January 2006 Archives

Two Mosquitoes in a Mud Hole


That expression could describe South Carolina state Senator Mike Fair and Governor Mark Sanford. It is somehow more fitting than “peas in a pod”. As I reported previously (here and here), the curriculum standards dealing with evolution are under assault in SC by Sen. Fair, who is being coached behind the scenes by the Discovery Institute. But now Gov. Sanford has thrown his hat in the ring for the side of ID, and in the process, has managed to demonstrate exactly why politicians should quit trying to second-guess scientists: He has no clue what he’s talking about.

The newly formed South Carolinians for Science Education has transcripts up of an interview Sanford did for a local TV station. They even have the audio, if you’re one of those who likes to have a voice to associate with crazy statements. (If you’re a SC resident, please register and/or get on the mailing list while you’re at the site; official means of joining will be available in the near future.) Below the fold I’ve reproduced the relevant portion of Sanford’s interview, and included some discussion.

We're getting signs that the Discovery Institute is going to be shifting their strategy a little bit.

Thoughts from Kansas has an excellent discussion of the subject. Basically, they're going to embrace more of the actual science, and focus their dispute on finer and finer points. What does this mean? Common descent is now in.

Intelligent Design belittles God,


Catholic Online has published an article in which the director of the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Father George V. Coyne speaks out, once again, against the perils of intelligent design.

Father Coyne observes that

Intelligent Design reduces and belittles God’s power and might, according to the director of the Vatican Observatory.

But Father Coyne goes much further

Luskin still doesn’t get it


I wrote up a critique of an article DI mouthpiece Casey Luskin wrote regarding avian influenza back in October. I don’t know whether Luskin ever read my post; at the time, trackbacks to the DI site weren’t working. But I’d guess I’m not the only one who pointed out the abundant mistakes in his article, which advanced the thesis that avian influenza wasn’t a good example of evolution. He has since written a response to critics here (warning: .pdf file), correcting one of his errors in the original article (and making a confusing mess out of things).

Luskin’s original thesis was that H5N1 wasn’t a good example of evolution because, he claimed, it was simply a reassortant virus: an avian-human hybrid. Therefore, the “evolution” was not any “new information,” but simply a move of information that already existed. Only, of course, the H5N1 strain circulating *isn’t* a reassortant virus: it’s a pure avian virus. You might think that this tidbit of information would shoot down Luskin’s whole thesis, but no, he struggles on.

(Continue reading at Aetiology)

Break the vertebrate hegemony!


If you appreciate biodiversity and want to read about organisms other than pet cats, and if you aren't too squeamish about spiky creatures with crunchy carapaces of squishy ones encapsulated in slime, the latest Circus of the Spineless is just the thing for you. Browse the thumbnails at Pharyngula, and follow through to the critter that appeals to you most. I thought the snail armored in iron sulfide was spectacular, but the mantispids are pretty neat, too, and I'll always have a soft spot for the squid. Oh, and the strange pram bugs that occupy salp tests…never mind, you need to read them all.

Elsberry on dKos


Darksyde’s “Know your creationists” series on Daily Kos has become a “Know your friends” edition today, with a profile of Wesley Elsberry of the NCSE.

Red State Rabble (Pat Hayes) hits the nail dead-on this morning. This is such a central point that I include his post here in its entirety. (I’ll see Pat at our ID, Science Ed and the Law event later today, and beg forgiveness then.)

ID’s Split Personality

In those long-ago days when RSR lived in the Big Apple, we were often accosted on the street by young men who were selling “scents,” by which they meant marijuana. As we wove our way down the street between competing sales teams, we were often struck by the paradoxical situation the job of selling drugs placed these guys in.

On the one hand, they had to be visible enough to move product. On the other, they had to stay hidden in order to avoid arrest and remain on the street.

It strikes us that the theorists charged with pushing intelligent design product on the public find themselves in much the same contradictory situation.

Seems like convergent evolution has been a hot topic recently. (See, for example, this recent PT post.)

On January 25th, the National Geographic reported that

After languishing for decades in the bowels of a New York museum, a dinosaur- era crocodile relative is seeing the light—and shedding secrets. New studies of the forgotten fossil reveal that the species walked on two feet and looked much like a so-called ostrich dinosaur, though the two are barely related, paleontologists report.

The specimen, Effigia okeeffeae, languished at the American Museum of Natural History for almost 60 years since its discovery at the Ghost Ranch quarry in New Mexico, near the digs of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, after whom the creature is named.

What a difference a day makes.


The Discovery Institute, over at their Media Complaints Division Blog, has posted yet another article castigating Judge Jones for ruling that Intelligent Design is unscientific.

This one, by a second-year law student, takes more or less the same tone as the others:

In this detailed analysis, I will take a close look at Judge Jones reasoning, and evaluate the potential legal basis for determining the scientific status of ID. Ultimately, I find that the Kitzmiller opinion has no legal basis to determine the scientific status of intelligent design, and as such, is merely the opinion of one man, not the law as proclaimed by a federal district court judge.

Ed Brayton, over at Dispatches, has already fisked the substance of that post. I’d like to take a second to look at something else: the Discovery Institute’s pre-decision view of how the judge should rule.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Since the Dover ruling came out, the ID crowd has repeated ad nauseum the claim that Judge Jones should have ruled solely on the legal issues of the case and had no authority to rule on the scientific status of ID. The most recent example is this post by new DI Media Complaints Division contributor Michael Francisco. Despite being a second year law student at Cornell, Francisco seems entirely unaware of Federal court rules regarding the evaluation of scientific testimony and of the fact that judges make such decisions every day because they must.

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

by Pete Dunkelberg

Valencia Community College, Orlando FL, 19 Jan 2006, 7:30 PM

Thomas Woodward, professor of religion at Trinity College and Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy at Florida State University debated evolution vs intelligent design (ID) before a packed hall. Woodward spoke first. His first slide advertised the videos Icons of Evolution and Unlocking the Mysteries of Life. Then he flashed a slide associating evolution with atheism in very large letters. (In reality, biology is merely nontheistic just as chemistry, physics and plumbing are.) Then he started with a major theme: there may be some “microevolution”, which doesn’t count, but there is no evidence for “macroevolution”. To glimpse the volumes of evidence, see Transitional Vertebrate Fossils and 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution.

In the comments section of my most recent post on the Discovery Institute’s publication track record, Spike made the following suggestion:

Here is the only scientific paper that one can link from the Discovery Institute’s list of “Peer-Reviewed, Peer-Edited, and other Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)” http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.ph… . (The rest you have to pay the publishers for, I suppose):


1. Can you, dear reader, understand it? If so, could you explain it to us lay people?

2. Is it science?

Caveat Poster I have no special allegiance to “Darwinsists” (whatever those are), evolutionists, scientists or the people who feel they represent the Truth of Evolution. So don’t play into OSC’s hand and don’t use logical fallacies.

If you want to dismember this paper, do so on rational, scientific grounds. Por favor.

I started out intending to examine the entire paper, but it’s taken me a while to thoroughly respond to (or dismember, if you prefer) just one of the claims. I do have other things to do, so I’m going to restrict my response to addressing his claims about the lack of differences seen between organisms. This doesn’t mean I agree with the rest of the paper - it just means that I only have so much time available for this right now.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

I have been reading some of the responses to the Kitzmiller decision from the Discovery Institute and essays they have linked to. There are some interesting contradictions between the various current essays, and between the current essays and past statements from ID advocates. But before we get to that, be sure to check out the Discovery Institute’s new “Judge Jones said it, I believe it, that settles it” bumper stickers. I bet that attitude will go over great the next time ID advocates end up in federal court!

With that said, let’s compare some statements. All bolds added.

Unlike a few other editorials on the Lebec, CA case about a “Philosophy of Intelligent Design” class, Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center went and actually read the Plaintiffs’ complaint and other relevant materials. And guess what? He agrees with the plaintiffs that the class was “a thinly disguised attempt to challenge evolution by promoting intelligent design and creationism.” He goes on to write,

Call for science submissions



This coming week will be a great one for science carnivals. First up is the Circus of the Spineless which will appear on Pharyngula on Sunday—if you’ve written anything about invertebrates in the past month, send the link to [Enable javascript to see this email address.] by Saturday evening.

The Tangled Bank

The second big event is the next edition of the Tangled Bank, scheduled for Wednesday, 1 February, at Adventures in Ethics and Science. Send links to any science writing to [Enable javascript to see this email address.], [Enable javascript to see this email address.], or [Enable javascript to see this email address.] by next Tuesday.

Hey…and if you written something about the science of invertebrates, send the link to both!

Let’s say that you are someone who is interested in science, knows a bit about it, but aren’t an expert. You might be someone who reads a lot of popular science books, or who watches a lot of science programs on tv. You might read a lot of science fiction. It’s even possible that you are a science fiction author.

