May 1, 2005 - May 7, 2005 Archives

With any tavern, one can expect that certain things that get said are out-of-place. But there is one place where almost any saying or scribble can find a home: the bathroom wall. This is where random thoughts and oddments that don’t follow the other entries at the Panda’s Thumb wind up. As with most bathroom walls, expect to sort through a lot of oyster guts before you locate any pearls of wisdom.

Just because this is the bathroom wall does not mean that you should put your #$%& on it.

The previous wall got a little cluttered, so we’ve splashed a coat of paint on it.

Jack Krebs is our main connection to these Kansas hearings. But, as vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, he is too busy to act as a reporter for us. However, at least two bloggers from Kansas have enough time to issue reports about the hearings.

Red State Rabble

Thoughts From Kansas

If you have a report about events at the hearings send it in, and I will consider posting it.

Just about the most common words that come out of the mouths of “intelligent design” proponents are “We’re not creationists!”

Why, then, has everyone that has testified so far in Kansas Kangaroo Court (see roundups by the Red State Rabble and Pharyngula) conceded that they think that humans do not share common ancestry with apes, in opposition to the scientific consensus and in flagrant contradiction of the actual scientific evidence?

Red State Rabble reports for us this morning (May 7, 2005):

The Score Card So Far

During cross-examination, Science Coalition attorney Pedro Irigonegaray has forced each intelligent design witness to go on record about their opinion on the age of the earth, common descent, and whether human beings have evolved from pre-hominids.

So far, not one witness has said they believe the evidence supports a belief that all living things share a common ancestor or that they believe that human have evolved from pre-hominids.

Professional scientists who are monitoring the hearings commented that this position commits the witnesses to a belief in special creation for each plant and animal species now in existence.

An unexpected voice in the debate about Intelligent Design has joined the voices of reason. Keith Lockitch, who holds a Ph.D. in physics and who is a junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, CA, has written a very compelling evaluation of Intelligent Design leading him to the conclusion that “Intelligent Design” is religion masquerading as science.”

Telic Thoughts

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On Telic Thoughts Krauze objects to critics pointing out the existence of false positives as being problematic to ID by showing that false positives exist in science. Telic Thoughts features several well known ARN players, including Krauze and Mike Gene.

Krauze Wrote:

ID critics often point to cases where design was mistakenly inferred, claiming that present design inferences are also likely to be wrong. Those raising this objection forget that all human conclusions are fallible, and that an explanation shouldn’t be ignored, just because it has been wrongly applied before. As another example of this, let’s look at a case where unintelligent processes were wrongly infered.

As I pointed out in the comments, Krauze misses the point. And while he tries to argue that he is not interested in the explanatory filter, he does not realize that this is the form of ID to which critics are objecting.

Krauze Wrote:

Let me just remind everybody that the original post made no mention of Dembski’s design filter. IOW, stop leading the discussion off topic. If you want to discuss Dembski, start a thread somewhere else (I hear the ARN Board is beautiful this time of year) and post a link to it here. I’d hate to start deleting posts.

In short, a good and relevant discussion was started but quickly cut short by the moderator who started deleting responses. Krauze’s claim that he did not mention Dembski specifically, ignores that mainstream ID is based on the explanatory filter approach.

Lacking the opportunity to respond to Guts ill-informed comments, I will first present my response to Guts followed by an overview of why the explanatory filter, which is based on an eliminative argument, is useless if it cannot avoid false positives and thus cannot even eliminate “we don’t know”. Ironically, Guts had the guts to argue that ‘we don’t know’ is not an explanation. But then again neither is intelligent design.

Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble sends us this report from Kansas:

As the Kansas science hearings got underway in Topeka this morning, there was a feeling about the room that these hearings would produce little real drama. By the end of the first day, the testimony of the intelligent design witnesses seemed to have fallen into an all too predictable pattern. Ennui began to envelop attorneys, witnesses, the media, and spectators alike. The process would go on, but rather like a tree falling in the forest that goes unnoticed.

