March 2008 Archives

The “Pity Us Poor Incompetent Boobs” Strategy?


Watching the whole Expelled debacle as it has unfolded, with screwups ranging from the expulsion of PZ and the pre-expulsion of Genie Scott who was also in the film (hear her story about 3/4 through this podcast also linked by Tim Sandefur below), to the multiple mutually inconsistent stories manufactured by Mark Mathis and his Swift Boat Veterans for Truth public relations firm, I am beginning to believe that they are following a conscious strategy: the “Pity Us Because We’re So Incompetent” strategy.

The most recent move in that cunning campaign was to “accidentally” send the email list for their scheduled Tempe, AZ, preview to Scienceblogger John Lynch. Because the promoters of Expelled used cc: rather than bcc:, John was privileged to learn that such luminaries as “boughtbythecross,” “homeschoolma,” and “covenant-dad” are among the target audience for Expelled.

C’mon, folks. Can you really believe that grown-up people who cross streets on their own and who (presumably) don’t require full-time home care can really screw up so royally so often? I really think they are angling for the pity vote.

By the way, in the podcast linked above Genie announced that NCSE will be releasing a series of new videos on on April 15. Link to it early and often.

Our flunked ‘rebel’ at the appropriately named movie ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ has made some claims which he believes are relevant to understanding the science and fact of evolution. Since our flunked ‘rebel has obviously missed many of the relevant science and education classes during his many ‘days off’ , we would not want his friends to be similarly affected. Even though exposing the flaws in our juvenile ‘rebel’ is as easy as taking Ben Stein’s money, the results can serve as a fair warning to other ‘rebels’ ready to imitate our flunked ‘rebel’.

Using his questions and assertions, we can explore the disastrous effects of Intelligent Design (ID) on scientific education as we observe him mindlessly and purposefully parroting the ID argument from personal ignorance and incredulity (perhaps less rebelling and more studying would have helped):

Our Flunked Rebel Wrote:

Each of these discoveries has, in one way or another, led a growing number of scientists to reconsider the simple view espoused by Darwin that life is a random, purposeless, chance occurrence. The universe, and life itself – is turning out to be far more complex and mysterious – than Darwin could possibly have imagined.

Two phrases, and yet each phrase is flawed in a variety of ways.

Last week, SUNY Stony Brook neurosurgeon and anti-evolution mouthpiece Michael Egnor decided to keep driving on with his “you don’t need to understand Darwinian evolution to understand antibiotic resistance” crusade. His post is - predictably enough - a mass of loosely connected logical fallacies. One of the most egregious of these is his attempt to assume one of the points that he wanted to argue:

First, two definitions:

Natural selection is selection in nature, presumably arising without intelligent agency. An example of natural selection would be the differential reproduction of organisms in nature, without the evident guidance of an intelligent agent.

Artificial selection is selection caused by intelligent agency. An example of artificial selection would be the intentional breeding of bacteria by a scientist in a research lab.

The distinction between natural selection and artificial selection is at least matter of definition, and perhaps there are empirical differences as well.

His definition of natural selection is poor - if I saw it on a quiz in an introductory course, I’d have a hard time justifying giving him even half credit - but it’s not nearly as troublesome as his definition of artificial selection. If you think back to some of the previous discussion about Egnor’s line of argument, you’ll remember that many of us don’t think that placing bacteria in an environment that contains an antibiotic and allowing them to freely reproduce is actually artificial selection. Egnor’s attempting to beg the question by simply making his conclusion part of the definition that he expects us to accept without further argument. And that’s where my dog comes in.

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

Henry Neufeld reminds us in a trackback to an early ‘Untold Sequel’ that featured Nancey Murphy, how Dr Richard Colling was treated at Olivet Nazarene University for writing a book titled ‘Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator”.

Dr Colling’s story was featured in Inside Higher Ed

Do you think Expelled will discuss the story of Nancey Murphy as told at the Washington Post?

Let’s look in more detail at Expelled Exposed

Nancey Murphy, a religious scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said she faced a campaign to get her fired because she expressed the view that intelligent design was not only poor theology, but “so stupid, I don’t want to give them my time.”

Murphy, who believes in evolution, said she had to fight to keep her job after one of the founding members of the intelligent design movement, legal theorist Phillip Johnson, called a trustee at the seminary and tried to get her fired.

“His tactic has always been to fight dirty when anyone attacks his ideas,” she said. “For a long time afterward, I would tell reporters I don’t want to comment, and I don’t want you to say I don’t want to comment. I’m tired of being careful.”

Johnson denied he had tried to get Murphy fired. He said that he had spoken with a former trustee of the seminary who was himself upset with Murphy but that he was not responsible for any action taken against her. “It’s the Darwinists who hold the power in academia and who threaten the professional status and livelihoods of anyone who disagrees,” Johnson said. “They feel to teach anything but their orthodoxy is an act of professional treason.”

What could have been Murphy’s ‘crime’? She published a scathing review of Johnson’s “Darwin on Trial” titled Phillip Johnson on Trial: A Critique of His Critique of Darwin in Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith, 1993, vol 45, no 1 pp 26-36.

Nancey Murphy Wrote:

Phillip Johnson’s recent book, Darwin on Trial, claims to show that the reasoning presented in favor of evolutionary biology is defective. Such a book, being one of so many, would excite little attention were it not for the fact that the author is an expert in legal reasoning, and has contributed his particular skills to the debate. However, the canons of scientific argument are quite different from those of the courtroom, and it can be shown that Johnson’s critique of Darwinian thought falls far short of the mark in that it does not fully appreciate the special requirements of scientific argumentation.

SGU on Expelled

This week’s episode of The Skeptic’s Guide to The Universe (the best podcast on the planet) features a fun interview with Eugenie Scott about Expelled, and also the delightful news that our own PZ Myers now has an asteroid named after him.

The actor Ben Stein has switched from TV comedy, where his talents really lie, to political apologias, where his talents simply die, says John Patterson

Not a very good start but things get better, or worse

Comic actor and game show host Ben Stein isn’t at all happy, according to the trailers for his spurious-looking new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, in which he berates in overheated, lachrymose and rhetorically manipulative ways the American academic establishment’s reluctance to recognise intelligent design, the pseudoscientific, inbred second-cousin of biblical creationism, for which Expelled offers straightforward propaganda. Stein isn’t making a political crossover here, just a formal one - from TV comedy, where his talents really lie, to political apologias, where his talents simply die. His deeply rightwing political opinions haven’t shifted one iota since he was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon. (If you can believe it, Stein was once suspected of being Deep Throat.)

Make it viral.

Today we sat in on a conference call with the Expelled frauds. PZ has his story up, and others will probably follow. However, some people, including the producers of Expelled, have already taken to accuse us of crashing their call, much like the lies about PZ crashing the Expelled screening.

This is false. We got an explicit invitation yesterday from Expelled‘s media relations firm to participate, note to whom the invitation is addressed.

Subject: INVITE: Live teleconference with BEN STEIN of Expelled
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2008 13:45:24 -0400
From: Schlicht, Stacy (LAN-RCN) <[removed]>
To: [Enable javascript to see this email address.]

JOIN BEN STEIN TOMORROW, Friday, March 28 at 1:00 pm. PST for an exclusive, invitation-only LIVE press teleconference!

Some crew members got multiple invitations, including the one above and one at the personal site. PZ, however, was not one of them, despite the amount of (bad) press he has been able to generate for the frauds. I guess they purposely excluded his personal email from the list. However, they apparently forgot that PZ is a crew member, when they sent us our invitation. It’s incompetence all the way down.

The full invitation, minus the press quotes, is below the fold.

Julia Sweeney: Expelled and Ben Stein


Julia Sweeney watched all the trailers for “Expelled” and was not impressed

Last night Michael and I watched all the trailers for “Expelled,” the anti-evolution, intelligent design movie that Ben Stein made, or appears to have made, that’s opening in movie theaters on April 18th. I am just speechless.

Ben Stein once did a Groundling show, an improv show, that I was a part of. I found him to be spectacularly ill-informed and narcissistic and weirdly devoted to his schtick and worst of all, hacky. He didn’t listen to his fellow performers and played everything outward to his friends in the audience who laughed (fake, forced) at every single thing he did. When he became known as a “thinker” – when his public persona became the “smart guy” I was astounded. So this type of film does not come as any surprise.