You have heard a bit about the whole intelligent design thing, but you may not have been following it closely - particularly when it’s not in the news. You are also at least a bit disposed to root for the underdog. It’s a better story, and you know that it has been real sometimes. People really did laugh at Fulton and the Wright Brothers, and some scientific theories have faced opposition from entrenched opponents. So how do you know that this isn’t the case with Intelligent Design? Why should you trust us when we tell you that the ID people aren’t really doing science, and that their real motives are much, much more political than scientific. Why shouldn’t you believe the DI’s claims that we represent an entrenched “Darwinian orthodoxy?”

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

FYI: Here is an announcement for an event we are holding in Lawrence, Kansas this Saturday. We have a n overflow crowd signed up. Of course, we will be reporting on this next week. Bloggers Red State Rabble and Josh Rosenau will be there, as well as lots of other media. We hope to have a film available for interested parties later. Stay tuned.

Kansas Citizens For Science and the National Center for Science Education present

“Intelligent Design, Kansas Science Education, and the Law” Saturday, January 28, 2006 1:00 – 5:00 pm The Dole Institute of Politics 2350 Petefish Drive, The University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS,

Answering Bob Murphy on Objections to ID

Bob Murphy, an economist, has an article at the thoroughly loathsome LewRockwell.com (please don’t try and tell me the people who write for that site are libertarians; that collection of southern nationalists and whackos is anything but libertarian) about what he terms “typical objections to intelligent design.” Much like Orson Scott Card’s article, however, this one relies upon the old tactic of beating up straw men. Rather than engaging the strongest objections to ID he only engages the easy ones, the clumsy attacks on the character of ID advocates rather than the serious and substantive criticism of the validity of ID itself. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.

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

Red State Rabble: Dembski Flops In Oz


Catherine Odson, a reporter for The University Daily Kansan described the evening this way:

Insistent, assertive questions nagged Monday night’s speaker, who felt his explanation of the scientific evidence of intelligent design fell upon “deaf ears.”

Audience members awarded both applause and laughter to the questioners who stepped publicly into the controversy over intelligent design in Kansas.

Dembski, who may have been led to expect a warmer reception for his ideas – he was in Kansas, after all – seemed to grow testy as questioner after questioner expressed doubt about his assertion that evolution is a failed theory and that patterns in nature are best explained as a result of intelligence.

Read more at Red State Rabble

Or Read Jack Krebs explaining why Dembski had decided to present alone.

Or read on for some observations

Conservative religious groups are once again making grade school textbooks the battleground. In California, supremacists and revisionists are trying to make radical changes to kids' textbooks, inserting propaganda and absurd assertions that are not supported in any way by legitimate scholars. The primary effort is to mangle history, but they're also trying to make ridiculous claims about scientific issues.

Such as that civilization started 111.5 trillion years ago, and that people flew to the moon and set off atomic bombs thousands of years ago.

(OK, everyone, let's all do our best imitation Jon Stewart double-take: "Whaaa…??")

Yeah, these aren't fundamentalist Christians, but Hindu nationalists with very strange ideas—still, it's the same old religious nonsense. Two groups, the Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation, have a whole slate of peculiar historical ideas driven by their religious ideology, and are pressuring the California State Board of Education to modify textbooks. They want to recast Hinduism as a monotheistic religion, whitewash the caste system and the oppression of women, and peddle racist notions about Aryan origins.

This is what happens when religious dogma is allowed to dictate educational content—reality and evidence and objective analysis all become irrelevant. The earth is neither 111.5 trillion years old, nor only 6,000 years old, and the errors and misperceptions of old priests are not a sound foundation for science. It doesn't matter whether those priests spoke Sanskrit or Hebrew, since their ideas are the product of revealed 'knowledge' rather than critical, evidence-based research, they don't belong in a public school classroom.

Heck, what am I saying? It's just another idea, right? Let's teach the controversy and allow orthodox Hindu supremacists to battle it out with fundamentalist Christian dominionists in front of sixth graders. It should be exciting and enlightening.

(via Butterflies and Wheels)

Sometimes, I love being wrong


It seems I may have spoken too soon. Quoting myself:

One historical event that has been the subject of much speculation over the decades has been the Plague of Athens, a mysterious outbreak that is thought to have changed the direction of the Peloponnesian War, and for which the cause still remains uncertain.

This plague has been attributed to bubonic plague, toxic shock syndrome and/or necrotizing fasciitis due to Streptococcus pyogenes or Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, yellow fever, malaria, Ebola, influenza, and smallpox, to name just a few. Typhus seems to fit the description best, but it’s likely that a cause will never be known with certainty.

Little did I know when I posted that on my old blog (just last month!) that a study had already been accepted to the International Journal of Infectious Diseases suggesting that it’s not typhus (caused by Rickettsia prowazekii), but typhoid fever (Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi) that appears to be the cause of the plague.

(Find out how over at Aetiology)

Update on South Carolina


Here is a report of what transpired today at the “balanced panel” of the Academic Standards and Assessments Subcommittee meeting that I discussed previously. I am going off of accounts by other people who were present, so please don’t take any of this as chiseled in stone.

The subcommittee actually voted (3-0) to take no action on the standards at present. They will be sent back to the state Dept. of Education for more work, then forwarded to the subcommittee, and then the subcommittee will make its recommendation to the full Educational Oversight Committee. There’s no time limit attached to this, so this could effectively table the thing indefinitely (given that the BOE has already instituted a previous version of the standards for the time being), or it could just keep it going a lot longer. Or it could mean that the four indicators get killed altogether. Hard to say.

Below the fold I list some highlights (or lowlights) of the meeting. Again, let me repeat the caveat that this is my second-hand rendition.

What do you think?


I asked awhile back for some of your thoughts on improving science education, particularly in the U.S. In yesterday’s NY Times, there was a story about discussing one measure that might help in this area:

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed “a rigorous secondary school program of study” and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields.

Sounds good initially. The problem:

It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums.

The rest of the article grapples with those issues, so I’ll leave that to you to read (registration may be required).

After examining the pros and cons, what do you think of the idea? *Should* the national government set some standards for a “rigorous program of study” for the kids to meet to receive these grants? Is there a better way to dole them out? Should they be offered at all? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.

Fair and Balanced


It was bound to happen. A colleague recently described South Carolina as “low hanging fruit” for the ID movement. Nevertheless, the creationists have been relatively quiet in this state, and have instead been acting up in places that you wouldn’t normally associate with the Religious Right – Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, etc. Well, that’s changing.

South Carolina received an “A” for its treatment of evolution in the Fordham Foundation’s recent report, and this has angered state Senator Mike Fair (R-Greenville), who is presumably afraid that this could ruin SC’s reputation as a backwards state. This isn’t the first time. Back in 2003, Fair reacted to the Fordham Foundation’s report by authoring a bill that would put warning labels in text books containing the following bizarre and plainly untrue statement: “The cause or causes of life are not scientifically verifiable. Therefore, empirical science cannot provide data about the beginning of life.” The bill, thankfully, went nowhere. Last June, he filed a bill that would require teaching “alternatives” to evolution, which he specifically said would require teaching ID. I believe that one has yet to be taken up by the legislature, but the Kitzmiller decision pretty well preempted it. More recently, he’s tried to amend an education bill to establish a “science committee” to explore whether “alternatives” to evolution should be taught in schools. The efforts of a few local scientists who spoke out against it helped get the amendment removed.

But now he’s at it again.

Luskin: Humans did evolve


On Evolution News (sic)Luskin shows once again why Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous

Luskin Wrote:

Sure, they just finished decoding the chimp genome but it actually lessened our knowledge of human/chimp similarities rather than upping it. Similarities could easily be the result of “common design” rather than common descent—where a designer wanted to design organisms on a similar blueprint and thus used similar genes in both organisms. This doesn’t challenge ID.

In other words, our ignorance (or perhaps better phrased Luskin’s unfamiliarity with science) seems to be evidence of Intelligent Design?

Common descent requires nested hierarchies, common design has no such requirements and thus the claim that ID can accomodate the evidence is an ad hoc argument. Unless one has independent understanding of the “Designer’s” this argument fails to be scientific.

Of course, even if common descent were true, this would not challenge ID since ID could equally well accomodate that the “Designer” front-loaded evolution. In other words, with Intelligent Design, anything goes.

The Second Million


The Panda’s Thumb went live on March 23rd, 2004. Back on September 12th, 2005, Panda’s Thumb celebrated its one millionth user visit. Today, one of you tipped the counter to give PT its two millionth visit.

In between the first and second million mark, you have come to PT to get the latest on happenings in the “Waterloo In Dover”, the Kitzmiller v. DASD court case that now informs school board policies and has proven so useful in educating the media. The recently settled lawsuit in El Tejon, California demonstrated that nicely. Whether you have a preference for digestion or development, PT contributors have also helped keep you informed on recently published findings from the scientific literature. And, of course, our Professor Steve Steve keeps turning up with interesting news, like the finding of a pre-Cambrian chordate, and meeting fascinating people.

