August 13, 2006 - August 19, 2006 Archives

The Raw Story reveals that D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries will be a hosting a program that blames Darwin for Hitler. Orac has going to have to resurrect an entire zombie Wehrmacht to handle this one: look at the unholy corps of creationists he has assembled to defend this outrageous claim:

The one-hour program features Ann Coulter, author of Godless; Richard Weikart, author of From Darwin to Hitler; Lee Strobel, author of The Case for a Creator; Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution; Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial; Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box; Ian Taylor, author of In the Minds of Men, and Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project.

Continue reading Et tu, Francis Collins?" (on Pharyngula)

In the evolution/creationism controversy, there is a sub-debate about public debates: should scientists and science fans engage in oral public debates with creationists? Sometimes it is said that the answer is always “no” – debates are sport, not serious discussion, and creationists can employ the “Gish Gallop” to rattle off hundreds of bogus claims, each of which would take minutes or hours to debunk in the fashion done on But the real answer is “it depends”, because there are circumstances when it is appropriate – neutral forums, a setup that allows individual topics to be discussed in depth, you are an expert debater like Kenneth Miller, etc. On the other hand, if you are being invited to a debate set up by creationists for the purpose of promoting creationism, with their rules, press, etc., and their audience bussed in from fundamentalist churches, and when they are planning to record, broadcast, and sell recordings of the event to promote creationism/ID – then you should think twice about whether or not you are being “set up,” and whether or not your participation is helping or hurting the cause of science education.

Here is another situation in which you should think twice. On the web, I just stumbled on this announcement of a series of upcoming ID events in Florida, called “Darwin of Design?” See the line I bolded:

Jonathan Wells (2006) The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC.Amazon

Synopsis: One thing is for sure, Jonathan Wells is too modest. His recently published, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, is not only politically incorrect but incorrect in most other ways as well: scientifically, logically, historically, legally, academically, and morally.

IntroductionChapter 1 — Chapter 2 — Chapter 3 — Chapter 4 — Chapter 5 — Chapter 6 — Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10 — Chapter 11 — Chapter 12 — Chapter 13 — Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16 — Chapter 17 — OhioLegal

Chronological Listing

Reviews will be posted as they become available.

Reviews are written by members of the Thumb, and the series is edited by Reed A. Cartwright.

Back in 1999, I started a draft of an article about objections to evolutionary computation. It looks like now would be a good time to remind people that these arguments against evolutionary computation have long been addressed.

head.jpg Okay, cubs, it’s time to play everyone’s favorite game, “Who Said Something Stupid?” Rules are simple: in your comment to this post, identify the dim bulb who uttered each of the following outrageous statements. Creativity in your guess will be rewarded, but points will be deducted for snorts and guffaws that lead to spewing coffee on your keyboard.

After finding the author of the quote, place your vote for the stupidest statement of the month. Winners will be decided by me at an arbitrary point in time, and will be notified telepathically. The prize for correctly identifying all of the authors will be a sincere pat on the back (i.e., with claws retracted) and a virtual pint of virtual Pilsener at the virtual Pub.

The prize for the author of the winningest statement will be the negative attention of a small number of people for a fairly short period of time. And the perpetual linking of his or her name with his or her stupid comment on web archives everywhere.

Ready? Let’s play!

In July, I described a Genetic Algorithm that, unlike Dawkins’ “Weasel” experiment, specifies no fixed “Target” for the simulation, but instead rewards those members of the current population which use fewer or shorter segments to connect a fixed set of points. As the algorithm progresses, it finds a multitude of answers for the math problem called “Minimization of Steiner Trees,” i.e. the shortest possible straight-line networks connecting the fixed points.

Last Monday, I posted Take the Design Challenge, wherein I called for solutions to a tricky little 6-point network. Next Monday, I will announce the winners (there are 20 entries already, several with true Steiner Solutions, and others with almost-as-good “MacGyver” solutions).

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found Salvador Cordova at Uncommon Descent spewing blatant falsehoods about this work. I was shocked - shocked, I say - to catch the UD Software Engineers in a lie. And quite a lie it is - with the help of mathematicians like Carl Gauss, I’m going to lift the veil from the obfuscations of IDers, and prove it’s a Lie, much as you would prove a mathematical theorem.

