August 2005 Archives

Diona Carrillo reports on four Cerritos College science instructors who are bravely standing up against intelligent design.

“Intelligent design is a philosophy, it is not a theory, it’s not a scientific theory, it’s not even a scientific hypothesis; it’s a belief,” Constance Boardman, biology instructor said.

The instructors have realized that ID is nothing more than a gap theory

An emphasis on weaknesses or “holes” and gaps in evolution, is the heart of the intelligent-design movement.

Jozsef Ludvig in the Baltimore Sentinel writes

But in reality, by leaving the name and identity of the designer unknown, ID becomes a placeholder for any religion while narrowly escaping the definition of a religion itself. But it can still not pose for science because it starts with the premise that a supernatural force had to be involved in the creation of life from inorganic matter. In order to prove this premise it then invents the non-empirical device of irreducible complexity which is just a typical God-Of-The-Gaps and cannot explain anything by itself. The resulting negative inference of a supernatural force from empirical ignorance is, by definition, neither a scientific subject nor consistent with the scientific method. Thus ID is not science.

Acts Have Consequences


The recent Kansas creationist kangaroo court hearings on evolution run by three creationist members of the Kansas State Board of Education (see here and here for stories) and the previous (1999) debacle in Kansas are having consquences for higher education in that state. In a story in the Lawrence Journal-World the Provost of Kansas University said

For the state to be portrayed repeatedly in the national press as being anti-science does damage to this university. The frustration is you fight this reputation problem every step of the way.

KU dropped three places in the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of universities.

Michael Lynch’s critique of Behe and Snoke (2004) is now available as is a reaction by Behe and Snoke. Don’t forget to read the editor’s message about it as well.

We’re still discussing it, but here is Lynch’s abstract.

Lynch M (2005) Simple evolutionary pathways to complex proteins. Protein Science, 14:2217-2225.

Abstract: A recent paper in this journal has challenged the idea that complex adaptive features of proteins can be explained by known molecular, genetic, and evolutionary mechanisms. It is shown here that the conclusions of this prior work are an artifact of unwarranted biological assumptions, inappropriate mathematical modeling, and faulty logic. Numerous simple pathways exist by which adaptive multi-residue functions can evolve on time scales of a million years (or much less) in populations of only moderate size. Thus, the classical evolutionary trajectory of descent with modification is adequate to explain the diversification of protein functions.

Ricardo Azevedo has some view up on his blog: BS Model Gets Lynched.

Carl Zimmer has the big news: the first draft of the chimpanzee genome is being published in Nature today. This is fantastic news, and it’s difficult to under overstate the importance of this. We want many different organisms sequenced to sample diversity, but having the sequence of two closely related species is going to be incredibly useful. Aren’t you just itching to see what the differences are?

Sadly, I just finished slapping Phil Skell around for his blindness to how evolution informs biology. I suspect he’s going to be dully oblivious to this event, too.

From the Quote Mines: Phil Skell

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In the August 29 issue of the Scientist, Phil Skell writes in his opinion piece “Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology” the following:

Phil Skell Wrote:

Despite this and other daculties, the modem form of Darwin’s theory has been raised to its present high status because it’s said to be the comerstone ofmodem experimental biology. But is that correct? “While the great majority of biologists would probably agree with Theodosius Dobzhansky’s dictum that ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,’ most can conduct their work quite happily without particular reference to evolutionary ideas,”

A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays, wrote in 2000. “Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one.”

I decided to investigate the quote. Guess what?

by Mike Syvanen

[Dr. Michael Syvanen is a professor studying molecular genetics in the Department of Medical Microbiology at the University of California, Davis, and has been an advocate since the early-80s of an idea that has gained considerable support over the last few years - that much evolution is not tree-shaped, but net-shaped. That is, that genes cross taxonomic lineages. Since many attacks on evolution claim we should “teach the controversy”, we at Panda’s Thumb thought it might be nice to present an *actual* controversy in science. Discussion is welcomed. Here, at least.]

It has been over 30 years since the suggestion that horizontal gene transfer (HGT) may have been a factor in the evolution of life entered the literature. Initially these speculations were based on discoveries made in medical microbiology; namely that genes for resistance to antibiotics were found to move from one bacterial pathogen to another. This discovery was so unexpected and contrary to accepted genetic principles that though announced in Japan in 1959 (1,2) it was not generally recognized in the west for another decade. Speculations that HGT may have been a bigger factor in the evolution of life was inviting because it offered broad explanations for a variety of biological phenomena that have interested and puzzled biologist for over the last century and a half. These were problems that had been raised by botanists that have puzzled over the evolution of green plants (3) as well as by paleontologists that recorded macroevolutionary trends (4) in the fossil record that were often difficult to reconcile with the New Synthesis that merged Darwin’s thinking with Mendelian genetics. However, outside of the field of bacteriology this exercise did not really attract that much attention until the late 1990s at which time there was a major influx of data indicating that HGT had been very pervasive in early life. Namely, complete genome sequences began to appear. Simple examination of these sequences showed beyond any doubt that horizontal gene transfer was indeed a major factor in the evolution of modern bacterial, Archael and Eukaryotic genomes.

On Pharyngula, PZ Myers reports how the Lehigh Department of biological sciences has taken a position on intelligent design.

Of particular interest is that this is Michael Behe’s university.

PZ Myers reports that, as was the case with Guillermo Gonzalez, “Behe’s academic freedom is fully supported by his department, but this is a loud vote of no confidence in his work. That sounds like an unpleasantly uncomfortable environment to be in.”

This is off topic, but over on my personal blog I have some low-resolution before and after pictures from New Orleans. The flooding, even at the very low resolution of these images, is simply mindnumbing.

My heart, and I’m sure the heart of everyone here, goes out to all those impacted by this tragedy. People will need lots of time, lots of effort, and lots of assistance before they can begin to recover from this disaster.


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The mainstream media is finally coming to terms with the truth of His Lord, the Creator.

One woman even wrote in to say that she had “conceived the spirit of our Divine Lord,” the Flying Spaghetti Monster, while eating alone at the Olive Garden.

“I heard singing, and tomato sauce rained from the sky, and I saw angel hair pasta flying about with little farfalle wings and playing harps,” she wrote. “It was beautiful.” The Spaghetti Monster, she went on, impregnated her and told her, “You shall name Him … Prego … and He shall bring in a new era of love.”

Someone named Emma kindly provided a couple of links to PDF files relevant to the California creationist lawsuit. One of the links is to a propaganda piece written by the Association of Christian Schools International, which is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. The second link is to a copy of the actual complaint that has been filed in the case.

The ACSI propaganda flyer is an interesting read, but I’m not going to take the time to criticise it at present. Instead, I’m going to begin by looking at the complaint, which should contain the real meat of the suit. The complaint is over one hundred pages in length, and I have found material that I’d like to comment on very early in the complaint. Since both my time and my tolerance for this type of thing are limited, it will probably take several posts over several days for me to wade through everything. Read More (at The Questionable Authority)

The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name


Jerry Coyne is one of the many contributors to magazines, newspapers, blog sites and so on who have realized that Intelligent Design is not only scientifically vacuous but also theologically risky.

In The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name Coyne writes

Coyne Wrote:

Intelligent design, or ID, is the latest pseudoscientific incarnation of religious creationism, cleverly crafted by a new group of enthusiasts to circumvent recent legal restrictions. ID comes in two parts. The first is a simple critique of evolutionary theory, to the effect that Darwinism, as an explanation of the origin, the development, and the diversity of life, is fatally flawed. The second is the assertion that the major features of life are best understood as the result of creation by a supernatural intelligent designer. To understand ID, then, we must first understand modern evolutionary theory (often called “neo-Darwinism” to take into account post-Darwinian modifications).

Intelligent Design described


In “Letters to the Editor” of the Cornell Daily Sun Adam Moline makes the following statement which captures much of what is wrong with ID

The problem with intelligent design is not that the background assumptions are bad but that the method employed by Intelligent Design’s advocates is not the scientific method. They use God in the same way that the ancient Greek dramatists did: to circumvent an otherwise insoluble problem in the final act. Just as deus ex machina is an improper means to conclude plays, intelligent design is an improper means to advance knowledge.

Florida and Antievolution


My native state hasn’t had headlines go nationwide over antievolution lately. But there are indications that Florida may be one of the next big targets of the antievolution advocates.

Ron Matus at the St. Petersburg Times wrote about this in today’s paper:

Ron Matus Wrote:

Nationally, it’s a raging debate. President Bush weighed in this month. Time magazine devoted its cover story to the subject two weeks ago.

But in Florida, the teaching of intelligent design - the newest, faith-based counterpoint to Darwin’s theory of evolution - is not an issue.

At least, not yet.

Some observers expect the other shoe to drop next year, when Florida education officials revisit state science standards as part of a routine review of what should be taught in Florida schools.

Update: Ex-Minnesota antievolutionist Cheri Pierson Yecke has been appointed Florida’s K-12 Chancellor for education. It looks like the antievolution forces have been at work already in Florida.

(Continue reading… on The Austringer)

More on the Iowa situation


As PvM already mentioned, It’s hitting the fan here in Iowa. For those of you who have been paying attention to the Smithsonian/Privileged Planet controversy, you may recognize the name Guillermo Gonzalez. He’s the co-author of the book by the same name, a DI fellow, and just happens to be a faculty member of the Astronomy department at Iowa State University. Hector Avalos, an associate professor of religious studies at ISU, and colleagues at ISU drafted a letter opposing the teaching of ID as science; 124 faculty signed it. Now, predictably, Gonzalez says he’s being “viciously attacked,” “intimidated,” and it’s created a “hostile work environment” (sound familiar, anyone?).

My Evening with Kent


My colleague, Steven Mahone, a board member of Colorado Citizens for Science and an engineering professional with the largest utility in southern Colorado, agreed recently to debate the well-known creationist Kent Hovind on evolution vs. creation. As Mr. Mahone describes below, he was snookered into leaving his visual aids at home, whereas at the last minute Mr. Hovind was allowed to present his. As I write, it is still unclear why Mr. Mahone and another debater were prohibited from bringing their visual aids, but it seems likely that the Campus Crusade for Christ, a sponsoring organization, was not at fault, and they have sent Mr. Mahone an elegant and sincere apology, which is reproduced below.

Here is Mr. Mahone’s account of the debate.

Intelligent Design in the news


Leon Satterfield descibes in The president and ‘intelligent design’ a goofy id(ea):

Leon Satterfield Wrote:

What a goofy idea President Bush had earlier this month when he said that public schools should teach both “intelligent design” and evolution, as if they were academically equal.

The president apparently doesn’t know — or more likely doesn’t care because he can sniff out votes from halfway across the country — that evolution is a scientific notion and that intelligent design is a religious belief and therefore has no place in our secular public schools. He also apparently doesn’t know — or more likely doesn’t care — that we were founded as a secular nation. No national church, no religious creeds we had to pretend to subscribe to.

For Neurode…

Bergstrom (Department of Zoology University of Washington Seattle, WA, USA) and Lachmann (Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences Leipzig, Germany) have published a paper titled “Shannon Information and Biological Fitness”.

They conclude that

In this paper we have shown that two measures of information, Shannon entropy and the decision-theory value of information, are united into one single information measure when one looks at the strategies that natural selection will favor, namely those that maximize the long term growth rate of biological organisms. Furthermore, we have shown that in evolving biological systems, the fitness value of information is bounded above by the Shannon entropy. These results suggest a close relationship between biological concepts of Darwinian fitness and information-theoretic measures such as Shannon entropy or mutual information.

The never ending stream of articles critical of Intelligent Design have appeared since Bush made his ill-timed statement.

Daniel C. Dennett, a professor of philosophy at Tufts University, is the author of “Freedom Evolves” and “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”, joins the virtual fray.

In Intelligent Design: Show me the science Dennett explores Intelligent Design.

Dennett Wrote:

Is “intelligent design” a legitimate school of scientific thought? Is there something to it, or have these people been taken in by one of the most ingenious hoaxes in the history of science? Wouldn’t such a hoax be impossible? No. Here’s how it has been done.