Seems they found a perfect character for ‘Expelled’

Biola University’s ‘Christian Apologetics’ program announced a showing of Ben Stein’s movie ‘Expelled’ for $10. However, when Troy Britain showed up, he discovered that the event was a ‘backstage’ event only.

It gets “better” though. After listening to Stein practically foam at the mouth (he almost seemed like he had a pulse for a minute there) about the horrible injustices supposedly documented in his film and a bunch of stuff about God, this despite the fact that one of the clips from the film was one of the Discovery Institute muckety-mucks prattling on about how they want to talk about science and that it’s the “people with no argument” who keep bringing up the “red-herring” of religion, the night was topped off with Stein receiving the Orwellianly titled “Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth” for 2008. All of this to no less than three standing ovations from the crowd.

While the DI is working hard to differentiate ID from its religious foundations, Ben Stein and other ‘Expelled’ people seem to be quite clear that this is all about God.

Thank God, I say, for their honesty even though they are quite misguided about evolutionary theory and Intelligent Design and are doing science and religion a disfavor.

The Florida legislature is considering an “Academic Freedom Act” originating from Disco. For some background see my earlier post.

The bill has passed its first committee vote with amendments. The amended bill starts as follows:

The Committee on Education Pre-K - 12 (Wise) recommended the following amendment:



4 Senate Amendment (with title amendment)

5 Delete everything after the enacting clause

6 and insert:

7 Section 1. (1) This section may be cited as the “Evolution

8 Academic Freedom Act.”

9 (2) As used in this section, the term “scientific

10 information” means germane current facts, data, and peer-reviewed

11 research specific to the topic of chemical and biological

12 evolution as prescribed in Florida’s Science Standards.

13 (3) The Legislature finds that current law does not

14 expressly protect the right of teachers to objectively present

15 scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific

16 views regarding chemical and biological evolution.

As Disco is not on trial at the moment, they claim the following “Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated)”: Discovery Institute claims peer reviewed support.

And as regular readers know, they quote mine much of the rest of the scientific literature to read it as they wish.

The entire Florida bill is reproduced below the fold. I have a simple question for readers: how pleased (or not) is Disco with the revised bill, and why?

Irons v. McCreary on creationism

Law professor Jana R. McCreary recently published a just plain awful article in the Southwestern University Law Review, arguing that the teaching of evolution in public schools violates the Constitution. She proceeds via an intellectual shell-game by which she defines “religion” so broadly that she can contend that science is a religion and therefore that the government is barred from endorsing it. (“This Is The Trap The Courts Built,” 37 Sw. U. L. Rev. 1 (2008)). You can read her article here.

Our ally Peter Irons, a professor at UC San Diego, has a brief response to the article in the same issue. It’s simultaneously polite and utterly devastating. (“Darwin, Dogma, and Definitions,” 37 Sw. U.L. Rev. 69 (2008)). You can read it here.

Prof. McCreary was then given the opportunity to publish this remarkably lame rejoinder. (“Focusing Too Much on The Forest Might Hide The Evolving Trees,” 73 Sw. U. L. Rev. 83 (2008)).

One point I think worth emphasizing is that in her rejoinder, McCreary contends that “presenting all theories” of the origins of life—that is, religious as well as scientific ideas about the origins of life—would “provide neutrality.” 73 Sw. U. L. Rev. at 92. Of course, she acknowledges that in her view, teachers would be required to “present all known theories, highlighting none.” Id. In other words, teachers must present students with both rigorously tested, scientifically validated, evidence-based theories—as well as the crudest and most arbitrary mumbo-jumbo concocted by witch doctors. There are, of course, an infinite number of arbitrary “theories” of the origins of life, the universe, and everything, including the theory that the entire universe was sneezed out of the nose of the Great Green Arkleseizure. These stories being utterly arbitrary and allegedly exempt from the demands of evidence, it is improper to describe them as theories at all. They are not theories, but arbitrary declarations. And the teacher, of course, being required to “highlight none” of them, students would be presented with sense and nonsense on an equal footing, and told to make up their own minds (while not being judgmental, of course).

McCreary attempts to avoid the fact that teachers would then be spending an infinite amount of time teaching about the Great Green Arkleseizure and its infinite number of arbitrary cousins, by saying that in her view, teachers would not be required to give students “an in-depth look at each belief system,” but only “a brief glimpse into the concept; after all, time would not permit further discussion of the many theories beyond presenting them as competing explanations regarding how life began. And this would achieve the courts’ goals: neutrality.” Id.

So in other words, the cost of presenting students an enormous pile of nonsense would be to ensure that the presentation itself would be so superficial as to leave students as ignorant as they were to begin with. This, in McCreary’s view, is education.

(I also have a very brief response to McCreary in the footnotes of my new article in the Chapman Law Review.)

Taking Behe at his word

Over at Christianity Today Stephen H. Webb reviews Michael Behe’s new book The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism.

Biology certainly has a lot to say about the role of luck in the evolution of life, but the question of how much luck evolution needs and how much luck nature provides to get the ball of life rolling has been as much a matter of philosophical and mathematical speculation as empirical observation. Only in the past few decades has the state of genetic research reached the point where an informed judgment about the probabilities presupposed by Darwinism can be made. Michael Behe’s latest book, The Edge of Evolution, should establish the precedent for future debates. Darwinists will appeal Behe’s verdict, no doubt, but for readers with an open mind, it will be hard to overturn.

Last paragraph:

Evolution is such a sensitive topic for the scientific community that Behe will be dismissed as a fringe thinker, but he does not think the edge of evolution is Darwin’s undoing. Behe is a reformer, not a revolutionary. He wants to divide the Darwinian cake into small pieces so that he can be picky about what he accepts. Whether he has gotten to the bottom of Darwinism, he has shown that it lacks explanatory depth. Behe holds out the possibility that the progress of science, more than the claims of theologians, will undermine the dogmas of Darwin.

First comment:

Because evolutionists and anti-evolutionists have so many problems talking past each other, is it too much to ask for a review that facilitates dialogue instead of unhelpful stereotypes?

That is a very good comment. I hope some commenters here can help readers there to see a little more science. And don’t let the trolls get you.

Continue reading Taking Behe at his word at Christianity Today where comments can be left.

UcD: Clinton Dawkins: Guilty as Charged


On UcD, DaveScot ‘argues

DaveScot Wrote:

Well, there is no longer any doubt. Richard Dawkins registered for the screening as “Clinton” Dawkins. How many of you knew Dawkins’ first name was Clinton? Registering for the event using a first name which he never uses for anything else is about as red-handed as you can get. Dawkins was fully aware he was sneaking into a private screening to which he wasn’t invited and attempted to hide his presence by using his legal first name in the registration.

Anyone who continues to think that Myers and Dawkins are not guilty of chicanery in this matter is in denial.

Again, the argument from ignorance ‘who knew Dawkins’ first name was Clinton’ is to be expected from the ID creationists at UcD. However, there is a flaw in the ‘logic’ that suggests that Dawkins used the first name Clinton to ‘deceive’ and hide his presence.

In the Economist, an article explores how scientists are trying to explain religion. In a project titled “explaining religion” that involves scholars from 14 universities, researchers from many different disciplines are attempting to unravel the biological explanation for religion. The project receives funding from the “New and Emerging Science and Technology” programme of the European Union. The same programme also organizes the Tackling complexity in Science project and I noticed the absence of any ID relevant proposals.

Hat Tip:

While Disco’s Robert Crowther is crowing “Ben Stein’s New Film Expelled No. 1 in Blogosphere”, he should ponder the fly in the ointment: not all buzz is Good buzz. In particular, he should consider what “buzz” has done for the video game based on LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” While the video game garnered lots of attention on the Net, a lot of it was bad - quite like the attention “Expelled” earned this week in regard to the Expulsion of PZ.

Did “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” get a boost from negative attention? Quite the contrary - it Tanked. It Fizzled. It Bombed. The game’s makers are now forced to simply give it away, free.

We got the following story via a dedicated reader in Kentucky, who says its from the newsletter of the ACLU of Kentucky.

When the Discovery Institute and other professional intelligent design apologists talk about wanting to just “teach the controversy”—which everyone knows is in direct opposition to “teach the science”—you should remember this example of a DI-inspired curriculum.