On August 24, the International Astronomical Union is going to vote on a proposal (here is the official resolution) to define the term “planet” such that Pluto stays in, and three bodies get added. This would require the re-writing of textbooks and make millions of first-graders learn 12 planets instead of nine. The planet status of Pluto has long provoked heated and fairly pointless and silly debate, much of it by people who are only vaguely familiar with astronomy but feel strongly about the definition of planet, a tradition which I fully intend to continue here.

Get your Charles Darwin Bobblehead now! (In support of SIU’s Darwin Day 2007.)

(Note: In the previous version of this post the Darwin Bobbleheads were about three feet tall as displayed on the monitor and so didn’t even fit on the screen. The poster responsible has been sacked.)

Tangled Bank #60


Lawrence Krauss tells us in an article in today’s New York Times. Step one: Have people who think that the Earth is only 6500 years old running your school board:

The chairman of the school board, Dr. Steve Abrams, a veterinarian, is not merely a strict creationist. He has openly stated that he believes that God created the universe 6,500 years ago, although he was quoted in The New York Times this month as saying that his personal faith “doesn’t have anything to do with science.”

”I can separate them,” he continued, adding, “My personal views of Scripture have no room in the science classroom.”

A key concern should not be whether Dr. Abrams’s religious views have a place in the classroom, but rather how someone whose religious views require a denial of essentially all modern scientific knowledge can be chairman of a state school board.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Since posting my essay on Genetic Algorithms, I’ve since developed a brand-new C++ version of my Steiner Networks genetic algorithm, a vast improvement over the old Fortran number-clunker I developed five years ago.

And already, the new code is leading to some very interesting results.

In light of William Dembski’s remarks in No Free Lunch, basically arguing that in all Genetic Algorithms,

… the fitness function … is well-defined and readily supplies the complex specified information that an optimal crooked wire genetic antenna [or any other problem solved with Genetic Algorithms] seems to acquire for free,

I’m giving Intelligent Design proponents (and everyone else!) a chance to actually Design something!

As you recall, my algorithm involves finding Steiner Trees, the shortest networks of straight-line segments connecting a given collection of fixed points. These networks may include additional variable “Steiner Points” where segments may meet.

The Challenge Here is a collection of six fixed points. Designers, send your candidates for the Steiner Solution for this particular 6-point system to me at (replace the AT with an @ if you please).


I will announce the winners (if any) in a week’s time, and also will present the answer that Evolution came up with. I’m interested in proposed solutions from any and all (you don’t have to be in the ID camp), but am especially interested in solutions by ID advocates, since y’all are saying that the solution is already implicitly defined in the statement of the problem (finding shortest connected networks). Here’s a Hint: 4steiner.gif

Someone didn’t get the DI memo in Arkansas:

One of the assembly’s officers, former state lawmaker Gunner DeLay of Fort Smith, is the Republican candidate for attorney general.

DeLay said he wrote a paper in law school on what he says is a teacher’s “right to academic freedom” under the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution to teach subjects that are “scientifically valid.”

He said that could include intelligent design.

”The basis of my paper was that although legislative mandated efforts to teach creation science or intelligent design have been struck down, the courts have left open teaching those theories under an instructor’s First Amendment right to academic freedom,” DeLay said.

Such protected speech would have to have a “scientific basis,” DeLay said, adding that a science teacher “could not come in and say we’re all born under a cabbage leaf.”

”The old creation science is the new intelligent design. And yes, I think it’s scientifically valid,” DeLay said.

Hat Tip: Eric Meikle.

The control and eventual eradication of the smallpox virus from the wild is one of the most heralded success stories in all of public health. Indeed, smallpox has played a central role in the history of vaccination. Even prior to Edward Jenner’s use of the related cowpox virus to protect against smallpox disease, it was known that inoculation with materials from an infectious smallpox pustule or scab (dubbed “variolation”) could protect an individual from death due to smallpox, generally resulting instead in a mild form of the illness. Jenner’s observation that milkmaids seemed to be protected from the disease–and his use of material from cowpox pustules instead of smallpox–resulted in the development of the science of vaccination. World-wide use of the smallpox vaccine, along with a mass vaccination campaign led by the World Health Orgainzation, resulted in the end of naturally-occurring smallpox on the planet, with the exception of stores of the virus held in the United States and Russia.

This feat is being attempted currently with measles and polio viruses, but it’s been much more difficult, and eradication of these viruses may never be attainable. Below, I discuss some aspects that are critical to a campaign that seeks to eradicate a disease, and a new paper on the evolution of smallpox viruses.

(Continued at Aetiology)

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