May 2006 Archives

Robert Camp in Can Intelligent Design be considered scientific in the same way that SETI is? delivers a fatal blow to the specious claims by Intelligent Design supporters that SETI uses the ‘explanatory filter’ proposed by Dembski to detect ‘design’. In fact, in order to detect design, these sciences all use additional information such as means, motives, and opportunities to reach their conclusions. Since ID wants to avoid dealing with motives, pathways, methods at all cost, ID will remain scientifically devoid of content.

In the next few weeks I intend to show various approaches and arguments which all reach the same conclusion.

Let’s start with Dembski’s claim about Intelligent Design

Dembski Wrote:

To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there exist well-defined methods that, based on observable features of the world, can reliably distinguish intelligent causes from undirected natural causes. Many special sciences have already developed such methods for drawing this distinction — notably forensic science, cryptography, archeology, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Essential to all these methods is the ability to eliminate chance and necessity.2

Dembski, William. 2003. “Intelligent Design.

Several others have already pointed out the problems with Dembski’s claim but Camp’s analysis is quite excellent and timely as it helps understand why ID id doomed to remain scientifically vacuous.

Here’s a pretty cool example of how isolated environments lead to the evolution of new species. The more isolated, the more unique:

Prehistoric ecosystem found in Israeli cave

Israeli scientists said on Wednesday they had discovered a prehistoric ecosystem dating back millions of years.

The discovery was made in a cave near the central Israeli city of Ramle during rock drilling at a quarry. Scientists were called in and soon found eight previously unknown species of crustaceans and invertebrates similar to scorpions.

“Until now eight species of animals were found in the cave, all of them unknown to science,” said Dr Hanan Dimantman, a biologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. […]

The cave was completely sealed off from the world, including from water and nutrients seeping through rock crevices above. Scientists who discovered the cave believe it has been intact for millions of years.

“Every species we examined had no eyes which means they lost their sight due to evolution,” said Dimantman.

The cave is an “island” of sorts, and like islands out in the ocean, it has unique species that can be found nowhere else. Isolated populations that have their gene pools cut-off from their parent populations tend to speciate rather quickly.

Intelligent Design Lacks Fertility


Various terms have been used to describe the simple observation that ID is scientifically vacuous, and devoid of content.

In the meantime, we work with the premise that the Darwinian model is the best model for apprehending evolutionary biology. We believe the Darwinian model has proved itself the most fertile. It leads to new knowledge, which demonstrates its fertility. The difficulty with the Intelligent Design and Creationist models is that they lack fertility. They fail to produce progressive research programs. In a scientific sense, they cannot produce testable models. We believe that the dialogue with theology must take place with the best of science, not with a substitute that is a philosophical position and not science at all.

Martinez Hewlett and Ted Peters, Who Sets the Evolution Agenda?Theology and Science, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2006, pp. 1-3

In a previous post, I presented an example of one of the questions that evolutionary biologists face. In this example, I described three populations of closely related insects, presented a few details about their distribution, and gave the results for some laboratory-based breeding studies that were conducted with these populations some years back. I then asked people to guess how many species the three populations were divided into by scientists. Their answers, and some questions, can be found in comment threads both at The Panda’s Thumb and at The Questionable Authority.

If you look at the answers that people have given, you will see that all three possible choices (1 species, 2 species, and 3 species) have received some votes. The most popular answer is that there are 2 species, with populations A and B being put together as a single species, and population C being given status as a separate species. The people who have chosen this option focused on the obvious differences in fertility for the crosses involving population C. The person who voted for three species did so based on the high likelihood that all three populations are on separate evolutionary tracks. The people who voted for a single species did so based on the fact that, despite the male sterility, population C is still interfertile with populations A and B. Several people also asked for more information. I’ll try to satisfy some of those requests in this post.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

One of the questions asked in the comments of the previous post in this series is quite pointed, and very much on topic for this discussion, so I’m going to take a minute or two to answer it. I’ll give the answer to the example in another post, that will shortly follow this one. Karl asked:

So why are you asking that question? How is “species” defined. Does it really have a definition? Does it matter? Isn’t “species” just a modern reaction to the biblical term “kinds”

Now that I’ve taken a few minutes to think about it, I’m starting to remember why I was dodging that question. I could write a long, rambling discourse on the topic, but in all honesty the best I can do for a definition of “species” is to paraphrase Justice Stewart’s concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio: I might not ever be able to intelligently define the term, but I know it when I see it.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

The Nelson/Miller Saga Continues

For those interested in the Paul Nelson/Keith Miller situation, Dr. Nelson has responded to my accusations on my blog and I have answered them. He seems to believe, falsely, that he did not misrepresent MIller’s views, yet he says he’s now going to apologize anyway. Disingenuous apologies are no more interesting than disingenuous arguments. I think he knows he’s caught, but simply can’t admit it. For more information, see the follow up post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

C9: Misuse of an inductive argument by the assertion of no false positives. also CI111.1 Specified complexity is a reliable criterion for detecting design. from the index of creationist claims by Mark Isaak

Hat tip to Wesley Elsberry

Dembski Wrote:

Biologists worry about attributing something to design (here identified with creation) only to have it overturned later; this widespread and legitimate concern has prevented them from using intelligent design as a valid scientific explanation.

Though perhaps justified in the past, this worry is no longer tenable. There now exists a rigorous criterion—complexity-specification—for distinguishing intelligently caused objects from unintelligently caused ones.

Wiliam Dembski: Science and Design 1998 First Things 86 (October 1998): 21-27.

