September 18, 2005 - September 24, 2005 Archives

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.

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

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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

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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.

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Tangled Bank #37

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The Tangled Bank

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

Deja vu all over again

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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.

Enjoy.

DNA and RNA (and Birdnow).

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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

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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

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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!

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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 host@tangledbank.net 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

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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

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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

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