June 19, 2005 - June 25, 2005 Archives

(UPDATE: Apparently the dispute has been resolved and Dembski will be paid. See updated post at Post-Darwinist. Links here updated.)

Well, we don’t say this very often on The Thumb, but a hat-tip goes to pro-ID journalist Denyse O’Leary and her Post-Darwinist blog for breaking this story:

Key ID theorist threatens to sue intelligent design supporters in Dover, Pennsylvania case

Recently, this blog learned that ID theorist Bill Dembski is threatening legal action against the Thomas More Law Center for refusing to pay him for over one hundred hours of time he clocked as an expert witness in the Dover intelligent design case. The Center recently dismissed Dembski as an expert witness, in what sounds like a falling out with the mainstream ID community.Denyse O’Leary, Post-Darwinist

Several funny things have happened recently in Selman v. Cobb County School District, the Georgia case involving evolution disclaimer stickers.

First off, Roy Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law had their pro-disclaimer amicus brief rejected by recess appointee William Pryor because it challenged clearly established Supreme Court precedent. Knowing the source, you can probably guess how bad and loony it was. Now Moore’s cabal is asking for their brief to be reconsidered:

[T]his Court’s order misconstrues the relevance of, or entirely ignores, the arguments contained in the Foundation’s brief, and … the order has dangerous implications for future constitutional litigants before this Court ….

Deep-Sea News

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We all know the Media is too liberal, so thank God for Deep-Sea News.

Robert Camp over at nighlight exposes Johnathan Wells’s deception of television viewers: “Do Biology Textbooks Pit Evolution Against Theism? - A response to Jonathan Wells”.

The Lou Dobbs Tonight program is broadcast nationally by CNN. Dr. Ruse was representing the mainstream biology point of view, Jonathan Wells the “intelligent design” position, and John Morris that of “scientific creationism.” Additional context to consider is that Dr. Wells is well educated (he possesses two PhDs, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University [2]) and has written and spoken extensively on these issues. As such he is clearly an intelligent individual, aware of the nuances of personal responsibility and contextual suitability regarding public discussion of complex issues. Dr. Wells was perfectly aware that he was speaking to a national, not limited, demographic and representing “intelligent design” in its broadly understood context, not relying upon personal definitions of terms such as evolution and theism that might be unrecognizable to most listeners.

In other words, the claim made by Wells, that he has textbooks which “…explicitly use evolution, misuse evolution, as an argument against theism, belief in god, Christianity…” is clear and requires that the books in question commit the proposed misdeeds unambiguously and with obvious intent. Although the exculpation of any of the books on Dr. Wells’ list would be enough to invalidate his claim, I believe that it is in the interest of the integrity of biological pedagogy to allow that if just one is guilty of the charges this will suffice to support his claim.

John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute's Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture, the most prominent ID think tank in the world, is mad as hell and he's not gonna take it anymore. It seems that a state legislator in Utah has submitted a bill in that state to give equal time in state science classrooms to teaching "divine design" along with evolution - and that just will not do. West is quite verklempt about the whole thing:

While it's frustrating when critics of intelligent design mischaracterize what ID is about, it's even worse when people billing themselves as friends of ID do the same thing. As the term "intelligent design" has increasingly entered the public discourse, the number of people misusing the term to advance their own agendas by calling it "design" has increased. Take the recent proposal by a Utah legislator for something he calls "divine design," by which he clearly seems to mean creationism...

I'd like to give a clear message to those who are trying to hijaack the term design in order to promote something else: Stop!

And he quotes himself being quoted in a Salt Lake Tribune article on this bill:

"We get very upset when supposed friends are claiming far more than what the scholars are saying," says John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture in Seattle...

"We wish [Buttars] would get the name right and not propose something he doesn't understand," West says.

Let me join West in expressing my outrage at Buttars' presumptuous "hijacking" of the term "intelligent design". I mean, where on earth could Buttars have ever gotten the idea that ID had something to do with "divine design" or anything to do with notions of God and divinity at all? He clearly hasn't been listening to the Discovery Institute's scholars, but only to us evilutionists who are bent on distorting their true intent. Shame on him!

On the other hand, perhaps Buttars is not "hijacking" the phrase "intelligent design", and is instead simply relaying the plain meaning that the fellows of the Discovery Institute Center for (the Renewal of) Science and Culture have given to it over the past several years.

Bisonalveus browni

We mammals haven't been good poisoners. There are a few primitive forms that secrete toxins—the platypus has poison spines, and an unusual insectivore on a few Caribbean islands, Solenodon, has grooved fangs and secretes a salivary toxin, and itty-bitty shrews have toxic saliva—but our class just hasn't had much natural talent for venom. At least, not recently.

New discoveries of some fragmentary fossils in Canada have shown that there were some flourishing species of small, poison-fanged mammals running around in the Palaeocene, 60 million years ago.