Bloomfield Middle School - Intelligent Design
by William E. Sharp, Staff Attorney

This case also represents a significant pre-litigation victory that is due in large part to the dedication and courage of a committed ACLU of Kentucky member. Specifically, this member contacted us about a particular teacher’s inclusion of Intelligent Design components into a 7th grade science curriculum at Bloomfield Middle. Upon further investigation, we learned that the teacher not only incorporated Intelligent Design’s critiques of Darwinism, but the teacher also disseminated a chart containing Intelligent Design’s rationale for the earth’s short existence. This chart provided a timeline that included (and dated) Noah’s Ark and the Biblical flood story. This teacher also provided students with a five page “fact sheet” on Intelligent Design’s Model of Origins, its critique of the big bang theory, and its theory that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.

When we presented school officials with our objections to Intelligent Design as a reformulated version of Creationism and the substantial legal authority establishing the illegality of teaching a religious doctrine within a science curriculum. Bloomfield officials decided to remove all Intelligent Design components from the science curriculum.

(emphasis ours)

The cdesign proponentsists at the Discovery Institute spend a lot of hot air trying to convince the courts that they have noting to do with those creationdesign proponentsists from the 80s—just like the “scientific” creationists from the 80s claimed to have nothing to do with the “biblical” creationists from the 60s.

However, their grassroots supporters never seem to get the memo.

Expelled Exposed


A new website titled Expelled Exposed was mentioned at the Amused Muse’s blog.

Keep checking this space for the National Center for Science Education’s official response to the Ben Stein movie Expelled; for now, we hope you will find this collection of resources helpful

Expelled!: A spoiler


From the ‘Expelled’ website we learn about the following ‘spoiler’ which is written in ‘white characters on a white background’.

*SPOILER!! Proceed and highlight text below only if you want to know more about the film’s specific content.

Many scenes are centered around the Berlin Wall, and Ben Stein being Jewish actually visits many death camps and death showers. In fact, Nazi Germany is the thread that ties everything in the movie together. Evolution leads to atheism leads to eugenics leads to Holocaust and Nazi Germany.

Says it all really… A refreshening honesty about the ignorance involved.

At the NewScientist blog, we find a posting which raises more questions than it answers

After confirming the news that the movie is without much of any scientific content, and makes ill chosen references to Nazis, Amanda Gefter, opinion editor, describes the Q&A that followed.

Richard Dawkins: Lying for Jesus?


Clinton Richard Dawkins describes his personal experience of not being ‘expelled’

It’s quite a blistering response to a PR fumble.

Richard Dawkins Wrote:

The blogs are ringing with ridicule. Mark Mathis, duplicitous producer of the much hyped film Expelled, shot himself in the foot so spectacularly that the phrase might have been invented for him. Goals don’t come more own than this. How is it possible that a man who makes his living from partisan propaganda could hand so stunning a propaganda coup to his opponents? Hand it to them on a plate, so ignominiously and so UNNECESSARILY.

I was wrong — it’s not the Harvard multimedia video. It’s an independently generated copy. I grabbed a few images from the DVD I got at my truncated visit to the Expelled screening, and here, for instance, is the segment that shows that striking kinesin motor protein towing a vesicle down a microtubule. This is the version in the Expelled movie:


Now here’s an equivalent frame from the actual Harvard video.


Now I’m embarrassed to have mistaken one for the other, since the Expelled version is of much lower resolution and quality. However, do notice that they both have roughly the same layout and the same elements in view; this is a remarkable, umm, coincidence, since these are highly edited, selected renderings, with many molecules omitted … and curiously, they’ve both left out the same things.

Another curious coincidence: you’ve heard of the concept of plagiarized errors, the idea that the real tell-tale of a copy is when it’s the mistakes that are duplicated, in addition to the accuracies. In this case, I previously criticized the Harvard video for a shortcut. That kinesin molecule is illustrated showing a stately march, step by step, straight down the microtubule. Observations of kinesin show it’s more complex, jittering back and forth and advancing stochastically. That’s a simplification in the Harvard video that is also present in Expelled‘s version.

It’s clear that what they did was brainlessly copy what they saw in the original. I don’t know whether this is actionable anymore — that they slapped together a look-alike video to cover their butts makes the issue much more complicated.

A homage to PZ


A hilarious comic featuring PZ.

From CBS13

An associate professor at the University of Minnesota was expelled from a free screening of the movie “Expelled.”

P.Z. Meyers was interviewed in “Expelled,” and even thanked in the movie’s credits. When he tried to watch the film, however, he was kicked out 15 minutes before it started.

Myers is an atheist. The movie argues that schools should teach creationism as an alternative to evolution.

Wow, short and to the point.

Dawkins and PZ Myers on ‘Expelled’


Dawkins and PZ discuss the aftermath of the Expelled experience.

A better version can be downloaded here

Casey Luskin exposes some of his unfamiliarity with evolutionary theory when he claims that there are “More Troubles in the Tree of Animal Life”.

And how does Luskin reach this remarkable conclusion well because of our ignorance of science.

Casey Luskin Wrote:

In late 2005, three biologists published a study in Science which concluded, “Despite the amount of data and breadth of taxa analyzed, relationships among most [animal] phyla remained unresolved.”

Luskin references an article in Science Daily titled Tree Of Animal Life Has Branches Rearranged, By Evolutionary Biologists to further his claims. So let’s explore Luskin’s misunderstandings and see what science does and does not know, lest one may get the impression that there is some fundamental flaw with the ‘Tree of Life’

Casey Luskin Wrote:

In 2008, the relationships among animals are still controversial. A recent news release at Science Daily highlights a new study, “Tree Of Animal Life Has Branches Rearranged.” The story reports, “The study is the most comprehensive animal phylogenomic research project to date, involving 40 million base pairs of new DNA data taken from 29 animal species.”

Below is an email that I received from NESCent:

Phyloinformatics Summer of Code 2008

Please disseminate this announcement widely to appropriate students at your institution

The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) is participating in 2008 for the second year as a mentoring organization in the Google Summer of Code. Through this program, Google provides undergraduate, masters, and PhD students with a unique opportunity to obtain hands-on experience writing and extending open-source software under the mentorship of experienced developers from around the world.

Our goal in participating is to train future researchers and developers to not only have awareness and understanding of the value of open-source and collaboratively developed software, but also to gain the programming and remote collaboration skills needed to successfully contribute to such projects. Students will receive a stipend from Google, and may work from their home, or home institution, for the duration of the 3 month program. Students will each have one or more dedicated mentors with expertise in phylogenetic methods and open-source software development.

NESCent is particularly targeting students interested in both evolutionary biology and software development. Project ideas (see URL below) range from visualizing phylogenetic data in R, to development of a Mesquite module, web-services for phylogenetic data providers or geophylogeny mashups, implementing phyloXML support, navigating databases of networks, topology queries for PhyloCode registries, to phylogenetic tree mining in a MapReduce framework, and more.

The project ideas are flexible and many can be adjusted in scope to match the skills of the student. If the program sounds interesting to you but you are unsure whether you have the necessary skills, please email the mentors at the address below. We will work with you to find a project that fits your interests and skills.


Email any questions, including self-proposed project ideas, to [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

To Apply

Apply on-line at the Google Summer of Code website, where you will also find GSoC program rules and eligibility requirements. The 1-week application period for students opens on Monday March 24th and runs through Monday, March 31st, 2008.

Hilmar Lapp and Todd Vision US National Evolutionary Synthesis Center


Allen MacNeill: Expelled from Expelled


Allen_2007.jpgAllen MacNeill, who teaches introductory biology and evolution at the Cornell University in Ithaca NY, left a comment which I believe deserves more attention

Allen MacNeill Wrote:

As an interesting addition to this debate, Will Provine and I were interviewed by Mark Mathis and his crew last year. Like PZ myers, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott and others, we were lied to about both the title of the film (they said it was “Crossroads”, not “Expelled”, for which a website domain listing was acquired several months before our interview) and the purpose of the film, which they said was to present an even-handed look at both sides of the debate.

At the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Russel Blackford blogs on Intelligent Design Movie Is Not for Heathens

Talking about Expelled

From all accounts, the movie alleges that the … ahem … bold conjecture of Intelligent Design has been kept out of academia by what is apparently spun as some kind of anti-Christian conspiracy. Individuals who have advocated ID are portrayed as victims of prejudice and injustice. Their academic freedom has been suppressed, or so we’re meant to believe.

