September 4, 2005 - September 10, 2005 Archives

Intellectual laziness over intelligent design

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Dr Matthew Chalmers from the Institute of Physics presents his comments in The Sunday Times of September 11

Dr Matthew Chalmers Wrote:

ROD LIDDLE does his best to knock scientists off their pedestals while taking care not to side with the “deadbeat” promoters of intelligent design (Comment, last week). But he goes one step too far. By suggesting that it is reasonable to discuss ID as a possible alternative to evolutionary theory in school science lessons he has sadly fallen into the same trap of so many others in this recent non-debate.

The reason why intelligent design should not be taught in science classes is blindingly simple: it isn’t science. Does Liddle also think that A-level biology should include a short module on the virgin birth as an alternative to sexual reproduction, or perhaps a homework assignment about life after death? After all, millions of people believe in those.

Not wasting any words he concludes

Intelligent design is at best religious-right extremism; at worst, intellectual laziness.

There you have it…

Dembski quote mining Dawkins

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Dembski quotes Dawkins but somehow drops relevant parts of the sentence…

WAD Wrote:

What’s Your Favorite Dawkins Quote?

Quotes like “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” and “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose” are right up there, but my all-time favorite is “Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory, we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.” (All these quotes are from The Blind Watchmaker.)

It’s comforting that evolutionary theory is in the capable hands of rigorous empirical scientists like Dawkins.

As opposed to ‘rigorous empirical scientists’ like Dembski he probable means? Of course there are some interesting problems with his ‘logic’. First of all Dawkins is among thousands if not tens of thousands of capable scientists who move evolutionary theory forward. What does ID have to offer? Poof…. But let’s explore the ‘empirical evidence’ presented by Dembski with respect to Dawkin’s quote:

On the website for Jonathan Wells’s book Icons of Evolution, there’s a page titled “Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution.”

All are about supposed flaws in the “Icons of Evolution” - the Miller-Urey experiments, Darwin’s Finches, Horse Evolution and more.

Here is Question #1:

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?

This week, NASA’s Astrobiology Institute and Washington University in St. Louis made an announcement that should, once again, sound the death-knell for this particular “Icon of Anti-Evolution.”

From a story in today’s WaPo, I learned that Bayer has withdrawn it’s poultry anitbiotic Baytril from the market. This marks the end of a five-year battle with the FDA over the drug.

The FDA first proposed withdrawing Baytril in October of 2000, due to concerns regarding the development of antibiotic resistance. From a 2001 FDA Consumer Magazine article:

Poultry growers use fluoroquinolone drugs to keep chickens and turkeys from dying from Escherichia coli (E. coli) infection, a disease that they could pick up from their own droppings. But the size of flocks precludes testing and treating individual chickens–so when a veterinarian diagnoses an infected bird, the farmers treat the whole flock by adding the drug to its drinking water. While the drug may cure the E. coli bacteria in the poultry, another kind of bacteria–Campylobacter–may build up resistance to these drugs. And that’s the root of the problem.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority).

Today, the Faculty Senate of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology issued a statement strongly condemning Rio Rancho’s new “science” policy, which has been discussed previously on the Thumb here and here.

Also, an excellent letter opposing the policy appeared in the Rio Rancho Observer.

Recycling Genetic Code?


I enjoyed this Agoraphilia post asking the all-important question, why was God so lazy when designing all the animals?

Congressman Rush Holt has written a very thoughtful essay on Intelligent Design at TPM Cafe. The article is titled Intelligent Design: It’s Not Even Wrong

Rep Holt Wrote:

As a research scientist and a member of the House Education Committee, I was appalled when President Bush signaled his support for the teaching of “intelligent design” alongside evolution in public K-12 science classes. Though I respect and consistently protect the rights of persons of faith and the curricula of religious schools, public school science classes are not the place to teach concepts that cannot be backed up by evidence and tested experimentally.

Rep. Holt’s comments reminded me of Dembski’s Z-factor arguments in his book No Free Lunch. Mark Perakh has done an excellent work in various essays and articles to show how the Z-factor argument undermines intelligent design. In a future posting I intend to explore the impact of Dembski’s comments on the Privileged Planet argument. Dembski’s requirement for ‘independent evidence’ is the reason why Intelligent Design (wink wink, nudge nudge) is scientifically vacuous.

Hat tip to Douglas Theobald (author of 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution) for pointing me to Holt’s article. The responses to Holt’s essay suggest that he has touched a nerve with the American public.

You might recognize philosopher Mary Midgley as the author of this egregiously bad review, published in the journal Philosophy in 1979, of Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. In the course of her lengthy review, Midgley managed to misunderstand and misrepresent virtually every aspect of Dawkins’ argument. Dawkins subsequently refuted her arguments in this devastating reply. In fairness, Midgley subsequently apologized for her intemperate tone here.

