August 21, 2005 - August 27, 2005 Archives

In a post earlier today, I noted that a group of creationists are suing the University of California system in order to force UC to accept several of their classes that are currently not considered adequate. One of the courses in question is biology. As I already pointed out, UC is not discriminating against Christians by refusing to accept the class; it is simply living up to its responsibility to ensure that applicants are adequately prepared for university study. Nevertheless, I was curious as to what about these particular biology classes was so poor as to attract attention.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority).

Privileged Planet: The fallout

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Guillermo Gonzalez, author of “Privileged Planet” is touting the concept of Intelligent, reports “The Iowa Channel”. It is creating quite some uproar at Iowa State University.

Gonzalez Wrote:

“It’s something that brings a renewed interest in science”

Gonzalez remains silent as to how this brings a renewed interest in science. Conflating science and religion never serves a good purpose.

Gonzalez said that humans are the product of a creator – whether it is God or whomever – and were not created by chance and a product of evolution.

More cracks are starting to show.

In How Intelligent Design Hurts Conservatives (By making us look like crackpots) published in The New Republic on 8/16/05, Ross Douthat argues that Intelligent Design will hurt the conservatives.

In short, the scientific vacuity will catch up with the religious and political motivated arguments and back fire.

And intelligent design will run out of steam–a victim of its own grand ambitions. What began as a critique of Darwinian theory, pointing out aspects of biological life that modification-through-natural-selection has difficulty explaining, is now foolishly proposed as an alternative to Darwinism. On this front, intelligent design fails conspicuously–as even defenders like Rick Santorum are beginning to realize–because it can’t offer a consistent, coherent, and testable story of how life developed. The “design inference” is a philosophical point, not a scientific theory: Even if the existence of a designer is a reasonable inference to draw from the complexity of, say, a bacterial flagellum, one would still need to explain how the flagellum moved from design to actuality.

The first cracks are showing

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John West:Discovery Institute Wrote:

There’s little question that the Earth is billions of years old, said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank in Seattle that is critical of Darwinian theory.

”Critics would rather tar everyone with the brush of creationism,” said West, who teaches political science at Seattle Pacific University. “I think the idea that Genesis provides scientific text is really farfetched.”

LA Times: Adam, Eve and T. Rex

The big tent is only comfortable when it serves one’s purpose but when the tent becomes to crowded, ID seems to be quickly back pedalling. Now ID is not only fighting science but also young earth creationism. And it is ill equipped to handle either one.

Science because ID fails to propose a scientifically relevant theory and thus remains scientifically vacuous. Creationism because it invited it into its big tent.

It appears that yet another creationism-related lawsuit is in the works. This time, the venue is in California, and it is the Creationists who are doing the suing. Apparently, the Association of Christian Schools International and Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murietta are no longer satisfied with being able to teach their students creationism instead of real biology. Now, they also want to make sure that their students will not have to suffer the consequences of this decision, and they are suing for that “right”.

Continue reading (at The Questionable Authority)

Chris Buttars, the eternally clueless Utah state Senator, certainly didn’t get the answers he wanted from the Utah state school board. Buttars has been threatening to submit a bill to mandate the teaching of “divine design” - a slightly more honest version of intelligent design - if the school board doesn’t issue a position statement officially denouncing human evolution. Instead, the board has gone the other direction:

The state school board’s proposed position statement on teaching evolution doesn’t give an inch for a state senator’s “intelligent design” concepts.

That bothers Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan. He wants the board to insert language saying humans didn’t evolve from any other species…

Its contents were revealed in a school board agenda the Deseret Morning News received this Friday.

”As a fundamental scientific concept, evolution is a necessary part of science classroom instruction, and it will continue to be taught and progressively refined as a key scientific principle,” the 1 1/2-page document states.

”Teachers should respect and be nonjudgmental about (student) beliefs, and teachers should help students understand that science is an essential way of knowing. Teachers should encourage students to discuss any seeming conflicts with their parents or religious leaders.”

The document also defines the weight of theory in scientific context, cites evidence that the universe and life have changed over time, and notes other ways people glean understanding, such as historical analysis, art, religion and philosophy, which rely upon “other ways of knowing, such as emotion and faith.

”While these ways of understanding and creating meaning are important to individuals and society, they are not amenable to scientific investigation and thus not appropriate for inclusion in the science curriculum,” the document states.

On Wednesday night, FOX News anchor Bill O’Reilly interviewed Rick Sternberg. The subject was Sternberg’s allegations of harassment at the hands of various employees of the Smithsonian Institution. The cause of this harassment, says Sternberg, was his decision to publish a pro-ID article during his stint as editor of The Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. For some background on the situation see the recent PT entries by Nick Matzke here, and by Andrea Bottaro here.

