June 5, 2005 - June 11, 2005 Archives

The transcripts from the Kansas Kangaroo Court of May 2005 are finally up (unfortunately labeled, “Science Standards Expert Testimony” – someone should count how many times the witnesses said something like “I’m not an expert” on relevant scientific questions). Briefs, presented materials, etc., are also available on the KSDE website.

The transcripts run to 308 pages total, if I count correctly. Still, it’s far better than trying to listen to the recordings and write down the shocking bits. I planned to do this one weekend, but it took me most of the day just to get through Bill Harris’s opening presentation.

Hear is one random bit of bogusness from Harris’s talk:

“Jumping the Shark” refers to a moment when something distinctly and irrevocably goes downhill. The origin of “jumping the shark” as a phrase goes back to an episode of the “Happy Days” TV show when the character of “Fonzie” actually performed that stunt. But “jumping the shark” works for more than TV shows. So here I want to open the floor for discussion of when “intelligent design” jumped the shark.

Regular patrons of The Thumb will be familiar with the case Selman v. Cobb County School District (see previous PT posts, e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). This was the case that tested the constitutionality of school-district mandated evolution “warning labels” in biology textbooks. In January 2005 Judge Clarence Cooper of the Northern District of Georgia ruled that these warning labels were unconstitutional because they had an impermissable religious effect, violating the Lemon test.

In May 2005 the disclaimers were finally removed from Cobb textbooks, but the Cobb County School Board has appealed the decision to the Eleventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Today, the National Center for Science Education and People for the American Way filed an amicus brief explaining the history of creationist attempts to place “warning labels” about evolution in kids’ textbooks. See the NCSE Press Release. The history of creationist attempts to infere with the teaching of evolution, via “warning labels” and other methods, seems to have been an important consideration in Cooper’s trial court decision, and so will likely be important at the appeals court level as well.

NCSE has set up a special webpage on Selman. NCSE’s amicus brief is not alone: so far, we know of seven other amicus briefs that are supporting Judge Cooper’s decision. The briefs come from diverse perspectives, including scientists, science teachers, civil liberties, religious groups, grassroots groups opposed to creationism, etc. PDFs of the briefs are being uploaded to NCSE’s Selman page as they are sent to NCSE. See the NCSE press release and the NCSE Selman FAQ for more information, and spread the word.

Jay Richards recently stepped in it when he speculated that, because he didn’t find general relativity particularly intuitive, therefore Einstein might have been wrong. Now Sean Carroll calls out Paul Nelson on his interpretation of a supposedly ID-friendly essay by cosmologist George Ellis. “Nelson,” writes Carroll, “turns Ellis’s essay to his advantage via the venerable technique of ‘making shit up.’”

Biologists, astronomers, geologists, and now, increasingly, physicists: who’s next in line for a Discovery Institute-style “retraining”?

With the Smithsonian Institute/Privileged Planet brouhaha, the subject of cosmological ID has been buzzing about the blogosphere lately. In particular, as noted by other PT contributors, physicist William Jeffreys has written this excellent, scathing reivew of the book version of The Privileged Planet. But David Heddle, author of the blog He Lives, was less impressed. He vents his spleen here.

Over at EvolutionBlog I have offered these thoughts on the matter. I argue, among other things, that cosmological fine-tuning is more plausibly interpreted as evidence for multiple universes than it is for ID. And in this entry I offer some thoughts on Heddle's arguments regarding the falsifiability, or lack thereof, of cosmological ID. Enjoy!

As reported by Red State Rabble, the Tulsa Zoo has approved a new exhibit. This exhibit will chronicle the biblical account of creation.

The new exhibit was promoted by architect Dan Hicks, who some may recall was involved in the Tulsa Zoo “removing” evolution displays in the late nineties. (He also doesn’t like gays at the zoo.)

According to the Tulsa Beacon, Dan Hicks has pushed for a display on biblical creation because other idols, like Ganesha, are displayed at the zoo.

Hicks said his display, a series of photographs by Oregon photographer Rick Ergenbright from his book, The Art of God, should be presented because of the numerous displays of pagan religions throughout the zoo. Either put them all up or take them all down, Hicks said.

Jefferys on “The Privileged Planet”

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Over at the National Center for Science Education web site, William H. Jefferys of the University of Texas at Austin skewers Gonzalez and Richards’s “The Privileged Planet” (the book) in an excellent review. Jefferys sums it up like this:

To summarize, the little that is new in this book isn’t interesting, and what is old is just old-hat creationism in a new, modern-looking astronomical costume.

I guess they got tired of the cheap tuxedo.

Go read the whole thing. And I mean NOW.

