May 29, 2005 - June 4, 2005 Archives

The Ferrett has a description of an “interesting” graphic novel.

The evil fallen angels stampede the dinosaurs toward Noah’s Ark, hoping to destroy it…. The flood waters drowned and killed the dinosaurs…. This event is [u]not[/u] a fable and [u]not[/u] a “myth”… It is a verifiable scientific [u]fact[/u]!

PZ has some more commentary.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, backers of “divine design” want equal time in Utah public schools.

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, plans to lead the fight for instruction of divine design in Utah public schools. He wants to defuse some of the expected controversy by avoiding the term “creationism” altogether.

Instead, he favors “divine design,” sometimes called “intelligent design,” which “doesn’t preach religion,” he said. “The only people who will be upset about this are atheists.”

Supporters of intelligent design say nature is so complex that it could not have occurred without the guidance of some higher power, maybe God, maybe something else.

They say this differs from traditional creationists who believe that God created the Earth, and argue the distinction means its inclusion in public school curriculum would not violate church-state separation.

”The divine design is a counter to the kids’ belief that we all come from monkeys. Because we didn’t,” said the conservative Republican and retired director of a private school for troubled boys. “It shocks me that our schools are teaching evolution as fact.”

Buttars doesn’t disregard evolution completely, rather he believes God is the creator, but His creations have evolved within their own species.

”We get different types of dogs and different types of cats, but you have never seen a ‘dat,’ ” he said.

Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch have published an interesting perspective in Academe

They provide us with an in depth overview of the Wedge approach of Intelligent Design and its scientific vacuity (scientific sterility they call it).

Over thirty years ago, the great geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution,” and his words continue to ring true today. Biologists, and scientists generally, know that evolutionary biology continues to thrive, despite constant claims by its ideological opponents that it is a “theory in crisis.” Insofar as biologists are aware of intelligent design, they generally regard it as they do young-earth creationism: negligible at best, a nuisance at worst. But unlike young-earth creationism, intelligent design maintains a not inconsiderable base within academia, whose members seemingly exploit their academic standing to promote the concept as intellectually respectable while shirking the task of producing a scientifically compelling case for it. To be sure, academic supporters of intelligent design enjoy, and should enjoy, the same degree of academic freedom conferred on the professoriate in general. But academic freedom is no excuse for misleading students about the scientific legitimacy of a view overwhelmingly rejected by the scientific community. In short, the academic supporters of intelligent design are enjoying, in the familiar phrase, power without responsibility. It is a trend that their colleagues ought to be aware of, worry about, and help to resist.

Francis Beckwith and Walter Bradley object to some minor quibbles

Comments on Beckwith’s article at Right Reason.

Dawson family protests Beckwith’s appointment to Baylor institute By Marv Knox Posted: 9/19/03

PAX Television has a weekly show called Faith Under Fire, hosted by Lee Strobel, a “former investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune turned apologist” according to a recent article that discusses Strobel’s pro-ID views.

On the episode for Saturday, June 4th, one segment discusses the Bible Code:

“Secret codes. You saw them in National Treasure. You read about them in The Da Vinci Code. Is it possible that there are actually secret codes in the Bible! And if there is some kind of code in the Bible, why is it there? Two mathematicians debate the existence of Bible codes. Insurance actuarial consultant Ed Sherman, author of the Bible Code Bombshell, says he tried to disprove the code notion but ended up being convinced of its authenticity. Physicist Dr. Dave Thomas the author of Skeptical Odysseys and a member of the Committee for Scientific of Claims of the Paranormal, remains unconvinced….”

If you’re curious as to how a Panda’s Thumb blogger does against Ed Sherman, tune in. If you miss it, the debate between Thomas and Sherman continues on the Web.

Museum Quits as Film Sponsor

After the news of the showing caused controversy, however, officials of the museum screened “Privileged Planet” for themselves.

”The major problem with the film is the wrap-up,” said Randall Kremer, a museum spokesman.

”It takes a philosophical bent rather than a clear statement of the science, and that’s where we part ways with them.”

In today’s Washington Post, there is an editorial entitled Dissing Darwin that is recommended reading. I’ll offer some commentary on the flipside.

Today, the DI proudly announced that "[f]or the second time in nine months, an article explicitly applying intelligent design theory to scientific research has been published in an internationally respected biology journal -- despite Darwinists' claims that this never happens." This leads one to wonder about the status of Rivista within the biological community? While it may be "one of the oldest biological journals in the world" (1919), I would argue that it is neither "internationally respected" nor influential.

Read more over at Stranger Fruit.

