May 14, 2006 - May 20, 2006 Archives

On Uncommon Descent, Dembski quotes a ‘colleague’ on the recent scientific arguments about the link between the eukaryotes and prokaryotes.

Their title refers to the “Irreducible Nature of Eukaryote Cells,” which reads like an echo of Mike Behe. The logic of their argument confirms this: the structures and the genetics of eukaryotes mean that an evolutionary pathway from prokaryotes must be rejected.

Little explanation is given why this resembles the argument of Behe.

However, they do not again use the word “irreducible” in their paper. What is clear is that the “simple” pathway that the textbooks have proclaimed for years must now be abandoned. Surely there are lessons here about the way darwinism gives false leads in its appetite for a narrative about the origins of complexity.

Even if we assume for the moment that the study’s results will hold and that the ‘false leads’ should be blamed on Darwinism, one has to realize that doing science means getting things wrong occasionally. The problem of Intelligent Design is that it has not even the luxury of being wrong since it fails to present any scientifically relevant explanation or hypothesis, other than ‘Darwinian theory cannot explain ‘X”. And although the latter is often argued to be evidence of design, it is clear that intelligent design is doomed to remain scientifically vacuous.

On Aetiology Tara Smith explores these new research findings, and the hype.

Getting it wrong

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So, archaea are apparently the topic of the week. While I wrote here about the pathogenic potential of some species of these organisms, a new essay in Nature and a new review in Science focus more on their evolution (and the evolution of the other two domains of life) than any health application.

In the essay mentioned, Norman Pace discusses the eukaryote/prokaryote dichotomy. Currently the archaea are classified as prokaryotes since they, like bacteria, lack a true nucleus. However, molecular sequence analysis has shown that the archaea and eukaryotes are actually more closely related to each other than either group is to bacteria (see figure, from Pace’s Nature essay). As such, nomenclature that places the bacteria and archaea together into a group is misleading.

(Continued at Aetiology)


Four of my favorite things are development, evolution, and breasts, and now I have an article that ties them all together in one pretty package. It's a speculative story at this point, but the weight of the evidence marshaled in support of the premise is impressive: the mammalian breast first evolved as an immunoprotective gland that produced bacteriocidal secretions to protect the skin and secondarily eggs and infants, and that lactation is a highly derived kind of inflammation response. That mammary glands may have had their origin as inflamed glands suppurating mucus may not be the most romantic image to arise in a scientific study, but really—they got better and better over the years.

Continue reading "Breast beginnings" (on Pharyngula)

An Evolutionary View of Kinds


This may be a little “old hat” for many of you. After all, how many ways can I find to say, “Don’t try to get science from your Bible”? But with that risk let me direct you to An Evolutionary View of Kinds on Threads from Henry’s Web. Leave your comments there. This article is the result of reading some of Alvin Plantinga’s work on theistic science, a concept I find pretty dangerous.

There was a panel discussion at Florida State University on May 17th on “After Dover”, featuring Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, Rob Pennock of Michigan State University, and Stephen Gey, Michael Ruse, and Joseph Travis of Florida State University. Patricia Deborah Blum moderated the discussion. (Thanks to “Vyoma” for the correction.)

There was a question and answer session at the end, and one of the questioners in particular captured my attention. I have transcribed the exchange. The apparent goal of the questioner was to present such obtuse, obfuscated language as to leave the panelists too baffled to answer. However, he slipped up by using a stock phrase with known meaning, but in an inappropriate context.

(Continue reading … on the Austringer)


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Some of you may know Dr. Douglas L. Theobald as the author of the 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution FAQ at the Talk.Origins Archive or of this recent paper in the Journal of Molecular Biology.

Well, earlier this month, he accepted a faculty position in biochemistry at Brandeis Univesity in Boston. He will start summer 2007.

Why We Do This.

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As regular PT readers know, Ohio was a primary battle ground for the Disco Institute’s attempt to inject ID creationist trash “science” into the state science standards and model curriculum under the deceptive rubric “critical analysis of evolution”. That attempt was defeated in February. Patricia Princehouse, leader of Ohio Citizens for Science, was a mainstay in resisting that effort over five years. Now Patricia has received the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award from the Playboy Foundation for her efforts.

