May 21, 2006 - May 27, 2006 Archives

The book, Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement edited by John Brockman contains 16 essays by Edge contributors such as Jerry Coyne, Leonard Susskind, Daniel Dennett, Neil Shubin, Richard Dawkins, Stuart Kauffman, and others on the topic of ‘Intelligent Design’. What caught my eye however were not the essays as much as the comments by various scientists on Intelligent Design. I was pleasantly surprised to see how the concept of scientific vacuity of Intelligent Design is surfacing more and more.

How many species?

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I’ve got a little question to keep people busy over the long weekend.

There are three populations of an organism. The populations are physically separated from each other as a result of geographical factors. Geographically, they are arranged in a more or less linear fashion. The geographic details are as follows:

Population A is the northwestern population. Population B lies to the southeast, and is eparated from population A by a minimum of ~14km. Population C is southeast of population B, and separated by about 50km.

Populations A & B are identical to each other in appearance and in a key reproductive characteristic. Population C differs very slightly in appearance, but is substantially different in the reproductive characteristic.

The organisms (flying insects) were captured and bred in the laboratory. Experimental crosses were made for the different combinations of these three populations, with the following results:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):


One of the most evocative creatures of the Cambrian is Anomalocaris, an arthropod with a pair of prominent, articulated appendages at the front of its head. Those things are called great appendages, and they were thought to be unique to certain groups of arthropods that are now extinct. A while back, I reported on a study of pycnogonids, the sea spiders, that appeared to show that that might not be the case: on the basis of neural organization and innervation, that study showed that the way pycnogonid chelifores (a pair of large, fang-like structures at the front of the head) were innervated suggested that they were homologous to great appendages. I thought that was pretty darned cool; a relic of a grand Cambrian clade was swimming around in our modern oceans.

However, a new report by Jager et al. suggests that that interpretation may be flawed, and that sea spider chelifores are actually homologous to the chelicerae of spiders.

Continue reading "Chelifores, chelicerae, and invertebrate evolution" (on Pharyngula)

- Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned medical school graduates Thursday that centuries of progress in scientific research are under attack by those who oppose stem cell research and dispute evolution and global warming.

Bloomberg: Science under attack in stem cell research debate by SARA KUGLER, Associated Press Writer

On the topic of Intelligent Design, the republican mayor wasted no words

He then ridiculed the campaign to teach schoolchildren about “intelligent design” alongside evolution. The belief proposes that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some type of higher force, and many conservatives, including Bush, say schools should present both concepts.

The mayor said children who learn it are receiving an inferior education that puts them at a disadvantage later.

He told the medical students that they share the same burden carried by the school’s first graduates more than 100 years ago, when the field was “dominated by quacks and poorly trained physicians.”

Their task, Bloomberg said, is to “defend the integrity and power of science.”

They are finally starting to get it… ID is scientifically vacuous.

The appeals court has issued its opinion in Selman v. Cobb County School District. They decided to send the case back to court to clear up some holes in the factual record of the case. The trial court can either hold an entirely new trial or add to the existing record.

Of course, this gives the trial judge the opportunity to apply the ruling in Kitzmiller to Selman.

NCSE has more information.

Ian Johnston reports in Creationism dismissed as ‘a kind of paganism’ by Vatican’s astronomer how Guy Consolmagno rejects creationism as a form of superstitious paganism.

Brother Consolmagno, who works in a Vatican observatory in Arizona and as curator of the Vatican meteorite collection in Italy, said a “destructive myth” had developed in modern society that religion and science were competing ideologies.

The New England Journal of Medicine has an excellent article on Intelligent Design titled Intelligent Judging — Evolution in the Classroom and the Courtroom

Requiring public-school science teachers to teach specific religion-based alternatives to Darwin’s theory of evolution is just as bad, in the words of political comedian Bill Maher, as requiring obstetricians to teach medical students the alternative theory that storks deliver babies

Teach the controversy I say… Storks rule…

There has been some recent news in SC concerning the attempts at inserting creationist language into the science curriculum. I have hesitated to report them here previously, because taken separately they are mostly minor incidents, but taken together, they tell a story. I have three posts up on my blog, in chronological order, consisting of good news and bad news (mostly good, I think):

A Small Victory, But We’ll Take It

More on the Death of S114

Update on the Budget Proviso and the EOC

Also, check out the South Carolinians for Science Education page, as they’ve got a blog with news updates and other good tidbits.

Tangled Bank #54

The Tangled Bank

The newest edition of the Tangled Bank is now up at Science and Politics .

Box at the top of a May 1989 Bible-Science NewsletterCheck out this post by Karl Mogel at The Inoculated Mind. It reviews an April 28 talk at UC Davis given by Discovery Institute fellow Nancy Pearcey. Although Pearcey is now an official ID advocate, she was originally a young-earth creationist. In fact, she was one of the editors of the young-earth creationist Bible-Science Newsletter from 1977-1991, and for much of that period wrote monthly articles. As I showed in this PT post last year, several of her Bible-Science Newsletter articles became part of the text of the first “intelligent design” book, Of Pandas and People. The draft of the Overview chapter of Pandas, which was the chapter that Pearcey wrote, shows the same changes from creation/creationist to intelligent design/design proponent that the six “excursion” chapters of Pandas show. This was first made public when the draft Overview chapter was introduced into evidence in a July 14, 2005 pretrial hearing in the Kitzmiller case.

NBC’s science correspondent, Robert Bazell, has an opinion piece today on MSNBC: Stop whining about intelligent design.

Scientists should stop whining about threats to the teaching of evolution and spend more time discussing values.