Response to slanderers


A couple of weeks ago, after I posted on Panda’s Thumb a brief response (see here) to Dembski’s amusing dismissal of my essay published in Skeptic, v. 11, No 4, 2005 (without his saying a word about the substance of my critique), on the website maintained by Dembski appeared a comment whose author accused me of false claims regarding my publication record.

As I had mentioned before, the last time I updated my list of publication was in 1985, when I applied for a position at CSUF. At that time the list already contained over 200 items, even though it did not include many of my published papers which were outside my professional work (many such papers were published in several languages in magazines such as Partisan Review, Midstream, Present Tense, Kontinent, Possev, Ukrainian Quarterly, Samtiden, Vremya Iskat [Et Levakesh], Vremia I My, and others).

Confronted with the libelous post on Dembski’s site, which Dembski chose to keep without rebuttals, thus in fact joining the author of the calumny, I searched my files and found my List of publications which I submitted to CSUF in 1985. It contained 211 items, even omitting many publications outside my professional research.

Dr. Wesley R. Elsberry kindly offered to scan and OCR the text of that list of publications (many thanks, Wesley). Thanks to Wesley’s generous assistance, this list, which is more than 20 years old, although containing a few OCR errors, can now be seen here.

I don’t think I need to prove that I did not abruptly stop publishing in 1984. Were the list updated after 1985, its size would grow by more publications, and more so if, besides my research papers, it included also papers dealing with pseudo-science in its various disguises. If my papers and the book which are not about my research in physics were added, the total would be now over 300 items, in tune with what I claimed in my response to Dembski’s post.

I apologize for taking space on Panda’s Thumbs by posting these remarks, but I feel it is proper to post them after the libelous comment appeared on Dembski’s site, where, as it is known, no comments are allowed which are short of either praising Dembski or attacking his critics.

Evolving motors



As we are so often reminded by proponents of Intelligent Design creationism, we contain molecular “machines” and “motors”. They don’t really explain how these motors came to be other than to foist the problem off on some invisible unspecified Designer, which is a poor way to do science—it’s more of a way to make excuses to not do science.

Evolution, on the other hand, provides a useful framework for trying to address the problem of the origin of molecular motors. We have a theory—common descent—that makes specific predictions—that there will be a nested hierarchy of differences between motors in different species. Phylogenetic analysis of variations between species allows us to reconstruct the history of a molecule with far more specificity than “Sometime between 6,000 and 4 billion years ago, a god or aliens (or aliens created by a god) conjured this molecule into existence by unknown and unknowable means”.

Richards and Cavalier-Smith (2005) have applied tested biological techniques to a specific motor molecule, myosin, and have used that information to assemble a picture of the phylogenetic history of eukaryotes.

Continue reading “Evolving motors” (on Pharyngula)

Intelligent Design Theories


While ID itself remains silent on the nature of the designer, some real scientific theories are sprouting up around the country which do not shy away from identifying the nature of the intelligent designer.

The tooth fairy, the easter bunny, Santa Claus and the stork…

Hat tip to Gerald Nachman of the San Francisco Chronicle

Teach the controversy I say…

The Seattle Post Intelligencer has an opinion piece where it asks the following burning question:

Chapman and company acknowledge that intelligent design is underdeveloped as a testable scientific theory. Nevertheless, they believe their ideas deserve inclusion in science curricula. A number of states already have opted for just such a requirement. Soon, we all may be facing this Burning Question:

Should intelligent design be part of science education?

In a post earlier today, I noted that a group of creationists are suing the University of California system in order to force UC to accept several of their classes that are currently not considered adequate. One of the courses in question is biology. As I already pointed out, UC is not discriminating against Christians by refusing to accept the class; it is simply living up to its responsibility to ensure that applicants are adequately prepared for university study. Nevertheless, I was curious as to what about these particular biology classes was so poor as to attract attention.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority).

Privileged Planet: The fallout

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Guillermo Gonzalez, author of “Privileged Planet” is touting the concept of Intelligent, reports “The Iowa Channel”. It is creating quite some uproar at Iowa State University.

Gonzalez Wrote:

“It’s something that brings a renewed interest in science”

Gonzalez remains silent as to how this brings a renewed interest in science. Conflating science and religion never serves a good purpose.

Gonzalez said that humans are the product of a creator – whether it is God or whomever – and were not created by chance and a product of evolution.

More cracks are starting to show.

In How Intelligent Design Hurts Conservatives (By making us look like crackpots) published in The New Republic on 8/16/05, Ross Douthat argues that Intelligent Design will hurt the conservatives.

In short, the scientific vacuity will catch up with the religious and political motivated arguments and back fire.

And intelligent design will run out of steam–a victim of its own grand ambitions. What began as a critique of Darwinian theory, pointing out aspects of biological life that modification-through-natural-selection has difficulty explaining, is now foolishly proposed as an alternative to Darwinism. On this front, intelligent design fails conspicuously–as even defenders like Rick Santorum are beginning to realize–because it can’t offer a consistent, coherent, and testable story of how life developed. The “design inference” is a philosophical point, not a scientific theory: Even if the existence of a designer is a reasonable inference to draw from the complexity of, say, a bacterial flagellum, one would still need to explain how the flagellum moved from design to actuality.

The first cracks are showing

John West:Discovery Institute Wrote:

There’s little question that the Earth is billions of years old, said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle that is critical of Darwinian theory.

“Critics would rather tar everyone with the brush of creationism,” said West, who teaches political science at Seattle Pacific University. “I think the idea that Genesis provides scientific text is really farfetched.”

LA Times: Adam, Eve and T. Rex

The big tent is only comfortable when it serves one’s purpose but when the tent becomes to crowded, ID seems to be quickly back pedalling. Now ID is not only fighting science but also young earth creationism. And it is ill equipped to handle either one.

Science because ID fails to propose a scientifically relevant theory and thus remains scientifically vacuous. Creationism because it invited it into its big tent.

It appears that yet another creationism-related lawsuit is in the works. This time, the venue is in California, and it is the Creationists who are doing the suing. Apparently, the Association of Christian Schools International and Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murietta are no longer satisfied with being able to teach their students creationism instead of real biology. Now, they also want to make sure that their students will not have to suffer the consequences of this decision, and they are suing for that “right”.

Continue reading (at The Questionable Authority)

Buttars Rebuffed by Utah Board


Chris Buttars, the eternally clueless Utah state Senator, certainly didn’t get the answers he wanted from the Utah state school board. Buttars has been threatening to submit a bill to mandate the teaching of “divine design” - a slightly more honest version of intelligent design - if the school board doesn’t issue a position statement officially denouncing human evolution. Instead, the board has gone the other direction:

The state school board’s proposed position statement on teaching evolution doesn’t give an inch for a state senator’s “intelligent design” concepts.

That bothers Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He wants the board to insert language saying humans didn’t evolve from any other species…

Its contents were revealed in a school board agenda the Deseret Morning News received this Friday.

“As a fundamental scientific concept, evolution is a necessary part of science classroom instruction, and it will continue to be taught and progressively refined as a key scientific principle,” the 1 1/2-page document states.

“Teachers should respect and be nonjudgmental about (student) beliefs, and teachers should help students understand that science is an essential way of knowing. Teachers should encourage students to discuss any seeming conflicts with their parents or religious leaders.”

The document also defines the weight of theory in scientific context, cites evidence that the universe and life have changed over time, and notes other ways people glean understanding, such as historical analysis, art, religion and philosophy, which rely upon “other ways of knowing, such as emotion and faith.

“While these ways of understanding and creating meaning are important to individuals and society, they are not amenable to scientific investigation and thus not appropriate for inclusion in the science curriculum,” the document states.

On Wednesday night, FOX News anchor Bill O’Reilly interviewed Rick Sternberg. The subject was Sternberg’s allegations of harassment at the hands of various employees of the Smithsonian Institution. The cause of this harassment, says Sternberg, was his decision to publish a pro-ID article during his stint as editor of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. For some background on the situation see the recent PT entries by Nick Matzke here, and by Andrea Bottaro here.

Over at EvolutionBlog I have posted this analysis of O’Reilly’s segment. Enjoy!

Well, it’s Official. It’s not just the New York Times believing the Discovery Institute’s line that New Mexico’s new school science standards “embraced the institute’s ‘teach the controversy’ approach.”

Now it’s the Rio Rancho Public Schools.

On Monday, August 22nd, the Rio Rancho (NM) School Board adopted “Science Policy 401”, over the protests of most of the attendees at the meeting.

The policy begins by saying

The Rio Rancho Board of Education recognizes that scientific theories, such as theories regarding biological and cosmological origins, may be used to support or to challenge individual religious and philosophical beliefs. Consequently, the teaching of science in public school science classrooms may be of great interest and concern to students and their parents.

It gets worse from there. Much worse.

bicoid evolution



I’ve written about this fascinating Drosophila gene, bicoid, several times before. It’s a maternal effect gene, a gene that is produced by the mother and packaged into her eggs to drive important early events in development, in this case, establishing polarity, or which end of the egg is anterior (bicoid specifies which end of the egg will form the fly’s head). Bicoid is also a transcription factor, or gene that regulates the activity of other genes. We also see evidence that it is a relatively new gene, one that is taking over a morphogenetic function that may have been carried out by several other more primitive genes in the ancestral insect.

Continue reading “Bicoid evolution” (on Pharyngula)

Beyond the fish wars


More and more people, scientists and religious people alike, are coming to the obvious conclusion that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

Beyond the fish wars

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jim Burklo, a minister of Sausalito Presbyterian Church, presents his opinion

It [Intelligent Design] is not a theoretical alternative to evolution, because it suggests no other credible means by which this outside intelligence created the complexity of life. There is nothing in the theory of evolution, the only one that holds any water in explaining the origin of the species, that proves or disproves the existence of such an intelligent “designer.” Even if one thinks of God as a separate, distinct being that manipulates the universe, “intelligent design” offers no intelligent reason to suggest that evolution wasn’t God’s chosen instrument of creation.

Guy T. Sturino has an interesting article on Intelligent Design.

Sturino Wrote:

Intelligent Design adds nothing to the scientific, investigative curiosity about the nature of our universe, and as such is a waste of time, energy and resources much better spent in providing our children with the tools necessary to succeed in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

On his personal website he published an article on August 22, 2005 titled “A Class On Intelligent Design.”

400 (minus 1)

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The DI’s list of 400 Darwin doubting scientists has one fewer member. Robert Davidson has bailed out, saying

When I joined [the Discovery Institute] I didn’t think they were about bashing evolution. It’s pseudo-science, at best … What they’re doing is instigating a conflict between science and religion.


He was shocked, he says, when he saw the Discovery Institute was calling evolution a “theory in crisis.”

“It’s laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution,” he says. “There’s always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there’s no real scientific controversy about it.

Davidson began to believe the institute is an “elaborate, clever marketing program” to tear down evolution for religious reasons. He read its writings on intelligent design — the notion that some of life is so complex it must have been designed — and found them lacking in scientific merit.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. And it’s in the DI’s hometown paper.


(Hat tip to Valentine Pontifex on Infidels)

Bill Maher Rules Out ID


From Bill Maher’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”* for August 23rd, 2005:

And finally, New Rule: You don’t have to teach both sides of a debate, if one side is a load of crap.

(Transcript of “New Rules” segment)

It’s a bit sad that many of our journalists don’t have the insight shown by our comedians.

Hat tip to Bill Farrell. *Correction on title of show provided by Bill Gascoyne.

I have just had a truly amazing adventure. From July 29 - August 6, I accompanied Alan Gishlick and Eugenie Scott (and members) on NCSE’s “Creationism and Evolution” raft trip down Grand Canyon. Here are “Gish” and Genie, my hosts.

Tangled Bank #35

The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of The Tangled Bank is online at Cognitive Daily. Since you may like your science untainted by politics or the slime of creationism, the host has kept it entirely apolitical this time, setting aside all the links that even mention the creationism non-debate in a separate post. Read one for pure science, the other for the greater social argument.



