May 22, 2005 - May 28, 2005 Archives

I’m quoted in Science & Theology News criticizing ID’s new blog:

Unlike most blogs, however, Intelligent Design The Future does not let readers respond online to the posts. Reed Cartwright, a contributor to the evolution blog called The Panda’s Thumb, said preventing readers from adding their comments to the online discussion about intelligent design, also known as ID, shows that those who created it are not interested in running an actual blog.

”If ID is the future, as the title of the blog advertises, can’t it withstand criticism?” said Cartwright, a doctoral candidate in genetics at the University of Georgia. “I think that it is ironic that a movement, which claims to want ‘more discussion’ about biology in schools, does not allow discussion [on their blog].”

In an online press release on 2005/05/25, Oklahoma state Senators Mike Mazzei & Clark Jolley announced, "Henry Nominee for Textbook Committee Opposed".

Interesting... what, in particular, made them think that the nominee in question, Dr. Virginia Ann Dell, should be opposed?

“Despite her impressive academic degrees and her service as a teacher at the Oklahoma School of Science and Math, her errant belief that the teaching of the Intelligent Design Theory blurs the line between the separation of church and state is the first of many problems to arise with her nomination,” stated Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond.

Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, stated, “Nothing exists in state or federal law that prohibits the discussion of creationism or Intelligent Design theory in the classroom. Let’s encourage open and honest discussion of all theories so students can learn to think critically and, with their parents’ guidance, develop their own worldview.”

Dell’s responses to questioning in the Senate Education Committee showed she is unwilling to even allow a mention or discussion of alternative theories on the origins of the universe.

So, someone with actual academic training, experience as a science teacher, and apparent familiarity with the legal status of antievolution efforts (such as Epperson v. Arkansas, McLean v. Arkansas, and Edwards v. Aguillard, which show Mazzei to be behind the times as far as legal issues go) is definitely someone to keep away from helping make decisions on textbooks in Oklahoma.

Continue reading "Oklahoma, Textbooks, and Ignorance" (on The Austringer)

Word has reached the ears of the Thumb (!) that the Discovery Institute has managed to get the Smithsonian to co-sponsor an ID-friendly presentation, surprising us to say the least. (Indeed, Prof. Steve Steve was as crestfallen over the matter as anyone with a fixed expression could be.)

How could the Smithsonian, the quintessential archive of evolution as natural history in our nation, have agreed to co-host this video? How could the director be “Happy to announce” this private screening? Does the director even know if any Pandas were harmed in the production of this film?

Today, the NY Times has an article that explains the situation. We’ll discuss this and other possible violations of Panda rights on the flipside.

It’s rather like a puddle waking up one morning— I know they don’t normally do this, but allow me, I’m a science fiction writer— A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks: “This is a very interesting world I find myself in. It fits me very neatly. In fact it fits me so neatly… I mean really precise isn’t it?… It must have been made to have me in it.” And the sun rises, and it’s continuing to narrate this story about how this hole must have been made to have him in it. And as the sun rises, and gradually the puddle is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking— and by the time the puddle ceases to exist, it’s still thinking— it’s still trapped in this idea that— that the hole was there for it. And if we think that the world is here for us we will continue to destroy it in the way that we have been destroying it, because we think that we can do no harm.

Douglas Adams

What is wrong with Behe? This interview in the Christian Post contains one of the most illogical, stupid, idiotic excuses for the Intelligent Design hypothesis I've read yet. The writer asks a simple question, one I'd like to see answered by the IDists, but Behe's answer is simply pathetic.

Do you see ID having enough evidence?

Yes, I certainly do. Well, I am a biochemist and biochemistry studies molecular basis of life. And in the past 50 years, science has discovered that at the very foundation of life there are sophisticated molecular machines, which do the work in the cell. I mean, literally, there are real machines inside everybody’s cells and this is what they are called by all biologists who work in the field, molecular machines. They’re little trucks and busses that run around the cell that takes supplies from one end of the cell to the other. They’re little traffic signals to regulate the flow. They’re sign posts to tell them when they get to the right destination. They’re little outboard motors that allow some cells to swim. If you look at the parts of these, they’re remarkably like the machineries that we use in our everyday world.

