May 7, 2006 - May 13, 2006 Archives

On this Sunday’s episode of The Simpsons,

Lisa is arrested for defying the new law in Springfield against teaching evolution after Reverend Lovejoy is appointed by Mayor Quimby (at Ned Flanders’s request) to be the town’s new “morality czar” in charge of promoting creationism; can a comment made in the show’s first season come back to save her? Guest stars Larry Hagman and Melanie Griffith.

See you tomorrow!

UPDATE Well, I’ve seen the episode, and have a prediction. The Discovery Institute will whine and moan that it should have been the Intelligent Design (ID) proponent on trial, not the evolution defender. They will cite Dehart/Sternberg et. al., and say this episode is stuck in the past (Scopes).

But the Simpsons episode got one basic fact right - not only was evolution under attack in 1925, it is under attack today. Despite all the rhetoric - “Teach all sides,” “Teach the Controversy,” etc. - the simple fact is that both creationism and its constitution-wary descendant ID have at their root the wish to denigrate biology, to poo-poo modern science, to cast a “reasonable doubt” on scientific findings they cannot reconcile with their personal religion.

In the end, ID is all about censorship - censoring the vast evidence of evolution (“Those aren’t really ‘transitional’ fossils,” etc.), and encouraging students to simply dismiss any findings of science their elders might disagree with.

And that’s why the Simpson’s got it exactly right. Expect the usual Whine and Cheese by tomorrow. - Dave

Still awaiting the evidence

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In a Wall Street Journal Editorial titled Misplaced Sympathies Kevin Shapiro outlines the many problems with Intelligent Design.

The notion that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous is spreading quickly

Kevin Shapiro Wrote:

Proponents of intelligent design, like the mathematician William Dembski, argue that we don’t understand the origins of various biological systems and never will, because they can’t be broken down into smaller parts that could be explained by natural selection. Therefore, we should give up on Darwin and accept the existence of a designer. Alas, this kind of argumentum ad ignorantium flies in the face of an ever-increasing amount of evidence from molecular biology, and hardly measures up to the neoconseratives’ rigorous intellectual standards.

So how do ID activists respond to these facts? Not too well

I haven’t been terribly active in the blogging world lately, but today, I break my silence.

On my blog, I had a bit of fun with the sad story of Dembski’s anonymous victim here. And I wrote a slightly longer and more serious post in response to one by Salvador Cordova here about a company that supposedly “detects design”. Comments may be left there. Enjoy!

Dembski provides us with an excellent Mad Lib:

I never cease to be amazed, but not surprised, at how blind scientists are to their own prejudices. I have followed your paths of dealing with these prejudices and, as have many others, I have had my share of encounters with intellectual bigots. Within a week of my joining the staff at the 1                   (adjective/noun) 2                   (adjective/noun) Research Institute, my removal was called for by a sizable group of the research staff who had discovered (by doing a Google search) that in 2001-2-3 when I was at the 3                   (adjective/noun) Center, I had signed the Discovery Institute statement questioning Darwin’s theory of origins. The human resource department had the sense to inform the president that they could not fire me for beliefs that did not impact my job as head of 4                   (noun). I have since then enjoyed many productive exchanges on the topic of ID and origins that have revealed a profound ignorance of the subject on the part of the staff. Most had never met a trained scientist that did not go along with the Darwinian dogma. Now after a typical seminar by an outside speaker we are able to discuss the passing references to evolution that are totally without proof or demonstrable mechanism but are inserted into talks to explain some incredibly complex and improbable cellular system.

Let’s play along!

Francisco and Mootness, Take 2

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I know Sandefur has already written a response to DI flak Michael Francisco’s latest attempt to salvage his accusations about the new Dover board, but since his post was in response to my criticism as well, I also have replied to it in somewhat more detail. Sandefur has it absolutely right when he says that Francisco is just posturing, flashing his cufflinks at us and throwing out a few irrelevant precedents. In fact, he’s in the very precarious position of arguing that appeals court precedents from other judicial districts, which are not binding in any other district and where the legal and factual circumstances are dramatically different than the Dover case, are good precedents; but that Supreme Court precedents where the legal and factual circumstances are identical in all relevant ways are “clearly distinct” from Dover. It’s quite a disingenuous performance. If he gave that answer in a paper at Cornell Law School, where he is a student, I can’t imagine he would get a passing grade on it. But hey, this is an exercise in propaganda, not truth seeking.