The crowds were smaller, lines shorter despite increased security procedures that forced participants to pass through a metal detector, and many of the big media figures who attended the first day decamped for greener pastures.

Then, out of the blue, under a withering cross-examination by Science Coalition attorney Pedro Irigonegaray the hearing room was electrified by Edward Peltzer’s admission that he had not read the science standards draft written by the pro-evolution majority of curriculum committee. Peltzer, a Scripps Institution oceanographer and intelligent design witness was flown in from California to share his expert evaluation of the competing science standards drafts, and is currently enjoying the hospitality of Kansas taxpayers.

As the day wore on, each witness in turn was forced to fess up – to an increasingly scornful Irigonegaray – that they too hadn’t bothered to read the majority draft before giving their testimony. This despite the fact that each had earlier testified – in response to questions from intelligent design attorney John Calvert – that the minority draft was superior to the pro-science majority draft.

“I’ve not read it word for word myself,” confessed board member Kathy Martin in an ill-fated attempt to salvage the credibility of the witnesses.

As groans erupted through the hearing room in response to Martin’s admission – and AP reporter Josh Funk ran for the exit to phone the story in – a new feeling that the intelligent design showcase was turning into a failure began to seep into the room., an alternative weekly in Kansas, has an excellent article about the ensuing Kangaroo Court in Kansas:

This week’s debate over evolution is Kansas’ trial of the century!

Unlike traditional media outlets that usually shirk any attempt at understanding the issue, and instead just present “both sides” as if they were coequal, Pitch writer Tony Ortega actually tackles the important question: Who are these people and what are they doing here?

It turns out that one of the people being brought to Kansas to testify (on the taxpayers’ dime) is Mustafa Akyol, an Islamic creationist from Turkey who belongs to a rather shady group known as the BAV. The group has made its mark by publishing and distributing literature from Harun Yahya. Sadly, their tactics have worked well in Turkey…

Nick Matzke and I will be giving a short presentation and a longer question and answer session on the topic of “intelligent design”. The event is a ‘Presentation and Discussion on Intelligent Design’, Friday, May 6th, 2005, 4-5:30pm, in building 370 (Science, Technology and Society program), Room 370, on the Stanford University campus. The event is sponsored by Rational Thought. The public is welcome. This is a follow-up to the Veritas Forum series of presentations held at Stanford through this week.

If you are in the Bay Area and can make it, we’ll look forward to seeing you there.

Interestingly for a group that says they are not promoting intelligent design or creationism, the Kansas Kangaroo Court today called Charles Thaxton, the creationist who had the bright idea to rename creationism as “intelligent design” back in 1988.

According to Red State Rabble:

During cross examination, Thaxton admitted that he does not believe that humans – homo sapiens – evolved from hominid ancestors.

According to MSNBC:

During the hearing, Irigonegaray asked Thaxton whether he accepted the theory that humans and apes had a common ancestor.

“Personally, I do not,” Thaxton said. “I’m not an expert on this. I don’t study this.”

What’s that? A chemistry professor testifying against evolution says that he is not an expert on human evolution, but defies the scientific consensus despite unfamiliarity with the evidence? Makes perfect sense to me. If listeners are supposed to disregard all of the antievolution testimony before the Kansas Kangaroo Court whenever the antievolution witnesses speak on topics outside of their professional expertise, then there wasn’t much point in these hearings.

Let’s review some of the evidence on the somewhat important question of human evolution. It is not as if it is hard to find.

The Kansas Kangaroo Court hearings have commenced. See the latest from Red State Rabble, and see the story by Jodi Wilgoren.

“Can you tell us, sir, how old you believe the Earth is?” the lawyer, Pedro Irigonegaray, asked William S. Harris, a chemist, who helped write the proposed changes to the state standards.

“I don’t know,” Dr. Harris replied. “I think it’s probably really old.”

There’s your 21st century science for you, from a leader of the Kansas Intelligent Design Network.

Note to Harris: The right answer is 4.5 billion years, give or take maybe 1%. Go read The Age of the Earth by Brent Dalrymple, who was just awarded a National Medal of Science by George W. Bush.