Quiet. Listen.

These are the new recordings of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Go here for the whole story, and more recordings.

Last year Ian, Steve, and I wrote a critique of a flawed anti-“Darwinian processes” paper by Michael Behe and David Snoke. At the time we had been discussing turning it into a publication, but we set aside the idea after we learned that the editors of Protein Science had asked an expert on gene evolution, Michael Lynch from Indiana University, to write a response to Behe and Snoke (2004).

Now it comes to pass that Michael Lynch’s response and a reply by Behe and Snoke is going to be published in next month’s Protein Science.

We’ll keep our readers informed about Lynch’s analysis of Behe and Snoke’s science.

by Marshall Berman and Dave Thomas

On Sunday, August 21, 2005, the New York Times published an article entitled “Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive.” This otherwise excellent article unfortunately contained several errors that resulted from treating some false information from the Discovery Institute (DI) as accurate. One major error was accepting the DI view that New Mexico has “embraced the institute’s ‘teach the controversy’ approach.” This is absolutely false, as the following evidence will show.

Over at ID the Future is an open letter to Science from several Discovery Institute luminaries protesting that, despite the fact that they do no research and have published no original research on ID, Intelligent Design Creationism is indeed Science.

Alan I. Leshner (Redefining Science, July 8) says intelligent design isn’t science because scientific theories explain what can be observed and are testable by repeatable observations and experimentation. But particular design arguments meet this standard.

Before going on to their example, I’d like to point out that some of the arguments of Young Earth Creationism (YEC) also meet this standard. For example, YEC makes specific, testable claims about the age of the Earth, so why isn’t YEC science? Several reasons, not the least that when confronted with clear, unambiguous, multiple independent lines of evidence that their claims are wrong, the YEC will ignore this evidence, or invoke miracles, or pretend the evidence doesn’t exist. They will not accept evidence to the contrary of their preconceptions, so despite having testable claims, YEC isn’t science.

How does ID creationism fare?

Coming soon to Nebraska?

In the August 18th issue of Nature (1), Donlan et al. suggest a novel way to save certain species of megafauna: bring them to the North American wilderness. (CNN summary/commentary here).

It’s not as outlandish as it may sound. As they point out, North America had many similar species until 13,000 years ago, including mammoths, camels, cheetahs, and lions. While they acknowledge there are differences between modern species and those which existed once upon a time in America, they suggest that the modern species are proxies for their long-extinct cousins, and could be used to “re-wild” North America. The authors suggest a mutually beneficial relationship: portions of the Great Plains benefit from tourism dollars, while the animals benefit from increased habitat and a decreased threat of extinction. Win-win, right?

One of the comments that was inspired by my earlier post on the invasive gall wasps that are threatening some native Hawaiian plants raised a point that is worth responding to in detail, since it comes up fairly often both in arguments with anti-evolutionists and in discussions about the costs and benefits associated with conservation efforts:

“Big Bill” said: “And further, letting foreign people plants and animals in always increases diversity. Sure, some native peoples, plants, and animals will die out, but it’s not like they have any right to the land. There is no God-given title. If the native peoples, plants and animals cannot compete and survive, that is their fault. It’s Darwin in action.”

Bill’s statement does capture a basic fact about the biological effects of invasive species: if the invasive species outcompetes the natives, resulting in the extinction of the native species, it is simply a case of natural selection. I cannot argue with that. There are some who might claim that situations involving invasives do not count, because the invasive arrived as the result of human intervention rather than “naturally”. I dislike that argument, both because it ignores the fact that the effects would probably have been the same regardless of the mode of arrival and because it implies that humans aren’t really part of nature.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

One of the items in the list of offenses Richard Sternberg claims to have suffered at the hands of his Smithsonian colleagues and the “Darwinian orthodoxy” after the publication of the Meyer paper is the accusation of being a “Young Earth Creationist”. However, the record shows that, at the time, the accusation was hardly a purposeful smear aimed at unfairly tarnishing Sternberg’s reputation, but a reasonable conclusion based on the available information. More below.

Two days to the Tangled Bank

The Tangled Bank

The next Tangled Bank will be appearing at Cognitive Daily on Wednesday. Submissions have been trickling in, but we can always use more—if you've written anything science related, send a link to me or, and it will be highlighted in the 35th edition on 24 August.

Note: The paper by Chen et al. is now published online. Embarassingly for the BBC, the fossil is named Vetustovermis, not Vetustodermis. I thought the misspelling would explain why Vetustodermis originally got zero google hits (there are now 160 google hits on Vetustodermis), but it turns out that Vetustovermis currently gets zero google hits, although I am sure this won’t last. Anyhow, I will correct the name, and add a few comments on the paper to the end of this post.

The BBC has a story up about the Cambrian fossil Vetustovermis planus, a critter so obscure that, at the time of this posting, it received zero hits on google. The BBC reports that a study is coming out in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B: Biological Sciences that evidently phylogenetically places Vetustovermis outside of any extant phylum, but perhaps nearer to molluscs within the Lophotrocozoans.

Given the recent revelations concerning the political pressure brought to bear upon the Ohio State Board of Education to adopt faulty standards permitting non-science to be taught in science classes, it is time for everyone to take a few minutes out of their busy schedules and do something real.

Write the media in Ohio and make it clear that the next item of business on the SBOE agenda needs to be a return to the uncompromised, science-only standards produced by their standards writing committee, and remove the faulty, anti-science lesson plan adopted under the compromised standards.

Please use the media contacts page to write to the listed Ohio newspapers, and don’t overlook the national media as well.

Ohio has been the example that the Discovery Institute has used ever since late 2002 as the model of what they want in other states. Do we want gamed politics everywhere, just like we had in Ohio? If not, take the time to help take back the process from the anti-science extremists.

And be sure to visit the Ohio Citizens for Science web site for more information.

Amerindian mythologies present a rich source of creation stories. While these narratives offer spiritual alternatives to naturalistic origins, there have been few vocal native anti-evolutionists, an exception being Vine DeLoria whose books Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact and Evolution, Creationism, and Other Modern Myths: A Critical Inquiry both offer trite, predictable and weak arguments against evolution.

At Indian Country Today (“The Nation’s Leading American Indian News Source”) an editorial concludes:

Indian Country Today Columnist John Mohawk this year published a succinctly edited book, ”Iroquois Creation Story: Myth of the Earthgrasper,” which inspires with its clarity from ancient America. In fact, the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) creation story is the living basis of the ceremonial cycles in the longhouses of several reservations, source of origin and the truth of existence for traditional Haudenosaunee. Yet, no one here is suggesting that it be taught as ”science” in the public schools.

Every Native culture across the hemisphere (and cultures from all over the world) would be in its right to line up, then, each with its origin story and each justifiably, as much as the Judeo-Christian Genesis, with its right to believe that its story is the true way that human beings came into existence.

Given the choice, we prefer the non-religious and secular space, such as public schools guided by universally shared scientific values and methods. Let each people have its religious approach and way of prayer. The other approach is a slippery slope to dangerous manipulation and intolerance. What little the various human cultures and societies have in common resides in the life of science and its search for open-minded truth.

NCSE notes the re-appearance of Dr. Eugenie Scott’s article in California Wild Re-Posts “In My Backyard”.

And here is the article with the edits shown.

Update: The OSC letter is going up on IDist websites, so we presume it is legit to post it here. Right-click, Save As for the PDF.

Late today, a reporter called NCSE and, asking for comment, told us that the U.S. Office of Special Counsel had dropped Richard von Sternberg’s religious discrimination complaint against the Smithsonian Institution. The short version is that Sternberg, as an unpaid research associate at the Smithsonian, is not actually an employee, and thus the OSC has no jurisdiction. This was not particularly surprising, considering that PT contributer Reed Cartwright noted way back on February 2 that exactly this might happen.

Legally, this appears to be the end of things. However, as the Panda’s Thumb has documented over the past year (Meyer 2004 Medley, google search), the Meyer/Sternberg/Smithsonian affair has been a piece of politics from the beginning. The OSC’s opinion guarantees it will be politics to the end.

Slate on Haeckel, Proteus

Perhaps in some kind of cosmic penance for Slate editor Jacob Weisberg’s fight-starting editorial, today the Slate “medical examiner” desk has an excellent slide-show essay on Haeckel that actually gives a reasonably balanced overview of Ernst Haeckel, his science and art, and his legacy. The essay appears to be provoked by a showing of the new award-winning documentary Proteus, about Haeckel and the scientific and artistic “discovery” of the under-sea, invertebrate world. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but we are about due for a correction of the all-too-common Haeckel-was-pure-evil narrative that is very common among both evolutionists and creationists. On the other hand, part of the problem with Haeckel was that he tended to mix the science and the artistic, imaginative, metaphysical vision a bit too much, and from the looks of it Proteus may do this too. On the other other hand, all great science popularizations seem to have a pretty strong imaginative vision tied to the dry scientific facts, so mixing the two may be intrinsic to the work of the science popularizer. If this is so, then the thing to do is for readers to simply be alert to what science popularizers are doing, and mentally separate the two aspects of the work so that each can be considered on its own merits.

Haeckel Slide Show in Slate


Haeckel.jpgSlate has an interesting slide show about Ernst Haeckel’s life and work. The commentary touches on the most controversial aspects of Haeckel’s legacy (doctored embryo drawings, racism, etc), but with the aid of some truly stunning pictures, it does a good job at offering a balanced look at this amazingly gifted scientist and artist.

Interestingly, a movie based largely on Haeckel’s story is about to come out. Too bad the casting was done long ago, because judging from the photograph in Slate’s second slide (reproduced here, Haeckel on the left), with a wig and a fake beard Dembski would have been a shoo-in for Haeckel’s part.

New CSICOP Column


My most recent column for CSICOP's Creation Watch website is now available. I'm talking about mathematics for a change, specifically the attempts by creationists to use probability theory to refute evolution. Be warned, however, that this is part one of a two-part column. So don't be too annoyed by the cliffhanger at the end!

The Skeptic paper online


Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 656, byte 656 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/mach/5.18/XML/ line 187.

Well, this is so brilliant I just had to post it: Ten Questions to Ask Your History Teacher, a parody of Jonathan Wells’s “Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher”, which is based on Wells’s book Icons of Evolution, which is thoroughly dismantled here and here. HT2PZ

Writing in the August 18th Palm Beach Post, editorial writer Jac Wilder VerSteeg sees right through the “Intelligent Design” fog to the heart of the matter.

I don’t read the stuff posted on Dembski’s sites for an obvious reason – I don’t expect to see anything there of substance and interest. However, I received emails from Dave Mullenix and Steve Verdon, who have quoted in their emails Dembski’s post, where he supposedly “replied” to my post titled “Skeptic on Dembski” placed on Panda’s Thumb (see here) and TalkReason (see here). This made me look up Dembski’s site to verify the quotes sent by Dave and Steve.

De Rerum Natura and Safari


Well, I finally got around to finding and fixing the javascript bug which prevented people using Safari from browsing my personal blog: De Rerum Natura. Now I can install the javascripts on PT to improve the experience here.

WIDF, Appendix Errata


I compiled an appendix for “Why Intelligent Design Fails” sometime in the summer of 2003. The appendix is a list of internet resources, both pro-science and pro-creationism, usually with brief descriptions of the target website. Generally, I merely copied some text from the site itself as the descriptive text.

Pleistocene Horses

horse evolution

Weinstock et al. have published a solid and interesting paper that attempts to resolve some issues in the recent evolution of horses. It's good work, and shows how molecular analysis of fossils can complement morphological studies to give a clearer picture of organismal history. Unsurprisingly, though, creationists are already spluttering out nonsense about it. I'm going to give a quick overview of the scientific results, and then show some of the creationist babble in response (not too much, though—you'll quickly see how dishonest and evasive creationists are).

Continue reading Pleistocene Horses (on Pharyngula)

The Onion does it again

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Not quite as good as some of their classics, but their article on intelligent falling provides a few chuckles.

“Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the ‘electromagnetic force,’ the ‘weak nuclear force,’ the ‘strong nuclear force,’ and so-called ‘force of gravity,’” Burdett said. “And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus.”

Invasive species are nothing new to the Islands of Hawai’i. The first invasive species arrived with, and included, the first Polynesian settlers. Although there does appear to be some evidence that they may have caused the extinction of a few endemic species, the effects of these invasions were most likely relatively minor. Since the first western contact with the islands, the number of invasive species present has skyrocketed, causing a massive ecological disaster. If you want proof of the severity, you need not look any farther than the fact that Hawaii contains well less than 1% of the total land area of the US, but has over a third of the listed endangered species in the US.

At the moment, there is a new invasive species that is making the news here in Hawai’i: a species of “gall wasp” that has been wrecking havoc on trees of the genus Erythrina in Singapore, Taiwan, and a number of other places was found in a valley on Oahu in April. Since then, it has been found in a large number of other places on Oahu, and has started to turn up on other islands, including Maui, and a number of scientists believe that it poses a serious threat to a culturally-significant endemic plant - the Wiliwili (Erythrina sandwichensis). The threat is being taken so seriously that scientists have reportedly begun to bank Wiliwlil seeds as a precaution in case the extant population is completely lost.

So what does this have to do with evolution?

Continue reading (and hopefully find out) at The Questionable Authority:

Road Trip to Visit AiG


As a long time creationist watcher, and frankly bored of sitting in front of my computer practically 24/7 here in Whitehall, Montana, I decided to take a road trip to Post Falls, Idaho to play with my new Canon 350D digital camera and see if Answers in Genesis is any less ridiculous then the last time I saw one of their hacks in person.

To answer the latter, no, they are not. But the rental car lady gave me this kick ass ‘05 Mustang, so the drive up, diverted by the fires in this part of the state, was a real blast. Beautiful scenery through Lolo National Forest, and then into Idaho showed some stunning geological formations. And every time I stopped for a photo I found the ‘stang did killer burnouts getting back onto the road.

Joe Bob Briggs says, ‘Check it out!’

Skip Evans

(Continue Reading … on Venomous Penguin)

The Columbus Dispatch reports that Governor Taft’s appointees on the State Board of Education who voted in anti-science changes to the science standards adopted in 2002 and a “critical lesson plan” in 2003 were contacted by his staff to make sure that they knew Taft strongly supported the “intelligent design” measures.

Quick program…

* Ohio Governor Bob Taft, now revealed as an active advocate of “intelligent design”. * Brian K. Hicks, Taft’s chief of staff when the Ohio science standards were being considered. * Elizabeth Ross, Taft’s education liaison at the time. * Wick, Craig, Schloemer: board of education members supporting good science standards. * Deborah Owens-Fink, Michael Cochran, and James L. Turner, board of education members and “intelligent design” advocates.

Catherine Candisky of the Columbus Dispatch Wrote:

In November 2002, after the board unanimously approved its intent to adopt science standards and just weeks before its final vote, Hicks wrote Elizabeth Ross, then Taft’s education liaison:

“You should call (Carl) Wick, (Jim) Craig and (Sam) Schloemer and let them know that the Gov. strongly supports the science standards that passed with a 17-0 vote. He does not want to see changes to the proposal and hope that these members will not support any changes to the standards.

“Let me know if I need to call anyone … we don’t want this thing to unravel.”

A few hours earlier, Ross had informed Hicks that the board’s leading advocate for intelligent design had called and was livid about an attempt to return to evolution-only standards.

Except that the proposed “return” was to science-only science standards.

Update: The Ohio Citizens for Science have issued a statement on the news of Taft’s advocacy of “intelligent design”.

As others see them

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Many Intelligent Design creationists have been given a hearing before scientists. William Dembski, for instance, has given a talk at the prestigious Niels Bohr Institute in Denmark, a fact he has made much of. For instance, here’s what he wrote to the National Association of Scholars (pdf):

How has the scientific community received my work? Of those who have actually read it, by and large I find scientists intrigued. I speak around the globe to science faculties (to take just one upcoming example, mathematicians at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen invited me to speak there about my work on the design inference in the spring of 2004).

And this is how he presented it on ARN:

These results have been thoroughly vetted. I first presented an overview of them at a technical seminar at the Niels Bohr Institute last year. There was no challenge to the mathematics.

However, a comment from Rasmus Pedersen, citing an article in the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen, shows what the attendees at his seminar thought of it:

In the hour at his disposal in front of a friendly-minded but mathematically knowledgeable audience, Dembski wove like a freshman about to fail. He repeated his heuristic, hand-waving arguments endlessly, drew stains on the blackboard, but didn’t produce a single result of any mathematical value. Unfortunately, this is also what a mathematician gets from reading his “mathematical” book, The Design Inference, which, incidentally, is widely used to scare people who are intimidated by mathematical equations. It looks impressive, but in actuality contains no coherent mathematics. But now Dembski can boast that he, as a researcher of Intelligent Design, was invited to the Niels Bohr Institute as well as the Danish Technical University. What he doesn’t mention is that he will never be invited again.

Skeptic on Dembski

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The latest issue of the Skeptic journal is now available (2005, vol. 11, No 4). It contains, among other things, two articles pertaining to the Intelligent Design and its critique. One of them (pages 54-65) is my article titled “The Dream World of William Dembski’s Creationism.” The other article (pages 66-69) “Creationism’s Holy Grail: The Intelligent Design of a Peer-Reviewed Paper” is by Robert Weitzel.

Given Dembski’s protestations regarding the term “creationism” when applied to his and his cohorts’ views (with some exceptions, like Dembski’s armour-bearer, Salvador Cordova who has frankly referred to himself as a creationist), perhaps it can be expected that Dembski will reject the very title of my paper as well as the reference to his ideas as a dream.

Weitzel’s paper is about Stephen Meyer’s infamous article in June 2004 issue of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. Weitzel shows the lack of merits in Meyer’s article and favorably quotes the article by Gishlick, Matzke, and Elsberry which was posted both on Panda’s Thumb (see this) and Talk Reason (see this).

I just finished watching Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, a Will Ferrell flick about a local news anchor living in my beloved city of San Diego during the 70s. There’s a great exchange between Ron and his co-anchor Veronica Corningstone that perfectly captures what it feels like at times arguing with creationists.

Ron Burgundy: Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diago, which of course in German means “a whale’s vagina”.

Veronica Corningstone: No, there’s no way that’s correct. Ron: I’m sorry, I was trying to impress you. I don’t know what it means. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.

Veronica: Doesn’t it mean Saint Diego?

Ron: No. No.

Veronica: No, that’s - that’s what it means. Really.

Ron: Agree to disagree.

Note: The purpose of this essay is to offer a critique of intelligent design on theological, rather than scientific, grounds. It is not intended to provoke arguments over the validity of Christianity or theism in general because that is not the concern of this blog. Hence, we would ask that any comments be restricted to the subject of the theological validity of ID and its relation to science education rather than the rational validity of Christianity. Such discussions are fascinating, but are best left for other fora.

In a recent contribution I suggested the possibility of a designer who made such a perfect design that intervention would never be necessary. This is not something that could be demonstrated, nor is it something that I assert as a fact, but it is a design possibility. The point here is that a deist or theist can quite easily both believe that the universe is designed, and yet not believe that the “design” is going to be detectible. Since the whole is designed, there is no necessity that some portions of it look more designed than others.

The question is whether this hypothetical theist can allow any kind of intervention in the universe, without also assuming that such intervention can be detected and measured? I am frequently asked how I can oppose intelligent design, and yet see any kind of interaction of God with the universe.

It’s time for our next look at the Kansas Board of Education majority’s continuing crusade to push their own narrow-minded sectarian agenda at the expense of actual education. Today’s entry can be found on page 80 of the draft science standards (available as a pdf on the Kansas Department of Eduation’s website):

Grade 8-12 indicator 7: explains proposed scientific explanations of the origin of life as well as scientific criticisms of those explanations.

It’s worth noting at this point that this particular indicator is not present in the March 9th draft of the science standards (also available as a pdf) - the one written by the science standards committee without excessive input from the elected BoE members. It is a recent addition by the Board of Education. I am not, however, planning to devote time and energy to discussing the indicator itself. My concern is more with the “additional specificity” points that they list with this new indicator.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority)

Cambrian timeline

I've been reading Valentine's On the Origin of Phyla(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) lately, and I have to tell you, it's a hard slog. This is one of those extremely information-dense science texts that rather gracelessly hammers you with the data and difficult concepts on page after page. I am convinced that James W. Valentine is ten times smarter than I am and knows ten thousand times as much, and it's a struggle to squeeze that volume of knowledge into my miniscule brain pan.

One thing I would like to greatly condense and simplify is his discussion of the Cambrian 'explosion'. Misinterpretation of the Cambrian is one of the many prongs of the creationist assault on science; both old school Biblical creationists and the new stealth creationists of the ID movement have seized upon it as evidence of an abrupt creation—that a Designer poofed the precursors to all modern forms into existence suddenly, and without precursors, and that this observation contradicts evolutionary theory.

It doesn't. Valentine has an excellent diagram that shows how wrong the creationists are.

Continue reading "The Cambrian as an evolutionary exemplar" (on Pharyngula)

This is only peripherally on topic here, and I am plugging my own blog again, but over at The Questionable Authority, I have a couple of pictures that go a long way toward answering that classic presidential question: “Why isn’t our children learning?

I was interested in the breaking news in Kansas this Thursday (August 11, 2005) that John Calvert, purported legal counsel for the Intelligent Design Minority of the Kansas science standards writing committee, is not actually licensed to practice law in Kansas, and never has been. This was revealed Tuesday at a press conference held by my friends Pedro Irigonegaray, the lawyer (legally licensed) representing mainstream science at the science hearings, and Steve Case, chair of the writing committee. See this story in the Lawrence Journal World.

As Irigonegaray points out in the Lawrence Journal World article, “there are criminal statutes that sanction against false impersonation,” and my understanding is that these statutes apply to any occupation which require a license to practice in the Kansas. Later in the week, Case filed complaints about Calvert’s behavior with the appropriate bodies in both Kansas and Missouri (where Calvert is licensed), and these bodies will make the ultimate determination as to whether Calvert is guilty of ethical or legal misbehavior. See this story in the Lawrence Journal World.

And now this morning, Red State Rabble (Pat Hayes) reports that Calvert says he has done nothing wrong by practicing without a license. RSR writes,

Red State Rabble has obtained a transcript of the KANU segment [Thursday, August 11, the Morning Edition of NPR News on KANU Radio in Lawrence, Kansas] in which Calvert makes an astonishing assertion. Here’s the transcript:

“Pedro Irigonegaray (counsel for the mainstream science at the state science hearings): Not only is the practice of law without a license a violation of ethical guidelines, it is also a crime.

Peter Hancock, for NPR: Calvert admits he’s not licensed in Kansas but says he did nothing wrong by accepting clients in this state and acting as their attorney.

John Calvert: Just because I don’t hold a Kansas bar license does not mean that I can’t come into Kansas and practice law.”

Oh, really?

I should probably leave it up to Sanchez to defend himself, but I’ll say this: it is true that “Evolution is no more or less ‘naturalistic’ than any of these other sciences.” But what Sanchez was saying, correctly, is that evolution demonstrates that there is no need for a divine spark to set in motion, or to maintain, the processes that gave rise to life, and/or consciousness. To say that science does not “conflict[] with the theistic theological view that God creates the universe at every moment of its existence” is beside the point. The point is that, as Sanchez quoted, there is no need for such a hypothesis.

The National Catholic Reporter discusses Follow up news: Schönborn and evolution

Vatican Correspondent John L. Allen concludes:

Allen Wrote:

In that light, observers say, Schönborn’s view does not seem to court a new Galileo affair, putting the church at odds with scientific discoveries. He’s making a philosophical point, not a scientific one. In the end, he’s warning that Christianity cannot accept a universe without God, and it’s fairly difficult to argue with that.