Yet also understanding that Intelligent Design fails as a science

Whatever the precise content of Expelled, Intelligent Design itself is not, by any stretch of the imagination, genuine science. At best, it’s the tattered remnant of what may have been genuine science back in the 19th century. You could dignify it, I suppose, by calling it a philosophical conjecture based on (supposed) inadequacies in evolutionary theory.

Expelled gone missing from Santa Clara


Expelled has gone missing in Santa Clara

After all the religious spin put onto the ejection of PZ Myers while allowing Richard Dawkins into last night’s showing of “Expelled”, I decided that I wanted to see for myself just how easy it was to get an invite to the movie.

There seems to be some controversy about tickets - with one side saying that Dr. Myers didn’t have a ticket and was acting the bully, and the other side saying that tickets weren’t required, that a simple sign up was all that was required.

So I went over to the Expelled RSVP site, and signed up. BAM! I got an instant return email saying that I was golden, with a seat reserved for me. I could now attend the Santa Clara event next week Friday merely by checking my ID against a list at the door.

Simple as that, just sign up, just as PZ explained

GetExpelled RSVP


At the Get Expelled website, Ben Stein is inviting youth, teachers, pastors, youth leaders and organizations to attend one of the many free pre-screenings

Motive Entertainment is proud to present THE EXPELLED TOUR which launches on November 26th to promote the upcoming release of EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed. Tour locations are being added every day! You and your community are invited to attend FREE of charge! CLICK HERE to RSVP now at a location near you!

Clicking on RSVP takes you to the Expelled RSVP site where anyone can RSVP to attend one of the many screenings, most of them in religious locations ironically.

You too can sign up for the Events or here. You are told that

Please fill out one entry form per attendee. Once confirmed, your name will be on a list at the door of the theater. IDs will be checked.

For security, no bags, cell phones, or recording devices of any kind will be allowed into the theater. Please leave them in your car.

If Expelled expected these showings to be ‘private’, why would they provide a public RSVP site where anyone can signup to attend one of the many showings of the movie?

By Chris Hewitt from Pioneer Press has an article titled Biology prof expelled from screening of ‘Expelled’ in which he describes the events.

Myers was in the Twin Cities this week for the American Atheists Conference 2008 in Minneapolis and, coincidentally, he learned there was to be a free screening of “Expelled” at the Mall of America Thursday night. So he registered to attend with his wife, Mary, along with what Myers called “a whole parade of atheists,” including internationally famous science writer, Richard Dawkins, whose books include “The God Delusion.”

They all got in, but Myers did not.

The NY Times reports in No Admission for Evolutionary Biologist at Creationist Film how PZ Myers was expelled from the viewing of ‘Expelled’

Two evolutionary biologists — P. Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and Richard Dawkins of Oxford — tried to go to the movies at the Mall of America in Minneapolis Thursday evening. Dr. Dawkins got in. Dr. Myers did not.

and Dawkins had his comments

Dr. Dawkins said the hoopla has been “a gift” to those who oppose creationism. “We could not ask for anything better,” he said.

Evolution of the Heart


Hearts come in a variety of shapes and forms all the way from single chambered hearts to multi-chambered hearts with 2, 3 and even 4 separate chambers. How could evolution have achieved such a feat one may wonder, and indeed creationists have held up this minor mystery as something evolutionary theory could and would never be able to explain.

As is so often the case with such gap arguments, science has not failed to disappoint our creationist friends.

Science Daily gives us a hint of what science has uncovered in an article called Hearts Or Tails? Genetics Of Multi-chambered Heart Evolution

The expanded cardiac field in Ets1/2-activated mutants results in a proportion of animals having a functional, two-chambered heart. “The conversion of a simple heart tube into a complex heart was discovered by chance, but has general implications for the evolutionary origins of animal diversity and complexity”, says Mike Levine, a co-author of the paper.


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There is a rich, deep kind of irony that must be shared. I'm blogging this from the Apple store in the Mall of America, because I'm too amused to want to wait until I get back to my hotel room.

I went to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie, Expelled, a few minutes ago. Well, I tried … but I was Expelled! It was kind of weird — I was standing in line, hadn't even gotten to the point where I had to sign in and show ID, and a policeman pulled me out of line and told me I could not go in. I asked why, of course, and he said that a producer of the film had specifically instructed him that I was not to be allowed to attend. The officer also told me that if I tried to go in, I would be arrested. I assured him that I wasn't going to cause any trouble.

I went back to my family and talked with them for a while, and then the officer came back with a theater manager, and I was told that not only wasn't I allowed in, but I had to leave the premises immediately. Like right that instant.

I complied.

I'm still laughing though. You don't know how hilarious this is. Not only is it the extreme hypocrisy of being expelled from their Expelled movie, but there's another layer of amusement. Deep, belly laugh funny. Yeah, I'd be rolling around on the floor right now, if I weren't so dang dignified.

You see … well, have you ever heard of a sabot? It's a kind of sleeve or lightweight carrier used to surround a piece of munition fired from a gun. It isn't the actually load intended to strike the target, but may even be discarded as it leaves the barrel.

I'm a kind of sabot right now.

They singled me out and evicted me, but they didn't notice my guest. They let him go in escorted by my wife and daughter. I guess they didn't recognize him. My guest was …

Richard Dawkins.

He's in the theater right now, watching their movie.

Tell me, are you laughing as hard as I am?

And speaks on the issue of theological flaws of Intelligent Design

Father Heller said intelligent design advocates contend “there is an opposition between God, who is the creator of everything, and the theory of evolution, which explains that random events, chance events, play an important role in the evolutionary process. They claim that we must assume (it is) intelligent design, and not chance, that shapes the outcome.”

“My point of view is that it is a grave, serious theological error – I underline that grave, serious theological error. It revives old Manichean heresies that claim that there are two major, great principles – the principle of God which is good, and the principle of evil – and they are fighting with each other,” he said, that “God is one side, and chance is regarded as a rival of God.”

But “God is also the God of chance events,” he said. “From what our point of view is, chance – from God’s point of view, is … his structuring of the universe.”

As an example, Father Heller said, “birth is a chance event, but people ascribe that to God. People have much better theology than adherents of intelligent design. The chance event is just a part of God’s plan.”

UNSW&Caltech: Embryology

Cst800.jpg The University of New South Wales has some fascinating resources on embryology, including the full set of Carnegie stages for the Human Embryo
ts25.jpg Caltech �MRI Atlas of Mouse Development an interactive 3D atlas which is part of a collection of Caltech MRI sites which include the Quail and the Lemur brain

Eppur si muove!

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

The Harvard multimedia team that put together that pretty video of the Inner Life of the Cell has a whole collection of videos online (including Inner Life with a good narration.) Go watch the one titled F1-F0 ATPase; it's a beautiful example of a highly efficient molecular motor, and it's the kind of thing the creationists go ga-ga over. It's complex, and it does the same rotary motion that the bacterial flagellum does; it has a little turbine in the membrane, a stream of protons drives rotation of an axle, and the movement of that axle drives conformation changes in the surrounding protein that promote the synthesis of ATP. It's a molecular machine all right. Makes a fellow wonder if possibly it's "irreducible", doesn't it?

Well, it's not. It can be broken down further and it still retain that rotary motion.

Continue reading "Eppur si muove!" (on Pharyngula)

During the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case in 2004 to 2005, Lauri Lebo covered the story for the York Daily Record. Lebo was one of the most consistent journalists writing on the topic anywhere; she certainly demonstrated a facility with the facts of the case and was not afraid to write about what they implied. She has a book to be released shortly, “The Devil in Dover”.

(Originally posted at the Austringer)

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has extensive lectures and resources for educators, in fact anyone can order their DVD’s for free. You can also subscribe to their podcasts.

Talks include Ken Miller’s Evolution: Fossils, Genes, and Mousetraps


Leading evolution educator Ken Miller discusses the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution, presents compelling evidence for evolution and reasons why “intelligent design” is not scientific. The presentation also features Dr. Miller’s responses to questions from a live audience of high school students.

Explore the site, it’s full of interesting information helping anyone appreciate the science of evolution and biology.