“There is no science without criticism,” said Charles Thaxton, a chemist and co-author of the 1984 book “The Mystery of Life’s Origins,” which questions traditional scientific explanations. “Any science that weathers the criticism and survives is a better theory for it.”

And anyone that promotes creationism, like Charles Thaxton, should realize that it has failed to weather criticism for the last 150 years and should have been discarded long ago, not continually promoted by various sneaky strategies, like those being used in Kansas.

Say hello to Falcarius utahensis.

This creature was becoming a herbivore (plant-eater), but fossils described in today’s Nature indicate his (or her) ancestors were most definitely carnivorous (meat-eaters).

The story can be read on-line here. Here’s the significant “bite”:

Caught in the act of evolution, the odd-looking, feathered dinosaur was becoming more vegetarian, moving away from its meat-eating ancestors.

It had the built-for-speed legs of meat-eaters, but was developing the bigger belly of plant-eaters. It had already lost the serrated teeth needed for tearing flesh. Those were replaced with the smaller, duller vegetarian variety.

‘I doubt seriously this animal could cut a steak with that mouth,’ said Utah state paleontologist James Kirkland, one of those who discovered the bones of the beast in east-central Utah.

This relates to the never-ending creationism saga in several ways, including one that shows an important distinction between Evolution and Creationism:

Creationists insist that, if creatures changed their eating habits in the past, it was from herbivores (before the Fall, when the Creation was Good) to carnivores (after the Fall, and the introduction of sin and death into the world).

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Cobb County School District’s request to stay the removal of the evolution disclaimers stuck on thirty-four thousand biology textbooks until after the circuit has ruled on the district’s appeal. The Marietta Daily Journal has the scoop:

Marietta attorney Michael Manely, who, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, defended the plaintiffs in district court, said that to get a stay, it has to be proven that the case is likely to succeed on its own merits.

“This showed it’s not likely to prevail,” Manely said. “It’s the first serious nail in the coffin from the Court of Appeals. They are expressing their preliminary thoughts on the subject. This is like a preview of what is certain to come. It tells the board that this corpse is beginning to smell really bad.”

School staff has already experimented with removing the stickers, using such things as nail polish. Removing so many stickers will not be easy, she said.

“I’m going to offer to help take out the stickers,” said east Cobb parent Jeffrey Selman, who filed suit against the school board in August 2001, along with the ACLU, claiming the stickers were unconstitutional.

“I bet I can get a whole bunch of people to help them,” Selman said. “God bless the judges. They can see right through this sham.”

Prof. Steve Steve has also offered to come back to Georgia to do his part in removing the disclaimers.

From Bob Collins:

Dear Friends of Science and Education:

We won!!!

Tuesday, May 3, was the deadline for bills to pass at least one house of the Alabama Legislature, or they would be dead for the remainder of this session.

The three creationist bills, HB352, HB716 and SB240, each misnamed “The Academic Freedom Act”, all failed to pass even one house by that date, so they have now died a well-deserved death.

These bills were supported by the Alabama Christian Coalition, who emailed 6 separate “alerts” asking their membership to ask their legislators to support these bills.

Last year, a creationist bill was approved by the full Senate and the House Education Committee, and was within hours of passing the full Alabama House of Representatives when the legislature ran out of time. We were better organized this year, and it worked!!

Thanks to everyone who called, wrote, faxed, talked to their legislators and/or testified.

We made a difference!!!!

There is no time to rest. This summer and fall, the Alabama State Board of Education will pick science textbooks for our schoolchildren. They will also decide whether to continue use of the embarrassing “Evolution Disclaimer” pasted in the front of every elementary, middle and high school textbook that mentions anything that happened over 6,000 years ago.

We will be monitoring the textbook selection process and will keep this email list informed.

Thanks again

In this post from Monday I discussed William Dembski's egregious misuse of a quotation from paleontologist Peter Ward.

Given the facts I presented, it seemed beyond all question that Dembski had basically lied about the point Ward was making in his book. Nonetheless, I was curious to see what sort of defense Dembski would offer for his behavior.

