November 2005 Archives

Dembski’s Designed Duplicity

On his blog, William Dembski is trying once again to argue that the intelligent designer need not be God: Everyone knows he doesn’t mean it, of course, but this is the pretense that they must maintain for purposes of their legal strategy. Unfortunately, their own words keep tripping them up in the attempt. He writes:

In those programs, Stewart & Co. had some lines that were not only funny but also memorable. The one that sticks out poked fun at ID: “We’re not saying that the designer is God, just someone with the same skill-set.” That line is now being reused on the debate circuit, with Eugenie Scott, for instance, deploying it this November at a debate at Boston University (go here).

Although the line is funny, it is not accurate. God’s skill-set includes not just ordering matter to display certain patterns but also creating matter in the first place. God, as understood by the world’s great monotheistic faiths, is an infinite personal transcendent creator. The designer responsible for biological complexity, by contrast, need only be a being capable of arranging finite material objects to display certain patterns. Accordingly, this designer need not even be infinite. Likewise, that designer need not be personal or transcendent (cf. the “designer” in Stoic philosophy).

Now let’s look, for the umpteenth time, at how the Discovery Institute - where Dembski is a senior fellow - defines intelligent design:

Continue Reading at Dispatches From the Culture Wars. All comments should be left there.

Tangled Bank #42

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The Tangled Bank

Are you ready to read over 40 science articles today? Tangled Bank #42 is up.

Eugenie Scott in Virginia


For readers in Virginia, let me mention that NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott will be giving two talks this week in our neck of the woods.

On Wednesday, November 30 she will be at Oakton High School, 2900 Sutton Road, Vienna, VA, from 7:00-9:00 PM. More information can be obtained by writing to

On Thursday, December 1 she will be speaking at the Fairfax campus of George Mason University, again at 7:00 PM, in the Johnson Center- Dewberry Hall South. Driving directions and parking information is available here.

Scott's full speaking schedule is available here.

I will be attending Wednesday's event. Sadly, a prior engagement will keep me away on Thursday.

The Heresy of Nosson Slifkin


That's the title of the cover story of the October 2005 issue of the Jewish magazine Moment. Nosson Slifkin is an orthodox rabbi living in Israel. His heresy - surprise! - was defending the theory of evolution.

Here's a brief excerpt:

[The voice on the phone] informed Slifkin that four prestigious rabbis had opened his “Torah Universe” series and found three of its four books to contain heresy. Two of the volumes centered on animal-related issues: The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax discussed the kosher traits of animals that do not appear in the Torah, while Mysterious Creatures debunked the existence of mythical beasts---including mermaids, phoenixes and unicorns---that are discussed in the Talmud. The rabbis were especially troubled by The Science of Torah, a book that focused on Darwinism and the age of the universe. The man on the phone informed Slifkin that he had until the end of the day to retract his books. If he didn't, the charge would be made public and other prominent rabbis would join the campaign against him.

Slifkin subsequently found himself losing speaking engagements. Jewish libraries were pulling his books off the shelves, and his publisher halted publication of his books.

I may be an atheist, but I am also Jewish. As such, I am deeply ashamed that some of my fellow Jews are capable of such insanity. I have provided further excerpts and commentary in this post at EvolutionBlog.

We are as worms


Genes in us multicellular eukaryotes are characterized by a peculiar feature: the DNA sequence is interrupted by stretches called introns that are transcribed into mRNA, but then cut out so that their sequence is not represented in the final protein product. The gene is spliced together out of portions called exons, excluding the introns, a bit of post-transcriptional editing that permits splice variants to be made, and that can increase the diversity of gene products. It's still a very strange and inefficient way to go about making proteins, though, and one that isn't necessary—bacteria, for instance, get along just fine without this intron nonsense.

Continue reading "We are as worms" (on Pharyngula)


The AP is reporting that the National Zoo’s Panda club had a photo shoot today: Panda cub gets its close-up.

More than 100 reporters and camera crews from around the world got their first look at the fuzzy creature as they filed past his indoor enclosure in five different shifts. And the 4 1/2-month-old cub did not disappoint.

He chased his zookeeper around, trying to nibble at the hems of her jeans. He pulled himself over the ledge of the habitat’s rocky centerpiece. He tumbled onto his back, and he gummed at the bamboo stalks that will someday form his diet.

CNN even has a video of the tyke.

Cornell’s New IDEA Club

The Chicago Tribune has an article up about a new IDEA (Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness) club at Cornell University, where the president recently delivered a scathing critique of intelligent design in his annual address to the school. The article includes many misconceptions and falsehoods, beginning with the first premise uttered by the new chapter’s founder:

The national spotlight recently has focused on school boards in Kansas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere that are grappling with calls for including intelligent design, a concept critical of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, in science curricula. But a significant new front in this cultural conflict is opening in the halls of American higher education, spearheaded by science students skeptical of evolution and intrigued by intelligent design.

One of them is Hannah Maxson. A math and chemistry major at Cornell University, she founded an Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club here this fall.

“In my opinion, both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution are science. Both have philosophical implications. Intelligent design implies the universe is somewhat directed. Darwinian evolution implies a naturalistic worldview,” Maxson, 21, said.

Continue Reading at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there rather than here.

Compliments to the Panda’s Thumb


The latest issue of Science (volume 310, number 5752) says some nice things about The Panda's Thumb in their Netwatch section:

Darwin's contemporaries Thomas Huxley and Joseph Hooker championed his theory in print and in lectures. If they were alive today and had a little attitude, they might craft something like The Panda's Thumb, a Web log in which a cadre of Darwin's modern-day defenders pummels antievolution pseudoscience such as "intelligent design" (ID). The site gets its name from a Stephen Jay Gould essay about the giant panda's adaptation for stripping bamboo leaves--it's a jury-rigged feature a clever designer wouldn't engineer. Panda's Thumb regulars--who range from Ph.D.s and grad students to a businessman and a lawyer--comb the news media for follies to expose and errors to correct. The site provided blanket coverage of the recent trial on the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board's decision to require teaching of ID (Science, 18 November, p. 1105). Panda's Thumb also highlights evolution-related research, such as a study showing that the antibiotics produced by our immune systems may not be a panacea for drug-resistant bacteria.

Coopting cooption

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More Kitzmiller documents available


Since I don’t think I posted this before, all of the PDFs of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial are now available on NCSE’s website – in searchable, error-free form, which was not previously the case. See also the TalkOrigins HTML version of the transcripts, complete with graphics, links, and HTML anchors for each question (just click on the “Q”).

In case you were wondering, variations on the word “flagellum” appeared 385 times during the trial. I was about to suggest that this count beats the total of all previous usages of the word “flagellum” in all trials, anywhere in history, but then I remembered the original meaning of “flagellum”, which is the latin term for “whip.”

(Rumor has it that immune system fans were disappointed that their favorite “irreducible complex” system only got 145 mentions. Then again, only the plaintiffs seemed to enjoy talking about the immune system…)

Also, the United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania has just posted all of the Proposed Findings of Fact from the Defense and Plaintiffs on their website.

Tastes great, less filling


A few months back, Nature published a series of papers on the completion of the chimpanzee genome, including a massive comparison of the human and chimp genomes (free online). One of the major utilities of having two closely-related genomes to compare (in addition to showing that humans and chimps have close common ancestors, as in Ken Miller’s testimony on Day 1 of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial) is that genes that are evolving rapidly under natural selection can be detected.

At the time, an odd observation stuck in my head: not only were things like immune system genes evolving rapidly (as they do in apparently all mammals studied thus far – it’s a war zone out there with the microbes), but according to Table 4 of the Nature article, so were some olfactory and taste receptor genes. This seemed rather odd, given that humans are not exactly first among the beasts when it comes to sniffing capabilities, or, I presume, tasting (although according to this PNAS article, our “gustatory receptors” are doing rather better than our olfactory receptors, many of which have become pseudogenes).

Even with our modest capabilities in this area, however, there are evidently some pretty important things that at least our taste receptors can do. Protect humans from malaria, for example. Read Carl Zimmer’s latest to find out how.

Have you ever wondered how Kevin Bacon and the lights of fireflies related to malaria and power grids? I know it’s something that’s kept me up many a sleepless night. One word: interconnections.

