July 9, 2006 - July 15, 2006 Archives

Readers of this blog are doubtless familiar with the Discovery Institute's anemic list of scientists who “dissent from Darwinism.” The list is sadly short on biologists, forcing the DI to accept anyone with a PhD in any branch of science as a possible signatory.

Casey Luskin attempts to defend this practice by explaining why mathematicians are supremely well-placed to offer authoritative pronouncements on the merits of evolutionary theory.

Over at EvolutionBlog, I have replied to his desperate sputterings. In Part One I discuss the question of whether mathematicians, or non-biologists generally, have any authority to be discussing evolutionary theory. In Part Two I consider Luskin's thoughts on the matter. Comments can be left there. Enjoy!

The Pensacola News-Journal is doing fantastic work keeping us up to date on the Hovind story. A longer and more detailed story came out today. Some of the more interesting/scary bits:

Of the 58 charges, 44 were filed against Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo, for evading bank reporting requirements as they withdrew $430,500 from AmSouth Bank between July 20, 2001, and Aug. 9, 2002.

At the couple’s first court appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Miles Davis, Kent Hovind professed not to understand why he is being prosecuted. Some 20 supporters were in the courtroom.

”I still don’t understand what I’m being charged for and who is charging me,” he said.

Kent Hovind, who often calls himself “Dr. Dino,” has been sparring with the IRS for at least 17 years on his claims that he is employed by God, receives no income, has no expenses and owns no property.

Yet more:

Hovind arrested

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Kent Hovind's scofflaw habits are catching up with him:

A Pensacola evangelist was arrested Thursday and indicted in federal court on 58 charges that include income tax evasion, making threats against investigators and filing false complaints against Internal Revenue Service agents.

Try not to snicker too loudly out there. It's not nice to laugh at the misfortunes of others.

Fortunately, I'm not a very nice person.

New details are coming to light. I don't think Hovind is a very nice person, either.

Yesterday, I reposted an article on homology within the neck and shoulder, which describes an interesting technique of using patterns of gene expression to identify homologous cellular pools; the idea is that we can discern homology more clearly by looking more closely at the molecular mechanisms, rather than focusing on final morphology and tissue derivation. Trust me, if you don't want to read it all—it's cool stuff, and one of the interesting points they make is that they've traced the fate of a particular bone not found in us mammals, but common in our pre-synapsid ancestors, the cleithrum. They argue from a common cellular origin that this bone has been reshaped into a ridge on our shoulder blade, the scapular spine.

As many readers might know, though, the word "homology," especially when coupled with a novel technique for its determination, is always good for an argument. This one is no exception.

Continue reading Scientists...in disagreement!" (on Pharyngula)

Odontogriphus omalus

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A new report in this week's Nature clears up a mystery about an enigmatic fossil from the Cambrian. This small creature has been pegged as everything from a chordate to a polychaete, but a detailed analysis has determined that it has a key feature, a radula, that places it firmly in the molluscan lineage. It was a kind of small Cambrian slug that crawled over matted sheets of algae and bacteria, scraping away a meal.

Continue reading "Odontogriphus omalus" (on Pharyngula)

It is a truism that creationists such as Jonathan Wells can't get enough of Haeckel's embryos, pictures they see as conclusive evidence that evolutionary biology is a fraud foisted on innocents by liberal, godless, evilutionists. "Informed" commentators on the right such as Ann Coulter hew to that party line. Reading Wells or Coulter one would imagine that it was modern creationists who discovered the fraud. Sadly for their revisionist history, that is not the case.

Read more (and comment) at Stranger Fruit

This is a guest appearance of Erik Tellgren (it is his first appearance on the Panda’s Thumb). Again, lest it can be misinterpreted by inattentive readers (as this happened before), Erik is the sole author of this essay to which I (MP) did not contribute in any way except for posting it as a courtesy to Erik.

Those readers who are familiar with Talk Reason archive may recall that Erik was the author of a 2002 essay wherein he provided a rigorous mathematical rebuttal of Dembski’s so called law of conservation of information (see here ).

The original NFL theorem and rugged fitness landscapes are briefly reviewed and it is pointed out that the fact the assumptions behind the former leads to the latter type of fitness landscape. Furthermore, it is stressed that for these fitness landscapes, the absolute performance of evolution is not prohibitively bad, that high-fitness regions tend to be well-connected, and that the difficulty of finding high-fitness regions does not increase with the size of the search space.

Continue reading Free Noodle Soup on Talk Reason.

