September 2008 Archives

A Way With Words

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Apropos of practically nothing normally on PT, I really like Dana Hunter’s way with words:

There’s Divorced from Reality, and Then There’s …

…murdering it, cutting it into pieces, stuffing the remains into suitcases, and dumping them in remote areas while telling concerned inquirers that “Reality and I just felt like we needed a little break from each other. I think she went to Barbados. Don’t worry - I’m sure she’ll be back soon!”

Something to amuse us as the ship of state sinks into an economic swamp.

Ceratotherium simum

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Ceratotherium simum — White Rhinoceros, North Carolina Zoo

In It’s Darwin-Malthus Day! Allen MacNeill describes the relevance of today’s date

However, what many people don’t know is that today is also a very significant anniversary of a crucial development in Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. On this day in 1838, Darwin

“…happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck [him] that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species.” [Darwin’s Autobiography, page 83]

Happy MacNeill-Darwin-Malthus day

In a future posting PT intends to analyze the accusations raised by some against Darwin regarding Alfred Russell Wallace.

Casey Luskin’s “Junk” Arguments

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In a classic ‘bait and switch’, Casey Luskin, ‘argues’ that the “classic “Junk DNA” icon of neo-Darwinism needs updating” because a Yale University news release shows how differences in the regulatory elements between humans and chimps explain the human thumb and foot development.

Simon Mundy: The Creation of Confusion

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Simon Mundy, in The Creation of Confusion, published in “The Journal”, on 19 September 2008 explains why Intelligent Design, due to its lack of scientific content, is dangerous to our educational system.

To label as “information” the murky doctrine of creationism (now repackaged as “intelligent design”) is ludicrous. The intelligent design movement represents a desperate attempt to accommodate within American schools the religious fundamentalism that is undiminished–even resurgent–in many parts of the country. Clearly, the Christian creation story should be taught in religious education classes, alongside those of the other major faiths. But there is an overwhelming scientific consensus that the Garden of Eden fable should be given no more credence than the Hindu belief that the world rests on the back of an elephant.

As Mundy explains the cost to education is not small:

Ovis canadensis

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Ovis canaensis (female) — Big horn sheep, Yellowstone National Park

by Dr. Alex “Myrmecos” Wild, http://myrmecos.wordpress.com/

This article originally appeared on Myrmecos Blog —PvM

Martialis heureka Rabeling & Verhaagh 2008 drawing by the inimitable Barrett Klein for PNAS

Most scientific discoveries these days emerge through carefully planned and controlled research programs. Every now and again, though, something unexpected just pops up in a distant tropical jungle. Martialis heureka is a fantastic discovery of that old-fashioned kind. This little ant simply walked up to myrmecologist Christian Rabeling in the Brazilian Amazon. It is not only a new species, but an entirely different sort of ant than anything known before.

Suricata suricatta

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Suricata suricatta — Meerkat, North Carolina Zoo

Living in an Alternate Reality

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Sometimes one wonders what version of reality intelligent design creationists live in. The most recent stimulus for that question is a post by Bill Dembski on Uncommon Descent. The post pitches an apologetics conferences to be held at Hickory Baptist Church in North Carolina. Dembski tells us the speakers will include such intellectual luminaries as James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Dinesh D’Souza, Lee Strobel, and, of course, Dembski.

In the post Dembski claims that

It’s nice to be in such distinguished company as indicated in this press release. I’ll certainly make my usual ID arguments. But I’ll also be pointing out that our opponents, the materialists and their cronies, are now battling principally for political rather than intellectual control. Indeed, the materialists have lost the intellectual battle.

Well, for openers, if that’s what Dembski takes to be “distinguished company” then he’s welcome to them.

More interesting, though, is Dembski’s list of how he thinks “materialists have lost the intellectual battle.” He provides a list of areas in which he thinks that’s occurred. Every one of them is a non sequitur:

**Remember how computers were going to become more intelligent than us and that we would be luck if they deigned to keep us as pets?

**Remember how humans were the third chimpanzee, only to find that some dogs and birds are smarter than chimps at various tasks?

**Remember how it was only a matter of time before the Miller-Urey experiment could be extended to explain the origin of life? (For the sheer hopelessness of OOL research, see my forthcoming book with Jonathan Wells, due out next month – How to Be an Intellectually Fulfilled Atheist (Or Not).)

The list of vapid materialist promises that show no sign of ever being fulfilled keeps growing and growing. But losing the intellectual battle no longer matters to materialists.