Patricia’s acceptance speech is posted at The Nation site. From it:

People ask me, Why pour so much energy into protecting science education? Why not fight for literacy generally or any of a thousand other educational issues? I have two answers. One is easy: I know about evolution, so it makes sense that I would work on what I know best. The second is harder to grasp. And that is that freedom of religion is the bedrock foundation of liberty in this country. If we allow certain special-interest religious groups to co-opt the public school science classroom, to use it as a vehicle for converting children to religious views their parents don’t hold, if we allow them to spout outright lies about the nature and content of science, what do we really have left? If you can lie about science and get away with it, you can lie about anything. (bolding added)

That’s why we do this stuff.


I can’t help myself

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DI flak Jonathan Witt has posted yet another attempt to undermine Judge Jones’ ruling in Kitzmiller. It’s as weak as the DI’s previous 13,582,196 tries. I’ve written a full fisking of his post at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

Animalcules 1.8

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A new edition of Animalcules, the carnival of all things microbial, is up at Aetiology. Lots of good posts, including one on endogenous retroviruses that may be of particular interest to the group here.

I'm going to link to a post on Uncommon Descent. I try to avoid that, because I think it is a vile harbor of malign idiocy, but Dembski has just put up something that I think is merely sincerely ignorant. That's worth correcting. It also highlights the deficiencies of Dembski's understanding of biology.

Dembski makes a strange argument for ID on the basis of a certain class of experiments in developmental biology.

Continue reading "It's called development, Mr Dembski" (on Pharyngula)

It's true: the Minnesota Senate has passed a modification to an education bill that would prohibit the teaching of intelligent design.

16.12 Sec. 4. Minnesota Statutes 2004, section 120B.021, is amended by adding a
16.13 subdivision to read:
16.14 Subd. 2a. Curriculum. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the Department
16.15 of Education, a charter school, and a school district are prohibited from utilizing a
16.16 nonscientifically based curriculum, such as intelligent design, to meet the required science
16.17 academic standards under this section.

This is not a law yet, and I don't expect it will be. The senate version of the bill has to be reconciled with the house version, and the house version does not include this addendum. It will probably vanish without comment.

I have mixed feelings about it. It's reasonable to expect that science requirements cannot be met by non-science curricula, and on that principle, the limitation is reasonable. However, I don't like the idea of politicians with little training in the subject trying to dictate what is and isn't science. Just say that a course should address the content specified by the state science standards, which were written by a committee of citizen educators and scientists, rather than trying to specify details by way of legal statutes.

Besides, maybe the intelligent design crowd will get off their butts and do experiments and develop evidence that actually makes their wild-ass guess scientific, and then this law would look awfully silly.

(Yeah, I'm smirking cynically and laughing as I write that.)

by Kevin Padian, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology; Curator, Museum of Paleontology; University of California at Berkeley.

Last Tuesday William Dembski began posting diatribes on his weblog accusing me of racism. He based them on a second- or third-hand report that he received from one of his acolytes who got the basic facts wrong. Dembski didn’t bother to check them before jumping to his accusation.

But worse things have happened in the world. I could have responded to Dembski immediately, because I was sure of my facts, and I’m happy to stand on my record. But I wanted to wait until I could get a tape of the talk, and to be sure that no one could reasonably interpret my comments as Dembski and his acolytes did.

That took until Friday afternoon, at which point I immediately sent an e-mail to Dembski’s Discovery Institute address. On Monday morning I received an apology from him, which he posted on his website. I consider the matter closed.

However, I would like to clarify the record on several additional points that have come up:

A couple of weeks ago (May 4, 2006) I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Kansas City Press Club entitled “Intelligent Design, Intelligent Media: Is Coverage Accurate.” Panelists included Kansas Board of Education chair Steve Abrams, Kansas State Department of Education Director of Communications David Awbrey, and three reporters, Dave Hellings of the KC Star, Toby Cook of WDAF-TV and Ben Embry of KCUR-FM. Derek Donovan, Reader’s Representative for the KC Star, was the moderator.

