September 11, 2005 - September 17, 2005 Archives

Scott Rothschild reports that Nobel Laureates urge rejection of intelligent design

Thursday, September 15, 2005

TOPEKA — A group of 38 Nobel Laureates headed by Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel have asked the Kansas State Board of Education to reject science standards that criticize evolution.

In a letter to the board released today, the group from several countries said Darwinian evolution is the foundation of biology.

” … its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA,” the group wrote. (See entire letter.)

Fresh off his electrifying performance on the Daily Show, the intrepid Dr. Dembski is still, it seems, attempting to do comedy. Witness the extraordinary chutzpah it took to write this post about the speaking schedule of NCSE staffers. He writes:

Have a look at One of my colleagues describes reading this page as “watching a car wreck.” I’m just sorry we can’t get a percentage cut from all the speaking engagements they are getting as a result of attacking us. Life is so unfair.

Well Bill, we’d love to have a cut of your speaking fees, and of the fees you charged the Thomas More Law Center for your expert witness work on the Dover trial (over $100,000, if I recall correctly, while all of the experts on our side donated their time and took only expenses), and of all the books you write in the copious free time that you save by avoiding publishing your claims for a scientific audience, books for which you find a ready audience in the churches among people who, as a group, have little hope of understanding your ideas. For that matter, I’m sure the NCSE staff would sacrifice body parts to get even a small percentage of the funding that the Discovery Institute enjoys. The DI has enough money laying around to give fellowships to rougly five times as many people as the NCSE has on their entire staff, not to mention the multiple directors, staff members, spokespeople and legal counsels they have and the PR firm they can afford to hire (more on that later).

Dobzhansky and anthrax

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The Washington Post today reminds us that there has been little progress in uncovering the source of the 2001 anthrax attacks.[1]

Why is this news for Panda’s thumb? Read on…


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The surprise hit nature documentary, March of the Penguins, has, according to the New York Times, been co-opted by social conservatives as a sort of affirmation of their views on sex and marriage. The article quotes conservative pundit Michael Medved as saying that the movie “passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing.” And there is another review, written by Andrew Coffin of the right-wing Christian World Magazine, claiming that the movie makes a strong case for intelligent design:

That any one of these eggs survives is a remarkable feat—and, some might suppose, a strong case for intelligent design.

Sadly, that’s the sum total of his argument. It would be interesting to know why having a high mortality rate makes a good argument for ID, but I guess that’ll have to remain a mystery. Maybe it’s because these penguins live in such harsh conditions that he can’t imagine how they could have adapted to the cold so suddenly. But given the fact that penguins live at the equator, it wouldn’t have been sudden.

At any rate, this embrace of a nature documentary from people who probably don’t watch many nature documentaries has provoked a bemused reaction throughout the blogosphere. Ed Brayton notes that the existence of gay penguins doesn’t exactly make them good poster species for “traditional” marriage. And PZ Myers points out that these “monogamous” penguins get new partners each and every year. But the best is Carl Zimmer’s take. He gives us a list of would-be nature documentaries that showcase some, shall we say, non-traditional family values. When these movies come out, you’d better hide the kids. Or, depending on your species, eat them.

Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education put a comment on a thread here that delivers some interesting news on the nuisance lawsuit filed earlier this year: it was never served on NCSE, and in fact was withdrawn in July, although the filer failed to notify NCSE of this action.

Dr. Eugenie C. Scott Wrote:

This is not the first time that Mr. Caldwell has claimed that I maliciously wrote in the California Wild article that he submitted YEC books to the district. Castigating me for my not having explained the source of that error is is disingenuous. After Mr. Caldwell filed suit against NCSE and me personally, my lawyer advised me to not make any public statements. And of course Mr. Caldwell has threatened some members of PT and PT itself for linking to the CW article, is sueing the Roseville school district, and also attempted to subpoena NCSE’s records in regards to THAT lawsuit – you get the picture. The advice seemed prudent. Not being able to speak out has chafed greatly, as NCSE staff and my family are very aware. I have long wanted to get the truth out about Mr. Caldwell’s claims, but have been hampered by his own actions in suing me, and twice threatening to sue the California Academy of Sciences.

However, we have just discovered that Mr. Caldwell has dismissed the lawsuit against us – way back in July, in fact! He had sent us a settlement offer, we replied, and my lawyer and I have been waiting for his response to our reply– but we have heard nothing from him. In fact, although he filed the suit in April, he never even bothered to formally serve me with notice of his legal action! Now, shortly after receiving our reply to his settlement offer, he has moved to dismiss the lawsuit.