Hat tip to Frank Schmidt

I just read Tim Sandefeur’s post saying that “Julian Sanchez has it exactly right” when Sanchez agrees with Jacob Weisberg’s religion-is-stupid rant, “Evolution vs. Religion: Quit pretending they’re compatible,” up at Slate. Tim didn’t post any arguments in support, and disabled comments – he may have suspected that flack would be coming his way on PT, where many of us do make a point of it to note that there is no necessary conflict between evolution and religious faith. So, I will make a few comments on my own, and then let posters discuss it over the weekend.


Purpose and Measuring God


I have been delinquent in contributing to the Panda’s Thumb, but in my defense, I was busy finishing up a book (Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic). It was responses to this book, combined with comments by President Bush and by Cardinal Schönborn, that has led me to get busy and write something about this.

The odd thing is that in my book I spend perhaps four pages out of 128 discussing evolution and intelligent design, with only a passing reference to my objections to the latter, and yet repeatedly people have commented to me that they liked my book but don’t agree with me about evolution. I have taken an unorthodox view of many different things, and spent many pages doing so, but none of those have elicited the kind of response that four pages discussing evolution and intelligent design have.

The combined debate suggests to me that we are dealing with a combination of lack of information, and of gut-level reactions that go well beyond the actual issues presented. But what are those issues?

The second entry in what is starting to look like a long series of posts on the Kansas BoE’s attempt to uneducate their students comes from the same page in the standards as the item I discussed yeaterday:

c. Patterns of diversification and extinction of organisms are documented in the fossil record. Evidence also indicates that simple, bacteria-like life may have existed billions of years ago. However, in many cases the fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences postulated by biological evolution. [italics denotes material added by the BoE in this revision]

Read more (at The Questionable Authority)

Flying Spaghetti Monsterism has officially hit the bigtime. See “Spaghetti Monster Stringing Us Along,” in the Hartford Courant. This national press attention obviously proves that there is a scientific controversy over His Noodly Appendage, which should be taught in public school science classrooms in Kansas and elsewhere. Really, the views of Pastafarians are just as legitimate as anyone else’s views on origins, so they deserve promotion at state expense also. Or are you against free speech and academic freedom?

Doug McNeil ([Enable javascript to see this email address.]), a computer field engineer from Baltimore, has in mind a statewide organization, called Maryland Citizens for Science, to promote good science education and to oppose the creationist threat in his state. In no particular order, its basic functions would be:

  • To monitor creationist activity in Maryland. Marylanders can’t know everything that happens in every classroom and every school board meeting unless people tell them. They need a well-known local organization that concerned parents and teachers know they can contact when they need help. It would be an information clearinghouse, similar to what the NCSE does on the national level.
  • To serve as an informed resource for the press. The group’s chair, who would be the main spokesperson, is particularly important here – more on this later.
  • To review and evaluate the current state of science education in Maryland (e.g. textbooks and state curriculum standards) and to promote improvements if needed, which they probably are.
  • To assist in coordinating lawsuits challenging any attempt to include pseudoscience in the curriculum, if this should become necessary.

Maryland Citizens for Science would be a group run by Marylanders for Marylanders.

What they need now is several people who are well informed about creation/evolution to help set this organization up. (Right now they don’t have the time to train people who want to learn about this issue, but they will later.) Political organizing experience would be a definite plus – Doug can coordinate the organizing, but he can’t do all the work myself. They also need a distinguished and articulate scientist who knows a lot about creation/evolution to chair the group. Political experience would not be necessary for this position. They need a good website designer. This will be one of our main means of communication with the public (press reports being the other). They need an attorney familiar with nonprofit law to set things up legally if we want to raise money from outside sources. Setting up such groups doesn’t take a lot of money, but it does take some. So let Doug know what you think about this idea, and of course he’s especially interested in hearing from anyone who would like to volunteer to work on this.

Maryland Citizens for Science can be contacted at [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Kansas Board of Education has given preliminary approval to a set of science standards that have a strong anti-evolution bias. This bias becomes apparent literally before page one of the standards, and is apparent in any number of ways. Previously, I blogged on a change in language early in the document that singles out evolution, making it appear to be more dubious than other theories listed. Today, I am going to begin to examine some of the actual standards and benchmarks most affected by the KBOE’s efforts to “improve” the way evolution is taught in their state. This will be the first in a series of posts looking at the specifics, since there are way, way too many objectionable areas to cover in a single post.

I’m going to start with an addition that demonstrates true chutzpah. (For those of you not familiar with the Yiddish term, it is difficult to translate directly, but can best be described as the quality displayed by a man who craps on his neighbor’s doorstep, then knocks and asks to borrow some toilet paper.) Kansas’ contribution to the art of chutzpah is found on page 78 of the standards, which are available as a pdf file on the Kansas Department of Education website:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority).

Jacob Weisberg, editor of the online magazine Slate, has posted this piece on the subject of evolution and religion. In it he argues that evolution and religion are fundamentally incompatible. He gets off to quite a good start:

The president seems to view the conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design as something like the debate over Social Security reform. But this is not a disagreement with two reasonable points of view, let alone two equally valid ones. Intelligent design, which asserts that gaps in evolutionary science prove God must have had a role in creation, may be---as Bob Wright argues---creationism in camouflage. Or it may be---as William Saletan argues---a step in the creationist cave-in to evolution. But whatever it represents, intelligent design is a faith-based theory with no scientific validity or credibility.

See the original for links.

Today’s Nature has an interesting letter suggesting a way to introduce genetics to children–even kids as young as 5, they suggest. Harness pop culture–specifically Harry Potter–in order to introduce basic concepts in genetics.

Thoughts on The Dover Case


The Defendants’ motion for summary judgment and the plaintiffs’ opposition are in. The opposition is so good that I don’t have much to add. Let me just clarify some things first for those who aren’t fluent in legalspeak.

Jerry Coyne has a nice, long, thorough analysis of ID in The New Republic. Not much new for the initiated, but a very good primer for newbies to the issue, touching everything from science (or lack thereof) to the religious roots of ID. (I am not sure, but it may require free registration to read) Did I say it’s long? It’s long.

Fisking Dembski

Yes, proponents of intelligent design understand the eye…but only as one example, not as the basis of a general principle. ‘Oh, yes, we know all about the eye,’ they say (we paraphrase). ‘We’re not going to ask what use half an eye is. That’s simple-minded nonsense.’ So instead, they ask what use half a bacterial flagellum is, and thereby repeat the identical error in a different context. -Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch

Oh man. The Discovery Institute Media Complaints Division really isn’t just going to like what just got broadcast on ABC’s Nightline. Nightline essentially did an exposé on (1) how ID has no scientific support, but (2) has gained national attention through clever marketing. Nightline, unlike most other media which tends to rely on the “dueling quotes” model in a “controversy,” did the obvious thing for once. They contacted their partner U.S. News and World Report, got the list of the top ten biology departments in the country, and got the chair of each department to give their opinion on ID. This seems to have informed the rest of Nightline’s analysis. Good for them.

Well, the Discovery Institute-sponsored translation of Sermonti’s un-informed and dis-informing book, which I reviewed a few weeks ago here on PT, is out. There isn’t much more to say about the translation that I haven’t said already, but an endorsement by Mike Behe on the back cover does stick out, and I think it’s worth discussing here. Behe says:

With charming prose, Sermonti describes biology which contradicts Darwinian expectations: leaf insects appearing in the fossil record before leaves, insects before plants, and biological forms that reflect abstract mathematical expressions. He shows that there are more things in life than are dreamt of in Darwinian philosophy.

I am sure several readers will wonder what the heck this insect stuff is about. So did I, and looked into it. In short, it means that neither Sermonti nor Behe know much about insect and plant evolution, and more significantly, they are not keen to put any effort learning about them. More below.

Nature gets in the act


Nature has an editorial and a news item on Bush's Intelligent Design creationism flap. The striking thing about both of them is how incredibly optimistic they are, although they also emphasize that while the response by the scientific community has been vigorous, it has to continue to be strong and outspoken. I agree with this idea, too, although I regret to say that it would be personally impossible for me to do the political part (can you guess why?):

Many experts say that scientists should get more involved in local politics—especially on school boards, where the conflicting views of scientists and advocates of intelligent design often play out. "Scientists have to be evangelical about explaining what science is, as well as its limitations," says Krauss.

I've put the complete text of both articles on Pharyngula. They are well worth reading. They cheered me up, at least.

News Roundup


Postdocing in NC


I’m in my final year of graduate school and plan to graduate with a Ph.D. in Genetics after spring semester. I recently lined up a postdoc working with Jeff Thorne at NC State. In case you are wondering, postdoc is short for “post-doctoral researcher”, which means that you have a doctorate, but are still working under a more senior scientist or academic, usually a professor at a research institution.

The postdoc is still many months away. I have to complete and defend my dissertation and survive teaching undergrads between now and then. My postdoctoral research will involve either Bayesian methods of estimating evolutionary parameters or developing models of sequence evolution that take into consideration three dimensional protein structure.

Anyway, since I will be moving to Raleigh early next summer, I’d like to put some feelers out about establishing a North Carolina Citizens for Science. Anybody interested?

EvolutionBlog Returns

After taking the last five weeks off, EvolutionBlog has now returned to a regular publication schedule. Updates will be added daily, Monday-Friday, generally in the late afternoon or early evening, Eastern time. Today I have a series of posts about the reactions from various cable news channels to Bush's endorsement of ID. Enjoy!

What’s in a phrase?

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”…the present diversity of living organisms, explained by the biological theory of evolution, or descent with modification of organisms from common ancestors.”

”…the present diversity of living organisms, which the biological theory of evolution, or descent with modification of organisms from common ancestors, seeks to explain.”

The two statements above are, at least superficially, very similar to each other. The phrasing isn’t quite the same, and the second version is a bit more tentative than the first, but they say more or less the same thing. So why am I bringing this up?

The first statement is from an early version of the Kansas State Board of Education science standards; the second is from the draft that they just approved. And it’s just one example of how the KSBOE is trying to cripple the teaching of evolution in their state.

Continue reading (on The Questionable Authority)

Revelations in Kitzmiller v. Dover


Some big revelations in the federal court case on “intelligent design” have just come out (see many previous PT posts on Kitzmiller v. Dover, especially the summary post, “Design on Trial”). The always on-the-ball Lauri Lebo of the York Daily Record has a story out today, “Depositions refer to creationism,” that reports on the origins of the ID policy in Dover, Pennsylvania, based on new court filings.

What court filings, you ask? Well, a brief opposing the defendants’ motion for summary judgment was filed by the plaintiffs this week. In a motion for summary judgement, the defense argues that there is no dispute about the facts, and thus no need for a trial before the judge’s decision. The plaintiffs issue a response that summarizes why there is a substantive dispute in the case, and it therefore should go to trial.

As previously blogged, PT buddy Chris Mooney has a new book out. See blog attention from Thoughts From Kansas, Pharyngula, Science And Politics (Helpful tip: “Buying thrillers written by the other Chris Mooney is not going to help the cause.…”), Stranger Fruit, TPM Cafe, and others.

An adaptation of his chapter “Creation Science 2.0” is now up at American Prospect Online. It is entitled “Inferior Design.” In my previous post I quoted Mooney’s setup for his chapter, which describes what happened to “two talented young political thinkers,” liberal Republicans at Harvard who made the case for reforming Republicanism in the 1966 The Party That Lost Its Head.

In “Inferior Design,” Mooney gives the punchline:

Tangled Bank #34

The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank #34 is now online at Creek Running North. If you haven't heard of the Tangled Bank before, it's a biweekly collection of weblog articles on science—just go there and you'll find links to lots of other science fans and practitioners, all in one convenient place.

My brother was recently kind enough to give The Panda’s Thumb a bit of a plug, and I’m always happy to get publicity. Sadly, though, he sees my participation on PT as evidence of my nerd-dom - possibly because he doesn’t get as worked up about the whole thing as I do. That is a mistake.