You can read my full response at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Over at the Discovery [sic] Institute's blog, law student Michael Francisco is taking another stab at showing that the Dover Area School Board did a nasty thing to keep the Intelligent Design curriculum in place long enough for the Kitzmiller case to be decided. The School Board, in Francisco's opinion, ought to have revoked that policy, so as to prevent the decision from being written, thereby sparing the Discovery Institute and the ID movement a great deal of embarrassment saving the taxpayers from having to pay the attorney's fees once the School Board lost the case. Several folks, including myself, have pointed out that the school board's withdrawing its policy would not have rendered the case moot---that is, the case would probably have been decided anyway even if the School Board had withdrawn its policy. Mr. Francisco tries again to argue that this isn't so, and that the School Board did a bad thing to keep the policy in place. Below the fold I'll respond to his arguments.

Update: An attendee of the Cal Defend Science event chastises Dembski and his fan Samuel Chen; Dembski posts a correction where Dembski’s anonymous source from Kansas somehow innocently got Padian confused with an entirely different person; Dembski’s blog hits a new low with a KKK cartoon posted by DaveScot.

Those of you who enjoy following the erratic goings-on over at Dembski’s blog may have noticed that yesterday he accused NCSE president Kevin Padian of being a racist. As usual it is being copied by other wingnut blogs, and probably will appear on WorldNetDaily within 24 hours. We have been trying to figure out what combination of garbled sources Dembski was relying on for that post, but it seems to be so distant from actual events it is impossible to untangle. Anyhow, here is a little reality to balance things out:

John Rennie at the Scientific American blog has a pretty good post up explaining the dubious value of the upcoming wannabe “ID on trial” event, Intelligent Design Under Fire: Experts Cross-Examine the Top Proponents of Intelligent Design Theory. It is to be held at Biola University, the apparent academic home of ID (many ID conferences, and the only graduate program that studies ID as far as I know).

I gather that (1) the 1000+ seats for the event are sold out, (2) one of the “critics” is going to be Antony Flew, soon to be the proud recipient of the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth (first winner: Phillip E. Johnson) – he should be good for sidetracking the discussion in useless directions; and (3) the critics are going to get a whole 15 minutes each! I wish them luck, and they (except for Flew) know full well the dubious usefulness of the event they are getting into (see the comments on Rennie’s blog), but I just have to point out that it took months of preparation and a full day of trial, with a lawyer going one-on-one with Behe, and with scientific articles and exhibits ready-to-go up on a big color screen in the courtroom, to really deconstruct the ID arguments in a thorough fashion (thus producing this great New Yorker cartoon). Fifteen minutes is enough time to ask approximately one question and get five meandering answers/excuses in my estimation.

As Rennie notes, the ID movement already had its day in court, and these were the results. Of the eight named experts:

Poor Orac

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For those of you who may be unfamiliar, Orac is a surgeon and a blogger. He’s been trying so hard to defend his profession, but it just keeps getting worse. Recently unveiled is a brand new “dissenters from Darwinism” list: Physicians and Surgeons for Scientific Integrity.

As medical doctors we are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the origination and complexity of life and we therefore dissent from Darwinian macroevolution as a viable theory. This does not imply the endorsement of any alternative theory.

(Continued at Aetiology)

Stromatoveris

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stroma_tease.jpg

From the pre-Cambrian and early Cambrian, we have a collection of enigmatic fossils: the small shellies appear to be bits and pieces of partially shelled animals; there are trace fossils, the tracks of small, soft-bodied wormlike animals; and there are the very peculiar Edicaran vendobionts, which look like fronds and fans and pleated or quilted sheets. In the Cambrian, of course, we find somewhat more familiar creatures—sure, they're weird and different, but we can at least tentatively see them as precursors to the modern members of their respective phyla. It's not surprising, though, that the farther back in time we go, the stranger animals appear, and the more difficult it is to place them in our phylogenies.

So here's something cool and helpful—it looks like a vendobiont, but it's been found in the Lower Cambrian fossil beds of Chengjiang. It's also very well preserved, and has features that suggest affinities to the ctenophores.

Continue reading "Stromatoveris" (on Pharyngula)

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