June 2011 Archives

Complex eyes in the Cambrian


I got a letter from a creationist today, claiming that "Darwinism is falsified," based on an article in Nature. It's kind of amazing; this article was just published today, and the metaphorical digital ink on it is barely metaphorically dry, and creationists are already busily mangling it.

It's a good article describing some recent fossil discoveries, found in a 515 million year old deposit in South Australia. Matthew Cobb has already summarized the paper, so I'll be brief on the details, but it's very cool. What was found was a collection of arthropod eye impressions, probably from cast-off molts. No sign of the bodies of these animals was found, suggesting that perhaps they were not fully sclerotized, or as the authors suggest, that disarticulated eyes were more prone to rapid phosphatization than eyes attached to a decaying body. There is no evidence of biomineralization, so these were animals with a very light armor of chitin alone.

A Thank You from TOAF


On behalf of the TalkOrigins Foundation, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to our campaign to bid on the motion picture “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.” Unfortunately, we were unable to bid high enough to purchase the film.

The response to this last-minute campaign was overwhelming. I had expected we might raise about $5,000. If we had raised $8,000, I would have been very pleased.

Instead, between Thursday (June 23), when we announced the campaign, and yesterday (June 27), we received 394 donations through our Paypal account, totaling $16,152.66. We also received pledges of funds from several individuals, including Professor Richard Dawkins, totaling another $32,200.00.

Combined with the funds the Foundation already had on hand, we had just over $50,000 available to bid on the film (and pay the 10% buyer’s premium). The winning bid, however, was $201,000. Because all of the bidders were anonymous, we do not know identity of the winning bidder.

Although we were unsuccessful in purchasing the film, I do not believe this campaign was a waste of time. If nothing else, it demonstrated the commitment so many of you have to the tenets of scientific inquiry.

The Foundation’s directors have discussed what to do in the event we were unsuccessful in purchasing the film. We had stated in our fundraising solicitation that we could not guarantee a return of any donations. That said, it has been our intent from the beginning to return all of the donations to this campaign, if that could be done. It appears that Paypal will allow us to refund contributions made by credit card or from a Paypal balance. (I do not know yet about those few eCheck transactions we received, but we will attempt to refund those as well.)

It will take some time for the refunding to be completed. We cannot even begin refunding donations until we can transfer funds back from the Foundation’s bank account to Paypal, which will take a few days to clear. Rest assured, however, that we will move as quickly as we can to complete the refunds.

Many of you have stated that you were happy with the Foundation keeping your donation in the event we were not successful in bidding on “Expelled.” Although we greatly appreciate the sentiment, it will be simpler for us to return all donations made since June 23 than to sort out who does and who does not want their donation returned. Our thanks again to all of you who contributed to this campaign.

Kenneth Fair
Secretary/Treasurer, TalkOrigins Foundation, Inc.

Win Ben Stein’s Movie


This afternoon is the last chance that you will have to donate to TalkOrigin’s effort to win Expelled at auction.

Professor Richard Dawkins has chipped in to help the TalkOrigins Archive Foundation “Win Ben Stein’s Movie”. If you haven’t taken a moment to visit the Foundation’s donation page and chip in your own stake, remember that our bid amount tomorrow (Tuesday) will be based on what can be cleared through the system into our bank account today (Monday).


Anas americana


Anas americana – American wigeon, Boulder Creek, Colorado.

Ptolemy vs. Copernicus: Teach the Controversy!


I think I’m in love.

Hat tip to The Friendly Atheist.

As most of you already know, the production company Premise Media went bankrupt. Their execrable propaganda film, “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”, is on the auction block. The online auction is proceeding now, and will end on Tuesday, June 28th.

The auction promises that besides all available rights and interests in the finished film itself (there is an existing distribution contract), the winner will get all the production materials and rights to them. Want to know what was in the rest of the interviews with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers? I know I would like to have that material archived and made available to the public, among other things that Premise Media found inconvenient to include in their film.

There was talk among individuals on “After the Bar Closes” about the auction. Kristine Harley pointed out that, depending on exactly what is in the production materials, there may well be “Wedge Document 2” in there somewhere. When the “academic freedom” label on religious antievolution goes to court, it could be very handy to have those materials on hand.

But any one individual is unlikely to have the wherewithal to make the winning bid on this.

