November 12, 2006 - November 18, 2006 Archives

On, Tuesday, November 14th, 2006, Robert Pennock, author of “Tower of Babel, The Evidence Against the New Creationism” presented a lecture titled “The Ground Rules of Science: Why the Judge Ruled Intelligent Design Creationism Out of Court “ on the topic Intelligent Design as part of the Helen Edison Lecture Series [1]. Apparently, the lecture was attended by close to 5000 people, filling the beautiful RIMAC arena

Since the Sixth College sponsored the event, “[a]ll Sixth College students[ we]re strongly encouraged to attend the Convocation, and first-quarter CAT students [we]re required to attend. The 2006-2007 Council of Provosts Convocation Series is also open to the general public. “

As an ironic side note, it seems that Luskin’s confusion as to who was required to attend may have contributed to the full house.

UCSD-TV has scheduled the program for the following dates

12/11/2006, 8:00 PM pacific time zone 12/12/2006, 11:00 PM pacific time zone 12/15/2006, 7:00 PM pacific time zone 12/17/2006, 8:00 PM pacific time zone 12/26/2006, 10:00 PM pacific time zone 1/8/2007, 9:00 PM pacific time zone 1/9/2007, 11:00 PM pacific time zone 1/12/2007, 6:00 PM pacific time zone

Oops, they did it again

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From Premier Christian Radio we learn more about the concept of Intelligent Design.

28 October 2006 Darwin vs. Design

We revisit the subject of Intelligent Design and Evolution with special guest Dr. Tom Woodward from the USA who has written a history of the Design movement. Pete Hearty of the National Secular Society argues for Darwinian evolution. Will the idea of a a “God-like” intelligence behind nature supersede Darwinism?

A “God-like” intelligence behind nature. Good for them, finally some Christians who clearly describe what ID is all about.

Peer Review

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Over at the ARN blog, Denyse O’Leary has a four-part article up attacking the peer-review system. Rob Crowther, of the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division, has chimed in with his own post on the topic. There’s a great deal of humor in watching anti-evolutionists try to dismiss peer review as not worth the effort anyway. It bears an amazing resemblance to this really cute old fable about a fox, but I’ll be kind and pretend that there is actually something more to the O’Leary and Crowther rants than good old sour grapes.

Their major complaint about peer review is, of course, that their stuff, for some bizarre and unaccountable reason, has a really hard time surviving the process. In Crowther’s words:

To sum up, science journals that are wedded to Darwinian evolution refuse to publish authors who explicitly advocate intelligent design. Then Darwinists attack intelligent design as unscientific because it isn’t published in peer-reviewed journals.

O’Leary puts it a bit differently, but the basic concept is the same:

There is a modest but growing number of ID-friendly peer-reviewed publications. But - given the woeful state of peer review - papers that support or undermine ID hypotheses would probably be neither better nor worse recommended if they were never peer reviewed, just published, amid cheers and catcalls..

Of course, they try to justify their criticism of peer review on grounds other than their inability to reach the grapes. Peer review, they claim, doesn’t identify fraud. It’s not that good at catching incorrect findings. It squelches new ideas. It places “intellectual pygmies” in judgement of intellectual giants. It favors consensus. It sucks the life out of people, and is entirely responsible for global hunger and bad hair days. OK, I made the last two up, but you should still get a taste for the basic strategy that’s being employed here - it’s an oldie, but a goodie. Throw as much crap as you can at the wall, and hope that some of it sticks.

In this case, some of it does stick. It should. Peer review is not a perfect system. It is absolutely flawed. It is, in fact, not good at catching fraud. It does not catch many flawed studies. It does make it more difficult to publish new ideas, and it is absolutely capable of sucking the will to live from people. (Just because I made that one up doesn’t mean it isn’t right.) To paraphrase Churchill, peer review is the worst system out there, except for all the others that have been tried.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

The results of yesterday’s recount will be certified today by the Elections Commission, and pro-science candidate Jim Rex appears to have edged out ID advocate Karen Floyd by the narrowest of margins – 455 votes out of over 1 million cast. This is being called the closest general election result in South Carolina history. There is a strong chance that the Floyd campaign will protest the result (they have 5 days to do so), but this will be a last ditch desperation move. I don’t think I’m being premature in saying that, barring anything really weird, the race is over and Rex has won.