So we hope that you will keep coming back to visit, and we will keep working on providing timely news and commentary on evolutionary biology and the religiously-motivated antievolution efforts to deny or diminish its teaching in the public schools.

Orson Scott Card has written a long essay defending Intelligent Design.

Oy, but it is depressing.

It's a graceless hash, a cluttered and confusing mish-mash of poorly organized complaints about those darned wicked "Darwinists". He lists 7 arguments. Then he repeats his list, expanding on them. Then he goes on and on, hectoring scientists about how they should behave. For a professional writer, it's just plain bad writing—I'm struggling with how to address his arguments, but he's written such a gluey mass of tangled ranty irrationality that it's hard to get a handle on it. Ugly, ugly, ugly…and why do these guys all seem to think the way to defend the ideas of ID is to whine about the perfidy of all those scientists? Not once does he bring up any evidence for ID.

Card can't discuss the evidence, because he doesn't know or understand the evidence. That's apparent when he begins by praising Behe's Darwin's Black Box, and regurgitates the argument from irreducible complexity. Irreducible complexity is not a problem for evolution, and Behe is a tired old fraud who hasn't had a new idea in 15 years. That Card would be impressed with DBB says only that he doesn't know much biology and that the depth of his thinking is remarkably shallow.

Oh, well. I'll try the brute force approach and discuss each of Card's arguments in turn. This will get long.

Continue reading "Orson Scott Card, Intelligent Design advocate" (on Pharyngula)

On the Other Hand


An article by Catherine Candisky in the Columbus Dispatch documents that various anti-science elements of the Ohio Board of Education think that “teaching the controversy” is just something that they do to other people. Persons of other viewpoints need not try to confuse them with the facts.

Newly released tapes obtained by The Dispatch from the Department of Education show:

* Elected board member Michael Cochran of Blacklick “cross-examined” a string of witnesses, including a graduate student, who criticized the 10 thgrade biology plan.

* Elected board member Deborah Owens Fink of Richfield questioned the character of a witness by producing an e-mail he wrote to a colleague that ridicules a supporter of intelligent design.

* One person declined to testify, citing attacks on previous witnesses.

* Cochran and appointed board member Richard E. Baker of Hollansburg showed their apparent lack of interest by reading a newspaper during the testimony.

The display prompted one board member to urge his colleagues to behave.

“I’m not convinced in my mind that cross-examining witnesses that make presentations before the board is in the best policy of boardmanship. I think it might be better to listen to the testimony and let it pass,” said board member Eric C. Okerson, an appointed member from Cincinnati.

Check out tonight’s InfidelGuy radio program (airs at 8PM EST) featuring Barbara Forrest.

Dr. Barbara Forrest, author of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse” reappears on the program to discuss her thoughts about design, evolution, and the recent court case heard in Dover, Pennsylvania. Dr. Forrest provided key testimony at the trial herself, and we’ll hear first hand how it all unfolded!

(Hat tip to ELGS over at Internet Infidels Discussion Board).

Deep dark secrets in South Carolina


Last week a Toledo Blade editorial called the Ohio State Board of Education “… a painful carbuncle on the posterior of state government …”. Demonstrating that Ohio doesn’t have a lock on governmental duplicity, a report in The State.com out of South Carolina tells us that a legislator plans to call two “experts” to advise a school oversight panel.

State Sen. Mike Fair has invited two experts to advise the school reform oversight agency, which is evaluating the standards for teaching the origins of life.

Fair said he promised the two advisers he would protect their identities to minimize scrutiny of their views and credentials prior to their appearance before an EOC subcommittee next week..

Experts who can’t be identified? Who have to be anonymous to prevent scrutiny of their credentials? I wonder if they’ll wear brown paper bags over the heads with those neat little eyeholes cut in them.

Between Senator Buttars of Utah pushing “divine design” and anonymous “experts” in South Carolina, it looks like there’s a mad race to the bottom out there in creationism land. But the newspapers are catching on. Of Buttars, the Salt Lake Tribune said

But every time the West Jordan Republican opens his mouth to address the subject, he removes all doubt about the fact that he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

Buttars’ constant references to the lack of a “missing link” or his insistence that he’s never seen a dog change into a cat display a towering ignorance of the subject. That would be his own business, and perhaps a source of comfort to him, were it not for the fact that he is trying to enshrine his willful misunderstandings into state law.

As Nick points out just below, one of the Disco Institute’s official goals is to have 10 states “rectify the ideological imbalance in their science curricula & include design theory”. Unfortunately, since there is no “design theory”, the freelancers out there in the world are taking the bit in their teeth and running straight to creationism. They’re not fooled at all by the Disco Institute’s rhetoric, it seems.


(Hat tip to Red State Rabble.)

Today the DI Media Complaints Division is complaining about being misrepresented about its position on ID in public education. The post goes on at some length, but here is a representative declaration:

Rob Crowther, Discovery Institute Wrote:

They [some conservative intellectuals quoted in the Weekly Standard] are cited as being critical of “some” IDers who are trying to shoehorn ID into science curriculum. We completely agree with their underlying concern. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: Discovery Institute has never advocated the mandating of the theory of intelligent design in public school science curriculum.

Unfortunately, this is about as credible as the cdesign proponentsists’ claim that ID isn’t creationism. For example, almost all of the authors of Of Pandas and People, a book aimed at public school ninth grade biology students and originally pushed for statewide adoption in Alabama and Texas, are current DI fellows, and chunks of the book are posted all over the DI website. I suppose Crowther could exclude these facts on the basis that Pandas was written before the DI got into ID. But we also have the Wedge Document. It is fun to search on words like “teach” and “curricula”. For example:

Phase III. Once our research and writing have had time to mature, and the public prepared for the reception of design theory, we will move toward direct confrontation with the advocates of materialist science through challenge conferences in significant academic settings. We will also pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula

FIVE YEAR OBJECTIVES […] 6. Ten states begin to rectify ideological imbalance in their science curricula & include design theory

How could anyone possibly get confused about the DI’s position?

That big tent


Buridan of Buridan’s ass has some discussion about Vedic creation in America (Short EvoWiki blurb on vedic creationism), linking an article that claims

Prominent I.D. theorists (Philip Johnson, Michael Behe) and some Catholic creationists have endorsed Vedic creationism.

Afraid of kickin’ anyone outta that tent, ain’t they?

How to Falsify ID


Note: Please see update at the end of this post.

I know, I know, it’s not really possible. But ID advocates keep claiming it’s possible, so it’s important to revisit the issue every now and then. The IDists claim that since the arguments for ID can be falsified, then ID itself is falsifiable. But of course this doesn’t follow. Having an argument proven wrong doesn’t disprove a hypothesis. And this is especially true when the arguments themselves (which are simply arguments against evolution) do not logically support the hypothesis to begin with. Judge Jones noted this in his ruling in the recent Kitzmiller case in regards to the Irreducible Complexity argument:

As irreducible complexity is only a negative argument against evolution, it is refutable and accordingly testable, unlike ID, by showing that there are intermediate structures with selectable functions that could have evolved into the allegedly irreducibly complex systems. Importantly, however, the fact that the negative argument of irreducible complexity is testable does not make testable the argument for ID.


We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution. As a further example, the test for ID proposed by both Professors Behe and Minnich is to grow the bacterial flagellum in the laboratory; however, no-one inside or outside of the IDM, including those who propose the test, has conducted it.

Professor Behe conceded that the proposed test could not approximate real world conditions and even if it could, Professor Minnich admitted that it would merely be a test of evolution, not design. We therefore find that Professor Behe’s claim for irreducible complexity has been refuted in peer-reviewed research papers and has been rejected by the scientific community at large. Additionally, even if irreducible complexity had not been rejected, it still does not support ID as it is merely a test for evolution, not design.

(Kitzmiller v. Dover, pp. 76-9, citations omitted)

Of course that didn’t stop the Discovery Institute from responding that Intelligent Design is Empirically Testable and Makes Predictions. If you read this article, you’ll learn that Judge Jones was horribly, horribly wrong, because irreducible complexity can be falsified, which therefore means that ID can be falsified! One wonders if they even bothered to read Jones’ decision.

But irreducible complexity isn’t the only argument that ID advocates employ. Another common argument concerns the Cambrian Explosion, which ID advocates claim shows that all “major types” of animals (by which they mean phyla, a very broad category) “appeared suddenly” without fossil precursors. Putting aside the other problems with this argument, a recent post by the esteemed Prof. Steve Steve, in which he accompanied Ian Musgrave to the South Australian Museum, shows us that chordates (the phylum to which humans and pandas belong) existed before the Cambrian, during the Ediacaran, well before the purported “explosion”. That spells doom for the ID advocates’ argument.