Notice anything? No evolution. No irreducible complexity. No mousetraps, CSI, SC, or Explanatory Filters. Why? Well, look below at Nick Matzke’s posts on the immune system and on the bacterial flagellum for two examples. The evolutionary origin of the poster child of ID and cover illustration for Dembski’s No Free Lunch and his blog, the bacterial flagellum, is closer to a full explanation in purely materialistic terms now than it was just 5 years ago. ID creationism lost the “intellectual battle” 150 years ago; it’s been fighting a rear-guard action every since, defending a smaller and smaller territory.

The ultimate self-parodying irony, though, is in the last two sentences of the post:

We’ve made a good case. What we need now are good legal and political strategies.

This from a Fellow of the Disco ‘Tute, whose sole and only tactics for 10 years have been political. I frankly cannot understand how a man with two (count ‘em, two!) Ph.D.s can be so unreflective, so unaware of self, so utterly blind to the reality of his own movement. It truly passeth all understanding.

Edited 9/22 to correct immune system link.

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, 235 US rabbis have signed a Rabbi Letter in support of teaching evolution since last July. The Rabbi Letter was written by David Oler, a Reform rabbi. The letter urges school boards to teach the theory of evolution and notes that those who disbelieve in it are free to teach their perspective elsewhere. The letter goes on to observe that not everyone considers the Bible as their main source of “inspiration” and further argues that the Bible is in any case open to interpretation. It concludes with the assertion that the job of the schools is to teach science and not religion.

It is hard to tell by looking casually at the list of signatories, but I estimate (speculate?) that most of the signatories are Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis (if a synagogue is named Temple Something, it is a Reform synagogue; if a rabbi has a feminine first name, she is probably a Reform or Reconstructionist rabbi). Three Conservative and Orthodox rabbis interviewed for the article stated that they had no quarrel with the theory of evolution, but it looks as though only one of them has signed the letter. One of the Conservative rabbis argued in favor of teaching alternate viewpoints, whether religious or not.

Mark Pallen, author of the Rough Guide to Evolution and expert on Type III Secretion Systems (and producer of the famed Darwin in Dub), has a new blog. He just put up two posts about the third UK Type III Secretion meeting:

Dispatches from the cutting edge of flagellar biology, part 1

Dispatches from the cutting edge of flagellar biology, part 2

Over on the opposingviews.com website, Casey Luskin of the DI tries to rebut the Kitzmiller decision by re-fighting Behe’s spectacular implosion on the issue of the evolution of the vertebrate immune system. To review, in his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, Behe claimed that:

“As scientists we yearn to understand how this magnificent mechanism came to be, but the complexity of the system dooms all Darwinian explanations to frustruation.” (Darwin’s Black Box, p. 139)

“We can look high or we can look low, in books or in journals, but the result is the same. The scientific literature has no answers to the question of the origin of the immune system.” (Darwin’s Black Box, p. 138)

As the debate over “irreducible complexity” developed in the next decade, the most detailed arguments would go basically like this:

A School Board’s Education

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There is a certain sequence that is common to flare-ups involving religious antievolution advocacy. First, there is some starting event, where people raise some form of antievolution as appropriate to insert into a science curriculum in some manner. Second, there is some notice of this. Third, other parties bring those involved up to speed on the state of religious antievolution. Fourth, the initially enthusiastic advocates of religious antievolution desist or are overruled.

Note that I said common. Most of the cases of religious antievolution intersecting with public K-12 education resolve fairly shortly. If they do follow this common pathway, one usually has no more notice of it than that initially given to the problem. It is when a case goes pathological that it may become well-known, as in the cyclical antievolution of the Kansas state school board, the long-term antievolution advocacy of the Tangipahoa Parish school board, or the spectacular self-destruction of the Dover Area School District. Even intermediate cases demonstrate how readily our attention passes on to extreme cases, as shown by the flirtation the Darby, Montana school board had with “intelligent design” creationism a few years back. Darby was set to provide that first lawsuit over “intelligent design” creationism that it seemed the Discovery Institute was spoiling for, but the community had its elections for the school board before a policy was implemented, and the voters elected people who were not amenable to the IDC program.

In North Carolina, the Brunswick County School Board recently demonstrated steps 1 through 3 of the common sequence of religious antievolution advocacy. A speaker before a school board meeting suggested that creationism should be taught in the public school science classes. The members of the school board showed a certain initial enthusiasm for the suggestion. A reporter filed an article laying out how those events happened, plus the useful information that all the school board members favored including creationism in the science curriculum, and that even their legal counsel initially thought that they might do so legally if creationism supplemented but did not displace evolutionary science there. Shortly thereafter, another article reported on the response to those events at the state level, where it was noted that various legal precedents said that the course of action contemplated by the Brunswick County School Board was plainly unconstitutional.

