. Definitions of science may be in flux, but there’s a pretty sound consensus that flood geology is apologetics, not science. Astrology isn’t science, but it seems to fall within a supernaturalistic form of science. We can all agree that that doesn’t make sense.

And that explains the attacks on “historical sciences.” If evolution, astronomy and geology can be cut off from the other sciences, it makes this radical, fringe agenda seem less insane.

That’s the battle. It isn’t just evolution, it’s “materialism” or “naturalism.” It’s the culture war. I don’t know whether we’re winning that battle.

Here’s the latest from Red State Rabble, where correspondent Pat Hayes is doing a splendid job of tracking the Kansas kangaroo hearings.

This entry, The Kansas Science Hearings Metastory, is worth repeating here at the Panda’s Thumb.

Monday, May 09, 2005 The message that intelligent design proponents hoped would come out of last week’s testimony in Topeka is that there is a controversy between scientists over the validity evolutionary theory.

‘There is a genuine scientific controversy,’ insisted John Calvert, the intelligent design attorney, somewhat plaintively as the hearings came to a close Saturday.

The false notion that scientists are divided is key to the intelligent design movement’s strategy to convince school districts around the country to ‘teach the controversy’ over evolution.

That, of course, is only the first step on the road to their ultimate goal of replacing religiously neutral science with a science consonant with their own narrow Christian and theistic convictions.

Dembski in a blog posting called Evolution: Vast Ignorance and Trifling Understanding shows once again why ID is scientifically vacuous and nothing more than a gap theory.

Dembski Wrote:

‘[ID theorists] are very good at raising questions in areas of ignorance: ‘You can’t explain this, therefore it’s intelligent design.’ You can’t just put God into our gaps in knowledge.’ What I find remarkable about this standing refrain by evolutionists is the presumption that their theory deserves the benefit of the doubt.

It doesn’t of course. What these ID critics correctly point out is that ID is an argument from ignorance also known as a gap theory, based on an eliminative filter which following Dembski’s ‘logic’ is useless.

The Jewish voice of reason

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Jewish voices of reason have joined in criticizing Intelligent Design. In Jews eye ‘intelligent design’ hearings

“It doesn’t seem to me that intelligent design theory really lives up to scientific standards. Having said that, I don’t think science is the ultimate explanation of our world. Science is an elaborate conceptual game, but it’s not the only game.” “I believe in intelligent design,” said Rabbi Mark Levin of the Reform Congregation Beth Torah. “But it isn’t science; it’s theology.” The rabbi said he believes in a divine intelligence behind the creation of the world and its natural laws. And yet he sees the attempt to introduce the notion of “intelligent design” into schools as one that breaches the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. “It is clearly objectionable to teach theology as though it is science,” said Rabbi Levin, “because … it misinforms children and introduces religious faith into the public school system under the guise of science.”

Kansas Citizens for Science

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The Kansas Citizens for Science website has many useful documents relating to evolution, intelligent design and the ongoing struggle in Kansas.

Short note: I accidentally came across some extras from a recent World magazine interview with Phil Johnson. They are posted on the World magazine blog as “Creationists and intelligent design” and “Christian college professors vs. Intelligent Design”. This is one of those pages you want to save as a web archive format (MHT) for future reference (see how to do this in IE or Firefox).

The Star Tribune letters

I put out a call for letters to the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the Intelligent Design creationism issue last week. They've published a selection of them now, and the pro-biology side is in a strong majority. I've commented on the few creationist letters here.

(Important Preliminary Note: The phrase, “Why do the Muslims hate us?” is derived from political discussions after the 9/11 terror attacks and is based on bogus assumptions on several levels. It is employed in the title as parody. See point 4 of this post for the context.)