To me, the most interesting aspect of the forum was listening to the comments of Awbrey. Awbrey is a conservative journalist who was recently hired by the state Board - the same Board that adopted ID creationist-influenced science standards last fall and who also hired Bob Corkins as Commissioner of Education, a rightwing lobbyist with no education experience whatsoever. I was interested in watching Awbrey in action, and I wasn’t disappointed. (For miscellaneous information on Awbrey, see Les Lane’s David Awbrey page.)

The two main things Awbrey said that bothered me were:

  • Scientists and science educators were arrogantly refusing to participate in the democratic process because they wouldn’t “stand on the stage with Steve Abrams” at last May’s “science hearings,” and
  • Scientists and science educators bring to the classroom their “religion” which holds that humans are meaningless cosmic accidents as opposed to being God’s creation.

Rob Crowther, at the Discovery Institute’s blogsite, reports that

Cornell University, home of anti-IDer Hunter Rawlings III, has announced it will offer a course on ID, and in a science class no less. The class, Evolution and Design: Is There Purpose in Nature? is a breakthrough in my mind, simply because it IS in the science curriculum. It remains to be seen if the class will be presented fairly and if ID will be treated respectuflly, or if this is just an attempt to knock it down by attacking some ridiculous caricature of the theory. Regardless, the djnni is out of the bottle, ID is now being offered in university science classes.

Now back to reality, in fact the link Crowther provided gives us the ‘rest of the story’

How do we know how old things are? That's a straightforward and very scientific question, and exactly the kind of thing students ought to ask; it's also the kind of question that has been muddled up by lots of bad information (blame the creationists), and can be difficult for a teacher to answer. There are a great many dating methods, and you may need to be a specialist to understand many of them…and heck, I'm a biologist, not a geologist or physicist. I've sort of vaguely understood the principles of measuring isotope ratios, but try to pin me down on all the details and I'd have to scurry off and dig through a pile of books.

I understand it better now, though. I've been reading Bones, Rocks and Stars : The Science of When Things Happened(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Chris Turney.

Continue reading "Bones, Rocks and Stars" (on Pharyngula)

It’s already been mentioned that the Simpson covered evolution tonight. However, Family Guy touched on it as well.

Peter: “Then over millions of years evolution took its course.”

A fish is shown emerging from water and changing into a dinosaur.

Peter: “Of course I’m obligated by the state of Kansas to present the Church’s alternative to the theory of evolution.”

A genie (ala I Dream of Jeannie) is shown coming from water and poofing into existance a rabbit, a deer, an owl, a bear, a dog, a man, a car, a gas pump, Jesus with a giant “USA #1” foam hand, and Santa Claus.

Phillip E. Johnson may believe six inconsistent things before breakfast, but we don’t have to follow his example – or trust his latest inconsistent pronouncement.

The Sacramento Bee recently ran an article featuring an interview with Phillip E. Johnson, the “godfather” of the “intelligent design” movement.

His main disappointment is that the issue hasn’t made more headway in the mainstream scientific community.

Johnson said his intent never was to use public school education as the forum for his ideas. In fact, he said he opposed the efforts by the “well-intentioned but foolish” school board in Dover, Pa., to require teachers to present intelligent design as a viable scientific theory.

Instead, he hoped to ignite a debate in universities and the higher echelon of scientific thinkers.

But Johnson said he takes comfort knowing he helped fuel the debate that has taken place so far. “Perhaps we’ve done as much as we can do in one generation.”

What has Johnson said and done in the past concerning this topic, though? Is it really the case that public K-12 school curricula were not an issue for Johnson at any point? What we can see from the record is that public education at the K-12 level has, in fact, been a particular hobby-horse of Johnson’s. I also went through all of Johnson’s “Wedge Updates” archived at “Access Research Network” to see what Johnson had to say about public education there.

(Continue reading… on The Austringer)

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