September 2005 Archives

Why didn’t they tell us?

| 35 Comments | 2 TrackBacks

Due to the Kitzmiller case, it is now becoming widely known that the modern “intelligent design” movement originated as nothing more than a new label for 1980’s creationism. The intermediate form was Of Pandas and People, which was originally written as an explicitly creationist book, but when published in 1989, became the first book to systematically use the term “intelligent design.”

Science Friday


Chris Mooney will be on NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow, reporting live on the Dover case. The show starts at 2 PM EST, which is less than 30 minutes. Don’t miss it.

Desperately Dissing Avida

| 63 Comments | 3 TrackBacks

Writing for the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin has dissed evolutionary research performed using the Avida research platform. (Luskin is a new “program officer” for the DI.) As I wrote last year, computer models employing evolutionary mechanisms are a thorn (or maybe a dagger?) in the side of ID creationists. The models allow testing evolutionary hypotheses that in “real” life would take decades to accomplish or are impractical to run in wet lab or field. They also allow close control of relevant variables – mutation rates, kinds of mutations, the topography of the fitness landscape, and a number of others, enabling parametric studies of the effects of those variables on evolutionary dynamics. A number of publications using Avida (see also here) have established that it is a valuable complement to wet lab and field studies in doing research on evolutionary processes.

Well, it had to happen at some point. With the vast experience accumulated in their now decade-long attempts to pass fake science for real, and probably inspired by Bill Dembski’s recent appearance on the Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show”, it seems that the Discovery Institute has now decided to issue their very own “fake news”.

During my recent visit to New Mexico, one of my hosts, Dave Thomas (standing to the side of the sign in the picture - I’m the one on top of the sign), got me very interested in some curious fossils that he said “blew creationist flood geology right out of the water.” When I encouraged him to publish these finds, Dave asked me if I wanted to blog about it here. And so, I spent part of my tour of New Mexico going with Dave and some of his family and friends to the Bisti Badlands near Farmington. And there, in the rugged beauty of the De-Na-Zin Wilderness, deep in Navajo country, I helped find definitive proof that creationists are really confused about geology! Join us, then, for the story of my exciting adventure to the past, and our search for the mysterious Fossil-Fossils of De-Na-Zin!


As a measure of the desperation felt by the Discovery Institute over the case in Dover, one could hardly find a better metric than this dishonest attack piece by John West on Barbara Forrest, an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the case and the author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse. West makes it appear as though Judge Jones has declared that she is an unreliable witness. In fact, the opposite is true, but some background is necessary to understand what happened.

The TMLC attorneys made what is known as a Daubert motion to prevent Dr. Forrest from being able to testify at the trial. It’s called a Daubert motion because the controlling precedent for what type of expert scientific testimony is admissable in court is Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals. In cases where experts are called as witnesses, one side may object to the witnesses of the other side based upon the standards in this case, essentially arguing that they are not qualified or bring no specialized knowledge to the case. The TMLC attempted such a tactic regarding Barbara Forrest and the DI cites a portion of the courtroom discussion concerning a portion of her expert report:

Things were hoppin’ last night in Cedar Falls for DI fellow Guillermo Gonzalez’s talk. I have about 6 pages of notes from the lecture and subsequent Q&A period here, so if yu’re interested in the nitty-gritty, read below. For anyone who just wants the newspaper version, I’ll try to provide a link to the story when it’s published. My thoughts are in italics below.

Edited to add: Not chance, but design, ISU professor says from the Des Moines Register (thanks, Jason Spaceman); ISU professor argues for intelligent design, from the Ames Tribune.

Additionally, wanted to add that the next Sigma Xi lecture, Thursday, Oct. 27, will present the other side of the ID argument, when John Staver, professor of science education and director of the Center for Science Education at Kansas State University, will speak on “Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: It’s Time to Saddle Up and Draw a Hard Line.”

Brainiac testifies


Howdy from Harrisburg! I would like to apologize for shirking my blogging responsibilities regarding the Kitzmiller case – NCSE is consulting for the plaintiffs, talking to the media, and hopefully blogging, but doing the first two has excluded the latter until now. We did get a chance to do some podcasting, which I believe Wes has put up.

Today court is starting at 9:30 rather than 9:00 so I have a bit of time. All I wanted to say for the moment was GO READ “Have you ever really looked at intelligent design?” by Mike Argento. This is the best short summary that I’ve seen of Rob Pennock’s fantastic expert testimony on Wednesday.

For more excellent coverage, see Dover Biology at the always-on-top of things York Daily Record, particularly Lauri Lebo’s story “Witness bashes intelligent design.” See also Mike Argento’s blog commentary at

Remember growing up and playing pretend games as a child? Remember the geeky kid who would invent excuses as to why no negative consequence would ever touch him? “I had the super-special armor coat on” or “I had levitator shoes and you didn’t notice.” Yeah, you remember.

Ever wonder what sort of job awaited him in the grown-up world? Well, now he’s writing prose for the Discovery Institute. Here’s a bit from the press release:

Building on the mischaracterizations of the first day’s witness, the ACLU continued to put an imposter version of intelligent design on trial in the second day of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial.

“I know what intelligent design is, and it sure isn’t what they’re talking about in Harrisburg,” said Casey Luskin, the program officer for public policy and legal affairs for Discovery Institute. Discovery Institute is the nation’s leading think-tank researching intelligent design.

We’ve wondered how the DI would take ID going down the tubes, and now we know: it’s full-blown hallucinatory denial of the bleeding obvious. Eddie Haskell would be proud.

During his testimony, Rob Pennock used this quote in court in support of the proposition that explicitly religious concerns are part of the substance of ID. The quote is from Nancy Pearcey, in her recent book “Total Truth”. I had not seen it before, and it definitely deserves more attention:

“[D]esign theory demonstrates that Christians can sit in the supernaturalist’s ‘chair’ even in their professional lives, seeing the cosmos through the lens of a comprehensive biblical worldview.” (Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth pp. 204-205)

Pennock argued that for ID proponents, intelligent design is intended to scientifically prove the supernatural, moving it into the realm of scientific fact.

Disingenuous Institute


The Philadelphia Inquirer ran two amusing pieces relating to the Kitzmiller case today. They were amusing in wryly different ways.

Sartwell on Dover


Today's Los Angeles Times features this op-ed by Crispin Sartwell, a political science professor at Dickinson College. His children attend the Dover area public schools.

Most of the essay is excellent. Sartwell argues that ID has no merit as a scientific theory and that it should be taught in science classes as a historical curiosity, like alchemy or astrology.

But in the last paragraph he turns around and ends up supporting the School Board mandated statement in support of ID. Very weird. I present a full analysis in this post over at EvolutionBlog.

Fishing for Architeuthis, the giant squid


Lots of people have been emailing me with the news about this filmed sequence showing a giant squid snagged on a deep line. Did you know that the paper is freely available online (pdf)? It's very cool. The researchers were jigging for squid with a 1km long line, snagged one by a tentacle, and then watched for the next four hours as it struggled to get free.