Tangled Bank #101

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The Tangled Bank

It's time for the newest Tangled Bank at Tangled Up in Blue Guy.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

Fossils are cool, but some of us are interested in processes and structures that don't fossilize well. For instance, if you want to know more about the evolution of mammalian reproduction, you'd best not pin your hopes on the discovery of a series of fossilized placentas, or fossilized mammary glands … and although a few fossilized invertebrate embryos have been discovered, their preservation relied on conditions not found inside the rotting gut cavity of dead pregnant mammals.

You'd think this would mean we're right out of luck, but as it turns out, we have a place to turn to, a different kind of fossil. These are fossil genes, relics of our ancient past, and they are found by digging in the debris of our genomes. By comparing the sequences of genes of known function in different lineages, we can get a measure of divergence times … and in the case of some genes which have discrete functions, we can even plot the times of origin or loss of those particular functions in the organism's history.

Here's one example. We don't have any fossilized placentas, but we know that there was an important transition in the mammalian lineage: we had to have shifted from producing eggs in which yolk was the primary source of embryonic nutrition to a state where the embryo acquired its nutrition from a direct interface with maternal circulation, the placenta. We modern mammals don't need yolk at all … but could there be vestiges of yolk proteins still left buried in our genome? The answer, which you already know since I'm writing this, is yes.

Continue reading "Reproductive history writ in the genome" (on Pharyngula)

Whale evolution: The blowhole


The evolution of the blowhole in whales, which according to the fossil evidence moved from the tip to the vertex of the head, has caused some concerns amongst our creationist readers who wonder how such a feat could have taken place.

From Milan Klima, Development of the Cetacean Nasal Skull 1999 Springer

The fact that the cetacean nose moved, in the course of evolution, from the tip of the rostrum up to the vertex of the head, is among the most perfect of adaptations to aquatic life. In this and many other special adaptations of their morphology and physiology, cetaceans surpass most primarily aquatic animals even though they themselves have developed from land mammals that breathe with lungs, and have only secondarily conquered the aquatic environment. To a certain extent, cetaceans can be considered to be the most successful group of aquatic animals of all time.

Conclusive paleontological evidence shows the way in which the nasal openings were moved in the course of phylogeny (see Kellogg 1928; Slijper 1962; Gaskin 1976; Oelschlager 1978, 1987, 1990; Moore 1981). That this evolutionary process is repeated in a way during ontogeny became obvious through external observations on embryos and fetuses (Kukenthal 1893). At the earliest embryonic stages the nasal openings are still situated at the rostra tip like those of land mammals; they are gradually shifted more and more towards the vertex of the head at the older stages. At the same time, a long rost rum with narrow jaws develops. Until recently, practically nothing was known about the morphogenetic processes concealed in this metamorphosis, about what cranial structures take part in it, and about the exact way in which the cetacean skull becomes transformed during embryogeny.

Dicyemid mesozoa

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

You know how people can be going along, minding their own business, and then they see some cute big-eyed puppy and they go "Awwwww," and their hearts melt, and then it's all a big sloppy mushfest? I felt that way the other day, as I was meandering down some obscure byways of the developmental biology literature, and discovered the dicyemid mesozoa … an obscure phylum which I vaguely recall hearing about before, but had never seriously examined. After reading a few papers, I have to say that these creatures are much more lovable then mere puppy dogs. Look at this and say "Awwwww!"

Light micrograph of Dicyemid japonicaum rhombogen. AX, axial cell; C, calotte; IN, infusorigen; P, peripheral cell.

O dicyemid mesozoan, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Continue reading "Dicyemid mesozoa" (on Pharyngula)

Cambrian Explosion Marshall 2006.png (Click picture to pop-up a larger version) Charles R. Marshall in EXPLAINING THE CAMBRIAN “EXPLOSION” OF ANIMALS, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences Vol. 34: 355-384, shows how the ‘classical’ view of the Cambrian as popularized by Gould cannot longer be maintained given the available data.

Abstract: The Cambrian “explosion” is a unique episode in Earth history, when essentially all the animal phyla first appear in the fossil record. A variety of environmental, developmental (genetic), and ecological explanations for this complex and somewhat protracted event are reviewed, with a focus on how well each explains the observed increases in disparity and diversity, the time of onset of the radiation, its duration, and its uniqueness. The increase in disparity (the origin of the phyla) and diversity are best understood as being the result of the interplay of the combinatorial bilaterian developmental system and the increase in the number of needs the first bilaterians had to meet as complex ecological interactions developed. The time of onset is constrained by the evolution of the environment, whereas its duration appears to be controlled primarily by rates of developmental innovation. The uniqueness of the event is either due to ensuing developmental limitation, to ecological saturation, or simply to the exhaustion of ecologically viable morphologies that could be produced by the nascent bilaterian developmental system.

The Albuquerque Journal reported on March 17th, 2008 that

The superintendent-designate of the Albuquerque Public Schools hails from Kansas, which triggered a national backlash when it opened the door to teaching creationism in its public schools. Winston Brooks, who will move from Wichita to take the helm of APS by July 1, has some thoughts on the evolution/creation debate� but no plans to push for teaching creation theories here. And it’s doubtful he could do so, even if he wanted, given state control of district curricula, its policies on the subject, and opposition from the APS board. …

The Money Quote comes at the end of the article:

As a Christian, Brooks said he believes God created humans.

On the other hand, I believe there’s something to evolution,

he said.

Whether or not my original ancestor was an ape, I don’t have a clue.

At least, as the article points out in detail, he’ll have a hard time getting any Intelligent Design/Creationism into district science classes, contra the Discovery Institute’s oft-repeated lie that “New Mexico’s Science Standards embrace the Intelligent Design Movement’s ‘Teach the Controversy’ Approach”

The UK based “International Society for Science and Religion”, which “was established in 2002 for the purpose of the promotion of education through the support of inter-disciplinary learning and research in the fields of science and religion conducted where possible in an international and multi-faith context”, has released a statement on Intelligent Design:

The International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) says that “intelligent design” is neither sound science nor good theology. Intelligent Design theorists do not have proper research programmes to make their points. In fact, what they believe is against science, according to the seven scientists who prepared the statement for the ISSR, a scholarly body devoted to dialogue between science and world faiths.

The whole of the society’s membership, many of whom are Christian, were involved in a consultation about the statement. The ISSR says it “greatly values modern science, while deploring efforts to drive a wedge between science and religion.”

HT: Naitonal Secular Society

The ISSR statement said Darwinian natural history did pre-empt some accounts of creation. “However,” say the scientists, “in most instances biology and religion operate at different and non-competing levels.” Intelligent Design is not science and science should not try to elevate itself into a comprehensive worldview.”

We keep hearing from Intelligent Design Creationists that the fossil record is lacking in transitional fossils. To support their claims, they consistently quote mine statement by Gould and others while ignoring the actual data.

Thanks to modern technology, Youtube presents Transitional Fossils I and II by DonExodus2

John Geissman, Professor and Chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico (UNM) issued this Press Release formally this week:

On Friday, 15 February, 2008, the University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve the recommendation forwarded by the UNM Honorary Degree Committee and the Faculty Senate Graduate Committee that Dr. Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from UNM. The nomination, spearheaded by Professor John Geissman, now Chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences, was enthusiastically endorsed by the faculty from Earth and Planetary Sciences, Biology, and Anthropology.

The nomination letter stated,

She works tirelessly and travels endlessly, to eloquently and patiently inform the citizens of the United States about issues centering on how science should be taught in the classroom and how science, which tells us how the natural world works, can be distinguished from other ways of knowing.

Dr. Scott, who holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Missouri-Columbia, was on the Faculty of the University of Colorado before becoming the Executive Director of the NCSE in 1987. Professor Geissman, who attended the Regents meeting on 15 February, remarked to the Regents,

I and my many colleagues and many, many citizens of New Mexico thank you for standing up for science. This is a celebration of what we have learned about the natural world around us, and what we have yet to learn!

She will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science on Saturday, 17 May, 2008, in the University of New Mexico Arena.

