May 30, 2004 - June 5, 2004 Archives

The recent anthology Darwinism, Design and Public Education, edited by John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, is chock-full of brazen dishonesty, false science, and sloppy arguments. In the midst of all of this silliness, however, is one essay whose arguments are so absurd, so completely divorced from all semblance of rational thought, that it must be singled out for special attention. The essay is entitled “Intelligent Design Theory, Religion, and the Science Curriculum”, by Warren A. Nord. Nord is a professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Gary S. Hurd, Dave Mullenix

Scientific Creationism wholeheartedly embraced fundamentalist Christian dogma, particularly the notion of a six-day creation week with the inference that every ‘kind’ of life was directly and uniquely created, that a global flood covered the entire Earth in which only those life forms rescued on Noah’s Ark survived, and that the ‘ages’ associated with various biblical genealogies could be summed to obtain a chronology of creation. In the face of repeated legal losses, which excluded religious indoctrination from public schools in America, the Scientific Creationists asserted that they could use purely scientific means to “prove” that their specific biblical interpretation was literal truth. Thus, they argued their creationism was different from simple fundamentalism, and deserved to be taught as science in public schools. The origin, and (lingering) decline of Scientific Creationism are very sympathetically studied by Ron Numbers in his 1993 book, [u]The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism[/u] (Berkeley: University of California Press). Scientific Creationism never made good on the promise to use science to ‘prove’ that their biblical interpretations were empirically correct, although there are a small number of individuals still trying. They have been reduced to making ‘scientific arguments’ more bizarre than accepting miracles, and lame efforts to attack evolution such as denying fossil evidence of evolutionary transitions, or equating “Darwinism” simultaneously with Nazis, Communists, and recently Al Qaeda. Throughout the 1980s Scientific Creationists lost legal battles. Scientific Creationists were turned away from public schools by the courts. This set the stage for the emergence of a new version of creationism, Intelligent Design.

The server that hosts the Panda’s Thumb was affected by the power outages in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area. The server was offline from about 4AM on the 2nd, and went back online around 7PM on the 3rd. As it is, we should consider it fortunate to have power restored so soon.

From the Antievolution.org Quotes and Misquotes Database home page:

Antievolutionists have a fondness for quoting authorities. Almost as strong as this fondness is their fondness for misquoting authorities.

The antievolution fascination with quotations seems to stem from the anti-science mindset of “revelation”: testimonial evidence reigns supreme in theology, thus many antievolutionists may mistake that condition as being the same in science. However, science has pretty much eschewed assigning any intrinsic worth to testimonial evidence. Quotations from some source are taken as being an indication that some condition as stated holds according to the reliability of the speaker, as seen by reviewing the evidence. Antievolutionists “get” the first part, but have real difficulty coming to terms with the second part. If some Expert A says X, then the antievolutionist expects that no lesser known mortal will dare gainsay Expert A’s opinion on X. However, such a situation is routine in science. Anyone presenting Evidence Q that is inconsistent with X then has shown Expert A to be incorrect on X. If the person holding forth shows repeatedly that they can’t be trusted to tell us correct information on, say, trilobites, then that just means that we likely don’t hold any further talk on trilobites from that source in high regard.

Misquotation comes in many forms (see the t.o. Jargon File for the list). This page is meant to display some of the most egregious misquotations engaged in by antievolutionists that have been floated in online discussions, and also the quotes that an antievolutionist is likely to inject into an argument (even if the quote has no bearing).

In one of the threads here, I commented on the poor showing an IDEA Club article made on describing aspects of punctuated equilibria. As I was reviewing the IDEA Club article on the fossil record, I noted the use of a “quote” from Steven Stanley. Stanley’s “The New Evolutionary Timetable” has proved a treasure trove for antievolutionist quote-miners. I tend to become a bit nervous when an antievolutionist uses ellipses. It makes me wonder what inconvenient text has been dropped. Well, in this particular “quote” we find four sets of ellipses. That prompted me to pull out my copy of the source book and update my quotes database. The entry for the IDEA Club quote can be seen here.

Tangled Bank #4

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The Tangled Bank

Check it out over on De Rerum Natura...links to good biology stories. You can find more general information on what the Tangled Bank is about at the Tangled Bank website.

If you're inspired and have your own science writing to brag about, send submissions to host@tangledbank.net—there'll be another on 16 June at Borneo Chela.

Bruce Grant reviews “Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design”, the excellent expose by Forrest and Gross of the intelligent design movement.

I find Bruce Grant’s review particularly of interest because he provides us with some previously unknown details as to a manuscript he reviewed a while ago that ‘purported to review the literature on the evolution of melanism in peppered moths”. Bruce’s comments were scathing.

Soon thereafter the manuscript appeared on the internet and later as an op-ed piece for “The Scientist”. According to Grant this version was still “error-ridden” with many of the same errors he had pointed out as a reviewer.

