September 23, 2007 - September 29, 2007 Archives

A couple of weeks ago, I posted two ridiculous quotes that are found in the Bob Jones textbook that’s involved in the California Creationism lawsuit. I’m still wading through these texts and Behe’s report explaining why it’s really a very good book for high school students to use to learn biology. It’s a slow process, and a painful one, but I’ve found another couple of outstanding quotes to share with you.

This time, I’m including three different types of quote. There are a couple where the authors say things have absolutely nothing to do with science of any kind (and are totally out to lunch even by the standards of a lot of religious people I know). There’s one where the book takes a brief detour into right-wingnuttery. I’ve also got one quote that I’m including as a special treat for those of you who might still want to claim that the book’s fine if you just overlook the insane religious stuff - an example of a case where the authors manage to mangle a very basic concept from genetics.

We’ll start with the insane, and move from there to the political, then conclude with the merely wrong.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left):

The UK government has issued new guidelines to teachers on what to teach about creationism and intelligent design in science classes. They are pretty explicit that creationism and ID do not belong.

The Guardian, Creationism out of the classroom


Creationism and intelligent design are sometimes claimed to be scientific theories. This is not the case as they have no underpinning scientific principles, or explanations, and are not accepted by the science community as a whole. Creationism and intelligent design therefore do not form part of the science National Curriculum programmes of study.

To avoid inappropriate use of resources, the guidelines also clarify that

Any resource should be checked carefully before it is used in the classroom. If resources which mention creationism or intelligent design are used, it must be made clear that neither constitutes a scientific theory.

Dembski and Common Descent

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Finally we hear the full story about Dembski’s position on Common Descent

For the record: I personally don’t believe in common descent though I think there are lines of evidence that suggest considerable evolutionary change. At the same time, there are lines of evidence that suggest considerable discontinuity among organisms. Check out chapter 5 of my forthcoming book with Jonathan Wells titled THE DESIGN OF LIFE (publication date keeps being delayed, but I think it’ll be out in November).

Wells and Dembski together… Marvelous… I am sure the book will be a hit amongst creationists and will, once again, remain totally irrelevant to science and likely to be detrimental to religious faith. But at least now we know that Dembski does reject much of the evidence supporting common descent. I wonder if he is familiar with St Augustine?

As to “Design of Life”, isn’t this the follow-up to Pandas and People, found to be unconstitutional by the Dover court?

As a side note, does the following statement strike anyone as showing a compassion one would hope to associate with a Christian?

I can’t say I feel sorry for these atheistic scientists in agreeing to interview for EXPELLED: NO INTELLIGENCE ALLOWED. When the BBC interviewed me for their Horizon documentary on ID (Horizon = the UK version of PBS Nova), they gave the ID side no warning that the program would be titled A WAR ON SCIENCE (I wouldn’t have agreed to be interviewed had I known that was going to be its title). What goes around comes around.

Of course, in this case, the scientists were told about a title which later was changed. Nevertheless, I thank Bill for his frank statements.

Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy and Ron Bailey at Reason have a couple posts on the dishonesty of Ben Stein et al. in their interviewing for Expelled.

Tangled Bank #89

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The Tangled Bank

Read all about the latest science-related blogging in the latest edition at Aardvarchaeology.

In the Light of Evolution I: Adaptation and Complex Design PNAS May 15, 2007; 104 (Suppl. 1)

With many contributions about information, complexity and evolutionary theory from some of the world foremost experts.

Introduction John C. Avise and Francisco J. Ayala From the Academy: Colloquium Perspective: In the light of evolution I: Adaptation and complex design

Darwin’s elucidation of natural selection as a creative evolutionary force was one of the monumental intellectual achievements in the history of science, not only revolutionizing thought across the biological sciences but also fundamentally impacting much discourse in the social sciences, philosophy, and religion. No longer were explanations for the origin and marvelous adaptations of organisms necessarily to be sought solely in the context of supernatural causation. Instead, biological outcomes could now be interpreted within the critical scientific framework of natural processes governed by natural processes and laws.

and the concluding remarks

Overall, the collection of ideas and data in this Colloquium is highly eclectic but nonetheless broadly illustrative of modern scientific attempts to understand the evolution of complex adaptations. These scientific endeavors are coming at a time of resurgent societal interest in supernatural explanations for biological complexity. Especially in the United States, proponents of intelligent design (ID)—the latest reincarnation of religious creationism—argue that biotic complexity can only be the product of a supreme intelligence (i.e., God). In the closing article of this Colloquium, Eugenie Scott and Nicholas Matzke (23) examine the history of the ID movement, and they conclude that although without scientific merit, the crusade itself is of consequence to broader society because it represents a serious assault on the integrity of science education.

Perhaps there is a middle ground for scientific and theological interpretations of complex biological design. In his 1973 commentary titled “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (24), Theodosius Dobzhansky famously proclaimed “I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God’s, or Nature’s method of creation.” Regardless of what our personal philosophical persuasion may be, let us rejoice in biotic complexity and in the scientific efforts to understand its geneses.