Over at EvolutionBlog I have posted this analysis of O’Reilly’s segment. Enjoy!

Well, it’s Official. It’s not just the New York Times believing the Discovery Institute’s line that New Mexico’s new school science standards “embraced the institute’s ‘teach the controversy’ approach.”

Now it’s the Rio Rancho Public Schools.

On Monday, August 22nd, the Rio Rancho (NM) School Board adopted “Science Policy 401”, over the protests of most of the attendees at the meeting.

The policy begins by saying

The Rio Rancho Board of Education recognizes that scientific theories, such as theories regarding biological and cosmological origins, may be used to support or to challenge individual religious and philosophical beliefs. Consequently, the teaching of science in public school science classrooms may be of great interest and concern to students and their parents.

It gets worse from there. Much worse.

bicoid evolution

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I’ve written about this fascinating Drosophila gene, bicoid, several times before. It’s a maternal effect gene, a gene that is produced by the mother and packaged into her eggs to drive important early events in development, in this case, establishing polarity, or which end of the egg is anterior (bicoid specifies which end of the egg will form the fly’s head). Bicoid is also a transcription factor, or gene that regulates the activity of other genes. We also see evidence that it is a relatively new gene, one that is taking over a morphogenetic function that may have been carried out by several other more primitive genes in the ancestral insect.

Continue reading “Bicoid evolution” (on Pharyngula)

Beyond the fish wars

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More and more people, scientists and religious people alike, are coming to the obvious conclusion that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

Beyond the fish wars

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jim Burklo, a minister of Sausalito Presbyterian Church, presents his opinion

It [Intelligent Design] is not a theoretical alternative to evolution, because it suggests no other credible means by which this outside intelligence created the complexity of life. There is nothing in the theory of evolution, the only one that holds any water in explaining the origin of the species, that proves or disproves the existence of such an intelligent “designer.” Even if one thinks of God as a separate, distinct being that manipulates the universe, “intelligent design” offers no intelligent reason to suggest that evolution wasn’t God’s chosen instrument of creation.

Guy T. Sturino has an interesting article on Intelligent Design.

Sturino Wrote:

Intelligent Design adds nothing to the scientific, investigative curiosity about the nature of our universe, and as such is a waste of time, energy and resources much better spent in providing our children with the tools necessary to succeed in a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

On his personal website he published an article on August 22, 2005 titled “A Class On Intelligent Design.”

400 (minus 1)

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The DI’s list of 400 Darwin doubting scientists has one fewer member. Robert Davidson has bailed out, saying

When I joined [the Discovery Institute] I didn’t think they were about bashing evolution. It’s pseudo-science, at best … What they’re doing is instigating a conflict between science and religion.


He was shocked, he says, when he saw the Discovery Institute was calling evolution a “theory in crisis.”

”It’s laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution,” he says. “There’s always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there’s no real scientific controversy about it.

Davidson began to believe the institute is an “elaborate, clever marketing program” to tear down evolution for religious reasons. He read its writings on intelligent design — the notion that some of life is so complex it must have been designed — and found them lacking in scientific merit.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. And it’s in the DI’s hometown paper.


(Hat tip to Valentine Pontifex on Infidels)

From Bill Maher’s “Real Time with Bill Maher”* for August 23rd, 2005:

And finally, New Rule: You don’t have to teach both sides of a debate, if one side is a load of crap.

(Transcript of “New Rules” segment)

It’s a bit sad that many of our journalists don’t have the insight shown by our comedians.

Hat tip to Bill Farrell. *Correction on title of show provided by Bill Gascoyne.

I have just had a truly amazing adventure. From July 29 - August 6, I accompanied Alan Gishlick and Eugenie Scott (and members) on NCSE’s “Creationism and Evolution” raft trip down Grand Canyon. Here are “Gish” and Genie, my hosts.

Tangled Bank #35

The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of The Tangled Bank is online at Cognitive Daily. Since you may like your science untainted by politics or the slime of creationism, the host has kept it entirely apolitical this time, setting aside all the links that even mention the creationism non-debate in a separate post. Read one for pure science, the other for the greater social argument.


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Quiet. Listen.

These are the new recordings of the ivory-billed woodpecker. Go here for the whole story, and more recordings.

Last year Ian, Steve, and I wrote a critique of a flawed anti-“Darwinian processes” paper by Michael Behe and David Snoke. At the time we had been discussing turning it into a publication, but we set aside the idea after we learned that the editors of Protein Science had asked an expert on gene evolution, Michael Lynch from Indiana University, to write a response to Behe and Snoke (2004).