Today, the TalkOrigins Archive Foundation approved a resolution to use our funds on hand to put in a bid on “Expelled”. We hope to make many of the materials freely available and to collaborate with other groups seeking to produce rebuttals to claims made in “Expelled”. To that end, we would like your help. Our final bid amount will be determined by funds on hand and what has come in via our PayPal donation button by Monday, June 27th. This is because there are delays in transfers between PayPal and the bank, and (hopefully!) we’ll need to pay out of our bank account.

Ken Fair, our secretary and treasurer, wrote a detailed discussion of donations and bidding. The short of it is that while we hope to bid and win the auction, we don’t know what the bid prices will be come the 28th, and cannot guarantee that we will win the auction, especially since it has an unknown reserve price on it. We cannot refund donations, so even in the case of us making the winning bid, donations that take us beyond that amount would remain part of the TOAF funding. On the other hand, contributions to the TOAF are tax-deductible for USA residents and will be used in accordance with the TOAF’s mission.

I hope that by providing a single point at which we can pool our resources, we’ll have a better chance to put in the winning bid on “Expelled”. Even if we don’t manage to make the winning bid, every bit that we can do to raise our bid helps in that the other side will have to take even more money out of their current projects in order to beat the bid.

Update: Professor Richard Dawkins has chipped in to help the TalkOrigins Archive Foundation “Win Ben Stein’s Movie”. If you haven’t taken a moment to visit the Foundation’s donation page and chip in your own stake, remember that our bid amount tomorrow (Tuesday) will be based on what can be cleared through the system into our bank account today (Monday).

ID Creationism and the Second Law


A venerable claim of creationists is that evolution somehow or other violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In its tradition of recycling old-line creationist claims, the intelligent design movement, in the person of Granville Sewell, a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas El Paso, has taken up the creationist Second Law claim. For the few here who don’t regularly read him, I have to say that Jason Rosenhouse’s takedown of Sewell’s claims (and in particular Sewell’s whining about a rejected ms.) is lovely. Highly recommended.

The fact that the winner of the Miss USA competition (Miss California, yay) supported evolution, whereas most of the other contestants did not, has gotten a lot of attention in the newspapers and blogs. But I’m not sure how many people have actually watched the answers that the Miss USA contestants gave to the evolution question. Here it is:

I haven’t watched every last answer yet – gotta go to post-Evolution 2011 bar-hopping – but I wasn’t amazingly impressed with even Miss California’s answer (she is at 1:52 if you want to skip there). Sure, she says she’s a science geek (and she used the words “history geek” in answer to another question…good line I guess), and supports evolution. And unlike most responses she doesn’t do a “yes, teach evolution, but teach both sides” sort of answer. But I guess it would asking too much for one of the contestants to say, “Actually, I’m a [scientific field] major and I know that evolution is the central organizing theory of biology, and everyone should learn it as part of a complete basic science education.”

Anyway, it is educational for us evonerds and academics to watch the video. The answers are closer to the kinds of default answers you get when journalists spring the evolution question on politicians. The Miss USA contestants are much closer to where the general American public is at than we are.

PS: Lauren Carter, Vermont, at 13:20 has the only decent answer I’ve heard on this video.

Hat tip: My friend Ashley Eden, who’s awesomer than this whole collection put together.

Commenting Issues


I’ve fixed the commenting issues that have plagued us for the last day. Test away.

Yesterday, we migrated PT to its new server: Proteus. Proteus is a beast of a machine: FreeBSD 8.2, AMD Phenom II X6 1090T processor, 16GB of memory, and 5 2TB drives in a ZFS raidz2 array. Most of the hardware was provided by the Talk Origins Archive Foundation. If you want to support PT, you can donate to TOAF.

The server migration is the first step in a series of improvements that will hopefully make PT better. The second step has also been completed: requiring registration to comment. Hopefully, registration will go smoothly, but if you are having problems email us at [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

You many need to clear your cache if you are having problems commenting.

Pollicipes polymerus


Photograph by Tim Sandefur.


Pollicipes polymerus – goose barnacle, La Jolla, California. Mr. Sandefur tells us that in the Middle Ages people thought geese hatched from them, and a type of goose is still called a barnacle goose.

Comments Disabled


Comments will be temporarily disabled as we work on the site.

Site Updates


We will soon be making some changes to PT, including moving it to a new server.

If you have any constructive ideas on how to improve the site, please express them in the comments.

