November 19, 2006 - November 25, 2006 Archives

Ask and yea shall receive. A kindly tech wizard did stop by and post Neil deGrasse Tyson’s lecture on YouTube (part 1, part 2), so now you can watch it without any tedious downloading. Virtually all of the lecture is there, the last few seconds seem to have been cut off.

The original thread has become yet another holy war thread (my fault, I acknowledge), so I will focus here simply on why Tyson’s lecture turned me into a fawning Tyson fanboy. Highlights:

Tangled Bank #67

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The Tangled Bank

Before everyone disappears on their Thanksgiving break, stock up on science at the Tangled Bank #67: Giving thanks for science. And remember: if you have any creationist family members, be sure to get in a good fierce argument about evolution over the turkey day feast.

This is probably not news to anyone who has seen him speak before, but I’m pretty well convinced that Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is the new Carl Sagan.

I watched some of the videos from Beyond Belief 2006 meeting, which as far as I can tell was an attempt by evangelical atheists to convert other academics to be evangelical atheists, so that eventually everyone in the U.S. will become evangelical atheists. (By the way, this plan gives a whole new spin to the term “delusion”, as the skeptical anthropologist Melvin Konner pointed out in his rambling, disorganized, but ultimately wise critique of the get-rid-of-religion folks.) The meeting was written up by the New York Times today, and the ID blogs are all happily clucking with disdain about it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson gave the final talk of the meeting, and thankfully, instead of bitter sniping at academics who have any empathy for religious people, which seems to have been the main activity of this meeting, Tyson took the only realistic route that scientists actually have to increase public support for science, and that is to explain why science is so important, cool, and amazing. I had only previously seen Tyson on PBS a bit, and recently on The Colbert Report, dissing Pluto and other pitiful iceballs.

While mocking iceballs is good fun, that short clip doesn’t get you the full picture of Tyson in action. Give him 30 minutes and a lecture hall, and watch him remind you what science is really about. (Link to huge mp4 file.)

(Note: Tyson’s talk is about the last third of the last mp4 file on this page. The mp4 file is 218 MB, so Right-Click, Save As to download, and give it a good 10-20 minutes. Maybe some friendly tech wizard could stop by, extract the Tyson lecture, put it on YouTube, and link to it in the comments.)

It’s Not Simple, Stupid.

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As many of the Sciencebloggers have already mentioned, Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute is up to his usual stupidity. In this particular instance, he’s attempting, in a typically inept fashion, to fisk Carl Zimmer’s recent article in National Geographic. So far, I haven’t chimed in, mostly because everyone else has done such a good job that there wasn’t much to add.

Today, though, Karmen pointed out a passage that I’d somehow missed the first time I read Luskin’s piece. In the first part of his “rebuttal,” Luskin wrote:

The article called evolution a “simple” process. In our experience, does a “simple” process generate the type of vast complexity found throughout biology?

Karmen and PZ have both already pointed out the silliness of claiming that simple processes can’t lead to complex results. I’m going to talk about something different, but every bit as silly: the idea that evolution is a simple process.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Australian Lungfish update

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I just received word from Per Ahlberg that the status of the Australian lungfish conservation efforts have reached a critical phase: letters are needed NOW. Here's the situation:

The Traveston Dam proposal has moved into a new and critically important phase: it has been referred to the Federal Environment Minister (Mr Ian Campbell) for consideration under the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Ian Campbell has the power to stop the dam, but if he doesn't it is unlikely that any other organisation or individual will be able to do so.

The first hurdle that must be crossed in order to stop the dam is to ensure that the Minister does not allow the Queensland Government to conduct the EPBC assessment of it's own proposal - something that he is entitled to do. This would be a recipy for disaster as they would be certain to conclude that their own proposal is environmentally sound! The assessment must be carried out by the Federal Environment Ministry to ensure a proper process.

The Save the Mary River Campaign is asking supporters to write to Mr Campbell and a number of relevant senators to demand a proper assessment, and provides some very helpful information and instructions. This is URGENT: letters have to be received before 27 November.

You can get details here—start writing!

We tend to focus on the ID creationists here at PT, but it is worth remembering that outside of the public policy sphere, in the conservative evangelical subculture, it is still the young-earth creationist ministries that are the dominant players.

All year there have been rumors and speculation about the causes of a breakup between the USA branch of Answers in Genesis, which is sinking a huge amount of money into their Creation Museum, and the Australia branch. Blogger Jim Lippard is The Official Expert on all of this, and today he has The Big Scoop on a whole bunch of new details about the schism. Follow the links in his post to see his previous posts tracking the issue throughout 2006.

As I posted previously, the South Carolina State Superintendent of Education Race had resulted in a narrow sliver of a win by the pro-science candidate Jim Rex. But the creationist candidate, Karen Floyd, had the option of protesting the results. Today however she has finally conceded.

In which I am a prophet

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Five days ago, I wrote about a creationist letter that was published in Nature. At that time, there was a discussion going on in email with the gang at the Panda's Thumb, and someone said we ought to get a pool going on how long it would take before the Intelligent Design creationists would use this to argue that their case was being seriously discussed in the pages of a major scientific journal. Four months was suggested; I said one week.