Bruce Grant

”Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” –Herbert Spencer, 1820-1903

ABOUT SIX YEARS AGO the editor of a national journal in the biological sciences sent me a manuscript to referee that purported to review the literature on the evolution of melanism in peppered moths. No new data were presented. The author had not published in this field previously, and had not produced any research of his own. But science is an open enterprise, and anyone who has something valid to offer should be welcomed and encouraged. So, I read it with care, and offered this commentary to the editor

In one of the comments to my recent posting, “Why Not Teach the Controversy?”, someone called “Navy Davy” repeatedly called for evolutionary biologists to provide the “best evidence … that supports the theory of evolution.” Merely by asking the question in that way, Mr. Davy displays a woeful misunderstanding of science and how science works.

Simply put, there is never a single best piece of evidence; there is no crucial experiment or observation that will validate any theory whatsoever. Theories are accepted according to whether or not they explain data better than some competing theories - a mountain of evidence, if you will.

Kids and evolution

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There was an excellent op-ed in the Pioneer Press (free registration required; I've also posted a few excerpts) that is well worth reading. It points out that creationists, despite legal setbacks at higher levels, have won at the schoolhouse door by intimidating teachers into avoiding the subject of evolution altogether.

As another issue, the author is a writer of children's books, and I believe has written this one, Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story, which is intended for 4-8 year olds. That got me wondering...when was the last time anyone saw a book on evolution for young kids? The "Bible Stories for Kids" genre seems to have a lock on pediatrician's waiting rooms, I've noticed, and this looks like another niche in the PR/indoctrination front that the creationists hold.

Paul Nesselroade opens his recent “Wedge Update” at ARN (here) by saying,

Recently, a few Intelligent Design (ID) critics have created some confusion over the meaning of “The Wedge.” Several statements made by ID detractors in books and blogs (web logs) have suggested “The Wedge” to be a partially concealed strategy by well-funded religious fanatics to attack science and force it to come under the thumb of a specific religious mindset….

But is this an accurate characterization of “The Wedge,” or is this just a baseless appeal by Darwinists to impugn the motives of their adversaries? Well, as they say, when the facts aren’t on your side, argue motives.

Well, speaking of facts, here’s some information about an “Intelligent Design Conference to be held in beautiful Highlands, North Carolina this June 24-26,” sponsored by the Community Bible Church. (Information here)

The IDEA Club’s Punk Eek FAQ

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In response to postings on The Panda’s Thumb criticizing the IDEA Club’s description of punctuated equilibirum, Casey Luskin invited corrections. I have one or two suggestions. This is not exhaustive; I treat just one aspect of the FAQ.

Paul Nesselroade’s latest Wedge Update, titled “Defending the Wedge”, attempts to allay fears concerning the “wedge”. Nesselroade’s approach is two-fold: assert that the “wedge document” and the “wedge strategy” are distinct, and that the “wedge strategy” is about answering a pair of arguments made by “Darwinists”. If the “wedge strategy” is just about answering some arguments, that’s all very metaphysical and non-threatening, right?

Nesselroade is, of course, wrong. The “wedge strategy” is more than just coming up with counter-arguments to “Darwinism” or “materialism”. There is a strong practical component to the “wedge strategy” that is apparent to anyone who not only listens to what “intelligent design” advocates say, but also watches what “intelligent design” advocates do. It is in this practical component that one recognizes that the “wedge strategy” is still all about implementing the specific policies and activities that were specified in the “wedge document”. The asserted separation between “document” and “strategy” is non-existent.

I want to take up two cases of synchronicity that demonstrate just how lame these apologetics for the “wedge” really are. The first involves Nesselroade’s essay and the announcement of an “intelligent design” conference to be held June 24-26 in Highlands, NC. The second concerns an interview with Phillip Johnson back in 2001 and the Santorum amendment.

Genetic Drift

EvoMath is back from a long hiatus. In this edition I will briefly touch on genetic drift and coalescence theory. Genetic drift is the evolutionary force whereby allele frequencies fluctuate due to chance because the alleles in a generation are a random sample of the alleles in previous generation. To help understand what I am talking about, consider a heterozygous father, with genotype Aa. Under Mendelian heredity, he will pass on the A allele 50% of the time and the a allele the other 50% of the time. If he has only one child, then he clearly cannot pass on both of his alleles, and thus one of those alleles–say a–will be lost from his lineage. The remaining allele, A, will then have “drifted” to 100% or “fixation.” If he has more children, then he may pass on both of his alleles, but it is not likely to be exactly at a 50:50 ratio.

Genetic drift occurs whenever a population has a finite size, and since all populations are finite, it occurs in all populations. However, in large populations it can be very weak and thus negligible compared to other evolutionary forces.

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