So does this falsify ID? Let’s see what a couple of ID advocates themselves have said, and let’s see whether or not they’re willing to exercise a bit of intellectual consistency.

Go read


A truly excellent op-ed by Robert Sprackland appeared in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It’s definitely worth reading.

Tangled Bank #45

The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is online at Greythumb.blog. We are looking for volunteers to host future editions later this spring—drop a note to me if you're interested in spreading the word about science blogging.

Ohio: Fordham Evaluation Authors Weigh In


Last month Dave Thomas reported on the Fordham Foundation’s report on America’s science standards. In that report, Ohio got a “B” on the science standards overall, and a 3 (out of 3) on the treatment of evolution.

The authors of the Fordham evaluation were recently made aware of the implementation of the Benchmark and Grade Level Indicator in the form of a creationist “Critical Analysis of Evolution” model lesson plan adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education, and in particular they were made aware of the flaunting of the Fordham “B” grade by ID proponent Michael Cochran of the Ohio State Board of Education at its meeting on January 10, 2006. Cochran implied that the B grade meant that the Fordham evaluation somehow sanctioned the creationist lesson plan created to operationalize the Standards. The motion before the Board was to delete that lesson plan from the model curriculum; the Benchmark was not mentioned in the motion on the floor (summary of the Board meeting). In response, the authors of the Fordham report on science standards, led by Paul R. Gross, have issued this statement to the press in Ohio and nationally:

Ohio’s K-12 Science Standards and Evolution

In the recent report, “The State of State Science Standards” (Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2005), of which I am the lead author, we issued a grade of “B” for the Ohio standards. This was in recognition of documents unnecessarily long and with some errors, but dedicated, on the whole, to good and sufficient science content. My distinguished colleagues, members of the expert advisory committee, join me in the statement that follows.

The standards we reviewed present evolutionary biology well enough, and start it early enough, although the treatment is rather thin in relevant molecular genetics. In one benchmark, there is a mention of “critical analysis” of “aspects of evolutionary theory.” We gave Ohio the benefit of the doubt that such ordinarily innocuous words might raise in the current political climate. After all, modern evolutionary biology includes, in fact comprises, “critical analysis of evolutionary theory,” just as modern physics includes critical analysis of relativity and quantum theory. Serious science is a continuous critical analysis.

But the benefit of doubt we gave the benchmark may have been a mistake. Creationism-inspired “critical analysis” of evolutionary biology - as has been shown over and over again in the scientific literature, and recently in a Pennsylvania Federal Court - is neither serious criticism nor serious analysis. The newest version of creationism, so-called Intelligent Design (ID) theory, is no exception. Like its predecessors, it is neither critical nor analytic, nor has it made any contribution to the literature of science. Any suggestion that our “B” grade for Ohio’s standards endorses sham critiques of evolution, as offered by creationists, is false.

To the extent that model lessons are to be provided in Ohio as curricular guidance, lessons that refer favorably to, or incorporate, sham critiques of evolution, or bad science, or pseudo-science, the standards we reviewed are contradicted. That part of the state’s science education will be a failure. Moreover it will reflect badly on the entire standards undertaking, not just on biology and evolution. To devote scores of pages in the official standards to the principles of good science, and then to teach bad or pseudo-science in the classroom, is to defeat the very purpose of standards. If creationism-driven arguments become an authorized extension of Ohio’s K-12 science standards, then the standards will deserve a failing grade. Paul R. Gross University Professor of Life Sciences, emeritus University of Virginia

So the question is whether creationism-driven arguments have become an authorized extension of the standards. The short answer is yes. The long answer follows below.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced that the El Tejon School District has agreed to terminate the antievolution course currently in session, and will not offer that course or other courses promoting antievolution in the future.

…be prepared to take some disinfectants along for the ride.

One thing that is a total geek-out for me is reading about ecology. It’s one of the areas I wish I’d taken more coursework on back in college. At the time, it didn’t much interest me–studying species interactions was boring, and molecular biology was much more interesting. I’ve pretty much flipped 180 degrees on that one. (Well, molecular biology isn’t boring, but it’s moved off its rung as a top interest). My main interest as far as ecology is concerned is microbial ecology–especially of the ecosystem we like to call human beings. I’ve discussed bacterial ecology a bit previously (see here, here, and here, for instance), and a new study is once again making us reconsider what we know about our own personal microbial flora.

A new study published in PNAS examined microbial diversity in an unusual place–the human stomach. Though it’s now accepted that bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori can live in the stomach (and cause ulcers), the image of the stomach is still a pretty sterile place: too hostile to harbor much bacterial diversity.

Well, maybe not.

(Continue reading at Aetiology)

Happy Birthday Ben


Many of the founders of the United States were motivated first and foremost by the ideals of the enlightenment. And among them, Benjamin Franklin most closely resembled the modern scientist, in his temperment, discipline and his lifelong quest for understanding of the natural world.

Among his more compelling aphorisms are:

“In the Affairs of the World Men are saved, not by Faith but by the Want of it.”

“To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine.”

and (my favorite):

“Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

The National Science Foundation has co-sponsored a site celebrating Franklin’s life and writings. Check it out.

Recent work has illuminated the evolution of the very anatomical feature that this site is named after.

TheJanuary 10, 2006 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS, vol. 103 | no. 2 | 379-382) includes a paper titled “Evidence of a false thumb in a fossil carnivore clarifies the evolution of pandas” by Manuel J.Salesa,Mauricio Antón, Stéphane Peigné and Jorge Morales.

It seems that the Panda’s Thumb has evolved, not once, but twice!

A new Tangled Bank is coming up

The Tangled Bank

The next edition of the Tangled Bank will be held at Grey Thumb.blog on Wednesday, 18 Jan 2006. Send in those links to wonderful science writing to tangledbank@greythumb.org, host@tangledbank, or me by Tuesday evening.

Journalists are beginning to get it


The Disco Institute’s Media Complaints Division (aka “Evolution News and Views”, a misnomer if I ever saw one) regularly rants about what they deem to be misrepresentations of Intelligent Design “theory”. In spite of Luskin’s and Crowther’s efforts, though, a growing number (!) of journalists are catching on to the Disco Institute’s scam. The most recent example is an editorial in today’s Akron Beacon Journal. The editorial writer, Steve Hoffman, clearly gets it. He writes

What might a judge eventually say about the state school board in Ohio, which this week refused by a narrow margin to revise its guidelines for teaching biology? Those guidelines create false controversy over Darwinian evolution, singling it out from all other scientific theories for critical analysis, indirectly but quite deliberately guiding students toward the conclusion that an intelligent designer (God) must have shaped each amazing, complex organism. Would the judge conclude that in the wake of the Dover decision, the state board in Ohio acted with breathtaking stupidity?

My answer, of course, would be no: the Board, or at least the thought leaders on it, Michael Cochran and Deborah Owens Fink, did not act in ignorance or breathtaking stupidity. In my opinion, they acted knowing full well what they were doing: perverting science education in Ohio schools in service of a religiously grounded socio-cultural movement. Robert Lattimer, a leader of ID troops in Ohio, told an ID conference in late 2003 that science would have very little to do with the development of science standards and education would have very little to do with it. Just so.

Hoffman went on

The Ohio board’s fundamental mistake was that a majority of its members were unable (or unwilling) to differentiate between scientific and political controversy. That mistake has now been compounded.

Again, I vote for “unwilling”. I do not believe this is the honest mistake of unwitting people, but is the intentional perversion of both science and education to further a sectarian agenda.

Catherine Candinsky of the Columbus Dispatch also “gets it”, as do others in Ohio. It remains to be seen whether the middle-of-the-road members of the Ohio Board of Education will get it. Will they realize that they’re allowing Cochran and Owens Fink to lead Ohio public education down an indefensible educational, scientific, and legal path? They still have a chance. The one parallel between Dover and Ohio that hasn’t occurred is that no member of the Ohio Board has lied to a federal judge under oath. Yet.


Now I am bent out of shape


Update: 1/13/06 11:17:25 As of this second, my post is back on Dembski and Friends’ blog. It looks like one needs to take a post-by-post snapshot there just so you can keep track of what’s happened.

And now DaveScot comments (with no mention of having deleted and then restored my post)

You’re saying an undergraduate degree in anthropology is more science than a PhD in math? There’s a good laugh.

How do credentials in biology qualify one to recognize design? I don’t see the connection. Biology is a cross between pipetting and stamp collecting. How does that make one an expert on the nature of digital codes and automated machinery? At least the math guys know a digital code when they see one.

Here are some quotes from your article that make me think you imply “chicken”

What are they afraid of here?

Who exactly is refusing to engage in a competition?

I’m not afraid of competition

Are you going to sit there with a straight face and say you aren’t implying the other side is afraid of the competition you represent? I’m going to have call you a liar if you do.