The squid's initial attack was captured on camera (figure 3a) and shows the two long tentacles characteristic of giant squid wrapped in a ball around the bait. The giant squid became snagged on the squid jig by the club of one of these long tentacles. More than 550 digital images were taken over the subsequent 4 h which record the squid's repeated attempts to detach from the jig. For the first 20 min, the squid disappeared from view as it actively swam away from the camera system. For the next 80 min, the squid repeatedly approached the line, spreading its arms widely (e.g. figure 3b) or enveloping the line. During this period the entire camera system was drawn upwards by the squid from 900 m to a depth of 600 m (figure 3g). Over the subsequent 3 h, the squid and system slowly returned to the planned deployment depth of 1000 m. For the last hour, the line was out of the camera frame, suggesting that the squid was attempting to break free by swimming (finning and/or jetting) away from the system. Four hours and 13 min after becoming snagged, the attached tentacle broke, as seen by sudden slackness in the line (figure 3c versus d ). The severed tentacle remained attached to the line and was retrieved with the camera system (figure 3e). The recovered section of tentacle was still functioning, with the large suckers of the tentacle club repeatedly gripping the boat deck and any offered fingers (figure 3f ).

I've put the figure they describe online. It's a thing of beauty: an 8meter (26 foot) beast attacking the bait. Remind me not to go swimming below 500m, OK?

(figure on Pharyngula)

A few anniversary musings.


On 27 September 1905, a paper was published in the journal “Annalen der Physik”. The paper, titled, “Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?” (“Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?”), was only three pages long. It was the fourth published by the same author that year. None of the four papers was immediately embraced by the scientific community. In fact, most were initially considered to be fairly controversial. At the time, the author of the papers had neither a doctoral degree nor an academic position. He had a few prior papers to his credit, but was essentially an unknown in the field of physics.

Within a relatively short period of time, those four papers would be recognized as having revolutionized the field of physics. The author, who was a relatively obscure Swiss patent clerk in 1905, would become one of the icons of our time.

Continue reading (at The Questionable Authority):

Blogging the Dover Trial


Here’s another excellent resource for timely updates on the Dover trial. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has set up a blog with frequent updates on what is going on in the courtroom. Jonathan Witt of the Discovery Institute is also blogging live from the trial on the DI blog. His post on Ken Miller’s testimony yesterday was rather off the mark, as one would expect. He makes the superficially compelling argument that Ken Miller argued both that ID was not falsifiable and was falsified. But this ignores a fairly obvious logical distinction. Witt writes:

In friendly questioning from the plaintiff, Miller asserted that the theory of intelligent design was “not a testable theory in any sense” and so wasn’t science. Later, however, Miller argued that science has tested Michael Behe’s bacterial flagellum argument and falsified it, by pointing to a micro-syringe called the Type III Secretory System, and arguing that it could have served as a functional step on the gradual, Darwinian pathway to the full flagellar motor.

Did the journalists covering the trial notice the contradiction? Miller tried to provide a fig leaf for it, but the fig leaf was itself a misrepresentation. Miller said Behe’s argument was in every respect a negative argument (and, further, that ALL the leading design theorists’ arguments he was aware of are purely negative, with nothing positive anywhere). Miller conceded that Behe’s irreducible complexity argument was testable, but said Behe’s inference to design doesn’t follow from irreducible complexity because Behe was committing the either/or fallacy–If not A (Darwinism), then it must be B (design). Miller said there were, in principle, an infinite number of other possible explanations, so jumping from a refutation of Darwinism to design was illegitimate.

He’s missing a crucial distinction by conflating Behe’s argument for ID with ID itself. The notion that an intelligent designer was involved is not in any way falsifiable. There is no conceivable set of data that could falsify that proposition. But specific arguments that purport to point to such a designer can be falsified, and it’s important to distinguish here between facts and theories. Behe’s argument offers both factual claims and a theoretical or explanatory claim. It goes like this:

Nothing New Under the Sun


In a blurb for The Privileged Planet, Phillip Skell says

“In this fascinating and highly original book, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards advance a persuasive argument, and marshal a wealth of diverse scientific evidence to justify that argument. In the process, they effectively challenge several popular assumptions, not only about the nature and history of science, but also about the nature and origin of the cosmos. The Privileged Planet will be impossible to ignore. It is likely to change the way we view both the scientific enterprise and the world around us. I recommend it highly.”

- Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Physics, Pennsylvania State University, Member, National Academy of Sciences.

But how original is the basic idea in Gonzalez and Richards’ book, that we are especially well-situated to observe and make sense of astronomical data? It turns out that the giant whose shoulders Gonzalez and Richards stand upon is none other than the Reverend William Paley.

(Continue reading… on

Our Intelligent Designer, Who art in the unspecified-good-place, Unknown be Thy name. Thy flagella spin, Thy mousetraps snap, On Earth, as it is in the Unspecified-good-place. Give us each day our unchecked apologetic. And forgive us our invidious comparisons, As we smite those iniquitous Darwinists With rhetoric. And lead us not into encounters with people Who ask us to state our theory, But deliver us from biologists Who know what we’re up to. For Thine is the irreducible complexity, And the wiggly parts of bacterial bottoms, And the inapplicable theorems, Now and forever.


And, of course, there’s T-shirts and other goodies.

Still hoppin’ in Iowa


First, for anyone unfamiliar with the current goings-on here in the Hawkeye state, I refer you to these threads for some background information. At the heart of the current situation is a letter signed by ~120 Iowa State faculty, saying that intelligent design isn’t science. This hits home at ISU, because Discovery Institute fellow Guillermo Gonzalez, author of The Privileged Planet, happens to be a faculty member in the astronomy department there.

Now, Sigma Xi at the University of Northern Iowa has invited Gonzalez to speak there. This lead the UNI faculty to endorse the ISU statement as well. Over 100 signatures were collected in just 24 hours’ time there.

Additionally, the secretary of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote to the Iowa State Daily, endorsing the faculty’s position there.

Dover News carnival.


This morning, I took a few minutes to look at a number of the various news articles about the upcoming Dover Intelligent Design lawsuit. The articles that I looked at seem to present a wide range of views, and a few of them were actually quite good. Initially, I was just planning on commenting on one or two. After reading a few, I thought it might be a little more fun to present a bunch of them blog-carnival style.

Continue reading (at The Questionable Authority)

[Minnesota’s experience in 2003 and 2004 with antievolution efforts to change the state science standards rings a warning bell for Florida, which is currently in the process of revising its science standards, with adoption of new standards scheduled to occur in 2006. The following article provides a first-hand account from two members of the Minnesota science standards writing committee of the many and various attempts to incorporate antievolution material into the Minnesota science standards.]

by Melanie A. Reap, Ph.D., and Mr. Jamie Crannell

During the summer of 2003, more than fifty classroom teachers, parents, professors of science and education, and business people convened at the Department of Education to create the new Minnesota Academic Standards in Science (see this page). The state legislature overturned the Profile of Learning standards in April of 2003 with the requirement that new standards in five areas (mathematics, language arts, science, social studies, and art) be developed and implemented by the 2004-2005 school year (see this page).

(Continue reading… on Florida Citizens for Science)

Puzzling over theory


On Saturday, I gave a talk to the Minnesota Atheists on a bit of the evidence for evolutionary history. In one part of the talk, I gave an analogy for what biologists do, and I thought I'd expand on it a little bit here.