The argument is that we know from experience that machinery in our everyday world that we use in our everyday world required design, required an intelligent agent that put it together, who understood how it was going to be used and who assembled the parts. By an inductive argument, when we find such sophisticated machinery in other places too, we can conclude that it also requires design. So now that we found it in life and in the very foundation of life, I and other ID advocates argue that there is no reason to not reach the same conclusion and that in fact, these things were indeed designed.

Seriously. This is the best the man can do? He's asked for the evidence, and what does he give us? Irrelevant word games ("scientists call 'em 'machines'!"), and asinine metaphors. Calling cytoskeletal transport proteins "trucks and busses" does not make them so. If I call Michael Behe bird-brained, it does not mean I think he has feathers and can fly; it especially does not mean he should jump off a tall building, confident in his avian abilities.

And no, if you look closely at them, they are nothing like the machineries with which we are familiar. When scientists call them machines and pumps and signals and motors, they are making broad but severely limited analogies in order to communicate their function to other human beings who are familiar with machines and pumps and signals and motors. They are not trying to imply that Ford has the contract to manufacture annexins for the phylum Chordata, or that there are little winking green, yellow, and red lights in the cell. Most importantly, there is no intent to imply designers.

One other interesting omission in the article: nowhere does Behe even mention "irreducible complexity". I guess that's one concept the IDiots have learned belongs on the junkheap, yet it's the one thing that made Behe famous.

On my desk I have a copy of the Encyclopedia of Science and Religion (Wentzel Van Huyssteen ed., 2003), a very useful reference work on the interfaces between science and religion. I’ve been flicking through it on and off over the past few weeks. Contributers include Francisco Ayala, Ian Barbour, John D. Barrow, John Hedley Brooke, George Coyne, Ted Davis, Bill Grassie, John Haught, David Knight, Simon Conway Morris, Nancy Murphy, Ted Peters, John Polkinghorne, Philip Quinn, Holmes Rolston, Howard van Till, and Keith Ward. Quite an all-star cast. As many readers will know, these individuals - and the majority within the science & religion community - are very much sympathetic to theological arguments in an age of science. The volumes 1070 pages offer a good overview of the interactions between science and religion and can be considered a good place to begin any research into this area. With that in mind, let’s look at how ID appears within the volume.

Read on at Stranger Fruit

Strigamia maritima

Strigamia maritima

The journal BioEssays has a lovely series called "My favorite animal", in which biologists get to wax rhapsodic about their favorite creatures. It's a great idea, since not only does it mean we get some enthusiastic writing, but more exposure is given to organismal biology. I read so many papers that go on and on about some specific molecule and in which the only illustrations are photos of gels and blots that it's nice to see whole animals for a change.

This month, Arthur and Chipman wrote about a centipede, Strigamia maritima, and its development—so not only do I get animals, I get embryos. Oh, happy day!

Continue reading "Strigamia maritima" (on Pharyngula)

A reader sent me a link to this horrid anti-evolution guest column in the MetroWest Daily News (I presume this is a suburban branch of the Boston Herald). It's appallingly bad, but so typical of the creationist strategy: fast and furious falsehood flinging, and the presumption no one will have the initiative or the ability to crosscheck the claims. It's also all stated in a pompous, self-satisfied style, as if the author knows more about biology than all those biologists out there…yet as becomes quickly obvious, the man knows nothing about genetics.

Well, I know a little about biology and genetics, and I'm willing to rip his dishonest essay apart, and there's always Mark Isaak's Index to Creationist Claims, which is a wonderful resource that makes it easy to tear into articles like this. It always surprises me, though, how unimaginative creationists are—it's always the same old bogus nonsense, repeated over and over again, with such oblivious confidence. Everything in Marty Pomeroy's essay has already been refuted.