Compare this with

In 2003, Micah Sparacio collected a set of common criticisms of Dembski’s Specified Complexity. Since the initial collection of criticisms, little seems to have happened to address the various criticisms raised. I have collected ones which I find particularly of interest as they shown the various and many problems with the concept of specified complexity. Especially C11 seems applicable to my argument that CSI is merely a unncessary complex way of stating that we do not understand yet how something with a function in biology may have arisen.

This is a work in progress, as I will be linking the claims to other relevant materials.

Science Teachers Confront Intelligent Design by Gloria Hillard (Download MP3)

In classrooms across the country, science teachers are increasingly finding themselves on the front lines of the decades-long evolution wars, pitting accepted scientific explanations against biblical-based challengers. So when some 15,000 science teachers convened for their annual conference recently, many attended workshops designed to help them deal with the issue.

Evolution Resources at the National Science Teachers Association

Paul Nelson’s Outrageous Lie

There is a long history of creationist misrepresentation of the views of scientists, going back to the time of Darwin himself. As the creationist movement has grown and gone through its various phases over the last century, such misrepresentations have been a powerful weapon in their arsenal. In the 20 years or so I’ve been involved in this dispute, I’ve seen it time and time again. Why is this the case? I have always suspected that it’s because they know that they can get away with it. The chances that their largely uneducated audience is actually familiar with the work of the scientists they refer to is slim, the chances that they will go and look up their work and compare it to the way it’s being characterized by the creationists even slimmer.

But during my involvement in this dispute, I’ve also often said that there are at least some creationists who didn’t do that sort of thing. I’ve defended, for example, Kurt Wise, Art Chadwick, Paul Nelson and a few others as being honest men, even genuine scholars, who do not do the sort of straw man caricaturing that so many of their colleagues do when presenting the work and thinking of scientists. And while I still have no reason to think otherwise of the first two, I can tell you that the third one, Paul Nelson, has now been caught in what I can only describe as one of the more outrageous misrepresentations - oh hell, let’s call it what it is, a baldfaced lie - I’ve ever seen. And the person whose views he distorted, Keith Miller, is one of the truly nice guys in the business. And to make matters even worse for Nelson, he’s also a fellow Christian. As we will see, this takes “bearing false witness” to a whole new level.

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

The book, Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement edited by John Brockman contains 16 essays by Edge contributors such as Jerry Coyne, Leonard Susskind, Daniel Dennett, Neil Shubin, Richard Dawkins, Stuart Kauffman, and others on the topic of ‘Intelligent Design’. What caught my eye however were not the essays as much as the comments by various scientists on Intelligent Design. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the concept of scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design is surfacing more and more.

How many species?


I’ve got a little question to keep people busy over the long weekend.

There are three populations of an organism. The populations are physically separated from each other as a result of geographical factors. Geographically, they are arranged in a more or less linear fashion. The geographic details are as follows:

Population A is the northwestern population. Population B lies to the southeast, and is eparated from population A by a minimum of ~14km. Population C is southeast of population B, and separated by about 50km.

Populations A & B are identical to each other in appearance and in a key reproductive characteristic. Population C differs very slightly in appearance, but is substantially different in the reproductive characteristic.

The organisms (flying insects) were captured and bred in the laboratory. Experimental crosses were made for the different combinations of these three populations, with the following results:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):


One of the most evocative creatures of the Cambrian is Anomalocaris, an arthropod with a pair of prominent, articulated appendages at the front of its head. Those things are called great appendages, and they were thought to be unique to certain groups of arthropods that are now extinct. A while back, I reported on a study of pycnogonids, the sea spiders, that appeared to show that that might not be the case: on the basis of neural organization and innervation, that study showed that the way pycnogonid chelifores (a pair of large, fang-like structures at the front of the head) were innervated suggested that they were homologous to great appendages. I thought that was pretty darned cool; a relic of a grand Cambrian clade was swimming around in our modern oceans.

However, a new report by Jager et al. suggests that that interpretation may be flawed, and that sea spider chelifores are actually homologous to the chelicerae of spiders.

Continue reading "Chelifores, chelicerae, and invertebrate evolution" (on Pharyngula)

- Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned medical school graduates Thursday that centuries of progress in scientific research are under attack by those who oppose stem cell research and dispute evolution and global warming.

Bloomberg: Science under attack in stem cell research debate by SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer

On the topic of Intelligent Design, the republican mayor wasted no words

He then ridiculed the campaign to teach schoolchildren about “intelligent design” alongside evolution. The belief proposes that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some type of higher force, and many conservatives, including Bush, say schools should present both concepts.

The mayor said children who learn it are receiving an inferior education that puts them at a disadvantage later.

He told the medical students that they share the same burden carried by the school’s first graduates more than 100 years ago, when the field was “dominated by quacks and poorly trained physicians.”

Their task, Bloomberg said, is to “defend the integrity and power of science.”

They are finally starting to get it… ID is scientifically vacuous.

The appeals court has issued its opinion in Selman v. Cobb County School District. They decided to send the case back to court to clear up some holes in the factual record of the case. The trial court can either hold an entirely new trial or add to the existing record.

Of course, this gives the trial judge the opportunity to apply the ruling in Kitzmiller to Selman.

NCSE has more information.

Ian Johnston reports in Creationism dismissed as ‘a kind of paganism’ by Vatican’s astronomer how Guy Consolmagno rejects creationism as a form of superstitious paganism.

Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a “destructive myth” had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.