Thalassarche melanophrys


Photograph by Marilyn Miller.


Thalassarche melanophrys – black-browed albatross, West Point Island, Falkland Islands.

RIP Steve Gey


It’s with great sadness and not a few tears that I say goodbye to Steve Gey, someone I never met in person but who nonetheless had a huge influence on my life. Steve was a professor at the Florida State University law school and one of the preeminent First Amendment scholars in the country. He was one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in Edwards v Aguillard, the case that ruled creation science out of public school science classrooms.

A little over 4 years ago, Steve was diagnosed with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he had to give up teaching about a year later. He was, according to everyone I’ve ever talked to who took his course, one of the most inspiring teachers in the country. He was revered and adored by colleagues and students alike for his brilliance and his humanity.

Shortly after he was diagnosed with ALS I was able to arrange for him to receive the Friend of Darwin award from the National Center for Science Education. I called Glenn Branch to ask about it and he said that the board had, in fact, just voted unanimously to give him that award but they hadn’t yet found a venue in which to give it to him (they typically like to ambush people who win the award and give it to them when they don’t expect it).

I told Glenn I knew of the perfect time to do it. A group of his students were running a triathlon a few days later to raise money for ALS research in his name and they were going to be having a banquet afterwards. The NCSE rushed the award down to a friend of mine, who was one of Steve’s students and dearest friends. She was so happy to be able to present that award to him.

The country has lost one of its finest teachers and one of its most powerful advocates for civil liberties. And a great many people have lost a man who inspired them.

We get mail


Recently the PT crew received an email with the subject line “A legitimate question about Evolution with no agenda.” As you might expect, the dual disclaimers–“no agenda” and “legitimate”–immediately raised a few eyebrows. “No agenda”? Hmmmmm. Well, I suppose it’s possible, though numerous previous encounters with creationists’ faux naivete have left me a dab cynical.

The email reads

Subject: A legitimate question about Evolution with no agenda
Date: Sun, 5 Jun 2011 16:48:13 -0700
From: [redacted]
To: [Enable javascript to see this email address.]

Dear Panda’s Thumb crew:

I’m not a scientist, I’m a retired history teacher with a masters in that field.

I’m not writing because I have any agendas. I’m trying to get my questions answered and I’m having trouble doing it since I don’t know any evolutionary biologists whom I could ask. Those I have written to do not reply. I’m asking for the perspective of an evolutionary biologist who might answer a student with questions who is not hostile to evolutionary biology.

If you don’t have the time to reply, or don’t want to, please write me and tell me that.

Here are my questions about macroevolution. My goal is to understand how scientists explain how macro-evolution works in a real life situation, in this case between reptiles evolving into birds, since this is postulated as occurring:

*Reptiles                 Birds*
Lay eggs                lay eggs
    fly                    fly

have feathers?      have feathers
cold blooded?       warm blooded

Would being cold blooded show up in the fossil record? If not, how and why would a reptile adapt over millions of years into warm-blooded? How would anyone know whether a feathered reptile was now a bird if one is/may be cold blooded and one is warm blooded? Where is the proof?

Same topic different question: We know that horses and donkeys can interbreed to produce a mule, which is sterile. Using this explanation for cross breeding, how does that fit with macroevolution? In other words, could a flying, feathered semi-reptile mate with a full bird (or any other combination), and not be sterile? Even over millions of years, since there would be no progeny and the variant would die.

Third question: If a reptile/bird evolved, wouldn’t it also need a reptile/bird to mate with to carry on the new species? If one, a male, for instance evolved, and no female evolved at the same time and in the same place, wouldn’t that end the cycle of macroevolution?

Thank you for your time.


You see the difficulties, and it seems clear why the evolutionary biologists to whom he claims to have written haven’t bothered to reply. I see three main reasons.

Mother Jones has the news in this article from June 9th:

On Wednesday, Right Wing Watch flagged a recent interview [David] Barton gave with an evangelcial talk show, in which he argues that the Founding Fathers had explicitly rejected Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Yes, that Darwin. The one whose seminal work, On the Origin of Species, wasn’t even published until 1859. Barton declared, “As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they’d already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you’ve got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!” Paine died in 1809, the same year Darwin was born.

