May 16, 2004 - May 22, 2004 Archives

The Fear of Evolution

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Last year a middle school science teacher in my local school district proposed that the Intelligent Design Network’s Objective Origins Teaching Policy be adopted by the district. After some debate and politicking it was rejected by the Board of Education, as was a watered down version offered after the rejection of the initial proposal.

After thinking about it at length and talking with people in the community and elsewhere, what I am realizing is that this is not something that has anything to do with reason and science; it is about fear.

ISCID is the International Society for Complexity, Information and Design. Over at Stranger Fruit, Jerry Don Bauer (no stranger to the ISCID boards) makes a number of statements regarding peer-review and ID:

There is a ton of peer reviewed lituraure [sic] out there-Both ARN and ISCID put out quarterly journals in this area, along with many others. You could have gotten by with that statement 2 or 3 years back, but not today….

[ID] literature [is] being peer reviewed is it not? In fact, the very purpose for ISCID is peer review. Look at all the peer reviewed books out on the subject. Look at the papers on other sites

In what follows, I want to briefly examine these claims.

Tangled Bank #3 is online

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The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank #3 is available at 10,000 Birds. The Tangled Bank is a biweekly roundup of science weblogging. Read and enjoy.

Remember, if you've written anything on your weblog at all relevant to biology, send a link to so that it will be included in the next edition (scheduled for 2 June, at De Rerum Natura).

Last week I discussed the constitutionality of the Alabama Academic Freedom Act, an act that sought to empower any teacher in the state of Alabama “to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning biological or physical origins in any curricula or course of learning.” Timothy Sandefur also had some choice words to say about it.

With great pleasure I am happy to report that the Alabama Academic Freedom Act did not come up for a vote on the final day of the Alabama legislative session. The house spent most of the day dealing with the General Fund budget and did not have time to consider the many bills that the religious-right had proposed but not passed.


In developmental biology, and increasingly in evolutionary biology, one of the most important fields of study is deciphering the nature of regulatory networks of genes. Most people are familiar with the idea of a gene as stretch of DNA that encodes a protein in a sequence of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs, and that's still an important part of the story. Most people may also be comfortable with the idea that mutations are events that change the sequence of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs, which can lead to changes in the encoded protein, which then causes changes in the function of the protein. These are essential pieces in the story of evolution; we do accumulate variations in genes and gene products over time.

There's more to evolution than just that relatively straightforward pattern of change, however. Consider humans and chimpanzees. We're both made of mostly the same stuff: the keratin that makes up our hair and the organization of hair follicles is nearly identical, and our brains each contain the same structures. The differences are in regulation. We both have the same kinds of hair, but chimps have more of it turned on all over the place, while we've mostly down-regulated it everywhere except a few places. The differences in our brains may be mostly differences in select timing: our brains are switched on to grow for longer periods of time in development, and there are almost certainly specific regions and patterns of connectivity that are tweaked by adjusting different levels of different gene products in different places at different times.

Continue reading "Upstream plasticity and downstream robustness in evolution of molecular networks" (at Pharyngula)

Hmmm. Let's see. Intelligent Design creationists made a big push in Minnesota. They had a friendly education commissioner who stacked the deck in their favor, and when the sensible scientists, educators, and citizens who wrote the science standards came up with a darn good document, she formed a special committee of creationists to put together revisions. End result: the revisions were scrapped, and our conservative stealth creationist commissioner finds herself thrown out on her ear.

Sounds like a defeat for Intelligent Design to me.

But no! How could I be so deluded? The Discovery Institute has declared it a victory!

Minnesota has become the second state to require students to know about scientific evidence critical of Darwinian evolution in its newly adopted science standards. On May 15, the Minnesota legislature adopted new science standards that include a benchmark requiring students to be able to explain how new evidence can challenge existing scientific theories, including the theory of evolution.