I would like to be able to say that Floyd’s anti-science posturing did her in, but that’s probably not the case. Her unpopular pro-voucher stance, combined with the fact that Rex was by far the more qualified candidate (Floyd has no educational experience), was most likely her undoing. Still, this is quite an achievement for Rex and a major blow to the Discovery Institute.

South Carolina prides itself on marching to the beat of a different drummer, and last Tuesday was no exception. While Democrats were winning across the country, Republicans were sweeping offices in SC. It appeared that the State Superintendent race would be no different; nearly every poll prior to the election had Floyd up by a healthy margin (polls for such “down ballot” races must be taken with a grain of salt, of course) and she had a huge financial lead, thanks in large part to gobs of money from an out-of-state voucher advocate who used dummy corporations to skirt campaign finance laws. But she still lost.

This appears to be the last in a series of massive blows to the Discovery Institute’s political agenda, especially given that South Carolina has been a major focus of theirs. Earlier this year, the state Board of Education rejected DI-backed pro-creationism language in the state curriculum standards (which of course prompted the DI to declare victory based on one obscure line that had been added to the standards during a previous year and was not up for consideration). It seems that they can get no traction at all, not even in South Carolina. Maybe they should just give it up already.

Nature publishes a crank letter

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This week's issue of Nature contains a bizarre letter from a Polish creationist, forester, and member of the Polish parliament. His credentials notwithstanding, it is a very silly diatribe that makes a series of false claims—claims that are trivial to dismiss, but in that fine tradition of the Gish gallop and Hovind's rambling free-association eructations, he makes a lot of them. A whole lot of them; all just plain naked assertions with no evidence to back them up, because the evidence, if he'd bothered to discuss it, contradicts him. Even the title reveals his ignorance of how science works.

Rather than trying to dismantle it piece by piece, I've just added links to his letter that lead to short, simple refutations of his claims.

Continue reading "Nature publishes a crank letter" (on Pharyngula)

Continued random confusion

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Seems that noone has informed Logan Gage of his erroneous interpretations of Darwinian theory, the concept of randomness and the meaning of purpose. In a followup posting Gage argues

Logan Gage Wrote:

If you have not seen it already, you will enjoy playing with this random mutation generator. You will see how wonderful the Darwinian process is at taking your text and moving on to ever-greater levels of complexity.

In addition to failing to comprehend the concept of randomness, Gage now seems to confuse random mutation with ‘the Darwinian process’. Has noone informed him that the Darwinian process consists of two components? In fact, mutations were not even known in Darwin’s days, thus Darwin speaks of variation and selection.

In addition, he also seems to mangle Dawkins’ Weasel example, which seems a common affliction amongst creationists.

In other news, David Opderdeck explores the flawed logic in Logan Gage’s position and argues that Gage’s position “was unfair, and reflects a serious theological problem with some “strong” ID arguments.”

Is there anything redeeming to Intelligent Design?

Server News

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We have ordered a new server, and if everything goes according to plan, we will make the switch this weekend. Be prepared for PT to go offline this weekend. We are still exploring our options for improving our bandwidth.

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Ian Musgrave has just posted an excellent article on the poor design of the vertebrate eye compared to the cephalopod eye; it's very thorough, and explains how the clumsy organization of the eye clearly indicates that it is the product of an evolutionary process rather than of any kind of intelligent design. A while back, Russ Fernald of Stanford University published a fine review of eye evolution that summarizes another part of the evolution argument: it's not just that the eye has awkward 'design' features that are best explained by contingent and developmental processes, but that the diversity of eyes found in the animal kingdom share deep elements that link them together as the product of common descent. If all we had to go on was suboptimal design, one could argue for an Incompetent Designer who slapped together various eyes in different ways as an exercise in whimsy (strangely enough, though, this is not the kind of designer IDists want to propose)…but the diversity we do see reveals a notable historical pattern of constraint.

Continue reading "The eye as a contingent, diverse, complex product of evolutionary processes" (on Pharyngula)

Is Life Inevitable?

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The origin of life is one of the most fascinating and controversial of scientific topics. The event occurred so long ago, and left so little clues, that we have struggled in our understanding of it. The basic building blocks of life turn up in meteors, cosmic dust and the gas clouds surrounding stars, as well as being manufactured on Earth in almost every conceivable environment. But how we get from these simple building blocks to metabolism, genes and organisms is not entirely clear, despite several promising lines of attack.