While a flood of news stories came out at the beginning of the Kansas Kangaroo Court, stories on the end of the hearings (Day 3) seem to be coming out very slowly. Here is the first and only one I’ve seen so far. I suspect that exhaustion, boredom, and/or cynicism took their toll on the reporters. (See Note 1)

The slow press coverage is kind of a shame for the IDers, because it appears that they scheduled their A-team for Day 3 – Stephen C. Meyer (director of the Discovery Institute Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, and a very rare pro-ID Steve to boot); Warren Nord (religion-in-public-schools advocate and Dover expert witness for ID); Angus Menuge (a philosopher with a serious-sounding name at the serious-sounding Cranach Institute; if I recall correctly, Ronald Numbers pegs the Cranach Institute as the home of the Lutheran Young-Earth Creationists), the famed Michael Behe as the cleanup hitter, and the obligatory non-conservative-Christian ID supporter, the conservative Muslim Mustafa Akyol.

Mustafa Akyol is an interesting character. Earlier this week, Tony Ortega of The Pitch, an alternative newspaper in Kansas City, published a detailed writeup on Akyol (Ortega’s full story on the Kansas hearings, “Your OFFICIAL program to the Scopes II Kansas Monkey Trial, is a must-read).

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.

Jack Krebs is our main connection to these Kansas hearings. But, as vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, he is too busy to act as a reporter for us. However, at least two bloggers from Kansas have enough time to issue reports about the hearings.

Red State Rabble

Thoughts From Kansas

If you have a report about events at the hearings send it in, and I will consider posting it.

Just about the most common words that come out of the mouths of “intelligent design” proponents are “We’re not creationists!”

Why, then, has everyone that has testified so far in Kansas Kangaroo Court (see roundups by the Red State Rabble and Pharyngula) conceded that they think that humans do not share common ancestry with apes, in opposition to the scientific consensus and in flagrant contradiction of the actual scientific evidence?

Red State Rabble reports for us this morning (May 7, 2005):

The Score Card So Far

During cross-examination, Science Coalition attorney Pedro Irigonegaray has forced each intelligent design witness to go on record about their opinion on the age of the earth, common descent, and whether human beings have evolved from pre-hominids.

So far, not one witness has said they believe the evidence supports a belief that all living things share a common ancestor or that they believe that human have evolved from pre-hominids.

Professional scientists who are monitoring the hearings commented that this position commits the witnesses to a belief in special creation for each plant and animal species now in existence.

An unexpected voice in the debate about Intelligent Design has joined the voices of reason. Keith Lockitch, who holds a Ph.D. in physics and who is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA, has written a very compelling evaluation of Intelligent Design leading him to the conclusion that “Intelligent Design” is religion masquerading as science.”

Telic Thoughts

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On Telic Thoughts Krauze objects to critics pointing out the existence of false positives as being problematic to ID by showing that false positives exist in science. Telic Thoughts features several well known ARN players, including Krauze and Mike Gene.

Krauze Wrote:

ID critics often point to cases where design was mistakenly inferred, claiming that present design inferences are also likely to be wrong. Those raising this objection forget that all human conclusions are fallible, and that an explanation shouldn’t be ignored, just because it has been wrongly applied before. As another example of this, let’s look at a case where unintelligent processes were wrongly infered.

As I pointed out in the comments, Krauze misses the point. And while he tries to argue that he is not interested in the explanatory filter, he does not realize that this is the form of ID to which critics are objecting.

Krauze Wrote:

Let me just remind everybody that the original post made no mention of Dembski’s design filter. IOW, stop leading the discussion off topic. If you want to discuss Dembski, start a thread somewhere else (I hear the ARN Board is beautiful this time of year) and post a link to it here. I’d hate to start deleting posts.

In short, a good and relevant discussion was started but quickly cut short by the moderator who started deleting responses. Krauze’s claim that he did not mention Dembski specifically, ignores that mainstream ID is based on the explanatory filter approach.

Lacking the opportunity to respond to Guts ill-informed comments, I will first present my response to Guts followed by an overview of why the explanatory filter, which is based on an eliminative argument, is useless if it cannot avoid false positives and thus cannot even eliminate “we don’t know”. Ironically, Guts had the guts to argue that ‘we don’t know’ is not an explanation. But then again neither is intelligent design.

Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble sends us this report from Kansas:

As the Kansas science hearings got underway in Topeka this morning, there was a feeling about the room that these hearings would produce little real drama. By the end of the first day, the testimony of the intelligent design witnesses seemed to have fallen into an all too predictable pattern. Ennui began to envelop attorneys, witnesses, the media, and spectators alike. The process would go on, but rather like a tree falling in the forest that goes unnoticed.

The crowds were smaller, lines shorter despite increased security procedures that forced participants to pass through a metal detector, and many of the big media figures who attended the first day decamped for greener pastures.

Then, out of the blue, under a withering cross-examination by Science Coalition attorney Pedro Irigonegaray the hearing room was electrified by Edward Peltzer’s admission that he had not read the science standards draft written by the pro-evolution majority of curriculum committee. Peltzer, a Scripps Institution oceanographer and intelligent design witness was flown in from California to share his expert evaluation of the competing science standards drafts, and is currently enjoying the hospitality of Kansas taxpayers.

As the day wore on, each witness in turn was forced to fess up – to an increasingly scornful Irigonegaray – that they too hadn’t bothered to read the majority draft before giving their testimony. This despite the fact that each had earlier testified – in response to questions from intelligent design attorney John Calvert – that the minority draft was superior to the pro-science majority draft.

“I’ve not read it word for word myself,” confessed board member Kathy Martin in an ill-fated attempt to salvage the credibility of the witnesses.

As groans erupted through the hearing room in response to Martin’s admission – and AP reporter Josh Funk ran for the exit to phone the story in – a new feeling that the intelligent design showcase was turning into a failure began to seep into the room.

Pitch.com, an alternative weekly in Kansas, has an excellent article about the ensuing Kangaroo Court in Kansas:

This week’s debate over evolution is Kansas’ trial of the century!

Unlike traditional media outlets that usually shirk any attempt at understanding the issue, and instead just present “both sides” as if they were coequal, Pitch writer Tony Ortega actually tackles the important question: Who are these people and what are they doing here?

It turns out that one of the people being brought to Kansas to testify (on the taxpayers’ dime) is Mustafa Akyol, an Islamic creationist from Turkey who belongs to a rather shady group known as the BAV. The group has made its mark by publishing and distributing literature from Harun Yahya. Sadly, their tactics have worked well in Turkey…

Nick Matzke and I will be giving a short presentation and a longer question and answer session on the topic of “intelligent design”. The event is a ‘Presentation and Discussion on Intelligent Design’, Friday, May 6th, 2005, 4-5:30pm, in building 370 (Science, Technology and Society program), Room 370, on the Stanford University campus. The event is sponsored by Rational Thought. The public is welcome. This is a follow-up to the Veritas Forum series of presentations held at Stanford through this week.

If you are in the Bay Area and can make it, we’ll look forward to seeing you there.

Interestingly for a group that says they are not promoting intelligent design or creationism, the Kansas Kangaroo Court today called Charles Thaxton, the creationist who had the bright idea to rename creationism as “intelligent design” back in 1988.

According to Red State Rabble:

During cross examination, Thaxton admitted that he does not believe that humans – homo sapiens – evolved from hominid ancestors.

According to MSNBC:

During the hearing, Irigonegaray asked Thaxton whether he accepted the theory that humans and apes had a common ancestor.

“Personally, I do not,” Thaxton said. “I’m not an expert on this. I don’t study this.”

What’s that? A chemistry professor testifying against evolution says that he is not an expert on human evolution, but defies the scientific consensus despite unfamiliarity with the evidence? Makes perfect sense to me. If listeners are supposed to disregard all of the antievolution testimony before the Kansas Kangaroo Court whenever the antievolution witnesses speak on topics outside of their professional expertise, then there wasn’t much point in these hearings.

Let’s review some of the evidence on the somewhat important question of human evolution. It is not as if it is hard to find.