A theory is a powerful thing, a tool for interpreting observations and experiments, and the way to assess the utility of a theory is to examine how well it explains the available facts, whether it suggests new experiments and leads to new insights, and whether it contradicts any of the evidence. What we do with a theory like evolution is use it to interpret and assemble what we see into a coherent whole. The process is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.

Continue reading "Puzzling over theory" (on Pharyngula)

The false choices of intelligent design


In The false choices of intelligent design, Wade Worthen, professor of biology at Furman University, writes

Proponents of intelligent design have suggested that its exclusion from classrooms is simply another assault on victimized Christians. This is an excellent example of the intelligent design strategy: Use false dichotomies and misinformation to obscure the real issue. Whether it should be taught in public school science curricula should not be about politics or religion. The real issue is this: Is intelligent design a legitimate scientific theory?

The answer is “no.” Scientific theories are explanatory models of how the physical universe works, validated by testing falsifiable, predictive hypotheses by experiment.

As we have discovered in Dover, public statements by Board members that are subsequently reported in the press can later become important pieces of evidence about the true motivations of those Board members’ actions

Now Kansas sate BOE chairperson Steve Abrams, mastermind of the 1999 creationists standards, the May 2005 “science hearings” and the current 2005 creationist standards, has given us a quote to remember. Speaking to a “group of Christian men called Open Public Education Now,” the Lawrence Journal World reports that

During a question-and-answer period to a mostly receptive audience of church-going social conservatives fed up with evolution, Abrams said one couldn’t believe in the Bible and evolution. You must believe one or the other.

“At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,” Abrams said. “That’s the bottom line.”(my emphasis)

Well, that takes care of that, it seems.

A recent article has filled another gap in our ignorance (and created two new gaps) about eye evolution. As reported in

Insight Into Eye Evolution Deals Blow To Intelligent Design

How complex and physiologically remarkable structures such as the human eye could evolve has long been a question that has puzzled biologists. But in research reported this week in Current Biology, the evolutionary history of a critical eye protein has revealed a previously unrecognized link between certain components of sophisticated vertebrate eyes - like those found in humans - and those of the primitive light-sensing systems of invertebrates. The findings, from researchers at the University of Oxford, the University of London and Radboud University in The Netherlands, put in place a conceptual framework for understanding how the vertebrate eye, as we know it, has emerged over evolutionary time.

See also How the vertebrate eye, as we know it, emerged over evolutionary time?

One of the items available via the new NCSE resource on Kitzmiller v. DASD is the court transcript of testimony in the FTE motion to intervene. There is a telling interchange between the Foundation for Thought and Ethics President Jon A. Buell and Pepper Hamilton lawyer Eric Rothschild, showing precisely the relationship between “intelligent design” and “creation”: it’s the very same thing, defined in exactly the same way.

Uncommon Dissent: The Game


PhilVaz has re-tooled a version of Pac-Man as “Uncommon Dissent”, with the little yellow protagonist as “Dembski”, and head shots of Ken Miller, Genie Scott, Richard Dawkins, and a panda become the “ghosts”. You get an extra “Dembski” with every 10,000 points scored…

As with previous ID games, they always lose, eventually.

The Rio Rancho School Board met again on Sept. 19th, and the Rio Rancho Observer reported on Sept. 22nd that Board president Lisa Cour said there are

no current plans to revisit that decision.

“That decision,” of course, is Rio Rancho’s adoption of “Science Policy 401,” discussed previously here.

Also, on the preceding Sunday, the Flying Spaghetti Monster made a glorious appearance on the Observer’s Editorial Page. fsm.jpg

Zimmer on whales


There's an excellent summary of whale evolution on The Loom, with a lovely logic puzzle to illustrate the pattern of evolutionary transformations.

Chutzpah, pure chutzpah


There’s an article in today’s York Dispatch about the upcoming Intelligent Design lawsuit. This particular article discusses the rats leaving the sin Discovery Institute’s principled decision not to support the Dover school district in this case. Most of the quotes from the various DI talking heads is the usual stuff, but there was one statement attributed to Casey Luskin that displays a disregard for reality that is below and beneath even the rather loose standards of the Discovery Institute:

He [Luskin] said the Discovery Institute is “not trying to hinder their case in court,” but the organization wants intelligent design to be debated by the scientific community, not school boards

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

I Arrive in New Mexico

I arrived in New Mexico last week, having been called on by concerned citizens of that state to look into “Intelligent Design” encroachment into public school science classes. I was immediately greeted by one of the local residents. Fortunately, I am well versed in many things, including Great Dane Standard Greeting Protocol (GDSGP) in which one always sniffs the right sides of noses. To sniff the left sides can cause one to have a very bad day.


Tangled Bank #37

The Tangled Bank

We have a candylicious Tangled Bank #37 online at milkriverblog. Sweet!

Deja vu all over again

| 49 Comments | 3 TrackBacks

There is a good article in the New York Times on the problems faced by natural history museum staffs when confronted by creationists. This is the very situation that drew me into the Evo/creato argument.


DNA and RNA (and Birdnow).


PZ Myers has, over at Pharyngula, taken issue with a remarkably ignorant essay written by Timothy Birdnow. Birdnow has responded with a new blog, PZ has responded to part of the response, and so the fun begins. At the risk of being seen as just piling on to an easy target, there are a couple of important points that I don’t think have been raised yet. The first has to do with exactly what constitutes the “building blocks of life”; the second has to do with basic competence.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority).

The absurdity of intelligent design


The absurdity of intelligent design by Elia Leibowitz in Ha’aretz.

Leibowitz quickly converges on the problem with ID, showing why the analogy of design by “known designers” fails when it comes to unknown designers. The argument is similar to that by Shallit Wilkins and Elsberry who consider the case of ordinary design vs rarefied design.

Wilkins and Elsberry Wrote:

So now there appears to be two kinds of design - the ordinary kind based on a knowledge of the behavior of designers, and a “rarefied” design, based on an inference from ignorance, both of the possible causes of regularities and of the nature of the designer

ID proponents like to refer to Mount Rushmore and extend the analogy to the biological world but they overlook a crucial difference.

New Creation Watch Column


Part Two of my column about probability and evolution is now avaialable at CSICOP's Creation Watch site. Enjoy!

In part one I considered the classic anti-evolution arguments based on probability theory, and showed why they failed. In part two we disucss why it is no improvement to add “specification” to the mix. We also examine some of the ways probability theory can be used legitimately to shed light on evolution.

I’m sure many of you have been following the media circus related to the tracking of H5N1 influenza viruses (for example, this article, which contains the following quote):

“Right now in human beings, it kills 55 percent of the people it infects,” says Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow on global health policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “That makes it the most lethal flu we know of that has ever been on planet Earth affecting human beings.”

Now, I’m a big fan of Laurie Garrett, and I obviously have no idea of knowing if this is all the said on the H5N1 mortality rate or if she elaborated further, but it’s quotes like this that lead people to stress more than they should about the H5N1 situation. A new paper just out in the Journal of Infectious Diseases (summary here) demonstrates one reason why the public shouldn’t start freaking out just yet.