With the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation for nature s diversity. This was to be his gift to science and society at last, we had an explanation for how life came to be on Earth.

Scientists agree that the evolutionary origin of animals and plants is a scientific conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. They place it beside such established concepts as the roundness of the earth, its revolution around the sun, and the molecular composition of matter. That evolution has occurred, in other words, is a fact.

Yet as we approach the bicentennial celebration of Darwin s birth, the world finds itself divided over the truth of evolutionary theory. Consistently endorsed as good science by experts and overwhelmingly accepted as fact by the scientific community, it is not always accepted by the public and our schools continue to be battlegrounds for this conflict. From the Tennessee trial of a biology teacher who dared to teach Darwin s theory to his students in 1925 to Tammy Kitzmiller s 2005 battle to keep intelligent design out of the Dover district schools in Pennsylvania, it s clear that we need to cut through the propaganda to quell the cacophony of raging debate.

With the publication of Darwin s Gift, a voice at once fresh and familiar brings a rational, measured perspective to the science of evolution. An acclaimed evolutionary biologist with a background in theology, Francisco Ayala offers clear explanations of the science, reviews the history that led us to ratify Darwin s theories, and ultimately provides a clear path for a confused and conflicted public.

Order your copy at The National Academies Press (PDF available!!)

According to various press reports and news releases, there is a major new paper out in PNAS proposing that the pleistocene megafauna of North America (mammoths and the like) was killed off by an impact event (or atmospheric detonation of a comet). There was a brief report on this awhile ago when a paper was presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting this summer. This is a cool idea. However, despite the press announcements I can’t find the paper on the PNAS website. Anyone have any luck?

In the last few days we have witnessed a virtual epidemic of ill informed claims from our ID friends, so this time I will address a claim by Bornagain77 at UcD who argues:

I would also like to point out that since ENCODE found “an extensive overlapping network” for the human genome, this recently discovered fact clearly indicates that scientists are completely misinterpreting the genetic data from their preconceived evolutionary perspective, since the Evolution hypothesis requires that the genome be a “multiple independent collection of selectable genes”. Thus I predict all similarity based evidence culled from different genomes in support of the evolution hypothesis will have to be reinterpreted, from the proper engineering perspective, since it is now clearly impossible for the evolutionary scenario to overcome the the demonstrated poly-constrained nature of a poly-functional genome (Sanford Gentic Entropy; 2005)!!!

Despite Bornagain’s blind reliance on the work by Sanford, scientists have done some real science and shown actually quite the contrary. I will show that an interdependent network of is not only an inevitable outcome of evolutionary processes but that the nature of these networks, contrary to ‘intuition’ facilitate evolution rather than prohibit it. See for instance the work by Barabasi on scale free networks, the work by Stadler, Schuster, Toussaint and others on neutrality, RNA networks and many more:

Just a quick example:

The Emergence of Overlapping Scale-free Genetic Architecture in Digital Organisms by Gerlee

We have studied the evolution of genetic architecture in digital organisms and found that the gene overlap follows a scale-free distribution, which is commonly found in metabolic networks of many organisms. Our results show that the slope of the scale-free distribution depends on the mutation rate and that the gene development is driven by expansion of already existing genes, which is in direct correspondence to the preferential growth algorithm that gives rise to scale-free networks. To further validate our results we have constructed a simple model of gene development, which recapitulates the results from the evolutionary process and shows that the mutation rate affects the tendency of genes to cluster. In addition we could relate the slope of the scale-free distribution to the genetic complexity of the organisms and show that a high mutation rate gives rise to a more complex genetic architecture.

It somewhat surprises me that Sanford and IDers are unfamiliar with the extensive research on Scale Free networks, especially since I have discussed them in depth on Pandas Thumb. Contrary to intuition, overlapping scale free networks are not only common in the genome but their origins and evolution can be quite well explained using evolutionary theory.

I thank BornAgain for his contribution which allowed me to put to rest yet another creationist myth.

Poor St Augustine.

So, after all the kvetching the Discovery Institute did over the Guillermo Gonzalez tenure denial case, why aren’t they rushing to the defense of one Steve Bitterman, a community college professor at Southwest Community College here in Iowa. The case is still developing, but what is known is that Bitterman was fired last week–apparently for teaching that Genesis isn’t literal. More over at Aetiology

Most of the readers of this blog are intelligent, interested, scientifically literate individuals, but I’m guessing that at least a few of you aren’t familiar with one of the nouns in the title. Those of you who do know what a conodont is are probably wondering what it has to do with the others. If you bear with me for a little bit, the connection will be clear shortly. It has to do with fossils, fossilization, and the latest spectacular misunderstanding of those two things at Uncommon Descent.