The New England Journal of Medicine has an excellent article on Intelligent Design titled Intelligent Judging — Evolution in the Classroom and the Courtroom

Requiring public-school science teachers to teach specific religion-based alternatives to Darwin’s theory of evolution is just as bad, in the words of political comedian Bill Maher, as requiring obstetricians to teach medical students the alternative theory that storks deliver babies

Teach the controversy I say… Storks rule…

Update on South Carolina


There has been some recent news in SC concerning the attempts at inserting creationist language into the science curriculum. I have hesitated to report them here previously, because taken separately they are mostly minor incidents, but taken together, they tell a story. I have three posts up on my blog, in chronological order, consisting of good news and bad news (mostly good, I think):

A Small Victory, But We’ll Take It

More on the Death of S114

Update on the Budget Proviso and the EOC

Also, check out the South Carolinians for Science Education page, as they’ve got a blog with news updates and other good tidbits.

Tangled Bank #54

The Tangled Bank

The newest edition of the Tangled Bank is now up at Science and Politics .

Box at the top of a May 1989 Bible-Science NewsletterCheck out this post by Karl Mogel at The Inoculated Mind. It reviews an April 28 talk at UC Davis given by Discovery Institute fellow Nancy Pearcey. Although Pearcey is now an official ID advocate, she was originally a young-earth creationist. In fact, she was one of the editors of the young-earth creationist Bible-Science Newsletter from 1977-1991, and for much of that period wrote monthly articles. As I showed in this PT post last year, several of her Bible-Science Newsletter articles became part of the text of the first “intelligent design” book, Of Pandas and People. The draft of the Overview chapter of Pandas, which was the chapter that Pearcey wrote, shows the same changes from creation/creationist to intelligent design/design proponent that the six “excursion” chapters of Pandas show. This was first made public when the draft Overview chapter was introduced into evidence in a July 14, 2005 pretrial hearing in the Kitzmiller case.

NBC’s science correspondent, Robert Bazell, has an opinion piece today on MSNBC: Stop whining about intelligent design.

Scientists should stop whining about threats to the teaching of evolution and spend more time discussing values.

I should note here that most of the piece is strongly supportive of teaching evolution. Bazell presents a very brief overview of the history of anti-evolutionism in America, and notes that “serious efforts in biology and medicine can no more ignore evolution than airplane designers can ignore gravity.” He gives the example of influenza H5N1 as a current problem that can only be understood using evolutionary theory. Overall, I think it’s a really good piece–but I still think he’s off-base.

(Continued at Aetiology).

Vacuity of Intelligent Design


Dembski, apparantly unable (or unwilling?) to address the claims and observations by Intelligent Design critics that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous, seems to have changed his approach to: well if ID is scientifically vacuous then evolutionary science is evidence-free.

This all is particularly ironic because Intelligent Design is both evidence-free and scientifically vacuous for the simple reason that intelligent design cannot make any useful predictions since the design inference is based on a gap argument, also known as an argument from ignorance.

Dembski, via one of his ‘colleagues’, asks the following question

What are the other vexing questions facing biologists that we are led to believe have already been solved? How about the origin of the information in the first cell? How about the origin of molecular machines? What about Haldane’s dilemma?


I just learned (via John Lynch) about a paper on cetacean limbs that combines developmental biology and paleontology, and makes a lovely argument about the mechanisms behind the evolution of whale morphology. It is an analysis of the molecular determinants of limb formation in modern dolphins, coupled to a comparison of fossil whale limbs, and a reasonable inference about the pattern of change that was responsible for their evolution.

One important point I'd like to make is that even though what we see in the morphology is a pattern of loss—whale hindlimbs show a historical progression over tens of millions of years of steady loss, followed by a near-complete disappearance—the molecular story is very different. The main players in limb formation, the genes Sonic hedgehog (Shh), the Fgfs, and the transcription factor Hand2, are all still present and fully functional in these animals. What has happened, though, is that there have been novel changes to their regulation. Even loss of structures is a consequence of changes and additions to regulatory pathways.

Continue reading "No genes were lost in the making of this whale" (on Pharyngula)

Jellyfish lack true Hox genes!


I'm going to briefly summarize an interesting new article on cnidarian Hox genes…unfortunately, it requires a bit of background to put it in context, so bear with me for a moment.

First you need to understand what Hox genes are. They are transcription factors that use a particular DNA binding motif (called a homeobox), and they are found in clusters and expressed colinearly. What that means is that you find the Hox genes that are essential for specifying positional information along the length of the body in a group on a chromosome, and they are organized in order on the chromosome in the same order that they are turned on from front to back along the body axis. Hox genes are not the only genes that are important in this process, of course; animals also use another class of regulatory genes, the Wnt genes, to regulate development, for instance.

A gene can only be called a Hox gene sensu stricto if it has a homeobox sequence, is homologous to other known Hox genes, and is organized in a colinear cluster. If such a gene is not in a cluster, it is demoted and called simply a Hox-like gene.

Hox genes originated early in animal evolution. Genes containing a homeobox are older still, and are found in plants and animals, but the particular genes of the Hox system are unique to multicellular animals, and that key organization arrangement of the set of Hox genes in a cluster is more unique still. The question is exactly when the clusters arose, shortly after or sometime before the diversification of animals.

If you take a look at animal phylogeny, an important group are the diploblastic phyla, the cnidarians and ctenophores. They branched off early from the metazoan lineage, and they possess some sophisticated patterns of differentiation along the body axis. We know they have homeobox containing genes that are related to the ones used in patterning the bodies of us vertebrates, but are they organized in the same way? Did the cnidaria have Hox clusters, suggesting that the clustered Hox genes were a very early event in evolution, or do they lack them and therefore evolved an independent set of mechanisms for specifying positional information along the body axis?