The Kansas Kangaroo Court hearings have commenced. See the latest from Red State Rabble, and see the story by Jodi Wilgoren.

“Can you tell us, sir, how old you believe the Earth is?” the lawyer, Pedro Irigonegaray, asked William S. Harris, a chemist, who helped write the proposed changes to the state standards.

“I don’t know,” Dr. Harris replied. “I think it’s probably really old.”

There’s your 21st century science for you, from a leader of the Kansas Intelligent Design Network.

Note to Harris: The right answer is 4.5 billion years, give or take maybe 1%. Go read The Age of the Earth by Brent Dalrymple, who was just awarded a National Medal of Science by George W. Bush.

“There is no science without criticism,” said Charles Thaxton, a chemist and co-author of the 1984 book “The Mystery of Life’s Origins,” which questions traditional scientific explanations. “Any science that weathers the criticism and survives is a better theory for it.”

And anyone that promotes creationism, like Charles Thaxton, should realize that it has failed to weather criticism for the last 150 years and should have been discarded long ago, not continually promoted by various sneaky strategies, like those being used in Kansas.

Say hello to Falcarius utahensis.

This creature was becoming a herbivore (plant-eater), but fossils described in today’s Nature indicate his (or her) ancestors were most definitely carnivorous (meat-eaters).

The story can be read on-line here. Here’s the significant “bite”:

Caught in the act of evolution, the odd-looking, feathered dinosaur was becoming more vegetarian, moving away from its meat-eating ancestors.

It had the built-for-speed legs of meat-eaters, but was developing the bigger belly of plant-eaters. It had already lost the serrated teeth needed for tearing flesh. Those were replaced with the smaller, duller vegetarian variety.

‘I doubt seriously this animal could cut a steak with that mouth,’ said Utah state paleontologist James Kirkland, one of those who discovered the bones of the beast in east-central Utah.

This relates to the never-ending creationism saga in several ways, including one that shows an important distinction between Evolution and Creationism:

Creationists insist that, if creatures changed their eating habits in the past, it was from herbivores (before the Fall, when the Creation was Good) to carnivores (after the Fall, and the introduction of sin and death into the world).

Cobb Victory

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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Cobb County School District’s request to stay the removal of the evolution disclaimers stuck on thirty-four thousand biology textbooks until after the circuit has ruled on the district’s appeal. The Marietta Daily Journal has the scoop:

Marietta attorney Michael Manely, who, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, defended the plaintiffs in district court, said that to get a stay, it has to be proven that the case is likely to succeed on its own merits.

“This showed it’s not likely to prevail,” Manely said. “It’s the first serious nail in the coffin from the Court of Appeals. They are expressing their preliminary thoughts on the subject. This is like a preview of what is certain to come. It tells the board that this corpse is beginning to smell really bad.”

School staff has already experimented with removing the stickers, using such things as nail polish. Removing so many stickers will not be easy, she said.

“I’m going to offer to help take out the stickers,” said east Cobb parent Jeffrey Selman, who filed suit against the school board in August 2001, along with the ACLU, claiming the stickers were unconstitutional.

“I bet I can get a whole bunch of people to help them,” Selman said. “God bless the judges. They can see right through this sham.”

Prof. Steve Steve has also offered to come back to Georgia to do his part in removing the disclaimers.

Bama Victory

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From Bob Collins:

Dear Friends of Science and Education:

We won!!!

Tuesday, May 3, was the deadline for bills to pass at least one house of the Alabama Legislature, or they would be dead for the remainder of this session.

The three creationist bills, HB352, HB716 and SB240, each misnamed “The Academic Freedom Act”, all failed to pass even one house by that date, so they have now died a well-deserved death.

These bills were supported by the Alabama Christian Coalition, who emailed 6 separate “alerts” asking their membership to ask their legislators to support these bills.

Last year, a creationist bill was approved by the full Senate and the House Education Committee, and was within hours of passing the full Alabama House of Representatives when the legislature ran out of time. We were better organized this year, and it worked!!

