December 25, 2005 - December 31, 2005 Archives

I think Steve Fuller has had more than enough attention paid to him lately, don't you? There's a new linebacker piling on, though, and I thought this article was such a nice, lucid skewering that I had to bring it to everyone's attention. And it begins with a lovely quote from Black Adder! I'm always a sucker for British comic cynicism.

It's remarkable how association with the ID movement has become such an excellent marker for vacuous, uninformed poseurs. Fuller is just one of the more recent in a long series.

What a Crock


John West of the Discovery Institute has been critiquing Judge Jones’ decision in the Dover ID lawsuit over at the DI Media Complaints Division blog. I haven’t, for the most part, addressed these posts, since other Pandas’ Thumb regulars have more relevant expertise and have been doing a better job at it than I could. His latest post, however, is so far from the bounds of decency and civility that I can’t leave it be. One part in particular, mentioned in passing by PvM in another PT post, hits a new low. In a relatively short passage, West manages to combine a gratuitous personal attack with a view of both what it should mean to be a conservative and on what a lawyer should be proud of that is twisted beyond all recognition.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

If you're just dying to know what Judge Jones actually wrote in his 139 page opinion, but for some reason you don't want to slog through the whole thing, feel free to have a look at my Cliff's Notes version. I go through the entire opinion, summarizing every major point from page one to page 139. Enjoy!

How real is the Cambrian explosion? In a sense, it wasn't an explosion at all in any commonly understood meaning of the term—it was a relatively rapid apparent diversification of animal phyla over the course of at least tens of millions of years, at a rate that is compatible with unexceptional rates of evolution. Even at the most 'explosive' rate that can be inferred from the observations, this is not an event that challenges evolutionary theory, nor should it give comfort to creationists of any stripe.

However, there are controversies here. One camp holds that the rapid divergence of the metazoan phyla in the Cambrian is real: the different phyla all arose sometime around the boundary, 543 million years ago, and then evolved into the various forms we see now. This interpretation is supported by the fossil record, in which the first recognizable representatives of the phyla are found from roughly the same period.

Another interpretation is that the Cambrian explosion is only apparent: that the divergence occurred well before 543 million years ago, and that there was a long period of undetectable evolution. The major groups of animals separated 600 or perhaps even as much as 700 million years ago, flourished as small wormlike forms that would have fossilized poorly, and what the Cambrian represents is an emergence of larger forms with hard body parts that fossilized well. Some of the molecular data supports an early divergence, and there are known pre-Cambrian trace fossils and fossils—the phosphatized embryos of the Doushantuo formation, about 600 million years old, are a good example.

There are also other ambiguities to be resolved. The relationships of many animal phyla are confusing, and who branched from whom remains to be resolved. In the diagram below, the dashed lines in the tree are the problem: do they branch exactly as shown? How deep in time do those branches go?

metazoan radiation
The fossil record and evolution of 9 of the 35 currently recognized metazoan phyla suggest that most animal phyla diverged/arose at the beginning of the Cambrian (C) period. The thick lines represent the known ranges of fossils from their first appearance in the fossil record. Thin lines represent the inferred metazoan phylogeny based on fossil data. Dashed lines represent an amalgam of three conservative estimates of the inferred metazoan phylogeny.

Continue reading A signature of a radiation in metazoan evolution (on Pharyngula)

The idea that evolution is best exemplified in silly or stupid adaptations is an idea with a rich history. Quoting from the late, great Stephen Jay Gould in the essay that provides this site’s namesake (PDF link):

Thus, the paradox, and the common theme of this trilogy of essays: Our textbooks like to illustrate evolution with examples of optimal design - nearly perfect mimicry of a dead leaf by a butterfly or of a poisonous species by a palatable relative. But ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution - paths that a sensible God would never treat but that a natural process, constrained by history, follows perforce.

Following in this tradition, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Don Wise has written a little ditty (WMV video link) on “Incompetent Design.”

He’s interviewed in Seed Magazine, in an article called The Other ID.