Avast! It’s a Tangled Bank, dead ahead!

The Tangled Bank

The Tangled Bank will be coming out with a new edition on Wednesday, at milkriverblog—send your links to Tony, me, or by Tuesday!

An interesting paper by a group of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has appeared in the latest edition of the journal Science. The researchers have taken an interesting approach to investigating the differences between humans and chimps - they have used a relatively new genetic tool known as microarray analysis to examine the differences in gene expression between the chimps and humans. Their results are interesting for two different reasons. First, it is always interesting to learn more about the differences that separate us from our nearest relatives. Second, this paper has actually used the human-chimp relationship as a model system to investigate some basic evolutionary questions.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority).

Intelligent design vs. gay marriage


Intelligent design vs. gay marriage by Fred Hutchison, a RenewAmerica analyst.

It get’s only worse but I found the following quote of particular interest

Intelligent design

The idea that man has an innate nature flows naturally into the idea that there must be a design behind that nature. If man is designed, marriage must also be designed. Homosexuality is contrary to that design. This is an essential point that conservatives must make in the debate about gay marriage.

If we are designed, there must be a Great Designer behind the design. The argument that man has a designed nature is also an argument for a Creator. The argument that man has no innate nature is also an argument against a Creator. At the root of the culture war is a conflict between theism and atheism

Science in the Pub


As part of the Australian Science Festival, I went to one of the ABC's Science in the Pub programs on The Science of Siblings, in the congenial surrounds of King O'Malley's Irish Pub in Canberra. Paul Willis (another ex-palaeontologist! - not surprising as he can't spell it either) and Bernie Hobbs (pictured) led a stimulating discussion about siblings and twins.

Steve, Paul and Bernie at the Pub

Scott Rothschild reports that Nobel Laureates urge rejection of intelligent design

Thursday, September 15, 2005

TOPEKA — A group of 38 Nobel Laureates headed by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel have asked the Kansas State Board of Education to reject science standards that criticize evolution.

In a letter to the board released today, the group from several countries said Darwinian evolution is the foundation of biology.

“ … its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA,” the group wrote. (See entire letter.)

Fresh off his electrifying performance on the Daily Show, the intrepid Dr. Dembski is still, it seems, attempting to do comedy. Witness the extraordinary chutzpah it took to write this post about the speaking schedule of NCSE staffers. He writes:

Have a look at One of my colleagues describes reading this page as “watching a car wreck.” I’m just sorry we can’t get a percentage cut from all the speaking engagements they are getting as a result of attacking us. Life is so unfair.

Well Bill, we’d love to have a cut of your speaking fees, and of the fees you charged the Thomas More Law Center for your expert witness work on the Dover trial (over $100,000, if I recall correctly, while all of the experts on our side donated their time and took only expenses), and of all the books you write in the copious free time that you save by avoiding publishing your claims for a scientific audience, books for which you find a ready audience in the churches among people who, as a group, have little hope of understanding your ideas. For that matter, I’m sure the NCSE staff would sacrifice body parts to get even a small percentage of the funding that the Discovery Institute enjoys. The DI has enough money laying around to give fellowships to rougly five times as many people as the NCSE has on their entire staff, not to mention the multiple directors, staff members, spokespeople and legal counsels they have and the PR firm they can afford to hire (more on that later).

Dobzhansky and anthrax


The Washington Post today reminds us that there has been little progress in uncovering the source of the 2001 anthrax attacks.[1]

Why is this news for Panda’s thumb? Read on…



The surprise hit nature documentary, March of the Penguins, has, according to the New York Times, been co-opted by social conservatives as a sort of affirmation of their views on sex and marriage. The article quotes conservative pundit Michael Medved as saying that the movie “passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.” And there is another review, written by Andrew Coffin of the right-wing Christian World Magazine, claiming that the movie makes a strong case for intelligent design:

That any one of these eggs survives is a remarkable feat—and, some might suppose, a strong case for intelligent design.

Sadly, that’s the sum total of his argument. It would be interesting to know why having a high mortality rate makes a good argument for ID, but I guess that’ll have to remain a mystery. Maybe it’s because these penguins live in such harsh conditions that he can’t imagine how they could have adapted to the cold so suddenly. But given the fact that penguins live at the equator, it wouldn’t have been sudden.

At any rate, this embrace of a nature documentary from people who probably don’t watch many nature documentaries has provoked a bemused reaction throughout the blogosphere. Ed Brayton notes that the existence of gay penguins doesn’t exactly make them good poster species for “traditional” marriage. And PZ Myers points out that these “monogamous” penguins get new partners each and every year. But the best is Carl Zimmer’s take. He gives us a list of would-be nature documentaries that showcase some, shall we say, non-traditional family values. When these movies come out, you’d better hide the kids. Or, depending on your species, eat them.

Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education put a comment on a thread here that delivers some interesting news on the nuisance lawsuit filed earlier this year: it was never served on NCSE, and in fact was withdrawn in July, although the filer failed to notify NCSE of this action.

Dr. Eugenie C. Scott Wrote:

This is not the first time that Mr. Caldwell has claimed that I maliciously wrote in the California Wild article that he submitted YEC books to the district. Castigating me for my not having explained the source of that error is is disingenuous. After Mr. Caldwell filed suit against NCSE and me personally, my lawyer advised me to not make any public statements. And of course Mr. Caldwell has threatened some members of PT and PT itself for linking to the CW article, is sueing the Roseville school district, and also attempted to subpoena NCSE’s records in regards to THAT lawsuit – you get the picture. The advice seemed prudent. Not being able to speak out has chafed greatly, as NCSE staff and my family are very aware. I have long wanted to get the truth out about Mr. Caldwell’s claims, but have been hampered by his own actions in suing me, and twice threatening to sue the California Academy of Sciences.

However, we have just discovered that Mr. Caldwell has dismissed the lawsuit against us – way back in July, in fact! He had sent us a settlement offer, we replied, and my lawyer and I have been waiting for his response to our reply– but we have heard nothing from him. In fact, although he filed the suit in April, he never even bothered to formally serve me with notice of his legal action! Now, shortly after receiving our reply to his settlement offer, he has moved to dismiss the lawsuit.

He never informed us that he had dismissed the case (which is apparently not legally required, but certainly would have been courteous) and thinking that I was still under the advice of my counsel to maintail silence, I have remained mute. This should not be mistaken for any acquiescence to Caldwell’s claims, nor certainly lack of confidence in the strength of our legal position! But you can’t take certain actions until certain procedural events take place – one usually gets served when one gets sued, for example, and then the clock starts ticking for response. We’ve been waiting around for Caldwell, but I’m happy to say that since he dismissed his lawsuit, I am not longer under those constraints.

Although we are very busy right now getting ready for the Dover trial, which certainly takes precedence over a nuisance suit, however personally annoying this has been, I will soon explain fully the actual facts of the Caldwell vs Scott lawsuit, as contrasted with the distorted version presented by Caldwell here, in Caldwell’s press releases, and in the religious right media echo chamber.

That we would not be able to “defend <ourselves> in court” is laughable, as anyone who reads the corrected version of the article on NCSE’s web site will quickly see: Corrected article

Stay tuned.