Fumble in the endzone

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Denyse O’Leary wrote:

As far as I am concerned, American Darwinists are as dumb as a bag of hammers. Or, as we say here in Toronto, Canada, “smart like streetcars.” By assailing the Smithsonian in droves over the showing of an inspiring film, which the vast majority of them have NEVER SEEN, which suggests that there is meaning and purpose in the universe (well, hello!), they have managed to create a situation where the Smithsonian must now screen the film for free.

- Denyse O’Leary, Toronto

That is Ms. T. rex, buster!

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The Schweitzer/Horner team that we have followed for years has released their newest result today. They had raised a tremendous clamor among young earth creationists late last March when they announced that they had recovered flexible tissues identifiable as blood vessels, blood cells, and osteocytes from a Tyrannosaur rex femur. (See ”Dino Blood Redux”). At that time, they made a rather cryptic comment that there was something unusual about the gross architecture of the bone, and that they had a second paper already in review with Science.

The online supplemental data with their March article (Schweitzer MH, Wittmeyer JL, Horner JR, Toporski JK (2005) Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex. Science 307(5717):1952-1955) indicated that they had molecular data directly attesting to the evolutionary relationship between dinosaurs and birds. At that time, I noted the direct contrast between creationist David Menton’s complaint, “Why not compare the histology of the dinosaur bone to that of some living reptile? After all, dinosaurs are reptiles,” (‘Ostrich-osaurus’ discovery?) and Jack Horner’s comment that, “Birds are dinosaurs.”

Today we learn that the unusual gross anatomy from the interior of the MOR 1125 femur was immediately recognized by Schweitzer as Medullary bone. Medullary tissue is a calcium-rich layer lining the inside of bird’s bone marrow cavities that develops during the egg-laying process. The formation of medullary tissue is today uniquely avian and distinct from reptilian egg-laying biology.

The actually paper becomes available Friday, June 3rd. We will look forward to reading it, and examining the creationist’s reactions in a following item.

Behe’s meaningless complexity

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In the Inferno, Dante tells the story of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca (don’t even try to pronounce it, unless you are Italian). Count Ugolino was locked up in a tower with his sons, without food or water, by his Pisan political enemies, whom he had betrayed. To survive, he ate his own children (he died anyway, and got to spend eternity stuck in a frozen lake, gnawing at his incarcerator’s skull).

Michael Behe also had to face Ugolino’s choice: starving for support for ID, he was forced to eat his own brain-child, “irreducible complexity” (IC). The meal was fully consumed in Behe’s response to my “The Revenge of Calvin and Hobbes” post.

From EurekaAlert:
A male fly's sexual courtship of a female fly is a complicated business of tapping, singing, wing vibration, and licking, but a single gene is all that is needed to produce this complex behavior, according to new research published in this week's issue of the journal Cell.

The gene encodes the Fruitless protein. Male and female flies carry different versions of the fruitless protein, as a result of sex-specific splicing of the mRNA. The male form of Fruitless is critical for the male courtship ritual and males' preference for mating with females, as previous studies have shown.

Now, Barry J. Dickson and Ebru Demir of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences show just how intimately fruitless is linked to these stereotypically male behaviors. They discovered that female flies with the male version of fruitless behave like males, directing at other females a sexual display nearly identical to their male counterparts.

See also: Ebru Demir and Barry J. Dickson: "fruitless Splicing Specifies Male Courtship Behavior in Drosophila" Cell, Vol. 121, 785–794, June 3, 2005. DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2005.04.027
All animals exhibit innate behaviors that are specified during their development. Drosophila melanogaster males (but not females) perform an elaborate and innate courtship ritual directed toward females (but not males). Male courtship requires products of the fruitless (fru) gene, which is spliced differently in males and females. We have generated alleles of fru that are constitutively spliced in either the male or the female mode. We show that male splicing is essential for male courtship behavior and sexual orientation. More importantly, male splicing is also sufficient to generate male behavior in otherwise normal females. These females direct their courtship toward other females (or males engineered to produce female pheromones). The splicing of a single neuronal gene thus specifies essentially all aspects of a complex innate behavior.
Petra Stockinger, Duda Kvitsiani, Shay Rotkopf, László Tirián, and Barry J. Dickson: "Neural Circuitry that Governs Drosophila Male Courtship Behavior" Cell, Vol. 121, 795–807, June 3, 2005. DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2005.04.026
Male-specific fruitless (fru) products (FruM) are both necessary and sufficient to “hardwire” the potential for male courtship behavior into the Drosophila nervous system. FruM is expressed in ∼2% of neurons in the male nervous system, but not in the female. We have targeted the insertion of GAL4 into the fru locus, allowing us to visualize and manipulate the FruM-expressing neurons in the male as well as their counterparts in the female. We present evidence that these neurons are directly and specifically involved in male courtship behavior and that at least some of them are interconnected in a circuit. This circuit includes olfactory neurons required for the behavioral response to sex pheromones. Anatomical differences in this circuit that might account for the dramatic differences in male and female sexual behavior are not apparent.