Continue reading "Jellyfish lack true Hox genes!" (on Pharyngula)

This is really funny. It seems that claiming expertise in “design detection” theory and methods is no guarantee against falling for the crudest of urban legends. Of course, it helps if the urban legend is based on stuff that pushes the religious right’s buttons (although, we are told, ID has nothing to do with religion-based political movements!), such as a story about praying marines being under attack by the ACLU.

Dembski’s blog got snookered by a silly chain e-mail to post the following entry, which I copy in its glorious entirety after the fold (caution: large) so that everyone can appreciate the imaginative use of fonts, caps and pompous rhetoric, which alone should have set off some alarm bells (note also the boisterous approval by Dembski himself in the comments). Ironically, this urban legend was already completely debunked in 2003 (see here and here), so here’s my suggestion, folks: if your design detection methods clearly need some tuning, you can still avoid looking foolish by simply checking the relevant literature.

Some of you may recall the exchange I had with Casey Luskin in early 2005 about ID advocates comparing evolution advocates of being Nazis, and vice versa. It started when he wrote an essay for the IDEA club website (this was before he went to work for the DI) screaming bloody murder about folks on our side comparing ID advocates to holocaust deniers. I pointed out that Luskin was barking up the wrong tree, throwing a fit about us comparing them to holocaust deniers while the ID advocates he admires and, now, works for have long been comparing us to actual Nazis, not to mention Stalinists, the Taliban or Pol Pot.

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

On Uncommon Descent, Dembski shows once again evidence of the historical roots of Intelligent Design and Creationism. In fact, he seems to be suggesting that ID and religious faith are quite intertwined, as much of the evidence already suggested.

Dembski is commenting on Richard Dawkins’ “Root of all Evil” documentary on Channel 4 in the UK.

Dembski Wrote:

You’ve got to wonder what the staffers at the NCSE are thinking when they go to such lengths to assure the public that there’s no problem reconciling evolution and religious faith, only to have Richard Dawkins come along and utter the following (taken from his BBC program “The Root of All Evil?”):

On Uncommon Descent, Dembski quotes a ‘colleague’ on the recent scientific arguments about the link between the eukaryotes and prokaryotes.

Their title refers to the “Irreducible Nature of Eukaryote Cells,” which reads like an echo of Mike Behe. The logic of their argument confirms this: the structures and the genetics of eukaryotes mean that an evolutionary pathway from prokaryotes must be rejected.

Little explanation is given why this resembles the argument of Behe.

However, they do not again use the word “irreducible” in their paper. What is clear is that the “simple” pathway that the textbooks have proclaimed for years must now be abandoned. Surely there are lessons here about the way darwinism gives false leads in its appetite for a narrative about the origins of complexity.

Even if we assume for the moment that the study’s results will hold and that the ‘false leads’ should be blamed on Darwinism, one has to realize that doing science means getting things wrong occasionally. The problem of Intelligent Design is that it has not even the luxury of being wrong since it fails to present any scientifically relevant explanation or hypothesis, other than ‘Darwinian theory cannot explain ‘X”. And although the latter is often argued to be evidence of design, it is clear that intelligent design is doomed to remain scientifically vacuous.

On Aetiology Tara Smith explores these new research findings, and the hype.

Getting it wrong

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So, archaea are apparently the topic of the week. While I wrote here about the pathogenic potential of some species of these organisms, a new essay in Nature and a new review in Science focus more on their evolution (and the evolution of the other two domains of life) than any health application.

In the essay mentioned, Norman Pace discusses the eukaryote/prokaryote dichotomy. Currently the archaea are classified as prokaryotes since they, like bacteria, lack a true nucleus. However, molecular sequence analysis has shown that the archaea and eukaryotes are actually more closely related to each other than either group is to bacteria (see figure, from Pace’s Nature essay). As such, nomenclature that places the bacteria and archaea together into a group is misleading.

(Continued at Aetiology)

Breast beginnings

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Four of my favorite things are development, evolution, and breasts, and now I have an article that ties them all together in one pretty package. It's a speculative story at this point, but the weight of the evidence marshaled in support of the premise is impressive: the mammalian breast first evolved as an immunoprotective gland that produced bacteriocidal secretions to protect the skin and secondarily eggs and infants, and that lactation is a highly derived kind of inflammation response. That mammary glands may have had their origin as inflamed glands suppurating mucus may not be the most romantic image to arise in a scientific study, but really—they got better and better over the years.

Continue reading "Breast beginnings" (on Pharyngula)

An Evolutionary View of Kinds

This may be a little “old hat” for many of you. After all, how many ways can I find to say, “Don’t try to get science from your Bible”? But with that risk let me direct you to An Evolutionary View of Kinds on Threads from Henry’s Web. Leave your comments there. This article is the result of reading some of Alvin Plantinga’s work on theistic science, a concept I find pretty dangerous.

There was a panel discussion at Florida State University on May 17th on “After Dover”, featuring Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, Rob Pennock of Michigan State University, and Stephen Gey, Michael Ruse, and Joseph Travis of Florida State University. Patricia Deborah Blum moderated the discussion. (Thanks to “Vyoma” for the correction.)

There was a question and answer session at the end, and one of the questioners in particular captured my attention. I have transcribed the exchange. The apparent goal of the questioner was to present such obtuse, obfuscated language as to leave the panelists too baffled to answer. However, he slipped up by using a stock phrase with known meaning, but in an inappropriate context.

(Continue reading … on the Austringer)



Some of you may know Dr. Douglas L. Theobald as the author of the 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution FAQ at the Talk.Origins Archive or of this recent paper in the Journal of Molecular Biology.

Well, earlier this month, he accepted a faculty position in biochemistry at Brandeis Univesity in Boston. He will start summer 2007.

