September 3, 2006 - September 9, 2006 Archives

Thursday (9-7-06) Ken Miller spoke at the University of Kansas on ““God, Darwin, and Design: Creationism’s Second Coming” as part of a great series we are having this fall entitled “Difficult Dialogues.” (Later we having Judge Jones, Dawkins, Genie Scott and Behe - a busy fall here at KU.) The next day Miller spoke at an extended question-and-answer period as a followup to his speech.

The first two thirds of Ken’s speech was about the state of ID today - an entertaining and substantial discussion centered on the Dover trial, culminating in the two conclusions that ID is totally vacuous as science and that ID has been thoroughly exposed as religious.

Then Ken tackled the difficult topic. I haven’t gone back and listened to the recording (more on that in a bit,) but here is a summary of the issue, taken from Ken’s speech but containing some of my own interpretation and language.

Ken Miller at Kansas


Red State Rabble describes Ken Miller's talk at the University of Kansas the other evening. While I'm sure it endeared him to the fans of Jesus, his call to creationists that they should take potshots at humanists rather than evolutionists basically declares a majority of his colleagues in biology to be the enemy, and as far as I'm concerned, puts him in the creationist camp.

I suspect that my growing dislike of the Ken Miller strategy of embracing superstition is not going to be popular here at the Panda's Thumb, so any comments you want to make will have to be made at Pharyngula.

I've talked with Ken Miller recently, and I retract my accusation that he's taken sides with the creationists. He has been and will be a reliable opponent of bad science. Unfortunately, I think that in this case he is guilty of sowing some confusion with a muddled proposal for changing the terms of the debate.

Vatican Policy: Not Evolving

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Despite the hopes of some ID proponents, the Catholic Church’s position on evolution is unlikely to change significantly in the near time:

Don’t look for a big change any time soon in the Catholic Church’s views on evolution. Although supporters of evolution had feared that the Pope would embrace so-called intelligent design, Pope Benedict XVI gave no sign at a gathering last week as to how he thought the topic should be taught.

The pope said little during the meeting, which included his former theology Ph.D. students and a small group of experts near Rome. Peter Schuster, a chemist at the University of Vienna and president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, attended the meeting and gave a lecture on evolutionary theory. “The pope … listened to my talk very carefully and asked very good questions at the end,” he says. And the Church’s most outspoken proponent of intelligent design, Cardinal Schönborn, seemed to distance himself from the theory.

source: Volume 313, Number 5792, Issue of 08 September 2006 ©2006 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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

Read the entire series.

No book on “intelligent design” would be complete without a mention of the concept of irreducible complexity. Jonathan Wells’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design does not disappoint in this regard; it is the actual discussion of irreducible complexity that is very disappointing and down right misleading.

For my contribution to the ongoing review of Jonathan Wells’ new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (PIGDID), I will be reviewing chapters four and five. Chapter Four covers the record of evolution that is contained in the DNA of all living things, and Chapter Five discusses speciation. A full review of each of these chapters is going to take a while and wind up being rather long. I’ve divided the reviews up into chunks, and I’m going to post each chunk as I finish it. Comments are more than welcome, and might be helpful when the time comes to pull all the separate chunks together into a single document. —

I’m going to start off with Chapter 5, which Wells has titled The Ultimate Missing Link. This chapter is nominally about speciation, which can be defined as the formation of new species from old ones. This is my own field of study, and I’m relatively current with the literature and what’s going on in the field. Reading Wells’ version of speciation, I was appalled. His description and criticism bears absolutely no resemblance to the field I study, and his presentation is packed with distortions and outright lies. In future parts of this review, I will discuss some of the real science involved in the study of speciation. In this part of the review, I am going to focus on three examples of places in Chapter Five where Wells lies to his readers. I do not use the word “lie” lightly here. The statements in question are not merely incorrect; they are statements that Wells must have known to be incorrect when he made them.

Read More (at The Questionable Authority):

When I returned from vacation today, I was surprised to discover this new article pop up in my automated searches for flagellum stuff in the literature databases:

Pallen MJ, Matzke NJ. (2006). “From The Origin of Species to the origin of bacterial flagella.” Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4(10), 784-790. October 2006. Advanced Online Publication on September 5, 2006. [PubMed] [Journal] [DOI] [Google Scholar]

In the recent Dover trial, and elsewhere, the ‘Intelligent Design’ movement has championed the bacterial flagellum as an irreducibly complex system that, it is claimed, could not have evolved through natural selection. Here we explore the arguments in favour of viewing bacterial flagella as evolved, rather than designed, entities. We dismiss the need for any great conceptual leaps in creating a model of flagellar evolution and speculate as to how an experimental programme focused on this topic might look.