In an earlier posting on the No Free Lunch Theorems and random search, I stated that

PvM Wrote:

It should not come as a surprise that the “No Free Lunch Theorems” have more unfortunate surprises in store for Intelligent Design. More on that later…

Now it is later and I present: Erik Tellgren, freshly returned from a trip, who has combined the results for random search and the work by Gavrilet to show

Tellgren Wrote:

The original NFL theorem and rugged fitness landscapes are briefly reviewed and it is pointed out that the assumptions behind the former lead to the latter type of fitness landscape. Furthermore, it is stressed that for these fitness landscapes, the absolute performance of evolution is not prohibitively bad, that high-fitness regions tend to be well-connected, and that the difficulty of finding high-fitness regions does not increase with the size of the search space. (PDF format.)

Concluding that:

Tellgren Wrote:

To summarize, the implications of the assumption of a randomly chosen fitness function do not just include Wolpert and Macready’s NFL result, but also the results

  • that the absolute performance of any search for high-fitness genotypes is fairly good and, importantly, independent of the size of the genotype space, and
  • the set of high-fitness genotypes is well-connected and the connectedness ncreases with increasing dimensionality of the genotype space.

More metaphorically, the NFL scenario may deny biological evolution a free lunch, but once the lunch break is over it hands evolution a large free bowl of noodle soup. Acknowledgement:

Read more at TalkReason:Free Noodle Soup

One of the tried and true tactics of creationists of all stripes has long been to equate evolution with atheism, and thus those who accept evolution become atheists. In a society where surveys show that atheists are, for some bizarre reason, among the most distrusted people, this is good political strategy; it’s also false. It is simply a scare tactic, designed (intelligently, perhaps, but also unethically) to exploit the public’s fear and distrust of atheists. Such fears are utterly irrational, of course, but that is precisely why they can be exploited so effectively by demagogues. Those people exploit the fact that the vast majority of people who deny evolution do so not because of the science (which they are almost uniformly ignorant of) but because they have a perception that evolution leads to atheism which, of course, leads to mass chaos and rampant immorality.

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

I know this is just a part of their shameless election strategy for the Kansas Board of Education primaries coming up on August 1, but it is still gratifying to see the Discovery Institute frantically running from ID in an attempt to avoid an election defeat for the “Critical Analysis of Evolution” “intelligent design” crypto-creationist science standards they are attempting to push onto students in Kansas. Check this out:

Critical Analysis of Evolution is Not the Same as Teaching Intelligent Design

A favorite Darwinist conspiracy theory is to claim that education policies requiring critical analysis of evolution are simply a guise for teaching intelligent design (ID). Right now anti-science groups in Kansas are claiming that the state’s new science standards are pushing intelligent design.

The Kansas science standards do not include intelligent design. In spreading this falsehood, opponents of the standards ignore the following clear statement by the Kansas Board of Education in the standards. “We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design….” (emphasis added) Which part of “do not include Intelligent Design” can’t opponents of the standards understand?

[formatting original]

First, the obvious one-liner: “No, the standards don’t include ‘ID’, they really just include creationism.” But apart from that, I would like to look at the claim that this ID-in-the-Kansas-science-standards idea is a conspiracy theory.

[Note: Some comments have expressed confusion about what I am quoting below, so to be clear: the bits from the Kansas standards that I quote below are in the Kansas Science Standards right now. They were passed into the Kansas Science Standards by the creationists on the Kansas Board of Education on November 8, 2005. The quotes are specifically from the February 14, 2006, version of the standards, which passed minor edits to avoid copyright infringement after the NAS and NSTA denied Kansas permission to use text from the national model standards. However, because it takes a while for school districts to receive the standards and write up science curricula, these new standards are probably not “in effect” anywhere until the next school year starts. Between now and then 4 of the 6 creationists on the Board of Education face reelection this fall, which is why the antievolution groups are gunning up the propaganda.]

Ohio Update

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UPDATE: A summary and MP3 of the relevant part of the Achievement Committee meeting are available here. The first voice is co-chair Father Michael Cochran, one of the two main ID pushers on the State BOE.

By James I. Kirkland, Ph. D.

The National Park Service is requesting comments on the development of a regional paleontological repository facility in Vernal, Utah in a partnership with the Vernal Field House of Natural History (Utah State Parks). The facilty is to be constructed adjoining the newly opened Vernal Field House of Natural History in Vernal and jointly managed.

Please strongly support the development of this facility.

The plan can be accessed here.

We need to strongly support the development of the Uintah Research and Curatorial Center in Vernal, Utah versus the alternative of No Action!

Pamela Winnick is an attorney and former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who has written several articles that lean against evolution and in favor of intelligent design. I recently forced myself to read her 2005 book, A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion. It wasn’t a pleasant experience…

Read more at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

Once again, I am wrong

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…but luckily, I’m set straight over at Effect Measure, where Revere completely refutes my silly notion of mutations in H5N1 by citing this excellent guest commentary in the Greely Tribune (where their top story today is about a hot dog from 1952). The commentary is titled “Bird flu a lame claim to evolution theory” and written by one Mike Martin, former editor of Ag Weekly Magazine. He certainly demolishes my silly science-y notation of just what “mutations” (such as those discussed in the Nature article I cited use for analysis) are all about:

(Continued at Aetiology…)

by Mark Isaak

One contributor to this board has commented that religion is never addressed critically here. That’s about to change. Below, I define a criterion for bad religion, explore reasons for its prevalence, and suggest means of combating it. I’m sure many people can find much here to disagree with; I hope they can find things to think about, too.

First, let me clarify that there are really at least two battles for evolution. The first battle is science vs. apathy and poor education generally. That battle, though important, is uncontroversial. The same battle exists for mathematics without excessively raising ire. I will not consider it further here.

The second battle is sometimes called science vs. religion, but such a characterization is grossly misleading. Really, the battle is science, religion, and just about everyone else vs. bad religion.

In an updated paper, Dembski discusses alchemy and describes why he believes evolutionary theory, under certain circumstances, is analogous to alchemy. To appreciate his argument, it helps to realize that on closer scrutiny, Dembski is arguing against philosophical materialism, not evolutionary theory. Secondly, I believe that Dembski has made an excellent case for an analogy between alchemy and Intelligent Design: Namely, both are lacking causal specificity.

The term ‘causal specificity’ means “… specifying a cause sufficient to account for an effect in question” and is used by Dembski to describe to what extent one can specify the pathways and processes through which a particular system has arisen.

Dembski Wrote:

Here, then, is the fallacy in alchemy’s logic. Alchemy [ID] relinquishes causal specificity, yet confidently asserts that an unspecified process [design] will yield a desired transformation [complex specified information]. Lacking causal specificity, the alchemist [ID activist] has no empirical grounds for holding that the desired transformation can be effected. Even so, the alchemist [ID activist] remains convinced that the transformation can be effected because prior metaphysical beliefs [Intelligent Design] ensure that some process, though for now unspecified, must effect the desired transformation. In short, metaphysics guarantees the transformation even if the empirical evidence is against it.

Source:: EVOLUTION AS ALCHEMY By William A. Dembski.(Note: I have added my edits in square brackets [….])

Although Dembski is arguing that there is an analogy between alchemy and evolution (or more accurately materialistic evolution), there seems to be a much stronger similarity with Intelligent Design when it comes to the lack of causal specificity. Take for example the following response by Dembski when Rafe Gutman asked him for some specificity in explaining how Intelligent Design explains a particular system:

Dembski Wrote:

As for your example, I’m not going to take the bait. You’re asking me to play a game: “Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.” ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories. If ID is correct and an intelligence is responsible and indispensable for certain structures, then it makes no sense to try to ape your method of connecting the dots. True, there may be dots to be connected. But there may also be fundamental discontinuities, and with IC systems that is what ID is discovering.”

Source: ID in their own words: Dembski at Panda’s Thumb

Any more questions? Perhaps “No Free Lunch” should more properly be described as “ID’s Free Ride”. ID has a lot to learn from Darwin, including Darwin’s observations that:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

Charles Darwin, 1871 THE DESCENT OF MAN

This is one more guest appearance of James Downard, continuing his autopsy of Ann Coulter’s ignorant and mendacious screed. For the record, I (Mark Perakh) am posting this essay on PT as a courtesy to Jim Downard, having contributed nothing whatsoever to Jim’s text. This disclaimer seems necessary because some readers in the past erroneously attributed to me essays written by guest contributors (like Mark Frank).

One third of Ann Coulter’s latest bestseller, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, is devoted to assailing “Darwiniac cultists” for promoting what she is certain is the false science of evolution. As explored in the first installment (see Talk Reason, part 1), Coulter’s breezy confidence turns out to be a gooey meringue atop layers of stunning technical ignorance caused by indolence when it comes to investigating the issues, along with a giddy reliance on marginal secondary reading. In the second part of an ongoing analysis of what Coulter (didn’t) know and how exactly she manages (not) to know it, James Downard discovers what can happen when Coulter tries to join two fields about which she knows literally less than nothing: paleontology and biology. Continue reading Secondary Addiction, part 2, on Talk Reason, part 2.

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