Why We Do This.


As regular PT readers know, Ohio was a primary battle ground for the Disco Institute’s attempt to inject ID creationist trash “science” into the state science standards and model curriculum under the deceptive rubric “critical analysis of evolution”. That attempt was defeated in February. Patricia Princehouse, leader of Ohio Citizens for Science, was a mainstay in resisting that effort over five years. Now Patricia has received the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award from the Playboy Foundation for her efforts.

Patricia’s acceptance speech is posted at The Nation site. From it:

People ask me, Why pour so much energy into protecting science education? Why not fight for literacy generally or any of a thousand other educational issues? I have two answers. One is easy: I know about evolution, so it makes sense that I would work on what I know best. The second is harder to grasp. And that is that freedom of religion is the bedrock foundation of liberty in this country. If we allow certain special-interest religious groups to co-opt the public school science classroom, to use it as a vehicle for converting children to religious views their parents don’t hold, if we allow them to spout outright lies about the nature and content of science, what do we really have left? If you can lie about science and get away with it, you can lie about anything. (bolding added)

That’s why we do this stuff.


I can’t help myself


DI flak Jonathan Witt has posted yet another attempt to undermine Judge Jones’ ruling in Kitzmiller. It’s as weak as the DI’s previous 13,582,196 tries. I’ve written a full fisking of his post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Animalcules 1.8

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A new edition of Animalcules, the carnival of all things microbial, is up at Aetiology. Lots of good posts, including one on endogenous retroviruses that may be of particular interest to the group here.

I'm going to link to a post on Uncommon Descent. I try to avoid that, because I think it is a vile harbor of malign idiocy, but Dembski has just put up something that I think is merely sincerely ignorant. That's worth correcting. It also highlights the deficiencies of Dembski's understanding of biology.

Dembski makes a strange argument for ID on the basis of a certain class of experiments in developmental biology.

Continue reading "It's called development, Mr Dembski" (on Pharyngula)

It's true: the Minnesota Senate has passed a modification to an education bill that would prohibit the teaching of intelligent design.

16.12 Sec. 4. Minnesota Statutes 2004, section 120B.021, is amended by adding a
16.13 subdivision to read:
16.14 Subd. 2a. Curriculum. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the Department
16.15 of Education, a charter school, and a school district are prohibited from utilizing a
16.16 nonscientifically based curriculum, such as intelligent design, to meet the required science
16.17 academic standards under this section.

This is not a law yet, and I don't expect it will be. The senate version of the bill has to be reconciled with the house version, and the house version does not include this addendum. It will probably vanish without comment.

I have mixed feelings about it. It's reasonable to expect that science requirements cannot be met by non-science curricula, and on that principle, the limitation is reasonable. However, I don't like the idea of politicians with little training in the subject trying to dictate what is and isn't science. Just say that a course should address the content specified by the state science standards, which were written by a committee of citizen educators and scientists, rather than trying to specify details by way of legal statutes.

Besides, maybe the intelligent design crowd will get off their butts and do experiments and develop evidence that actually makes their wild-ass guess scientific, and then this law would look awfully silly.

(Yeah, I'm smirking cynically and laughing as I write that.)

by Kevin Padian, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology; Curator, Museum of Paleontology; University of California at Berkeley.

Last Tuesday William Dembski began posting diatribes on his weblog accusing me of racism. He based them on a second- or third-hand report that he received from one of his acolytes who got the basic facts wrong. Dembski didn’t bother to check them before jumping to his accusation.

But worse things have happened in the world. I could have responded to Dembski immediately, because I was sure of my facts, and I’m happy to stand on my record. But I wanted to wait until I could get a tape of the talk, and to be sure that no one could reasonably interpret my comments as Dembski and his acolytes did.

That took until Friday afternoon, at which point I immediately sent an e-mail to Dembski’s Discovery Institute address. On Monday morning I received an apology from him, which he posted on his website. I consider the matter closed.

However, I would like to clarify the record on several additional points that have come up:

A couple of weeks ago (May 4, 2006) I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Kansas City Press Club entitled “Intelligent Design, Intelligent Media: Is Coverage Accurate.” Panelists included Kansas Board of Education chair Steve Abrams, Kansas State Department of Education Director of Communications David Awbrey, and three reporters, Dave Hellings of the KC Star, Toby Cook of WDAF-TV and Ben Embry of KCUR-FM. Derek Donovan, Reader’s Representative for the KC Star, was the moderator.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the forum was listening to the comments of Awbrey. Awbrey is a conservative journalist who was recently hired by the state Board - the same Board that adopted ID creationist-influenced science standards last fall and who also hired Bob Corkins as Commissioner of Education, a rightwing lobbyist with no education experience whatsoever. I was interested in watching Awbrey in action, and I wasn’t disappointed. (For miscellaneous information on Awbrey, see Les Lane’s David Awbrey page.)

The two main things Awbrey said that bothered me were:

  • Scientists and science educators were arrogantly refusing to participate in the democratic process because they wouldn’t “stand on the stage with Steve Abrams” at last May’s “science hearings,” and
  • Scientists and science educators bring to the classroom their “religion” which holds that humans are meaningless cosmic accidents as opposed to being God’s creation.

Rob Crowther, at the Discovery Institute’s blogsite, reports that

Cornell University, home of anti-IDer Hunter Rawlings III, has announced it will offer a course on ID, and in a science class no less. The class, Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature? is a breakthrough in my mind, simply because it IS in the science curriculum. It remains to be seen if the class will be presented fairly and if ID will be treated respectuflly, or if this is just an attempt to knock it down by attacking some ridiculous caricature of the theory. Regardless, the djnni is out of the bottle, ID is now being offered in university science classes.

