January 15, 2006 - January 21, 2006 Archives

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

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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

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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.

RBH

(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

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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

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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

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

Tangled Bank #45

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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

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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

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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!

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