Now it comes to pass that Michael Lynch’s response and a reply by Behe and Snoke is going to be published in next month’s Protein Science.

We’ll keep our readers informed about Lynch’s analysis of Behe and Snoke’s science.

by Marshall Berman and Dave Thomas

On Sunday, August 21, 2005, the New York Times published an article entitled “Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive.” This otherwise excellent article unfortunately contained several errors that resulted from treating some false information from the Discovery Institute (DI) as accurate. One major error was accepting the DI view that New Mexico has “embraced the institute’s ‘teach the controversy’ approach.” This is absolutely false, as the following evidence will show.

What is this thing called Science?

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Over at ID the Future is an open letter to Science from several Discovery Institute luminaries protesting that, despite the fact that they do no research and have published no original research on ID, Intelligent Design Creationism is indeed Science.

Alan I. Leshner (Redefining Science, July 8) says intelligent design isn’t science because scientific theories explain what can be observed and are testable by repeatable observations and experimentation. But particular design arguments meet this standard.

Before going on to their example, I’d like to point out that some of the arguments of Young Earth Creationism (YEC) also meet this standard. For example, YEC makes specific, testable claims about the age of the Earth, so why isn’t YEC science? Several reasons, not the least that when confronted with clear, unambiguous, multiple independent lines of evidence that their claims are wrong, the YEC will ignore this evidence, or invoke miracles, or pretend the evidence doesn’t exist. They will not accept evidence to the contrary of their preconceptions, so despite having testable claims, YEC isn’t science.

How does ID creationism fare?

Coming soon to Nebraska?

In the August 18th issue of Nature (1), Donlan et al. suggest a novel way to save certain species of megafauna: bring them to the North American wilderness. (CNN summary/commentary here).

It’s not as outlandish as it may sound. As they point out, North America had many similar species until 13,000 years ago, including mammoths, camels, cheetahs, and lions. While they acknowledge there are differences between modern species and those which existed once upon a time in America, they suggest that the modern species are proxies for their long-extinct cousins, and could be used to “re-wild” North America. The authors suggest a mutually beneficial relationship: portions of the Great Plains benefit from tourism dollars, while the animals benefit from increased habitat and a decreased threat of extinction. Win-win, right?

One of the comments that was inspired by my earlier post on the invasive gall wasps that are threatening some native Hawaiian plants raised a point that is worth responding to in detail, since it comes up fairly often both in arguments with anti-evolutionists and in discussions about the costs and benefits associated with conservation efforts:

“Big Bill” said: “And further, letting foreign people plants and animals in always increases diversity. Sure, some native peoples, plants, and animals will die out, but it’s not like they have any right to the land. There is no God-given title. If the native peoples, plants and animals cannot compete and survive, that is their fault. It’s Darwin in action.”

Bill’s statement does capture a basic fact about the biological effects of invasive species: if the invasive species outcompetes the natives, resulting in the extinction of the native species, it is simply a case of natural selection. I cannot argue with that. There are some who might claim that situations involving invasives do not count, because the invasive arrived as the result of human intervention rather than “naturally”. I dislike that argument, both because it ignores the fact that the effects would probably have been the same regardless of the mode of arrival and because it implies that humans aren’t really part of nature.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Sternberg and the “smear” of Creationism

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One of the items in the list of offenses Richard Sternberg claims to have suffered at the hands of his Smithsonian colleagues and the “Darwinian orthodoxy” after the publication of the Meyer paper is the accusation of being a “Young Earth Creationist”. However, the record shows that, at the time, the accusation was hardly a purposeful smear aimed at unfairly tarnishing Sternberg’s reputation, but a reasonable conclusion based on the available information. More below.

Two days to the Tangled Bank

The Tangled Bank

The next Tangled Bank will be appearing at Cognitive Daily on Wednesday. Submissions have been trickling in, but we can always use more—if you've written anything science related, send a link to me or, and it will be highlighted in the 35th edition on 24 August.

Note: The paper by Chen et al. is now published online. Embarassingly for the BBC, the fossil is named Vetustovermis, not Vetustodermis. I thought the misspelling would explain why Vetustodermis originally got zero google hits (there are now 160 google hits on Vetustodermis), but it turns out that Vetustovermis currently gets zero google hits, although I am sure this won’t last. Anyhow, I will correct the name, and add a few comments on the paper to the end of this post.

The BBC has a story up about the Cambrian fossil Vetustovermis planus, a critter so obscure that, at the time of this posting, it received zero hits on google. The BBC reports that a study is coming out in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B: Biological Sciences that evidently phylogenetically places Vetustovermis outside of any extant phylum, but perhaps nearer to molluscs within the Lophotrocozoans.

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