What we don’t know yet is whether the Brunswick County School Board case will follow the common sequence and give up the idea of explicit inclusion of religious antievolution in the public schools, or whether this case will progress in a pathological way toward giving certain religious doctrines privilege by government authority.

I go into some of the possible outcomes at the Austringer.

On EvolutionNews, Casey Luskin posts that:

Casey Luskin Wrote:

Late last night I posted my final rebuttals to the NCSE on OpposingViews.com. This makes 12 total rebuttals for the pro-ID side and zero for the anti-ID side (though Americans United did post a sur-rebuttal tellingly titled “You Lost the Case – Get Over It”).

I responded: Over 375 comments, mostly showing the vacuity of ID, the NCSE need not respond. Casey’s description of the NCSE’s position is as usual full of empty accusations and yet fail to address the simple fact that:

ID is scientifically vacuous.

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Vestigial limbs of Balaenoptera musculus — Blue Whale, U.C. Santa Cruz

Balaenoptera musculus

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Balaenoptera musculus — Blue Whale, U.C. Santa Cruz

As a final blow to the Discovery Institute’s attempts to get Intelligent Design into the Catholic ‘door’, the church announced an evolution congress which failed to invited creationists, and intelligent design

The Congress is titled “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A Critical Appraisal 150 years after ‘The Origin of Species’” and is scheduled for March 3-7, 2009 in Rome. The organizers are the Pontifical Council for Culture, Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of Notre Dame as one of a series of events marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species.”

The reason for the rejection?

He said arguments “that cannot be critically defined as being science, or philosophy or theology did not seem feasible to include in a dialogue at this level and, therefore, for this reason we did not think to invite” supporters of creationism and intelligent design.

It seems to me that the Catholic church has come to understand that intelligent design fails to contribute either to science or to theology in a manner fruitful to be discussed.

I can’t wait to read Denyse O’Leary’s comments on these ‘shocking’ developments.

Tangled Bank #114

The Tangled Bank

The latest and greatest edition of the Tangled Bank is at Science Made Cool. Cool!

The Discovery Institute Needs your help

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Could some friendly (and polite) Panda Thumbers, go over to Does Intelligent Design have merit at Opposing Views? The Discovery Institute is in need of some better qualified ID defenders and I am certain that PT’ers can do a better job than what has been presented so far. And I do not even count the ‘Hovind was framed’ arguments or the Pascal wager fallacy or the ‘Eonic effect’.

To be honest, I feel a tiny bit sorry for the Discovery Institute and ID proponents who have tried so hard to present an argument but, faced with the facts, could not really respond. For instance, Behe attempted some rebuttals and was pwned by Nick Matzke. Could someone help Behe formulate a response as he seems to be lost for arguments and has decided to ignore Nick’s scathing comments.

Casey Luskin’s best performance was in wishing me a good weekend of rest, and Jay Richards showed why theologists should be careful when addressing real science when discussing the scientifically vacuous topic of Intelligent Design.

I am having a lovely time, but perhaps a few could go over and vote on the issue? The sad news is that you need to sign up. But the rewards of seeing the ID proponents expose the scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design…

Priceless

Shame on the BBC

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I think sometimes reporters and news organizations don’t realize that alarmist reporting, while it gets viewers and comment, can have real negative impacts. Here is a recent example. Last week the BBC put up a story, “Call for creationism in science” which suggested that Michael Reiss, the director of education for the Royal Society in the UK, actually supported putting creationism in science classes. Now, if you read the story carefully you would realize that he wasn’t saying that at all – his remarks are pretty much standard teachers-should-be-ready-to-address-this-if-it-comes up stuff, which I believe is the considered position of the NAS, NCSE, Brian Alters and all other serious people who work to improve evolution education and block creationist attempts to subvert it.

But, the headline and some incensed remarks from another professor (who was probably just called up and asked by the reporter, “Hey, this guy supports putting creationism in science classes, what do you think?”) were enough to create a brouhaha.

Now, according to this story today, “‘Creationism’ biologist quits job” What moron writes these headlines!?! (it’s usually not the reporter) Reiss is a biologist and education expert, he was advocating a mainstream (and correct) position, and he loses a position because of it?

I guess this isn’t the hugest deal in the world, the position was probably volunteer/add-on to his main job at the Institution of Education (which he is returning to). But still, nothing was gained and a fair bit was lost from this. As a result of the BBC’s alarmist reporting, some people think the Royal Society supports creationism (which is ludicrous); others think that scientists and the Royal Society are so intolerant so as to want to impose a ban on any discussion of creationism, even a teacher explaining the mainstream scientific view on the issue in response to a student question; Michael Reiss is at the very least feeling alienated from a portion of the scientific community, after being bashed for just doing his job and trying to help them out; and the creationists are crowing. Not a good show.