He never informed us that he had dismissed the case (which is apparently not legally required, but certainly would have been courteous) and thinking that I was still under the advice of my counsel to maintail silence, I have remained mute. This should not be mistaken for any acquiescence to Caldwell’s claims, nor certainly lack of confidence in the strength of our legal position! But you can’t take certain actions until certain procedural events take place – one usually gets served when one gets sued, for example, and then the clock starts ticking for response. We’ve been waiting around for Caldwell, but I’m happy to say that since he dismissed his lawsuit, I am not longer under those constraints.

Although we are very busy right now getting ready for the Dover trial, which certainly takes precedence over a nuisance suit, however personally annoying this has been, I will soon explain fully the actual facts of the Caldwell vs Scott lawsuit, as contrasted with the distorted version presented by Caldwell here, in Caldwell’s press releases, and in the religious right media echo chamber.

That we would not be able to “defend <ourselves> in court” is laughable, as anyone who reads the corrected version of the article on NCSE’s web site will quickly see: Corrected article

Stay tuned.

(Comment #48088)

Bill Dembski, the Newton of Information Theory, has announced a new flash game on his site, Panda-monium. It's a sort of Space Invaders-like game, where you shuffle a tank back and forth, firing upwards at—you guessed it—panda bears falling out of the sky.

It's interesting because:

  • It's slick and flashy,
  • but it's also shallow and tedious,
  • and the pandas always eventually win.

There's a metaphor there somewhere.

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Timothy Birdnow

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Laugh, cry, curl up into a fetal ball and close my eyes…I'm not sure what I want to do. There is a site called The American Thinker which I read for the first time today, and all I can say is that if this is what they call American thinking, we have grounds for a class action suit for libel on behalf of every citizen in the US.

In particular, they've published an article, The case against Darwin, written by a property manager in St. Louis, Timothy Birdnow. It's clear that he's ideologically compatible with far right wing pseudoscience, but reading his essay was a hilarious exercise, rather like reading children's funny exam answers. The science is a mangled mish-mash, almost entirely wrong, delivered with an astoundingly confident tone that disregards its own obvious contradictions.

Continue reading "Timothy Birdnow" (on Pharyngula)

Jay Bookman, deputy editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had a great column on September 12th. Bookman writes

Unfortunately, though, I don’t believe ID advocates are sincere about wanting to teach the controversy. If they are, they simply haven’t thought through the implications. A controversy, remember, has two sides. And if alleged weaknesses in evolution theory are to be taught in our schools as science, then scientific evidence against the existence of an intelligent designer or God must be taught, too. That’s how science works. If you propose a theory, you issue an invitation to others to shoot holes in your theory. So think about that: Do we really want science teachers exploring the evidence for — but also against — the existence of a designer? I don’t think that’s wise or useful for a number of reasons, but that’s what a rigorous and intellectually honest debate would require.

Anyone wanna bet whether or not the Discovery Institute agrees to teach all controversies? I dibbs “No.”

G’Day mate! Struth! Crack open a tinnie and chuck another bamboo shoot on the barbie, she’ll be right! As you can see, I’ve mastered the local dialect, or ‘Strine’, pretty quickly thanks to my strong linguistics background. Parted company with that Wilkins fellow in Canberra. He can philosophise at the drop of a hat, but can’t read a bus time table to save his life! After 3/4 of an hour actualizing the concept of the non-bus, I left him contemplating the concept of the taxi. I hear he made it hope, but goodness knows how. My primary reason for being in Canberra was to visit with a couple of t.oers from the “good old days” of (when t.oers were really geeks, Ted was really Ted, and communication was via pigeon), Chris Nedin and Jim Foley. I left the Wilkins at the taxi rank and went to visit with Chris Nedin (pictured below), where a welcome, and generous, glass of fine Irish whiskey was waiting to fight off the winter chill (panda fur only goes so far you know).


A short while ago, the Panda’s Thumb logged its one millionth visit on the Sitemeter scale. Now, given the somewhat arbitrary measures of what constitutes a “visit” as opposed to a “page hit”, one million of these is a fuzzier concept than might be imagined. Call it a pseudo-quantity.

But what does matter is that we’re reaching a sizable community, and helping inform people concerning the ongoing threat to science education posed by antievolutionists of various stripes. We want to thank those of you who visit here who will now consider getting involved in the real work of protecting and enhancing good science education. We’ll continue to do our best to keep you informed, and sometimes amused.

Special bonus: NCSE’s 600th Steve joined Project Steve within minutes of PT getting its millionth visit.

An Open Letter to 600 Steves

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An open letter to the 600 NCSE Steves,

My dearest, my darlings, you little stinkers! In all of my 25 plus years as a professional something or other, (and believe me, I’ve done a lot of stuff for money!) nothing makes me prouder than to have been involved in what became known internationally as Project Steve. Oh, poo to project lead on one of BellSouth’s largest re-engineering software projects of the late 90s, GE Financial Services first venture into the World Wide Web and Bechtel Engineering’s Web Initiative Plan what’cha’ma’call’it. Project Steve beat the pants off all of them.