Now back to reality, in fact the link Crowther provided gives us the ‘rest of the story’

Bones, Rocks and Stars

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How do we know how old things are? That's a straightforward and very scientific question, and exactly the kind of thing students ought to ask; it's also the kind of question that has been muddled up by lots of bad information (blame the creationists), and can be difficult for a teacher to answer. There are a great many dating methods, and you may need to be a specialist to understand many of them…and heck, I'm a biologist, not a geologist or physicist. I've sort of vaguely understood the principles of measuring isotope ratios, but try to pin me down on all the details and I'd have to scurry off and dig through a pile of books.

I understand it better now, though. I've been reading Bones, Rocks and Stars : The Science of When Things Happened(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Chris Turney.

Continue reading "Bones, Rocks and Stars" (on Pharyngula)

It’s already been mentioned that the Simpson covered evolution tonight. However, Family Guy touched on it as well.

Peter: “Then over millions of years evolution took its course.”

A fish is shown emerging from water and changing into a dinosaur.

Peter: “Of course I’m obligated by the state of Kansas to present the Church’s alternative to the theory of evolution.”

A genie (ala I Dream of Jeannie) is shown coming from water and poofing into existance a rabbit, a deer, an owl, a bear, a dog, a man, a car, a gas pump, Jesus with a giant “USA #1” foam hand, and Santa Claus.

Phillip E. Johnson may believe six inconsistent things before breakfast, but we don’t have to follow his example – or trust his latest inconsistent pronouncement.

The Sacramento Bee recently ran an article featuring an interview with Phillip E. Johnson, the “godfather” of the “intelligent design” movement.

His main disappointment is that the issue hasn’t made more headway in the mainstream scientific community.

Johnson said his intent never was to use public school education as the forum for his ideas. In fact, he said he opposed the efforts by the “well-intentioned but foolish” school board in Dover, Pa., to require teachers to present intelligent design as a viable scientific theory.

Instead, he hoped to ignite a debate in universities and the higher echelon of scientific thinkers.

But Johnson said he takes comfort knowing he helped fuel the debate that has taken place so far. “Perhaps we’ve done as much as we can do in one generation.”

What has Johnson said and done in the past concerning this topic, though? Is it really the case that public K-12 school curricula were not an issue for Johnson at any point? What we can see from the record is that public education at the K-12 level has, in fact, been a particular hobby-horse of Johnson’s. I also went through all of Johnson’s “Wedge Updates” archived at “Access Research Network” to see what Johnson had to say about public education there.

(Continue reading… on The Austringer)

On this Sunday’s episode of The Simpsons,

Lisa is arrested for defying the new law in Springfield against teaching evolution after Reverend Lovejoy is appointed by Mayor Quimby (at Ned Flanders’s request) to be the town’s new “morality czar” in charge of promoting creationism; can a comment made in the show’s first season come back to save her? Guest stars Larry Hagman and Melanie Griffith.

See you tomorrow!

UPDATE Well, I’ve seen the episode, and have a prediction. The Discovery Institute will whine and moan that it should have been the Intelligent Design (ID) proponent on trial, not the evolution defender. They will cite Dehart/Sternberg et. al., and say this episode is stuck in the past (Scopes).

But the Simpsons episode got one basic fact right - not only was evolution under attack in 1925, it is under attack today. Despite all the rhetoric - “Teach all sides,” “Teach the Controversy,” etc. - the simple fact is that both creationism and its constitution-wary descendant ID have at their root the wish to denigrate biology, to poo-poo modern science, to cast a “reasonable doubt” on scientific findings they cannot reconcile with their personal religion.

In the end, ID is all about censorship - censoring the vast evidence of evolution (“Those aren’t really ‘transitional’ fossils,” etc.), and encouraging students to simply dismiss any findings of science their elders might disagree with.

And that’s why the Simpson’s got it exactly right. Expect the usual Whine and Cheese by tomorrow. - Dave

Still awaiting the evidence

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In a Wall Street Journal Editorial titled Misplaced Sympathies Kevin Shapiro outlines the many problems with Intelligent Design.

The notion that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous is spreading quickly

Kevin Shapiro Wrote:

Proponents of intelligent design, like the mathematician William Dembski, argue that we don’t understand the origins of various biological systems and never will, because they can’t be broken down into smaller parts that could be explained by natural selection. Therefore, we should give up on Darwin and accept the existence of a designer. Alas, this kind of argumentum ad ignorantium flies in the face of an ever-increasing amount of evidence from molecular biology, and hardly measures up to the neoconseratives’ rigorous intellectual standards.

So how do ID activists respond to these facts? Not too well

I haven’t been terribly active in the blogging world lately, but today, I break my silence.

On my blog, I had a bit of fun with the sad story of Dembski’s anonymous victim here. And I wrote a slightly longer and more serious post in response to one by Salvador Cordova here about a company that supposedly “detects design”. Comments may be left there. Enjoy!

The Evil Mad-Libber


Dembski provides us with an excellent Mad Lib:

I never cease to be amazed, but not surprised, at how blind scientists are to their own prejudices. I have followed your paths of dealing with these prejudices and, as have many others, I have had my share of encounters with intellectual bigots. Within a week of my joining the staff at the 1                   (adjective/noun) 2                   (adjective/noun) Research Institute, my removal was called for by a sizable group of the research staff who had discovered (by doing a Google search) that in 2001-2-3 when I was at the 3                   (adjective/noun) Center, I had signed the Discovery Institute statement questioning Darwin’s theory of origins. The human resource department had the sense to inform the president that they could not fire me for beliefs that did not impact my job as head of 4                   (noun). I have since then enjoyed many productive exchanges on the topic of ID and origins that have revealed a profound ignorance of the subject on the part of the staff. Most had never met a trained scientist that did not go along with the Darwinian dogma. Now after a typical seminar by an outside speaker we are able to discuss the passing references to evolution that are totally without proof or demonstrable mechanism but are inserted into talks to explain some incredibly complex and improbable cellular system.