(Comment #48088)

Bill Dembski, the Newton of Information Theory, has announced a new flash game on his site, Panda-monium. It's a sort of Space Invaders-like game, where you shuffle a tank back and forth, firing upwards at—you guessed it—panda bears falling out of the sky.

It's interesting because:

  • It's slick and flashy,
  • but it's also shallow and tedious,
  • and the pandas always eventually win.

There's a metaphor there somewhere.

Syntax Error: not well-formed (invalid token) at line 1, column 530, byte 530 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/mach/5.18/XML/ line 187.

Timothy Birdnow


Laugh, cry, curl up into a fetal ball and close my eyes…I'm not sure what I want to do. There is a site called The American Thinker which I read for the first time today, and all I can say is that if this is what they call American thinking, we have grounds for a class action suit for libel on behalf of every citizen in the US.

In particular, they've published an article, The case against Darwin, written by a property manager in St. Louis, Timothy Birdnow. It's clear that he's ideologically compatible with far right wing pseudoscience, but reading his essay was a hilarious exercise, rather like reading children's funny exam answers. The science is a mangled mish-mash, almost entirely wrong, delivered with an astoundingly confident tone that disregards its own obvious contradictions.

Continue reading "Timothy Birdnow" (on Pharyngula)

Jay Bookman, deputy editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had a great column on September 12th. Bookman writes

Unfortunately, though, I don’t believe ID advocates are sincere about wanting to teach the controversy. If they are, they simply haven’t thought through the implications. A controversy, remember, has two sides. And if alleged weaknesses in evolution theory are to be taught in our schools as science, then scientific evidence against the existence of an intelligent designer or God must be taught, too. That’s how science works. If you propose a theory, you issue an invitation to others to shoot holes in your theory. So think about that: Do we really want science teachers exploring the evidence for — but also against — the existence of a designer? I don’t think that’s wise or useful for a number of reasons, but that’s what a rigorous and intellectually honest debate would require.

Anyone wanna bet whether or not the Discovery Institute agrees to teach all controversies? I dibbs “No.”

Steve Steve Down Under

| 14 Comments | 1 TrackBack

G’Day mate! Struth! Crack open a tinnie and chuck another bamboo shoot on the barbie, she’ll be right! As you can see, I’ve mastered the local dialect, or ‘Strine’, pretty quickly thanks to my strong linguistics background. Parted company with that Wilkins fellow in Canberra. He can philosophise at the drop of a hat, but can’t read a bus time table to save his life! After 3/4 of an hour actualizing the concept of the non-bus, I left him contemplating the concept of the taxi. I hear he made it hope, but goodness knows how. My primary reason for being in Canberra was to visit with a couple of t.oers from the “good old days” of (when t.oers were really geeks, Ted was really Ted, and communication was via pigeon), Chris Nedin and Jim Foley. I left the Wilkins at the taxi rank and went to visit with Chris Nedin (pictured below), where a welcome, and generous, glass of fine Irish whiskey was waiting to fight off the winter chill (panda fur only goes so far you know).


A short while ago, the Panda’s Thumb logged its one millionth visit on the Sitemeter scale. Now, given the somewhat arbitrary measures of what constitutes a “visit” as opposed to a “page hit”, one million of these is a fuzzier concept than might be imagined. Call it a pseudo-quantity.

But what does matter is that we’re reaching a sizable community, and helping inform people concerning the ongoing threat to science education posed by antievolutionists of various stripes. We want to thank those of you who visit here who will now consider getting involved in the real work of protecting and enhancing good science education. We’ll continue to do our best to keep you informed, and sometimes amused.

Special bonus: NCSE’s 600th Steve joined Project Steve within minutes of PT getting its millionth visit.

An Open Letter to 600 Steves


An open letter to the 600 NCSE Steves,

My dearest, my darlings, you little stinkers! In all of my 25 plus years as a professional something or other, (and believe me, I’ve done a lot of stuff for money!) nothing makes me prouder than to have been involved in what became known internationally as Project Steve. Oh, poo to project lead on one of BellSouth’s largest re-engineering software projects of the late 90s, GE Financial Services first venture into the World Wide Web and Bechtel Engineering’s Web Initiative Plan what’cha’ma’call’it. Project Steve beat the pants off all of them.

From the moment that Matt Inlay first pondered the vastness of Steves (individually or collectively, only Matt himself knows), Glenn and I fell giggling onto the floor of the NCSE office munching Twinkies and causing the Darwinian-Only Terror herself, Dr. Eugenie Scott, to come from her lair and roar, “C’mon guys, what’s so funny,” we knew we were on to something.

At first we thought it just too outrageous to even contemplate. After all, who were these so-called Steves? Botanists, geologists, paleontologists, biologists, tobacconists? Would they answer our call? Well, my boys, you did answer. With all the courage and conviction of someone who would send an email to a colleague stating, “Hey Steve, did you get one of these? Are the clowns at NCSE serious about this?” you charged to the front trenches defending quality science education.

(Continue reading… on

Dembski can be observed quote mining Dawkins and making some ironic statements in a recent posting on UncommenDescent.

WAD Wrote:

What’s Your Favorite Dawkins Quote?

Quotes like “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” and “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” are right up there, but my all-time favorite is “Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory, we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.” (All these quotes are from The Blind Watchmaker.)

It’s comforting that evolutionary theory is in the capable hands of rigorous empirical scientists like Dawkins.

As opposed to ‘rigorous empirical scientists’ like Dembski he probable means? Of course there are some interesting problems with his ‘logic’. First of all Dawkins is among thousands if not tens of thousands of capable scientists who move evolutionary theory forward. What does ID have to offer? Poof.…

JEFFREY WEISS of the Dallas Morning News conducted two interviews, one with Dr. Harris

Speaking for the teaching of intelligent design is William Harris, a professor at the University of Missouri medical school in Kansas City. He’s a researcher in nutritional biochemistry, a Methodist and managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, an online information site supporting intelligent design.

and one with Dr. Miller:

In the other corner is Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, Catholic and the author of Finding Darwin’s God.

I found the answers by Dr Harris quite interesting. First he responds with the standard ID response, with a slight but devastating deviation, namely that ID does not demand any particular godhead to be credited.

Q: Dr. Harris, for all the claims your side makes about intelligent design being science, isn’t it also religion?

Harris Wrote:

It’s consistent with a theistic explanation but does not demand that any particular godhead be credited with that activity.

Unwittingly perhaps, he has opened up the flood gates by deviating from the script and limiting the intelligent designer to be outside nature.

Q: But you’re talking about an entity who stands outside the limits of time and space with the power to affect the physical world. Isn’t that a god by most definitions?

Harris Wrote:

Yes. Is that impossible? Science should be seeking the truth about the natural world regardless of the implications. Why do the implications [that God may be responsible for creation] stop something from being scientifically valid?

In other words, ID is not about any specific God but it is surely about one or more Godheads.

Why can’t more ID proponents be more clear about this? Harris then continues with a response which I find quite hilarious as it undermines fully any ID approach as proposed by Dembski or Behe for instance.

Hang your head in shame, Grauniad!