Thanks to everyone who called, wrote, faxed, talked to their legislators and/or testified.

We made a difference!!!!

There is no time to rest. This summer and fall, the Alabama State Board of Education will pick science textbooks for our schoolchildren. They will also decide whether to continue use of the embarrassing “Evolution Disclaimer” pasted in the front of every elementary, middle and high school textbook that mentions anything that happened over 6,000 years ago.

We will be monitoring the textbook selection process and will keep this email list informed.

Thanks again

Dembski’s Defense

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In this post from Monday I discussed William Dembski's egregious misuse of a quotation from paleontologist Peter Ward.

Given the facts I presented, it seemed beyond all question that Dembski had basically lied about the point Ward was making in his book. Nonetheless, I was curious to see what sort of defense Dembski would offer for his behavior.

Now I know. Dembski's response is available here. Rather than respond to the simple facts of the situation, Dembski preferred instead to dismiss them as “irrelevant details.”

Following up on Gary Hurd's comments below, I have posted some additional thoughts on the subject over at EvolutionBlog.

Only a diehard ID fanatic could possibly continue to take Dembski seriously after following this exchange. Dembski's blatant dishonesty and breathtaking arrogance have seldom been on clearer display. If there are any ID proponents with consciences reading this, I'd be curious to know if you still want anything to do with this guy.

Back to the Quote Mines

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Well, at least William Dembski has used an accurate title this time. Back to the Quote Mines is his latest installment of his professional disintegration. He has basically stopped pretending that he has not maligned real scholars and scientists, and has adopted the position of a petulant 10 year-old, “Nah nah nay nah nah- ya can’t catch me.” This is explicit when he stated,

“The quote by Peter Ward that served as my point of departure elicited the usual reaction from evolutionists, for whom justifying evolution means supplying enough words and irrelevant details to cover their ignorance. My post took a few minutes to write up. Evolutionists wrote detailed responses many times its length on places like the Pandasthumb to justify that the problem with the Cambrian explosion was not really a problem. Look: if it wasn’t a problem, we wouldn’t be discussing it.”

We weren’t discussing the Cambrian, Dr. Dembski, we were exposing your dishonest use of scientific writers. I am having a hard time understanding why Dembski would be dropping his pretense of being a “serious scholar” this way. Maybe there is some residual honesty left after all?

What I find amusing is that the paper Dave and I originally wrote took quite a bit of work. And hardly anyone noticed. Nearly a year later, and Dembski has given it more attention than ever, and embarrassed himself in the bargain.

If you’re like me, that question has led to countless sleepless nights.

I attended part of a talk by creationist John C. Bilello in Waterloo, Ontario recently. I’m not a biologist, but even with my amateur’s understanding of biology I could tell it was the usual nonsense, consisting of misinformation, misconceptions, and quote mining. Every argument he presented has been refuted dozens of times. Probably yet another refutation of this tired nonsense is pointless, but at least I can document Bilello’s presentation here.

Tangled Bank #27

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The Tangled Bank

Gosh, but this thing has grown: Tangled Bank #27 is now online. It's colossal. It's well-organized. The only problem is that there are so many links, and I'm equidistant from them all…I can't decide which one to read first. Buridan's Ass should have suggested a strategy to help us resolve this dilemma.

Last month, Robert Richards, a noted historian of science, particularly evolution, at the University of Chicago, gave a talk, ‘The Narrative Structure of Moral Judgments in History: Evolution and Nazi Biology.’ See the event listing. The talk has been attracting some attention on the blogosphere, i.e. Light Seeking Light and Red State Rabble.

The Richards talk is described in a reasonably detailed news account from the University of Chicago student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon. According to the news story, Richards addressed the arguments of historians (unnamed in the news article) that “made [Charles] Darwin and [Ernst] Haeckel complicit in the crimes of the Nazis, though both had been dead for decades before the rise of the Nazis.”