Well, for one thing I am a math teacher, and I do know a digital code when I see one. Secondly, math is not science. Third, my comments about “competition” were in reference to something John Calvert said about the ID movement in general, not about Dembski. (If one read the newspaper article and had an intent to keep context in mind, one would know that.)

And I am saying that “the other side” is afraid of the point of view about ID that I represent. However, I said that without calling people names, and without making demands.

I would like this conversation to go on at Uncommon Dissent, where it belongs, and not here. However, given that posts can so easily disappear there, I’ve posted this here so there is a record of this exchange.

I know some of you out there do this. You’ve spent so many hours asking your creationist friends to define a “kind,” or explaining why the “tornado in a junkyard” or “watchmaker” analogies are hopelessly flawed, that you’re beginning to see flagella and mousetraps in your sleep. I mean, look at poor Nick. Kid can’t even hear the word “truthiness” without having visions of IDists dancing in his head. I caught myself doing this today, too.

I listen to a lot of country music. (Yeah, yeah, go ahead and mock. I’m used to it). Couple that with 1) the fact that I live in Iowa, where there’s a *lot* of country radio, and 2) the fact that my car didn’t have a CD player, that meant lots of time on the road tuned in to a country station. As a mom (aka taxi), that means the kids also spent a lot of time listening to it–and my daughter’s favorite song of the past year was Faith Hill’s “Mississippi Girl.” So, we bought her Faith’s new CD for Christmas.

(Yes, there is a point to this–see over at Aetiology)

Kenneth Miller, the lead-off expert witness in Kitzmiller v. Dover, is the guest on The Colbert Report tonight on Comedy Central. The show airs at 11:30 pm EST and PST, and rebroadcasts several times the following day, e.g. 7:30 pm I believe.

Every day this week, Stephen Colbert has been mentioning the fact that the word “truthiness”, which he invented, became the official 2005 Word of the Year declared by the American Dialect Society. Considering the relationship of “Truthiness” and the also-ran Word of the Year, “intelligent design” (a runner-up in the “Most Outrageous” category, although the category “Most Euphemistic” seems appropriate also) is rather entertaining. According to the ADS, “truthiness” is defined as “the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” I can’t think of a better word to describe ID…

Intelligent Design on CNN


Lou Dobbs will be “discussing” ID at 6:00 pm (Eastern Time) tonight. Rob Hovis, a strong defender of honest science education on the Ohio State Board of Education, will be on the show along with another OBOE Board member – possibly ID creationist Deborah Owens Fink, who introduced a “two model” (ID and Evo) motion to the Board in 2000. Anyone remember Debbie denying that they want ID taught in Ohio publics schools? Yeah, sure.

Hemichordate evo-devo


Every biology student gets introduced to the chordates with a list of their distinctive characteristics: they have a notochord, a dorsal hollow nerve cord, gill slits, and a post-anal tail. The embryonic stage in which we express all of these features is called the pharyngula stage—it's often also the only stage at which we have them. We terrestrial vertebrates seal off those pharyngeal openings as we develop, while sea squirts throw away their brains as an adult.


The chordate phylum has all four of those traits, but there is another extremely interesting phylum that has some of them, the hemichordates. The hemichordates are marine worms that have gill slits and a stub of a tail. They also have a bundle of nerves in the right place to be a dorsal nerve cord, but the latest analyses suggest that it's not discrete enough to count—they have more of a diffuse nerve net than an actual central nervous system. They don't really have a notochord, but they do have a stiff array of cells in their proboscis that vaguely resembles one. They really are "half a chordate" in that they only partially express characters that are defining elements of the chordate body plan. Of course, they also have a unique body plan of their own, and are quite lovely animals in their own right. They are a sister phylum to the chordates, and the similarities and differences between us tell us something about our last common ancestor, the ur-deuterostome.

Analyzing morphology is one approach, but this is the age of molecular biology, so digging deeper and comparing genes gives us a sharper picture of relationships. This is also the early days of evo-devo, and an even more revealing way to examine related phyla is to look at patterns of gene regulation—how those genes are turned on and off in space and time during the development of the organism—and see how those relate. Gerhart, Lowe, and Kirschner have done just that in hemichordates, and have results that strengthen the affinities between chordates and hemichordates. (By the way, Gerhart and Kirschner also have a new book out, The Plausibility of Life (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which I'll review as soon as I get the time to finish it.)

Continue reading "Hemichordate evo-devo (on Pharyngula)
(Note that this is my inaugural evo-devo post on the new Pharyngula, hosted at scienceblogs.com with many other science bloggers)

Blowhard of the Month: David Warren

I recently had the misfortune to stumble on a really revolting corner of the web, the not-so-modestly-named DavidWarrenOnline. Warren appears to be a journalist, and for the Ottawa Citizen, no less -- a newspaper that, back when Peter Calamai worked there, was sometimes worth reading. Judging from their employment of Mr. Warren, however, the Citizen has sunk into a swamp from which it will not soon recover. Explore that website and you will find the very worst sort of ignorant bigotry: screeds against gay marriage, global warming, and (big surprise) evolution, all served up with a really insufferable helping of religious smugness. And the writing! I was raised by newspaper reporters, who never missed an opportunity to tell me how my writing could be improved. But it appears Mr. Warren received no similar assistance. His columns frequently wander and maunder, heading this way and that, but never actually arriving anywhere. Who in their right mind would give this supercilious dolt a weekly column? If you, too, want to suffer as much as I did, you can start with four of Mr. Warren's columns about evolution. In his December 29 2004 column about Homo floresiensis, he reveals his doubts that it is a new species of the genus Homo. Informed doubt would be welcome, but Mr. Warren's doubts aren't based on anything more scientific than the fact that he once saw a woman in Calcutta about the same weight "and only slightly taller" than H. floresiensis. He then reveals that he suspects all hominid species are just varieties of Homo sapiens, and quotes one of his readers as saying, "Evolution? Probably a pile of crap. It seems to spring from the same faulty thinking reservoir as Marxism and other failed ideological constructs of the early 20th century." Dee-lightful! Continue reading at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

As usual, the Discovery Institute appears to be having some trouble settling on a coherent position on matter of the lawsuit filed against the El Tejon Unified School District in California. Like their many shifting positions on whether the designer is supernatural or not (Dembski says it must be supernatural, so does Behe, but when it’s convenient they all claim that the designer need not be supernatural even though that contradicts all their previous arguments) and on whether ID should be taught in schools (they initially promise to “pursue possible legal assistance in response to resistance to the integration of design theory into public school science curricula” and then claim that they’ve never wanted to put ID into public school science curricula), the DI appears to have at least two mutually exclusive positions on the El Tejon situation, in a matter of two days.

For more information, read the full text at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Over at the DI’s News Evolution News and Views blog, (where you can’t comment on anything), Jonathon Witt writes,

KU Darwinists Duck Intelligent Design Debate

The Lawrence Journal-World covers the story here.

======= “Why won’t the Darwinists at KU debate philosopher and mathematician William Dembski, who will be speaking at a campus forum Jan. 28?

Leonard Krishtalka, director of KU’s Biodiversity Institute, said he was one scientist who declined an invitation to debate Dembski.

“There is nothing to debate,” Krishtalka said. “Intelligent design is religion thinly disguised as science and does not belong in the science classroom.” =======

I wonder if Krishtalka could at least take the time to show that intelligent design is a religion-based argument. Let’s set the bar really low for his opening statement.

However, Witt fails to mention another part of the story:

Someone just emailed me a copy of an interesting press release. Some time back, a particular mutation known as CCR5delta32 was identified as conferring greatly increased resistance to HIV in individuals who had two copies of that particular gene (in geek terms, those are individuals homozygous for that particular allele). According to the press release, a group of researchers have discovered that this resistance to HIV comes with a price. The individuals who are homozygous for the CCR5delta32 allele do have greatly increased resistance to HIV, but they also have greatly decreased resistance to the West Nile Virus.

This is interesting (to me, anyway) for a number of different reasons.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

Blackstone on Trial


According to a recent posting on PT, Casey Luskin, a lawyer, appears to think he understands biology better than Kenneth Miller, a biologist. Other lawyers and legal scholars, most notably Phillip Johnson and Francis Beckwith, have similarly high opinions of their own analytical abilities. Indeed, Mr. Johnson claims that his profession gives him special expertise in analyzing arguments and identifying underlying assumptions.

I am a physicist, and I am considered relatively bright. I have a high opinion of my own opinions (please, no quote mining), but I figure I can learn from Mr. Luskin and his colleagues anyway. I have decided, therefore, to examine the law from the point of view of a physicist trained to make careful, nuanced arguments.

It didn’t take long for the Discovery Institute to try to call “Darwinists” intolerant for attempting to keep religious advocacy out of the schools. Casey Luskin discusses, over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division, the lawsuit that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State just filed against a California school. (Ed Brayton discusses this suit in depth over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.) Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Dover West?