Continue reading "Marty Pomeroy, advocate for anti-science" (on Pharyngula)

Sub-cellular ID Spin

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In the past, I have made the claim in public talks that ID could theoretically turn itself into a valid scientific endevour. At The ID Report, Denyse O'Leary (journalist, post-Darwinist, and fan of the fun boys at Telic Thoughts) feels that ID is already there. Writing of Well's recent Rivista di Biologia paper (see here for some comments), she notes:
Wells makes clear in the paper that his assumptions are based on the thesis that the centriole is a designed object, like a machine, and should be studied as one.
(As an aside, it is probably more true that his thesis is based on the assumption that the centriole is a "designed object".)

Over at Stranger Fruit, I examine Wells' theory in light of design.

Richard Dawkins has penned another good article on evolution. Read through it and we’ll discuss it on the flipside.

Two days ago, word of a survey reached the ears of the Panda’s Thumb. (Not to mix metaphors too much.) A Jewish theological seminary in New Jersey had polled doctors to see what their feelings were on evolution, intelligent design, etc. Additionally, they stratified the results based on religious identification. The results were hardly surprising to those who have been critics of the intelligent design movement. As the resident doctor here at the Thumb, I deferred commenting on this particular survey because the results were so predictable.

Well, the Discovery Institute is shopping around the idea that this survey provides evidence of a growing body of scientists that endorse ID creationism. (To be fair, their language only said that this survey was evidence of “a lively debate,” as though their enthusiasm was less about any scientific breakthrough and more about simply being prominent.)

We’ll discuss this survey on the flip side…

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting today that efforts are now under way in Cobb County, GA to remove the evolution disclaimers placed on science textbooks.

The county is still appealing, and if they manage to eventually win, we may see the disclaimers placed back on textbooks.

DEVOLUTION by H. ALLEN ORR Why intelligent design isn’t.

Overall a good overview of the arguments made by Intelligent Design and why they fail.

Orr documents a beautiful case of argument from ignorance, in addition to an admission that IC really does not mean anything much

Design theorists have made some concessions to these criticisms. Behe has confessed to “sloppy prose” and said he hadn’t meant to imply that irreducibly complex systems “by definition” cannot evolve gradually. “I quite agree that my argument against Darwinism does not add up to a logical proof,” he says—though he continues to believe that Darwinian paths to irreducible complexity are exceedingly unlikely. Behe and his followers now emphasize that, while irreducibly complex systems can in principle evolve, biologists can’t reconstruct in convincing detail just how any such system did evolve.

Bobby Henderson, a concerned citizen, has written an open letter to the Kansas school board about the attempts to put “intelligent design” creationism into the science curriculium. In the letter, he advocates for his view of creation to be included as well:

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

BBC News is reporting that scientists have discovered the irony centers of the brain. The only reason this study is surprising is that PT posters and readers were not the primary research subjects. Most of us had our irony neurons burned out long ago (I bet you would see some nice dark spots on brain scans, right next to our hypertrophied pun centers). This is why we have to compensate with irony meters, which, sadly, have been taking quite a beating lately.

There's been a small, sudden flurry of news about Intelligent Design creationism in the Netherlands recently. Their education minister in the Christian Democratic Party is a proponent, triggering strong protests from other parties. A reader has sent in some translations of Dutch articles on the subject that I have posted on Pharyngula.

This is a report of my trip to Grand Canyon on May 4, where I assisted NCSE‘s Eugenie Scott in her investigation of sightings of a creationist book in Grand Canyon bookstores. First, though, I gave Dr. Scott advice on her powerpoint talk to interpreters. She had been invited to address them during their annual training session before the Grand Canyon National Park gears up for the summer season.

On A Scientific Dissent on Darwinism we find a Discovery Institute press release which includes Philip S. Skell who is described as an Emeritus Prof. Of Chemistry. Strangely enough, in a more recent press release from the Discovery Institute we read

Dr. Phil Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences** and a professor emeritus of biochemistry at Pennsylvania State University, has just sent an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education encouraging them to revise the state’s science standards to allow students to learn the scientific evidence both for and against biological and chemical evolution.

What happened? Chemistry or biochemistry… Intelligent design or evolution…

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