PZ Myer at Pharyngula discusses an interview with Behe:

The Guardian has published a pathetic interview with Behe. The interviewer, John Sutherland, is clearly out of his depth and allows real howlers to slide by, and in a few cases, even helps Behe along.

Behe Wrote:

But the question is: exactly how did life get here? Was it by natural selection and random mutation or was it by something else? Everybody - even Richard Dawkins - sees design in biology. You see this design when you see co-ordinated parts coming together to perform a function - like in a hand. And so it’s the appearance of design that everybody’s trying to explain. So that if Darwin’s theory doesn’t explain it we’re left with no other explanation than maybe it really was designed. That’s essentially the design argument.

Read more at Pharyngula

Or read on for some of my comments

Wake up, and smell the controversy


There are a pair of articles in this week’s edition of the journal Science that are almost certainly going to cause some excitement and controversy in the field of human evolution. Controversies in this area are nothing new, of course, but these articles seem to have all of the necessary ingredients for a spirited debate. They also seem to be almost certainly destined to be miscited by any number of unsavory individuals.

Although the two articles have slightly different sets of authors, both come from the same laboratory, and both focus on the same topic: natural selection acting on genes involved in the development of the human brain. Two different genes were examined, and in both cases specific versions of the genes - alleles - were found to be present in frequencies that indicate that they have recently been (or still are) the subject of strong selective pressure. In both cases, the alleles appear to be very new - younger than the appearance in modern humans. Finally, and here is the bit that’s going be the most controversial part of this, the selectively favored alleles are less likely to be present in people from certain geographic locales.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority).

Fred Barton has a letter published in the Lansing State Journal

Fred Barton: Wrote:

“Like every other man of intelligence and education, I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.”

- former President Woodrow Wilson, 1922

Imagine how surprised he would be today. Since last November, the National Center for Science Education has tracked 78 challenges to the teaching of evolution across 37 states. Recently, President Bush said, “Schools should discuss ‘intelligent design’ alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.”

At the center of the debate over teaching intelligent design is the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank started in Seattle whose rallying cry is “Teach the controversy.” Unfortunately, the only “controversy” is the one created by the institute to attract the attention of the press and general public.

Fred provides some interesting details about the funding of the DI. I found that the original source of this information is a NY Times article titled “Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive”

Dr Matthew Chalmers from the Institute of Physics presents his comments in The Sunday Times of September 11

Dr Matthew Chalmers Wrote:

ROD LIDDLE does his best to knock scientists off their pedestals while taking care not to side with the “deadbeat” promoters of intelligent design (Comment, last week). But he goes one step too far. By suggesting that it is reasonable to discuss ID as a possible alternative to evolutionary theory in school science lessons he has sadly fallen into the same trap of so many others in this recent non-debate.

The reason why intelligent design should not be taught in science classes is blindingly simple: it isn’t science. Does Liddle also think that A-level biology should include a short module on the virgin birth as an alternative to sexual reproduction, or perhaps a homework assignment about life after death? After all, millions of people believe in those.

Not wasting any words he concludes

Intelligent design is at best religious-right extremism; at worst, intellectual laziness.

There you have it…

Dembski quote mining Dawkins

| 182 Comments | 1 TrackBack

Dembski quotes Dawkins but somehow drops relevant parts of the sentence…

WAD Wrote:

What’s Your Favorite Dawkins Quote?

Quotes like “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” and “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” are right up there, but my all-time favorite is “Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory, we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.” (All these quotes are from The Blind Watchmaker.)

It’s comforting that evolutionary theory is in the capable hands of rigorous empirical scientists like Dawkins.

As opposed to ‘rigorous empirical scientists’ like Dembski he probable means? Of course there are some interesting problems with his ‘logic’. First of all Dawkins is among thousands if not tens of thousands of capable scientists who move evolutionary theory forward. What does ID have to offer? Poof.… But let’s explore the ‘empirical evidence’ presented by Dembski with respect to Dawkin’s quote:

On the website for Jonathan Wells’s book Icons of Evolution, there’s a page titled “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.”

All are about supposed flaws in the “Icons of Evolution” - the Miller-Urey experiments, Darwin’s Finches, Horse Evolution and more.

Here is Question #1:

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

This week, NASA’s Astrobiology Institute and Washington University in St. Louis made an announcement that should, once again, sound the death-knell for this particular “Icon of Anti-Evolution.”

From a story in today’s WaPo, I learned that Bayer has withdrawn it’s poultry anitbiotic Baytril from the market. This marks the end of a five-year battle with the FDA over the drug.

The FDA first proposed withdrawing Baytril in October of 2000, due to concerns regarding the development of antibiotic resistance. From a 2001 FDA Consumer Magazine article:

Poultry growers use fluoroquinolone drugs to keep chickens and turkeys from dying from Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection, a disease that they could pick up from their own droppings. But the size of flocks precludes testing and treating individual chickens–so when a veterinarian diagnoses an infected bird, the farmers treat the whole flock by adding the drug to its drinking water. While the drug may cure the E. coli bacteria in the poultry, another kind of bacteria–Campylobacter–may build up resistance to these drugs. And that’s the root of the problem.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority).

Today, the Faculty Senate of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology issued a statement strongly condemning Rio Rancho’s new “science” policy, which has been discussed previously on the Thumb here and here.

Also, an excellent letter opposing the policy appeared in the Rio Rancho Observer.

Recycling Genetic Code?

I enjoyed this Agoraphilia post asking the all-important question, why was God so lazy when designing all the animals?

Congressman Rush Holt has written a very thoughtful essay on Intelligent Design at TPM Cafe. The article is titled Intelligent Design: It’s Not Even Wrong

Rep Holt Wrote:

As a research scientist and a member of the House Education Committee, I was appalled when President Bush signaled his support for the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside evolution in public K-12 science classes. Though I respect and consistently protect the rights of persons of faith and the curricula of religious schools, public school science classes are not the place to teach concepts that cannot be backed up by evidence and tested experimentally.

Rep. Holt’s comments reminded me of Dembski’s Z-factor arguments in his book No Free Lunch. Mark Perakh has done an excellent work in various essays and articles to show how the Z-factor argument undermines intelligent design. In a future posting I intend to explore the impact of Dembski’s comments on the Privileged Planet argument. Dembski’s requirement for ‘independent evidence’ is the reason why Intelligent Design (wink wink, nudge nudge) is scientifically vacuous.

Hat tip to Douglas Theobald (author of 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution) for pointing me to Holt’s article. The responses to Holt’s essay suggest that he has touched a nerve with the American public.

Midgley Steps in it Again


You might recognize philosopher Mary Midgley as the author of this egregiously bad review, published in the journal Philosophy in 1979, of Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. In the course of her lengthy review, Midgley managed to misunderstand and misrepresent virtually every aspect of Dawkins’ argument. Dawkins subsequently refuted her arguments in this devastating reply. In fairness, Midgley subsequently apologized for her intemperate tone here.

Well, it seems that Dawkins still has the ability to literally drive Midgley crazy. In response to this recent op-ed, co-authored by Dawkins and Jerry Coyne in the British newspaper The Guardian, Midgley wrote a remarkably misinformed letter to the editor. Click here (hers is the first letter). I analyze the situation in this post over at EvolutionBlog.