Bryan Leonard is a recently visible figure in the intelligent design creationism movement. Leonard is a high school biology teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in a suburb of Columbus. As an appointee to the Ohio State BOE’s model curriculum-writing committee, he was the author of the IDC-oriented “Critical Analysis” model lesson plan adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education last year, and he recently testified at the Kansas Creationist Kangaroo Court hearings. The credential that endears him to the IDC movement is that he is a doctoral candidate in science education at the Ohio State University, and his dissertation research is on the academic merits of an ID-based “critical analysis” approach to teaching evolution in public schools.

Leonard was scheduled to defend his dissertation yesterday, June 6, but we learned late last week that his defense has been postponed.

More below the fold.

Intelligent Design proponents who claim that they have a ‘theory’ often formulate it in the form of “evolutionary/Darwinian mechanisms cannot explain X”. When pressed for a scientific theory, it quickly becomes obvious that ID is scientifically vacuous.

Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’-but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.

Paul Nelson, Touchstone Magazine 7/8 (2004): pp 64 – 65.

For Paul’s explanation see this link

Coyne as quoted by Behe in Darwin’s Black Box:

We conclude-unexpectedly-that there is little evidence for the neo-Darwinian view: its theoretical foundations and the experimental evidence supporting it are weak.

I decided to check the actual text and guess what? In the actual text the period is a comma and the text continues as follows:

and there is no doubt that mutations of large effects are sometimes important in adaptation.

By Connor J. O’Brien

As we are all aware, the recent publicity surrounding the Kansas Kangaroo Kourt and the Dover, PA case has led many academics outside of the biological sciences to weigh in on the place of Creationist ideas like Intelligent Design in the scientific discourse. The rhetoric of these missives will be familiar to anyone who’s paid attention to creationist attacks on the theory of evolution over the years. In short, there’s nothing new here, but I think one particular element of the specious reasoning often employed calls for a thorough analysis. The following quotations are just a small, representitive sample.

Recently I wrote on Wells' paper in Rivista. Some readers may know that he presented a talk on the very same material at the 2004 Biola "Intelligent Design and the Future of Science" conference, and the talk is available from ARN. During the Q&A session, he was asked to "elaborate on the specific way in which ID plays a role in this situation". Below I provide his answer and leave it up to you, gentle reader, to discuss his viewpoint.
“First of all, ID encourages a closer look at centrosomes and centrioles. They are not very interesting from a Darwinian evolutionary standpoint, in fact they are totally uninteresting. I have submitted this paper … to several journals. The first one, the editor was a strong evolutionary biologist, and his reaction was ‘well, we are not interested in theories of centrosomal function, we just want more molecules, you should just go out and give us those.’ This is the molecular reductionist emphasis that I attribute to Darwinian evolution. ID liberates us from that first of all. It encourages us to take cell structures or living structures at face value. I mean, this thing looks for all the world like a turbine, it’s been called a turbine for decades by cell biologists, but nobody – and I’ve searched the literature – nobody has proposed that it’s a turbine before. I think it might be, you know. It’s worth a shot. ID in a broader sense encourages this sort of cellular perspective, organismal perspective, as opposed to the bottom-up molecular perspective, but the most specific instance in this case is the turbine idea. Well, I would say the Archimedes Screw too – it looks like a screw, maybe it is a screw. … maybe it is a vortexer, and it turns out the effect would be similar to what we have observed in cells for decades. So, ID encourages one to trust your intuition, to make the leap. You know, if it looks like this, maybe it is, let’s look in to it. Maybe it fits, maybe it doesn’t, but it’s worth a shot. And so it’s not that ID says ‘Yes, this is where it is, you have to find it here’ – ID is more of an umbrella, a framework, that encourages this sort of risky hypothesis making that I think could ultimately be very fruitful”

ID in their own words: Dembski

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People have been wondering why critics of ID consider Intelligent Design to be scientifically vacuous.

Nichols Wrote:

Proponents of Intelligent Design theory seek to ground a scientific research program that appeals to teleology within the context of biological explanation. As such, Intelligent Design theory must contain principles to guide researchers. I argue for a disjunction: either Dembski’s ID theory lacks content, or it succumbs to the methodological problems associated with creation science-problems that Dembski explicitly attempts to avoid. The only concept of a designer permitted by Dembski’s Explanatory Filter is too weak to give the sorts of explanations which we are entitled to expect from those sciences, such as archeology, that use effect-to-cause reasoning. The new spin put upon ID theory-that it is best construed as a ‘metascientific hypothesis’-fails for roughly the same reason.

R. Nichols, Scientific content, testability, and the vacuity of Intelligent Design theory The American Catholic philosophical quarterly , 2003 , vol. 77 , no 4 , pp. 591 - 611

One need not look far to find supporting evidence as to why.

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.

William A. Dembski Organisms using GAs vs. Organisms being built by GAs thread at ISCID 18. September 2002

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