John W. Geissman Professor and Chair Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences University of New Mexico

Dr. Michael Egnor, of SUNY Stony Brook and the Discovery Institute, doesn’t think that evolution is relevant to trying to figure out how to combat the spread of antibiotic resistance. The interesting areas of research, he believes, lie in other areas of biology:

The important medical research on antibiotic resistance in bacteria deals with how the mutations that give rise to resistance arise, exactly what those mutations are and how they work, and what can be done to counteract them. The important medical research involves genetics, molecular biology, and pharmacology. Darwin’s theory is of no substantive value to the research because, as Mr. Dunford admits, there is no difference between antibiotic resistant bacteria that emerge through artificial intelligent selection and antibiotic resistant bacteria that emerge through natural selection. Antibiotic resistance is a phenomenon that occurs because there are often a few bacteria in a large population of bacteria that have a mutation that renders them less sensitive to the antibiotic. These bacteria that aren’t killed by the antibiotic eventually outnumber bacteria that are killed by the antibiotic. Survivors survive. Does this mundane observation really help Mr. Dunford understand things he may not have otherwise understood? It certainly doesn’t advance medical research in any meaningful way. New insights into genetics, molecular biology, and pharmacology do advance medical research.

I realize that I’m just begging for Dr. Egnor to take what I say out of context again, but he is not entirely wrong. If I was working on ways to fight antibiotic resistance, I would certainly want to focus more on the molecular mechanisms that are involved in the development of resistance than on the question of how resistance spreads through a population of bacteria after it appears.

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left.

We learn at the Discovery Institute Blog about a recent lecture tour in Spain by ID creationists

Over an eight day period last January, Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity (aka, a rapidly growing, 277-member, physician group from 17 countries) sponsored a lecture tour in Barcelona, Malaga, Madrid, Leon and Vigo. It was titled “Lo Que Darwin No Sabia,” or “What Darwin Didn’t Know.” Tom Woodward, Ph.D. (author of Doubts About Darwin and Darwin Strikes Back) and myself (author of What Darwin Didn’t Know and Billions of Missing Links) lectured on eight occasions to exceptionally large audiences. Santiago Escuain was our translator extraordinaire. Rich Akin, the CEO of PSSI, put in enormous hours into making this trip a huge success.

El Pais reports on the ‘successful’ Spain Tour of ‘Lo que Darwin no sab�a’. Of course, the DI does admit later on that the success was limited.

Someone once pointed out that when a dog pisses on a fire hydrant, it’s not committing an act of vandalism. It’s just being a dog. It’s possible to use that analogy to excuse a creationist who takes a quote wildly out of context, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s really appropriate. Creationists might indulge in quote mining with the same casual disregard for public decency as a male dog telling his neighbors that he’s still around, but, unlike dogs, the creationists are presumably capable of self-control. We’ve simply grown blase about their propensity for twisting other people’s words because they do it so often.

Still, I expected more from Michael Egnor. He’s not some diploma mill hack, who really might not know any better. The man is a professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at SUNY Stony Brook, and is actually the vice chairman of neurosurgery. He’s been in academia for some time, and presumably has some understanding of the importance of intellectual integrity. When he picks and chooses which words to quote to make it appear that someone has said something very different from what they meant, he has very clearly chosen to tell a lie. And that’s just what he did when he quoted from one of my posts.

Here’s what he wrote:

Zoology graduate student and Darwinist Mike Dunford at Panda’s Thumb has replied to recent posts in which Dr. Jonathan Wells and I pointed out that Darwin’s theory is irrelevant to medical research on antibiotic resistance, and that antibiotic resistance itself is irrelevant to the debate about intelligent design and Darwinism. Remarkably, Mr. Dunford, referring to a recent advance in research on antibiotic resistance, concedes both points. He writes:

The scientists worked in a lab. They artificially replicated a set of conditions (an antibiotic-rich environment) that occur in nature. Finally, they placed the bacteria into this environment - something that happens spontaneously outside the lab…We’ll pretend that anything that happens in a lab must be artificial selection, and that it is totally and completely wrong to use the phrase “natural selection” when referring to these experiments.

Mr. Dunford is right. Selection that happens by design in a lab is artificial selection, not natural selection. This distinction is of fundamental importance in this debate. Why? Consider Mr. Dunford’s next observation:

Now, here’s what I actually wrote. The portions that Egnor skipped over are highlighted in boldface:

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left.

One month of stonewalling


In early February, a number of bloggers brought to your attention a peculiar paper on mitochondrial proteomics, a paper which was obviously odd on even casual inspection, containing grandiose claims of a theoretical revolution that were entirely unsupported and ludicrous assertions of evidence for God in the genome. Deeper examination revealed that much of the paper had also been plagiarized from various sources. To the credit of the journal, the paper was quickly retracted one month ago today; however, the retraction was entirely based on the plagiarism, and none of the other failings of the paper were addressed, nor were any of the patent errors in the review process at the journal Proteomics discussed. This is strange, especially in light of the fact that the Warda/Han paper was the most accessed article in the journal. This is not an issue that should be swept under the rug!

Today, several of us — Steven Salzberg, Lars Juhl Jensen, and Attila Csordas — are repeating our call for an explanation of the events that led to the leakage of such an egregiously ridiculous paper into print. Bad papers are a dime-a-dozen, and we aren't so much concerned with the detailed discussion of the flaws in this one paper as we are with seeing the integrity of the peer-review process maintained, or better, improved. The Warda/Han paper had obvious red flags that marked it as potentially problematic in the title, the abstract, and scattered throughout the body, and it's hard to imagine how any reviewer or editor could have let them simply slip by without comment, yet that is exactly what seems to have happened.

We want to know how this paper slipped through the cracks, because we want to know how large the cracks in the peer review process at Proteomics are. It's a journal with a good reputation, and we are not presuming that there was any wrong-doing or systematic failure of peer review there, but we do think that a lack of transparency is of concern: there is no assumption of a crime, but the ongoing cover-up is grounds for suspicion. Let's see some self-criticism from the journal editor, and an open discussion of steps being taken to prevent such errors from occurring again.

Alternatively, if the journal wants to outsource its quality control to a mob of bloggers, that works, too … but we tend to be less formal and much more brutally and publicly critical than an in-house process might be, and we're also going to be less well-informed than the actual principals in the review process. Better explanations are in order. Let's see representatives of the journal provide them.

Expelled: the Denial


More from Pharyngula which I had missed

We also have expectations of honesty that are not being met. The makers of this film had to hide their motivations every step of the way, because they know that they can’t stand the harsh light of criticism. And they just can’t stop lying.

Logan Craft, executive producer of “Expelled” and chief of Premise Media, said he thought Mr. Moore had been wrong to attend the screening after being disinvited, but both he and Mr. Lauer denied any involvement in an online “media alert” that purported to be from a backer of the film. The alert accused Mr. Moore of posing as a minister to gain admission, calling his actions a “security breach.” Mr. Moore said he never represented himself as other than a reporter.

Oh, come on. I’ve got a copy of the “media alert,” and it’s from promotional material put out by Motive Marketing. Look at the official movie site, and right there on the bottom right is the logo for Motive Marketing. They’ve been bragging about using Motive for marketing, since this is also the firm that promoted Gibson’s snuff movie, The Passion of the Christ. This Lauer fellow is the founder of Motive. A reader has sent me more promotional mail from these guys, and they are peddling the movie hard. And now they’re lying to the New York Times and claiming they’ve got nothing to do with it? It seems to be a kind of pathological reflex to deny, deny, deny even when they’re caught red-handed in something relatively inocuous.

Wow… I’d love to see that copy of the “media alert”. And guess what, here it is

In response to Moore’s charge that the film’s manipulation of Holocaust imagery is “despicable”, Stein states that “The only thing I find despicable is when reporters sneak into screenings by pretending to be ministers. This is a new low even for liberal reporters.

See Wikipedia for more info

Double Wow

The University of Iowa hosts a public lecture on public lecture on “Evolution, Intelligent Design and Faith” on March 25. reports the DesMoines Register

The free lecture is at 7 p.m. in Kollros Auditorium, Room 101 of the Biology Building East on the Iowa City campus.

The talk will feature H. Allen Orr, a biology professor at the University of Rochester. Orr is visiting the U of I campus that week as an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor. A reception will follow the lecture.

Orr’s lecture is co-sponsored by the Departments of Biology and Geoscience in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost.

Intelligent Design Creationists like Bill Dembski have argued that Woese’s work contradicts evolutionary theory or more specifically common descent and Darwinian theory. See for instance “Woese: Life could have started “millions of times”” or this old posting of mine.

Since many creationists have come to misunderstand Woese’s arguments, the impact on Darwinian evolutionary theory, let’s start exploring Woese’s argument

Dembski’s article which references (and fully reproduces) an article by Ronald Kotulak claims that Woese commented in 2002 that life could have started “millions of times”, a statement I have not been able to track back to his scholarly work.