Law Evolution Science and Junk Science has an interesting post on the fallacy of the appeal to inappropriate authority.

In summary, an appeal to authority is a valid method of argument and of making decisions. It recognizes the obvious fact that we cannot all be experts in everything. It would be a mistake to have your neurosurgeon change the brakes on your car and your car mechanic to operate on your brain tumor. If you see a neurosurgeon for your brain tumors and a car mechanic for your disc brake adjustments and you don’t know much about either, you are essentially betting your life on an appeal to authority. We all reasonably do that every day.

Analyzing Intelligent Design under the appeal to authority fallacy immediately presents several problems.

Go Read It.

I'm feeling rather peeved about the failures of the media—in particular, this lazy parroting of Discovery Institute press releases. A ridiculous list of "Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher", the product of the despicable Dr Wells and his worthless tract, Icons of Evolution, has been going around for years, and has been answered multiple times, yet it still gets published as if it were a serious challenge. I've addressed Wells' mangling of developmental biology, and there is a thorough demolition of Icons of Evolution on talk.origins; Wells scholarship is appallingly poor, and his questions are so misleading and dishonest that they are basically scientific fraud. In particular, the NCSE has done an excellent job of putting together brief, media-friendly answers to Wells' questions, and those answers need to be spread around more widely. So here they are, Responses to Jonathan Wells's Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher:

Q: ORIGIN OF LIFE. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life's building blocks may have formed on the early Earth -- when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?

A: Because evolutionary theory works with any model of the origin of life on Earth, how life originated is not a question about evolution. Textbooks discuss the 1953 studies because they were the first successful attempt to show how organic molecules might have been produced on the early Earth. When modern scientists changed the experimental conditions to reflect better knowledge of the Earth's early atmosphere, they were able to produce most of the same building blocks. Origin-of-life remains a vigorous area of research.

Q: DARWIN'S TREE OF LIFE. Why don't textbooks discuss the "Cambrian explosion," in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor -- thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?

A: Wells is wrong: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals all are post-Cambrian - aren't these "major groups"? We would recognize very few of the Cambrian organisms as "modern"; they are in fact at the roots of the tree of life, showing the earliest appearances of some key features of groups of animals - but not all features and not all groups. Researchers are linking these Cambrian groups using not only fossils but also data from developmental biology.

Q: HOMOLOGY. Why do textbooks define homology as similarity due to common ancestry, then claim that it is evidence for common ancestry -- a circular argument masquerading as scientific evidence?

A: The same anatomical structure (such as a leg or an antenna) in two species may be similar because it was inherited from a common ancestor (homology) or because of similar adaptive pressure (convergence). Homology of structures across species is not assumed, but tested by the repeated comparison of numerous features that do or do not sort into successive clusters. Homology is used to test hypotheses of degrees of relatedness. Homology is not "evidence" for common ancestry: common ancestry is inferred based on many sources of information, and reinforced by the patterns of similarity and dissimilarity of anatomical structures.

Q: VERTEBRATE EMBRYOS. Why do textbooks use drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos as evidence for their common ancestry -- even though biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and the drawings are faked?

A: Twentieth-century and current embryological research confirms that early stages (if not the earliest) of vertebrate embryos are more similar than later ones; the more recently species shared a common ancestor, the more similar their embryological development. Thus cows and rabbits - mammals - are more similar in their embryological development than either is to alligators. Cows and antelopes are more similar in their embryology than either is to rabbits, and so on. The union of evolution and developmental biology - "evo-devo" - is one of the most rapidly growing biological fields. "Faked" drawings are not relied upon: there has been plenty of research in developmental biology since Haeckel - and in fact, hardly any textbooks feature Haeckel's drawings, as claimed.

Q: ARCHAEOPTERYX. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds -- even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?

