September 17, 2006 - September 23, 2006 Archives

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Read the entire series.

The seventh chapter of Wells’s book could be summed up in a single sentence: “biology doesn’t need no steeekin’ evolution!” Wells argues that, because medicine and agriculture were already doing just fine prior to Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species, clearly then, these fields (and others) haven’t benefited from an application of evolutionary principles in the time from 1859 to present day, and that Dobzhansky’s “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” is one big joke.

Wells focuses on medicine and agriculture because these are two fields that we all benefit from and are more easily understood than biological disciplines that are a bit more removed from the common man. Animal and plant breeding and domestication is something that resonates more with middle America than the speciation events Wells describes in Chapter 5 (review of that yet to come), and certainly the great strides made in medicine are familiar even to those who don’t have much of an interest in the field. Wells claims that these fields have been “darwined”; that “Darwinists steal credit for scientific breakthroughs to which they contributed nothing,” and calls it a form of “intellectual larceny.” (pp. 80-81):

A little more irony.

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Here’s an interesting take on why theistic evolution (TE) might be a bad position to hold:

So essentially, both Dawkins and Miller see no evidence of design, and their philosophy as to how evolution works is the same, yet Dawkins follows that evidence and declares the world is without a designer and Miller claims to believe there is a designer. Bizarre. So Miller apparently, like most TE’s, holds to his religious beliefs on faith ~alone~. That’s the problems with TE’s - they can give you no reason whatsoever as to why they believe what they do in regard to their religious beliefs other than they take it all on faith. (source)

Here’s why it’s interesting (at The Questionable Authority):

Charles Kitcher, a law student at Columbia Law School, won the 2006 E. Allan Farnsworth Student Note Writing Competition with this article, Lawful Design: A New Standard for Evaluating Establishment Clause Challenges to School Science Curricula, which appeared in the Columbia Journal of Law And Social Problems (vol. 39 p. 451). It's an excellent piece and deserves serious attention from anyone considering these issues.

I was particularly pleased with Kitcher's proposal of how courts should evaluate whether a science curriculum really is a science curriculum or not. Adapting the test for scientific validity that the Supreme Court used in the Daubert case, Kitcher proposes that when a court is trying to decide whether a curriculum is really a science curriculum, or is just religion in disguise, it should not only take into consideration the sincerity of the school board's purported reasons for adopting the curriculum, but also whether the curriculum includes material that is testable, reliable, and includes other features distinctive to science.

This is important because, as Kitcher acknowledges, the Intelligent Design movement has tried hard to disguise its religion as science, and sometimes it may be difficult for judges (who are, of course, not trained scientists) to tell the two apart. In the wake of Kitzmiller, it seems possible that ID proponents will only try harder to disguise their religious intentions. "In these cases, the purpose inquiry will become increasingly less effective, thereby creating a corresponding need to scrutinize the content of the proposed curricula to make determinations of scientific legitimacy."

Congratulations to Mr. Kitcher for an excellent article and a well-deserved award.

Update: It turns out Charles Kitcher is the son of Philip Kitcher, author of Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism.

Meet Selam

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One of the more hilarious absurdities of the creation/evolution debate is as follows: creationists love to hop up and down and point at gaps in the fossil record (sometimes real, often not), but for the one species that creationists would dearly love to be specially created, human beings, we are actually swimming in a stunning set of transitional fossils. The hominid fossil record isn’t even especially “jerky” when examined quantitatvely at fine-scale resolution, so the creationists don’t even have their usual incompetent misconstrual of punctuated equilibria (which is actually about morphologically small gaps between closely-related sister species) to rely upon.

The poor creationists can’t even agree on which fossils are human and which are ape, and even Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute has tried his hand at this (proving he is a creationist, by the way), arguing that the genus Homo is a specially created “basic type”, except for the inconveniently transitional Homo habilis, which he removes from the genus by creative citation, thus proving that there is a gap between Homo and other hominins! Because of course everyone knows if you switch the label on a fossil, it’s transitional features disappear and it can be safely ignored! (If you are counting, Luskin’s position appears to be closest to that of the creationists in the middle column, including Gish and others, which appears to be the median creationist position.)

As if designed to ruin Luskin’s weekend, Nature has just published yet more hard fossil evidence of human evolution:

You are here

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You are here. See also this from Cassini, the real-life Lord of the Rings.

The Altruism Equation


Just wanted to call everyone's attention to a very engaging new book called The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness, by University of Louisville biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin. Dugatkin traces the history of attempts to explain the evolutionary origin of altruistic behavior starting with Darwin, Huxley and Kropotkin and concluding with William Hamilton. Actually, one small criticism of the book is that it's a bit unclear who the seven scientists are, since more then seven people receive serious discussion in the book. This notwithstanding, it makes for a very enjoyable and informative read. I've posted a more detailed review over at EvolutionBlog. Comments may be left there.

Anyone who has been a “creationism watcher” for any length of time is familiar with the venerable creationist tactic of “quote mining.” Since creationists, essentially universally, can’t (or don’t want to) deal with actual scientific data pertaining to evolution, they attempt maintain a facade of respectibility by quoting statements from biological authorities. This can take many forms; for example, for the 1987 Supreme Court Edwards v. Aguillard case, the creationist lawyer Wendell Bird, apparently with the help of Paul Nelson, assembled a massive 500-page brief that consisted almost entirely of thousands of quotes from authorities on every topic bearing on “creation science”, from astrophysics to biology to philosophy to religion. This failed to convince the Supremes, but Bird turned his brief into a large two-volume book, The Origin of Species Revisited. Other elaborations on creationist quote-mining include various “Quote Books”, including The Quote Book (1984 booklet, inserted in Creation magazine I believe) and The Revised Quote Book (1990) from Answers in Genesis, the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter (now online), and Henry Morris’ That Their Words may be used against Them (comes with CD!). Then we have endless collections of quotes on creationist websites, 50 of which were recently surveyed and ranked against the Talk.Origins Quote-Mine Project. Sometimes these quotes evolve and mutate over time (here is an example from Of Pandas and People), and sometimes they even spontaneously generate from thin air, as with this imaginary quote from Clarence Darrow.

You may be saying, “Surely this is a problem, but only famous authorities get quote mined. It would never happen to me!” Think again. On September 5, 2006, an article I coauthored in Nature Reviews Microbiology on flagellum evolution was published on the NRM website as an Advanced Online Publication. Before the ink was even dry – heck, before the ink was even wet, the October issue hasn’t come out yet – Casey Luskin at the Discovery Institute is quote mining it! The mining occured in Luskin’s insta-response to the revised edition Chris Mooney‘s book The Republican War on Science. Check this out:

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