Matzke NJ? Hey, I know that guy!

I thought that this article was not coming out until October, and I would therefore have a few weeks to prepare some suitable PT posts to update everyone on developments in flagellar evolution since my first effort in 2003 (read this for background), and on the litany of errors and pseudoscience that the ID movement has produced regarding their favorite “Icon of Intelligent Design.” But, the powers that be at Nature Reviews Microbiology have seen fit to release the article as an Advanced Online Publication – and put it on their front page, no less – so it remains a secret no longer. C’est la vie.

There are several large flagellum-related topics I still plan to blog in the near future, but for the moment I would just like to hit one topic: what is The Main Point that PT readers should get out of the article?

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

Read the entire series.

If there’s something embarrassingly dumb to be done or said, it’s probably going to be done or said in the name of “political incorrectness”. That term was first used to bring attention to the political censoriousness at leftist epicenters in the 1990s, but it has mutated into an excuse for saying stupid, outlandish, misleading things. The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History was full of misrepresentations, politically-motivated elisions, and a neo-Confederate interpretation of the Constitution that embarrassed serious constitutional scholars. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science was full of silly pro-“intelligent design” notions, and now The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design by Jonathan Wells has come along to carry this tradition forward—if “forward” is the right term.

An indication of the astonishing degree of misrepresentation and outright lying that The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design employs comes in Chapter 15 when discussing the controversy over an evolution website supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The Thumb covered this pseudo-controversy pretty thoroughly at the time. But here’s how Jonathan Wells describes it:

Ohio Call to Action

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ID Creationists on Ohio’s Board of Education are renewing their attack on Evolution, and adding attacks on climate science, cloning & stem-cell research. Please write to Ohio’s Board of Education TODAY to urge them to follow through on their Feb directive –Resolution 31. Vote against additional creationist language in Ohio’s science standards!

Resolution 31 removed intelligent design creationism’s disingenuous “critical analysis” from Ohio’s science standards & lesson plans, and directed the OBE’s Achievement Committee to determine whether replacement language was needed. It has been over 6 months and the Achievement Committee still has not voted. While they’ve dawdled, creationist activists on the Board have been developing a “teach the controversy” proposal on the side that is on the Achievement Committee agenda for next week’s meeting.

What you can do below the fold:

Poor Francis Collins: now his book has been panned in New Scientist…by Steve Fuller. That Steve Fuller, the pompous pseudo-post-modernist who testified for Intelligent Design creationism in Dover. His criticism has an interesting angle, though. Collins is just like Richard Dawkins. Who knew?

Continue reading "Steve Fuller and Christian Exceptionalism" (on Pharyngula)

Regular readers are very familiar with my refrain that many science deniers use the same tactics: bad arguments, quote-mining, appeals to authority, castigation of originators of respective theories, etc. etc. Another common thread is the complete bastardization of statistical analysis. Mark Chu-Carroll elaborates on Peter Duesberg’s misuse of statistics here, while mathematician John Allen Paulos destroys creationist/ID analysis here. I’ll highlight some of the best parts at Aetiology.


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Good news for Minnesota! Minnesota Citizens for Science Education has been officially launched. This is a new advocacy group with the goal of promoting good science education in our state. Specifically—

A scientifically literate population is essential to Minnesota's future. To that end, Minnesota Citizens for Science Education (MnCSE) will bring together the combined resources of teachers, scientists, and citizens to assure, defend, and promote the teaching and learning of evolutionary biology and other sciences in K-12 public school science classrooms, consistent with current scientific knowledge, theories, and practice.

If you'd like to be more involved, join the group. Browse the personal statements of the science advisors. Come on down to Science Education Saturday at the Bell Museum, on 11 November.

Oh, and if you like the logo, buy it on a t-shirt or coffee mug.


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Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, has died while filming stingrays at Batt Reef in Australia.

But after years of close shaves it was a normally harmless stingray which finally claimed his life on Monday, plunging a barb into the Crocodile Hunter’s chest as he snorkelled in shallow water on the Great Barrier Reef.

We here at the Thumb are taking advantage of the long weekend to rest and recuperate: please don’t expect another review to be posted before Tuesday.

In the meantime, I’ve posted a review of modern cardiological techniques today. The backstory is that a few of the contributors to the Panda’s Thumb have, in their time, suffered chest pain or heart attacks. A question was recently asked about the difference between ballooning and stenting and, in an email of response, I ended up summarizing the history of invasive cardiology and thrombolytics in a brief essay. Below the fold, I post a version of that essay with hyperlinks to web resources where you can learn more about cardiology.

Best wishes for a great weekend from The Panda’s Thumb crew!

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