The 2002 paper is likely: Carl Woese On the evolution of cells PNAS June 25, 2002 vol. 99 no. 13 8742-8747

NY Times: Expelled from “Expelled”?


The New York Times reports in an article titled Disinvited to a Screening, a Critic Ends Up in a Faith-Based Crossfire how a critic was invited and then disinvited from attending the screening of Expelled and how the critic still attended the showing.

Shortly before he was to attend a screening in January of the documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which is about alternatives to the theory of evolution, Roger Moore, a film critic for The Orlando Sentinel, learned that his invitation had been revoked by the film’s marketers.

But Roger Moore decided to attend anyway

Imagine that, Discovery Institute spokesperson Casey Luskin was caught quote mining by an observant reader of Pharyngula.

Luskin wrote

In January, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences weighed in on this debate, declaring that “[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution,“1 because neo-Darwinism is “so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter”2 it. As an undergraduate and graduate student taking multiple courses covering evolutionary biology at the University of California San Diego, that is what I was told as well. My science courses rarely, if ever, allowed students to seriously entertain the possibility that Darwin’s theory might be fundamentally flawed.

Now the context

Greg Laden: Teachers Under Fire


Greg Laden discusses in Teachers Under Fire how teachers all over the US face the threat of creationism.

It is very common, across the U.S., for science teachers to dread the “evolution” unit that they teach during life science class. As they approach the day, and start to prepare the students for what is coming, they begin to hear the sarcastic remarks from the creationist students. When the day to engage the evolution unit arrives, students may show up in the classroom with handouts from anti-science sites like Answers in Genesis, to give to their friends. They may carry a bible to the lab station and read it instead of doing the work. If there is a parent conference night around that time, the teacher may be verbally abused by some of the parents for not including “alternative theories” in the classroom.

But there is also hope

Evolution Matters


The University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the alma mater of Discovery Institute’s spokesperson Casey Luskin, explores why “Evolution Matters”. In cooperation with UCSD-TV, they bring us a fascinating lecture series:

For 2007-08, the Division of Biological Sciences is launching Evolution Matters: The Diversity of Development. In this series of 5 lectures, held over the course of the year, leading cell and developmental scientists will explore the evolution of plants, animals and humans and will discuss how their research into this field holds promise for finding solutions to key health and environmental issues facing us today.

Educational Website: Grey Matters

Educational Website: Science Matters

Atoms to Xrays

Everybody’s favorite creationist neurosurgeon is back. Today, Michael Egnor brought forth yet another remarkably inept attempt to find a way to justify egnoring the relationship between natural selection and antibiotic resistance. This time, he’s apparently decided that there’s no hope in finding a substantive argument, so he’s resorting to nothing more than a childish rhetorical game. One of the authors of a recently published scientific paper that examined antibiotic resistance left a comment at The Panda’s Thumb noting that his research did in fact rely on Darwinian evolution. In a spectacular display of combined arrogance and ignorance (aka Egnorance), Egnor decided to inform the authors that they are mistaken if they think that natural selection was actually involved in any way:

Dr. Dardel is both candid and mistaken. His comment that the use of Darwin’s theory is “unusual in structural biology” is obviously true, and refreshingly candid. He is, however, mistaken about the application of Darwin’s theory to his recent work. His assertion that “…we selected bacteria…by plating…” is artificial selection, not natural selection. Artificial selection is breeding, in this case microbial breeding. The principles of breeding date back thousands of years, and owe nothing to Darwin. In fact, Darwin claimed that non-teleological processes in nature could produce changes in populations just as teleological processes like breeding could. Even Darwin didn’t claim that his theory explained the outcome of intentional breeding. It’s astonishing that a modern professional scientist like Dr. Dardel doesn’t recognize the difference between artificial selection and natural selection.

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left.

TheCenter for Inquiry in Amherst is providing an exciting new program in collaboration with the University of Buffalo Graduate school of Education to offer a two year degree, available online to “prepar[e] for careers in research, science education, public policy, and science journalism, as well as further study in sociology, history and philosophy of science, science communication, education, or public administration.”

The required courses include scientific writing, critical thinking, history and philosophy of science, research ethics, educational research, statistical research and a thesis or project.

An excellent opportunity for ID creationists to get a degree in science education providing them with a foundation for scientific literacy from the comforts of their homes.

In my ever expanding research of the topic of evolution, I ran across a resource which I would like to share with you as it helps understand, using access to primary resources, Darwin’s opinion on a variety of issues. It’s part of the Darwin Correspondence Project at the University of Cambridge and focuses on[…]egory/36/63/.

Our aim is to provide a unique, complete, and reliable source of information on Darwin and religion. Darwin’s letters provide a unique resource for recovering the complexities of discussion in his own day, and for studying the impact of his theories on people from a wide range of backgrounds. The picture that Darwin’s letters present of his personal beliefs, and of the implications of his theory for religious belief generally, is much richer than that given in his published works, or indeed in most modern scholarship.


By now regular readers of The Panda’s Thumb know that “academic Freedom” bills have been filed in the Florida legislature, and you know that the bills are Disco designed. You have also noticed Disco’s complaint that people get it. The complaint reads like disingenuous gibberish, but why that specific gibberish?

On Uncommon Descent William Dembski claims that Richard Dawkins has admitted that life could be designed and thus wonders: “Is ID therefore scientific?”. As I will show this is a logically flawed conclusion.

First of all lets point out Intelligent Design does not claim merely that life is designed but that such design can be detected via scientific methods. In this aspect if differs from science which admits that design always remains a logical possibility, however science also accepts that if such design is ‘supernatural’ no scientific method can detect such design.

First, the Discovery Institute didn’t seem to know about the anti-evolution bill introduced in Florida last week. Now, they don’t seem to actually understand what the bill does. Both of these things are quite strange, considering that the Discovery Institute folks actually wrote all of the substantive parts of the bill.

Rob Crowther just devoted most of an article over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Blog to scolding the media for their coverage of the Florida legislation. Apparently, most of the news coverage made the outrageous claim that the “Academic Freedom Act” would actually permit the teaching of “alternative theories” to evolution. Crowther is outraged, claiming that the bill does no such thing. He thinks that the various media outlets have “been fed some ‘smelly crap’” by pro-evolution groups such as Florida Citizens for science. I think it’s because the various media outlets have actually read the bill.

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left.

Evolution: Education and Outreach

cda_displayimage.jpgSpringerlink Journal “ Evolution: Education and Outreach” has its second edition online in the online first category.

The journal “promotes accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience. Targeting K-16 students, teachers and scientists alike, the journal presents articles to aid members of these communities in the teaching of evolutionary theory.”

The journal addresses the question of why we should care about evolution by exploring the practical applications of evolutionary principles in daily life and the impact of evolutionary theory on culture and society throughout history.

Evolution: Education and Outreach connects teachers with scientists by adapting cutting-edge, peer reviewed articles for classroom use on varied instructional levels. Teachers and scientists will collaborate on multi-authored papers and offer teaching tools such as unit and lesson plans and classroom activities, as well as additional online content such as podcasts and powerpoint presentations.


Tangled Bank #100

The Tangled Bank

The latest Tangled Bank is available at Archaeoporn. The theme is … Ben Stein. Yeesh. That makes me feel a little queasy.

(By the way, there's a glitch in the numbering. This one actually is the 100th edition.)

A few days ago I asked just how stupid Discovery Institute Fellow Jonathan Wells thought we were, when he posted an article that could be refuted with a few minutes reading Wikipedia. Mr. Wells has “replied” to that article, and the answer is in. He thinks we are really stupid. In that post he claims I hate him.

And links to my post.

Where you can read it from beginning to end and find neither skerrick nor iota of hate. Unless hate has been recently redefined to mean “comprehensively refuted”. Tellingly, he doesn’t address the main issue, that anyone with access to Wikipedia could see that he is writing nonsense. Anyone reading his “response” just has to spend a moment reading my article to see how completely he avoids the issue. Even having the senior author of the study he criticises plainly state that Darwinian evolution guided key aspects of their study doesn’t phase him, he simply tires to redefine “selection” out of evolutionary theory. Finally, he restates his question:

Wells Wrote:

How, exactly, is Darwinian evolution essential to understanding and overcoming antibiotic resistance — as the Darwinists claim it is?