I should note here that most of the piece is strongly supportive of teaching evolution. Bazell presents a very brief overview of the history of anti-evolutionism in America, and notes that “serious efforts in biology and medicine can no more ignore evolution than airplane designers can ignore gravity.” He gives the example of influenza H5N1 as a current problem that can only be understood using evolutionary theory. Overall, I think it’s a really good piece–but I still think he’s off-base.

(Continued at Aetiology).

Vacuity of Intelligent Design

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Dembski, apparantly unable (or unwilling?) to address the claims and observations by Intelligent Design critics that Intelligent Design is scientifically vacuous, seems to have changed his approach to: well if ID is scientifically vacuous then evolutionary science is evidence-free.

This all is particularly ironic because Intelligent Design is both evidence-free and scientifically vacuous for the simple reason that intelligent design cannot make any useful predictions since the design inference is based on a gap argument, also known as an argument from ignorance.

Dembski, via one of his ‘colleagues’, asks the following question

What are the other vexing questions facing biologists that we are led to believe have already been solved? How about the origin of the information in the first cell? How about the origin of molecular machines? What about Haldane’s dilemma?


I just learned (via John Lynch) about a paper on cetacean limbs that combines developmental biology and paleontology, and makes a lovely argument about the mechanisms behind the evolution of whale morphology. It is an analysis of the molecular determinants of limb formation in modern dolphins, coupled to a comparison of fossil whale limbs, and a reasonable inference about the pattern of change that was responsible for their evolution.

One important point I'd like to make is that even though what we see in the morphology is a pattern of loss—whale hindlimbs show a historical progression over tens of millions of years of steady loss, followed by a near-complete disappearance—the molecular story is very different. The main players in limb formation, the genes Sonic hedgehog (Shh), the Fgfs, and the transcription factor Hand2, are all still present and fully functional in these animals. What has happened, though, is that there have been novel changes to their regulation. Even loss of structures is a consequence of changes and additions to regulatory pathways.

Continue reading "No genes were lost in the making of this whale" (on Pharyngula)


I'm going to briefly summarize an interesting new article on cnidarian Hox genes…unfortunately, it requires a bit of background to put it in context, so bear with me for a moment.

First you need to understand what Hox genes are. They are transcription factors that use a particular DNA binding motif (called a homeobox), and they are found in clusters and expressed colinearly. What that means is that you find the Hox genes that are essential for specifying positional information along the length of the body in a group on a chromosome, and they are organized in order on the chromosome in the same order that they are turned on from front to back along the body axis. Hox genes are not the only genes that are important in this process, of course; animals also use another class of regulatory genes, the Wnt genes, to regulate development, for instance.

A gene can only be called a Hox gene sensu stricto if it has a homeobox sequence, is homologous to other known Hox genes, and is organized in a colinear cluster. If such a gene is not in a cluster, it is demoted and called simply a Hox-like gene.

Hox genes originated early in animal evolution. Genes containing a homeobox are older still, and are found in plants and animals, but the particular genes of the Hox system are unique to multicellular animals, and that key organization arrangement of the set of Hox genes in a cluster is more unique still. The question is exactly when the clusters arose, shortly after or sometime before the diversification of animals.

If you take a look at animal phylogeny, an important group are the diploblastic phyla, the cnidarians and ctenophores. They branched off early from the metazoan lineage, and they possess some sophisticated patterns of differentiation along the body axis. We know they have homeobox containing genes that are related to the ones used in patterning the bodies of us vertebrates, but are they organized in the same way? Did the cnidaria have Hox clusters, suggesting that the clustered Hox genes were a very early event in evolution, or do they lack them and therefore evolved an independent set of mechanisms for specifying positional information along the body axis?

Continue reading "Jellyfish lack true Hox genes!" (on Pharyngula)

Design detectives fooled by urban legend

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This is really funny. It seems that claiming expertise in “design detection” theory and methods is no guarantee against falling for the crudest of urban legends. Of course, it helps if the urban legend is based on stuff that pushes the religious right’s buttons (although, we are told, ID has nothing to do with religion-based political movements!), such as a story about praying marines being under attack by the ACLU.

Dembski’s blog got snookered by a silly chain e-mail to post the following entry, which I copy in its glorious entirety after the fold (caution: large) so that everyone can appreciate the imaginative use of fonts, caps and pompous rhetoric, which alone should have set off some alarm bells (note also the boisterous approval by Dembski himself in the comments). Ironically, this urban legend was already completely debunked in 2003 (see here and here), so here’s my suggestion, folks: if your design detection methods clearly need some tuning, you can still avoid looking foolish by simply checking the relevant literature.

Some of you may recall the exchange I had with Casey Luskin in early 2005 about ID advocates comparing evolution advocates of being Nazis, and vice versa. It started when he wrote an essay for the IDEA club website (this was before he went to work for the DI) screaming bloody murder about folks on our side comparing ID advocates to holocaust deniers. I pointed out that Luskin was barking up the wrong tree, throwing a fit about us comparing them to holocaust deniers while the ID advocates he admires and, now, works for have long been comparing us to actual Nazis, not to mention Stalinists, the Taliban or Pol Pot.

Continue reading at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. Comments may be left there.

On Uncommon Descent, Dembski shows once again evidence of the historical roots of Intelligent Design and Creationism. In fact, he seems to be suggesting that ID and religious faith are quite intertwined, as much of the evidence already suggested.

Dembski is commenting on Richard Dawkins’ “Root of all Evil” documentary on Channel 4 in the UK.

Dembski Wrote:

You’ve got to wonder what the staffers at the NCSE are thinking when they go to such lengths to assure the public that there’s no problem reconciling evolution and religious faith, only to have Richard Dawkins come along and utter the following (taken from his BBC program “The Root of All Evil?”):

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