Many of you have probably heard of the “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” game. This is based on the work of Stanley Milgram beginning in the 1960s, and brought up again more recently in a 1998 Nature paper, “Collective Dynamics of ‘Small-World’ Networks,” by mathematicians Watts and Strogatz. Milgram conducted a number of studies using his “lost letter technique,” in which letters were sent out and then needed to be forwarded onto reach their destination. In one instance, Milgram sent out 160 letters to individuals in the midwest, with instructions to pass them along to acquaintances who would be most likely to reach his stockbroker friend back east. Almost all of the letters that reached the stockbroker did so via one of 3 friends—and most did it within 6 steps–hence the “six degrees of separation” idea. Similarly, Duncan Watts first became interested in the “small world problem”—the idea that all of us are more closely connected than we realize—after watching fireflies flash in synchrony, and wondering how they accomplished that. What Watts, Strogatz, Milgram, and others were investigating boiled down to a series of links in a network—hubs and connectors. As Watts and Strogatz showed in their 1998 paper, all it took to make a “small world” from a regular network was the addition of a few “short cuts” (see figure from their paper, right). This elegant and seemingly simple structure of networks explains not only connections between movie stars and scientists but also cellular metabolism, ecology webs and the World Wide Web itself.

Continued at Aetiology

Zimmer on evolutionary compromises


It starts with a very good line:

Natural selection is not natural perfection.

Read on to learn about another tradeoff in our makeup that is a consequence of our evolutionary history. (Although I want to be the first to predict that someone will use this information to reinforce their belief in the curse of Ham).

Mysterious Trichoplax


BioEssays regularly runs a feature called "My Favorite Animal"; this month's choice is barely an animal at all, the placophoran Trichoplax adhaerens. I've written about Trichoplax before. It's a strange creature, a small flat blob that creeps amoeba-like over the substrate, that replicates by simply splitting in two, and that seems to have no distinguishing features at all—no head, no sense organs, no nervous system, no gut, just a collection of cells that hang together and slurp up algal slime. They are, however, multicellular, and their bodies contain at least four functionally distinct cell types, and the molecular evidence suggests affinities to other animal groups (they have a ProtoHox/ParaHox gene, for instance)…so they are definitely metazoans. They are just the simplest, barest kind of metazoan we can find now.

Continue reading Mysterious Trichoplax (on Pharyngula)

2001 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Eric Cornell, gave a speech at his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Time article is an adaptation of this speech.

Cornell claims that science isn’t about knowing the mind of God, but about understanding nature and the reasons for things. For science, Cornell claims, Intelligent Design is a dead-end idea because it claims that the scientific reason for things is that God wanted it that way. Cornell calls on scientists to keep Intelligent Design out of science classes, and to keep moral and religious judgments out of science.

Time; 11/14/2005, Vol. 166 Issue 20, p98-98, 1p, 1c

Remember Behe’s testimony?

After being denied the much sought after status as ‘scientific’, Intelligent Design has run into another roadblock, upsetting the time line laid out in the Wedge Strategy

Intelligent design — already the planned subject of a controversial Kansas University seminar this spring — will make its way into a second KU classroom in the fall, this time labeled as a “pseudoscience.”

In addition to intelligent design, the class Archaeological Myths and Realities will cover such topics as UFOs, crop circles, extrasensory perception and the ancient pyramids.

Revealed knowledge


Call for links for the Tangled Bank

The Tangled Bank

Another Tangled Bank is coming up on Wednesday, 30 November, at Dogged Blog. Send those links in to the host or me soon.

If you're wondering what the Tangled Bank is, Mike Bergin has written a summary of weblog carnivals. It's basically a mechanism to spread the attention around, and direct readers away from a few well-trafficked weblogs to other deserving sites, usually with a theme—the Tangled Bank is a one-stop shop to find lots of weblogs that write about science, for instance.

I discussed here new research on venom evolution that topples some old conventional wisdom. It seems this and another study are already making waves in that field. Genealogy of Scaly Reptiles Rewritten by New Research

The most comprehensive analysis ever performed of the genetic relationships among all the major groups of snakes, lizards, and other scaly reptiles has resulted in a radical reorganization of the family tree of these animals, requiring new names for many of the tree’s new branches. The research, reported in the current issue of the journal C. R. Biologies, was performed by two biologists working at Penn State University: S. Blair Hedges, professor of biology, and Nicolas Vidal, a postdoctoral fellow in Hedges’ research group at the time of the research who now is a curator at the National Museum in Paris.

Vidal and Hedges collected and analyzed the largest genetic data set ever assembled for the scaly reptiles known as squamates. The resulting family tree has revealed a number of surprising relationships. For example, “The overwhelming molecular-genetic evidence shows that the primitive-looking iguanian lizards are close relatives of two of the most advanced lineages, the snakes on the one hand and the monitor lizards and their relatives on the other,” Vidal says.

The eminent science journal Nature has a letter (subscription required) from Professor A. Richard Palmer of the Systematics and Evolution Group, at the University of Alberta.

In it, he proposes that we teach the controversy - not only should we teach that there is an Intelligent Design hypothesis, we should also teach that there is an Intelligent Deceiver motivating the ID movement.

Individuals who understand how to debate alternative scientific hypotheses would never intentionally promote religious dogma as science. So an intelligent deceiver must be at work, guiding proponents of ID to sow confusion over valid scientific debate.

Heavy Demand for Intelligent Design and Science Wars Articles Prompts SciPolicy Journal to Give Free and Open Access to Archives Haverford, PA (PRWEB) November 21, 2005 – SciPolicy – The Journal of Science and Health Policy – announced today that all of its articles are now free and open access on-line.

The public service move is prompted by a recent ten-fold increase in demands on its already busy website ( for articles related to its Amicus Curiae brief in Federal Court (the case of Kitzmiller, et al v Dover Area School District and Dover Area School District Board of Directors) and for its editorial opposing government mandates to teach of intelligent design in public schools, and its numerous articles on the Science Wars.

In an article forthcoming in the Washington University Law Quarterly, Prof. Jay Wexler responds to the arguments of Prof. Francis Beckwith on the constitutional issues involved in the teaching of Intelligent Design. It's a good article that will help the efforts of evolution's defenders---and, as an added bonus, Wexler cites posts from the Thumb and allied blogs in his footnotes!

Fox News reports that Professor Paul Mirecki will be teaching a class on intelligent design.

The class, titled “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies” will be taught in the religious studies department of the university.

Of dragons and microbes

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Carl Zimmer has a post today about the work of Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry on the evolution of snake venom. If that name sounds familiar to those of you who aren’t reptile specialists, you may have run across Dr. Fry’s homepage, or you may have seen his research profiled previously on Panda’s Thumb here, or you may have read comments by the good doc in this thread. Zimmer, as always, has an excellent overview of Fry et al‘s new paper in Nature (link ), but he didn’t emphasize the one sneak peek I received from Bryan. So, I thought I’d add a bit to Carl’s overview.

(Continued at Aetiology…)

HHMI’s Holiday lectures


On December 1st and 2nd, there will be a series of four lectures by Sean Carroll and David Kingsley offered by the HHMI. Even if you aren't in a fabulously well-connected East coast city, though, you'll be able to watch it—it's going to be webcast (via Real, which is unfortunate…I don't care for them much).

It should be excellent!

Conservatives Against ID

Although attacks on evolution education usually come from politically conservative groups, it’s wrong to get the impression that conservatives are monolithically hostile to evolution. In fact, many prominent political conservatives, including Charles Krauthammer, John Derbyshire, and Larry Arnhart, not only defend evolution, but are worried about the fallout for conservatism when the ID movement finally blows up, as it must. I myself am not sympathetic to reconciliation between evolution and religion, as I explained in this post, and I’m not a political conservative myself. But conservatism is a respectable political position, and it would be a shame if it hitched itself permanently to the plummeting star of Intelligent Design. Conservatives who stand up for evolution deserve praise for their intellectual integrity; it can’t be easy for them to stand up against their friends and allies on such a controversial issue. On that score, congratulations to Timothy Wheeler for his post on the Claremont Institute’s weblog.

Update: Meanwhile, the (non-conservative) Cato Institute’s Andrew J. Coulson has this article on the ID/evolution fight.

The Motherland


Recently I had the opportunity to visit some of my relatives at the Panda Reserve in Chungdu, China. I was invited to visit the Reserve by my friend Dr. Steve “Number 42” Case. Number 42, besides being one of the original Project Steve Steves, is also co-chairperson of the Kansas Science Standards Writing Committee as well as Director of the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas.

It was certainly moving to see my ancestral home and native habitat. I don’t run into many pandas in the scientific circles I inhabit, nor many real bamboo stands for dinner.