Now I know. Dembski's response is available here. Rather than respond to the simple facts of the situation, Dembski preferred instead to dismiss them as “irrelevant details.”

Following up on Gary Hurd's comments below, I have posted some additional thoughts on the subject over at EvolutionBlog.

Only a diehard ID fanatic could possibly continue to take Dembski seriously after following this exchange. Dembski's blatant dishonesty and breathtaking arrogance have seldom been on clearer display. If there are any ID proponents with consciences reading this, I'd be curious to know if you still want anything to do with this guy.

Back to the Quote Mines

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Well, at least William Dembski has used an accurate title this time. Back to the Quote Mines is his latest installment of his professional disintegration. He has basically stopped pretending that he has not maligned real scholars and scientists, and has adopted the position of a petulant 10 year-old, “Nah nah nay nah nah- ya can’t catch me.” This is explicit when he stated,

“The quote by Peter Ward that served as my point of departure elicited the usual reaction from evolutionists, for whom justifying evolution means supplying enough words and irrelevant details to cover their ignorance. My post took a few minutes to write up. Evolutionists wrote detailed responses many times its length on places like the Pandasthumb to justify that the problem with the Cambrian explosion was not really a problem. Look: if it wasn’t a problem, we wouldn’t be discussing it.”

We weren’t discussing the Cambrian, Dr. Dembski, we were exposing your dishonest use of scientific writers. I am having a hard time understanding why Dembski would be dropping his pretense of being a “serious scholar” this way. Maybe there is some residual honesty left after all?

What I find amusing is that the paper Dave and I originally wrote took quite a bit of work. And hardly anyone noticed. Nearly a year later, and Dembski has given it more attention than ever, and embarrassed himself in the bargain.

If you’re like me, that question has led to countless sleepless nights.

I attended part of a talk by creationist John C. Bilello in Waterloo, Ontario recently. I’m not a biologist, but even with my amateur’s understanding of biology I could tell it was the usual nonsense, consisting of misinformation, misconceptions, and quote mining. Every argument he presented has been refuted dozens of times. Probably yet another refutation of this tired nonsense is pointless, but at least I can document Bilello’s presentation here.

Tangled Bank #27

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The Tangled Bank

Gosh, but this thing has grown: Tangled Bank #27 is now online. It's colossal. It's well-organized. The only problem is that there are so many links, and I'm equidistant from them all…I can't decide which one to read first. Buridan's Ass should have suggested a strategy to help us resolve this dilemma.

Last month, Robert Richards, a noted historian of science, particularly evolution, at the University of Chicago, gave a talk, ‘The Narrative Structure of Moral Judgments in History: Evolution and Nazi Biology.’ See the event listing. The talk has been attracting some attention on the blogosphere, i.e. Light Seeking Light and Red State Rabble.

The Richards talk is described in a reasonably detailed news account from the University of Chicago student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon. According to the news story, Richards addressed the arguments of historians (unnamed in the news article) that “made [Charles] Darwin and [Ernst] Haeckel complicit in the crimes of the Nazis, though both had been dead for decades before the rise of the Nazis.”

Law Evolution Science and Junk Science has an interesting post on the fallacy of the appeal to inappropriate authority.

In summary, an appeal to authority is a valid method of argument and of making decisions. It recognizes the obvious fact that we cannot all be experts in everything. It would be a mistake to have your neurosurgeon change the brakes on your car and your car mechanic to operate on your brain tumor. If you see a neurosurgeon for your brain tumors and a car mechanic for your disc brake adjustments and you don’t know much about either, you are essentially betting your life on an appeal to authority. We all reasonably do that every day.

Analyzing Intelligent Design under the appeal to authority fallacy immediately presents several problems.

Go Read It.