A: The notion of a "missing link" is an out-of-date misconception about how evolution works. Archaeopteryx (and other feathered fossils) shows how a branch of reptiles gradually acquired both the unique anatomy and flying adaptations found in all modern birds. It is a transitional fossil in that it shows both reptile ancestry and bird specializations. Wells's claim that "supposed ancestors" are younger than Archaeopteryx is false. These fossils are not ancestors but relatives of Archaeopteryx and, as everyone knows, your uncle can be younger than you!

Q: PEPPERED MOTHS. Why do textbooks use pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks as evidence for natural selection -- when biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don't normally rest on tree trunks, and all the pictures have been staged?

A: These pictures are illustrations used to demonstrate a point - the advantage of protective coloration to reduce the danger of predation. The pictures are not the scientific evidence used to prove the point in the first place. Compare this illustration to the well-known re-enactments of the Battle of Gettysburg. Does the fact that these re-enactments are staged prove that the battle never happened? The peppered moth photos are the same sort of illustration, not scientific evidence for natural selection.

Q: DARWIN'S FINCHES. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection -- even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?

A: Textbooks present the finch data to illustrate natural selection: that populations change their physical features in response to changes in the environment. The finch studies carefully - exquisitely - documented how the physical features of an organism can affect its success in reproduction and survival, and that such changes can take place more quickly than was realized. That new species did not arise within the duration of the study hardly challenges evolution!

Q: MUTANT FRUIT FLIES. Why do textbooks use fruit flies with an extra pair of wings as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution -- even though the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory?

A: In the very few textbooks that discuss four-winged fruit flies, they are used as an illustration of how genes can reprogram parts of the body to produce novel structures, thus indeed providing "raw material" for evolution. This type of mutation produces new structures that become available for further experimentation and potential new uses. Even if not every mutation leads to a new evolutionary pathway, the flies are a vivid example of one way mutation can provide variation for natural selection to work on.

Q: HUMAN ORIGINS. Why are artists' drawings of ape-like humans used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident -- when fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like?

A: Drawings of humans and our ancestors illustrate the general outline of human ancestry, about which there is considerable agreement, even if new discoveries continually add to the complexity of the account. The notion that such drawings are used to "justify materialistic claims" is ludicrous and not borne out by an examination of textbook treatments of human evolution.

Q: EVOLUTION A FACT? Why are we told that Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific fact -- even though many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts?

A: What does Wells mean by "Darwin's theory of evolution"? In the last century, some of what Darwin originally proposed has been augmented by more modern scientific understanding of inheritance (genetics), development, and other processes that affect evolution. What remains unchanged is that similarities and differences among living things on Earth over time and space display a pattern that is best explained by evolutionary theory. Wells's "10 Questions" fails to demonstrate a pattern of evolutionary biologists' "misrepresenting the facts."

Teachers, you should be aware that there are solid answers to all of these ginned-up "controversies" that the Discovery Institute is pushing, and none of them require invoking mythical designers or bizarre conspiracies by biologists.

Journalists, could you please take notice of the fact that there is an excellent resource you can turn to when creationists send you press releases? Talk to the National Center for Science Education. They're often ready with the answers, and if they aren't, they can tap into the science community and get them for you.

Quote miner, quote miner, pants on fire …

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I was quite relieved that Jason Rosenhouse wrote his piece on William Dembski’s recent bloviations about quote-mining. Specifically, Dembski was challenging a portion of something written by Dave Mullenix and myself about a year ago published on Panda’s Thumb.* I had felt that I had an obligation to respond, but several commitments had prior claim to my time (and I simply took Monday off to go fishing).

The Coalition for Science is planning a series of events as the Kansas Kangaroo Court on “evidence against evolution” gets going.

The Coalition for Science is planning ahead for media participation. They will have a Media Booth with media information kits and people on hand to answer questions from the media throughout the day, a broadcast media briefing at 3PM each day, and scientists and educators will conduct an analysis of the day’s hearings half an hour following the close of hearings each day (with a light meal provided… these folks appear to know their media relations).

