November 20, 2005 - November 26, 2005 Archives

Revealed knowledge

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The Tangled Bank

Another Tangled Bank is coming up on Wednesday, 30 November, at Dogged Blog. Send those links in to the host or me soon.

If you're wondering what the Tangled Bank is, Mike Bergin has written a summary of weblog carnivals. It's basically a mechanism to spread the attention around, and direct readers away from a few well-trafficked weblogs to other deserving sites, usually with a theme—the Tangled Bank is a one-stop shop to find lots of weblogs that write about science, for instance.

I discussed here new research on venom evolution that topples some old conventional wisdom. It seems this and another study are already making waves in that field. Genealogy of Scaly Reptiles Rewritten by New Research

The most comprehensive analysis ever performed of the genetic relationships among all the major groups of snakes, lizards, and other scaly reptiles has resulted in a radical reorganization of the family tree of these animals, requiring new names for many of the tree’s new branches. The research, reported in the current issue of the journal C. R. Biologies, was performed by two biologists working at Penn State University: S. Blair Hedges, professor of biology, and Nicolas Vidal, a postdoctoral fellow in Hedges’ research group at the time of the research who now is a curator at the National Museum in Paris.

Vidal and Hedges collected and analyzed the largest genetic data set ever assembled for the scaly reptiles known as squamates. The resulting family tree has revealed a number of surprising relationships. For example, “The overwhelming molecular-genetic evidence shows that the primitive-looking iguanian lizards are close relatives of two of the most advanced lineages, the snakes on the one hand and the monitor lizards and their relatives on the other,” Vidal says.

The eminent science journal Nature has a letter (subscription required) from Professor A. Richard Palmer of the Systematics and Evolution Group, at the University of Alberta.

In it, he proposes that we teach the controversy - not only should we teach that there is an Intelligent Design hypothesis, we should also teach that there is an Intelligent Deceiver motivating the ID movement.

Individuals who understand how to debate alternative scientific hypotheses would never intentionally promote religious dogma as science. So an intelligent deceiver must be at work, guiding proponents of ID to sow confusion over valid scientific debate.

Heavy Demand for Intelligent Design and Science Wars Articles Prompts SciPolicy Journal to Give Free and Open Access to Archives Haverford, PA (PRWEB) November 21, 2005 – SciPolicy – The Journal of Science and Health Policy – announced today that all of its articles are now free and open access on-line.

The public service move is prompted by a recent ten-fold increase in demands on its already busy website ( for articles related to its Amicus Curiae brief in Federal Court (the case of Kitzmiller, et al v Dover Area School District and Dover Area School District Board of Directors) and for its editorial opposing government mandates to teach of intelligent design in public schools, and its numerous articles on the Science Wars.

In an article forthcoming in the Washington University Law Quarterly, Prof. Jay Wexler responds to the arguments of Prof. Francis Beckwith on the constitutional issues involved in the teaching of Intelligent Design. It's a good article that will help the efforts of evolution's defenders---and, as an added bonus, Wexler cites posts from the Thumb and allied blogs in his footnotes!

Fox News reports that Professor Paul Mirecki will be teaching a class on intelligent design.

The class, titled “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies” will be taught in the religious studies department of the university.

Carl Zimmer has a post today about the work of Dr. Bryan Grieg Fry on the evolution of snake venom. If that name sounds familiar to those of you who aren’t reptile specialists, you may have run across Dr. Fry’s homepage, or you may have seen his research profiled previously on Panda’s Thumb here, or you may have read comments by the good doc in this thread. Zimmer, as always, has an excellent overview of Fry et al‘s new paper in Nature (link ), but he didn’t emphasize the one sneak peek I received from Bryan. So, I thought I’d add a bit to Carl’s overview.

(Continued at Aetiology…)

HHMI’s Holiday lectures

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On December 1st and 2nd, there will be a series of four lectures by Sean Carroll and David Kingsley offered by the HHMI. Even if you aren't in a fabulously well-connected East coast city, though, you'll be able to watch it—it's going to be webcast (via Real, which is unfortunate…I don't care for them much).

It should be excellent!

Conservatives Against ID


Although attacks on evolution education usually come from politically conservative groups, it’s wrong to get the impression that conservatives are monolithically hostile to evolution. In fact, many prominent political conservatives, including Charles Krauthammer, John Derbyshire, and Larry Arnhart, not only defend evolution, but are worried about the fallout for conservatism when the ID movement finally blows up, as it must. I myself am not sympathetic to reconciliation between evolution and religion, as I explained in this post, and I’m not a political conservative myself. But conservatism is a respectable political position, and it would be a shame if it hitched itself permanently to the plummeting star of Intelligent Design. Conservatives who stand up for evolution deserve praise for their intellectual integrity; it can’t be easy for them to stand up against their friends and allies on such a controversial issue. On that score, congratulations to Timothy Wheeler for his post on the Claremont Institute’s weblog.