I'm feeling rather peeved about the failures of the media—in particular, this lazy parroting of Discovery Institute press releases. A ridiculous list of "Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher", the product of the despicable Dr Wells and his worthless tract, Icons of Evolution, has been going around for years, and has been answered multiple times, yet it still gets published as if it were a serious challenge. I've addressed Wells' mangling of developmental biology, and there is a thorough demolition of Icons of Evolution on; Wells scholarship is appallingly poor, and his questions are so misleading and dishonest that they are basically scientific fraud. In particular, the NCSE has done an excellent job of putting together brief, media-friendly answers to Wells' questions, and those answers need to be spread around more widely. So here they are, Responses to Jonathan Wells's Ten Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher:

Q: ORIGIN OF LIFE. Why do textbooks claim that the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment shows how life's building blocks may have formed on the early Earth -- when conditions on the early Earth were probably nothing like those used in the experiment, and the origin of life remains a mystery?

A: Because evolutionary theory works with any model of the origin of life on Earth, how life originated is not a question about evolution. Textbooks discuss the 1953 studies because they were the first successful attempt to show how organic molecules might have been produced on the early Earth. When modern scientists changed the experimental conditions to reflect better knowledge of the Earth's early atmosphere, they were able to produce most of the same building blocks. Origin-of-life remains a vigorous area of research.

Q: DARWIN'S TREE OF LIFE. Why don't textbooks discuss the "Cambrian explosion," in which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed instead of branching from a common ancestor -- thus contradicting the evolutionary tree of life?

A: Wells is wrong: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals all are post-Cambrian - aren't these "major groups"? We would recognize very few of the Cambrian organisms as "modern"; they are in fact at the roots of the tree of life, showing the earliest appearances of some key features of groups of animals - but not all features and not all groups. Researchers are linking these Cambrian groups using not only fossils but also data from developmental biology.

Q: HOMOLOGY. Why do textbooks define homology as similarity due to common ancestry, then claim that it is evidence for common ancestry -- a circular argument masquerading as scientific evidence?

A: The same anatomical structure (such as a leg or an antenna) in two species may be similar because it was inherited from a common ancestor (homology) or because of similar adaptive pressure (convergence). Homology of structures across species is not assumed, but tested by the repeated comparison of numerous features that do or do not sort into successive clusters. Homology is used to test hypotheses of degrees of relatedness. Homology is not "evidence" for common ancestry: common ancestry is inferred based on many sources of information, and reinforced by the patterns of similarity and dissimilarity of anatomical structures.

Q: VERTEBRATE EMBRYOS. Why do textbooks use drawings of similarities in vertebrate embryos as evidence for their common ancestry -- even though biologists have known for over a century that vertebrate embryos are not most similar in their early stages, and the drawings are faked?

A: Twentieth-century and current embryological research confirms that early stages (if not the earliest) of vertebrate embryos are more similar than later ones; the more recently species shared a common ancestor, the more similar their embryological development. Thus cows and rabbits - mammals - are more similar in their embryological development than either is to alligators. Cows and antelopes are more similar in their embryology than either is to rabbits, and so on. The union of evolution and developmental biology - "evo-devo" - is one of the most rapidly growing biological fields. "Faked" drawings are not relied upon: there has been plenty of research in developmental biology since Haeckel - and in fact, hardly any textbooks feature Haeckel's drawings, as claimed.

Q: ARCHAEOPTERYX. Why do textbooks portray this fossil as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds -- even though modern birds are probably not descended from it, and its supposed ancestors do not appear until millions of years after it?

A: The notion of a "missing link" is an out-of-date misconception about how evolution works. Archaeopteryx (and other feathered fossils) shows how a branch of reptiles gradually acquired both the unique anatomy and flying adaptations found in all modern birds. It is a transitional fossil in that it shows both reptile ancestry and bird specializations. Wells's claim that "supposed ancestors" are younger than Archaeopteryx is false. These fossils are not ancestors but relatives of Archaeopteryx and, as everyone knows, your uncle can be younger than you!

Q: PEPPERED MOTHS. Why do textbooks use pictures of peppered moths camouflaged on tree trunks as evidence for natural selection -- when biologists have known since the 1980s that the moths don't normally rest on tree trunks, and all the pictures have been staged?