I imagine that Number 42 is enjoying doing research in China right now rather than dealing with the continuing shenanigans of the state Board of Education back in Kansas. He tells me that his next stop is Zhengzhou, the place where KU recently acquired fossil dinosaur eggs from. He is going to see if he can acquire some - maybe I’ll be able to visit him there also.

Witt in the Seattle Times


In an opinion piece in the Seattle Times, Jonathan Witt is in high dudgeon over those intolerant "Darwinists" who want to suppress the Truth. Sadly, his piece is one half-truth after another, all misleadingly twisted to give an overwhelmingly fraudulent impression. You would think that someone who honestly wants to address a scientific issue would not resort to such distortions and propaganda…but that's the Discovery Institute for you.

After various other Vatican officials had already expressed their discomfort with the Intelligent Design Creationism movement, Cardinal Schonborn, who initially had confused some with his comments about intelligent design, has finally outlined the details.

Schonborn, whose initial comments on Intelligent Design may have been coached by organizations supporting ID, seems to have come to the realization that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

My critique of Gerald Schroeder’s first book, Genesis and the Big Bang (Bantam Books, 1990), and of his second book, The Science of God (The Free Press, 1997), was first posted in April 1999, almost seven years ago. It was updated when Schroeder published his third book, The Hidden Face of God (The Free Press, 2001). My critical remarks can be seen here or here. Besides these posts on the internet, my critique of Schroeder was published in vol. 23, No 4 (2003) of Skeptic (Australia). Then, in my book Unintelligent Design, released by Prometheus Books in November of 2003, there is a chapter specifically discussing Schroeder’s three books. There also are references to my critique of Schroeder in various reviews of my book, both online and in print.

Response from Schroeder? A seven year long silence.

Now a reader of Talk Reason by the name of Daniel emailed Schroeder a copy of my post critiquing Schroeder’s output. This time Schroeder finally deigned to reply, probably because Daniel seems to be affiliated with he same religious organization as Schroeder (see here).

I will not repeat here my critical remarks regarding Schroeder’s output, which can be seen at any of the above mentioned places. Instead I will only address Schroeder’s “reply” to Daniel.

The Clergy Project letter now has 9,919 signatures, and their goal is to collect 10,000 signatures. This is a letter signed by clergy in the USA that asserts that religion and science are compatible, and further that evolutionary biology should be taught: “To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”

So, if you are a member of the clergy, or if you know of a member of the clergy who has not yet signed, this is the final call for signatures. Instructions are on this page.

Update: The Clergy Project was at 10,002 signatures as of November 23rd, 2005. Congratulations to Michael Zimmerman, and thanks to the participating clergy.

…and has spawned some press coverage, here in the Ames Tribune and here in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, making us the first state to have faculty from all Regent universities speak out against intelligent design. I’ll briefly address some of the comments.

In the first article, U of I physics professor (and signer of the DI’s “Scientific dissent from Darwinism” petition) Fred Skiff elaborates one giant strawman:

“It’s part of science to consider what blinders you might be wearing,” Skiff said. “Materialists put conditions on science that things can only exist if they satisfy materialism. I think that is a mistake.”

(Continued at Aetiology)

Edited to add: bummer, as noted in the comments, Missouri beat us to the punch.

Edited again to add: I see Dembski is claiming “ ID proponents were bypassed” when we circulated this. Not true at all–I don’t even know who on the faculty is an “ID proponent” besides the already-mentioned Fred Skiff (and I can’t say how it was circulated within the physics department, if it went there at all). It was mostly passed along through word-of-mouth, and generally sent to entire departments or colleges at a time. The idea that we were bypassing certain people on a faculty this large is a joke.

Vatican official refutes intelligent design


The Seattle PI reports that Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, has observed the obvious namely that “Intelligent design isn’t science even though it pretends to be,…”

While the Catholic church obviously supports ‘intelligent design’, it also seems to realize that ‘Intelligent Design’ is scientifically vacuous.

Hmm, this sounds familiar…


I just stumbled on an interesting old article in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (The ASA is the long-established organization of scientists who are evangelical Christians. The membership ranges from young-earth creationism to theistic evolution).

The article is creationist Nell Segraves’s contribution to a five-person response to the question, “Biblical Creation: Should It Be Taught in the Public Schools as a Mandated Subject Alongside Evolution?” Segraves replied:

Biblical Creation: Should It Be Taught in the Public Schools as a Mandated Subject Alongside Evolution?

From: JASA 33 (December 1981): 231-235

(A public discussion on May 14, 1980 sponsored by the Community Services Office, San Diego Community College, and the Biology Department of San Diego Mesa College.)

Nell Segraves

Nell Segraves is a co-founder and an administrative assistant at the Creation Science Research Center. She has been involved in the evaluation of science, social science and health textbooks for approximately eighteen years.

Those of us involved in the Creationist Movement are not attempting to legislate biblical creation into science classrooms. Biblical creation is a belief that we hold, but we are no more advocating our belief in the Scriptures as a science subject than is the humanist advocating atheism as a subject for classroom discussion in science. The Creation Science Research Center is not attempting to introduce to public schools Bible stories or Bible verses. Neither are the other established responsible Creationist organizations. What we are advocating, rather, is the introduction into the science classroom of scientific data which are currently being excluded…namely, scientific data which conflict with the evolutionary theories of origin, and which are needed for the critical evaluation of evolutionary theories as science.

Yep, all we want to do is just teach the “scientific data which are currently being excluded” and “conflict with the evolutionary theories of origin”, and do some “critical evaluation”! It seems like I’ve heard that before, somewhere.

From London comes the astonishing news that the unmistakable image of Charles Darwin has appeared in the bottom of a postdoc’s frying pan. Scientists around the world1 are puzzled about the possible mechanism that might have resulted in the 19th century naturalist’s portrait being deposited on the suface of a cooking utensil.

In one attempted application of the Explanatory FilterTM it was found that the probability of this occurance is less than that of fairy circles appearing to form a mole on the face on Mars2. (This is, coincidentally, precisely equal to the probability that Nicholas Caputo would have hit David Berlinski if he had fired an arrow at Albert Einstein’s door during a total solar eclipse.)


Scientists say that the object’s being specified is beyond doubt. An anonymous fellow of an anonymous Intelligent Design PR firm, when asked on background and off the record, responded that “Objectively, we can only conclude that the image was designed by an intelligence3, perhaps by means of infinite wavelength radiation emanating from the stove of the discoverer’s flat.”

It has not yet been ascertained whether the pan’s dicoverer was cooking spaghetti at the time the image appeared.

The owner and discoverer of the miraculous pan has opened bidding for the object on ebay. All proceeds from the sale will benefit the American Civil Liberties Union, which conserves the civic values – including freedom of religion supported by the separation of church and state – of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.

1One in London, one in Princeton. 2Work not shown. 3Maybe supernatural, maybe not.

[Comments have been closed for this thread. Please continue the conversation at After the Bar Closes.]

A new fossil mosasaur, one of a group of non-dinosaurian reptiles that return to marine existence, has been found by an amateur fossil hunter (see? Science can be done by non-professionals) near Dallas Texas, appropriately called Dallasaurus turneri after the location and discoverer Van Turner who found it 16 years ago.

This fossil is interesting because it is one of your classical “missing links”. Mosasaurs, which ended up 40 feet long (12m) at the end of the Cretaceous when they and dinosaurs and a whole lot of other life went extinct from a bolide impact, evolved fins from their limbs, and many of the primitive mosasaurs had partial limbs/fins.

D turneri, however, has the complete set of limbs it shared with its reptilian ancestors and cousins. This is interesting for mosasaur specialists of course, but it also allows me an opportunity to talk about two often-misunderstood terms in evolution - “missing link” and “primitive”.

Continue reading “The Mosasaur and the missing link” on Evolving Thoughts


I hate to divert attention from the fascinating serious discussion (for the most part) taking place in response to my last post, The fundamental (and wrong) religious argument of the IDists in Kansas, but you all really should take a look at the new website (Motto: “Welcome to Kansas, please set your watch back 100 years.”)

For a start, read the first page of the “Kansas Teachers Guide to Intelligent Design”, a parody of a introductory letter by Kansas state Board member Connie Morris.

Here’s the text, but you really need to download the real thing to get the full flavor of this:

New Zimmer—you know you want it


Carl Zimmer's new book, Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), is available, and he has a summary of its contents at The Loom. This should be excellent—Zimmer has a real knack for writing about the evidence for a general audience without diminishing it—and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. More accessible descriptions about what we know and how we know it are exactly what we need to get out to the public!