Well, it seems that Dawkins still has the ability to literally drive Midgley crazy. In response to this recent op-ed, co-authored by Dawkins and Jerry Coyne in the British newspaper The Guardian, Midgley wrote a remarkably misinformed letter to the editor. Click here (hers is the first letter). I analyze the situation in this post over at EvolutionBlog.

Communications and Science

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A little more than a week ago, Mike Syvanen posted an article on Panda’s Thumb that discussed a real controversy within the field of evolutionary biology: the role of horizontal gene transfer in early evolution. Today, Paul Nelson misinterpreted that article in a post over on ID: The Future. The specifics of this incident have been covered in more detail both by at Evolving Thoughts, and at Evolutionblog. I’m going to look at this incident from a slightly different perspective: how it illustrates some of the communications issues that scientists are forced to face when dealing with creationists.

Continue Reading (at The Questionable Authority)

Casey Luskin writes in the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News and Views blog concerning the widespread perception that “intelligent design” invokes supernatural explanation. Luskin says that critics of ID have misled the public on this issue, and that all becomes clear when one examines what ID advocates have to say on the matter. Luskin goes on at length concerning his conjectures of the structure of misinformation about ID; it’s a relatively amusing read. But don’t expect much in the way of empirical support for the claims.

(Countinue reading… on

This is going to be good:

Science vs. Religion. Evolution vs. Creation. It is an age-old battle whose time has come. “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” will gather together all the experts (or at least those who will talk to them), travel to the places that matter in the debate (basic cable budget permitting) and ultimately settle the controversy once and for all. “Evolution Schmevolution: A Daily Show Special Report” will premiere on Monday, September 12 and air nightly at 11:00 p.m. through September 15.

For one full week, “The Daily Show” goes in-depth, around, through and quite possibly under, one of the hottest hot-button issues facing our nation: evolution. It’s the accepted theory on the origin of life by an overwhelming majority of the world’s biologists, but maybe they’re all wrong. What’s so great about the scientific method anyway?

I’m going to be watching my television every night next week…except that I’m going to be in New York on Thursday. I wonder if I can get in to see it directly?

The series is running on basic cable through Thursday. If you don’t have cable, or are living in one of those countries that doesn’t get obscure American comedy programs, you can watch clips of the programs online.

Tangled Bank #36

The Tangled Bank

Tangled Bank #36 is online at B and B!

Evolution of sensory signaling

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How we sense the world has, ultimately, a cellular and molecular basis. We have these big brains that do amazingly sophisticated processing to interpret the flood of sensory information pouring in through our eyes, our skin, our ears, our noses…but when it gets right down to it, the proximate cause is the arrival of some chemical or mechanical or energetic stimulus at a cell, which then transforms the impact of the external world into ionic and electrical and chemical changes. This is a process called sensory signaling, or sensory signal transduction.

While we have multiple sensory modalities, with thousands of different specificities, many of them have a common core. We detect both light and odor (and our cells also sense neurotransmitters) with similar proteins: they use a family of G-protein-linked receptors. What that means is that the sensory stimulus is received by a receptor molecule specific for that stimulus, which then actives a G-protein on the intracellular side of the cell membrane, which in turn activates an effector enzyme that modifies the concentration of second messenger molecules in the cell. Receptors vary—you have a different receptor for each molecule you can smell. The effector enzymes vary—it can be adenylate cyclase, which changes the levels of cyclic AMP, or it can be phospholipase C, which generates other signalling molecules, DAG and IP3. The G-protein that links receptor and effector is the common element that unites a whole battery of senses. The evolutionary roots of our ability to see light and taste sugar are all tied together.

Continue reading Evolution of sensory signaling (on Pharyngula)

Fair and Balanced

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Chris Mooney, who has written before on the “he said, she said” style of much science journalism (see here), and Matthew Nisbet have the cover story in the current Columbia Journalism Review, writing on the (mis)reporting of evolution in the mainstream press. Referring to a Washington Post story about the battles over teaching intelligent design in public schools, Mooney and Nisbet wrote

Yet Slevin’s article conspicuously failed to provide any background information on the theory of evolution, or why it’s considered a bedrock of modern scientific knowledge among both scientists who believe in God and those who don’t. Indeed, the few defenders of evolution quoted by Slevin were attached to advocacy groups, not research universities; most of the article’s focus, meanwhile, was on anti-evolutionists and their strategies. Of the piece’s thirty-eight paragraphs, twenty-one were devoted to this “strategy” framing — an emphasis that, not surprisingly, rankled the Post’s science reporters. “How is it that The Washington Post can run a feature-length A1 story about the battle over the facts of evolution and not devote a single paragraph to what the evidence is for the scientific view of evolution?” protested an internal memo from the paper’s science desk that was copied to Michael Getler, the Post’s ombudsman. “We do our readers a grave disservice by not telling them. By turning this into a story of dueling talking heads, we add credence to the idea that this is simply a battle of beliefs.” Though he called Slevin’s piece “lengthy, smart, and very revealing,” Getler assigned Slevin a grade of “incomplete” for his work.