A: These pictures are illustrations used to demonstrate a point - the advantage of protective coloration to reduce the danger of predation. The pictures are not the scientific evidence used to prove the point in the first place. Compare this illustration to the well-known re-enactments of the Battle of Gettysburg. Does the fact that these re-enactments are staged prove that the battle never happened? The peppered moth photos are the same sort of illustration, not scientific evidence for natural selection.

Q: DARWIN'S FINCHES. Why do textbooks claim that beak changes in Galapagos finches during a severe drought can explain the origin of species by natural selection -- even though the changes were reversed after the drought ended, and no net evolution occurred?

A: Textbooks present the finch data to illustrate natural selection: that populations change their physical features in response to changes in the environment. The finch studies carefully - exquisitely - documented how the physical features of an organism can affect its success in reproduction and survival, and that such changes can take place more quickly than was realized. That new species did not arise within the duration of the study hardly challenges evolution!

Q: MUTANT FRUIT FLIES. Why do textbooks use fruit flies with an extra pair of wings as evidence that DNA mutations can supply raw materials for evolution -- even though the extra wings have no muscles and these disabled mutants cannot survive outside the laboratory?

A: In the very few textbooks that discuss four-winged fruit flies, they are used as an illustration of how genes can reprogram parts of the body to produce novel structures, thus indeed providing "raw material" for evolution. This type of mutation produces new structures that become available for further experimentation and potential new uses. Even if not every mutation leads to a new evolutionary pathway, the flies are a vivid example of one way mutation can provide variation for natural selection to work on.

Q: HUMAN ORIGINS. Why are artists' drawings of ape-like humans used to justify materialistic claims that we are just animals and our existence is a mere accident -- when fossil experts cannot even agree on who our supposed ancestors were or what they looked like?

A: Drawings of humans and our ancestors illustrate the general outline of human ancestry, about which there is considerable agreement, even if new discoveries continually add to the complexity of the account. The notion that such drawings are used to "justify materialistic claims" is ludicrous and not borne out by an examination of textbook treatments of human evolution.

Q: EVOLUTION A FACT? Why are we told that Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific fact -- even though many of its claims are based on misrepresentations of the facts?

A: What does Wells mean by "Darwin's theory of evolution"? In the last century, some of what Darwin originally proposed has been augmented by more modern scientific understanding of inheritance (genetics), development, and other processes that affect evolution. What remains unchanged is that similarities and differences among living things on Earth over time and space display a pattern that is best explained by evolutionary theory. Wells's "10 Questions" fails to demonstrate a pattern of evolutionary biologists' "misrepresenting the facts."

Teachers, you should be aware that there are solid answers to all of these ginned-up "controversies" that the Discovery Institute is pushing, and none of them require invoking mythical designers or bizarre conspiracies by biologists.

Journalists, could you please take notice of the fact that there is an excellent resource you can turn to when creationists send you press releases? Talk to the National Center for Science Education. They're often ready with the answers, and if they aren't, they can tap into the science community and get them for you.

Quote miner, quote miner, pants on fire …

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I was quite relieved that Jason Rosenhouse wrote his piece on William Dembski’s recent bloviations about quote-mining. Specifically, Dembski was challenging a portion of something written by Dave Mullenix and myself about a year ago published on Panda’s Thumb.* I had felt that I had an obligation to respond, but several commitments had prior claim to my time (and I simply took Monday off to go fishing).

The Coalition for Science is planning a series of events as the Kansas Kangaroo Court on “evidence against evolution” gets going.

The Coalition for Science is planning ahead for media participation. They will have a Media Booth with media information kits and people on hand to answer questions from the media throughout the day, a broadcast media briefing at 3PM each day, and scientists and educators will conduct an analysis of the day’s hearings half an hour following the close of hearings each day (with a light meal provided… these folks appear to know their media relations).

Pedro Irigonegaray was asked by the Department of Education to represent the Draft 2 science standards at the hearings, empowered to call science witnesses to testify. In the newsblog of the Coalition for Science, Pedro speaks out on the hearings:

The KSBE subcommittee has made it clear that they do not support Draft 2 of the standards and that they support the non-scientific opinions of the Intelligent Design (ID) Minority.