Americans United has filed suit against the El Tajon Unified School District in California over a course there that includes creationism. The twist here is that the school has placed the class in philosophy rather than science and claims to be teaching about both evolution and creationism without advocating either as true. The evidence at this point suggests that is a merely a ruse to get creationism into the school’s curriculum.

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

Brief Ohio Report


Late this afternoon (Jan 10) the Ohio State Board of Education, by a 8-9 vote, defeated a motion to delete the offending “Critical Analysis” lesson plan from the model curriculum. Two members were absent.

I described the situation earlier on The Thumb.

It now seems certain that it will take a lawsuit in federal court to pry it out of the state’s model curriculum. In fact, one ID-supporting board member said “Let them sue us”. I told the board in the public comments period after the vote that what it has done is create a “Dover trap” for every local school district in Ohio. Already there are rumors that some creationist teachers are going beyond the ID-based lesson plan to “supplement” it with more blatantly creationist material, with the excuse that “the state board says it’s OK”.

I’ll probably write more later and add links to news stories after I’ve had a drink or two and have calmed down. The board’s discussion of the motion this afternoon was as bitter and rancorous as I’ve ever seen, up to and including one of the two main ID-supporting Board Members, a former prosecutor, verbally abusing a graduate student who spoke during the public comments period.


Legal eagles flutter on


Following the Dover shipwreck, frantic salvage P.R. work is going on at the Discovery Institute, much of it at the expense of lucidity. Can the slightly different ID tactics in Kansas, Ohio and Georgia escape the precedent set by Judge Jones’s decision? In Ohio in particular, things may be reaching a critical point as we speak. Instead of reassessing their approach, in a last-ditch attempt to stave off another defeat the DI resorts to some good old-fashioned disinformation tactics.

Luskin’s ludicrous genetics


I mentioned before that IDEA clubs insist that expertise is optional; well, it's clear that that is definitely true. Casey Luskin, the IDEA club coordinator and president, has written an utterly awful article "rebutting" part of Ken Miller's testimony in the Dover trial. It is embarrassingly bad, a piece of dreck written by a lawyer that demonstrates that he knows nothing at all about genetics, evolution, biology, or basic logic. I'll explain a few of his misconceptions about genetics, errors in the reproductive consequences of individuals with Robertsonian fusions, and how he has completely misrepresented the significance of the ape:human chromosome comparisons.

Continue reading "Luskin's ludicrous genetics" (on Pharyngula)

Chordate_3.jpg As an international, jet setting public intellectual there are many calls on my time, and I find myself rushing from pillar to post with my busy diary. However, at last I was able to take up the offer of that nice Dr. Musgrave to visit Adelaide, and amongst other things, take in Chris (“how can Nedin be trusted”) Nedin’s Big Dick (Chris was so excited about it, how could I resist). Despite being nearly devoid of bamboo, Adelaide is renown in song (“just another boring night in Adelaide” “people ask me, why Adelaide?”) and justifiably famous for being perched on the edge of umpteen square kilometers of burning desert.

But the desert holds many treasures, one of which is the finest collection of fossils from the Ediacaran period, a Precambrian era that features lots of weird, squashy creatures and mysterious animal tracks, and some things that Intelligent Design creationists don’t want to talk about, because they throw doubt on the so-called “Cambrian Explosion” that they claim evolution can’t explain. But now a creature has been found that wipes out the Cambrian Explosion (clue, see picture).

Bronowski on DVD


A few people commenting on my post about Jacob Bronowski asked if The Ascent of Man was available on DVD. A friend has emailed to let me know that it is available not only on European-DVD format, but also on a format readable by U.S. DVD players.

You call that a crocodile?


Here's a cool beast from the late Jurassic/early Cretaceous that tells us a little more about the past diversity of crocodilians. It's called Dakosaurus andiniensis, and all we have of it is a skull and a few fragmentary post-cranial bits. It's a strange, strange skull, though.

Continue reading "You call that a crocodile?" (on Pharyngula)

Seems that the Judge agreed with Dembsk after all: Intelligent Design offers a biblical alternative to Darwinism

Intelligent Design offers biblical alternative to Darwinian evolution, Dembski says at SBTS forum 2005 By David Roach, May 07:

The Intelligent Design movement has generated controversy because it deals with issues at the core of the current debate between secularists and those who hold a Christian worldview, said scientist and author William Dembski at a forum held at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary March 23.

The forum, entitled “Darwinism and the Church: a Conversation on Intelligent Design and Cultural Engagement,” was moderated by Russell D. Moore, Southern’s senior vice president for academic administration, dean of the school of theology and director of the event’s sponsor, the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

You might recall that the IDEA clubs required that their leaders be Christian (linked to Google cache).

1) Having an interest in intelligent design and creation - evolution issues, and a willingness to learn more.

2) Agreeing with and being willing to uphold the IDEA Center's mission statement.

3) Having a desire and commitment to using these issues to educate and outreach to your fellow students, campus, or community.

4) We also require that club leaders be Christians as the IDEA Center Leadership believes, for religious reasons unrelated to intelligent design theory, that the identity of the designer is the God of the Bible. It is definitely not necessary to "be an expert" to start and run a successful a club. It is helpful to be familiar with the basics of intelligent design theory, but if you're not, that's where the IDEA Center hopes to step in and help educate you so you can in turn educate others. Where ever you feel like you might need help--whether its science, leadership skills, or practical tips for running the club--that's where the IDEA Center wants to step in an help you. We try to help give any club founder all the tools they might need to start and run a succesful club and help promote a better understanding of the creation - evolution issue at their schools.

No more! The rules have been changed.

1) Having an interest in intelligent design and creation - evolution issues, and a willingness to learn more.

2) Agreeing with and being willing to uphold the IDEA Center's mission statement.

3) Having a desire and commitment to using these issues to educate and outreach to your fellow students, campus, or community.

4) IDEA Club leaders must advocate the scientific theory of intelligent design in the fields of biology and physics/cosmology.

5) There are no requirements regarding the religious beliefs of IDEA Club leaders or founders.

So now, instead of requiring Christianity, they require a) that one be an advocate of the "scientific theory of intelligent design" and b) that one agree with the IDEA center's mission statement. That's interesting; there is no scientific theory of intelligent design. There is no science behind it, and it doesn't qualify as a theory—even calling it a hypothesis is over-generous, since we typically expect even hypotheses to have some foundation in evidence and observation. That's strike one. What about that mission statement?

We believe that in the investigation of intelligent design the identity of the designer is completely separate from the scientific theory of intelligent design, since a scientific theory cannot specify the identity of the designer based upon the empirical data or the scientific method alone, and is not dependent upon religious premises; nonetheless, we consider it reasonable to conclude that the designer may be identified as the God of the Bible, while recognizing that others may identify the designer in a different way.

How cunning! They cut out the blatant religious requirement and buried it more subtly in the mission statement—if you don't think it reasonable to identify the designer as the God of the Bible, you aren't the kind of person they want running their clubs. I guess the Raelians are going to be disappointed.

Intelligent Design creationists do seem fond of sneaking their beliefs in through the back door, don't they?

It's also interesting how much they emphasize that absolutely no expertise is required to be a leader in the IDEA clubs. That's their clientele: people who know absolutely nothing about science, but are willing and eager to repudiate it.

[Update: Oops! Bronowski’s birthday is Jan. 18, not Jan. 8. I had it written down correctly on my calendar, but stupidly didn’t consult my calendar on the morning of the 8th when I began writing this post. Lesson: don’t rely on memory alone! But in any case, happy birthday, Dr. Bronowski!]

On this day in 1908, Jacob Bronowski was born in Lodz, Poland. By the time he died in 1974, the world had changed so drastically as to be virtually unrecognizable. Amazingly, Bronowski was on the scene for a great many of the twentieth century’s most drastic changes, both in art and in science.

Outing ID Advocates

There is a bit of a controversy going on about whether anonymous ID advocates should be “outed”. One blog in particular is currently attempting to divine the identity of “MikeGene”, a longtime pseudonymous participant in the ID/evolution debate. After discussions with a few other PT contributors, I give my thoughts on this practice at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Call for Action in Ohio


Just Scheduled: Public Info Sessions

Ohio Citizens for Science will host two public information sessions Sunday and Monday evenings on Ohio’s creationist lesson plan and the history and impact of this insult to science and religion. Details here.

Things are heating up in Ohio post-Kitzmiller. The ID troops are spinning Kitzmiller as the aberration of an activist judge (a conservative Republican) who vastly over-stepped the acceptable boundaries of judicial behavior. Tim Sandefur eviscerated that argument here on the Thumb and on Positive Liberty.