Various ID proponents have ‘argued’ that Margulis doubts ‘Darwinian theory’:

Dembski Wrote:

“And yet, Harold continued, ““But we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”

James Shapiro, Stuart Kauffman, and Lynn Margulis have raised similar doubts” Source Unintelligent Evolution

Let’s explore these arguments in more depth. Is Margulis anti-Darwinian, anti-Neo-Darwinian? And if lack of details is such a problem for a scientific theory then how come ID has no details to offer at all? What does this say about the nature of Intelligent Design?

Who is minding the store?

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Who made the watch?

Is intelligent design threatening to dethrone evolution as the leading theory of origins?

More and more scientists are buying into the theory of intelligent design. This includes scientists in physics, astronomy, molecular biology and genetics. These scholars have reached a conclusion from their research and the overwhelming volume of evidence that the complexities, structure and laws of the physical universe all point to “intelligent design” as the source. But here’s the big problem - intelligent design means there must be a designer. This can only lead to the logical conclusion that God, the Designer, exists.

Hey, “Evolution News”: correct this!

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bear_tongue-2.JPGThe CRSC Evolution News and Views blog, affectionately called by us at PT the “Discovery Institute Media Complaints Division”, does not demonstrate the same solicitude correcting their own and their associates’ “glaring errors of fact” that they show for real and imaginary mistakes from other media outlets. The time has come for them to put their red pen where their mouth is.

Last week, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne published this op-ed in the British newspaper The Guardian. Erstwhile evolution critic David Berlinski has written this brief reply for the Discovery Institute’s blog. Berlinski’s missive contains the following challenge:

Please read the article while endeavoring not to laugh, chortle, snicker, hoot or whistle. You will find it cannot be done. In the course of affirming why there is absolutely no controversy about anything over there where Darwinian biologists hang out, they indicate quite soberly that, in fact, there are lots of controversies after all – all of them precisely of the sort that Darwinian critics have been insisting were there all along and that Darwinian biologists have all along insisted did not exist and were of no consequence. You could, if you wished, line up Darwin on Trial or my own “The Deniable Darwin” and compare it to the remarkably frank admission and ask yourself just what the hell Coyne and Dawkins are not saying that we did not say long before them?

Since The Deniable Darwin is readily available online, I decided to take Berlinski up on his challenge. I made a list of all the criticisms of evolution offered by Berlinski, and compared it to the list of genuine evolutionary controversies mentioned by Dawkins and Coyne. I won’t spoil the suspense by telling you what I found, but I have posted my results here.

I also provide some more general commentary on why Berlinski’s reply is a grotesque distortion of what Dawkins and Coyne actually wrote. Enjoy!

We’ve talked here a few times about Utah state senator Chris Buttar’s wish to have a disclaimer about human evolution added to the state school board’s proposed position statement on teaching evolution:

Buttars believes the document should include new language: “There is not generally accepted agreement in the scientific community or (evidence) that has stood up to scientific scrutiny regarding the evolution of man from any other species.” (Deseret News, Aug 27 2005)

The reality is that there’s lots of good evidence for human evolution, including a number of habiline specimens that sit nicely midway between apes and humans. This doesn’t bother most creationists (like Buttars), because they’re blissfully unaware of them. Creationists often discuss Neandertals or Lucy at length, because it’s easy to dismiss them as humans and apes respectively, and pass over the habilines.

In the Taipei Times we find an article from the NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE titled ‘Pastafarianism’ gains prominence and support in intelligent-design drive

Indeed, 95% of those responding stated that they were “in favor of teaching Flying Spaghetti Monsterism in schools.” Five percent suggested that he would be going to hell.

In addition the website “ mounted a challenge: “We are willing to pay any individual US$250,000 if they can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

As they say in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Ramen

Wikipedia entry

Censorship at Telic Thoughts

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On Telic Thoughts, the administrators seem to have chosen to not only block me from further contributions but they have also deleted my contributions.

Fascinating how ID proponents complain about censorship but apparantly do not shy away from censoring their opponents.

Teach the controversy seems to be a one sided call to action it seems.

Tonight on Harvey Birman, Attorney at Law, Captain Caveman sues his son’s school because it doesn’t teach evolution.

Evolutionary War

When Cavey Jr.’s school refuses to teach evolution, Captain Caveman turns to Harvey to defend the hariy little boy’s right to an education. Harvey not only has to prove evolution but also explain the existence of a talking caveboy. As if that’s not enough, Harvey also suffers his latest existential crisis at the hands of Reducto. A rousing song and dance number follows.

Harvey Birdman airs on Sunday Nights at 11:45 (EST) on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block. Reruns will air at 2:45 Monday Morning, and 12:15 and 3:15 Friday morning.

Call for science links

The Tangled Bank

There will be a new Tangled Bank at B and B on Wednesday, 7 September—send me links to your science writing by Tuesday!

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