Kudos to the NCSE

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There is an interesting Article on the winning attorneys of the Kitzmiller case, Eric Rothschild and Stephen Harvey.

Rothschild said what he was proudest of throughout this whole trial was his cross-examination of defense expert Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University and proponent of intelligent design.

Rothschild said he knew what he was talking about when he moved to the witness stand, and he owes that to the National Center for Science Education, which thoroughly explained intelligent design to the plaintiffs team.

Judge Jones: A Devout Christian?

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I need the help from PandasThumb readers:

Anyone who has a reference to news media referring to Judge Jones as a “devout Christian” is encouraged to add them to the comment section. My Google searches so far have been without much success.

You may wonder why am I asking you your help in this matter?

The reason is that on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News blog, West is arguing that the media is portraying Judge Jones “as a conservative Republican who is devoutly religious”. While I have various news reports in which Jones is described as a Bush Republican appointee to the court, I have failed to find any references to Judge Jones being a devout Christian. Other than a New York Times article, West provides little information as to which particular newsmedia he has in mind.

West’s true colors become apparant quickly however:

West Wrote:

The point here is to challenge the media’s effort to turn Judge Jones into something he’s not in order to defend a biased and sloppy ruling.

While West may believe, as the losing party, that Judge Jones’ ruling was biased and sloppy. I and others have in depth documented the various flaws in West’s claims. Given the well argued ruling, what else is one to do but to attack the character of the Judge.

On the Discovery Instute’s EvolutionNews blog site, West presents his 3rd part: Dover in Review, pt. 3: Did Judge Jones accurately describe the content and early versions of the ID textbook Of Pandas and People?

Timothy Sandefur has already shown in depth how West erred in his understanding of the legal rules guiding Intervention so I will focus on a comment made by West and show it to be without much legal merrit by looking at the Judge’s ruling on FTE’s (Foundation for Thought and Ethics) motion to intervene:

West Wrote:

Before addressing the merits of Judge Jones’ assertions regarding Pandas, something needs to be said about the legal and ethical propriety of Judge Jones placing so much weight on this early textbook in his judicial opinion. Frankly, it is astounding that Judge Jones treats Pandas as central to his decision given that he refused to grant the book’s publisher, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, permission to intervene in the case in order to defend itself.

First, for the sake of the reader and of West, let’s first look at Judge Jones legal decision to deny the FTE to intervene. After all, understanding the legal rules is essential in understanding (the legal propriety of) Judge Jones’ ruling.

First of all in his March 10, 2005 Order, the Judge outlined the requirements for intervention:

The Judge points out that there are two types of interventions under federal rules:

Judge Jones Wrote:

As FTE submits, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for two types of intervention: intervention as of right and permissive intervention. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 24. We will discuss the two types of intervention in turn.

Pandas and Part Three

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John West is not a lawyer, so it's hard to tell if his criticisms of Kitzmiller are utterly dishonest or just totally ignorant. His last posts have contained a lot of footstamping at the Judge's factual findings, and I'll leave those issues to Pim van Meurs. But in Part 3 of his criticism, West claims that Judge Jones erred by relying on previous editions of Of Pandas And People in determining whether it was a religious book or not.

How West got Lost

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On EvolutionNews, John West attempts in 2nd part of a multipart series (does anyone remember the multi-part series that was going to address the criticisms of Meyer’s Hopeless Monster paper?) to argue why the Judge in the Kitzmiller case was wrong. West still seems to misunderstand some of the relevant issues.

For an earlier article in which I discuss West’s similar flaws see Activist Judge or just poor reading skills and Sandefur’s Why Kitzmiller is Not An “Activist” Decision and Further Thoughts on West’s Attack on Judge Jones

Analysis of Utah Anti-Evolution Bill


Utah has a new anti-evolution bill submitted by Sen. Chris Buttars. I’ve put up a brief analysis of the bill at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Alschuler’s confusions

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Steve Story pointed out to me that I had failed to provide a reference to Alschuler, who is a distinguished criminal law expert at the university of Chicago

The Dover Intelligent Design Decision, Part II: Of Science and Religion

Albert Alschuler Wrote:

The Dover court is wrong, however, when it says that anything that “implicates” religion also “endorses” it.