Video time capsule


I first ran across the thylacine (aka “Tasmanian tiger” or “Tasmanian wolf”) when I was preparing to teach a summer course on vertebrate zoology for a local Catholic college during grad school. While I’d had a decent amount of organismal biology and zoology as a college undergrad, I was a bit rusty from a few years of only studying organisms lacking nuclei, so I was looking for a quick refresher as well as some interesting topics for final paper assignments for the course. Just announced around that time was a “breakthrough” in the attempt to clone the thylacine, so I introduced that to the class in a discussion of the effects of geographic isolation, and had a nice discussion of both the molecular techniques and the ethics of a Jurassic Park-type scenario.

(Continue reading at Aetiology)

Tangled Bank #41


Evolution of the cichlid mandible

cichlid jaws

When we look at the face of another person, we can recognize specific features that have familial resemblances. In my family, for instance, I can recognize a "Myers nose" that my grandmother and my father and some of my siblings and kids have, and it's different than my wife's or my mother's nose. These are subtle differences in shape—a bit of a curve, a knob, a seam—and their inheritance suggests that these differences are specified somehow in the DNA. If you think about it, though…how can whether the profile of a nose is straight or curved be encoded in a linear stretch of nucleotides? The complicated answer is that it isn't—morphology is a consequence of epigenetic interactions during development—but we know that the alleles present in the genome do contribute in some significant way to three-dimensional form. How?

We don't know all the details. This is one of those huge research problems that has gaping holes, full of promise and interest, where we don't understand exactly how all the pieces fit together. However, here's an important point that is relevant to other, larger issues in evolution: even where we lack full information about mechanisms, we can roughly perceive the shape of the answer, and that helps us rule out many alternative explanations and guides us in the general direction of a more complete understanding.

People's noses are a difficult subject for research; we don't get to define human crosses, people tend to be a little snippy about telling them who to breed with and taking their genes apart, and humans are awfully slow to breed. Fish are better experimental animals, much more pliable and faster and more prolific in their breeding. Some fish, such as the African cichlids, also have highly diverse populations and species with easily recognized and often quite dramatic morphological differences—and we can explore how those differences are generated by genetic and molecular differences in development. In particular, we can start to figure out how fish jaws are shaped by developmental processes.

Continue reading "Evolution of the cichlid mandible" (on Pharyngula)

Remember Steve Fuller who was a defense expert witness in the Kitzmiller trial? Steve Miller is also on the editorial board of the SciPolicy Journal.

His colleagues have filed an Amicus Curiae or Friends of the Courts, brief:

There is a logical fallacy in mandating the inclusion of intelligent design since it provides neither scientific explanation nor empirical evidence of the actual existence of a designer, but through fiat simply asserts that a designer must exist to explain the gap in knowledge. Stripped of its intellectual facade the announcement is nothing but a transparent effort to engraft religious dogma onto the classroom examination of scientific theory.

Steve Abrams in the Hot Zone


Just when I thought I’d seen it all, Red State Rabble notes that Kansas Board of Education chairman Steve Abrams has just published an op-ed entitled “Science standards aren’t about religion” in the Wichita Eagle. I can’t tell if it is the same op-ed that Abrams said in an interview yesterday he was sending to “newspapers across the state, as well as CNN, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post,” but it probably is.

To begin, Abrams declares that the changes to the Kansas science standards are not about religion, and then promptly makes it extremely clear that they actually are. Specifically, Abrams makes it clear that this really is about good old-fashioned creationism, when he writes this:

Resistance to antibiotics has been a concern of scientists almost since their widespread use began. In a 1945 interview with the New York Times, Alexander Fleming himself warned that the misuse of penicillin could lead to selection of resistant forms of bacteria, and indeed, he’d already derived such strains in the lab by varying doses of penicillin the bacteria were subjected to. A short 5 years later, several hospitals had reported that a majority of their Staph isolates were, as predicted, resistant to penicillin. This decline in effectiveness has led to a search for new sources and kinds of antimicrobial agents. One strategy involves going back to a decades-old approach researched by Soviet scientists: phage therapy. Here, they pit one microbe directly against another, using viruses called bacteriophage to infect, and kill, pathogenic bacteria. Vincent Fischetti at Rockefeller University has used this successfully to kill anthrax, Streptococcus pyogenes, and others. Another novel source of antibiotics has come from our own innate immune system, one of our initial defenses against microbial invaders.



Bestill your beating hearts, Darwin fans, for yet more Darwin texts are free online. Many have long known and loved the website The writings of Charles Darwin on the web run by John van Wyhe, at the British Library, which has virtually all of Darwin’s published books and articles online (yes, Virginia, Darwin wrote over 100 articles in addition to all his books). And, less well known but very useful, all the volumes of The Correspondance of Charles Darwin are searchable at Google Print.

Now, as reviewed by Niles Eldredge in PLoS Biology [1], we have online Darwin’s early notebooks – the “Red” and “Transmutation” notebooks – and manuscripts: the 1842 Sketch, the 1844 Essay, and the massive unpublished book for which Origin of Species was the “abstract”, Natural Selection. The website is The Darwin Digital Library of Evolution at the American Natural History Museum (

1. Eldredge, N. 2005. “Darwin’s Other Books: ‘Red’ and ‘Transmutation’ Notebooks, ‘Sketch,’ ‘Essay,’ and Natural Selection.” Public Library of Science: Biology, 3(11): e382. November 15, 2005.

PS: Hmm, the PLoS: Biology article says that the “Red” and “Transmutation” notebooks are online at the website, but I can’t find them. Post a think if you find them.

On a local discussion forum in Lawrence, Kansas today, a poster named “Conservativeman” wrote a nice succinct summary of the main arguments presented by the Intelligent Design advocates (IDists) at the Kansas “science” hearings last May, and of those arguments incessantly put forth by ID leader John Calvert.

It may be that I am being too repetitious in my posts here at the Panda’s thumb, making the same points over and over. However, I think these points may become critical in case the Kansas situation goes to court, so for me I think it’s worth my while (if not the readers) to try to get as clear of an understanding of the fundamental religious argument that is being made by the IDists in Kansas.

Conservativeman wrote,

The problem is that an “Evolution Only,” policy is not really scientific or constitutional. It is not scientific because it is officially biased rather than scientifically objective. Because it is biased, it is not religiously neutral. Evolution Only effectively requires our children to “know” that we come from a natural rather than an intelligent cause, that we are occurrences and not designs, and that we naturally arise without purpose from a purposeless process. It effectively teaches that no rational evidentiary basis exists for theistic beliefs. Evolution Only converts these scientific claims into dogmas that are the fundamental tenets of non-theistic religions and that directly contradict the fundamental tenets of theistic religions. Accordingly, in my opinion, Evolution Only is not “secular” or neutral. Rather it is an ideology that directly conflicts with the First Amendment rights of parents and students.

This argument is quite wrong in a number of fundamental and important ways – ways that may eventually be settled in a court case. I’d like to respond to these points a few lines at a time.

Bringing Science into the Churches


The Kansas Board of Education has rewritten the science standards so that they may include the supernatural. That’s OK with me, as long as they play fair: Scientists must now be allowed to investigate the supernatural, including the truth claims of religion, and their judgements must be taken seriously. Science is, after all, our most successful enterprise (especially if we count medicine and sanitation), and we should be allowed to apply the principles of science to religion or anything else that makes objective claims. I say, Bring science into the churches!


It's official. Flying Spaghetti Monsterism has now produced more original peer-reviewed research than "intelligent design" (aka "creintelligent designationism"). Don't believe me? Well, look at these:

Audoly, B., and S. Neukirch. 2005. "Fragmentation of rods by cascading cracks: Why spaghetti does not break in half." Physical Review Letters 85 (Aug. 26): 095505.

Gladden, J.R., N.Z. Handzy, A. Belmonte, and E. Villermaux. 2005. "Dynamic buckling and fragmentation in brittle rods." Physical Review Letters 94 (Jan. 28): 035503.

How bent spaghetti break

Dynamic Buckling and Breaking of Thin Rods

Hat-tip to Peter Weiss of Science News, in his online article "That's the Way the Spaghetti Crumbles," Science News, 168(20), p. 315 (Nov. 12, 2005).

Update: November 15, 2005. The Templeton Foundation has issued a statement objecting to the implication that they have ever been a supporter of ID. The statement makes it clear that they do not support ID, and that on those occasions where foundation money went to ID supporters, it was for purposes other than supporting ID research. The statement begins:

Today the WSJ ran a front page story mentioning the John Templeton Foundation in a way suggesting that the Foundation has been a concerted patron and sponsor of the so-called Intelligent Design (“ID”) position (such as is associated with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and the writers Philip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe and others). This is false information. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The John Templeton Foundation has provided tens of millions of dollars in support to research academics who are critical of the anti-evolution ID position. Any careful and factual analysis of actual events will find that the John Templeton Foundation has been in fact the chief sponsor of university courses, lectures and academic research which variously have argued against the anti-evolution “ID” position. It is scandalous for a distinguished paper to misinform the public in this way.

In light of this, I apologize for suggesting that the Foundation was losing faith in ID, when it seems, in fact, they never had any faith in it to begin with. I still regard it as significant, however, that a foundation dedicated to bridging the gap between science and religion would wish to distance itself, with considerable passion, from ID.

The website of the Beaver County Times and Allegheny Times is reporting that Senator Rick Santorum has reversed his position on teaching ID in science classes:

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum said Saturday that he doesn't believe that intelligent design belongs in the science classroom.

Santorum's comments to The Times are a shift from his position of several years ago, when he wrote in a Washington Times editorial that intelligent design is a “legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in the classroom.”

But on Saturday, the Republican said that, “Science leads you where it leads you.”

And later:

Though Santorum said he believes that intelligent design is “a legitimate issue,” he doesn't believe it should be taught in the classroom, adding that he had concerns about some parts of the theory.

Santorum is one of the most conservative Senators around, and he is a darling of the Religious Right. Consequently, this flip-flop is highly significant. I provide some further commentary here.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on ID in college classrooms today.

AMES, Iowa – With a magician’s flourish, Thomas Ingebritsen pulled six mousetraps from a shopping bag and handed them out to students in his “God and Science” seminar. At his instruction, they removed one component – either the spring, hammer or holding bar – from each mousetrap. They then tested the traps, which all failed to snap.

“Is the mousetrap irreducibly complex?” the Iowa State University molecular biologist asked the class.

“Yes, definitely,” said Jason Mueller, a junior biochemistry major wearing a cross around his neck.

That’s the answer Mr. Ingebritsen was looking for. He was using the mousetrap to support the antievolution doctrine known as intelligent design. Like a mousetrap, the associate professor suggested, living cells are “irreducibly complex” – they can’t fulfill their functions without all of their parts. Hence, they could not have evolved bit by bit through natural selection but must have been devised by a creator. “This is the closest to a science class on campus where anybody’s going to talk about intelligent design,” the fatherly looking associate professor told his class. “At least for now.”

Overshadowed by attacks on evolution in high-school science curricula, intelligent design is gaining a precarious and hotly contested foothold in American higher education. Intelligent-design courses have cropped up at the state universities of Minnesota, Georgia and New Mexico, as well as Iowa State, and at private institutions such as Wake Forest and Carnegie Mellon. Most of the courses, like Mr. Ingebritsen’s, are small seminars that don’t count for science credit. Many colleges have also hosted lectures by advocates of the doctrine.

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Lecture Planned on Intelligent Design


Despite the complaints by ID proponents that Intelligent Design is not about religion or faith, they seem to have a hard time convincing even their fellow creationists.

In Lecture Planned on Intelligent Design we read the following

In the current controversy between scientific proponents and religious opponents of evolution, Hugh Ross concedes that scientists have a valid point.

“The most ubiquitous complaint from scientists is that evolution-bashers don’t have the courage to say what their model of the origin of life is. Frankly, I have to agree. All they’re doing is making negative arguments,” Ross said from his office in California. “We don’t critique the evolution model, we present our model.”

It only gets better:

After the Bar Closes


Some of you may not know this, but the Panda’s Thumb does have a forum on After the Bar Closes.

For those of you missing the Bathroom Wall, you can post your pearls on the forum.

Bongo for Bird Biogeography


Check out this: “Backtracking Birds Show Islands are not Evolutionary Dead End” on the blog A Scientific Life (or Scientist, Interrupted), aka The post reports on a paper on bird biogeography published in Nature, “Single origin of a pan-Pacific bird group and upstream colonization of Australasia.” The main point of the paper is that the biogeogaphy of a group of pacific island monarchs is not a simple matter of flow from the continental source to the island sink; instead, there has been some back-and-forth over the last few million years.

Dembski Finds the Transcript


William Dembski finally managed to find the transcript of Shallit’s testimony. Since I’ve been correct on predicting his behavior all the way along so far, I’ve taken another stab at it at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Update: Holy cow, I missed this the first time. Yesterday I asked the rhetorical question, would Dembski continue to embarrass himself in this situation regarding Shallit’s testimony? Well, we have our answer. Not only is he continuing to embarrass himself, he’s digging the hole even deeper. He’s now compounding his dishonesty with an attempt to erase the past. He has now deleted all three of his previous posts where he made the false claim that Shallit had been pulled from testifying by the ACLU because his deposition was an “embarrassment” and a “liability” to their case, even after one of those posts got almost 100 comments in reply to it. There’s no word so far on whether he will change his name to Winston Smith.

This really is dishonest behavior, there’s no two ways about it. Clearly, Dembski’s world is one in which he thinks he can rewrite history and no one will notice. I’m dying to hear how his toadies will defend this behavior. It’s not defensible on its own, so they can only attempt to distract attention away from it with a tu quoque argument or pointing fingers at others. So let’s hear what they have to say. Salvador? O’Brien? DonaldM? Let’s hear you defend this dishonest and Orwellian behavior. And tell us again how it’s evolution that undermines ethics and morality while you’re at it.

Update #2: Oh, here’s Dembski’s latest on the subject, in a comment responding to being asked what happened to the previous posts on the subject:

The previous postings were a bit of street theater. I now have what I needed. As for responding to Shallit and his criticisms, I have been and continue to do so through a series of technical articles under the rubric “The Mathematical Foundations of Intelligent Design” — you can find these articles at The most important of these is titled “Searching Large Spaces.” Shallit has indicated to me that he does not intend to engage that body of work:[…]archives/155.

A bit of street theater? Okay, let me see if I understand this. Dembski engaged in a bit of “street theater” - meaning “told a lie” - to get a copy of the transcript that he could have gotten two months ago because it’s been publicly available all along? And now instead of admitting to the lie, he’s just erasing the evidence of it? Okay, let’s call a spade a spade here. Dembski is a lying scumbag with no regard for the truth whatsoever. Period. Just when you think he’s hit rock bottom, Dembski begins to tunnel.

An editorial in today’s Washington Post discusses the school board election in Dover, Pennsylvania. The editorial makes a number of excellent points about the nature of the Intelligent Design controversy. They point out that getting thrown out of office is one of the risks you take when you play politics, and that the Intelligent Design movement relies entirely on politics to get their material into schools. They also point out that while the Discovery Institute claims to lack religious motivation, many of the people pushing Intelligent Design at the local level are clearly religiously motivated.

Those are all very good points, and it is definitely nice to see a newspaper like the Washington Post take an editorial position that favors teaching real science. Unfortunately, this editorial also makes a fundamental mistake when it discusses an issue related to the history of Intelligent Design, and this mistake leads to a conclusion that ends up just a bit wide of the mark.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

Dembski Proves Me Right Yet Again

William Dembski has finally replied - kind of - to my proof that he has been spreading false claims about why Jeff Shallit didn’t testify at the Dover trial. In that post, he continues to prove me right that he is simply not capable of admitting he was wrong even when shown to be wrong beyond any rational doubt. A full reply to his continued obfuscation can be found at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments should be left there.

Update: Dembski has posted another non-reply reply, still unwilling to admit he’s wrong. I’ve posted a full response here.

An Experimental Test of ID? Really?


In his recent testimony in Kitzmiller v. DASB (archived here, among other places), Michael Behe described what he called an “experiment” that could potentially falsify ID. Reading from his Reply to My Critics article, Behe testified that

In fact, intelligent design is open to direct experimental rebuttal. Here is a thought experiment that makes the point clear. In Darwin’s Black Box, I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process.

To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure, for mobility, say, grow it for 10,000 generations, and see if a flagellum, or any equally complex system, was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.

Let’s consider that suggestion for a moment. Is it possible that Behe is right and ID is experimentally testable?

More below the fold.


Apparently Pastafarians don’t have any rules about idolatry, because over on ebay, a a Handmade Flying Spaghetti Monster Plush Doll has received 36 bids and is currently selling for $242.50. I don’t even know who is running the auction, but evidently all proceeds (which will be matched by the dollmaker’s employer) will be donated to NCSE, which by the way is something you should consider doing anyway if you support our mission.

Pat Robertson on Dover

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If the Dover situation was a joke, this would be the punchline. Pat Robertson says that by voting out the pro-ID school board, the people of Dover have lost their protection from God:

“I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover. If there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city. And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there.”

Gee Pat, does that mean you won’t be there to try and pray away a hurricane like you pretended to do in Virginia? What a despicable cretin. Maybe you could call for the assassination of the new Dover school board president. But remember.…ID is not religious at all, it has nothing to do with Christianity or the religious right’s agenda, nothing whatsoevr. It’s just pure science from the word go. *eyeroll*

Here’s a story to tell from what has been a busy two days in Kansas. I intend to add more from Kansas as time allows, but this was a very interesting experience that I’d like to share.

The most common question that I’ve been asked by reporters is what are the practical consequences of the Kansas state Board’s adoption of these standards. Part of my answer has been that the most significant immediate consequence is that in districts all over Kansas, all it will take is one Board member, parent, student or teacher to bring creationists claims to the classroom, pointing to the state standards as a rationale and justification for having those claims discussed. This opens up a Pandora’s box through which anyone with creationist leanings can expect some amount of equal classroom time.

This morning I got an unusual opportunity to make this point. Radio station WBUR, an NPR station in Boston with national listenship, invited me on their show “Hear & Now” to respond to comments made by a high school biology teacher in Topeka, Kansas. This teacher, Donnie Palmer, favors the new standards, and is an example of exactly the danger I have been referring to

Instead of being live, WBUR interviews people offline and then edits the discussion more or less immediately for their show. Therefore, I was able to listen to Mr. Palmer’s interview first, and then comment on them in my part of the show. I was very impressed with all the people involved in this short project, especially the woman Robin who interviewed me.

You can listen to the show (it’s about 15 minutes long) by going here.

I invite and encourage you to listen, and then comment here.

New CSICOP Column

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If you've grown weary of following all of the post-election fallout, feel free to have a look at my new column for CSICOP's Creation and Intelligent Design Watch site. I put to rest once and for all the idea that Stephen Jay Gould would have objected to NCSE's “Steves” list. Enjoy!

With ID getting lots of press these days, and with an on-going court case trying to establish if ID is any different than creationism of yore, people can sometimes get confused about what exactly ID is. This can’t possibly be due to the ID advocates’ own equivocation and ambiguity, it must somehow be our fault, because otherwise they wouldn’t keep blaming us. So in order to help them out, I thought I would create a handy-dandy table comparing the attributes of ID, young-Earth creationism, and old-Earth creationism. That way, no one need get them confused ever again.

I have been trying all morning to find an answer to the question of whether last night’s elections, by changing the school board and, perhaps, the policy of that board, will make the Kitzmiller case moot or not. The answer does not appear to be as simple as one might think at first. After consulting with several prominent legal scholars, I have posted my understanding of this issue in all its various aspects at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Any legal types who have anything to add, or corrections to make of my understanding of it, please comment there.

A clean sweep in Dover

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The York Dispatch is reporting that eight out of the eight incumbent school board members in Dover have lost their bids for re-election to pro-evolution candidates. Wes already gave the preliminary results in an earlier Panda’s Thumb post. What I’d like to do is talk about the implications a bit.

Continue reading (at The Questionable Authority)

Just days after the close of testimony in the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Board case, the people got a chance to put in their two cents via school board elections, choosing between the


with their “intelligent design policy”, or the


of the Dover CARES campaign. The results, courtesy of the York Dispatch:

 ----- Dover -----
B Reinking 	Dem. 	2754
H Mc Ilvaine, Jr. Dem. 	2677
B Rehm 	        Dem. 	2625
T Emig 	        Dem. 	2716
A Bonsell 	Rep. 	2469
J Cashman 	Rep. 	2526
S Leber 	Rep. 	2584
E Rowand 	Rep. 	2547

2-Year Term
L Gurreri 	Dem. 	2623
P Dapp 	        Dem. 	2670
J Mc Ilvaine 	Dem. 	2658
E Riddle 	Rep. 	2545
R Short 	Rep. 	2544
S Harkins 	Rep. 	2466

2-Year Unexp
P Herman 	Dem. 	2542
D Napierskie 	Rep. 	2516

6 Out of 6 precincts

The Democratic slate contains the challengers to the current board members.

It should be noted that the incoming board members from the Dover CARES campaign have a platform plank saying that “intelligent design” will be taught in Dover public schools. However, the venue of such instruction will not be the science classrooms, where it was out-of-place, but rather an elective course on comparative religion, where it fits perfectly.

Goodbye, Kansas

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It's a sad day for American science. We've lost Kansas.

Risking the kind of nationwide ridicule it faced six years ago, the Kansas Board of Education approved new public-school science standards Tuesday that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

The 6-4 vote was a victory for "intelligent design" advocates who helped draft the standards. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.

Critics of the new language charged that it was an attempt to inject God and creationism into public schools, in violation of the constitutional ban on state establishment of religion.

All six of those who voted for the new standards were Republicans. Two Republicans and two Democrats voted no.

For the next few years, a lot of schoolkids are going to get taught slippery twaddle—instead of learning what scientists actually say about biology, they're going to get the phony pseudoscience of ideologues and dishonest hucksters. And that means the next generation of Kansans are going to be a little less well informed, even more prone to believing the prattlings of liars, and the cycle will keep on going, keep on getting worse.

This, for instance, is baloney.

The new standards say high school students must understand major evolutionary concepts. But they also declare that the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology.

The proponents of these changes don't have any idea what the fossil and molecular evidence says, and they are misrepresenting it. There is no credible evidence against common descent and chemical evolution; those concepts are being strengthened, year by year. What does this school board think to gain by teaching students lies?

In addition, the board rewrote the definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

Rewriting the definition of science seems a rather presumptuous thing for a school board to do, I think, especially when their new definition is something contrary to what working scientists and major scientific organizations say is science. As for removing the limitation to natural phenomena, what do they propose to add? Ghosts, intuition, divine revelation, telepathic communications from Venusians? It's simply insane.

The clowns of Kansas don't think so, of course.

"This is a great day for education. This is one of the best things that we can do," said board chairman Steve Abrams. Another board member who voted in favor of the standards, John Bacon, said the move "gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today."

John Calvert, a retired attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network, said changes probably would come to classrooms gradually, with some teachers feeling freer to discuss criticisms of evolution. "These changes are not targeted at changing the hearts and minds of the Darwin fundamentalists," Calvert said.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports challenges to Darwinian evolutionary theory, praised the Kansas effort. "Students will learn more about evolution, not less as some Darwinists have falsely claimed," institute spokesman Casey Luskin said in a written statement.

Casey Luskin is a toady for the DI, so what does he know? There is a straightforward body of evidence for evolution to which students should be introduced—evidence that high school curricula barely touch on as it is. Adding a collection of false and confusing claims about what scientists say is only going to diminish the legitimate science that can be taught. And teaching absurdities, such as that science deals with the supernatural, represents a load of garbage that instructors at the college level are going to have to scoop out of the brains of these poor students. At least, that is, out of the diminishing number of students who will pursue genuine science, rather than the dead-end vapor of Intelligent Design creationism.

Goodbye, Kansas. I don't expect to see many of your sons and daughters at my university in coming years, unless the teachers of your state refuse to support the outrageous crapola their school board has foisted on them. I hope the rest of the country moves on, refusing to join you in your stagnant backwater of 18th century hokum.

Since I got a useful list of the pro and con members of the board in the comments, I thought it would be a good idea to bring it up top and spread the word.

Here are the Kansas good guys. When they come up for re-election, vote for them.

Pro-evolution, the heirs of the Enlightenment:
Janet Waugh
Sue Gamble
Carol Rupe
Bill Wagnon

Here are the Kansas bad guys. Vote against them whenever you can.

Pro-intelligent-design, the wretched sucktards of Ignorance:
Kathy Martin
Kenneth Willard
John W. Bacon
Iris Van Meter
Connie Morris
Steve Abrams

Wells, and the future of ID


Jonathan Wells just reposted an article over at ID: The Future that he wrote about a year ago. The article is a fictional account looking at the history of the ID movement from now until 2025. Here’s what Wells thinks will lead (or will have lead - I never can keep track of the right tense in these future history pieces) to the downfall of Darwinism:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

You might be interested to read about a very rare transitional fossil between creationism and “intelligent design” that was recently discovered by Barbara Forrest during her exploration of some exhibits filed in Kitzmiller v. Dover, namely drafts of the original “intelligent design” book Of Pandas and People.

The amazing beast, “cdesign proponentsists” was discovered directly above strata containing the well-known and ubiquitous species “creationists”. Previous research by Forrest had dated the layer the missing link was found in to the latter half of 1987.



I've been reading a strange book by Stuart Pivar, LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which purports to advance a new idea in structuralism and self-organization, in competition with Darwinian principles. I am thoroughly unconvinced, and am unimpressed with the unscientific and fabulously concocted imagery of the book.

Continue reading "Lifecode" (on Pharyngula)

Sad but true

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Well, I have finally returned from six weeks in Harrisburg at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial. I spent Saturday traveling and sleeping, and I spent Sunday cleaning my apartment out from under piles of articles, creationist journals, and other assorted Kitzmiller-related flotsam.

I think it’s clear that the case has gone extremely well thus far, and that the plaintiffs achieved everything they wanted to achieve while putting on their case. But it was an awful lot of work. In a wrapup story, “What’s made Dover unique?”, Lauri Lebo reports,

On a warm Indian summer day, Matzke stopped along a central Pennsylvania hiking trail and examined the leaves of an American chestnut tree for signs of blight. […] Today, botanists say they are close to bringing back the American chestnut, by crossing it with the Chinese chestnut, which carries the blight-resistant gene.

Matzke lives in California, but he has spent the past six weeks in Harrisburg, working on the case for the plaintiffs. This was the first time he had been able to spend time outside.

Sad but true…

It has now been 5 days since I posted absolute, undeniable proof that Dembski’s claims concerning why Jeff Shallit didn’t testify at the Dover trial were false. That proof was in the form of a motion filed by the defense and Judge Jones’ ruling on that motion, which proves incontrovertibly that Dembski’s claim that Shallit was pulled from testifying because his deposition was an “embarrassment” to the ACLU is false. In point of fact, it was the defense who went to great lengths to keep Shallit from testifying. I finished that post with the following statement:

So we have now conclusively demonstrated that Dembski’s assertion that Jeff Shallit was kept off the witness stand because his deposition was “an embarrassment” to our side is false. The only question that remains is whether the odds of Dembski admitting he was wrong are above or below his “universal probability boundary” of 1 in 10^150.

In the 5 days since that was posted, Dembski has written 18 separate posts on his blog, the same blog where he made his false claim in the first place. At least one of those posts refers directly to something written about him on the Panda’s Thumb, so it’s unlikely that he just didn’t see it. Indeed, he often refers to things written on PT, so we know that he reads it regularly. As of now, there is still no admission that he was wrong. Is this the behavior of an intellectually honest person or is it the behavior of someone out to smear another scholar and then pretend, even in the face of undeniable proof that his smear was unfounded, that he was never contradicted? I leave that to objective readers to decide on their own.

P.S. While we’re at it, I’ll make predictions on how he’ll respond to this post. He will either A) ignore it; B) make a tu quoque argument pointing the finger at someone on the evolution side for the same thing, whether justified or not; or C) he’ll insult me. No one offered to take a bet on his first response even with odds of 1 in 10^150 on their side. I doubt anyone will here either.

You can’t “Just kill them all”?


Battling unsuccessfully against a case of post-Dover syndrome, I wandered over to see Pat Hayes at Red State Rabble.

Scrolling down through his excellent commentaries, I came upon “William Dembski, fascist?”

Strong language I thought. But reading on, I found it was totally appropriate.

And, do read Dembski’s braying pack of sycophants on their urge to kill immigrants and particularly Muslims. There are many familiar cyper-names there; Dave Scott, jboze, DonaldM, and neurode.

Dave Scott offered a “plan” that is familiar to any student of history, no matter how superficial, “However, since we can’t just kill them all (we can kill the worst offenders though) …” He also added this little charming assessment, “Islam is a disease that has no place in the civilized world.” But in Dave Scott’s twisted mind, if such bigoted hate was expressed by anyone about Christ, or America, they would be an evil sort who should be killed.

Professional Christian apologist William Dembski’s notorious penchant for deleting any post he finds offensive has shown him to be a supporter of hate.

One minor point; the Darwin=fascism is clearly belied by these IDiots slavering over the chance to kill.

There’s been some interesting discussion over on SciAm Observations about the evolution of infectious diseases, and notably, influenza. It all started with editor John Rennie’s post, discussing an article on H5N1 written by Wendy Orent, here:

Part I

Wendy Orent and evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald both replied in Part II and Part III, respectively:

Part II

Part III

Both discussed Rennie’s mention of a critique of Orent’s article on the public health blog, Effect Measure. The pseudomynous Revere from that blog then replied in Part IV:

Part IV

(Continued at Aetiology…)

The Times Online reports the following last month. (I encourage those interested to read the full article.) (Also, I originally posted that this article was from today’s Times Online, but actually it was from October 5.)

Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has published a teaching document instructing the faithful that some parts of the Bible are not actually true.

The Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland are warning their five million worshippers, as well as any others drawn to the study of scripture, that they should not expect “total accuracy” from the Bible.

“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture.

The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.

Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.

But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.

Francis Collins presentation


Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Research Institute, recently gave a presentation at Trinity Episcopal Church. The newspaper reports suggest that Collins considered Intelligent Design to be ‘faith’ and in fact, according to an eyewitness report, Collins considers Intelligent Design to be lacking as a science.

Collins used the Biblical Quote

“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge. … “ (Proverbs 19:2 NIV)

An interesting story by Laurie Goodstein ran in the New York Times on the multi-year search of the Thomas More Law Center to find an “intelligent design” case. Having formed in 1999, they approached their first case candidate in 2000. And, of course, that search went on in the following years, until TMLC hooked up with the Dover Area School District in 2004.

Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute will be giving a talk on "Creationism in Camouflage: The 'Intelligent Design' Deception," on Thursday, November 17, at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California. The event is free to the public; more information here. And here's a brief article Lockitch has written on the subject---that includes an excellent Cox & Forkum cartoon.

Allan–aka WinAce–has died


For those of you who have been around the ‘net discussing evolution, you may have run into a fellow named WinAce. Or, you may have seen his site, The Wonderful World of WinAce. This site featured the somewhat famous Fundies say the darndest things!, a collection of amusing quotes from around the internet, his classic funny pics for online use, and his excellent spoof, Organisms that look designed. What you may not have known was that this bright, funny young man was dying of cystic fibrosis (3 siblings had already died of the disease), and was recently refused by Medicaid the chance to have a lung transplant, going against his doctors’ recommendations. Allan lost his fight today; he was 20 years old and is survived by his fiancee and parents. The world is a darker place without him in it. More about Allan

Mike Argento of the York Daily Record has a great column on Dover board member Bill Buckingham’s “Homer Simpson” moment at the Dover Kitzmiller v. DASD Trial, on October 27th.

Earlier this week, Family News In Focus interviewed Discovery Institute CRC Fellow Mark Hartwig about the Dover trial. Family News editor Pete Winn somehow missed seeing that Hartwig had a “D’Oh!” moment as well.

Here comes Homer (below the fold).

Faithful Should Listen to Science


More news from the Vatican

A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into “fundamentalism” if it ignores scientific reason.

Vatican: Faithful Should Listen to Science

Not surprisingly the questions asked, involved the issue of evolution and Intelligent Design

Contrarian or just lame?

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Mr. Michael Balter wrote what he referred to as a “somewhat contrarian view on the ID controversy” which was published as an editorial by the Los Angles Times on October 2, 2005.

I happen to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. I even tried to canceled my week-day subscription to the LA Times protesting the far-right political shift in their editorial pages. Perversely, the only result is that I now receive the paper for free. And, I did read the editorial written by Mr. Balter and would have responded at the time but for other deadlines. I was reminded when he posted a link to his essay on the TalkOrigins Feedback page for October. What irritates me most about Mr. Balter’s editorial is its presentation of ID arguments without refutations so that it reads more easily as a pro-ID than as anti-ID.

Creationism in Indiana

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The battle over creationism in public schools is heading for Indiana, as lawmakers there prepare to submit a bill to mandate the teaching of intelligent design there. And in the process, they’re leaving behind all sorts of evidence of the essential equation of ID and creationism.

The proposal comes a little more than a month after Bosma and a handful of other House members met privately with Carl Baugh, host of the Trinity Broadcasting Network show “Creationism in the 21st Century,” to discuss bringing intelligent design to public schools.

Baugh was in town as the guest of Zion Unity Missionary Baptist Church, a small Indianapolis church whose pastor, the Rev. Fredrick W. Boyd Jr., is an acquaintance of Baugh’s. Baugh is founder and director of the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas.

Boyd said Bosma and the lawmakers already were pursuing the idea, but they wanted to hear Baugh’s thoughts on how to create the legislation.

Ebola is one of my favorite pathogens. With the reputation it has, many people assume it’s killed many more worldwide than it actually has. People hear of Ebola and all kinds of grotesque images come to mind: organs “liquefying” (doesn’t really happen quite like that); bleeding from every orifice (okay, that one can be on-target); the victims dying a horrible death from a virus with an incredibly high mortality rate. There are four known subtypes of Ebola, named for their place of isolation: Ebola Reston, Ivory Coast, Sudan, and Zaire. Together with their cousin, the Marburg virus, they make up the family of viruses known as filoviruses.

Marburg was the first of these to be recognized, causing an outbreak in Germany (caused by infected African research monkeys) in 1967. The Ebola Zaire strain (EBO-Z) and the Ebola Sudan strain (EBO-S) surfaced at almost the same time in 1976. The outbreak in Zaire resulted in 319 cases (90% mortality), while in Sudan, 284 cases were identified (53% mortality rate). EBO-Z then wasn’t seen for almost 20 years, re-surfacing in Gabon in 1994, and once again in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1995. Another EBO-Z outbreak occurred in 2001-2 in Gabon and The Republic of Congo, causing about 120 cases, 79% of them fatal. Overall, less than 2000 known human infections and 1100 deaths have resulted from Ebola since its discovery in 1976. That’s an average of 38 deaths worldwide per year over the last 29 years. Compare that to a virus such as influenza, which kills 36,000 every year in the United States alone. Or even a fairly common microbe like E. coli, which causes thousands of deaths each year due to bacterial sepsis. Worse, none of these even come close to malaria, which causes over 200 deaths worldwide every hour. The numbers make it clear that, as far as mortality goes, Ebola is small potatoes—we have more to fear from our hamburger than from this exotic African virus. Yet, the Ebola mystique lingers.

Continue reading at Aetiology

The Great Debate


by Ellery Schempp, Ph.D.

I attended tonight at Boston University The Great Debate: “Should public schools teach Intelligent Design along with Evolution?”

The Debate Participants:


  • Edward H. Sisson, Esq. Partner, Arnold and Porter, Washington, D.C. Mr. Sisson advised witnesses at the Kansas evolution hearings
  • Professor Bill Dembski, Ph.D. Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture
  • Nick Barber, Senior, Broadcast Journalism major, Boston University College of Communication


  • Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D. Executive Director, National Center for Science Education
  • Professor James Trefil, Ph.D. Robinson Professor of Physics, George Mason University; co-author, Dictionary of Cultural Literacy
  • Neil St. Clair, Sophomore, Broadcast Journalism and Political Science major, Boston University College of Communication and College of Arts and Sciences

Last March, Susan Lolle and colleagues reported in Nature about a high reversion rate in a particular Arabidopsis mutant, HOTHEAD (HTH) (Lolle SJ et al. 2005). This paper is notable because it hypothesized that the cause of the reversion was due non-Mendelian inheritance of an RNA cache. The media jumped on this paper and promoted it as if Lolle and colleagues had demonstrated the existence of non-Mendelian inheritance. They hadn’t; they only proposed a non-Mendelian inheritance to explain their data. Many of the scientists that I have spoken to did not like their hypothesis.

In the latest Plant Cell, Luca Comai and I have published a paper detailing an alternative hypothesis for the observations of Lolle and colleagues. This hypothesis is more attractive than the one proposed by Lolle and colleagues because it relies on the already established mechanisms of mutation and selection. This hypothesis also relies on knowledge about the structure of the HTH gene product, which is information not considered in the Nature paper.

My regular readers may remember that last March, right after the Nature paper came out, I discussed it on my blog (here and here). Those of you that remember the discussion will be familiar with our hypothesis already since I blogged it back then. That’s correct; this paper derived from a blog post that I did. Blogging does pay off.

Continue reading on De Rerum Natura.

A couple days ago, you may recall, William Dembski made the ridiculous claim that the reason Jeff Shallit had not been called to testify at the Dover trial was because “his obsessiveness against me and ID made him a liability to the ACLU” and because “his deposition was an embarrassment to him and the ACLU and that this was the actual reason for him being withdrawn as a witness at the trial.” I pointed out at the time that Dembski was flat wrong, that in fact it was the defense that tried to keep Shallit off the witness stand, not our side. Today I have posted what should be the final nail in the coffin of Dembski’s silly charge - the motion from the TMLC seeking to exclude Shallit’s testimony and keep him off the witness stand, and the judge’s ruling on that issue noting that the two sides had come to an agreement that Shallit would testify only as a rebuttal witness if necessary but would not be a part of the plaintiff’s primary case. The only question that remains, now that Dembski’s charge has been conclusively disproven, is whether the odds of him admitting that he was wrong are above or below his “universal probability boundary” of 1 in 10^150.

Tangled Bank #40

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The Tangled Bank

We have a new and massive edition of The Tangled Bank at The Examining Room of Dr. Charles. Hie thee hence.

Judge grills Dover official


Just when you think you have seen and heard it all, yet another witness is called to testify and proves you wrong.

Point in case, Alan Bonsell’s testimony evoked a strong response from the judge (page 126-)

Intelligent Design around the world


On the ACLU Pennsylvania Blog “Speaking Freely” I noticed an interesting posting on ID around the world.

In Australia minister Lynne Kosky ruled that “Victoria’s government schools will treat intelligent design as a religious faith, not science,”

And remember the much hailed ID conference in the Czech republic?

Hundreds of supporters of “intelligent design” theory gathered in Prague in the first such conference in Eastern Europe, but Czech scholars boycotted the event insisting it had no scientific credence.”

Vaclav Paces, chair of the Czech Academy of Sciences, called the conference “useless.”

“The fact that we cannot yet explain the origin of life on Earth does not mean that there is [a] God who created it,” Paces was quoted as telling the Czech news agency CTK.

Scientists gather to talk about intelligent design (The Manila Times, Czech Republic, 10/26/05)

Evolution of the mammalian vagina

pussy hox

Q: What unique organ is found only in mammals, but not in fish, amphibians, reptiles, or birds?

The title and that little picture to the left ought to be hint enough, but if not, read on.

Continue reading "Evolution of the mammalian vagina" (on Pharyngula)

Ask Prof. Steve Steve #2


Welcome to the second edition of Ask Prof. Steve Steve. Today’s question comes from Michael in Newark, Delaware.

Hi, my name is Michael, from Newark, Delaware, and I’ve noticed you’re running a little question and answer session on the Panda’s Thumb, a wonderful little blog I’ve run across and that I read quite faithfully.

That said, I am a junior at high school, and one of my areas of interest is in the environmental sciences. I am self studying in the area (partially for myself, and partially for the yearly envirothon competitions) and I’m wondering if you could suggest a textbook that is a bit more advanced and more detailed then my current text (Environmental Science, Eighth Edition, written by Richard T. Wright and Bernard J Nebel) or the one I’ve used in the past (the ecology chapters of Biology, 6th edition, by Campbell and Reece)?

Thank you kindly for your time and your help.

I contacted a friend of Dr. Wesley Elsberry, Dr. Jane Packard at Texas A&M University, who recommended the following books for Envirothon:

If you’ve got a question about science or cultural issues around it, drop me a line at [Enable javascript to see this email address.] or [Enable javascript to see this email address.]. I will not answers questions posed in comments.

Please include your name, school, town, and science course, as appropriate.

Answers in Genesis is my favorite little humor site; like my own personal Onion, only the parody is lost on Ken Ham and Jon Sarfati or something. I like to picture them as the butt of some huge Landover Baptist joke, sucking their followers dry for a crazy museum in what is really a diabolical leftist plot to divert fundamentalist Christian funds away from causes that are actually real controversies in the 21st century. (Don’t burst my bubble, mkay? The way I figure it, you gotta laugh or it will make you cry.)

So anyway, their newest illustrations are a riot. Check them out here. My favorites below the fold…

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