Communications and Science


A little more than a week ago, Mike Syvanen posted an article on Panda’s Thumb that discussed a real controversy within the field of evolutionary biology: the role of horizontal gene transfer in early evolution. Today, Paul Nelson misinterpreted that article in a post over on ID: The Future. The specifics of this incident have been covered in more detail both by at Evolving Thoughts, and at Evolutionblog. I’m going to look at this incident from a slightly different perspective: how it illustrates some of the communications issues that scientists are forced to face when dealing with creationists.

Continue Reading (at The Questionable Authority)

Casey Luskin writes in the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News and Views blog concerning the widespread perception that “intelligent design” invokes supernatural explanation. Luskin says that critics of ID have misled the public on this issue, and that all becomes clear when one examines what ID advocates have to say on the matter. Luskin goes on at length concerning his conjectures of the structure of misinformation about ID; it’s a relatively amusing read. But don’t expect much in the way of empirical support for the claims.

(Countinue reading… on

Evolution Schmevolution

| 143 Comments | 3 TrackBacks

This is going to be good:

Science vs. Religion. Evolution vs. Creation. It is an age-old battle whose time has come. “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” will gather together all the experts (or at least those who will talk to them), travel to the places that matter in the debate (basic cable budget permitting) and ultimately settle the controversy once and for all. “Evolution Schmevolution: A Daily Show Special Report” will premiere on Monday, September 12 and air nightly at 11:00 p.m. through September 15.

For one full week, “The Daily Show” goes in-depth, around, through and quite possibly under, one of the hottest hot-button issues facing our nation: evolution. It’s the accepted theory on the origin of life by an overwhelming majority of the world’s biologists, but maybe they’re all wrong. What’s so great about the scientific method anyway?

I’m going to be watching my television every night next week…except that I’m going to be in New York on Thursday. I wonder if I can get in to see it directly?

The series is running on basic cable through Thursday. If you don’t have cable, or are living in one of those countries that doesn’t get obscure American comedy programs, you can watch clips of the programs online.

Tangled Bank #36

The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank #36 is online at B and B!

Evolution of sensory signaling


How we sense the world has, ultimately, a cellular and molecular basis. We have these big brains that do amazingly sophisticated processing to interpret the flood of sensory information pouring in through our eyes, our skin, our ears, our noses…but when it gets right down to it, the proximate cause is the arrival of some chemical or mechanical or energetic stimulus at a cell, which then transforms the impact of the external world into ionic and electrical and chemical changes. This is a process called sensory signaling, or sensory signal transduction.

While we have multiple sensory modalities, with thousands of different specificities, many of them have a common core. We detect both light and odor (and our cells also sense neurotransmitters) with similar proteins: they use a family of G-protein-linked receptors. What that means is that the sensory stimulus is received by a receptor molecule specific for that stimulus, which then actives a G-protein on the intracellular side of the cell membrane, which in turn activates an effector enzyme that modifies the concentration of second messenger molecules in the cell. Receptors vary—you have a different receptor for each molecule you can smell. The effector enzymes vary—it can be adenylate cyclase, which changes the levels of cyclic AMP, or it can be phospholipase C, which generates other signalling molecules, DAG and IP3. The G-protein that links receptor and effector is the common element that unites a whole battery of senses. The evolutionary roots of our ability to see light and taste sugar are all tied together.

Continue reading Evolution of sensory signaling (on Pharyngula)

Fair and Balanced


Chris Mooney, who has written before on the “he said, she said” style of much science journalism (see here), and Matthew Nisbet have the cover story in the current Columbia Journalism Review, writing on the (mis)reporting of evolution in the mainstream press. Referring to a Washington Post story about the battles over teaching intelligent design in public schools, Mooney and Nisbet wrote

Yet Slevin’s article conspicuously failed to provide any background information on the theory of evolution, or why it’s considered a bedrock of modern scientific knowledge among both scientists who believe in God and those who don’t. Indeed, the few defenders of evolution quoted by Slevin were attached to advocacy groups, not research universities; most of the article’s focus, meanwhile, was on anti-evolutionists and their strategies. Of the piece’s thirty-eight paragraphs, twenty-one were devoted to this “strategy” framing — an emphasis that, not surprisingly, rankled the Post’s science reporters. “How is it that The Washington Post can run a feature-length A1 story about the battle over the facts of evolution and not devote a single paragraph to what the evidence is for the scientific view of evolution?” protested an internal memo from the paper’s science desk that was copied to Michael Getler, the Post’s ombudsman. “We do our readers a grave disservice by not telling them. By turning this into a story of dueling talking heads, we add credence to the idea that this is simply a battle of beliefs.” Though he called Slevin’s piece “lengthy, smart, and very revealing,” Getler assigned Slevin a grade of “incomplete” for his work.

Various ID proponents have ‘argued’ that Margulis doubts ‘Darwinian theory’:

Dembski Wrote:

“And yet, Harold continued, ““But we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”

James Shapiro, Stuart Kauffman, and Lynn Margulis have raised similar doubts” Source Unintelligent Evolution

Let’s explore these arguments in more depth. Is Margulis anti-Darwinian, anti-Neo-Darwinian? And if lack of details is such a problem for a scientific theory then how come ID has no details to offer at all? What does this say about the nature of Intelligent Design?

Who is minding the store?


Who made the watch?

Is intelligent design threatening to dethrone evolution as the leading theory of origins?

More and more scientists are buying into the theory of intelligent design. This includes scientists in physics, astronomy, molecular biology and genetics. These scholars have reached a conclusion from their research and the overwhelming volume of evidence that the complexities, structure and laws of the physical universe all point to “intelligent design” as the source. But here’s the big problem - intelligent design means there must be a designer. This can only lead to the logical conclusion that God, the Designer, exists.

bear_tongue-2.JPGThe CRSC Evolution News and Views blog, affectionately called by us at PT the “Discovery Institute Media Complaints Division”, does not demonstrate the same solicitude correcting their own and their associates’ “glaring errors of fact” that they show for real and imaginary mistakes from other media outlets. The time has come for them to put their red pen where their mouth is.

Last week, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne published this op-ed in the British newspaper The Guardian. Erstwhile evolution critic David Berlinski has written this brief reply for the Discovery Institute’s blog. Berlinski’s missive contains the following challenge:

Please read the article while endeavoring not to laugh, chortle, snicker, hoot or whistle. You will find it cannot be done. In the course of affirming why there is absolutely no controversy about anything over there where Darwinian biologists hang out, they indicate quite soberly that, in fact, there are lots of controversies after all – all of them precisely of the sort that Darwinian critics have been insisting were there all along and that Darwinian biologists have all along insisted did not exist and were of no consequence. You could, if you wished, line up Darwin on Trial or my own “The Deniable Darwin” and compare it to the remarkably frank admission and ask yourself just what the hell Coyne and Dawkins are not saying that we did not say long before them?

Since The Deniable Darwin is readily available online, I decided to take Berlinski up on his challenge. I made a list of all the criticisms of evolution offered by Berlinski, and compared it to the list of genuine evolutionary controversies mentioned by Dawkins and Coyne. I won’t spoil the suspense by telling you what I found, but I have posted my results here.