Continue reading "Bisonalveus browni, a venomous mammal" (on Pharyngula)

yeast anaerobic metabolism

We need to appreciate beer more. Alcohol has a long history in human affairs, and has been important in purifying and preserving food and drink, and in making our parties livelier. We owe it all to a tiny little microorganism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which converts complex plant sugars into smaller, simpler, more socially potent molecules of ethanol. This is a remarkable process that seems to be entirely to our benefit (it has even been argued that beer is proof of the existence of God*), but recent research has shown that the little buggers do it all entirely for their own selfish reasons, and they've been busily making alcohol that has gone undrunk by humankind for tens of millions of years.

Carl Zimmer provides a clear argument against complaints of "circularity" in evolution. It isn't circular—it's successful!

On his blog, William Dembski noted the appearance of a new Intelligent Design blog at the University of California Irvine, and suggested that the appearance of more such blogs would be "a Darwinist�s worst nightmare".

Might I suggest instead that biologists (calling them 'Darwinists' is about as silly as calling chemists Daltonists) are more likely to fall about laughing? Take, for example, some reasoning from an early posting at the new blog:

Now here comes my intuitive (a.k.a. hand-waving) argument for design:
1. This fountain is elegant and complex.
2. The ducks are more elegant and more complex than the fountain.
3. If X is more elegant and more complex than Y, then X is more likely to be designed than Y.
4. The fountain was likely to be designed.
5. The ducks were more likely to be designed.

I haven't seen such compelling logic since the last time I saw another argument involving ducks: the witch scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Really, the idea that this something like this constitutes evidence against evolution should be embarrassing even to IDers.

Hello, everybody! It's been a long time since I wrote to the Panda's Thumb about my adventures, but I've been extremely busy, and have only now had time to update my journal, after visits to Minnesota, Iowa, Alaska, and Georgia. There's much to catch up on! In my first stop, I visited a small liberal arts university on the western Minnesota prairies, which you'd think would be a quiet place, but appearances can be deceiving…especially when you are a small plush bear with an active fantasy life.

A student note in the latest issue of the Washington University Journal of Law And Policy, while better than the usual anti-evolution law review article (because shorter), is still rotten at the core. The unifying theme of these errors is the author’s unfortunate misconception that there are scientifically valid “alternatives” to evolution. This error infects the rest of the article—as they say, one bad apple spoils the bunch.

I reported yesterday about William Dembski, John Campbell and Stephen Meyer being withdrawn as expert witnesses by the Thomas More Law Center in the Dover lawsuit. There is now developing some contradictory explanations for that withdrawal. The York Daily Record reported that the TMLC refused to allow the three Discovery Institute (DI) fellows to have their own legal representation present during depositions because it was a "conflict of interest":

Dembski, a mathematician and scientific philosopher, said the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the school board, basically fired him because he wanted to have his own attorney present during the depositions...

Thompson said the problem arose in the past several weeks when the Discovery Institute insisted that its people have separate legal representation.

Of Form over Substance: a review of Sermonti

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Note: This review is based on the Italian edition of Giuseppe Sermonti?s “Dimenticare Darwin” - “To forget Darwin” - (Il Cerchio, Rimini, 2003), about to be released in English by the Discovery Institute Press as “Why is a fly not a horse?”. An updated review of the translation, if necessary, will follow. - AB

The front cover of Giuseppe Sermonti?s Dimenticare Darwin sports the picture of a woman?s head made up of a twisting ribbon, through which a cloudy sky can be seen. It is a very fitting image for the main topic of the book, which focuses on the origin of form in living organisms, but even more for its quality: an empty shell practically devoid of meaningful content. Sermonti?s short work is neither a science book, nor a science-inspired philosophical reflection on natural history, but a long rhetorical argument whose purpose is to sway and manipulate the reader, not to inform or educate.

This story has finally been made public so we can talk about it. Within the last couple weeks, three of the main experts for the defense in the Dover ID trial - William Dembski, Stephen Meyer and John Campbell - have all been withdrawn as expert witnesses in the case. The York Daily Record reports:

Dembski, a mathematician and scientific philosopher, said the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the school board, basically fired him because he wanted to have his own attorney present during the depositions.

He said he’s puzzled and frustrated by Thomas More’s refusal to let him participate.

"I felt like I was in the crossfire," Dembski said.

The article goes on to note that there is a basic disagreement between the Discovery Institute, of which all three are fellows, and the Thomas More Law Center, over whether the Dover policy of mandating ID in classrooms is a good idea. The DI has taken the position that it should be allowed, but not mandated, while the TMLC is defending the board's policy of mandating that teaching. Both Dembski and Thompson tried to downplay those differences a bit in the article above, but I would maintain that they go a lot deeper than is being admitted.

beetle hox

One of those difficult misconceptions that is hard to root out of people's heads is the idea that individual genes 'make' something. We all have this bias, this tendency to reify the gene into something concrete—scientists do it all the time, too. You can see it in the list of gene names at OMIM, for instance; many are named after diseases or their consequences in adults. The message of which I try to always remind myself (not always successfully) is that genes don't make things, interactions between collections of genes and the environment make things. Biology arises out of the processes, not the structures; it's the reactions, not the end-product.

A paper in the latest BioEssays reminds me of this. It's a short review of Hox genes and insect wing formation that carries the same message, that morphology is a consequence of patterns of gene interactions.

Continue reading "Exorcising flawed concepts of Hox function" (on Pharyngula)

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