How probable is the origin of life? Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates alike claim that it is highly improbable. Most scientists think we are still at too immature a stage of knowledge to even speculate. However, a recent paper (free PDF here) by Harold Morowitz and Eric Smith in the Sante Fe Institute working papers series , suggests that life might be inevitable on thermodynamic grounds.

… the continuous generation of sources of free energy by abiotic processes may have forced life into existence as a means to alleviate the buildup of free energy stresses.

There is a good over view at Nature News (free online), and you might like to drop in on the Nature NewsBlog on this subject. Myself, I’m not convinced. While they make a good case for a simple autotrophic core of reactions forming the start of life chemistry, there are a range of details missing in their treatment of the thermodynamic aspects. However, this is a promising start from which more formal treatments can be derived. Anyway, read the paper and the Nature commentary, and see what you think. Check out some of the other working papers on the origin of life as well.

Update: Astronomy Now has a very interesting article on new experimental approaches to prebiotic chemistry.

When ignorance applies scientific vacuity

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Just when you think you have seen a new low in scientific ignorance amongst ID activists, Salvador Cordova comes to the rescue by arguing that

Salvador Cordova Wrote:

In information science, it is empirically and theoretically shown that noise destroys specified complexity, but cannot create it. Natural selection acting on noise cannot create specified complexity. Thus, information science refutes Darwinian evolution. The following is a great article that illustrates the insufficiency of natural selection to create design.

In fact, quite to the contrary, simple experiments have shown that the processes of natural selection and variation can indeed create specified complexity. In other words, contrary to the scientifically vacuous claims of Sal, science has shown that information science, rather than refuting Darwinian evolution, has ended up strongly supporting it.

So what causes this significant level of confusion about evolutionary theory, and information theory?

Denton vs Squid; the eye as suboptimal design.

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In a recent article in Touchstone Magazine, Jonathan Witt, fellow for the Discovery Institute’s Center for the renewal of science and culture, has written a review of Francis Collins’ book “ The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief”. Amongst other things in this review he claims that Michael Denton has demonstrated that the “backwards wiring” of the mammalian retina improves oxygen flow and is good design.

Denton of course, has done no such thing. Since I am on a role with things visual, I am reposting an updated version of an earlier article on this topic.

Blind Mice vs Behe; the Evolution of Vision

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Last week the first draft of the complete genome of the Sea Urchin was announced. In amongst the wealth of data were new clues to the evolution of the immune system, and the discovery that Sea Urchins express both rhabdomyeric and cilliary opsins, without having specialised eyes, gives us new clues to the evolution of the eye.

But several months ago, a paper was published with far less fanfare. In this paper, the photosensitive pigment from an alga was inserted into the retinal ganglion cells of blind mice, and their visual responses were restored (Bi et al., 2006). This paper may lead to the treatment of certain kinds of blindness, but also blows away one of Behe’s arguments.

Random confusion by design?

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These days it’s hard to visit the few pro-ID sites and not be greeted by a level of scientific ignorance matching and in some cases even exceeding the level of scientific vacuity of ID itself. Point in case is a recent contribution by Logan Gage titled Francis Collins on Square Circles

If the Discovery Institute’s Center for the renewal of Science and Culture were serious about its quest to improve science education, especially evolutionary biology, then it should spend some time educating its spokespeople.

Gage objects to Collins’ position on evolution and Christianity, ‘arguing’ that an unguided and random process could not possibly involve a deity. Let’s count the many confusions:

The sea urchin genome

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sea_urchin_sm.jpg

Oh happy day, the Sea Urchin Genome Project has reached fruition with the publication of the full sequence in last week's issue of Science. This news has been all over the web, I know, so I'm late in getting my two cents in, but hey, I had a busy weekend, and and I had to spend a fair amount of time actually reading the papers. They didn't just publish one mega-paper, but they had a whole section on Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, with a genomics mega-paper and articles on ecology and paleogenomics and the immune system and the transcriptome, and even a big poster of highlights of sea urchin research (but strangely, very little on echinoderm development). It was a good soaking in echinodermiana.

Continue reading "The sea urchin genome" (on Pharyngula)

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