Pedro Irigonegaray was asked by the Department of Education to represent the Draft 2 science standards at the hearings, empowered to call science witnesses to testify. In the newsblog of the Coalition for Science, Pedro speaks out on the hearings:

The KSBE subcommittee has made it clear that they do not support Draft 2 of the standards and that they support the non-scientific opinions of the Intelligent Design (ID) Minority.

It is our opinion that the intended purpose of these hearings is:

· to provide the controlling Majority of the KSBE a rationale, in essence a façade of credibility, when they eventually change the standards; and

· to give the Intelligent Design movement a national forum to present their theological and anti-science ideas disguised as ‘science.’

I have joined thousands of scientists worldwide who recognize these hearings to be no more than a showcase for Intelligent Design, and to be rigged against mainstream science. I support their refusal to participate.

David W. Rudge (2005), assistant professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University, has published a very welcome addition to the literature regarding Bernard Kettlewell’s classic experiments on natural selection in peppered moths. Here are some of his comments regarding his concerns about creationists’ misuse of industrial melanism and of Judith Hooper’s charges of fraud against Kettlewell:

On April 26, William Dembski posted this brief essay on his blog. He was responding to allegations that ID proponents routinely quote scientists out of context in making their case.

In his blog entry Dembski focusses on one particular example of this charge. In an essay entitled Five Questions Darwinists Would Rather Dodge (PDF format), posted at his website in April of 2004, Dembski had quoted paleontologist Peter Ward to the effect that the Cambrian explosion poses a serious problem for evolutionary theory.

Shortly after Dembski's essay was posted online, Gary Hurd and Dave Mullinex posted a detailed reply to Dembski's remarks about the Cambrian explosion. Among other criticisms, Hurd and Mullinex claimed that Dembski had misrepresented Ward's writing. It was this assertion that Dembski was addressing in the blog entry mentioned above.

For me this provided an interesting opportunity. Prior to preapring this blog entry, I had read neither Dembski's original essay nor the reply by Hurd and Mullinex. And I had never heard of Peter Ward. Consequently, I was able to look into this dispute without any preconceived notions. I knew the facts of the situation would be easy enough to obtain, and they would allow me to see for myself whether it was Dembski, or his critics, who were giving me the straight story.

I have posted my findings in this lengthy entry over at EvolutionBlog. You'll never guess what I found!

Call for science writing

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The Tangled Bank

It's May Day! We're supposed to be thinking of flowers and spring and new life and Revolution and labor and the rights of the working class, but here in western Minnesota we're looking at snow and a late freeze and fierce winds—the snow is coming down sideways, always a bad sign—so I'm sitting indoors with a stack of papers to grade and thinking about these things in only the most abstract ways, I'm afraid. I'm going to bring up something completely different, science on the web.

So first, I will urge everyone to think positive thoughts about life and biology and science, good stuff to consider any day of the year and not just in the spring, and remind you all that a new edition of the Tangled Bank will be online this Wednesday, hosted by Buridan's Ass. The Tangled Bank is a biweekly collection of writing about science, natural history, medicine, etc., and it is now taking submissions of your good stuff on those subjects—send links to <buridans AT buridansass DOT com> or to me or to host@tangledbank.net by Tuesday. And if you are snowed in or bored, browse the archives to find out who's talking about science on the weblogs.

There's another, even closer deadline coming up, and this one is your opportunity to strike a blow for good science in the so-called mainstream media. Last week, a major metropolitan newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, ran several opinion pieces on Intelligent design creationism, both pro and con. This isn't unusual, but they are also asking for more reader contributions on the subject:

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.

This is a great opportunity to show our support for good science teaching and make a public statement in opposition to creationism. I know it's short notice, but heck, 150 words? That's a paragraph or two. I've made a suggestion about possible topics (in short: keep it positive, and let's encourage the newspapers to take a strong pro-biology stance), and if you'd like to see an example, here's one person publicly working through a couple of drafts.

The extremists and the lunatic religious right are usually far better at flooding the media with calls for action—let's try and reverse that pattern this time, OK?

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