Ohio Citizens for Science is issuing a call for action this weekend. We ask people – both in Ohio and elsewhere – to write/email/phone to urge the restoration of good science in Ohio’s schools. In particular, we urge contacting Jim Petro, current state Attorney General who is running for Governor. Let Petro know that it’s time for leadership, not political pandering. The main points to stress are below the fold in the recommended message. Both in-state and out of state people are encouraged to contact Petro. Please also contact members of the State Board of Education with your support for honest science education.

Ohio’s board of education will meet next Tuesday, Jan 10, in Columbus to decide whether to comply with the recent federal court ruling against intelligent-design creationism and its disingenuous “teach the controversy” ploy.

Please write or CALL TODAY to State Board members (as many as you can) and Attorney General Jim Petro.

Board Members’ email addresses are here. Contact them all!

Petro Campaign contact info (we recommend that you contact his campaign; this is a political issue):

Contact via his campaign web site or email him at email(AT)jimpetro.com or call the campaign at 1-877-JIM-2006.

Background and more info below the fold.

Alas, Texas

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Kansans will be relieved to learn that their big buddy to the South, Texas, is going to take some of the heat off of them. We have a new target for ridicule:

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who has made outreach to Christian conservatives a theme of his gubernatorial portfolio, thinks Texas public school students should be taught intelligent design along with evolutionary theory, his office said Thursday.

Perry “supports the teaching of the theory of intelligent design,” spokeswoman Kathy Walt said. “Texas schools teach the theory of evolution; intelligent design is a valid scientific theory, and he believes it should be taught as well.”

The article does go on to mention that the chairperson of the State Board of Education, in a how-the-hell-did-this-kook-get-to-be-my-boss moment, pointed out that the educators of the state have had no intention of introducing a non-issue like ID into the curriculum.

I look forward to hearing the Discovery Institute’s reaction. Will they repudiate their current strategy of pretending they don’t want to teach ID in schools and embrace the propaganda opportunity, or will they let Perry twist in the wind? Will the Thomas More Law Center, fresh off their masochistic adventure in Dover, step forward with joy in their hearts and beg, “yes, whip me again, please”? Will the voters of Texas finally realize that even idiots can wear a cowboy hat and boots?

I just got a shiny, new, titanium-alloy, extra-heavy-duty new irony meter for Christmas. I hook it up to my computer, and wouldn’t you know it, the very first blogpost that comes across my screen happens to be the Discovery Institute Media Judge Complaints Division blog, where Rob Crowther endorses this quote from an op-ed:

“Moreover, based upon the extensive expertise he [Judge Jones of the Kitzmiller case] professes to have acquired in the course of a six-week trial, he defined science and determined that the scientific claims of intelligent design were invalid, neither of which are exactly legal questions best decided by a single lawyer.”

BLAM! Oh, my, that was close, that shrapnel almost took my head off–hey, that’s odd. What are the odds that a titanium irony meter would explode into red-hot fragments spelling Darwin on Trial, pp. 12-13”?

The AJC has some more information about the latest happenings in the Selman case: Evolution case turns to petitions.

When asked in a telephone interview Wednesday if he thought the March 2002 petitions ever existed, [Cobb County School District’s lawyer] Gunn said, “I have my doubts.”

But on March 28, 2002, the day the school board adopted the stickers, Rogers told the board she had collected signatures from 2,300 people who were dissatisfied with science texts that espoused “Darwinism unchallenged,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the following day.

A few days later, a Journal-Constitution reporter examined the petitions at the Cobb school system offices and took notes on names and phone numbers of some of the people who had signed.

On Wednesday, Gunn said Cobb school board spokesman Jay Dillon does not believe that ever happened.

In an article published April 14, 2002, the Journal-Constitution again reported that the school board had agreed to insert the stickers inside science texts in response to pressure from several dozen parents who criticized the teaching of evolution. The article said the parents had presented petitions with 2,000 names of county residents who demanded accuracy in textbooks. The Cobb school board did not challenge the existence of the petitions at that time.

Bramlett said Wednesday he believes the petitions were given to the board in March 2002 and thinks the record supports Cooper’s finding that it occurred.

“The trial court heard the testimony,” Bramlett said of Cooper. “The trial court was there. That’s the reason in our legal system that the trial judge’s fact finding is entitled to deference by the appellate courts.”

Microbial ecology, and its relation to the development of infectious disease, is an ever-growing field of study. Of course, there are a vast number of bacterial species living amongst us, most of which do not cause us any harm. Others may infect us only when, so to speak, the stars align in a certain manner: when a number of factors collide that result in the development of a diseased state. For instance, we may already be immunocompromised due to the presence of another infection—something minor, such as a rhinovirus, or something more serious, such as HIV—and this chink in our armor allows another organism to more easily infect, and potentially damage, us.

Other agents in the environment also play a key role in the ecology of potentially pathogenic microorganisms. A recent study in Science highlighted one of these that appears to play an important role in the ecology and evolution of Vibrio cholerae, a major human pathogen of the past several centuries.

V. cholerae is the bacterial agent of cholera, a deadly water-borne disease. The bacterium itself is somewhat of a boomerang or kidney bean shape, and can be found in a number of aquatic environments of varying salinity. Cholera has killed millions over the past 200-odd years, frequently re-appearing in pandemic form after initially emerging from India in the early 1800s. Infection with the bacterium can lead to severe gastrointestinal problems, and the production of copious amounts of “ricewater stool”–even worse than it sounds, from what I understand. Death is generally due to severe dehydration. It’s also a bacterium that has played a key role in the development of the very science of epidemiology. John Snow, considered the “grandfather” of epidemiology, became famous for tracing a 1854 outbreak of cholera in London to a contaminated well, introducing the basic principles of epidemiology along the way.

More recent research has shown that in nature, the bacterium uses the polymer chitin as both a food source and an anchor. Chitin is the second most common polymer on earth (beaten only by cellulose), and is the most abundant in the marine environment, where V. cholerae thrives. Chitin can be found in a number of diatoms, in the exoskeletons and fecal material of arthropods, and in fungi, just to name a few sources.

(Continued at Aetiology)

Many outspoken political conservatives have denounced the Kitzmiller decision, but many others have defended it, and deserve praise for their stand. James Q. Wilson had this very good article in the Wall Street Journal on Christmas Eve.

The theory of evolution has not been proved as fully as the theory of gravity. There are many gaps in what we know about prehistoric creatures. But all that we have learned is consistent with the view that the creatures we encounter today had ancestors from which they evolved. This view, which is literally the only scientific defensible theory of the origin of species, does not by any means rule out the idea that God exists.

Harry Jaffa of the Claremont Institute wrote this letter to the editor in response. I was particularly delighted by his statement that "intelligent design does not necessarily imply a designer. Aristotle says that whatever can come to be by art---i.e. by intelligent design---can come to be by chance---i.e. without a designer."

Of course, I disagree with their view that evolution and religion are equally respectable intellectual positions, and with Jaffa's contention that "goodness" must preexist any particular, good thing---but that gets into a very complicated debate for which I don't have time. The important thing is to applaud conservatives who have the courage and integrity to defend science and see ID for the fraud that it is.

Ken Miller Webcast Archived


Ken Miller’s talk at Case last night has been archived:

REAL PLAYER Windows Media Player

No definitive info on how long they’ll last, but rumor has it that normal is two months.


Non-lawyer Joseph M. Knippenberg of the Ashbrook Center has posted this article attacking the Kitzmiller decision on the grounds that it represents "hostility" to religion. I've pointed out many times that this accusation of "hostility" is generally just a complaint by people who believe that their religious freedom entitles them to use the government for their religious purposes, which is not correct. Freedom only means that we have the right to do what we want on our own time and with our own money; it does not include the right to use other people's money or infringe on other people's rights. Religious freedom does not include your right to use the government's school system to teach religion to people. When the court stops you from doing so, that is not "hostility," despite Dr. Knippenberg's claims to the contrary.

Cobb: Court Not Misled


Last month the appeals hearing in the Cobb Country disclaimer sticker case made headlines when Judge Carnes accused the ACLU of misleading the court regarding the timing of the creationist petition submitted to the school board. The Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division, which is “committed” to correcting errors made by the media, jumped on the story with their article, “Did the ACLU Lie to the Federal Courts in the Cobb County Evolution Sticker Case?

Now it was immediately apparent to us and the media that Judge Carnes was confused about the facts of the case and recklessly accused the ACLU of misleading the court. I pointed this out in a series of posts:

However, Disco has yet to provide such information to their readers.

Today the Appeals court issued a clear statement on the issue:

The Court is not ruling at this time on whether any findings by the district court about the timing of the petition were clearly erroneous, which is the governing standard of review; the time and place for announcing any decisions about that will be in the opinion this Court issues. However, the Court does want to resolve at this time the question of whether Mr. Bramlett misled the Court in the brief he filed on behalf of the appellees.

Parts of the trial record concerning the petition are puzzling. The attorneys on both sides might have been more careful in their advocacy relating to this issue, which would have assisted the Court. The Court, however, does not find that counsel misled it or attempted to do so. We issue this order to remove any implication that either counsel did.

