Recently in Quote of the Day Category

The Washington Post reported the other day that Justice Antonin Scalia, in a commencement address, said,

Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.

I suppose that “at least 5000 years” gives you some wiggle room, but I would hardly call, say, 200,000 years “at least 5000 years.” That is a bit like saying, “The trip from Boulder to New York is at least 20 kilometers.”

Jerry Coyne, who is much nicer than I am, thinks that it might have been “just an offhand remark that’s been blown out of proportion.” Well, maybe, but I watched most of the speech on Professor Coyne’s website, and I could not help but notice that Justice Scalia was reading that text: he did not misspeak.

Justice Scalia dissented in Edwards vs. Aguillar, but he seemed more concerned with whether the legislature intended creation “science” as a religious doctrine than with its scientific merit. He also supported the “balanced treatment” argument to the effect that students who learn evolution are entitled to the opposing view as well. His argument was well reasoned but depended on the assumption that creation science is not a religious doctrine if its supporters think it is not.

Contrary to some reports, Justice Scalia did not say, “The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution”; rather, he was paraphrasing the testimony of witnesses and states explicitly “that I by no means intend to endorse its accuracy” but that “what is crucial is not [the legislature’s] wisdom in believing that [a certain secular] purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be” [italics in original].

Still, Justice Scalia generally comes across as an authoritarian, uncomfortable with ambiguity and guided by literalist interpretations. If he takes the Bible as literally as he takes the Constitution, then it is easy to see that he might well believe in a young Earth. I hope I am wrong and Professor Coyne is right.

The email exchange between Dembski and Richard Dawkins continues. Dawkins just posted an email that Dembski sent to him in 2004 (2003 actually, referring to “early next year”, which would be 2004).

It sparked a memory that I had seen it before. So I asked around. It turns out that in late 2003 Dembski sent the following email to most of the people he is spamming right now. In response to this letter in the UK Guardian by Dawkins, Dembski emailed the following. It really…well, any comment would be superfluous.

Yes, proponents of intelligent design understand the eye…but only as one example, not as the basis of a general principle. ‘Oh, yes, we know all about the eye,’ they say (we paraphrase). ‘We’re not going to ask what use half an eye is. That’s simple-minded nonsense.’ So instead, they ask what use half a bacterial flagellum is, and thereby repeat the identical error in a different context. -Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen The Science of Discworld III: Darwin’s Watch

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. –Douglas Adams

It’s been a little busy lately, what with entertaining Professor Steve Steve and His Hanger-On, kids on vacation, taking diagnostic exams (rant on that may follow tomorrow, after I find out just how badly I screwed outstandingly well I performed), and other such things. But life is returning to normal, and I can get back to posting semi-topical quotes for you all to nit-pic enjoy.

This one sort of fits how I feel, too:

Frank: The Jesuits taught me how to think. I haven’t felt safe since. –Homicide: Life on the Street

Most species do their own evolving, making it up as they go along, which is the way Nature intended. And this is all very natural and organic and in tune with mysterious cycles of the cosmos, which believes that there’s nothing like millions of years of really frustrating trial and error to give a species moral fiber and, in some cases, backbone. –Terry Pratchett

This one comes from my “arrogant things people say in the scientific literature” file.

There is no credible evidence to justify the portrayal on the January 2002 Auk of Microraptor with a thick, white downy coating of putative protofeathers (A. Feduccia pers. obs.). –Alan Feduccia Birds are Dinosaurs: Simple Answer to a Complex Problem The Auk: Vol. 119, No. 4, pp. 1187–1201.

Quote of the Day 18 July 2005


With magic, you can turn a frog into a prince. With science, you can turn a frog into a Ph.D and you still have the frog you started with. –Terry Pratchett The Science of Discworld

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” –Douglas Adams Last Chance to See

Today’s entry comes from the “creatively nasty” file:

Lorentzen and Sieg (1991) have insisted that parsimony analysis should properly result in the display of all possible assignments of ancestral nodes (and thus all possible placements of changes of state) for each character. Their objective may find little support outside of the pulp and paper industry. –Joeseph Felsenstein Inferring Phylogenies (p70)

The totality of life, known as the biosphere to scientists and creation to theologians, is a membrane of organisms wrapped around the earth so thin that it cannot be seen edgewise from a spacce shuttle, yet so internally complex that most species composing it remain undiscovered. –E.O. Wilson The Future of Life (2002)

Quote of the Day - 14 July 2005

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Another old, but still relevant, quote…

And thus, a true Theory is a Fact; a Fact is a familiar Theory. That which is a Fact under one aspect, is a Theory under another. The most recondite Theories when firmly established are Facts: the simplest Facts involve something of the nature of Theory. –William Whewell Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (2nd ed, 1847)

The more things change…

“What men of science want is only a fair day’s wages for more than a fair day’s work; and most of us, I suspect, would be well content if, for our days and nights of unremitting toil, we could secure the pay which a first-class Treasury clerk earns without any obviously trying strain upon his faculties.” –Thomas Henry Huxley Administrative Nihilism (1871)

Yes, I actually am going to try to get a quote up every day. I’m also going to try to keep them at least moderately relevant to this blog’s topic. Some will be short and sweet, and some will be accompanied by commentary. Today’s is one of the commentary ones.

It has now been shown, though most briefly and imperfectly, how the law that “Every species has come into existence coincident both in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species,” connects together and renders intelligible a vast number of independent and hitherto unexplained facts. The natural system of arrangement of organic beings, their geographical distribution, their geological sequence, the phaenomena of representative and substituted groups in all their modifications, and the most singular peculiarites of anatomical structure, are all explained and illustrated by it, in perfect accordance with the vast mass of facts which the researches of modern naturalists have brought together, and, it is believed, not materially opposed to any of them. It also claims a superiority over previous hypotheses, on the ground that it not merely explains, but necessitates what exists. Granted the law, and many of the most important facts in Nature could not have been otherwise, but are almost as necessary deductions from it, as are the elliptic orbits of the planets from the law of gravitation. –Alfred Russel Wallace ON THE LAW WHICH HAS REGULATED THE INTRODUCTION OF NEW SPECIES (1855)

Commentary on the flipside.

Quote of the Day - 11 July


A million million spermatozoa All of them alive; Out of their cataclysm but one poor Noah Dare hope to survive.

And among that billion minus one Might have chanced to be Shakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne– But the One was Me.

–Aldous Huxley

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