It’s not a mistake to claim that I’m a nerd, of course. I am one. Always have been, probably always will be. I’m working on a doctorate in zoology, I have access to not one but two different labs, I can converse more intelligently about the papers in last weeks’ edition of Nature than about whatever the popular TV shows are, the only current TV show I can name is Myth Busters, I build plastic models in my spare time, and I used to play D&D a lot. If you don’t think that is the picture of a nerd, then you are probably worse-off than I am.

Being worried about creationism is different. Here’s why:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority)

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. –Douglas Adams

It’s been a little busy lately, what with entertaining Professor Steve Steve and His Hanger-On, kids on vacation, taking diagnostic exams (rant on that may follow tomorrow, after I find out just how badly I screwed outstandingly well I performed), and other such things. But life is returning to normal, and I can get back to posting semi-topical quotes for you all to nit-pic enjoy.

We’re Back


We’re sorry for being offline for most of the day. We are trying to solve bandwidth issues.

Chris Mooney, the guy who keeps the politicians honest on science of all sorts (see his blog, which we often trackback to), has a book out. It is entitled, The Republican War on Science, and the webpage just went up: The book is not a general attack on Republicanism, but it argues that the “antiscience right wing” of the party is currently setting the agenda, to the detriment of both the party and the country. As Mooney notes, “Encouraging the electoral success of Republican moderates with good credentials on science could potentially have just as constructive an effect as backing Democrats.” (p. 255)

PT denizens will appreciate two chapters the most. Chapter 4, “‘Creation Science’ and Reagan’s ‘Dream’”, reviews Ronald Reagan’s antievolutionism as governor of California, and as president. Chapter 11, “‘Creation Science’ 2.0”, reviews the origin of the “intelligent design” movement. Chapter 11 kicks off with such a stunning opening act, I just have to quote a teaser here. Guess who these two guys are?



Hi y’all,

We’ve made another change to the Thumb. This time it is how y’all mark up your comments. No longer can you use tags with square brackets to give style to you comments. Instead you need to use XML tags. Most of the tags will be the same as you are used to, except you will be using angled brackets instead of square brackets. Here is a short list of tags to get you going until I can put together complete documentation.

  • Links: <url href="…">…</url>
  • Quotes: <quote author="…">…</quote>
  • Bold: <b>…</b>
  • Italics: <i>…</i>
  • Stricken: <s>…</s>
  • Underlined: <u>…</u>

Please feel free to experiment in the comments in this thread, but please preview your comments before making them.

Ya gotta love August

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It looks like the cover of Time magazine this week is “The Evolution Wars.” Hopefully the story will be well-informed; several reporters called NCSE for interviews and data. It has become office lore at NCSE that, while summers are quieter because schools and state legislatures are usually in recess, August can be a big exception. Regular news slows down, so reporters go fishing for “odd” stories, and evolution/creationism certainly fits the bill. Adding to the chaos this time, the director, Eugenie Scott, was off the grid in the bottom of the Grand Canyon all last week, on the semiannual NCSE Grand Canyon Float Trip. This would be the reason why she is not quoted in the copious media coverage of Bush’s comments, and why I got my 1.5 minutes of fame on the Fox News Tony Snow show yesterday.

The Seattle Times has published an editorial on intelligent design titled The philosophy of intelligent design. The editorial focused on the relevant issues surrounding intelligent design namely that it is poor science [1}.

Intelligent design implies that God did it. That may be true. Certainly, millions of Americans believe so. But intelligent design is not a scientific theory because there is no set of facts that would disprove it. No matter what science says tomorrow, a believer in intelligent design could say, “Yes, that’s the way God did it.”

While ID proponents argue that ID is falsifiable, it inevitably comes down to arguments that “evolution could not explain X” arguments based on our ignorance being shown to be erroneous. Since ID fully embraces evolutionary theory, it can thus not be disproven.

The Crap is Hitting the Fan


Hey, has anyone else noticed that the **** is hitting the fan?

Yesterday, two Time Magazine reporters called me to confirm a quote I e-mailed them earlier in the week, about the New Mexican ID crowd’s ignoring new standards and promoting their ID crap anyway. I said “Gee, ‘crap’ sounds a little strong, can we use ‘nonsense’ instead?” The answer was no, however, because the article was already typeset, and ‘nonsense’ has twice the letters of ‘crap.’ So ‘crap’ it is, on newstands tomorrow (Monday).

The Albuquerque Journal’s Paul Logan has been grilling me re ID for a few days, plus many other sources. That’s supposed to be in tomorrow’s Albuquerque Journal.

As Nick mentioned, the History Channel is showing “Ape to Man: the Evolution of Evolution” tonight (Sunday).

Tuesday’s NightLine on ABC will be about creationism, too.

Between the Cardinal and the President, it seems the issue of creationism is evolving legs.

Cheers, Dave

The History Channel, taking a break from their standard formula of 70% World War II coverage, 20% Civil War, and 10% other, has been heavily promoting a new series called “Ape to Man.” The series is going to be about “The Search for the Missing Link”, which is already a bad sign, since (1) evolution is a bush, not a linear ladder, (2) there are, if anything, many “missing links” that could be found for any group, not just one, (3) in human evolution, a great many of the “links” have been found, whether or not any individual hominid fossil is from a population ancestral to modern humans, or from a closely-related side-branch (it is usually impossible to tell, although within Homo there is such a continuum of gradual changes up to modern humans in the known fossils that, IMHO, some of those fossils probably really are directly ancestral populations to Homo sapiens).

PT recently reported that the Discovery Institute has hired the PR firm behind the 2004 “Swiftboat Veterans for ‘Truth’” ad campaign. Based on the following comparison of graphics, it looks like the Noodlers, the devotees of the Flying Spaghetti Monster who are campaigning to get His Noodly Appendage into the Kansas Science Standards, have followed suit.

Design on Trial


As I previously noted, I found myself in the airport last week, reading Scientific American and Discover magazine. I was allegedly on vacation and thus not working for NCSE, but with Bush’s comments all over the news this was proving difficult. This month’s Scientific American had several evolution/creationism bits, and as it turns out, so did Discover. It is Discover‘s 25th year of publication, and they have been reviewing articles from their early issues. This month they discussed the famous 1981-1982 trial McLean v Arkansas, which determined that so-called “creation-science” was unconstitutional establishment of religion in public schools. The cover in February 1982 was “Darwin on Trial”, beating Phillip Johnson to the punch by 9 years.

This reminds me: I recently realized that my writeup for RNCSE on the beginning of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in Dover, Pennsylvania, is now freely available online. The RNCSE piece, entitled “Design on Trial,” (take that, Phil!) is the most thorough summary currently out there on the development of the Dover policy, and the subsequent lawsuit, covering events up to early 2005.

Teach Both Sides. Really.


Just as the storm was breaking over Bush’s “teach both sides” comments last week, I found myself in the airport. While there, I picked up the latest issues of Scientific American and Discover. SciAm evidently is still getting letters from its widely-blogged, April 1 prank, “OK, We give up: We feel so ashamed.”

In the letters section, they reprinted the fake cover they included in the print version of the April issue. Since the fake cover graphic never made it to the web, I figured it would be apropos to upload a scan of it (left) to remind everyone where the “teach both sides” logic naturally leads.

Here is one comment Scientific American got:

Well, this “news” article is hilarious in an uncountable number of ways:

Creation Scientist Challenges Intelligent Design

Saturday, Aug. 6, 2005 Posted: 9:12:30AM EST

One of the world’s leading experts in origin of life research issued a statement on Friday saying that intelligent design should not be taught in schools because it is not science.

(more below the fold)

Father Andrew Greeley who is described as:

Father Greeley Wrote:

One of the most influential Catholic thinkers and writers of our time, priest, sociologist, author and journalist Father Andrew M. Greeley has built an international assemblage of devout fans over a career that spans five decades. He is the author of over 50 best-selling novels and more than 100 works of non-fiction and his writing has been translated into 12 languages. A Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and a Research Associate with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, Father Greeley is a respected scholar whose current research focuses on the Sociology of Religion.

has written a powerful article on the Schoenborn comments.

Hat tip to Frank Schmidt

Father George Coyne is Director of the Vatican Observatory. Writing in the Aug. 6th Tablet, Britain’s Catholic Weekly, Father Coyne, a distinguished astronomer, takes Cardinal Schönborn on head-on. He writes

For those who believe modern science does say something to us about God, it provides a challenge, an enriching challenge, to traditional beliefs about God. God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves. Is such thinking adequate to preserve the special character attributed by religious thought to the emergence not only of life but also of spirit, while avoiding a crude creationism? Only a protracted dialogue will tell. But we should not close off the dialogue and darken the already murky waters by fearing that God will be abandoned if we embrace the best of modern science.

The full essay is here (free registration required).

Hat Tip:Bob Park

News Roundup


The American Institute of Biological Science has issued a statement Criticizing the President’s comments:

“Intelligent design is not a scientific theory and must not be taught in science classes,” said AIBS president Dr. Marvalee Wake, a perspective shared by President Bush’s science advisor, Dr. John Marburger III. On Tuesday, August 2, Marburger stated in an interview that “evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology” and “intelligent design is not a scientific concept.”

The committee that wrote Kansas’ new science standards have voted to distance themselves from the revisions being championed by the State School Board.

Most members of the committee that wrote Kansas’ science standards asked Tuesday to have their names removed from revised standards that encourage criticism of evolution.

The committee endorsed a 14-page critique of everything the State Board of Education’s conservative majority added in June and July.

The wording critical of evolution “parallels the language of the Intelligent Design Network and Discovery Institute,” the committee wrote. “Critical analysis of evolutionary theory is a repeated theme of both organizations’ Web sites and literature. This critical analysis has no basis in science or science education.”

Most of the news this week concerning evolution has dealt with President Bush’s statements supporting adding “intelligent design” to education. Of course other things are going on in our world.

You can send us links to news stories at [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

Ah, once again, the Evil Atheist Conspiracy of Judges is censoring innocent, decent people who are just trying to make the world a better place. That’s how Christopher Levenick sees it, anyway. Levenick, who is not a lawyer or a scientist, argues that

Having found that disestablishment applies to all levels of government, the modern courts work hard at suppressing any nonmaterialistic account of human origins. For its part, the ACLU has abandoned its commitment to defending the free speech of those who teach alternative theories and now actively roots out any teacher who dissents from Darwinian orthodoxy.

Of course, this is nothing short of a lie. Modern courts do not “work” at “suppressing any nonmaterialistic account” of anything anywhere. The Free Exercise Clause, the Free Speech Clause, and many state constitutions and laws, protect any religious person’s right to say absolutely anything about a “nonmaterialistic” (i.e., supernatural) account of anything whatsoever at any time and in any appropriate place. By appropriate, of course, I mean, that so long as he is not disrupting the classroom, any religious student has a well-protected Constitutional right to defend his views as to the supernatural origins of human beings in any government classroom in this country. (And the ACLU has been a reliable defender of students who do so.) Likewise, any religious teacher has the right to express his religious views as long as they are expressed on his own time and not with my money.

Allow me to say this again so that it is perfectly clear: nobody is being suppressed at all. What is being stopped is the attempt by preachers of religion to use my tax dollars and the government classrooms that belong to all—religious and non-religious, Christian and Jewish and Hindu alike—to propagate religious doctrine in the guise of science. Mr. Levenick believes that he has the right to take away people’s money and use it to teach his religion to the children of other people. And when a court dares to stand up and say no, Levenick calls that suppression. How disappointingly common. And how embarrassing to a large portion of the American people that he would call this backwards viewpoint “serious Christian[ity].”

Note, too, that Levenick doesn’t even limit his assertion that religion is being “suppress[ed]” to the classroom context! He seems to be saying that courts are actively censoring people who simply assert their belief in creationism, anywhere and at any time. This is simply the taunting of a demagogue. Shame on the Wall Street Journal for giving space to such an irresponsible and fraudulent assertion.