Here’s the clip:


Dale McGowan calls our attention to the plan of the Fulton County, Georgia (part of the Atlanta metro area) Board of Education to eliminate (not amend or revise, but eliminate) both its current policy and procedures concerning church/state issues in the schools and its policy on the teaching of religion. There’s some question about whether the elilmination is motivated by something beyond bureaucratic housecleaning, but the (lack of) responses from board members that McGowan reports is not an auspicious sign.

McGowan makes a couple of recommendations. First,

If you are a resident of Fulton County, Georgia and agree that these policies and procedure should remain in place, find out who your board member is and write a concise, reasonable but firm email expressing your strong conviction that these two policies and one procedure should stay right where they are. If you have kids in school, name the school.

Please don’t harass them, especially if you’re not a resident of Fulton County.

Second, he makes a recommendation that I’m going to follow up on:

If you are in a district that has been embroiled in church/state messes, you might drop a note to tell my district how helpful clear policy can be. It means less head-butting, fewer lawsuits, and fewer distractions from the education of our kids.

I will surely do that, given the Freshwater affair in my own district.

Arctocephalus gazella


Photograph by Marilyn Miller.


Arctocephalus gazella – antarctic fur seal, Salisbury Plain, South Georgia Island, Falkland Islands. In the background: Aptenodytes patagonicus – king penguin. Ms. Miller tells us that the white seal is rare, about 1 in 1000 births.

by Joe Felsenstein,

There’s a remarkable statement over at Uncommon Descent right now. Gil Dodgen is, as always, drawing dramatic conclusions that Darwinism has collapsed and that scientists refuse to recognize it (he’s very good at drawing that conclusion - evidence is another matter).

Anyway, he opens with a statement that, for once, evolutionary biologists can agree with:

At UD we have many brilliant ID apologists, and they continue to mount what I perceive as increasingly indefensible assaults on the creative powers of the Darwinian mechanism of random errors filtered by natural selection.

I really can’t think of anything to add to that.

Uncommon Descent, for some reason, just posted a link to an article about a blue lobster. This isn’t the first time that a blue lobster has been found, and there are even rarer yellow and albino variants that are known. Since there is, as the UD article points out, a trade in blue crayfish, it’s reasonable to assume that the blue coloration in lobsters is a heritable. All that leaves me wondering something: exactly why did the folks at Uncommon Descent decide to highlight this example?

The UD article contains the following gem:

Apparently, there is a trade in blue crayfish for aquariums, but any similar trade on blue lobsters depends on finding another one, of the opposite sex.

Does it really?

I didn’t take a lot of time to research the genetic mechanisms underpinning lobster coloration (frankly, it’s not a topic that fascinates me). I did find, however, that there’s reason to suspect that the blue coloration is the result of a recessive trait (a paper I found noted that a prior study had found that blue offspring only occur when two blue lobsters mate). If that’s the case, does a would-be purveyor of blue lobsters really need two blue lobsters to get the business off the ground?

As was reported on PT and elsewhere, Chris Rodda recently decided to make a pdf of her book Liars for Jesus available for download free. Just today, the National Academies Press announced that it would make available pdf’s of nearly all its books, also free for download. NAP is the publisher of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council.

Not to be outdone, I have decided to make a pdf of my book No Sense of Obligation: Science and Religion in an Impersonal Universe available for free download here.

Carnival of Evolution 36


CoEButton.jpgThe 36th Edition of the Carnival of Evolution is in progress at Greg Laden’s Blog. The theme: “If you love evolution, tweet about it.” Guppies. Sharks. Crayfish. Bacteria. Blind fish. Hyenas. Cows. And more. Visit, and tweet generously.

Intelligent design news and discussion from the 19th of May to the 2nd of June, 2011.

Exams, exams and more exams are what’re coming up in my life soon, so understandably I’ve been a little sidetracked from blogging. But no fear! TWiID is back after a week off (I’m lucky the acronym still fits after I use the alternate multi-week title, I suppose), and I’m ready to get stuck into some ID news and discussion. The big story over the past week has been the Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), the repeal of which recently (and unfortunately) failed, much to the delight of the Discovery Institute and friends, who have been lobbying to preserve the “academic freedom” act ever since it was challenged by the repeal last year. I’ll be spending a bit of time on the LSEA, as there have been two major blog posts by the DI on the topic recently, and I want to touch on some points that I think many anti-ID supporters of the repeal have overlooked.

I’ll also be discussing posts on the mysterious and surprising link between mathematics and biology, and the teleology of life.

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