It is our opinion that the intended purpose of these hearings is:

· to provide the controlling Majority of the KSBE a rationale, in essence a façade of credibility, when they eventually change the standards; and

· to give the Intelligent Design movement a national forum to present their theological and anti-science ideas disguised as ‘science.’

I have joined thousands of scientists worldwide who recognize these hearings to be no more than a showcase for Intelligent Design, and to be rigged against mainstream science. I support their refusal to participate.

David W. Rudge (2005), assistant professor of biological sciences at Western Michigan University, has published a very welcome addition to the literature regarding Bernard Kettlewell’s classic experiments on natural selection in peppered moths. Here are some of his comments regarding his concerns about creationists’ misuse of industrial melanism and of Judith Hooper’s charges of fraud against Kettlewell:

On April 26, William Dembski posted this brief essay on his blog. He was responding to allegations that ID proponents routinely quote scientists out of context in making their case.

In his blog entry Dembski focusses on one particular example of this charge. In an essay entitled Five Questions Darwinists Would Rather Dodge (PDF format), posted at his website in April of 2004, Dembski had quoted paleontologist Peter Ward to the effect that the Cambrian explosion poses a serious problem for evolutionary theory.

Shortly after Dembski's essay was posted online, Gary Hurd and Dave Mullinex posted a detailed reply to Dembski's remarks about the Cambrian explosion. Among other criticisms, Hurd and Mullinex claimed that Dembski had misrepresented Ward's writing. It was this assertion that Dembski was addressing in the blog entry mentioned above.

For me this provided an interesting opportunity. Prior to preapring this blog entry, I had read neither Dembski's original essay nor the reply by Hurd and Mullinex. And I had never heard of Peter Ward. Consequently, I was able to look into this dispute without any preconceived notions. I knew the facts of the situation would be easy enough to obtain, and they would allow me to see for myself whether it was Dembski, or his critics, who were giving me the straight story.

I have posted my findings in this lengthy entry over at EvolutionBlog. You'll never guess what I found!

The Tangled Bank

It's May Day! We're supposed to be thinking of flowers and spring and new life and Revolution and labor and the rights of the working class, but here in western Minnesota we're looking at snow and a late freeze and fierce winds—the snow is coming down sideways, always a bad sign—so I'm sitting indoors with a stack of papers to grade and thinking about these things in only the most abstract ways, I'm afraid. I'm going to bring up something completely different, science on the web.

So first, I will urge everyone to think positive thoughts about life and biology and science, good stuff to consider any day of the year and not just in the spring, and remind you all that a new edition of the Tangled Bank will be online this Wednesday, hosted by Buridan's Ass. The Tangled Bank is a biweekly collection of writing about science, natural history, medicine, etc., and it is now taking submissions of your good stuff on those subjects—send links to <buridans AT buridansass DOT com> or to me or to by Tuesday. And if you are snowed in or bored, browse the archives to find out who's talking about science on the weblogs.

There's another, even closer deadline coming up, and this one is your opportunity to strike a blow for good science in the so-called mainstream media. Last week, a major metropolitan newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, ran several opinion pieces on Intelligent design creationism, both pro and con. This isn't unusual, but they are also asking for more reader contributions on the subject:

An invitation to readers on ID/evolution.

We're interested in your thoughts on intelligent design, evolution, and their proper places in school curricula. Write us an e-mail of no more than 150 words and send it to, with the word "evolution" in the subject line. Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number so we can contact you if we decide to publish your response. Please reply by Monday, May 2.

This is a great opportunity to show our support for good science teaching and make a public statement in opposition to creationism. I know it's short notice, but heck, 150 words? That's a paragraph or two. I've made a suggestion about possible topics (in short: keep it positive, and let's encourage the newspapers to take a strong pro-biology stance), and if you'd like to see an example, here's one person publicly working through a couple of drafts.

The extremists and the lunatic religious right are usually far better at flooding the media with calls for action—let's try and reverse that pattern this time, OK?

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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