Hat tip: Claremont Institute

I was reminded today of Humpty Dumpty, who tells Alice,

“When I use a word…it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Bell’s Response


In the course of my recent series of posts on the 2005 Mega Creation Conference in Lynchburg, VA, I described a talk I attended given by Phillip Bell. Bell was attempting to explain to his audience why the extensive collection of hominid fossils that have been dug up over the years do not, in fact, provide anything of comfort to evolutionists. After the talk I engaged in a brief discussion with Bell about some of the points he made in his talk. I recounted our conversation in the fourth entry in my series.

Bell was not pleased by my unflattering description of him, and has posted a reply here.

I would like to respond to a few points that he made.

Recently, we noted that the Discovery Institute was bemoaning their lack of funds to support their anti-evolution activities. That claim was factually wrong. In fact, it turns out that over the past year they had enough money to hire a very high-profile public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts (CRC), to spread their message. This is the same firm that represents AT&T, the canonical American mega-corporation, among a long list of clients.

Other notable CRC clients include the “Contract for America”, Parents Television Council, Regnery Publishing (the firm that published Phillip Johnson’s book, Darwin On Trial), and the high-profile client of the 2004 USA presidential campaign, “Swift Boat Vets for Truth”.

CRC has earned its pay from the DI CRSC this year. CRC arranged the showing of the film, The Privileged Planet, at the Smithsonian Institution, and provided the New York Times with an op-ed piece by Cardinal Schoenborn, an event that now seems more and more to be a Discovery Institute publicity stunt.

Scientists base their work upon the content of reality, the facts of evolutionary biology and the productive and useful research that results from evolutionary concepts. The Discovery Institute instead appears to think large-scale media operations and public relations stunts determine the content of science. That’s what happens when you don’t have facts on your side. Hopefully, no amount of public relations expertise can substitute for that.

(Thanks to Andrea Bottaro and other PT bar crew for useful suggestions.)

Paul Krugman on ID

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I was wondering when he’d get around to this. Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today writes a withering critique of ID, which he ties into other fake academic “controversies” that have been spawned, not within academia, but from without by the use money and politics.

Krugman begins:

I’d like to nominate Irving Kristol, the neoconservative former editor of The Public Interest, as the father of “intelligent design.” No, he didn’t play any role in developing the doctrine. But he is the father of the political strategy that lies behind the intelligent design movement - a strategy that has been used with great success by the economic right and has now been adopted by the religious right.

Here I might actually take exception. Irving Kristol and other neoconservatives probably had a lot more to do with ID than Krugman thinks. See Origin of the Specious for example. But Krugman’s point is that the ID movement is just following a political strategy that’s been successfully applied elsewhere when the science isn’t on your side: Just throw a bunch of money at some pseudo-academic think-tanks (e.g. Discovery Institute), have them spend their time producing sciency sounding stuff that won’t withstand informed scrutiny, yet fools the public, and then have them go on a media blitz promoting their ideas as the next best thing since sliced bread. And, voila!, you’ve got your own tailor-made controversy.

Now the reason why I’ve been wondering when Krugman would get around to addressing ID is that he’s no stranger to evolution. Whatever you think about him, even if you deplore his economics and politics, the fact is that he’s a self-professed “evolution groupie”. As such, he’s probably read more evolutionary biology texts than the whole ID movement put together. (I know, that’s not a very high bar.) Anyway, there are some things he’s written in the past about evolution and economics that are worth reading that I’ll link to on the flip-side…

Spinning Libelously


Yesterday, Focus on the Family issued a press release stating how pleased they were that Genie Scott has clarified statements she made about an “intelligent design” proponent in the California Wild. This comes on the heels of similiar cheering by the Discovery Institute, WorldNetDaily, and Quality [sic] Science Education for All.

With this chorus of cheers, you’d expect that Scott’s clarification admitted to some serious mistakes undercutting her entire article and our campaign to protect and promote science education. So what exactly did she clarify?

ID = Postmodern Creationism


(Note: This is the first post in the new “Evolution of Creationism” category. Since the “intelligent design” movement actively obfuscates its creationist origins, tracing the true origins of “intelligent design” is crucial to understanding what ID is really about, and to understanding the dire peril ID faces in the upcoming court case [u]Kitzmiller v. Dover[/u].)

Earlier today, Steve Reuland discussed an excellent Washington Post essay (“But Is It Intelligent?”) making the connection between the Intelligent Design Creationism and postmodernism. As discussed in the comments to Steve’s post, it wasn’t surprising that the Washington Post picked up on the postmodernism connection, given that it was highlighted in the Post‘s profile of Phillip Johnson back in May 2005.

But if you are looking for slam-dunk proof that ID is just creationism in a postmodern, relativist tuxedo, look no further than Nancy Pearcey‘s interview with Phillip Johnson in the June 1990 Bible-Science Newsletter.* Speaking of his upcoming book, Darwin on Trial, Johnson told Pearcey,

“We must not forget that the controversy over Darwinism has a sociological or political dimension. Philosophers of science have developed a very relativist approach to knowledge claims. It is now regarded as a commonplace in the field that there is a “sociology of knowledge” and that an intimate relationship exists between knowledge and power [sic**]. What is presented as objective knowledge is frequently an ideology that serves the interests of some powerful group. The curious thing is that the sociology-of-knowledge approach has not yet been applied to Darwinism. That is basically what I do in my manuscript.” Phillip Johnson, p. 10 in: Nancy Pearcey (1990). “Anti-Darwinism Comes to the University: An Interview with Phillip Johnson.” Bible-Science Newsletter. 28(6), pp. 7-11. June 1990.

Game, set, match.

I just got around to reading the May issue of Optics and Photonics News, and I found there an article, “Americans Love Science, but Don’t Know Much about It,” by Tom Price ( Mr. Price notes that 90 % of Americans (as opposed to 45 % of Europeans) say they are interested in science and believe that science is a good thing, likely to make life better.

That was the good news.

Santorum vs. Santorum


Over at Sciencegate, Chris Mooney catches Rick Santorum flip-flopping on whether or not to teach ID. Though he’s said before, in no uncertain terms, that he thinks ID should be taught in schools, now he just wants to teach “the problems and holes in the theory of evolution”.

Of course what this really means is teaching ID–which consists almost entirely of arguments against evolution–more or less as it stands now. The problem, as always, is that these arguments, when they aren’t outright false or misleading, consist of exaggerating unknowns and focusing on areas where our knowledge is currently thin, all while ignoring the larger body of evidence. It is basically an exercise in trying to convince students that evolution is far more deserving of doubt than biologists would think legitimate. How this differs from simply “teaching ID” isn’t at all clear.

As an astute commenter points out, this isn’t really Santorum’s flip-flop, it’s the ID movement’s flip-flop, and Santorum is just parroting their latest talking point.

WaPo on the Pres.

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Today’s Washington Post has an excellent editorial about Bush’s recent remarks about teaching ID. In particular, it makes the point that antievolutionists, consisting mostly of people on the right side of the political spectrum, tend to advocate a kind of mushy-headed relativism when it comes to the so-called origins debate:

FOR MORE THAN 30 years, the conservative movement in America has been doing battle with the forces of relativism, the “do your own thing” philosophy that eschews objective truth and instead sees all beliefs and all personal choices as equally valid. Instead, philosophically minded American conservatives have argued that there is such a thing as objectivity and that some beliefs really are better, truer or more accurate than others. Given this history, it seems appropriate to ask: Is President Bush really a conservative?

Indeed, just how conservative is it to advocate “teaching the controversy” when scientists consistently point out that there is no controversy, calling criticism or dismissal of your ideas “viewpoint discrimination”, or complaining that it’s a violation of teachers’ “free speech” rights when requiring them to actually, you know, teach what’s in the curriculum rather than insert their own personal points of view? This is the sort of behavior that would make conservatives scoff in disbelief if the Left did it in defense of, say, afrocentrism. And yet ironically, pushing an ultra-conservative worldview is the raison d’être of the entire ID movement, as laid out in the Wedge Document. It would seem that this brave, new worldview doesn’t recognize any objective truth at all, just various points of view, each of which should be regarded as equally valid, and anyone who denounces some claims as wrong or unsubstantiated is to be accused of dogmatism and persecution.

Of course I don’t think that the purveyors of ID really think this way, it’s just a deceitful and hypocritical marketing strategy. Because after all, ID proponents may not believe in truth, but they certainly believe in Truthâ„¢.

The WaPo article continues:

But the proponents of intelligent design are not content with participating in a philosophical or religious debate. They want their theory to be accepted as science and to be taught in ninth-grade biology classes, alongside the theory of evolution. For that, there is no basis whatsoever: The nature of the “evidence” for the theory of evolution is so overwhelming, and so powerful, that it informs all of modern biology. To pretend that the existence of evolution is somehow still an open question, or that it is one of several equally valid theories, is to misunderstand the intellectual and scientific history of the past century.

This is spot on. And it will most likely elicit complaints of bias, misrepresentation, dogmatism, or accusations that the Post is ignoring the case for ID, as Bruce Chapman recently whined. In Chapman’s world, there is his viewpoint, and there is the opposing viewpoint, and the media’s only job is to present both sides. Just like a good relativist.

The National Science Teachers Association has issued a statement in response to President Bush’s comments about teaching “intelligent design”. The association is “the world’s largest organization of science educations”.

“We stand with the nation’s leading scientific organizations and scientists, including Dr. John Marburger, the president’s top science advisor, in stating that intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design has no place in the science classroom,” said Gerry Wheeler, NSTA Executive Director. …

“It is simply not fair to present pseudoscience to students in the science classroom,” said NSTA President Mike Padilla. “Nonscientific viewpoints have little value in increasing students’ knowledge of the natural world.”

The American Geophysical Union has also issued a statement. The union represents “43,000 Earth and space scientists”.

“Scientific theories, like evolution, relativity and plate tectonics, are based on hypotheses that have survived extensive testing and repeated verification,” [Fred] Spilhaus [Executive Director of the American Geophysical Union] says. “The President has unfortunately confused the difference between science and belief. It is essential that students understand that a scientific theory is not a belief, hunch, or untested hypothesis.”

“Ideas that are based on faith, including ‘intelligent design,’ operate in a different sphere and should not be confused with science. Outside the sphere of their laboratories and science classrooms, scientists and students alike may believe what they choose about the origins of life, but inside that sphere, they are bound by the scientific method,” Spilhaus said.

Don’t forget to check out what the blogsphere is saying.

Anniversary Moth


I found this beige moth today resting on the beige weather stipping separating my front door from the jam. Can anybody identify it?


Banded Tussock Moth (Halysidota tessellaris)

You can see a larger picture with more discussion at my blog.


Thanks to DougT and PvM for the identification.

I am delighted that I finally have an excuse to link to one of my favorite blogs, The Comics Curmudgeon, for his quick work with this pathetic B.C. strip.

In its latest come-on for money, the Discovery Institute makes a claim:

Our budget is a fraction of what pro-evolution groups have to spend, and the mainstream media are largely hostile and biased on this issue.

So I thought that I would have a look at the Form 990s for 2003 of the DI and the pro-science 501(3)(c) that engages the DI, the National Center for Science Education.

In 2003, the Discovery Institute reported $4,233,814.00 total revenue, $3,544,031.00 in end-of-year assets, and $2,499,077.00 total expenses. Of those expenses, $338,977.00 went to officers and directors, $627,285.00 went to other salaries and wages, and $122,809.00 went to travel. (In 2002, I noted that the DI could cut its travel budget in half and fund a research study. I’ll note that $60K is the level of funding for some NSF postdoctoral research fellowships.)

For comparison, let’s look at the figures in 2003 for the NCSE.

In 2003, the NCSE reported $659,270.00 total revenue, $540,943.00 in end-of-year assets, and $658,841.00 total expenses. Of those expenses, $122,040.00 went to officers and directors, $230,380.00 went to other salaries and wages, and $16,803.00 went to travel.