The Society for the Study of Evolution, which is ironically based in Kansas, has redone their website: The website contains information about evolution and science education, statements from scientific societies on evolution, a white paper on evolution and society, and many more interesting things.

The objectives of the Society for the Study of Evolution are the promotion of the study of organic evolution and the integration of the various fields of science concerned with evolution.

The Society publishes the scientific journal Evolution and holds annual meetings in which scientific findings on evolutionary biology are presented and discussed.

The Society for the Study of Evolution holds its annual meeting with The Society of Systematic Biolologists and The American Society of Naturalists. This conference is simply called “Evolution.” Evolution 2005 is at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and begin June, 10th.

I will be attending the conference and presenting some of my doctoral research on simulating sequence evolution. Prof. Steve Steve will be traveling with me to the conference and will be at my talk (early Sunday morning) if anyone wants to meet him.

Denyse O’Leary reports on the Smithsonian statement

O'Leary on ASA Wrote:

O’Leary assails Darwinbots.

Read more at O’Leary’s Web log.

The irony of Denyse’s comments has not escaped the ASA participants

Michael Roberts observes

Congratulations to Denyse for scoring an own goal. If she had not hyped up the whole story these so-called Darwinbots never would have known.

As noted in comments, creationists are hoping to have PBS play The Privileged Planet after the SI showing. PT has done some investigating and can report the following, straight from the PBS administration: PBS affiliates have been offered the opportunity to broadcast Privileged Planet starting 1 June 2005 and lasting for three years.

Individual PBS affiliate stations have great discretion in setting programming schedules and it is to them that you should direct your inquiries on this matter. You may find your local PBS station’s address at


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.

The Tangled Bank

Wow, but this thing has growed and growed…eventually the science bloggers are going to crowd the political bloggers out of the blogosphere, and then we shall be philosopher-kings ruling a blogtopia with our bloggy blogitude…and first thing we're going to do is outlaw that hideous word, "blog".

But I digress. Go read Tangled Bank #29 - The Natural History Museum.

Cristián Samper Wrote:

Statement by the Director, National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History recently approved a request by the Discovery Institute to hold a private, invitation-only screening and reception at the Museum on June 23 for the film “The Privileged Planet.” Upon further review we have determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution’s scientific research. Neither the Smithsonian Institution nor the National Museum of Natural History supports or endorses the Discovery Institute or the film “The Privileged Planet.” However, since Smithsonian policy states that all events held at any museum be “co-sponsored” by the director and the outside organization, and we have signed an agreement with this organization, we will honor the commitment made to provide space for the event.

In her ‘response’ toOrr’s excellent contribution in the New Yorker, Denyse O’Leary quotes Luskin

Luskin, an apparent enfant terrible, also challenges Orr on a sensitive point:

I publicly invite Allen Orr to explain to us how his Darwinian view of life interfaces with his personal religious beliefs. Public disclosure of Orr’s personal views would go much further towards reassuring people that it is possible to believe in God and evolution than would his mere citation to a statement by a pope who said that God and evolution are compatible. My e-mail address is [Enable javascript to see this email address.].

Any other Darwinist is welcome to do the same, I suppose.

While researching the nematode work by Azevedo, I ran across the following [url=]website[/url] called ‘Design vs. Descent: A war of predictions”. The original article can be found at the Idea Center

While the article has many problems, one in particular caught my eye

Finally, a study which compared many proteins in humans, nematodes, arthropods, and yeast found that 2 starkly different trees were produced, depending on which genes were used.25 This pattern of different genes yielding very different phylogenetic trees is very common in the scientific literature, and shows that molecular data fail to give a consistent picture of the alleged common descent ancestry of organisms.

25. Mushegian A, Garey J, Martin J, Liu L. Large-Scale Taxonomic Profiling of Eukaryotic Model Organisms: A Comparison of Orthologous Proteins Encoded by the Human, Fly, Nematode, and Yeast Genomes. Genome Research 1998;8:590-8.

The Supreme Court today ruled in a case called Cutter v. Wilkinson that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) does not violate the First Amendment. This decision is the latest step in a back-and-forth between Congress and the Supreme Court over the degree to which the federal government can give religious groups special accommodations. Below, I’ll explain the history of the case, and its holding, and then why it’s important to the evolution/creationism controversy.