From the moment that Matt Inlay first pondered the vastness of Steves (individually or collectively, only Matt himself knows), Glenn and I fell giggling onto the floor of the NCSE office munching Twinkies and causing the Darwinian-Only Terror herself, Dr. Eugenie Scott, to come from her lair and roar, “C’mon guys, what’s so funny,” we knew we were on to something.

At first we thought it just too outrageous to even contemplate. After all, who were these so-called Steves? Botanists, geologists, paleontologists, biologists, tobacconists? Would they answer our call? Well, my boys, you did answer. With all the courage and conviction of someone who would send an email to a colleague stating, “Hey Steve, did you get one of these? Are the clowns at NCSE serious about this?” you charged to the front trenches defending quality science education.

(Continue reading… on

Dembski can be observed quote mining Dawkins and making some ironic statements in a recent posting on UncommenDescent.

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….

Harris: ID not religion, just about God

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JEFFREY WEISS of the Dallas Morning News conducted two interviews, one with Dr. Harris

Speaking for the teaching of intelligent design is William Harris, a professor at the University of Missouri medical school in Kansas City. He’s a researcher in nutritional biochemistry, a Methodist and managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, an online information site supporting intelligent design.

and one with Dr. Miller:

In the other corner is Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, Catholic and the author of Finding Darwin’s God.

I found the answers by Dr Harris quite interesting. First he responds with the standard ID response, with a slight but devastating deviation, namely that ID does not demand any particular godhead to be credited.

Q: Dr. Harris, for all the claims your side makes about intelligent design being science, isn’t it also religion?

Harris Wrote:

It’s consistent with a theistic explanation but does not demand that any particular godhead be credited with that activity.

Unwittingly perhaps, he has opened up the flood gates by deviating from the script and limiting the intelligent designer to be outside nature.

Q: But you’re talking about an entity who stands outside the limits of time and space with the power to affect the physical world. Isn’t that a god by most definitions?

Harris Wrote:

Yes. Is that impossible? Science should be seeking the truth about the natural world regardless of the implications. Why do the implications [that God may be responsible for creation] stop something from being scientifically valid?

In other words, ID is not about any specific God but it is surely about one or more Godheads.

Why can’t more ID proponents be more clear about this? Harris then continues with a response which I find quite hilarious as it undermines fully any ID approach as proposed by Dembski or Behe for instance.

Hang your head in shame, Grauniad!

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PZ Myer at Pharyngula discusses an interview with Behe:

The Guardian has published a pathetic interview with Behe. The interviewer, John Sutherland, is clearly out of his depth and allows real howlers to slide by, and in a few cases, even helps Behe along.

Behe Wrote:

But the question is: exactly how did life get here? Was it by natural selection and random mutation or was it by something else? Everybody - even Richard Dawkins - sees design in biology. You see this design when you see co-ordinated parts coming together to perform a function - like in a hand. And so it’s the appearance of design that everybody’s trying to explain. So that if Darwin’s theory doesn’t explain it we’re left with no other explanation than maybe it really was designed. That’s essentially the design argument.

Read more at Pharyngula

Or read on for some of my comments

There are a pair of articles in this week’s edition of the journal Science that are almost certainly going to cause some excitement and controversy in the field of human evolution. Controversies in this area are nothing new, of course, but these articles seem to have all of the necessary ingredients for a spirited debate. They also seem to be almost certainly destined to be miscited by any number of unsavory individuals.

Although the two articles have slightly different sets of authors, both come from the same laboratory, and both focus on the same topic: natural selection acting on genes involved in the development of the human brain. Two different genes were examined, and in both cases specific versions of the genes - alleles - were found to be present in frequencies that indicate that they have recently been (or still are) the subject of strong selective pressure. In both cases, the alleles appear to be very new - younger than the appearance in modern humans. Finally, and here is the bit that’s going be the most controversial part of this, the selectively favored alleles are less likely to be present in people from certain geographic locales.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority).

Fred Barton has a letter published in the Lansing State Journal

Fred Barton: Wrote:

“Like every other man of intelligence and education, I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.”

- former President Woodrow Wilson, 1922

Imagine how surprised he would be today. Since last November, the National Center for Science Education has tracked 78 challenges to the teaching of evolution across 37 states. Recently, President Bush said, “Schools should discuss ‘intelligent design’ alongside evolution when teaching students about the creation of life.”

At the center of the debate over teaching intelligent design is the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank started in Seattle whose rallying cry is “Teach the controversy.” Unfortunately, the only “controversy” is the one created by the institute to attract the attention of the press and general public.

Fred provides some interesting details about the funding of the DI. I found that the original source of this information is a NY Times article titled “Politicized Scholars Put Evolution on the Defensive”

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