The DI is composed of more than just the CRSC , though, I’m sure someone will point out. But the claim that the CRSC is financially at a disadvantage seems bogus to me. First, to make any sense of the claim made at all, one would have to go beyond NCSE’s budget and include groups whose stated purposes are far broader than defending the teaching of evolutionary biology in science classrooms. In that case, the same argument that would be deployed to say that a fraction of the DI’s reported budget is involved in the EvC issue would also apply to any group outside of NCSE that opposes them as well. It’s tough to figure out what might be meant by the vague basket of “pro-evolution groups”, but mostly groups that have something to do with evolutionary biology simply aren’t putting much, if any, effort into combatting antievolutionist outfits like the DI CRSC. That job primarily rests with NCSE, whose budget is, as the official tax documents relate, much less than that of the DI CRSC, contrary to the original claim. Second, the DI CRSC is but one of many antievolution organizations whose malign purposes are backed by big cash flows. Look at Answers in Genesis, who reported total revenues of $9,016,228.00 in 2003. There are many antievolution groups raking it in, but only one NCSE.

In response to George W. Bush's statement that he supports teaching Intelligent Design creationism in our public schools, I wrote my own reply, and also volunteered to collect links to other people's criticisms.

It was a little bit overwhelming. My site got 12,500 visits yesterday, and I was sent over 159 179 links to weblogs (I culled out some; if the post wasn't specifically addressing Bush's ID comments, but was instead more of a generic anti-Bush complaint, I didn't include it). More were still coming in this morning, but I've had to draw the line and stop updating, unless that's all I wanted to do for the rest of the day.

These entries come from all over the political spectrum, left and right, and even includes one Intelligent Design creationism blog that disapproves of Bush's "premature" (yeah, that's right, keep waiting and waiting…) announcement. Most of them are not generally about science, but again come from all over the spectrum of people's interests: blogs about politics, humor, social concerns, feminism, economics, literature, or just plain writing about life. They all have one thing in common: they agree that George W. Bush's attempts to stuff bad theology into our children's educations is a stupid idea.

Since these are all weblogs that are mostly on the informed side of the creation-evolution debate, I'm echoing all those links here on the Thumb.

The Panda's Thumb
Doing Things with Words
Stranger Fruit
Thoughts from Kansas
From the Rachel
The World-Wide Rant
Yowling from the Fencepost
My Corner of the Universe
Unscrewing the Inscrutable
the tife and limes
Applied Theology
Dharma Bums
Chris C. Mooney
The dubious biologist
Cosmic Variance
The rude pundit
Science and Sarcasm
Leiter Reports
Newton's Binomium
tongue but no door
Leaves on the line
The Polite Liberal
Song of Myself
Betty the Crow
Kele's Atheistic and Evolutionary Journey
Dynamics of Cats
10,000 Monkeys and a Camera
Philosophy of Biology
A Man with a Ph.D.
Ramblings from the Desert
Obsidian Wings
Stephanie's Sweet Blog
Backseat driving
The blue bus is calling us…
…of Cabbages and Kings
The Huffington Post
The Drunken Lagomorph
De rerum natura
Stephen Laniel's Unspecified Bunker
false cognate
Stoopid Stuff
Cider Press Hill
Hank Fox
The Light of Reason
Andrew Sullivan
Father Dan
Power Liberal
Politburo Diktat
The Van Halen Radiation Belts
Project Morningstar
Nomadic Thoughts
Mike the Mad Biologist
A Voyage to Arcturus
Sadly, No!
Philosophy, Practice, and Politics
Frothing at the Mouth
About Atheism
Wolverine Tom
Brown Bag Blog
Jones Alley Magazine
Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal
Marginal Utility
Sandt's Observations
Balloon Juice
Crooks and Liars
Quantum Pontiff
and meanwhile, gregor mendel labored in obscurity
Whiskey Bar
The Continuing Adventures of Starman
She Flies With Her Own Wings
Broken Nails
The Sleepy Sage
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Nathan Newman
Upon Further Review…
Left I on the News
Proceed at your own risk
reality based
Shakespeare's Sister
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
Mixing Memory
Language Games and Miscellaneous Arbitrary Marks
Telic Thoughts
Gay Orbit
Don Surber
Right Wing Nut House
Changing Places
Ah Clem
The Devil's Robot
Abnormal Interests
The Liberal Avenger
Living the Scientific Life
The Carpetbagger Report
Decrepit Old Fool
The Examining Room of Dr Charles
The Loom
Minnesota Politics
Three-Toed Sloth
Cinematic Rain
Evolving Thoughts
Pooflingers Anonymous
Strange Doctrines
Tiberius and Gaius Speaking...
Poor Richard's Anorak
Universal Acid
Peace Tree Farm
Desert Rat Democrat
Byzantium's Shores
Sappho's Breathing
God is for suckers!
Lance Mannion
The Boxter Babe Blog
The Quality Control Alliance
Blog, Jvstin Style
Opinions you should have
Cosmic Log
Uncertain Principles
Daily Kos
Ruminating Dude
History of Science
The Uncredible Hallq
Church of the Front Porch
Dump Michele Bachmann
10,000 Birds
I'll explain it when you are older
Immanuel Rant
Blog of the moderate left
The Cardboard Box Mansion
Science and Politics
The Binary Circumstance
The Corpus Callosum
skippy the bush kangaroo
Bad Astronomy Blog
Respectful Insolence
Solipsistic Scribbling
Dubbings and Diversions
Roger L. Simon
Right Thoughts
Bitch Ph.D.
Buridan's Ass
Big Brass Blog
Steve Gilliard's News Blog
Threading the Needle
Ancarett's Abode
Amicus Rationis
Infidels of Every Denomination
Creek Running North
Axis of Evel Knievel
The Raw Story

Comments on Comments


We’re considering making things a bit easier on ourselves here by moving to a user registration system for comments. How many of you simply can’t be bothered to register to leave comments here at PT?

We’re looking specifically at the TypeKey system.

Over on his weblog, William Dembski has a post making reference to an article on a means of “fingerprinting” textured surfaces, like paper. It is an interesting article. But look what Dembski has to say about it:

The Logic of Fingerprinting

Check out the following article in the July 28th, 2005 issue of Nature, which clearly indicates how improbability arguments can be used to eliminate randomness and infer design: “‘Fingerprinting’ documents and packaging: Unique surface imperfections serve as an easily identifiable feature in the fight against fraud.” I run through the logic here in the first two chapters of The Design Inference.

Well, it is a little troubling how to proceed from this point. Did Dembski fail to read the article? Is Dembski simply spouting something that ID cheerleaders can nod sagely about without regard to whether it happens to accord with reality? Whatever excuse might be given, the plain fact of the matter is that the procedure and principles referred to in the short PDF Dembski cites have nothing whatever to do with Dembski’s “design inference”, and cannot be forced into the framework Dembski claims.

(Continue reading… on

News Roundup


The Columbia Missourian is doing a series on Evolution.

(7/31) Much ado about evolution

Rep. Cynthia Davis hurries along the basement corridors, looking for the hearing room where she will defend her bill calling for evolution criticism in Missouri textbooks. She peeks around the door and focuses on the back two rows, where her witnesses fidget while waiting to present their case.

Davis smiles and heads to greet them. All but one in her crowd are members of two home-schooled families who drove as long as nine hours to change public education.

It’s 8:05 a.m. on May 8, one week before the end of the legislative session. Davis completes the handshakes and settles into her seat before the House Committee for Elementary and Secondary Education. She looks straight ahead, confident, as committee members lounge around the room, exchanging pleasantries and refilling their coffees. The chairwoman of the committee, Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis, calls the meeting to order.

(7/31) How the evolution debate evolved

1987 The U.S. Supreme Court rules creation science in public schools unconstitutional in Edwards v. Aguillard, striking down the Louisiana “Creation Act” as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

1989 The Foundation for Thoughts and Ethics publishes “Of Pandas and People,” intended as a textbook supplement criticizing evolution and promoting intelligent design.

(8/1) Science teachers use care when teaching ‘e-word’

The students in Kerri Graham’s sophomore biology class habitually slump into their seats, apparently unfazed that they are at the bull’s-eye of the intelligent design movement, whose “teach the controversy” slogan intends to rile up high school classrooms just like this one. Intelligent design theorists contend that a purposeful creator is responsible for the beginning and diversification of life on the planet. But these sleepy teenagers care more about reaching driving age than the age of the Earth.

(8/2) Faith & Reason

The Discovery Institute, which, according to its Web site, operates with the “belief in God-given reason and the permanency of human nature,” consistently scoffs at accusations of a religious agenda. But the institute’s senior fellow, mathematician and philosopher William Dembski, gives credit to creation science guru Henry Morris for stirring evolution opposition and says intelligent design is much closer to creationism than to evolution.

Charles Krauthammer has this article at Time.

Creationism at the Geological Society of America


There will be a session on creationism presented at this year’s GSA Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City (October 16–19, 2005). “T103. Is it Science? Strategies for Addressing Creationism in the Classroom and the Community” has 16 presentations from a range of science professionals. There are some familiar names (Meert, Scott, Wise) but happily more unfamiliar ones. Hopefully there will be a Proceedings published.

I opened comments after some hesitation. Please restrict yourselves to comments about the conference abstracts, or your teaching experience. Off topic comments will be deleted.

Match the Kinds

  • And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.
  • Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.
  • Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth.

(Genesis 7:1-3)

Can you find the kinds in this educational game? Noah’s Ark

(Via Red State Rabble)

Bush endorses teaching ‘intelligent design’ theory in schools

BY RON HUTCHESON Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - President Bush waded into the debate over evolution and “intelligent design” Monday, saying schools should teach both theories on the creation and complexity of life.


Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over “creationism,” a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.

On Monday the president said he favors the same approach for intelligent design “so people can understand what the debate is about.”

Bradenton Herald

The full report on the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools’ Bible course curriculum is now available from the Texas Freedom Network. The report was written by Mark Chancey, a professor of Biblical studies at Southern Methodist University. As Chancey notes, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has quite a select group of supporters and they’ve managed to compile an entire curriculum on how to teach about the Bible without a single Biblical scholar on either their 8 member Board of Directors or their 50+ member Advisory Committee. They do, however, have Mr. and Mrs. Chuck Norris on that committee, so no doubt they’ll have great material on spinning back kicks and bad movies. The list of folks who endorse this curriculum is staggering and they include everyone from the American Center for Law and Justice to Kent Hovind’s Creation Science Evangelism, which hardly boosts their credibility.

One of the interesting things that Chancey notes is that the entire curriculum is written from a peculiarly Protestant viewpoint. One would think that a non-sectarian and informational rather than devotional class about the Bible would include, for instance, an examination of the history of the development of the Bible, the different versions of the Bible in use by Christian churches around the world, the Jewish perspective on the Biblical texts that were written in Hebrew and how they developed, and so forth. But this curriculum contains virtually none of that information:

Hello everybody. I thought I should bring you all up to date on my travels. I have just visited Hawai’i, where I did some lecturing, research and field work. Naturally, everything I encountered supported evolution and modern biology. I’m still looking for evidence of creation, but to no avail. The reason I went to Hawai’i is that Carolus Linnaeus, the founder of modern taxonomy, believed that Eden was on a large island in the middle of an ocean, and considered it might be the Pacific. Since there is no bigger island than Hawai’i in the Pacific, if you exclude all those inconvenient islands in south east Asia and the southern Pacific (Australia, where annoying philosophers come from, and New Zealand, which has - or had before feral cats arrived and possums from Australia were let loose - some of the most extraordinary fauna anywhere). I didn’t find any evidence of Linnaeus’ Eden, though. Anything that is like the fauna of the rest of the world has been introduced in the past 1500 years by humans, who aren’t too bright.

For example, they introduced mongooses (mongeese?) to the islands to eradicate the rats that were introduced, probably by the Polynesian ancestors of native Hawai’ians, as well as European sailing ships. Only problem is that the mongoose is a diurnal (daytime) hunter, and rats are active at night (nocturnal). They sure eradicated a lot of native ground nesting birds, though… which left more habitat for the rats. So it all worked out.

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