Update: Meanwhile, the (non-conservative) Cato Institute’s Andrew J. Coulson has this article on the ID/evolution fight.

The Motherland

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Recently I had the opportunity to visit some of my relatives at the Panda Reserve in Chungdu, China. I was invited to visit the Reserve by my friend Dr. Steve “Number 42” Case. Number 42, besides being one of the original Project Steve Steves, is also co-chairperson of the Kansas Science Standards Writing Committee as well as Director of the Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas.

It was certainly moving to see my ancestral home and native habitat. I don’t run into many pandas in the scientific circles I inhabit, nor many real bamboo stands for dinner.

I imagine that Number 42 is enjoying doing research in China right now rather than dealing with the continuing shenanigans of the state Board of Education back in Kansas. He tells me that his next stop is Zhengzhou, the place where KU recently acquired fossil dinosaur eggs from. He is going to see if he can acquire some - maybe I’ll be able to visit him there also.

Witt in the Seattle Times

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In an opinion piece in the Seattle Times, Jonathan Witt is in high dudgeon over those intolerant "Darwinists" who want to suppress the Truth. Sadly, his piece is one half-truth after another, all misleadingly twisted to give an overwhelmingly fraudulent impression. You would think that someone who honestly wants to address a scientific issue would not resort to such distortions and propaganda…but that's the Discovery Institute for you.

After various other Vatican officials had already expressed their discomfort with the Intelligent Design Creationism movement, Cardinal Schonborn, who initially had confused some with his comments about intelligent design, has finally outlined the details.

Schonborn, whose initial comments on Intelligent Design may have been coached by organizations supporting ID, seems to have come to the realization that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous.

My critique of Gerald Schroeder’s first book, Genesis and the Big Bang (Bantam Books, 1990), and of his second book, The Science of God (The Free Press, 1997), was first posted in April 1999, almost seven years ago. It was updated when Schroeder published his third book, The Hidden Face of God (The Free Press, 2001). My critical remarks can be seen here or here. Besides these posts on the internet, my critique of Schroeder was published in vol. 23, No 4 (2003) of Skeptic (Australia). Then, in my book Unintelligent Design, released by Prometheus Books in November of 2003, there is a chapter specifically discussing Schroeder’s three books. There also are references to my critique of Schroeder in various reviews of my book, both online and in print.

Response from Schroeder? A seven year long silence.

Now a reader of Talk Reason by the name of Daniel emailed Schroeder a copy of my post critiquing Schroeder’s output. This time Schroeder finally deigned to reply, probably because Daniel seems to be affiliated with he same religious organization as Schroeder (see here).

I will not repeat here my critical remarks regarding Schroeder’s output, which can be seen at any of the above mentioned places. Instead I will only address Schroeder’s “reply” to Daniel.

The Clergy Project letter now has 9,919 signatures, and their goal is to collect 10,000 signatures. This is a letter signed by clergy in the USA that asserts that religion and science are compatible, and further that evolutionary biology should be taught: “To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.”

So, if you are a member of the clergy, or if you know of a member of the clergy who has not yet signed, this is the final call for signatures. Instructions are on this page.

Update: The Clergy Project was at 10,002 signatures as of November 23rd, 2005. Congratulations to Michael Zimmerman, and thanks to the participating clergy.

…and has spawned some press coverage, here in the Ames Tribune and here in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, making us the first state to have faculty from all Regent universities speak out against intelligent design. I’ll briefly address some of the comments.

In the first article, U of I physics professor (and signer of the DI’s “Scientific dissent from Darwinism” petition) Fred Skiff elaborates one giant strawman:

“It’s part of science to consider what blinders you might be wearing,” Skiff said. “Materialists put conditions on science that things can only exist if they satisfy materialism. I think that is a mistake.”

(Continued at Aetiology)

Edited to add: bummer, as noted in the comments, Missouri beat us to the punch.

Edited again to add: I see Dembski is claiming “ ID proponents were bypassed” when we circulated this. Not true at all–I don’t even know who on the faculty is an “ID proponent” besides the already-mentioned Fred Skiff (and I can’t say how it was circulated within the physics department, if it went there at all). It was mostly passed along through word-of-mouth, and generally sent to entire departments or colleges at a time. The idea that we were bypassing certain people on a faculty this large is a joke.

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