Conodonts are (or, rather, were) an interesting group of animals. They were around from late in the Cambrian period until the end of the Triassic, and were quite common during most of the period. They’re not well known to most people outside of geology because the vast bulk of the evidence we have for them consists of very tiny tooth-like fossils. Most are only a millimeter or two in size, and are very hard to see without a microscope. They’ve received a lot of attention from paleontologists over the years because they’re very useful little critters, particularly for geologists who work in the oil and gas industry. The thing is, for a long time nobody knew just what sort of critters they actually were.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left):

Continued Uncommon Junk Talk

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On Uncommon Descent, defender of ID against creationist nonsense, Davescot makes the following comment about a posting by Paul Nelson about the fascinating complexity of the genome:

DaveScot Wrote:

I still fail to see how ID predicts no junk DNA. Random mutation definitely happens and if it’s good at *anything* it’s good at producing unorganized, non-functional crappola. It can produce crap out of nothing and it’s even better at making crap out of stuff that wasn’t crap to begin with.

Of course, Davescot has failed to follow the ID game play which includes the fallacious argument that ID predicted Junk DNA to have function. A poster name BFast is quick to remind DaveScot of his technical foul.

Bfast Wrote:

Bottom line, significant IDers have said for a long time “there’s value in that junk” and the darwinists have said the opposite, that “there cannot be value in that junk because there would be too many mutations per generation to be managed by RM+NS.”

The IDers said it, it proved to be true, it’s a confirmed prediction.

BFast is Right, Wrong and Wrong. Not too shabby for an ID defender.

I was going to comment on the posting by Casey Luskin about “Scientific Journals Promoting Evolution alongside Materialism”, but Jim Ridlon beat me to it and has performed a nice “fiskin’ of Luskin” As I had guessed, the articles indicate a far more moderate view than one may get from Luskin’s posting.

Eventually, Luskin explains his real motive

[…], it seems that they are nonetheless working hard to disprove Judge Jones’s Kitzmiller ruling that held it is “utterly false” to believe that “evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being.”

Which of course is still correct. Evolutionary theory is non antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being. It’s when religion pretends to be scientific that it encroaches onto science and the fact that science disproves its claims, merely suggests the vacuity of such attempts.

Sure, evolutionary theory can be used to argue for or against religion, and neither argument is more privileged than the other, unless religion abuses evolutionary theory. Such examples include Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism which attempt to make scientific claims in favor of their religious faith. When science clearly and decisively exposes the scientific vacuity of their arguments, creationists may whine that evolution is anti-religion. But it is the attempts by creationists which has caused their claims to do damage to science and faith alike.

Luskin’s Latest Lie


If you love predictability, you’ve got to love the Discovery Institute. Whenever someone publishes a paper about human evolution, it’s a pretty safe bet that someone there will soon take the time to explain how having learned something new means that we somehow know less than we did before. You can set your watch by it, almost.

The latest example comes from Casey Luskin. He “discusses” a paper that came out in Nature this week that reported on some fossils from Dmanisi, Georgia. Several skulls have been described from this site already, and the current paper focuses on post-cranial (less technically, non-skull) remains.

I’m not going to bother with a detailed, point-by-point rebuttal of Casey’s claims. (See this post by Afarensis for that.) Instead, I’m just going to look at one of the more glaringly dishonest tactics that Casey used this time.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left):

Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, New York: Viking, 2007, p. 280.

The abundance of Steves in turn-of-the-century science has led to the most formidable weapon in the fight against neo-creationism today: Project Steve. A brainchild of the National Center for Science Education, the initiative is a parody of the creationist tradition of publishing lists of several dozen “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.” The NCSE replies: “Oh, yeah? Well, we have a list of several hundred scientists who affirm evolution—just named Steve!” (And Stephanie, Steffi, Stefan, and Esteban.) Part satire, part memorial to Stephen Jay Gould, the project maintains a Steve-O-Meter (now pointing past 800) and has spun off a T-shirt, a song, a mascot (Professor Steve Steve, a panda puppet), and a paper in the respected scientific journal Annals of Improbable Research called “The Morphology of Steve” (based on the T-shirt sizes ordered by the signatories).

Hat tip Glenn Branch.

Antievolutionists have long sought to subvert and infiltrate the public school science classrooms, looking to turn all those lecterns into pulpits to deliver their narrow sectarian doctrines. We’ve seen takeovers of classrooms, of school boards, and the promulgation of legislation to set things up the way they’d like it. Now, we have another untoward development: not content with turning science class into Sectarian Sunday School, they want taxpayers to chip in money to serve the cause. That’s right, instead of passing a collection plate where one gets a choice of contributing or not, they do want to pick your pockets.

The Times-Picayune has the story.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., earmarked $100,000 in a spending bill for a Louisiana Christian group that has challenged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public school system and to which he has political ties.

The money is included in the labor, health and education financing bill for fiscal 2008 and specifies payment to the Louisiana Family Forum “to develop a plan to promote better science education.”

More on the Austringer.

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