Maybe half of my audience here will be familiar with this problem. You're a man, and you're hauling this massive, ummm, package around in your pants everywhere you go. Other men fear you, while the women worship you…yet at the same time, your e-mail is stuffed to bursting with strange people making friendly offers to help you make it even bigger. It's a dilemma; you think you would be even more godlike if only it were larger, but could there possibly be any downside to it? (There is a bit of folk wisdom that inflating it drains all the blood from the brain, but this is clearly false. Men who are stupid when erect are also just as stupid when limp.)

A couple of recent studies in fish and spiders have shown that penis size is a matter of competing tradeoffs, and that these compromises have evolutionary consequences. Guys, trash that e-mail for penis enlargement services—they can make you less nimble in pursuit of the ladies, or worse, can get you killed.

Continue reading "The burden of bearing a massive penis" (on Pharyngula)

A creationist named Cowan who teaches science at the University Place School District in Washington state has written an essay that was published in the Christian Science Monitor. In part, it talks about how teaching the “controversy” regarding evolution is a stimulating pedagogy.

I wrote a letter to a few of the administrators of the high school at which Cowan works. I’ll show what I wrote on the flipside.

Jonathan Witt aruges that:

There is a factual error in the story’s headline and lead sentence. They suggest that the science documentary makes a case against biological evolution. In fact, the film doesn’t even touch on the subject.

The Privileged Planet focuses on cosmology and astronomy, and on Earth’s place in the universe. One could be a strict Darwinist and still agree with the argument in The Privileged Planet. In fact, that accurately describes at least two of the prominent scientists who endorsed the book upon which the documentary is based.

Another Tangled Bank is imminent

The Tangled Bank

The next Tangled Bank will be on Wednesday, 1 June, at Organic Matter. Get those links in to Chris,, or me by Tuesday!

Teach the uhh… our controversy

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As reported by Reed Cartwright, the strict comment policy of IC blog sites and other websites, is ‘explained’ by Jay Richard by claiming that

the ID contributors ruled out comments because the debate about intelligent design often becomes malicious. “We would have one post and 30 comments that are vitriolic,” he said.

ASA: Bias in Science, Part 2

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Randy Isaac Wrote:

In part 1 I spoke of prejudicial bias, in which there is a tendency for a prejudice, or an a priori desire or preference for a particular result, to influence the analysis and the outcome of a scientific investigation, and a scientific bias, in which there is a tendency for anomalous results, namely those not expected on the basis of established scientific knowledge, to be rejected, particularly if the results directly contradict previously well-documented results.

In this post, I’d like to take a closer look at Baumgardner’s paper… which elicited the concern a few weeks ago that it might be rejected by peer-reviewers due to an inappropriate bias. Specifically, Vernon Jenkins wrote on April 4, 2005: “There can be little doubt that Baumgardner et al would be more than happy to publish these findings in peer-reviewed form if a relevant journal could be found to accept their work. However, the sad truth is that a paper challenging the accepted uniformitarian paradigm - irrespective of its intrinsic quality - invariably meets with editorial and reviewer hostility.”

Read more at Bias in Science, Part 2, on the Calvin Reflector

Gonzalez said this common charge isn’t true and reflects mistaken beliefs about science by its critics.

”They come from a specific philosophical point of view,” he said. “Any explanation apart from law and chance is not permitted in science.”

October 12, 2004 A universal debate By Lucas Grundmeier Daily Staff Writer

What else is there other than law and chance? Ignorance?

Also remember that in Privileged Planet, Gonzalez et al do not eliminate chance and law, only chance. In other words, they accept that laws can explain the universe. Why is it that ID proponents have no problem accepting front loading in astronomy but insist on intervention in biology?

The Revenge of Calvin and Hobbes

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In “Darwin”s Black Box” (DBB), ID”s arch-biochemist Behe glibly labeled evolutionary hypotheses for the origin of “irreducibly complex” systems as “hops into the box of Calvin and Hobbes” (for those who don”t know what the heck this refers to, go here to learn about Calvin and Hobbes, and here for info on their box, or even better go spend some time here, and come back tomorrow). This overconfidence has come back to haunt him as more and more evidence accumulated in support of the evolutionary origin of his various IC systems, from the flagellum to the complement and clotting cascades.

The topic where the idea of unevolvability of IC systems has probably taken the most beating is the vertebrate adaptive immune system, where not only evidence for evolution has accumulated at a steady pace, but even more embarrassingly for Behe, it has developed exactly along the lines predicted by those “Calvin and Hobbes jumps” he originally dismissed. A recent paper in the journal PLoS Biology [1] is the latest turn in the death spiral of irreducible complexity of the immune system, and I think provides a good opportunity to take a look at how science works, as opposed to ID navel-gazing.

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