I also provide some more general commentary on why Berlinski’s reply is a grotesque distortion of what Dawkins and Coyne actually wrote. Enjoy!

We’ve talked here a few times about Utah state senator Chris Buttar’s wish to have a disclaimer about human evolution added to the state school board’s proposed position statement on teaching evolution:

Buttars believes the document should include new language: “There is not generally accepted agreement in the scientific community or (evidence) that has stood up to scientific scrutiny regarding the evolution of man from any other species.” (Deseret News, Aug 27 2005)

The reality is that there’s lots of good evidence for human evolution, including a number of habiline specimens that sit nicely midway between apes and humans. This doesn’t bother most creationists (like Buttars), because they’re blissfully unaware of them. Creationists often discuss Neandertals or Lucy at length, because it’s easy to dismiss them as humans and apes respectively, and pass over the habilines.

In the Taipei Times we find an article from the NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE titled ‘Pastafarianism’ gains prominence and support in intelligent-design drive

Indeed, 95% of those responding stated that they were “in favor of teaching Flying Spaghetti Monsterism in schools.” Five percent suggested that he would be going to hell.

In addition the website “ mounted a challenge: “We are willing to pay any individual US$250,000 if they can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

As they say in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Ramen

Wikipedia entry

Censorship at Telic Thoughts


On Telic Thoughts, the administrators seem to have chosen to not only block me from further contributions but they have also deleted my contributions.

Fascinating how ID proponents complain about censorship but apparantly do not shy away from censoring their opponents.

Teach the controversy seems to be a one sided call to action it seems.

Tonight on Harvey Birman, Attorney at Law, Captain Caveman sues his son’s school because it doesn’t teach evolution.

Evolutionary War

When Cavey Jr.’s school refuses to teach evolution, Captain Caveman turns to Harvey to defend the hariy little boy’s right to an education. Harvey not only has to prove evolution but also explain the existence of a talking caveboy. As if that’s not enough, Harvey also suffers his latest existential crisis at the hands of Reducto. A rousing song and dance number follows.

Harvey Birdman airs on Sunday Nights at 11:45 (EST) on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block. Reruns will air at 2:45 Monday Morning, and 12:15 and 3:15 Friday morning.

Call for science links

The Tangled Bank

There will be a new Tangled Bank at B and B on Wednesday, 7 September—send me links to your science writing by Tuesday!



Looks like they’re coming for mathematics now:

Forget about isosceles triangles and the Pythagorean Theorem—they’re square. The hottest trend in high-school math these days is deometry, the study of how the Creator created points, lines, angles, shapes and proofs. While critics decry the entry of religion into math class, fans of the new teaching method maintain that by giving God a primary role in geometry and other fields of mathematics, they are merely restoring balance to an area that has sought to remove all vestiges of religion from the public polygon.

I’m pretty sure this is a parody…

Someone calling himself Homunculus has posted this bit of anti-evolution insanity over at the right-wing website I give it the business in this lengthy post over at EvolutionBlog. Enjoy!

Gene logic


On Telic Thoughts, Mike Gene presents an interesting but fallacious argument

If MN determined that the Earth was 6000 years old, that evolution could not occur and all living things were fitted into discrete, discontinuous groups, and a global flood once covered the Earth, does MN then mean we must explain this all “without reference to supernatural beings or events?”

What does reference to the supernatural explain? Everything and thus nothing. And notice that MN has not failed here, so unless Mike wants to argue that if in addition to these findings, science cannot explain these data that somehow ‘supernatural design’ becomes more likely then he clearly does not understand the scientific method. Why should our ignorance be seen as evidence for something which we cannot observe?

Some Recent News on ID: September 01, 2005


1. Marblehead Reporter Letter: Intelligent Design is ‘anti-science’ 2. Indian Country: Mohawk: ‘Intelligent design’ and faith-based science 3. Cleveland Jewish News Intelligent design attacks clear thinking 4. Florida Billboard Supports Teaching ‘Intelligent Design’ in Schools


Since last week’s report, there have been several developments in the Rio Rancho situation, wherein the local school board adopted a new science policy that, according to the Sept. 2nd Albuquerque Journal’s print edition

means teachers will lead discussions on alternative ideas to evolution.

For starters, on Thursday, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (info) has again reached his noodly appendage beyond the internet, into Mainstream Media, or at least to the twice-weekly pages of the Rio Rancho Observer:

And also yesterday (Sept. 1st), several science chairs from the University of New Mexico recommended that Rio Rancho’s Policy 401 should be abolished.

Telic ‘Logic’


On Telic Thoughts, Salvador makes the following (self defeating) comment, in response to the statement by David Schweingruber that:

David Schweingruber Wrote:

So Iowa State has one thing in common with unaccredited Bible colleges and medieval heresy tribunals – our Bible scholars think they can tell our astronomers how to do their jobs.

And now Sal

Salvador Wrote:

Ouch! That’s about good a slam down as I’ve ever seen!

ID’s minor success


It seems that ID proponents are at least mildly successful in coaching ID supporters in what to say and not to say and when to say it…

Tim Borseth Wrote:

Well, my arm was twisted. Rather than working hard on campus ministry stuff, I was coerced into writting a letter to the editor of the D.M. Register regarding the Intelligent Design debate. It went through a major revision after Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez himself advised me multiple times as to what to say and what not to say.

At least he puts an end to the myth that Gonzalez was somehow singled out

Tim Borseth Wrote:

I have personally interacted with 15 professors at Iowa State who seriously doubt Darwinism and have offered their assistance in helping college students work through the role of faith in science. Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez is by no means alone.

10,000 and going


Today, Panda’s Thumb has experienced its highest traffic yet. While the daily hits were growing quite solidly, PT managed to attract over 10,000 visits with over 14,000 page views. [oops make that 11,500 and 16,000. At this rate PT is 3 days away from a million visits]

Congratulations to a fantastic team. Check out the stats for This Month

Reed Cartwright provide the following graphics



Russell Durbin reports:

Discovery Institute C(R)SC fellows and friends are fond of citing SETI as an example of intelligent design theory in action. While we at Panda’s Thumb are certain that the CRSC had no intention of implying that SETI endorses their claims to scientific respectability, we thought we might help them avoid any misunderstanding by passing along the following link:

Intelligent Design and Evolution at the White House

Dawkins and Coyne: One side can be wrong


In One side can be wrong Accepting ‘intelligent design’ in science classrooms would have disastrous consequences, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne express their feelings and findings on intelligent design.

It sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? Such a modest proposal. Why not teach “both sides” and let the children decide for themselves? As President Bush said, “You’re asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, the answer is yes.” At first hearing, everything about the phrase “both sides” warms the hearts of educators like ourselves.

This is a very good article which goes into quite some depth to describe what is wrong with intelligent design while also addressing what is and is not know about the ‘gaps’ so often abused by ID proponents.

It’s good to see how more and more scientists are standing up to defend science. I believe we should thank George W. for his ill-timed remarks.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from September 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

August 2005 is the previous archive.

October 2005 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter