December 2005 Archives

I think Steve Fuller has had more than enough attention paid to him lately, don't you? There's a new linebacker piling on, though, and I thought this article was such a nice, lucid skewering that I had to bring it to everyone's attention. And it begins with a lovely quote from Black Adder! I'm always a sucker for British comic cynicism.

It's remarkable how association with the ID movement has become such an excellent marker for vacuous, uninformed poseurs. Fuller is just one of the more recent in a long series.

What a Crock

John West of the Discovery Institute has been critiquing Judge Jones’ decision in the Dover ID lawsuit over at the DI Media Complaints Division blog. I haven’t, for the most part, addressed these posts, since other Pandas’ Thumb regulars have more relevant expertise and have been doing a better job at it than I could. His latest post, however, is so far from the bounds of decency and civility that I can’t leave it be. One part in particular, mentioned in passing by PvM in another PT post, hits a new low. In a relatively short passage, West manages to combine a gratuitous personal attack with a view of both what it should mean to be a conservative and on what a lawyer should be proud of that is twisted beyond all recognition.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

New Creation Watch Column


If you're just dying to know what Judge Jones actually wrote in his 139 page opinion, but for some reason you don't want to slog through the whole thing, feel free to have a look at my Cliff's Notes version. I go through the entire opinion, summarizing every major point from page one to page 139. Enjoy!

How real is the Cambrian explosion? In a sense, it wasn't an explosion at all in any commonly understood meaning of the term—it was a relatively rapid apparent diversification of animal phyla over the course of at least tens of millions of years, at a rate that is compatible with unexceptional rates of evolution. Even at the most 'explosive' rate that can be inferred from the observations, this is not an event that challenges evolutionary theory, nor should it give comfort to creationists of any stripe.

However, there are controversies here. One camp holds that the rapid divergence of the metazoan phyla in the Cambrian is real: the different phyla all arose sometime around the boundary, 543 million years ago, and then evolved into the various forms we see now. This interpretation is supported by the fossil record, in which the first recognizable representatives of the phyla are found from roughly the same period.

Another interpretation is that the Cambrian explosion is only apparent: that the divergence occurred well before 543 million years ago, and that there was a long period of undetectable evolution. The major groups of animals separated 600 or perhaps even as much as 700 million years ago, flourished as small wormlike forms that would have fossilized poorly, and what the Cambrian represents is an emergence of larger forms with hard body parts that fossilized well. Some of the molecular data supports an early divergence, and there are known pre-Cambrian trace fossils and fossils—the phosphatized embryos of the Doushantuo formation, about 600 million years old, are a good example.

There are also other ambiguities to be resolved. The relationships of many animal phyla are confusing, and who branched from whom remains to be resolved. In the diagram below, the dashed lines in the tree are the problem: do they branch exactly as shown? How deep in time do those branches go?

metazoan radiation
The fossil record and evolution of 9 of the 35 currently recognized metazoan phyla suggest that most animal phyla diverged/arose at the beginning of the Cambrian (C) period. The thick lines represent the known ranges of fossils from their first appearance in the fossil record. Thin lines represent the inferred metazoan phylogeny based on fossil data. Dashed lines represent an amalgam of three conservative estimates of the inferred metazoan phylogeny.

Continue reading A signature of a radiation in metazoan evolution (on Pharyngula)

The idea that evolution is best exemplified in silly or stupid adaptations is an idea with a rich history. Quoting from the late, great Stephen Jay Gould in the essay that provides this site’s namesake (PDF link):

Thus, the paradox, and the common theme of this trilogy of essays: Our textbooks like to illustrate evolution with examples of optimal design - nearly perfect mimicry of a dead leaf by a butterfly or of a poisonous species by a palatable relative. But ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution - paths that a sensible God would never treat but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.

Following in this tradition, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Don Wise has written a little ditty (WMV video link) on “Incompetent Design.”

He’s interviewed in Seed Magazine, in an article called The Other ID.


Kudos to the NCSE


There is an interesting Article on the winning attorneys of the Kitzmiller case, Eric Rothschild and Stephen Harvey.

Rothschild said what he was proudest of throughout this whole trial was his cross-examination of defense expert Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University and proponent of intelligent design.

Rothschild said he knew what he was talking about when he moved to the witness stand, and he owes that to the National Center for Science Education, which thoroughly explained intelligent design to the plaintiffs team.

Judge Jones: A Devout Christian?


I need the help from PandasThumb readers:

Anyone who has a reference to news media referring to Judge Jones as a “devout Christian” is encouraged to add them to the comment section. My Google searches so far have been without much success.

You may wonder why am I asking you your help in this matter?

The reason is that on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News blog, West is arguing that the media is portraying Judge Jones “as a conservative Republican who is devoutly religious”. While I have various news reports in which Jones is described as a Bush Republican appointee to the court, I have failed to find any references to Judge Jones being a devout Christian. Other than a New York Times article, West provides little information as to which particular newsmedia he has in mind.

West’s true colors become apparant quickly however:

West Wrote:

The point here is to challenge the media’s effort to turn Judge Jones into something he’s not in order to defend a biased and sloppy ruling.

While West may believe, as the losing party, that Judge Jones’ ruling was biased and sloppy. I and others have in depth documented the various flaws in West’s claims. Given the well argued ruling, what else is one to do but to attack the character of the Judge.

On the Discovery Instute’s EvolutionNews blog site, West presents his 3rd part: Dover in Review, pt. 3: Did Judge Jones accurately describe the content and early versions of the ID textbook Of Pandas and People?

Timothy Sandefur has already shown in depth how West erred in his understanding of the legal rules guiding Intervention so I will focus on a comment made by West and show it to be without much legal merrit by looking at the Judge’s ruling on FTE’s (Foundation for Thought and Ethics) motion to intervene:

West Wrote:

Before addressing the merits of Judge Jones’ assertions regarding Pandas, something needs to be said about the legal and ethical propriety of Judge Jones placing so much weight on this early textbook in his judicial opinion. Frankly, it is astounding that Judge Jones treats Pandas as central to his decision given that he refused to grant the book’s publisher, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, permission to intervene in the case in order to defend itself.

First, for the sake of the reader and of West, let’s first look at Judge Jones legal decision to deny the FTE to intervene. After all, understanding the legal rules is essential in understanding (the legal propriety of) Judge Jones’ ruling.

First of all in his March 10, 2005 Order, the Judge outlined the requirements for intervention:

The Judge points out that there are two types of interventions under federal rules:

Judge Jones Wrote:

As FTE submits, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for two types of intervention: intervention as of right and permissive intervention. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 24. We will discuss the two types of intervention in turn.

Pandas and Part Three


John West is not a lawyer, so it's hard to tell if his criticisms of Kitzmiller are utterly dishonest or just totally ignorant. His last posts have contained a lot of footstamping at the Judge's factual findings, and I'll leave those issues to Pim van Meurs. But in Part 3 of his criticism, West claims that Judge Jones erred by relying on previous editions of Of Pandas And People in determining whether it was a religious book or not.

How West got Lost


On EvolutionNews, John West attempts in 2nd part of a multipart series (does anyone remember the multi-part series that was going to address the criticisms of Meyer’s Hopeless Monster paper?) to argue why the Judge in the Kitzmiller case was wrong. West still seems to misunderstand some of the relevant issues.

For an earlier article in which I discuss West’s similar flaws see Activist Judge or just poor reading skills and Sandefur’s Why Kitzmiller is Not An “Activist” Decision and Further Thoughts on West’s Attack on Judge Jones

Analysis of Utah Anti-Evolution Bill

Utah has a new anti-evolution bill submitted by Sen. Chris Buttars. I’ve put up a brief analysis of the bill at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Credible reactions to Kitzmiller


Alschuler’s confusions


Steve Story pointed out to me that I had failed to provide a reference to Alschuler, who is a distinguished criminal law expert at the university of Chicago

The Dover Intelligent Design Decision, Part II: Of Science and Religion

Albert Alschuler Wrote:

The Dover court is wrong, however, when it says that anything that “implicates” religion also “endorses” it.

Alschuler is talking about a part of the endorsement analysis presented by Judge Jones where Jones considers the letters and editorials introduced, as prima facia evidence of endorsement.

Judge Jones Wrote:

Accordingly, the letters and editorials are relevant to, and provide evidence of, the Dover community’s collective social judgment about the curriculum change because they demonstrate that “[r]egardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to,” the curriculum change, the community and hence the objective observer who personifies it, cannot help but see that the ID Policy implicates and thus endorses religion.

As the Judge argues, the letters and editorials provide substantial additional evidence that the community perceives the ID policy as endorsing a particular religious view.

Sexiest geeks of 2005 announced


Wired News has just announced the Sexiest geeks of 2005. Chris Mooney and Judge John Jones III made the top 10. Prof. Steve Steve attributes his loss to anti-panda discrimination due to the bad press surrounding Of Pandas and People, which he tells us emphatically he was not on the cover of. Steve Steve still plans to make the cover of the 2006 Studmuffins of Science calendar.

Bethell’s blather

Tom Bethell, ignoramus extraordinaire, has had a problem with evolution for thirty years now. But in all that time, it seems he hasn’t bothered to learn much about it. In his latest screed “>screed in the Washington Times, Bethell resorts to the usual creationist tactics: lies, distortions, omissions, and misrepresentations.

Continue reading at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

You know the Intelligent Design Movement is in a bad way when Senator Rick Santorum is running away from it like Brave Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and when – put down your drinks – Rush Limbaugh says that ID proponents are being disingenuous.

Those pesky ‘pathetic’ details…


Dembski commented on a discussion on the BBC between himself and Ken Miller and attempts to address two issues raised by Ken Miller. As I shall show, in both cases Dembski fails.

Dembski Wrote:

(1) The main weakness of evolution is that it is science (yes, Miller actually did say this and went on so long about it that the BBC host could not give me my closing comment as he had intended to) and (2) ID’s main fault is that it proceeds by negative argumentation.

This is going to be interesting. Dembski, who is a philosopher, mathematician and theologian may not be too familiar with the scientific evidence for evolution. As far as how he is going to argue against (2) is beyond me. It’s self evident that ID’s approach is by negative argumentation. In fact when Dembski was asked for details for Intelligent Design he responded

Dembski Wrote:

“You’re asking me to play a game: ‘Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.’ ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.”

In a Press Release at Reasons to Believe (RTB) Dr Ross and Dr Rana comment on the recent ruling against Intelligent Design. RTB has never be a proponent of Intelligent Design, recognizing it for what it really is.

Creation Scientists Applaud PA Judge’s Ruling Against ‘Intelligent Design’-Dressing Up ID Is No Substitute for Real Science

What Makes Humans Human?


The recent efforts to map various genetic characteristics of humans are beginning to yield insights into what makes us Homo sapiens at the most basic levels. John Hawks draws attention to a paper published this week in PNAS. The paper uses statistical analysis of the distributions of linkage disequilibria in single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to detect genes under recent selection pressure, and finds that at least 10% of human genes have been under such selection. (The percentage is an under-estimate because the coverage of SNPs is skewed to higher frequencies.) Many genes under recent selection cluster into four main groupings: “host-pathogen interactions, reproduction, protein metabolism, and neuronal function”. That last, of course, is real interesting! They offer some tentative explanations for the groupings:

We outline several predominant biological themes among genes detected with this strategy and suggest that selection for alleles in these categories accompanied the major “out of Africa” population expansion of humankind and/or the radical shift from hunter–gatherer to agricultural societies .

See Hawks’ blog entry for a more discussion and the paper itself, which is free online.


On evolutionnews Rob Crowther quotes “a legal scholar” who is offering an interesting legal analysis of the Ohio situation.

Crowther informs us the scholar is Gonzaga University law professor David DeWolf.

Crowther hardly does DeWolf justice here. In addition to being a law professor, DeWolf was also the lead counsel for the Discovery Institute’s Amicus Curiae brief in the Kitzmiller case. In addition, DeWolf is one of the authors of “Teaching the Controversy: Darwinism, Design and the Public School Curriculum”.

Neither the Amicus Brief nor the “Teaching the controversy” fared to well in the Kitzmiller decision. In fact, the Amicus Brief may very well have been the reason why the Judge decided to rule that intelligent design is not science.

Witt-ness for the plaintiffs?


Amazingly, Witt continues his fallacious arguments and further undermines the Discovery Institute’s official position as submitted to the Court in its Amicus Brief

What is the creature on the left? If you said, “cockroach”, give yourself a lump of coal. But if you said, “termite”, give yourself a PEZ dispenser with your favorite cartoon character. It is in fact a specimen of Mastotermes darwiniensis, a large and primitive termite that lives in Australia (they get all the cool critters). It looks like a roach because termites evolved from roaches, and this particular genus contains primitive members that still resemble their roach cousins in many respects. On the flip-side, roaches of the wood-eating genus Cryptocercus have many termite-like features, including obligate gut flora and parental care of nymphs. The termites that we’re familiar with – the little white things that eat houses – are simply the nymph stage of an otherwise roach-like insect, and Cryptocercus nymphs look an awful lot like termites themselves.

A biologist going by the name of “Mr. Darwin” has a great post up about the evolution of termites from roaches, and the various lines of morphological, molecular, and fossil evidence we have. And there is a cool picture of cute little Cryptocercus nymphs feeding from their mommy’s anal secretions. Go check it out.

Well Done Jonathan


On Seattle based Discovery Institute’s EvolutionNews (sic) Blog, Jonathan Witt continues the confusion by not only apparantly distancing himself from the Discovery Instute’s Amicus Brief filed in the Kitzmiller case but also by showing his unfamiliarity with the actual ruling by Judge Jones:

Witt Wrote:

To get around the substantive differences between intelligent design and biblical creationism, Judge Jones had to fixate on motive (both real and imagined); he had to assume that if he can identify one motive, he has magically ruled out the possibility of another motive playing a crucial role (in this case, the desire of ID scientists to follow the evidence wherever leads, even if it means upsetting a few Darwinists); and he had to mischaracterize ID as a religion-based theory when instead it’s a theory based on scientific evidence that, like Darwinism, has larger metaphysical implications.

More Pomo commentary on ID


Harry Brighouse at Crooked Timber points to a new Steven Fuller article in the Times Higher Education Supplement (where there’s also a paper by Brighouse himself). Although Fuller’s remarks are intended to be only peripherally about Intelligent Design, they contain a number of odd statements that suggest the author’s strange views of both science and ID. (For example, according to Fuller, Newton’s life “teaches that the Bible can provide a sure path to great science.” He leaves unexamined other possible lessons that could be drawn, including the obvious ones that genius often transcends the limitations of its time, or that deistic motivations are irrelevant in the presence of empirical validation.)

Fuller makes a big deal about ID’s use of analogies in place of evidence, suggesting that this represents some kind of conceptual breakthrough:

John West as a post criticizing Judge Jones' Kitzmiller decision for being "activist." I've already explained why his arguments are baseless, and so has Pim van Meurs. But I do have a few more comments.

Chiquita Update: The show will go on, Dembski or no


Casey Luskin has announced that (in effect) the January 3 debate on the evidence for intelligent design, which Bill Dembski previously accepted, is off. Luskin wrote

Discovery and its fellows are delighted to debate Dr. Princehouse and/or Kenneth Miller or whomever and want only to do so in a neutral forum with reasonable and MUTUAL agreements on topic, location, timing, and the other modalities associated with civilized debate. One side does not simply announce a place, and a time a few weeks’ hence, and demand that the opponent show up. Otherwise it looks like a publicity stunt.

As of this writing, however, Dembski has not notified Princehouse of his withdrawal, so we don’t know if he’ll be there or not.

Nevertheless, the show will go on. The Department of Biology at Case Western Reserve University will sponsor Ken Miller’s appearance at Strosacker Hall on January 3 at 7:00 p.m. If Dembski doesn’t appear, he doesn’t appear, but we’ll all be there and we’ll be sorry he missed the party.

Note that the event will be webcast: details to follow.


He’s dead Bill


“ID is rapidly going international and crossing metaphysical and theological boundaries,” Dembski wrote. “The important thing is ID’s intellectual vitality.”

Source: Link

Seems that Bill understands that ID never really was science…

Or in the words of DeForrest Kelley (Dr McCoy)

[PvM:You may have to cut and paste the link since the site does not allow direct linking.]

1. He’s Dead Jim 2. He’s Dead Jim 3. He’s Dead Jim 4. He’s Dead Jim

On the Discovery Institute’s blog, West revisits the statement by Judge Jones and reaches some poorly argued conclusions:

West Wrote:

Take the following remarkable passage from his opinion:

the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us. [p. 63] (emphasis added)

My favorite essay arguing against intelligent design isn’t one of Gould’s, or Dawkins’, or Sagan’s. Rather, it’s one that has portions I disagree with, but the eloquent prose simply can’t be beat:

“The analogy which you attempt to establish between the contrivances of human art, and the various existences of the Universe, is inadmissible. We attribute these effects to human intelligence, because we know beforehand that human intelligence is capable of producing them. Take away this knowledge, and the grounds of our reasoning will be destroyed. Our entire ignorance, therefore, of the Divine Nature leaves this analogy defective in its most essential point of comparison.

You assert that the construction of the animal machine, the fitness of certain animals to certain situations, the connexion between the organs of perception and that which is perceived; the relation between every thing which exists, and that which tends to preserve it in its existence, imply design. It is manifest that if the eye could not see, nor the stomach digest, the human frame could not preserve its present mode of existence. It is equally certain, however, that the elements of its composition, if they did not exist in one form, must exist in another; and that the combinations which they would form, must so long as they endured, derive support for their peculiar mode of being from their fitness to the circumstances of their situation.”

These come from an 1814 essay by Percy Bysse Shelley, analyzing the claims in William Paley’s Natural Theology, a text which explores arguments very similar to those used by modern-day ID advocates. So similar, in fact, that although some of the minor details have changed, Shelley’s refutation of it can be easily used today.

As this essay demonstrates, and as recently highlighted in this post, it behooves us to know our history—and none know this better than those who teach the subject. University of Iowa history professor Douglas Baynton wrote an interesting letter to the Washington Post this past Saturday, offering a unique perspective on the “controversy” regarding Intelligent Design by using 19th century geography texts to speculate about how a course using intelligent design might look.

(Continued at Aetiology)

[Note: I’d planned to post this Tuesday, but didn’t want it to get lost in all the Dover issues. I think, given the decision and the role the history of the ID movement played in that, it’s even more relevant today that this history is considered.–T]

Barbara Forrest on NPR


Barbara Forrest, the official chronicler of the history of the ID movement and one of the stars of the Kitzmiller decision, will be talking with Ira Flatow today on NPR’s “Science Friday”.

The show is broadcast live at 2 pm EST. Listen in then or later via podcast.

(Today is also the annual Birds and Birding show on Science Friday. What a bonus!)

Update: Commenter Michael Hopkins provides the link.

Kiss me, you big ape



Someone sent me this in email. Says it all, doesn’t it? If anyone has seen the original posted on a newspaper website or something, please post the link.

Some kind of trophy for the most absurd reaction to the Kitzmiller decision must go to Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics And Religious Liberty Commission. In this article in the Washington Post, Land is quoted as saying:

“This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that’s coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito,” said Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. “This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries–if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung.”

Cooper, Nelson, Saletan


Reaction to the Dover decision keeps coming in. Former Discovery Institute Attorney Seth Cooper has posted this essay claiming that Judge Jones mischaracterized Cooper's actions on behalf of the DI in the Dover case. Golly! That sounds serious.

Meanwhile, Paul Nelson offers these thoughts on why ID folks shouldn't be mired in despair. Along the way he offers up a single sentence of the decision which, in Nelson's opinion, shows the Judge being something less than meticulous.

And over at Slate, William Saletan takes up the thankless task of trying to poke holes in Jones' masterful opinion. He accuses Jones of relying on a false dichotomy between science and religion.

Short reply: Cooper is wrong, Nelson is desperate and Saletan is being silly.

I have posted longer replies to all three over at EvolutionBlog. Cooper here. Nelson here. Saletan here.

It seems that Dembski has decided to ‘decisively’ move the goalposts of ID further out and although in earlier writings he did mention the possibility of ‘front loading’, he also considered such possibilities to be unlikely and ‘deistic’ in nature.

Now he may have clarified his position:

Dembski Wrote:

Let’s cut to the chase: Is the designer responsible for biological complexity God? Even as a very traditional Christian and an ardent proponent of ID, I would say NOT NECESSARILY. To ask who or what is the designer of a particular object is to ask for the immediate intelligent agent responsible for its design. The point is that God is able to work through derived or surrogate intelligences, which can be anything from angels to organizing principles embedded in nature.

For instance, just because I hold to both Christian theism and ID doesn’t mean that God directly designed and implemented the bacterial flagellum by specifically toggling its components. It could well have happened by a process of natural genetic engineering of the sort envisioned by James Shapiro. The design would be no less real, but God’s role in the design would be distant, not proximal.

Philosophers have long distinguished between primary and secondary causes. The problem is that under the pall of methodological naturalism, secondary causes have been identified with purely materialistic processes. But it’s perfectly legitimate for secondary causes to include teleological processes. I develop all this at length in THE DESIGN REVOLUTION.

Anything from angels to organizing principles, I clearly see the scientific value of ID here. And the logical conclusion from Dembski’s admissions about front-loading is that natural explanations would be able to explain the origin of such features as the bacterial flagellum. Thus, lacking any further evidence, science would be unable to reach a conclusion of ‘intelligent design’ as the evidence would be hidden beyond our observations. In other words, Intelligent Design has moved itself further into the realm of scientific vacuity.

Not bad for a days work though. Boy do I wish Dembski had testified at the Dover trial.

I find it fascinating that Dembski on the one hand seems to be arguing that complex specified information requires a supernatural origin while on the other hand arguing that CSI can in fact be explained by natural law alone. Whether or not a supernatural designer was responsible for the front loading is a question science cannot answer. Which is exactly why Intelligent Design makes for poor science and good apologetics. As such, I start to understand more and more why Dembski has returned to apologetics.

Given the recent scientific progress, it may not come as a surprise to see ID proponents retreat to front-loading.

With the recent resounding defeat of Intelligent Design in Dover, ID supporters may actually have to try and do some science to support their claims. On the basis of past efforts, the prospect does not look good for them. Richard von Sternberg, the Intelligent Design-friendly editor who was responsible for publishing Meyer’s woeful review paper, has recently had a paper published with anti-Darwinian James Shapiro (who has said he is not an ID supporter).

Shapiro JA, von Sternberg R. Why repetitive DNA is essential to genome function. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2005 May;80(2):227-50.

In this they try to address the bete noir of creationists, both young earth and intelligent design varieties, “Junk” DNA. The fact that the vast majority of the genome is probably parasitic junk is hard to reconcile with an intelligent designer, so a lot of effort is expended to show that all that DNA must be doing something essential. Sternberg and Shapiro try to show that one major class of non-coding DNA, highly repetitive DNA, is essential for genome function. However, all they end up demonstrating is shoddy scholarship.

Back in January I seem to remember the Thomas More Law Center declaring “A Revolution in Evolution Is Underway.” But today, according to the Associated Press, “Santorum says will break ties to law firm that represented school district on intelligent design.” Now, Santorum was on the TMLC board, and encouraged the Dover Area School Board early on – see for example his January 23, 2005, op-ed in the Allentown [PA] Morning Call, entitled “A Balanced Approach to Teaching Evolution,” (helpfully now hosted on the Discovery Institute website) wherein Santorum wrote, “The Dover Area School District has taken a step in the right direction by attempting to teach the controversy of evolution.”

But, I guess that’s what poor Thomas More gets for repeatedly citing Santorum and his attempted amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act – Santorum’s name came up 36 times in the trial transcripts, in fact.

Cover of Science magazine, Dec. 23, 2005Science has just named its top breakthrough for 2005. You get one guess after this hint: it starts with “E.” That’s right, it’s evolution, and it is based on all of the remarkable advances in evolution in 2005, such as the comparison of the human and chimpanzee genomes, which just happens to have been featured in the Kitzmiller trial. I’m still hoping Science reprints a chunk of Jones’s opinion, like they printed the McLean opinion in 1982.

Update: The full issue is now online. Holy moly, Jawless Fish Have Form of Adaptive Immunity. That’s big news if you’re into that kind of thing.


I have a theory, which is mine, that there is an entity or intelligence (which I will not name, since that would be unscientific) which resides in the Arctic and makes midwinter use of reindeer in a complex specified task. This theory of mine guides my research, which may not be mine, but as long as it can be interpreted to support my theory of an Arctic Artificer, I can appropriate it as mine, which is just as good.

My theory predicts that there is a peak of artificer activity in late December. The hypothesis that reindeer activity generates a polar distribution force for the delivery of artifacts generated by the Arctic Artificer is consistent with a large body of evidence. It also makes testable predictions. For example:

  1. It predicts that reindeer ought to begin to spread out their levels of activity throughout the day and night in midwinter, to be better prepared to handle the complex specified task, which requires 24 hours or more of sustained activity. Reindeer activity could be monitored to test this prediction.
  2. It predicts that reindeer activity should be correlated with late December deliveries of artifacts to households around the world.
  3. It predicts that the polar distribution force is regulated, at least in part, by solar radiation. It might be possible to observe the incidence of solar radiation in the arctic, and to block the effects of reduced solar radiation with some really bright lights.

If the hypothesis is corroborated by these and other experimental tests, it might facilitate the delivery of artifacts, and/or the early detection of the appearance of the Arctic Artificer. Which would make my theory really important, and ha-ha-nanny-boo to those who deny the existence of an artifact production center somewhere near the North Pole.

I am pleased to report that there is a paper in the prestigious journal Nature which has evaluated my prediction A, and even though the authors had no idea that they were testing Arctic Artificer Theory, I can stretch this tenuous link to a tiny and irrelevant prediction which could also be interpreted to support many other alternatives as support for my grand theory, which is mine and reflects the glory of the Artificer, blessed be his unnamed name. (Oh, and if you can't guess what I'm talking about here, here's a clue.)

But seriously, there really are observations of circadian activity in arctic reindeer that suggest something interesting is going on in reindeer brains in midwinter and midsummer. It doesn't really support any claims of toyshops at the North Pole, but you knew that already.

Continue reading "A possible link between reindeer, daylight deficiency, and artifact delivery" (on Pharyngula)

University of Chicago Law Professor Albert Alschuler posted some comments on the Kitzmiller decision that are embarrassingly bad in many places. I can do no better than Brian Leiter in refuting them---his post deserves to be read in its entirety. But I do want to emphasize one point. Alschuler accuses Judge Jones of declaring that "[t]he first amendment makes intelligent design unmentionable in the classroom." As Leiter says, this is not even close to what Judge Jones said. Unfortunately, I expect this accusation to be repeated over and over again by those who profit greatly off of their image as a persecuted minority, hounded by evil atheist courts. All we can do is reiterate that it is not true.

The Court found that the government of Pennsylvania---acting through a local school board---has no authority to endorse a religious viewpoint by declaring that Intelligent Design is scientifically valid. But any individual in the Dover school district is free, today as always, to declare his personal belief in Intelligent Design, to tell other people about Intelligent Design, and to encourage people to read Of Pandas And People. What they are not free to do is to propagate ID on the government's dime and on the government's time. They are not free to spend taxpayer money on it, or put the government's seal of approval on it. But they are absolutely free to propagate it on their own time and in their own ways---indeed, it would be entirely illegal for the government to stop them from doing so.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough how dangerous it is to confuse your right to do something with your power to do something with government money or with government authority. These two things are worlds apart. The Free Exercise Clause entirely protects the former. The Establishment Clause, however, severely restricts the latter---as it ought to.

The Discovery [sic] Institute has brought forth Prof. David DeWolf of Gonzaga University to evaluate the Kitzmiller case. Interestingly, DeWolf doesn't complain about Judge Jones' finding that the Dover ID policy violated the Establishment Clause. But he is bothered that Jones "went on to address the question of whether intelligent design is science." But this is not improper for a court to do.

Chiquitas Update


Not long ago, as previously noted on the Thumb, Cal Thomas made noises in USA Today wondering whether “Darwinists” would show up for a debate on the merits of ID as a scientific enterprise.

That canard was rebutted by Patricia Princehouse of Case Western Reserve University and Ohio Citizens for Science, who said in a letter to USA Today:

The question is, will the designists show? Calls go out every day to present scientific data at scientific conferences. The designists are always busy that decade. Meanwhile, the scientific data supporting evolution continue to pour in on a daily basis and produce spinoff applications that create new medicine, more productive crops, cleaner water and better living for billions of people worldwide.

The Darwinists show up to work every day in thousands of labs around the globe. Mr. Thomas and Mr. Beckel, your guys are the ones who don’t show.

January. Cleveland. The “science” of ID. Put up or shut up.

In response, some of the expectable wingnuts came out of the woodwork, but finally Bill Dembski accepted the challenge to “put up or shut up”. While some of the formal details are not yet agreed on, Dembski has agreed to the time, date and venue:

Strosacker Hall on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, 7-9 pm January 3, with Ken Miller to represent the “Darwinist” position. We plan to webcast the event: details will follow as we have them. Miller will be there regardless of details.

We look forward to seeing Dembski’s affirmative evidence for the intelligent design conjecture. (I myself am hoping to see some validation data, reliability assessments, and calibration runs on Dembski’s design detection methodology, “specified complexity”. Anecdotes about political operatives and science fiction movies are a pretty thin empirical base for a putatively paradigm-changing methodology.)


I’ve got about 30 minutes to kill, so I might as well give some general thoughts on the IDists’ reactions to the cataclysmic Dover decision.

Panderichthys rhombolepis


Panderichthys is a widely recognized transitional form in tetrapod evolution (you know, one of those transitional fossils we're so often told don't exist). A description of a specimen with a well-preserved pelvic girdle has just been described in Nature, and it tells us some more about the history of tetrapod locomotion.

Panderichthys is an interesting animal—it definitely looks more like a fish than a salamander, but its fins are stout and bony, and other characteristics of its skeleton clearly ally it with the tetrapods. In the shift from an aquatic to a fully terrestrial life, the limbs and their supporting pectoral and pelvic girdles had to undergo major changes. In fish, the pectoral girdles are coupled to the skull, while the pelvic girdles are small and 'floating' in the musculature. To bear the animal's weight, the pectoral girdles lost their connection to the skull, and both became thicker, stronger, and more closely bound to the axial skeleton. The fins themselves had to change from a fan of slender fin-rays to more solid load-bearing digits. In Panderichthys, we see a mixture of these changes in process.

Continue reading "Panderichthys rhombolepis" (on Pharyngula)

KQED radio appearance at 9 am PST


Well, this is an interesting feeling. I am sitting in Starbucks, in downtown San Francisco, slurping a Frappucino, blogging on my laptop, across the street from the KQED studio (KQED is the San Francisco public radio station that I listen to every day), waiting to go on KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny. Could you get any more stereotypically-NPR-junkie-ish than this? I mean, apart from being in Minnesota at a Garrison Keillor event?

The show is obviously on Judge Jones’s Intelligent Decision on Intelligent Design. KQED’s audio is streamed on the web, so catch the show if you can. Apparently Casey Luskin will also be on. I imagine he has a few issues with the decision…

The Breathtaking Inanity of Joe Loconte

Whenever NPR needs a reliably ignorant voice from the Religious Right, they turn to their man at the Heritage Foundation, Joe Loconte. His most recent contribution, Intelligent Design Has a Place in the Classroom, is typical.

Contains No Original Ideas: Loconte’s main argument just echoes the testimony of Michael Behe at Dover, saying that intelligent design today is just like the Big Bang 70 years ago: originally resisted by scientists because of its religious implications, then ultimately accepted because of the evidence…

Read more at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

Last summer I travel to Fairbanks, Alaska to attend the Evolution 2005 conference at the University of Alaska. During my travels, I visited North Pole and stopped by Santa Claus’s house. Santa was there that day and eager to hear my Christmas list.


I can’t say exactly what all I asked for because otherwise it won’t come true. However, the jolly old man came through for me earlier this week. Yes, Dover, there is a Santa Claus.

On my way out I feed Donner, who was looking a little warm in the surprisingly hot Alaska afternoon.


I have many more pictures from my Alaska trip and will post the rest of them when I catch another break.

Since the charge of "judicial activism" is, predictably, being sounded by those who differ from Judge Jones in Kitzmiller, I thought it worthwhile to explain a little about what this term means. As I'll explain, while there are cases where judges certainly engage in what can be called "activism," it is more often the case that the charge of "judicial activism" is basically meaningless, or, worse, refers to the very concept of "judicial review" itself. Opposition to the institution of judicial review---led, in the modern day, by Robert Bork and his followers---is, in the views of many lawyers (and I'm one of them), a very, very serious threat to the American Constitution. The liberty and security of the people is in vastly more danger from legislative activism: the fact that legislatures routinely ignore their constitutional limitations, ride roughshod over the rights of the minority, do virtually anything a legislative majority demands of them, and then scream holy hell when a judge has the temerity to enforce the Constitution's limits.

Click here to read the rest at Positive Liberty.

Every cloud has a silver lining


William Dembski, somewhat startled by the Dover ruling is looking for a positive note and seems to have found one which I can share:

This galvanizes the Christian community,” said William Dembski, a leading proponent of the theory and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think-tank that promotes intelligent design research. “People I’m talking to say we’re going to be raising a whole lot more funds now.”

Nothing would impress me more if these increased contributions could finally lead to a scientifically relevant contribution of Intelligent Design.

Although, as the Beatles said it so well with their song “[Money] can’t buy me love”, the same may very well apply to scientific relevance. In the same article, Zylstra provides us with a comment which may help us understand Dembski’s return to apologetics

Zylstra Wrote:

“The strength of intelligent design is as an apologetic - that God is the creator, but not a scientific explanation.”

True Christians™ don’t do science


The National Review weighs in on the Kitzmiller decision, going for their usual simplistic black & white dichotomizing. David Klinghoffer thinks the choice is God or Darwin. The split is between god-hating atheistic evilutionists (apparently, Judge Jones must be in that group, but I don't know anything about his religious beliefs) and good Jesus-loving Christian creationists, with no conscionable position in between.

To support his claim, he trots out a parade of the wicked: Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, Paul Mirecki, and…PZ Myers. Ooo-whee, I find myself in august company!

Continue reading "True Christians™ don't do science" (on Pharyngula)

Over at National Review Online, Prof. Lee Strang complains that "the recent Dover case shows just how far the Supreme Court's establishment-clause case law has strayed and also serves as a cautionary note to others who would include intelligent design in the public-school science classroom." He believes that the Everson case has led courts to "purge religion from the public square." This, of course, is nonsense, although very common nonsense.

This gem is too precious to be lost during the reaction to the Dover Decision.

Do you know how the Discovery Institute likes to say the Designer might not be God, but perhaps a Space Alien or Time Traveller?

Here’s a typical instance from Phillip Johnson:

“It certainly could be God, a supernatural creature, but in principle it could be space aliens of high intelligence who did the designing,” he says.

Well, look out, Phil - here comes Discovery’s Jonathan Witt, with what can only be described as a Freudian Slip.

Over at the shell-shocked Discovery [sic] Institute's blog, Casey Luskin lists ten complaints about the Kitzmiller decision. Much of it is predictable foot-stamping ("ID's not, not, not religion!") but it's worth some quick responses nevertheless.

Remarkable Kitzmiller reactions


The purpose of this thread is collecting the many remarkable/amazing/unbelievable quotes and reactions to Judge Jones’s decision yesterday in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

I’ll start with a tidbit indicating that there might even be some trouble brewing at the Discovery Institute, from nothing less than a Discovery Institute board member, Mike Vaska:

So, is it over?

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One question I received from a reporter yesterday asked, essentially, if the fight against intelligent design is over with yesterday’s decision. MSNBC has an article along a similar theme today, and those interviewed in the article say the same thing I did: it ain’t over by a long shot. (PZ has some similar sobering thoughts on the topic). While I do think the decision handed down yesterday will make it more difficult for anyone contemplating introducing ID into the classroom, as suggested in the MSNBC article, all that means is that the focus will have to shift a bit. I suspect we’ll see more of “teach the controversy” and less push to teach intelligent design–something the Discovery Institute has already moved to, anyway.

Additionally, while ID has been the major thorn in the side of pro-science groups, it’s obviously not the only bad science out there: just the best-funded. As discussed a few days ago, we still have huge challenges to deal with regarding science education in this country–and ID is but one facet of that. We still have groups that regularly spew misinformation about HIV/AIDS, vaccination, global warming, etc.–and certainly, the evolution deniers won’t be going away. Answers in Genesis is working on their “creation museum”, the Discovery Institute is still crying about the decision, and certainly ID proponents around the country are going to regroup and work on a revised strategy. This isn’t something that’s going to go away, and it’s not time to rest on our laurels.

My central passion is working on teaching good science, and getting both students and the general public interested in and educated about scientific topics–and that won’t change just because we’ve achieved a major victory against one faction of the anti-science movement. Thus, while I whole-heartedly salute and appreciate the efforts of all of those involved with this trial, the fact remains that we still have much more work to do. I hope many of you who’ve become interested in these issues during the Dover trial will stick with us as we deal with future challenges as well.


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A one-shot blog carnival of material related to Judge Jones’ decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover lawsuit is now available at The Questionable Authority. If there are links that aren’t there that you think should be, feel free to leave them in the comments over there.

Am I psychic or what?

Heck, we have like 10 posts on the Kitzmiller decision up today, so why not one more?

Now that Ed Brayton and Burt Humburg have told the story (direct link to Skeptic article) of how the Pandas drafts were discovered -- trust me, it was obvious if you really paid attention to the available historical sources -- I will share one other event that is leading me to suspect that I may have psychic abilities.

Dover Article in Skeptic

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Burt Humburg and I wrote an article about the Dover trial that includes a lot of background information and behind-the-scenes stuff that most are probably unaware of. It will be in the next issue of Skeptic, but in light of today’s ruling, Michael Shermer, the editor of the magazine, decided to make it available on their website immediately. You can see it here.

It seems like so long ago …


With all the posting about the Dover decision, it is always good to remember that scientific problems are solved by scientists and aired in scientific journals, not in the legal arena. Investigators at Arizona State and Penn State Universities have placed the time of the human/chimp split between 5 and 7 million years ago - a sharper focus than that given by the previous collection of molecular and fossil studies, which have placed the divergence anywhere from 3 to 13 million years ago.

From the press release:

The scientists analyzed the largest data set yet of genes that code for proteins and also used an improved computational approach that they developed, which takes into account more of the variability -- or statistical error--in the data than any other previous study. Gene studies are needed to address this problem because the interpretation of the earliest fossils of humans at the ape/human boundary are controversial and because almost no fossils of chimpanzees have been discovered. "No study before has taken into account all of the error involved in estimating time with the molecular-clock method," said Sudhir Kumar, lead author on the report, which was published early online in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team describes its new statistical technique as a "multifactor bootstrap-resampling approach."

The abstract reads:

Molecular clocks have been used to date the divergence of humans and chimpanzees for nearly four decades. Nonetheless, this date and its confidence interval remain to be firmly established. In an effort to generate a genomic view of the human-chimpanzee divergence, we have analyzed 167 nuclear protein-coding genes and built a reliable confidence interval around the calculated time by applying a multifactor bootstrap-resampling approach. Bayesian and maximum likelihood analyses of neutral DNA substitutions show that the human-chimpanzee divergence is close to 20% of the ape-Old World monkey (OWM) divergence. Therefore, the generally accepted range of 23.8-35 millions of years ago for the ape-OWM divergence yields a range of 4.98-7.02 millions of years ago for human-chimpanzee divergence. Thus, the older time estimates for the human-chimpanzee divergence, from molecular and paleontological studies, are unlikely to be correct. For a given the ape-OWM divergence time, the 95% confidence interval of the human-chimpanzee divergence ranges from -12% to 19% of the estimated time. Computer simulations suggest that the 95% confidence intervals obtained by using a multifactor bootstrap- resampling approach contain the true value with >95% probability, whether deviations from the molecular clock are random or correlated among lineages. Analyses revealed that the use of amino acid sequence differences is not optimal for dating human-chimpanzee divergence and that the inclusion of additional genes is unlikely to narrow the confidence interval significantly. We conclude that tests of hypotheses about the timing of human-chimpanzee divergence demand more precise fossil-based calibrations.

See Sudhir Kumar, Alan Filipski, Vinod Swarna, Alan Walker, and S. Blair Hedges, "Placing confidence limits on the molecular age of the human-chimpanzee divergence" PNAS published December 19, 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0509585102/ [available online]

Caught in their own Wedge

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Judge Jones Wrote:

Plaintiffs’ science experts, Drs. Miller and Padian, clearly explained how ID proponents generally and Pandas specifically, distort and misrepresent scientific knowledge in making their anti-evolution argument.

and yet the DI continues to argue (and misrepresent)

Jonathan Witt Wrote:

Dover’s Darwinist Judge Rules Against Competing Theory of Intelligent Design

Only a small problem here: there is no competing theory of intelligent design. This is not only obvious to scientists but also to many ID proponents who have lamented about the lack of much of any scientifically relevant contribution of ID.

The Judge seemed to have grasped how desperate ID proponents are in their flawed arguments that ID is somehow scientific. While Judge Jones commented on Panda’s he may as well have been commenting on “Icons of evolution” or various other ID propaganda.

In this light the following observations by Judge Jones gain even more relevance

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

The real purpose behind the ID policy has been well established by Barbara Forrest et al. No wonder the DI has to dismiss this excellent review of the history of ID as ‘mythological’.

One taunt frequently directed at evolutionists is that we are unwilling to engage in fair and honest debate with our ID opponents. “If the evidence for evolution is as strong as you say,” runs the taunt, “then why are you so afraid to debate the other side?” This taunt became especially loud in the wake of the decision by scientists to boycott the Kansas evolution hearings a while back.

This decision shows what happens when evolution and ID are debated in a forum where facts and evidence are paramount, as opposed to flash and rhetoric. Creationists like public debates because they know that such debates are far more about theater than they are about science. The Kansas evolution hearings had nothing to do with science, and everything to do with providing cover for the foregone conclusion of an anti-science school board. Evolutionists are rightly skeptical about such venues.

I suspect that prior to this trial Judge Jones, a George W. Bush appointee, had probably spent little time immersed in the minutiae of the evolution/ID debate. Yet, after hearing a calm and sober presentation of the facts for both sides he wrote an opinion unambigously endorsing the anti-creationist arguments scientists have been making for years.

That, you see, is what happens when the facts are given a genuinely fair hearing.

Over at EvolutionBlog I have presented some further thoughts here, here, and here.

A couple of times during the trial (see here and here) I posted roundups of news articles about what had been going on with the case. I will be doing the same thing tonight, and will be including blog articles. Basically, this will be a one shot blog carnival.

I’ve only begun to skim around for material, but we’ve already got something like 10 posts on the topic here, so I’m anticipating that there will be plenty of stuff out there by this evening. I’m hoping to be able to make at least a representative sample available in a one-stop post.

Anyone wishing to submit links is more than welcome to. Please send them to [Enable javascript to see this email address.] no later than 2200H, HST (GMT -10:00) tonight. The one-shot carnival will be hosted on my personal blog and linked to from here.

I will be accepting and linking to pro-ID articles, but if you choose to submit a pro-ID link be warned that I will be commenting on the links I include, and I do not promise neutrality.

Strictly speaking, a decision by a federal district court---such as Kitzmiller---is only a decision by the lowest-level court: a trial decision. It only binds the parties to that decision. So Judge Jones' decision does not forbid a school board in Kansas or Kentucky or California from adopting the exact same ID policy that the Kitzmiller decision finds unconstitutional. However, a decision that is so thorough, and so convincing, and so clear, is likely to be extremely persuasive to other federal district judges.

Professor of Sociology Steven Fuller may not know much about the history or content of science (see his recent confusion – just like Linus Pauling’s! – about the difference between protein and DNA at Micheal Berube’s blog) but he is good at the kind of jargoneering that the Discovery Institute and its allies use to confuse the public about science. He is also not, as far as I know, aligned religiously or politically with the DI. This must have made him seem to the Thomas More Law Center as an excellent witness for the defense in the Kitzmiller trial. “See,” you can imagine the argument going, “even lefty post-modern professors think ID ought to be taught. This proves that the motive is not religious!”

Thank you, Michael Behe

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Michael Behe has previously commented on his testimony in the Kitzmiller trial. He felt good about it; in fact, he thought it was exhilarating and fun.

I haven't the foggiest idea how the Judge will rule, but I think we got to show a lot of people that ID is a very serious idea.

Hmmmm…I wonder, what did the judge think of his testimony? Do you think there might be a way to, you know, find out?

Let's look in his decision for references to Behe! As it turns out, we owe a debt of gratitude to the good doctor of ID for the invaluable assistance of his testimony.

Continue reading "Thank you, Michael Behe" (on Pharyngula)

The Discovery Institute has answered the Dover ruling. Predictably, they ignore the facts and findings by the Court, and stick to the politics.

According to the DI’s John West, the ruling is:

… an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate…

and Judge John E. Jones is

an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur.

The Discovery Institute squeaks back


The Discovery Institute has responded to the Kitzmiller decision, hurling out a thunderbolt of a press release. What else would they do?

"The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate, and it won't work," said Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, the nation's leading think tank researching the scientific theory known as intelligent design.

Their criticism has two predictable prongs: it was an activist judge, and this is censorship. Both objections have already been preempted by Judge Jones.

He was not an "activist judge", but was responding to reckless activism by "ill-informed" creationist activists. Judge Jones, by the way, was appointed by GW Bush.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

It was also not censorship. The judge goes out of his way to say that the creationists should be free to continue to study their ideas…they are just so poorly formed and without foundation that they do not meet the standards required to justify teaching it in a public school.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

The DI is going to have to go shopping for a new schtick. "Intelligent Design" has just been rubbished in the courts. Can we expect "Sudden Appearance Theory" to suddenly become fashionable?

What the Dover Case Says

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Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is a major victory for science and a major blow to those who have tried to sneak religion into the classroom by disguising in scientific garb. But it's more than that. It is a brilliant, insightful, profound decision that reaches to the bottom of ID and finds it empty.


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I’ve just put my own first impressions of Judge Jones’ decision up over on my personal blog. Most of it’s redundant with other things that have been posted, so I won’t repeat it all here. I’m just going to copy over the bit that I don’t think has been said enough yet.

It is unclear what is going to happen next, given the outcome of the school board elections in Dover, and no matter what happens this decision is unlikely to mark the end of efforts to dilute the teaching of science in this country. But it sure is good to see that the federal courts are still willing to step in and protect our rights. Regardless of what happens next, thanks are due to a whole lot of people who put in a whole lot of time and effort on this case.

The expert witnesses for the plaintiffs, Barbara Forrest, Kenneth Miller, Kevin Padian, Robert Pennock, John Haught, Brian Alters, and Kevin Padian, worked as volunteers on this case. The lawyers from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton put in an enormous amount of time, effort, and energy. Genie Scott, Wesley Elsberry, Nick Matzke, Susan Spath, and the rest of the staff at the National Center for Science Education worked tirelessly behind the scenes.

Thanks are particularly due to Tammy Kitzmiller, Bryan Rehm, Christie Rehm, Deborah Feinmore, Joel Lieb, Steven Stough, Beth Eveland, Cynthia Sneath, Julie Smith, Barrie Callahan, and Frederick Callahan - the plaintiffs in the case. They, and the partially overlapping group of parents who took back the school board, have demonstrated once again that a small group of committed people really can change things for the better.

Roll the Credits

I want to take a break from our celebration of today’s ruling to hand out some much deserved credit to all of the people who worked so hard on this trial and accomplished so much. The names everyone sees in the paper are not the only people who have earned recognition for their tireless efforts. I have made a list of those people on my own blog. To see it, click here.

The judge in Dover strikes down ID. It's a solid and scathing judgment that declares teaching Intelligent Design in the schools is unconstitutional. The decision by Judge Jones is available—it's joyful reading for us on the side of science. Here are a few excerpts:

Plaintiffs accurately submit that the disclaimer mimics the one that the Fifth Circuit struck down as unconstitutional in Freiler in two key aspects. First, while encouraging students to keep an open mind and explore alternatives to evolution, it offers no scientific alternative; instead, the only alternative offered is an inherently religious one, namely, ID. 43 Freiler, 185 F.3d at 344-47 (disclaimer urging students to "exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and closely examine each alternative toward forming an opinion" referenced "Biblical version of Creation" as the only alternative theory, thus "encourag[ing] students to read and meditate upon religion in general and the "Biblical version of Creation" in particular.) Whether a student accepts the Board's invitation to explore Pandas, and reads a creationist text, or follows the Board's other suggestion and discusses "Origins of Life" with family members, that objective student can reasonably infer that the District"s favored view is a religious one, and that the District is accordingly sponsoring a form of religion. Second, by directing students to their families to learn about the "Origins of Life," the paragraph performs the exact same function as did the Freiler disclaimer: It "reminds school children that they can rightly maintain beliefs taught by their parents on the subject of the origin of life," thereby stifling the critical thinking that the class's study of evolutionary theory might otherwise prompt, to protect a religious view from what the Board considers to be a threat. Id. at 345 (because disclaimer effectively told students "that evolution as taught in the classroom need not affect what they already know," it sent a message that was "contrary to an intent to encourage critical thinking, which requires that students approach new concepts with an open mind and willingness to alter and shift existing viewpoints").

This is the best part to me…

To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

Merry Kitzmas, everyone!

Win in Dover!

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The ruling should be available shortly, but I have just been informed by Robert Pennock, who testified at the Dover trial, that he has been told by the ACLU’s lead attorney that the ruling is a win for the good guys. Whether that win is big or small will depend on the wording of the decision. I’ll update as soon as we have the full text.

PT Media Advisory Panel, ready to give commentary on the news.

NCSE KvD resources

ACLU KvD resources

AU KvD resources

York Daily Record resources

York Dispatch Timeline

“Waterloo in Dover” gear. Outfit yourself for the trial. (Links to Wesley’s CafePress site. Proceeds go where Wesley thinks they will do the most good.)

2005/12/20: PLAINTIFFS PREVAIL! Judge Jones passed down a 139 page ruling which finds for the plaintiffs. Jones found the DASD policy violated both purpose and effect prongs of the Lemon test, asserts that “intelligent design” is not science, and that the policy also violates the Pennsylvania state constitution. The PDF is linked from the NCSE KvD site.

Judge John E. Jones Wrote:

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions.

Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT: 1. A declaratory judgment is hereby issued in favor of Plaintiffs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 such that Defendants’ ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and Art. I, § 3 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 2. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65, Defendants are permanently enjoined from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District. 3. Because Plaintiffs seek nominal damages, Plaintiffs shall file with the Court and serve on Defendants, their claim for damages and a verified statement of any fees and/or costs to which they claim entitlement. Defendants shall have the right to object to any such fees and costs to the extent provided in the applicable statutes and court rules.

s/John E. Jones III John E. Jones III United States District Judge

2005/11/04: (Warning: approximate quotes ahead.) At close, Pat Gillen remarked to Judge Jones, “Your honor, by my reckoning we have been here 40 days. That seems an auspicious number.” Jones replied, “So it seems, but it was not designed!” At which point the courtroom burst out in applause. Jones let that go on for about 15 seconds, then adjourned the court. And that finished off the testimonial, in-court phase of this case.

During that last day, the cross-examination of Scott Minnich continued. Stephen Harvey explored a number of issues with Minnich, such as whether the “tests” that Minnich and Behe have proposed were actually being performed by anyone (they aren’t), whether there could be multiple designers (there could be), and whether there might be an … evil … designer (yes, there could be). On that last, though, Harvey did not, at any time, hold his pinky up to the corner of his mouth.

Following lunch, the lawyers plotted out the remainder of the issues, such as the schedule for briefs (two weeks for initial, one week for revisions/responses). Judge Jones mentioned that it was his intention to provide a ruling on this case this year, meaning that the lawyers would be held to a tight schedule.

Exhibits… there were a number of exhibits entered into the record, including several things produced by Barbara Forrest that were not directly referred to in testimony. Among those items, one will find (once they go online) that in a draft of OPAP, there was an incomplete erasure of the word “creationist”, with an insertion of “design proponents” into it, meaning that students might have had the opportunity to learn the position of “cdesign proponentsists” on these matters. This verbal intermediate fossil was uncovered through the patient digging of Dr. Forrest.

Monty Python it is not

As the verdict in the Dover Trial is about to be handed down, I would like to revisit a parody article at the Discovery Institute (DI) that was inspired, in part, by this trial. Once again, the DI shows a surprising amount of hamfistedness and cluelessness while trying to be funny. In an attempt to cast the ID movement in the role of Newton in the evolution wars, David Berlinski tries to make Newton a downtrodden genius ridiculed by the establishment. Once again, the truth is very different. Now, Berlinski's article is meant to be parody, but good (heck, even mediocre) parody is rooted in reality. This latest effort from the DI is so far removed from reality that even people with the vaguest notion of history will find it bizarre. Not bizarre funny, as a Monty Python fan I'm right alongside bizarre funny, but bizarre strange. The strangest thing is that the author, David Berlinski, has actually written on the history of science, and should know better.

Wells at ASCB

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Jonathan Wells has a hypothesis. He thinks that centrioles function as little turbines that generate a force on chromosomes that can destabilize them and lead to cancer; that's fine, I could see where that might be interesting and might be testable. Of course, he also argues that this idea is driven by intelligent design theory, and I don't see that at all. It's a mechanistic hypothesis about current processes in cells, and doesn't say a word about their history, so even if it is demonstrated to be true, there's nothing in it to contradict an evolutionary explanation for its origin.

Wells has been pushing this thing for a while. He presented it in a poster at the 2004 Biola "Intelligent Design and the Future of Science" conference, and published it in Rivista di Biologia (given the reputation of the journal and its editor, that's not a big deal). Now he has presented a poster of the "work" at the American Society for Cell Biology, and some attendees have posted photos and their evaluation. It ain't good.

They've posted a high res photo of the poster. As an old pro at reading posters on the fly, I can tell you what to do: zip over to the bottom right and read the conclusions first. That'll tell you if it's worthwhile to work your way through the whole thing.

The "results", in brief, are "I have a hypothesis. It predicts A, B, and C. If this pans out, it would be good." In other words, there are no results.

Move on, move on, nothing to bother with here. Hey, that poster by the first year grad student with his very first gels that show Obscure Protein Delta is phosphorylated sure looks fascinating…

…well, by comparison, anyway…at least the kid did some work.

Easterbrook on Dawkins


Gregg Easterbrook is a scientific lightweight with a long, long history of goofy ideas; an apologist for religion and Intelligent Design creationism, and a shill for the Discovery Institute. He apparently has written well-regarded columns on football, but when it comes to science, his credibility is on the negative side of the number line. One of the characteristics of the incompetent, though, is that they do not recognize their own failings, so once again Easterbrook sallies forth, this time against Richard Dawkins. It's the nut against the nutcracker; the outcome is foreordained.

My personal position on Dawkins is somewhat complicated. I think he is definitely one of the best writers on our side of the argument; I think he is largely in the right on much of the science; I also think he is regrettably neglectful of development's role in evolution, which biases his thinking in ways that don't align with my biases; and I think he is dead-on target in his criticisms of religion's effect on society. I'm a bit different than many, who seem to think his description of science is exactly right and wish he'd shut up about religion: I think his science lacks some significant nuances, and want him to continue to speak out with vigor and clarity on the affliction of fundamentalism.

Easterbrook, of course, is outraged at the arrogance of the damned atheist.

Continue reading "Easterbrook on Dawkins" (on Pharyngula)

I have posted the email update from the U.S. Federal Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania over on the NCSE Kitzmiller blog. There will be one of those "hastily organized press conferences" with plaintiffs and the legal team in Harrisburg sometime tomorrow, assuming the decision comes down sometime during the day.

If anyone is feeling anxiety, don't. The fact that the judge is clearly aware of the importance of the issue, allowed us to build an extensive trial record in a long trial, let in all of the relevant evidence on the history and origins of ID, and is reportedly writing a very long opinion (which means he is addressing the evidence and not ignoring it) are all good signs.

Visiting KCFS


Hi all. I’m on a quick trip back to the states, after having recently been in China with Dr. Steve Case visiting my relatives at the Panda Reserve. Today I was invited to a meeting of Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS) by my friend Jack Krebs, newly elected president of KCFS. Of course things are hopping in Kansas – the state standards which Jack and Steve worked on received an F from the Fordham Foundation because the state school board inserted a bunch of creationist stuff in them, the much awaited Dover decision may have bearing on the potential legal situation in Kansas, elections for the state Board of Education in August may determine whether the creationists stay in power, and so on.

Of course it wouldn’t be my place to comment on any of the day’s deliberations, but I thought I would share with you all a little bit of the flavor and ambience of a KCFS meeting.


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Paul Mirecki professor (and former chairman) of the University of Kansas Department of Religious Studies, reported that he was attacked by two men at about 6:30 AM on last Monday, 05/12/05. As one may observe from the link above, Panda’s Thumb has to date not discussed this issue beyond merely mentioning that it occurred. This was the result of considerable debate, hundreds of emails- many very heated, amongst the dozen or so of us who are regular contributors to the Thumb.

The religious right was not so restrained. Within hours, “conservatives” were claiming that Mirecki’s report was false and that his injuries were faked Mirecki hospitalized after beating. Within two days William Dembski promoted the idea that Mirecki had faked the attack. The website Dembski directed his readers to also held the possibility that Mirecki was a drug addict and/or drug dealer;

Comment by Sean — Wed 7 Dec 2005 @ 6:39 am

I think it’s most likely that he was beat up for some completely different reason, which would have been embarrassing, or even incriminating, for him to admit. A drug deal, perhaps.

Without any supporting evidence at all, or time to reflect, right-wing zealots began braying about Tawana Brawley and Al Sharpton, and comparing Mirecki with Kerri Francis Dunn. We have seen the far right employ this technique so often it is now known as “swift boating.” I am reminded of the advice provided to the Army’s Airborne Rangers if captured, “Admit nothing, Deny everything, Make counter-accusations.”

A few recent papers…


The issue of Nature Reviews Genetics from which I pulled the Homeobox genesis article actually contains a whole series of articles focusing on evolution of the body plan. Here's a brief taste of the good stuff found in the journal:

Garcia-Fernàndez J (2005) The genesis and evolution of homeobox gene clusters. Nature Reviews Genetics 6:881-892.

The crucial function of homeobox genes in patterning the body has been appreciated for decades. This article pulls together existing data to explain how the current clustered organization of Hox genes, and that of the related ParaHox and NK clusters, came about, the forces that preserve gene clustering and the contribution of Hox, ParaHox and NK genes to the major evolutionary transitions in animal body plan.

Pearson JC, Lemons D, McGinnis W (2005) Modulating Hox gene functions during animal body patterning. Nature Reviews Genetics 6:893-904.

The function of Hox proteins in axial patterning and morphological evolution ultimately depends on the effects of these proteins on downstream targets. This article reviews four important lines of research into Hox function - including work to identify the nature of Hox targets and define the structure of target enhancers, and the recent realization that Hox gene expression might be modulated by conserved microRNAs.

Peel AD, Chipman AD, Akam M (2005) Arthropod segmentation: beyond the Drosophila paradigm. Nature Reviews Genetics 6:905-916.

Genetic studies of Drosophila melanogaster have laid the foundations of our understanding of axial development. But just how universal is this fly model? The growing number of experimental methods that have become available for other arthropods is revealing a surprising diversity of pattering mechanisms, and allows us to formulate a model of how segmentation mechanisms might have evolved.

Martindale MQ (2005) The evolution of metazoan axial properties. Nature Reviews Genetics 6:917-927.

Multicellular animals come in many shapes and forms but they owe their body organization to the emergence of three design features - the anterior-posterior and dorso-ventral axes, and the three germ layers. Morphological and, more recently, molecular analyses on four basal metazoan taxa have begun to reveal how such features emerged and evolved, although a consensus model will depend on a stronger phylogenetic framework and a broader sampling of informative taxa.

Keep that all in mind next time a creationist tries to tell you that evolution is superfluous, or that Intelligent Design has a research plan.

Dover and the Future of ID Lawsuits

The Chicago Tribune had an interesting article last week about the three most likely outcomes of the Dover trial (which, as Nick noted yesterday, is expected to happen next week). It also contained a little nugget about the Gull Lake situation here in Michigan, where apparently the Thomas More Law Center is still planning to sue on behalf of two teachers who were told by the school board they can no longer teach ID in their 7th grade science classrooms.

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

I haven’t yet addressed one error that Judge Carnes made yesterday. Carnes claimed that the disclaimer sticker accurately reflected the opinion of the textbook author, Ken Miller, that evolution is a theory and not a fact. (I believe that this was part of the defense’s argument.)

“I don’t think you all can contest any of the sentences” on the disclaimer sticker, Judge Ed Carnes of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told an attorney arguing for parents who sued.

“It is a theory, not a fact; the book supports that,” Carnes said.


Judge Ed Carnes of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the lower court judge had misstated facts in his ruling, overstating the influence religious protests had on the school board’s actions. He also said the words on the sticker are “technically accurate,” and that the Cobb County school board was justified in singling out the theory of evolution for comment.

“From nonlife to life is the greatest gap in scientific theory,” Carnes said. “There is less evidence supporting it than there is for other theories. It sounds to me like evolution is more vulnerable and deserves more critical thinking” than other subjects.

Here is part of Ken Miller’s testimony during the trial phase:

Hox genesis

One of the hallmark characters of animals is the presence of a specific cluster of genes that are responsible for staking out the spatial domains of the body plan along the longitudinal axis. These are the Hox genes; they are recognizable by virtue of the presence of a 60 amino acid long DNA binding region called the homeodomain, by similarities in sequence, by their role as regulatory genes expressed early in development, by the restriction of their expression to bands of tissue, by their clustering in the genome to a single location, and by the remarkable collinearity of their organization on the chromosome to their pattern of expression: the order of the gene's position in the cluster is related to their region of expression along the length of the animal. That order has been retained in most animals (there are interesting exceptions), and has been conserved for about a billion years.

Think about that. While gene sequences have steadily changed, while chromosomes have been fractured and fused repeatedly, while differences accumulated to create forms as different as people and fruit flies and squid and sea urchins, while continents have ping-ponged about the globe and meteors have smashed into the earth and glaciers have advanced and retreated, these properties of this set of genes have remained constant. They are fundamental and crucial to basic elements of our body plan, so basic that we take them completely for granted. They determine that we can have different regions of our bodies with different organs and organization. Where did they come from and what forces constrain them to maintain their specific organization on the chromosome? Are there other genes that are comparably central to our organization?

Continue reading "Hox genesis" (on Pharyngula)

GCISE Press Release


Today Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education issued a press release concerning confusion that arose, yesterday, during the appeal of Cobb County’s disclaimers.

December 16, 2005

Crucial Evidence Left Out at Cobb County Appeal, Says Georgia Science Advocacy Group

GCISE (Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education) consists of parents, clergy members, K-12 faculty, higher education faculty, and other concerned citizens. GCISE is committed to improving science education in the state of Georgia, and therefore is deeply concerned about inaccuracies in the scientific information and legal evidence discussed at the 11th Circuit Federal Appeals Court today. We hope to educate the public on this matter in advance of the Court’s ruling.

An erroneous conclusion was drawn in court today that the evolution disclaimer stickers were placed in Cobb science textbooks before parental complaints about the evolution content. As reported on 3/29/2002 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution however, the Cobb County School Board received complaints about new biology textbooks at a very contentious public school board meeting on 3/28/2002. During that meeting Cobb parent Marjorie Rogers informed the board that she had a petition signed by 2,300 people “dissatisfied with science texts that espouse ‘Darwinism, unchallenged.’” It was reported at that time that the Board would appease these parents by asking their lawyers to draft disclaimers “caution[ing] students that evolution is only a theory.” The Board testified in federal district court that they were addressing concerns from a group of conservative Christian parents with objections to teaching evolution.

To make matters worse, it was abundantly clear that confusion still reigns in Georgia about the meaning of the terms “theory” and “fact” as used by scientists. The National Academy of Sciences, organized by President Lincoln in 1863 to advise the nation on scientific matters, defines a scientific fact as “an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed.” Furthermore, they define a scientific theory as “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” With these definitions in mind, biological evolution can be considered both a fact and a theory. The readily observable “Fact” of Evolution is that populations of organisms change over time. Even creationist think tanks are on record accepting this idea. For example, no one denies that bacteria are rapidly evolving resistance to antibiotics and insects to pesticides. The “Theory” of Evolution uses several natural mechanisms including natural selection to explain quite well how the fact of evolution has occurred. Contrary to statements made in Court, evolution is probably our most thoroughly validated scientific theory, with hundred of years of supporting evidence.

Finally, the disclaimer sticker placed in Cobb textbooks calls evolution a theory about “the origin of life.” This is incorrect and makes the sticker extremely misleading to students. Evolution does not explain the origin of life on earth; it explains how that life has changed over the millennia since its origin. Thus the sticker is incorrectly representing scientific understanding.

Our children deserve complete, scientifically accurate textbooks, unadulterated by politically motivated, obfuscating messages. The success of Georgia students in college and in a global economy depends on science literacy. GCISE pledges our full support to parents and teachers wishing to provide the best possible education in modern science for their students.

Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education P.O. Box 4642 Marietta, GA 30061 Email: [Enable javascript to see this email address.] Tel: 770-825-8002 Additional contact: Sarah Pallas, GSU Biology professor, 404-651-1551

More on Cobb


You may remember that yesterday a conservative judge in the Cobb County Disclaimer appeal accused the ACLU of lying. Specifically, Judge Carnes claimed that the ACLU had its timeline wrong about the case. The Judge was wrong as the AJC says this morning, “Appeals judges skeptical about Cobb ruling”.

In an interview after Thursday’s court hearing, Rogers, a self-avowed six-day biblical creationist, said she gave the petitions to the board before it decided to buy new science books with chapters on evolution.

“There wouldn’t have been any reason to give it to them in the fall,” she said. “They were done to try and persuade them not to buy the books.” One of the petition’s three options, she said, was for the board to put disclaimers in the new books.

A Review of the Sternberg Saga

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Daniel Morgan has written a very thorough review of the entire Richard Sternberg situation and it’s well worth reading. Sternberg, you may recall, was the editor of a journal who went outside the normal peer review process to insure that a very badly written paper by DI fellow Stephen Meyer would get published. Morgan debunks the whole Sternberg-as-martyr myth that has grown up around it.

Summit Lists Ways–but Not Means–to Strengthen Science

In an unusual show of unity, 50 business, academic, and legislative leaders came to Washington, D.C., last week to proclaim what they believe is obvious: The United States should be paying more attention to science and engineering. But although there was a rousing consensus on the need to improve teaching, graduate more science majors, and boost spending on research and translating the results to the workplace, there was mostly silence on how these changes might come about and who would pay for them.


The group’s series of recommendations, announced before the meeting began, include more federal spending on basic research and set-asides for high-risk research, a doubling over the next 10 years of the number of undergraduates earning science and engineering degrees, changes in immigration laws to make it easier for foreign-born graduates to remain in the United States, and greater support for advanced manufacturing technologies.

VEN.jpg A class of bipolar neurons, known as Von Economo neurons (VEN), are found in layer Vb of human neocortex. VEN morphology is very simple: they have a large apical dendrite as do cortical pyramidal neurons but lack the collection of basal dendrites. They possess the high-volume, elongated cell body that is typical of fast-conducting projection neurons, and preliminary tract-tracing indicates that they are such, although the array of their projections has not been elucidated. Interestingly, VENs are found in a select few cortical areas that receive inputs from numerous brain regions; the fronto-insular cortex (FI) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Thus, VEN morphology and anatomical location suggest that these cells are positioned to receive an array of diverse information in parallel and then compress it for speedy processing.

Continue reading at Neurotopia…

An Atlanta Blogger, The Sanity Inspector, attended the appeal of the Cobb County Case today and has posted his notes of the hearing: “ Cobb County Evolution Stickers Have Their Day In Court.”

During the hearing the judges criticized the plaintiffs for errors in their brief. Judge Carnes claimed that Marjorie Rodger’s petition didn’t occur until after the stickers were enacted, and the ACLU’s attorney was not prepared for this spin.

Looking at the archives of the AJC, we have confirmed that Judge Carnes is wrong, the Cobb County School Board was clearly aware of the petition before they enacted the disclaimer:

plosRobinson0511.jpg In my last post I mentioned in passing the feature article appearing in November’s issue of PLoS biology.

In that paper, Richard Robinson describes some of the difficulties faced by researchers into the Origin of Life. The origin of replicating molecules is a question of intense interest to biologists because replication is the required (and perhaps sufficient) condition for subsequent evolution. (“Give biologists a cell and they’ll give you the world” is how Robinson puts it.)

The fundamental breakthrough in Origin of Life (OoL) research came, of course, from the famous Miller-Urey experiment, in which it was shown that energy applied to mixtures of inorganic compounds could lead to the formation of biologically significant molecules. Despite problems that later emerged in Miller and Urey’s model, the fundamental point always remained that some conditions exist that can result in the spontaneous origin of organic molecules.

More than just a pretty face


Staphylococcus aureus. The name means, literally, “golden grape clusters.” Upon staining, these round bacteria are visualized in clumps that resemble bunches of grapes. Every microbiology student is familiar with the most notorious member of the Staphylococcus species, S. aureus, which often produces a distinct yellow pigment when grown on agar plates containing blood. This bacterium itself causes a wide range of illnesses, ranging from food poisoning to deadly skin infections. Of great concern is the fact that strains that resist a number of antibiotics–including methicillin–have been increasingly isolated no only in hospital settings, but also in the community. Vancomycin-resistant strains have also been isolated, but are not yet widespread. It was recognized almost 25 years ago that the S. aureus yellow pigment consists of a number of carotenoids, similar to those produced in carrots and other fruits and vegetables. Studies of these carotenoid pigments have revealed their free-radical scavenging properties, protecting cells and tissues from the damaging effects of free radicals and singlet oxygen. (In other words, they’re antioxidants). Interestingly, one mechanism by which phagocytic cells of the host immune system destroy pathogenic invaders is via release of reactive oxygen species. Do these bacterial carotenoids protect S. aureus against damage initiated by the host immune system?

(Continued at Aetiology)

plosMarques.jpg Review of: Marques et al., “Emergence of Young Human Genes after a Burst of Retroposition in Primates.” PLoS Biology 3(11):1970-1979.(Synopsis on PLoS Biology)

November’s issue of PLoS biology has several papers of evolutionary relevance.

  • Richard Robinson gives a nice review of some current thinking about abiogenesis.
  • The evolution of “genetic robustness” is explored in a paper from Paul Turner’s lab.
  • A paper by Sabeti ET al. demonstrates that the evolution of a disease resistance locus in humans, thought to have been under strong recent selection, cannot actually be distinguished as non-neutral.
  • Mating preferences in fruit flies were shown by Rundle ET al. to evolve as a side effect of selection in divergent environments.

In addition, this very elegant paper describes some surprising results relating to the evolution of new genes in humans.

The ACLU-PA blogSpeaking Freely” is reporting that Judge Jones is probably going to hand down his decision next week. Trust me, those ACLU guys are close to the source.

Over on the NCSE Kitzmiller website, I have finally gotten a chance to OCR and upload Barbara Forrest’s supplementary expert report in the Kitzmiller case. This document was originally filed under seal, but became public when introduced into evidence in open court. See the experts folder for all expert reports.


“King Kong” opens today (Weds. Dec. 14th). While it would be gratuitous good fun to jump on the “Kong” bandwagon simply to ride the giant gorilla’s coattails, there is actually an on-topic reason to discuss this brutish Hollywood megastar today.

Tangled Bank #43

With the appeal of the Cobb County disclaimer sticker being heard on Thursday, the Discovery Institute is trying to spin the case. Their spin contains obvious lies.

“Contrary to claims from the ACLU, the district court judge actually ruled that the sticker fulfilled a legitimate secular purpose,” said Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute.

I’m not going to beat around the bush. West is lying. As I documented earlier in the year, Judge Cooper in no way found that the sticker fulfilled a secular purpose. Judge Cooper ruled that the board had legitimate secular purposes, but he also ruled that the sticker did not fulfill those purposes, e.g.

the Sticker appears to have the purpose of furthering critical thinking because it tells students to approach the material on evolution with an open mind, to study it carefully, and to give it critical consideration. The other language on the Sticker, which states that evolution is a theory and not a fact, somewhat undermines the goal of critical thinking by predetermining that students should think of evolution as a theory when many in the scientific community would argue that evolution is factual in some respects.

(Selman v Cobb p24)

the Sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life.

(Selman v Cobb p38)

See “For every setback, spin spin spin.” for more information.

Of course Casey Luskin can’t help but raise the polemics:

The decision is dangerous to democracy and has chilling implications for the free speech rights of scientists, educators, and citizens who are skeptical of Darwin’s theory. It needs to be overturned.

No one’s free speech is at stake here. The Cobb County School District and the Cobb County School Board are being sued in the case. Since both are entities of the government, neither have free speech rights. Private citizens do have free speech rights, and the only private citizens in this case are Jeff Selman and the other plaintiffs. Only in tin-foil-hat-land would the question of Selman v. CCSD affect the free speech of anti-evolutionists.

The blog of CourtArtist: going where cameras cannot has just put up a sketch of Day 2 of the Kitzmiller case. In the scene, the lead plaintiffs’ witness, Kenneth Miller, is being cross-examined by Robert Muise of the Thomas More Law Center. The CourtArtist blog is the blog of Art Lien, who says he is the NBC courtroom artist who usually covers the U.S. Supreme Court.

I just have to add that I think that is probably me in the background in the upper right-hand corner, with the glasses and red tie…

1924-07-22_textbook_row_near.pngAt some point during the last year I realized that nothing really ever changes in creationism, except perhaps the labelling. This probably occurred in-between the discovery that “intelligent design” originated in 1987 as a new label for the creationism just that year ruled unconstitutional in Edwards v. Aguillard, and watching William Buckingham testify at how personally offended he was that the Dover teachers dare teach just a little bit of the evolution that the Pennsylvania state standards required.

Sometimes, though, not even the labels change. Take the Cobb County “theory not fact” sticker which was stuck in every Cobb County biology textbook as a warning label against evolution. It is on my mind because, while it was been ruled unconstitutional in the January 2005 district court decision Selman v. Cobb County, the hearing for the appeal is scheduled for this week, Thursday, December 15.

Now, “theory not fact” policies are sometimes described as a “new” creationist tactic. But I recently came across some information which dates such policies straight back to good-ol’ days of the Scopes Era, the mid-1920’s, when men were men, monkeys were monkeys, evolution was in effect banned from the textbooks, no one was pretending that protecting Biblical literalism wasn’t the key issue, and William Jennings Bryan was barnstorming around the country decrying the evils of evolution.

The first “theory not fact” policy was in fact passed by the California State Board of Education in 1924-1925. The policy was adopted as – guess what – the Board’s accommodation to fundamentalists protesting the teaching of evolution in California. In 1925, the Board took this policy and applied it to textbooks, turning down those that dared treat evolution as anything more than a (colloquial) “theory.”

The newspaper stories from that day read like they are from The Onion. But they’re for real. Via the Historical Archives of the Los Angeles Times in the ProQuest database (subscription required – go visit your local university library), here is a quote from the July 22, 1925 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

Plaintiffs’ response to DI/FTE


I have posted a bunch of new material on the NCSE Kitzmiller v. Dover website. Almost all of the post-trial filings, responses, etc., are now online in the post-trial directory or the amicus directory. The shortest and sweetest filing is probably the Plaintiffs’ Response to the amicus briefs (PDF) of the Discovery Institute and the Foundation for Thought and Ethics. I quote the good bits here.

Also, on the NCSE front page there is a summary of Margaret Talbot’s excellent long review of the trial published in last week’s New Yorker. The drawing at left is the preview graphic for the full-page drawing that accompanies the print article; it depicts plaintiffs attorney Eric Rothschild cross-examining the star ID witness, Michael Behe. As the caption put it, Behe was cross-examined “with cheerful mercilessness.” I imagine that one will be going on Eric’s door.

Saletan on ID, Take 4.


William Saletan of Slate writes occasionally about ID, and usually has some good insights. Here’s his latest:

Fantasy Island

The money shot:

This, more than monkey ancestors, is what alarms creationists. Larson lists the social ills they blame on the teaching of evolution: abortion, eugenics, homosexuality, effeminacy, divorce, communism, long hair. He’s been told that Phillip Johnson, the founder of the intelligent design movement, brought up cross-dressing three times in his most recent book. “And those are important issues,” Larson adds, trying to sound even-handed, but the journalists laugh. “It is important,” a colleague next to me whispers. “There’s a lot of shopping involved. You have to buy for two.”

Cross-dressing? I was taught all those other things in my homo-abortion evolution classes, including the fact that evolution leads inexorably to both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism at the same time, but I was never taught how to cross-dress. How could my home state of South Carolina ever have received an “A” while leaving out the cross-dressing?

Anyway, this is the fourth article that Saletan has written on ID in the last few years. Here are the earlier ones in chronological order:

Unintelligible Redesign

What Matters in Kansas

Grow Some Testables

I didn’t care much for the second one, but he makes up for it with the third one.

Bruce Chapman of the DI has a letter in the New York Times:

At home, recent articles in The Wall Street Journal and Knight Ridder papers have described intelligent-design scientists at major universities (including Iowa State, the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia). One National Public Radio story alone featured 18 intelligent-design scientists, though most “would not speak on the record for fear of losing their jobs.” There is far more support, indeed, than appears on the surface.

If there is more support than appears, how come they keep recycling the same old creationist hacks? We’ve been all over the so-called scientists at these universities who support Intelligent Design creationism.

Notice that all of the best examples the DI can dig up are matched by that tiny, minute subset of scientists in their respective states who are active bloggers. The number of scientists supporting ID is miniscule, and support is actually much, much more limp and negligible than you would expect from all the effort the Discovery Institute dedicates to fluffing them.

Chapman’s piece also mentions a “European conference on design”—Right Wing Professor makes this comment about that “conference”:

We have no way of independently verifying who or how many attended, but the conference schedule is on line, and it featured a measly five speakers - four of them old antievolution hacks of long standing - over one day. The conference registration was a little over $20 – too much to pay for rubbish, you might say, but it included coffee and lunch. The web page looks like it was put together by a computer science student on a wet Saturday morning. There was a booth where they sold the standard antievolution tracts translated into Czech, and that’s it. If this is an international conference, my group meeting is an international conference.

Man, these DI flacks sure can puff up a bit of hot air, can’t they?

ID rumblings in Muscatine, Iowa


From The Muscatine Journal:

Although they don’t all agree on the merits of intelligent design, most members of the Muscatine School District Board of Education believe that students should know about it, and they agree that it will likely be discussed by the Board within the next two years.

Ann Hart, vice president of the Muscatine School Board, said she would not remove evolution from the school district’s curriculum, because of its scientific basis, but that students should also know about intelligent design.

“I think somewhere along the line, intelligent design should be brought up because a lot of people believe in it; and, otherwise, kids aren’t going to understand it as well as they should,” Hart said. “I don’t think we should go in-depth with it, just let kids know what it’s about and that it’s what some people believe and then go on to evolution. I believe in evolution, for sure, but we do need to let kids know this is something that people believe.”

(Continued on Aetiology)

A week or so ago, I was interviewed by Sarah Smarsh, a writer for a Lawrence, KS-based alternative newspaper. She was looking for people who could comment on the interactions between science and religion, or more specifically how one could be a Christian and also understand evolution.

You can read the article on the web now and I think she did a pretty good job.*


*For the record, the churches I grew up in did not teach that the world was flat. True flat-earth creationists are vanishingly rare these days, creationists having found a way to overcome the flat earth beliefs that a true literalism would demand.


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On December 1, SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) researcher Seth Shostak posted this brief essay. It's purpose was to dispel the myth that the techniques proffered by ID folks for the purpose of detecting intelligently-caused signals bear any resemblance to those used by SETI. (William Dembski in particular is fond of making this comparison). Shostak made two especially important points. First:

Well, it's because the credibility of the evidence is not predicated on its complexity. If SETI were to announce that we're not alone because it had detected a signal, it would be on the basis of artificiality. An endless, sinusoidal signal -- a dead simple tone -- is not complex; it's artificial. Such a tone just doesn't seem to be generated by natural astrophysical processes. In addition, and unlike other radio emissions produced by the cosmos, such a signal is devoid of the appendages and inefficiencies nature always seems to add -- for example, DNA's junk and redundancy. (Emphasis in original)

Later we come to this:

It has been suggested that we include the table of state science standards rankings sorted by Final Score (Percentage), which is now available below the fold. Please leave comments under the original post, “Report Cards are In”.

Report Cards Are In

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It’s near the end of the fall term, and Report Cards are in!

The Fordham Foundation report on America’s science standards, “The State of State Science Standards 2005”, has been released.

Links to state reports, along with their overall letter grades (A-F) and evolution scores (0 - 3 points possible), appear below the fold. There are some key points emerging from this report.

For one, this year’s dumbing-down of Kansas standards got the Fordham folks mad - really mad.

Note added In Proof:The early warnings have been justified. Kansas has adopted standards whose treatment of evolutionary material has been radically compromised. The effect transcends evolution, however. It now makes a mockery of the very definition of science. The grade for Kansas is accordingly reduced to F.

Additionally, the report directly contradicts the claims of the Discovery Institute’s incessant revisionists. In a report on the Dover suit on November 10th, Steve Jordahl of Family News in Focus reports

…Rob Crowther of the Discover [sic] Institute says that fight is probably coming. … He says the ACLU hopes to ride this issue to the Supreme Court. Crowther says four other states have successfully integrated the controversies surrounding evolution into their curriculum. They are Ohio, New Mexico, Minnesota and ironically Pennsylvania, where the state has adopted a much broader standard than Dover. …

Is this really the case? No, No, No, and No.

As reported previously, The Discovery Institute has been fabricating stories about the states. Even the New York Times has been fooled, but at least they corrected the error.

Will Rob Crowther correct his error? I’m skeptical.

Here are the grades for each state. How did your state do?

Bring On the Chiquitas!


In an unsurprisingly ill-informed column in USA Today, top banana Cal Thomas and second banana Bob Beckel, doing their version of Laurel and Hardy, made a proposal:

Cal: Some Christians are trying to water down what they really believe for the wrong reasons. It would be better for them to exit the government schools so they can teach their beliefs without compromise. For those who remain — like you — and want intelligent design taught alongside evolution, why not have a series of televised debates so the public could make up its own mind?

Bob: That’s a start. The scientific community has gone out of its way to depict intelligent design as a religious view. Most people have no idea that serious scientists believe there is a strong case for intelligent design. These scientists have been denied a forum, and a series of public debates would be educational and give the intelligent design researchers a chance to tell their side.

Cal: Surely C-SPAN would carry the debate if the scientists were prominent enough. Anyone opposing the debate would be rightly labeled a censor and anti-academic freedom. That should make the liberals choke. Sound like a good idea to you, Bob (except the part about choking liberals)?

Bob: I’m all for it. I just wonder if the Darwinists will show up.

Cal: Maybe we can offer them some bananas as an incentive. As they eat them, they can contemplate their heritage.

They’re answered in a letter in today’s USA Today:

Over on Michael Berube’s weblog, Steve Fuller responded to various points being made about his advocacy of “intelligent design”. One item caught my attention:

6.’And please, to cite Dembski…the man is a dilettante who relies on speaking math to those who know a little biology and biology to those who know a little math. His ideas are useless.’ Well, his ideas may be wrong, but they are not useless. In any case, the man’s not finished yet – and (unlike Newton) he’s exposing his ideas for public inspection and critique, rather than going underground for 10-20 years to work all the bugs out. (Perhaps you’d prefer that approach.) Here you’ve got to take seriously what it means for ID to be primarily a science of ‘design’: God and humans design in exactly the same way (so says the theory), so the more we learn about detecting human-led design (e.g. Dembski has come up with scientific fraud detectors used by the NIH and NSF – I can already see students of Irony 101 raising their hands), the more we get (hopefully testable) ideas about how the universe might be designed. ID basically turns biology into divine technology. This is not a million miles from Herbert Simon in ‘Sciences of the Artificial’, in which he imagines (among other things) natural selection as a watchmaker who gets interrupted a lot and periodically needs to regroup from where he left off. [emphasis added - WRE]

William A. Dembski, mathematician, theologian, and philosopher, is also a heavyweight expert when it comes to self-promotion. So why is it, Steve, that Dembski has not himself boasted of the adoption of his particular methods by the NIH and NSF for “fraud detection”?

My basic stance on this is skepticism until such time as an independently verifiable reference is provided. One does not have to look far to find ID advocates exaggerating grandly from mundane reality, so I take the claim that someone other than Dembski has figured out how to make Dembski’s methods work (when even Dembski has thus far failed at that task) with a dried-up Permian sea of salt.

(Continue reading at

Mirecki beating

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We have no new information on the beating of Paul Mirecki, the Kansas University professor who offered a controversial course mocking Intelligent Design creationism. We will post more as soon as more solid information is available.

For now, all we've got to go on are the reports from the Lawrence Journal-World and Channel 6 News.

Some of the weblogs commenting on the event so far are Red State Rabble, Thoughts from Kansas, Pharyngula, Alun, The Sixth International, Expert Opinion, and Abnormal Interests. I'm sure any new developments will be discussed there as well, and you might want to keep an eye on the first two in particular, both Kansas blogs, as likely to announce anything new. Comments on this article will be turned off here at the Panda's Thumb until we've got something more than a few second-hand reports to go on.

The evolution/creation dispute in Turkey has long been characterized by threats and physical violence, and it would be disturbing to see this sort of thing develop in the USA. I'm sure we all agree that whoever perpetrated this crime needs to be brought to justice and handled by the rule of law, and that physical violence against either side of the evolution-creation debate must be discouraged.

There has been an interesting dustup at NRO's Corner, with several of the conservatives at that site arguing pro and con about evolution. The action was precipitated by John Derbyshire, who posted a critique of the scientific views of one of the leading lights of the neocon movement, Gertrude Himmelfarb.

Himmelfarb's views on Darwinism came up. I took issue with them. A reader with some expertise took the trouble to go to his college library, read 'em up, and send me a long email about them. (And about Strauss's, which he found much better informed.) I posted an edited version of his email, making my own lack of acquaintance with Himmelfarb's work very plain, and urged curious readers to go to the source, which my reader had carefully listed.

(There are many other comments on this issue at the Corner; you'll have to scroll around the page to find them.)

I've been in contact with that anonymous reader, who gave me permission to post the unedited version of that email here. It's a solidly documented critique of some very poor arguments by Himmelfarb, arguments that are little more than rehashed creationism. The whole thing is included below the fold.

In responding to a recent New York Times article (already discussed in detail here and here), the Discovery Institute’s John West once again points to the Discovery Institute’s list of “peer-reviewed and peer-edited publications” as evidence that the Discovery Institute really does do science.

That document, like so much that the Discovery Institute puts out, does not paint an accurate picture of what is actually going on. The list has been available in one form or another for quite a while now, and individual entries on the list have been critiqued in a number of locations. I’m going to address the list as a whole here. I will briefly comment on some of the individual entries in the process, but I am not going to take the time to address all of them. For the most part, I will assume, FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT ONLY, that the articles are more or less what they claim to be.

Continue reading (at The Questionable Authority):

Once again Ed beat me to the punch…

I have at various times pointed out how scientifically vacuous Intelligent Design really is. While Ed has already discussed the NY Times article, I would like to focus on two statements which show again how vacuous ID really is scientifically.

John West Wrote:

“The future of intelligent design, as far as I’m concerned, has very little to do with the outcome of the Dover case,” Mr. West said. “The future of intelligent design is tied up with academic endeavors. It rises or falls on the science.”

Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation Wrote:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

Dembski on Templeton and ID Research

In the wake of yesterday’s NY Times article that included the Templeton Foundation saying that when they demanded that ID advocates produce actual research that could confirm ID and offered to fund that, they didn’t come up with any, William Dembski responded with this post on his blog. He makes the following claim:

I know for a fact that Discovery Institute tried to interest the Templeton Foundation in funding fundamental research on ID that would be publishable in places like PNAS and Journal of Molecular Biology (research that got funded without Templeton support and now has been published in these journals), and the Templeton Foundation cut off discussion before a proposal was even on the table.

Needless to say, this caused many of us to wonder what research he was referring to that allegedly supported ID and was published without Templeton’s help. In a comment on that thread asking that very question, Dembski said that he was referring to the work of Douglas Axe. They’ve been beating this drum for years and making outlandish claims about the meaning of his work that simply do not stand up to scrutiny. In particular, Dembski has continually exaggerated Axe’s work on perturbation in enzymes far beyond what it says, to the point of claiming it means the opposite of what it really means. Matt Inlay documented this distortion very well in this article from the Panda’s Thumb. Here’s Dembski’s claim about Axe’s work on perturbation:

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

NY Times on ID’s Difficulties

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To hear most ID advocates tell it, ID is only rejected by “Darwinian fundamentalists” who hold fast to “atheistic materialism.” Laurie Goodstein has an article in Sunday’s New York Times that puts the lie to that claim. She shows that many organizations and academics who would be seen as likely supporters of ID have been put off by the lack of actual substance being offered:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

Continue Reading At Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

The mainstream media, and a growing number of academics have “discovered” the threat that the new creationism, AKA intelligent design, poses to science education in the United States.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that some of these newly minted ‘experts’ will be proffering up their solutions, many of which will be shallow, and some even counterproductive. The recent proposal for high school debates on evo/creato by Michael Balter is an example. During the long and contentious discussion of Balter’s editorial and proposals, a research article by Prof. Steve Verhey was introduced by Balter who claimed it was a vindication of his proposal. A short while later Verhey also joined the discussion. That Verhey’s work did not support Balter is clear, as was stated explicitly by Verhey,

I don’t know what to say about high school evolution education. I don’t think my approach would work there. Perhaps it could work, but it would take too much time. Evolution can’t be avoided in HS biology classes, and creationism/ID can’t be presented as even vaguely valid alternatives, so we are where we are.

Since the paper in question had not been seen in print, we deferred further discussion of its contents. Dr. Verhey has now kindly made the PDF of his paper available to Panda’s Thumb readers. Note also that he has also presented key portions of his raw data as well.

I commend Dr. Verhey’s efforts and transparency which are in the best scientific tradition, and I will insist that any comments by PT readers will also. Dr. Verhey and I have exchanged a number of emails over the last two weeks concerning his paper, and the data which informs his conclusions. These emails (with only trivial edits) form the bulk of the following post. Quite obviously any cogent remarks regarding Dr. Verhey’s paper and the material below will require that one has read and understood the paper. Non-cogent remarks will be simply deleted.

Though I’m not an MD myself, much of my research and my reading centers on medical issues, while another passion (as regular readers certainly must have noticed) is the “controversy” over evolution, and educating the public about the issues involved with that. So, in a nice convergence of these two topics, the American Medical Association has published an Op-Ed on the topic of evolution denial (with quotes from PT-ers Burt Humburg and Glenn Branch as an added bonus).

I’m afraid we live in loopy times. How else to account for the latest entries in America’s culture wars: science museum docents donning combat gloves against rival fundamentalist tour groups and evolution on trial in a Pennsylvania federal court. For those keeping score, so far this year it’s Monkeys: 0, Monkey Business: 82. That’s 82 evolution versus creationism debates in school boards or towns nationwide—this year alone.

The most important part of his piece, IMO, addresses the role of the medical community in this “controversy:”

(Continue reading at Aetiology…)

One thing I love about this place is how random interesting tangents will spring up in the comments. I wrote a brief post awhile back about some funny/sad AiG cartoons, which morphed into a discussion of snake evolution in the comments section. Dr. Fry’s comments in that discussion led to 2 follow-up posts on his work on the evolution of snake venom, and in the second thread, here, Steviepinhead has mentioned a new Archaeopteryx finding with better-preserved feet:

Steviepinhead Wrote:

…A new Archaeopteryx fossil with exquisitely-preserved feet has been found. In previous finds, the feet were fairly scrunched up. Because there were enough other bird-like features, the less faithfully-preserved feet were assumed to be bird-like as well, with a rear-pointing toe.

It turns out that that toe actually points forward, and is set off to one side, strongly resembling the arrangement of toes of Velociraptor and similar dinosaurs.

Thus, Archaeopteryx turns out to be even more of a mosaic of bird and dino features than previously thought. You might even call it a transitional fossil.

Early-bird fossil features dinosaur feet

A Letter to the Editor


Today’s (1 December 2005) edition of USA Today included a column on Intelligent Design written by Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. The entire column is objectionable, but Thomas’ conclusion was by far the worst part. The rest of this post, which also appears on my personal blog, has been submitted in response as a letter to the editor.

.….….…. Dear Sir:

On June 30, 1860 a famous (and perhaps fictional) encounter took place between the scientist Thomas Henry Huxley and the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce. The occasion was a discussion of Darwin’s recently published book Origin of Species, and according to legend Wilberforce concluded his remarks by asking Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his father’s side or his mother’s. This bit of ancient history popped into my mind when I read Cal Thomas’ remark at the end of the column that he and Bob Beckel wrote on Intelligent Design in yesterday’s paper.

Unlike our understanding of evolution itself, which has advanced tremendously in the last century and a half, Thomas’ idea of a clever response seems to be on a par with the good bishop. Thomas’ remark, “Maybe we can offer [scientists] some bananas as an incentive. As they eat them, they can contemplate their heritage,” does not have any more of a place in a reasonable discussion than did Wilberforce’s.

My reply to Thomas is more or less the same as Huxley’s reply to Wilberforce: if I had a choice between having a monkey as a grandfather or having as a grandfather someone who has great intellectual gifts and influence, but uses those gifts and that influence merely to inject ridicule into a serious debate, I would, without hesitation, choose the monkey.

Michael Dunford Graduate Student, Department of Zoology, University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Hi everyone. I have a few free minutes from my extensive itinerary (currently in Australia again) to let people know that I will be heading to the UK shortly. Chris Nedin, with whom I am currently staying, will be heading over there next week and I am taking the opportunity to travel with him (although I’ll be travelling much closer to the front of the plane than Nedin, as befits my role as roving ambassador and famous panda). I plan to take Nedin around the British Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London on Saturday Dec 10th to educate him in matters evolution in general and palaeontology in particular. Should be fun (for me anyway). Any locally-based readers of the Panda’s Thumb are welcome to join us, and I will be happy to pose for photos and sign autographs, and maybe later accept generous quantities of fine alcoholic beverages at a local public house. I plan to be under the big dinosaur in the entrance hall at 11.00 am, and, as I’m pretty confident of being the only panda present, I should be easy to spot. However, on the off chance that other panda’s may be present, I’ll be the one wearing the mortarboard. I you plan to attend, I’d be grateful if you could contact me either through this forum, or directly via [Enable javascript to see this email address.], just so that I know how long to hang around.

Look forward to seeing you in London

Professor Steve Steve

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