Let’s play along!

Francisco and Mootness, Take 2

I know Sandefur has already written a response to DI flak Michael Francisco’s latest attempt to salvage his accusations about the new Dover board, but since his post was in response to my criticism as well, I also have replied to it in somewhat more detail. Sandefur has it absolutely right when he says that Francisco is just posturing, flashing his cufflinks at us and throwing out a few irrelevant precedents. In fact, he’s in the very precarious position of arguing that appeals court precedents from other judicial districts, which are not binding in any other district and where the legal and factual circumstances are dramatically different than the Dover case, are good precedents; but that Supreme Court precedents where the legal and factual circumstances are identical in all relevant ways are “clearly distinct” from Dover. It’s quite a disingenuous performance. If he gave that answer in a paper at Cornell Law School, where he is a student, I can’t imagine he would get a passing grade on it. But hey, this is an exercise in propaganda, not truth seeking.

You can read my full response at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Over at the Discovery [sic] Institute's blog, law student Michael Francisco is taking another stab at showing that the Dover Area School Board did a nasty thing to keep the Intelligent Design curriculum in place long enough for the Kitzmiller case to be decided. The School Board, in Francisco's opinion, ought to have revoked that policy, so as to prevent the decision from being written, thereby sparing the Discovery Institute and the ID movement a great deal of embarrassment saving the taxpayers from having to pay the attorney's fees once the School Board lost the case. Several folks, including myself, have pointed out that the school board's withdrawing its policy would not have rendered the case moot---that is, the case would probably have been decided anyway even if the School Board had withdrawn its policy. Mr. Francisco tries again to argue that this isn't so, and that the School Board did a bad thing to keep the policy in place. Below the fold I'll respond to his arguments.

Update: An attendee of the Cal Defend Science event chastises Dembski and his fan Samuel Chen; Dembski posts a correction where Dembski’s anonymous source from Kansas somehow innocently got Padian confused with an entirely different person; Dembski’s blog hits a new low with a KKK cartoon posted by DaveScot.

Those of you who enjoy following the erratic goings-on over at Dembski’s blog may have noticed that yesterday he accused NCSE president Kevin Padian of being a racist. As usual it is being copied by other wingnut blogs, and probably will appear on WorldNetDaily within 24 hours. We have been trying to figure out what combination of garbled sources Dembski was relying on for that post, but it seems to be so distant from actual events it is impossible to untangle. Anyhow, here is a little reality to balance things out:

I.D. Rigs Its Own Trial


John Rennie at the Scientific American blog has a pretty good post up explaining the dubious value of the upcoming wannabe “ID on trial” event, Intelligent Design Under Fire: Experts Cross-Examine the Top Proponents of Intelligent Design Theory. It is to be held at Biola University, the apparent academic home of ID (many ID conferences, and the only graduate program that studies ID as far as I know).

I gather that (1) the 1000+ seats for the event are sold out, (2) one of the “critics” is going to be Antony Flew, soon to be the proud recipient of the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth (first winner: Phillip E. Johnson) – he should be good for sidetracking the discussion in useless directions; and (3) the critics are going to get a whole 15 minutes each! I wish them luck, and they (except for Flew) know full well the dubious usefulness of the event they are getting into (see the comments on Rennie’s blog), but I just have to point out that it took months of preparation and a full day of trial, with a lawyer going one-on-one with Behe, and with scientific articles and exhibits ready-to-go up on a big color screen in the courtroom, to really deconstruct the ID arguments in a thorough fashion (thus producing this great New Yorker cartoon). Fifteen minutes is enough time to ask approximately one question and get five meandering answers/excuses in my estimation.

As Rennie notes, the ID movement already had its day in court, and these were the results. Of the eight named experts:

Poor Orac


For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Orac is a surgeon and a blogger. He’s been trying so hard to defend his profession, but it just keeps getting worse. Recently unveiled is a brand new “dissenters from Darwinism” list: Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity.

As medical doctors we are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the origination and complexity of life and we therefore dissent from Darwinian macroevolution as a viable theory. This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory.

(Continued at Aetiology)



From the pre-Cambrian and early Cambrian, we have a collection of enigmatic fossils: the small shellies appear to be bits and pieces of partially shelled animals; there are trace fossils, the tracks of small, soft-bodied wormlike animals; and there are the very peculiar Edicaran vendobionts, which look like fronds and fans and pleated or quilted sheets. In the Cambrian, of course, we find somewhat more familiar creatures—sure, they're weird and different, but we can at least tentatively see them as precursors to the modern members of their respective phyla. It's not surprising, though, that the farther back in time we go, the stranger animals appear, and the more difficult it is to place them in our phylogenies.

So here's something cool and helpful—it looks like a vendobiont, but it's been found in the Lower Cambrian fossil beds of Chengjiang. It's also very well preserved, and has features that suggest affinities to the ctenophores.

Continue reading "Stromatoveris" (on Pharyngula)

Huygens landing video


It is well known that The Panda’s Thumb is not just an evolution blog, it is also occasionally a Cassini-Huygens fanclub blog. We live-blogged the Huygens landing, and gushed over the discovery of stream channels (although annoyingly the methane oceans have not yet appeared, there clearly is some kind of methalogical cycle going on).