Because the oral argument remarks about this matter occurred in open court and have been discussed in the news media, the Clerks’s Office is directed to disseminate a copy of this order to the media.

I am not holding my breath waiting for the creationists to disseminate this court order.

The final two nails in the coffin of “Intelligent Design” have been set up, and hammered in.

The new Dover board has scrapped the ID policy that started the whole flap, and the complete electoral defeat of pro- ID board members was finalized.

Fisking Phyllis Schlaffly

One of the most fascinating aspects of the last couple weeks since the Dover ruling came down is surveying just how low some of the IDers are willing to go to attack Judge Jones. It’s all the more interesting because when he was assigned the case they were quite happy about the selection. After all, they had gotten a conservative judge, appointed by President Bush and with close ties to Tom Ridge and Rick Santorum. How could they have asked for anything more? Alas, once he ruled against them they turned on him like a pack of rabid dogs, engaging in one ad hominem after another. But the worst I’ve seen has to be this piece by Phyllis Schlaffly, which DI boss John West is endorsing. Her column is chock full of ignorance and flat out lies.

To see the full fisking of Schlaffly’s column, go to Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

The Tangled Bank and other goodies

The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank #44 is now online at Afarensis.

A few other noteworthy links that might be of interest to readers here. The Carnival of the Liberals #3 is at Science and Politics, and the Skeptics' Circle is looking for submissions for an edition that will be out tomorrow.

It's that time of year when weblogging awards pop up all over the place. Nominations are now open for the 2005 Medical Weblog Awards and the Sixth Annual Weblog Awards (the "Bloggies"). The Koufax nominations are closed; Pharyngula and the Panda's Thumb received several nominations, so now we just wait to see if they make it to the list of final candidates. The gang at Wampum are looking for donations to help them through the time-consuming process.

Feeling literary? Science Creative Quarterly is having a Flower Mandala contest. Get inspired by some beautiful botanical images, write something, win a prize!

This view of life


Over my “vacation” (which unfortunately ended up being more work than play), I was at a dinner with two of my best friends from the past 15-odd years. For whatever reason, the topic turned to evolution–and we quickly realized that we had, erm, differing opinions on whether evolution actually occurred or not. Now, this was pretty depressing to me, as both of them are very intelligent women, and one happens to work in a scientific field. So, we retreated to a coffee shop for some animated conversation on science, religion, and politics. I don’t know if I changed any minds or not, but that wasn’t really my goal anyway–rather, just to talk about the evidence that supported evolution, and to discuss their own reservations and objections. Obviously there were only so many things we could cover, but it was an interesting chat (and I hope I wasn’t too harsh. It’s a topic that makes me a bit…excitable.)

Anyhoo, I wish I’d had this op-ed on me. Written by evolutionary biolgist Olivia Judson, it highlights just a few things that make evolution so amazing:

Organisms like the sea slug Elysia chlorotica. This animal not only looks like a leaf, but it also acts like one, making energy from the sun. Its secret? When it eats algae, it extracts the chloroplasts, the tiny entities that plants and algae use to manufacture energy from sunlight, and shunts them into special cells beneath its skin. The chloroplasts continue to function; the slug thus becomes able to live on a diet composed only of sunbeams.

Still more fabulous is the bacterium Brocadia anammoxidans. It blithely makes a substance that to most organisms is a lethal poison - namely, hydrazine. That’s rocket fuel.

And then there’s the wasp Cotesia congregata. She injects her eggs into the bodies of caterpillars. As she does so, she also injects a virus that disables the caterpillar’s immune system and prevents it from attacking the eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the caterpillar alive.

It’s hard not to have an insatiable interest in organisms like these, to be enthralled by the strangeness, the complexity, the breathtaking variety of nature.

(Continue reading at at Aetiology)

Why it matters:


In today’s Baltimore Sun, there is an op-ed by New Hampshire Union Leader editorial page editor Andrew Cline. Cline makes an argument that I’ve heard a lot from religious conservatives lately, that the courts go to far when they rule that government “endorsement” of religion is unconstitutional:

I disagree with the wording of that statement. But it defies logic to say it establishes a state religion. And in fact, Judge Jones does not conclude that. Under Establishment Clause jurisprudence, he doesn’t have to.

In the 1984 case Lynch v. Donnelly, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor created a new standard that redefined the Establishment Clause. Government policies don’t have to “establish” a state religion - as the Constitution requires - to be unconstitutional. They simply have to “endorse” a religious point of view. Justice O’Connor succeeded in rewriting the First Amendment, and Judge Jones used that rewrite to strike down the intelligent design statement.

As the Establishment Clause morphs into a general anti-religion clause and judges continue to strike down not the establishment of religion, or even the teaching of it, but the mere practice of pointing it out to students, it is easy to imagine a day when no reference to God, religion or spirituality will be allowed in school.

I think Cline manages to misunderstand a couple of different things here. He obviously doesn’t have a clue about why O’Connor defined the “endorsement” test, or how the circumstances of this case illustrate the value of that standard. He also doesn’t seem to grasp exactly what the Dover School Board was attempting to do.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

Ken Miller in Cleveland: WEBCAST ARCHIVE URLS


The URLs for the archive of the webcast of Miller’s talk are:

Real Player Archive

Windows Media Player Archive

I do not know how they will be available. Rumor has it two months, but don’t count on that.

The Collapse of Intelligent-Design … Will the next MONKEY TRIAL be in OHIO?

A talk by Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University

7 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2006 Strosacker Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University Campus, Cleveland

Kenneth R. Miller, PhD, was the star science witness in the recent Dover “Panda Trial” in Pennsylvania where Judge John E Jones found “intelligent design” to be a religious view, not science. He is the author of a bestselling high school biology textbook that was subject to the Cobb County, GA disclaimer sticker that warned students that evolution was “a theory, not a fact.” The stickers were removed by court order in 2005. Miller is also author of the bestseller Finding Darwin’s God.

Questions from the audience will be entertained and the event will be webcast (www.case.edu)

Free and open to the public. When I have more detailed info on the webcast I’ll post it here.


Real Player Windows Media Player

Sewell’s Thermodynamic Failure


The young earth creationists (YECs) used to refer to the 2nd law of thermodynamics as an allegedly insurmountable obstacle to evolution. When their critics pointed out that the 2nd law, as used by creationists, is only valid for “closed” (or “isolated”) systems and therefore is not an obstacle to evolution on our planet which is an open system receiving energy input from the sun, the YECs suggested various specious arguments designed to circumvent this limitation of the 2nd law. With time, as straightforward young earth creationism gradually retreated to such fringe outlets as Answers in Genesis, the Institute of Creation Research, and Hovind’s entertainment shops (being replaced by intelligent design movement as the main anti-evolution force), reference to the 2nd law of thermodynamics has rare been heard as an anti-evolution argument.

However, this pseudo-scientific argument has not been completely abandoned by anti-evolution forces, both of YEC and ID varieties. From time to time it recrudesces in writing of this or that advocate of creationism.

One example of such a misuse of the 2nd law of thermodynamics is a recent article by professor of mathematics Granville Sewell titled “Evolution’s Thermodynamic Failure” (see here ).

The following is a letter to the editor that I sent to the St. Petersburg Times. Maybe they’ll print it, maybe they won’t.

In the St. Petersburg Times “Evolution’s Not Enough” article by Donna Winchester and Ron Matus, only those whose self-report of having at least some familiarity with the issues were part of the numbers reported concerning how “intelligent design” should be taught, if at all. The antievolution literature is a source of anti-knowledge, false things confidently stated as if true, and those whose only or primary familiarity with the issues comes from that source may well believe themselves to have some grasp of the issues while being worse off than those who have not been misled.

The Tangled Bank

Don't forget: there's a new post-holiday Tangled Bank coming up on Wednesday, 4 January 2006, at Afarensis. Send in links to your science writing now, to afarensis1@sbcglobal.net, host@tangledbank.net, or pzmyers@pharyngula.org.

Science often depends on experiments, and experiments are notoriously prone to error. Even if the experiment’s results are correct, the conclusions may be wrong. And even if the experiment and conclusions are correct, they may represent only part of the truth. Sometimes scientists are simply wrong, and they need to admit it. While they don’t do experiments, a similar obligation falls on mathematicians.

Most mathematicians and scientists recognize this obligation. In 1989, for example, the mathematician I. J. Good published a corrigendum to one of his previous papers. This wouldn’t be noteworthy except that the paper he was correcting was published in 1941, nearly 50 years before.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. A classic case is that of René Blondlot (1849-1930), a French physicist who believed he had discovered a new kind of radiation, which he called “N-rays” in honor of Nancy, his native city. You can read about this case in Walter Gratzer’s book The Undergrowth of Science and I am following Gratzer’s account here.

Continue reading at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

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