Alschuler is talking about a part of the endorsement analysis presented by Judge Jones where Jones considers the letters and editorials introduced, as prima facia evidence of endorsement.

Judge Jones Wrote:

Accordingly, the letters and editorials are relevant to, and provide evidence of, the Dover community’s collective social judgment about the curriculum change because they demonstrate that “[r]egardless of the listener’s support for, or objection to,” the curriculum change, the community and hence the objective observer who personifies it, cannot help but see that the ID Policy implicates and thus endorses religion.

As the Judge argues, the letters and editorials provide substantial additional evidence that the community perceives the ID policy as endorsing a particular religious view.

Wired News has just announced the Sexiest geeks of 2005. Chris Mooney and Judge John Jones III made the top 10. Prof. Steve Steve attributes his loss to anti-panda discrimination due to the bad press surrounding Of Pandas and People, which he tells us emphatically he was not on the cover of. Steve Steve still plans to make the cover of the 2006 Studmuffins of Science calendar.

Bethell’s blather


Tom Bethell, ignoramus extraordinaire, has had a problem with evolution for thirty years now. But in all that time, it seems he hasn’t bothered to learn much about it. In his latest screed “>screed in the Washington Times, Bethell resorts to the usual creationist tactics: lies, distortions, omissions, and misrepresentations.

Continue reading at Recursivity, and leave comments there.

You know the Intelligent Design Movement is in a bad way when Senator Rick Santorum is running away from it like Brave Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and when – put down your drinks – Rush Limbaugh says that ID proponents are being disingenuous.

Those pesky ‘pathetic’ details…

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Dembski commented on a discussion on the BBC between himself and Ken Miller and attempts to address two issues raised by Ken Miller. As I shall show, in both cases Dembski fails.

Dembski Wrote:

(1) The main weakness of evolution is that it is science (yes, Miller actually did say this and went on so long about it that the BBC host could not give me my closing comment as he had intended to) and (2) ID’s main fault is that it proceeds by negative argumentation.

This is going to be interesting. Dembski, who is a philosopher, mathematician and theologian may not be too familiar with the scientific evidence for evolution. As far as how he is going to argue against (2) is beyond me. It’s self evident that ID’s approach is by negative argumentation. In fact when Dembski was asked for details for Intelligent Design he responded

Dembski Wrote:

“You’re asking me to play a game: ‘Provide as much detail in terms of possible causal mechanisms for your ID position as I do for my Darwinian position.’ ID is not a mechanistic theory, and it’s not ID’s task to match your pathetic level of detail in telling mechanistic stories.”

In a Press Release at Reasons to Believe (RTB) Dr Ross and Dr Rana comment on the recent ruling against Intelligent Design. RTB has never be a proponent of Intelligent Design, recognizing it for what it really is.

Creation Scientists Applaud PA Judge’s Ruling Against ‘Intelligent Design’-Dressing Up ID Is No Substitute for Real Science

What Makes Humans Human?

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The recent efforts to map various genetic characteristics of humans are beginning to yield insights into what makes us Homo sapiens at the most basic levels. John Hawks draws attention to a paper published this week in PNAS. The paper uses statistical analysis of the distributions of linkage disequilibria in single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to detect genes under recent selection pressure, and finds that at least 10% of human genes have been under such selection. (The percentage is an under-estimate because the coverage of SNPs is skewed to higher frequencies.) Many genes under recent selection cluster into four main groupings: “host-pathogen interactions, reproduction, protein metabolism, and neuronal function”. That last, of course, is real interesting! They offer some tentative explanations for the groupings:

We outline several predominant biological themes among genes detected with this strategy and suggest that selection for alleles in these categories accompanied the major “out of Africa” population expansion of humankind and/or the radical shift from hunter–gatherer to agricultural societies .

See Hawks’ blog entry for a more discussion and the paper itself, which is free online.


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