I should have put some money down on that.

It turns out one of the PhD alumni in biology from Moran's school (University of Toronto), a respected scientist and pro-ID creationist recently had his letter published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. This is news in itself that creationists and ID proponents are getting airtime now in scientific journals

That was the unctuous clown, Sal Cordova, of course. It was four days before they were trumpeting this crank letter as a triumph for Intelligent Design creationism.

Nelson vs Mycoplasma: ORFans redux.

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Paul Nelson has developed a liking for ORFans, sequences of DNA that appear to code for proteins, but have (or had) no currently detectable homology to other genes. He feels they represent a difficulty for “Darwinian” accounts of gene origin and common descent. I have previously discussed why ORFans present no challenge to modern evolutionary theory, Dr. Nelson even showed up in the discussion.

More recently, he has been promoting ORFans again, without indicating he has learnt anything at all from our discussion. In particular, in a recent article in the Christian Post he claims that 28% of the genes in Mycoplasma genitalium are ORFans.

Nearly one-third of the protein-coding genes of mycoplasma, the simplest “free-living thing” up until last year, are unknown genes or ORFans.

Unfortunately for him, the actual number is zero. Yes, that’s right, zero. How did he get it so wrong?

Talk.origins' resident curmudgeon and contributor of a number of FAQs in the archives, Larry Moran, has a new blog, the Sandwalk. Interestingly, it seems to have been discovered first by Billy Dembski and Denyse O'Leary, who made a sneering post on it at Uncommon Descent…which means that the comments are filled with the fulminations of the usual creationist suspects. Think about that; they've crept out of the shelter of their heavily censored sanctuary and are out in force at a blog that won't edit and delete and modify your comments. If you want to engage Intelligent Design creationists directly, it's a happy hunting ground!

Oh, yeah…and Moran himself has also put up quite a collection of articles, all in his inimitably opinionated style, so I'm sure the raconteurs of the Panda's Thumb will find much to argue about over there.

Server News

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Well, our server upgrade didn’t go as planned. As a consolation prize, we’ve added another gig of memory to the existing server, and made changes to the server to take advantage of it. We are still planning to upgrade our server and our bandwidth connection. We have enough funds for a new server, but if you feel like donating for the future, give to the Talk.Origins Foundation.

I’ve also reenabled compression for Microsoft Internet Explorer. My tests show me that the previous pt-msie interaction problem has been fixed, probably when I finally fixed the time zone two weeks ago. Let me know if you are having problems with pages not updating correctly.

Evidence of Design?

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by Pete Dunkelberg

The Apologetics Calendar had exciting news for Floridians recently:

Your online source for strategic apologetics events around the U.S. and beyond.

Evidence of Design Conference, November 3–4, 2006 — Clearwater and Tampa, Florida

The C. S. Lewis Society is sponsoring this conference, which will thoroughly equip church members and leaders with generally non-technical, cutting-edge information. It will demonstrate practical steps to use design-evidence as a thoughtful bridge to skeptics who have been taught through Darwinian evolution that God is a myth. This conference will enable Christians and others to use simple evidence to demonstrate there is in fact a designer of life and that he is Jesus Christ. The three main speakers include Dr. Walter Bradley, Baylor University professor, co-author of The Mystery of Life’s Origin and co-founder of the Intelligent Design Movement; Dr. Paul Nelson, leading ID theorist and editor of the journal Origins and Design; and Dr. Tom Woodward, author of Doubts about Darwin and Darwin Strikes Back (October 2006). Their material will be presented in a skeptic-friendly manner, so all skeptics of design are cordially invited. The wonders of living cells will also be portrayed on stage by large models of the “molecules of life,” including a split-open DNA model that is simply stunning. This will be an eye-feast you’ll never forget!

Part I: Darwin’s Growing Crisis, will offer presentations by our speakers at Calvary Baptist Church, 110 North McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater, Florida 33759, 727.441.1581 (www.calvarybaptist.org/) at 7:30 pm Friday evening, November 3rd.

Part II: New Evidence of Design, will be presented by the same speakers on Saturday, November 4th at Calvary Baptist from 9 am until noon and at Christ Community Church, 6202 N Himes Ave, Tampa, FL 33614, 813.879.2077 (http://ccct.dallasnewmedia.com/) from 1:30 pm until 4:30 pm. Part II of the conference is presented on both sides of Tampa Bay as a convenience to those desiring to attend. The presentations on Saturday at these two locations are identical.

Had the Discovery Institute had found some startling new evidence just since the Dover trial? Brimming with curiosity, I drove all the way to Clearwater to hear the news. Nelson gave two talks, of which the first turned out to be the best. What follows is little more than my raw notes of that talk. The slides with quotes and citations came quicker than I could take them all down, and as the night wore on my note taking became rather sketchy, but you will get the gist of his presentation. Draw your own conclusions.

The Neandert[h]al FAQ

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The Neanderthal FAQ, by John Hawks, describes the recent DNA analyses as presented in Nature (lots of references and links).

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