Someone has finally done the obvious thing and put together all of the Huygens images into a continuous animation. See the one with narration and the one with boops and beeps indicating various onboard processes. The fisheye camera perspective is kind of weird but we get a much better picture of what the surface topography looked like up close than we did from just the isolated snapshots.

It all just makes me wish they’d put a balloon and one of them plutonium-fueled Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators on Huygens so that it could float around for a few months at 10 k elevation and give us some more details of what is down there.

While I’m demanding things from NASA, here are my other requests for the Cassini mission if it goes into “extra innings” like other recent NASA missions have: (1) get some more images of the Giant Equatorial Ridge on Iapetus, (2) full radar map of Titan’s surface, and then (3) a suicide mission to get a really super-up-close view of Saturn’s rings. I want to see the individual particles, darn it! A friend tells me there is no way to slow down the Cassini craft enough to get both slow enough and close enough to image 1-meter ice boulders, but I don’t buy it. There has got to be a way!

The evolution of cooperation has long been a vexing problem in biology. In the 1960s and later, a number of proposals to account for various forms of cooperation were offered, including group selection, kin selection, and reciprocal altruism. Both kin selection and reciprocal altruism have some biological data to which to appeal. In The Selfish Gene Dawkins argued that cooperative behavior could emerge as ‘selfish’ genes evolved in the context of other genes (indeed, he’s said that the book could have been title The Cooperative Gene with no change in content) and to the extent that cooperation is an effective strategy for gene vehicles (organisms) to increase reproductive success, but that was largely a formal argument rather than an empirical one. And group selection (which Dawkins emphatically rejects), in my view at least is still on shaky empirical grounds. (Apologies to Steve Rissing, a friend and Project Steve Steve with whom I argue about that.)

A difficulty of doing research on cooperation is the same difficulty that plagues much research on other complex evolutionary phenomena, namely time: interesting multi-celled animals have (relatively) long lifetimes and following a population for many generations is impossible for a single researcher.

Enter computer models. I will not here rehearse the history of computer modeling of evolutionary processes, since I’ve previously touched on it here, here and here on PT.

Of present interest is a study of the evolution of cooperation in a computer model of evolution. Prior work has shown that there are conditions in which several kinds of ‘strategies’ for interactions among artificial agents can evolve. Robert Axelrod, for example, has done a slew of work on that topic. Game theory informs much of that research, and has been useful in predicting the occurrence of certain kinds of strategies in multi-agent contexts.

A new study by Mikhail Burtsev & Peter Turchin (Nature, 440:1041-1044, April 2006) provides a good deal more insight into how cooperative strategies can evolve.

More below the fold.



A few people had nudged me to mention this on here, but I keep forgetting. I started a new blog carnival a few months back (I know, I know, like we need more of those…) This one is devoted to all things microbial, and the current edition is up today over at Discovering Biology in a Digital World. It’s still puny compared to a monster like Tangled Bank, but a nice one-stop-shop for some interesting microbiology posts.

Privates by Satan

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Okay, I fully admit that in the larger context of the creationism/evolution controversy this might seem a pretty small quibble, but I think it is revealing that creationists seem to have a real problem with biological structures that we among the laypeople might refer to as boobies, beavers, and the weenus. (I’m particularly fond of the term ‘weenus’, having first come across it in Frank Zappa’s autobiography, a truly interesting read.)

It is a recent and welcome development that professional scientific journals are paying increasing attention to issues related to science education and the role of science in society. Just in the last couple of weeks, these topics have been addressed by Liza Gross’s essay in PLoS Biology about scientific literacy and politics, and by our own article about immunology and the Dover trial. Now, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a highly regarded journal of basic and clinical research in the medical sciences, which had already published an editorial on ID several months ago, once again enters the fray.

The latest JCI issue contains an excellent piece by Attie, Sober and colleagues, which discusses the history and legal vicissitudes of the ID movement, and issues a call to action for those interested in defending good science education. The journal editors explain their motivations for publishing the article here. Both items are available for free - well worth reading.

2006-05-02_Time_John_Jones_100_people_cover.jpgCheck it out. Judge Jones made Time‘s list of 100 most influential people. Appropriately enough, he’s in the “Scientists and Thinkers” category. Since people will be reading his ruling and reading about the case for as long as evolution vs. creationism remains an issue in public education – which will be a good long time, just think how long it took for everyone to get used to heliocentrism – I think this was a highly appropriate choice.

Jones’s reaction is reported by the Associated Press:

Jones’ likeness is on the cover along with those of President Bush, Pope Benedict XVI and Oprah Winfrey. “I was dumbstruck,” he said, but he kept the honor in perspective.

“This will pass and I will be back to the more mundane things,” Jones said. “Andy Warhol said everybody gets 15 minutes of fame. …I may be in minute 14.”

Well, at least until the half-dozen books, the PBS documentary, and the movie come out.

Also, if you haven’t seen it, have a listen to this radio interview that Judge Jones did with WHYY last month.

Kansas Citizens for Science is proud to announce our new website feature, KCFS News and Resources. KCFS News is using the open-source software WordPress (similar to Multiple Type, which is used here at the Panda’s Thumb), so it is much easier for us to add and organize content. Our old website, is still up as a static main page, but all new content (and much of the old content) will now be at KCFS News.

Some of the content already on KCFS News is:

  • Information about KCFS
  • Archive of the KCFS Update newsletters
  • Various resources, such as recommended books, science links, blogs, etc.
  • Resources from the Evolution 101 course I taught recently - report to follow soon
  • Downloadable fliers, such as our new flier Facts about the Science Standards

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