My 2 cents: as with everything, you’ve got to be skeptical. As we like to say, if a creationist says the sky is blue, go outside and check. But similarly, if a news story headline confirms your worst fears, don’t just believe it, read the actual story and see if the headline was warranted or just incendiary and attention-grabbing.

Richard Lewontin podcast

TVO’s Big Ideas podcast this week features a talk by Richard Lewontin on “The Coevolution of Animals And Their Environments.” A very good presentation (although a couple years old). You can download it by right-clicking here.

AC Grayling has reviewed Fuller’s latest book “Dissent over Descent” and does not hold back any punches.

Grayling Wrote:

For at the end of these nearly 300 pages of wasted forest he tells us what science needs in order to justify its continuation (oh dear, poor science, eh?) and what Intelligent Design, a theory he defended before a US Federal Court in the 2005 Dover Trial, needs to “realise its full potential in the public debate” - that is: how a theory trying to bend the facts to prove its antecedent conviction that Fred (or any arbitrary and itself unexplained conscious agency) designed and created the world and all in it, can attain its full potential in the public debate. This, note, from a professor at a proper British university. Well: if this is not proof of the efficacy of Jesuit educational methods, nothing is.

Somewhat foolishly, Fuller decided to ‘respond’ and Grayling delivered the technical KO

Some may remember Fuller as the ‘witness’ for the defense in the Kitzmiller v Dover trial where his testimony ended up serving mostly the plaintiffs’ cause. Not satisfied with driving a nail in the coffin of ID, Fuller decided to publish a book with his musings.

Stagmomantis carolina

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Stagmomantis carolina — Carolina mantis

Prof Steve Steve rules

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After Prof Steve Steve encouraged fellow Steve’s to sign the NCSE petition, the Steve Steve counter did not only pass 900 but ended up at 930!.

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

To see if you qualify, just answer the following simple questions:

  • Are you named Steve, Stephen, Steven, Esteban, Etienne, or Stephanie?
  • Do you have a Ph.D. in biology, geology, paleontology, or a related scientific field?
  • Do you want the kind of success in life you always thought was reserved for the “other Steves”?

If you answered yes to all three of these questions, then you have what it takes to become an NCSE Steve!

Halysidota tessellaris

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Halysidota tessellaris — banded tussock moth

Upgrades

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I’ve upgraded the software and plugins on this site. Some files have changed and you may need to clear your cache to get the new files. If you have problems commenting, clear your browser cache.

The most noticeable new feature is client-side validation of comment format. If your comment is not properly formed, changes will be made to it and you will be notified of the differences before you submit. It’s not perfect or smart, but it gets the job done. I will implement “give me original comment” and “don’t validate” options if it becomes a burden to anyone.

Looking for Dr. 900

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The National Center for Science Education is looking for a few good Steves to join them in standing up to the culture warriors that threaten the very foundations of science and science education. They need just a handful of new Steves to sign up, and then they can make “900” t-shirts.—At last count they had 895.—I only have three names, so I’m putting a call out to all my Steves, Stephens, Stephanies, et al., who’ve earned doctoral degrees, to join us in denouncing the campaign to box science into the ’30s—the 1530s.

Creationists love to name drop. They compile lists of random people that hate evolution like they do—“my pa waz no munkie”—and then present those lists as expert testimony against the modern world. In response, NCSE developed Project Steve, a list of academics, scholars, and scientists that support evolution and oppose the anti-evolution movement.

There is just one catch: the signers have to be named after me.

I know, I know. Some of you are asking, “who isn’t named after the illustrious Prof. Steve Steve?” And I’ll tell you what, too many people are not named after me. However, that top 1% that are named after me are the smartest people in the world, Stephen Baldwin excluded. We Steves are so smart that even the US Congress has started focusing on our opinions on important issues like global warming and polar bear biology.

So what can we Steves do for the other 99%?

We can use our vast intellects and experience to agree with the following statement:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

Come on, all the other Steves are signing it, why don’t you?

Tangled Bank #113

The Tangled Bank

You can view it in all of its time traveling glory at En Tequila Es Verdad.

Carnival of Evolution!

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Good news! Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Daniel Brown, there is now a Carnival of Evolution. Better news! I will be hosting the next installment over at EvolutionBlog. So send your best evolution related writing to me at rosenhjd@jmu.edu. I'm looking for good, original writing on anything related to evolution, so make sure you proofread your stuff before sending it to me. It's always nice to give a little link love to undeservedly obscure bloggers, so here's your chance to get some publicity. The deadline will be September 14.

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