Mr. Wells, rather than making up stories that people hate you, you could re-read my post, this time for comprehension. Or you could just spend a few minutes on Wikipedia.

(PS Mr. Wells, Are you going to admit that Darwinists didn’t suppress Mendel’s work. Also, one mutation to convert a DD-peptidase to a beta-lactamase, in what way doesn’t that refute your claim that we have untestable hypotheses for the origins of antibiotic resistance genes?)

PZ Myers and Larry Moran have their own takes on the issue.

Cordova rewrites history (again)


On Uncommon Descent (to which I decline to link) Sal Cordova has resurfaced, once again rewriting history. Cordova claims that

The Darwinists have framed the ID debate as being about what should and should not be taught in the public school science classroom. I speculate that the debate over the public school classroom is another example of Bulverism.

A Bulverism is

… a logical fallacy coined by C. S. Lewis where rather than proving that an argument is wrong, a person instead assumes it is wrong, and then goes on to explain why the other person held that argument. It is essentially a circumstantial ad hominem argument.

Cordova goes on

As I pointed out here, the real issue is whether life is designed. If so, most every other question pales in comparison. And also lost in the Darwinist Bulverism is whether individuals in universities will have the chance to answer the question of design for themselves, and whether these individuals will have the freedom to tell others what they discover.

Cordova claims ID’s efforts are directed at the universities, not public school science classes. Cordova apparently thinks that the assertion that ID proponents are interested in public education is a fallacy on the part of “Darwinists,” who supposedly misrepresent proponents of ID as wanting it taught in public school science classrooms.

Unfortunately (and as usual) the data contradict Cordova. Consider a few data points from Ohio.

For the last couple of years, New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR) has been hosting the Science Watch radio show on Saturdays at 2:00 PM on AM 1350, in the Albuquerque area. The hosts are PT’s Dave Thomas, plus Kim Johnson, Marshall Berman, and Kim’s son Jesse, regarded by New Mexico’s ID community as the fearsome “Darwinist Swat Team.”

Before now, only people in the Albuquerque metro area could listen to the show, and then, only on Saturdays at 2. But now, thanks to the power of the Internets, anyone in the world can listen in, at any time! NMSR and CESE have joined to create a radio podcast website (built by Science Watch co-host Marshall Berman’s son Brandon!) for anyone, anywhere, to listen to the most recent shows, as well as the Best of Science Watch episodes. Topics range from Intelligent Design Creationism to homeopathy, UFOs, and a lot of good mainstream science as well as “fake” science.

The podcast website is:[…]ch/Home.html.

Check out The Feb. 2nd, 2008 one-hour interview with Prof. Ken Miller of Brown, on his involvement in the Dover PA “ID Trial.” Or, listen to the November 17th, 2007 post-NOVA Dover show with Prof. Barbara Forrest, in the “Best of” section.

If you have technical problems, please e-mail Science Watch staff from our radio updates page.

Special Note for Trolls: remember, these are podcasts, and are no longer live. If you call the number given during the Trivia Segment, be advised that no one will answer the phone.

If reading is more suitable to you, why not check out Marshall Berman’s Feb. 13th Darwin Day Talk to NMSR, “The ‘Intelligently Designed’ Attack on Science and Society.”

Preaching to the faithful


The Expelled website has the following blurb

Welcome to the Expelled Challenge web site where, as a Christian school or a Christian home school group, you will have a chance to win up to a $10,000 donation while educating your students, parents, and staff of the controversy that is surrounding the Intelligent Design and evolution debate.

Seems clear who the audience is for Expelled. My question is will Christians be foolish enough…

From the FAQ: In speaking with Christian Schools, we’ve found that hosting a school-wide “mandatory” field trip is the best way to maximize your school’s earning potential.

Jonathan Wells has an article at Evolution News and Views which is, typically for Wells, chock full of misinformation. But, as almost anyone could refute his central contentions with one minute on Wikipedia, you have to wonder just how stupid the Discovery Institute and its Fellows think we are.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

What are the key innovations that led to the evolution of multicellularity, and what were their precursors in the single-celled microbial life that existed before the metazoa? We can hypothesize at least two distinct kinds of features that had to have preceded true multicellularity.

  • The obvious feature is that cells must stick together; specific adhesion molecules must be present that link cells together, that aren't generically sticky and bind the organism to everything. So we need molecules that link cell to cell. Another feature of multicellular animals is that they secrete extracellular matrix, a feltwork of molecules outside the cells to which they can also adhere.

  • A feature that distinguishes true multicellular animals from colonial organisms is division of labor — cells within the organism specialize and follow different functional roles. This requires cell signaling, in which information beyond simple stickiness is communicated to cells, and signal transduction mechanisms which translate the signals into different patterns of gene activity.

These are features that evolved over 600 million years ago, and we need to use a comparative approach to figure out how they arose. One strategy is to pursue breadth, cast the net wide, and examine divergent forms, for instance by comparing multicellular plants and animals. This approach leads to an understanding of universal properties, of how general programs of multicellular development work. Another is to go deep and examine closer relatives to find the step by step details of our specific lineage, and that's exactly what is being done in a new analysis of the choanoflagellate genome.

Continue reading "The choanoflagellate genome and metazoan evolution" (on Pharyngula)

On Friday, Florida State Senator Ronda Storms introduced an anti-evolution bill to the legislature. She did so quietly, and without fanfare. No press release was issued, and so far the legislation has not received any attention in the press. It also doesn’t seem to have attracted any attention from the Discovery Institute or any of the other major anti-evolution websites, either. That’s actually a bit of a surprise, since the bill in question is remarkably similar to a “Model Academic Freedom Statute” that the Discovery Institute posted on a website that they (and a media company) set up to promote a movie.

This whole thing raises so many issues that it’s hard to decide where to start. There’s the Orwellian language of the act itself. There’s the egregious misunderstanding of the concept of academic freedom that’s contained in the bill. There’s the remarkable similarity between the bill before the Florida legislature and the Discovery Institute’s “model statute.” There’s the narrow focus of the law. There’s the lack of concern shown for “academic freedom” as it relates to anything but teachers and students who want to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that evolution’s not a real, solid scientific concept. And that’s just scratching the surface. There’s just no way that I can address all of this in a single post. Fortunately, I’m confident that between the comments section for this post and whatever other bloggers may decide to write on this topic, most of the things I miss will be covered in short order.

Right now, I’m going to focus on the mockery that the circumstances surrounding this bill make of the Discovery Institute’s frequent assertions that religious beliefs have absolutely nothing to do with this sort of thing. (Yes, I know it’s hard to make a mockery of a mockery, but they’ve managed it. Again.)

Read more at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left.

New Changes


I’ve made some changes to our custom javascripts and some of our backend code. I’ve also enabled compression of the webpages. Hopefully, things will be more responsive.

Our biggest change was the migration from the Prototype javascript library to the jQuery library. Most of the behavior is the same, although some bugs have been fixed.

Our most noticeable change was replacing the existing spellchecker with a new one: GoogieSpell.

New Science Magazine


It’s called Science Illustrated and should not be confused with a magazine that was published by McGraw-Hill from about 1946 to 1949 and sold for 25 cents an issue. The present incarnation of Science Illustrated is published by the Swedish Bonnier Group and is essentially a translation of a Scandinavian science magazine. Bonnier also publishes Popular Science in the United States, and the magazine is produced by the staff of Popular Science.

Neil Shubin’s latest book on evolutionary theory is by all standards a great success. It ranks around 200 in Amazon books and first in Evolution Science Books. When I checked the book’s availability in our library system there were close to 40 pending holds.

A sales rank of 200 means 225-250 books per week are sold. Compare this to a rank of 24,000 for Behe’s boo “Edge of Evolution” sold at a bargain price of $6.99 down from $28.00 or 111,550 for the regular priced version. Those numbers translate to few copies per month being sold.

Neil Shubin is a professor of organismal biology at the University of Chicago. He, as part of a team of scientists, discovered the now infamous Titaalik transitional fossil which causes so much consternation amongst Intelligent Design Creationists. His book Your Inner Fish introduces its readers to an exciting overview of how our evolutionary history links us back to a common ancestor with fish. Of course, that’s not where our common ancestry ends.

Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today’s most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.

In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

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