The benchmark reads, "The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including "...theory of evolution. ..." The benchmark is included in the "History and Nature of Science," strand of the science standards for grades 9-12.

"This is a significant victory for the vast majority of Americans who favor teaching evolution but who want it taught fully, including scientific criticisms of the theory," said Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. Discovery Institute supports teaching students more about evolutionary theory, including introducing them to mainstream, peer-reviewed scientific debates over key aspects of modern evolutionary theory (known as neo-Darwinism).

Dr. West added that he expected some Darwin-only supporters would try to downplay or ignore the new benchmark. "Undoubtedly some Darwin-only supporters will claim that the standard doesn't really mean what it says, or that schools don't really need to follow it. Minnesotans who support the standard will need to make sure that it is actually implemented in Minnesota schools."

When these guys speak, you know they are lying. They've changed their logo and name so many times, they might as well just go straight to the most appropriate one: Ministry of Truth.

Minnesota wins

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On Pharyngula PZ Meyers reports that:

It’s nothing but good news for biology from the Minnesota legislature this week. The Intelligent Design creationists’ amendment to the state science standards went down in flames.

Read more at Pharyngula

A temporary glitch


I've noticed that a lot of people are using the badges for the Panda's Thumb (and good for you!) that I host on my site,, and some of the graphics in my articles here are similarly hosted there. You may find that those graphics aren't available today: my server is offline for the next several hours while some major electrical work is done on my campus. My apologies, and we expect everything to come back online by late this afternoon or early evening, Central Time.

(Oh, and Pharyngula will also be unavailable during that time.)

Let me start this off with a quote from Charles Darwin:

I have been struck with the likeness of many of the half-favourable criticisms on sexual selection, with those which appeared at first on natural selection; such as, that it would explain some few details, but certainly was not applicable to the extent to which I have employed it. My conviction of the power of sexual selection remains unshaken; but it is probable, or almost certain, that several of my conclusions will hereafter be found erroneous; this can hardly fail to be the case in the first treatment of a subject. When naturalists have become familiar with the idea of sexual selection, it will, as I believe, be much more largely accepted; and it has already been fully and favourably received by several capable judges.

Descent of Man, preface

And now let’s look at this news story that has as its focus a “challenge” to sexual selection.

Lunch with the FT: Rainbow warrior

Simon London Wrote:

“If you have a theory that says something is wrong with so many people, then the theory is suspect,” says Joan Roughgarden, looking up from her Caribbean chicken salad. “It is counter-intuitive that nature should have done such a bad job - or, if you prefer, that God should have made so many mistakes.”

The theory in question is Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection; the “mistakes” are homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals - anyone who does not fit into the neat categories of heterosexual male and female.

By challenging the great 19th-century naturalist, Roughgarden, a professor of biological sciences and geophysics at Stanford University, is making waves in academia and beyond. The implications, not only for science but also for society, could be profound. After all, you don’t need to be versed in the Origin of Species to share Darwin’s twin assumptions that, broadly, the purpose of sex is reproduction and that females select mates on the basis of genetic characteristics or traits.

Being versed in Darwin studies would mean that one would know that instead of Origin of Species one should be looking at Descent of Man for Darwin’s full explication of his theory of sexual selection. And when one looks there, does one find that sexual selection is founded strictly upon the two “assumptions” identified above? No, one does not.

Continue reading “Darwinism in Crisis Again?” on The Austringer.

ID research, is that all there is?

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Behe published his book “Darwins Black Box” in 1996. In it he stated the principle of “irreducible complexity” and claimed that, amongst other things, the clotting system and the eubacterial flagella were irreducibly complex, and were not evolvable. Since that time, researchers have uncovered significant evidence for the evolution of both the clotting system and the eubacterial flagella, what has Behe been researching while this has been going on? Well at a recent ID conference Behe has apparently produced a calculation that shows that the evolution of new binding sites between proteins and things such as other protein, DNA and small molecules is so unlikely as to be impossible.

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