October 29, 2006 - November 4, 2006 Archives

Republican State Superintendent of Education candidate Karen Floyd, a strong supporter of Intelligent Design, helpfully tells us what we’ve known all along:

“I support the Education Oversight (Committee)’s premise that we should have critical analysis so that the discussion of intelligent design is not prohibited and could be part of the classroom discussion,” Floyd said.

The Discovery Institute must not be pleased. After having bent over backwards to insist that their “critical analysis of evolution” plan in South Carolina isn’t the same thing as teaching ID, here Floyd goes and lets the cat out of the bag. As we’ve seen time and time again, it’s hard for them to maintain their position that “critical analysis” has nothing to do with ID when their own supporters understand it as teaching ID.

And here’s something else that may have them spinning for damage control:

Forbidding teachers, even science teachers, to broach the subject of life’s origins creates an atmosphere of fear that’s unfair to children, [Floyd] said. Students are smart, she said, “and they connect the dots: Some will wonder “how many dinosaurs boarded Noah’s Ark.”

Uh-oh, here comes Young Earth Creationism. And to think that the Discovery Institute has spent all that time trying make people think that ID had nothing to do with creationism in general, much less the extreme YEC position.

I have more to say about Karen Floyd and the race for State Superintendent of Education over at Sunbeams from Cucumbers.

Dear everybody,

I have braved the intellectual desert that is philosophy in order to bring enlightenment to these poor philosophers of science at the Philosophy of Science Association conference in Vancouver. I allowed the lovely Janet Stemwedel to host my report and the photos she took of me instructing various people in the real truth about science.

Here is me avoiding that Wilkins guy and having fun, before it went downhill, as these things do, but it has some famous philosophers (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) with me. And here is some more of me with other philosophers, who are only famous to other philosophers. That Wilkins guy keeps getting into the shot, though, so close one eye to avoid seeing him.

Strange worm, Xenoturbella

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This odd marine worm, Xenoturbella bocki, is in the news right now, and I had to look it up in Pechenik's Biology of the Invertebrates(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) to remind myself of what it was. Here's the complete entry:

Xenoturbella bocki

This marine worm, first described in 1949 as an acoel flatworm and later claimed as either an early metazoan offshoot or a primitive deuterostome, has recently been affiliated with primitive bivalve molluscs, based upon a study of gamete development (oogenesis) and an analysis of sequence data from both 18S rRNA and mitochondrial genes. Little is known about its reproductive mode, and developmental studies that might help to resolve the phylogenetic issues are just starting to be reported. A second species was described in 1999.

The animals are up to 4 cm long, vermiform (worm-shaped), and covered by locomotory cilia. They have no digestive tract, and indeed no organs at all. Their only conspicuous morphological feature, other than their cilia, is a statocyst for determining orientation. To date, they have been collected only off the coasts of Sweden and Scotland, in sediments at depths of 20 m to 100 m.

That's it. Part of that is now known to be wrong: the data showing an affinity to the molluscs is an artifact, caused by the fact that it somehow eats bivalves, and partly digested clam material contaminated the samples. Otherwise, not much is known; I've found papers describing the presence of oocytes inside the animal, but no one as far as I know has actually observed its development. It's a strange, mysterious blob of a worm.

Continue reading "Strange worm, Xenoturbella" (on Pharyngula)

In a post entitled, “Where are They Now,” RedStateRabble points out a difference between the Kansas BOE creationist political message during the primary (when they were fighting for votes between Republicans) and their message during the runup to the general election. Take a look at it, then come back here, because there’s more below the fold…


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It was All Hallows Eve when the paper came out in Genome Research, and although there wasn’t the crackle of lightning bolts or a hunchbacked assistant called Igor, the announcement that researchers had resurrected an ancient human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) brought enough of the “how dare you resurrect an unknown virus” kind of response to warm the heart of Frankenstein devotees everywhere. I won’t discuss these aspects of Frakenvirus, it’s done better elsewhere. However, the whole HERV resurrection issue has interesting implications for Intelligent Design advocates.

The latest from the Pensacola News-Journal is that Kent Hovind is in jail until sentencing in January, and the jury ordered the Hovinds to forfeit over $400k to the government:

Haeckel on gastrulation

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This morning, the ID guys were embarrassed – once again – when it was revealed that they didn’t know what they were talking about when they accused PZ Myers of lying by misquoting Wells in PIGDID. PZ dealt with this pretty darn convincingly over here.

But looking at the Haeckel/embryos chapter of PIGDID reminded me of something that has always bugged me about Wells’s claims. Here it is:

Yet only after cleavage and gastrulation does a vertebrate embryo reach the stage that Haeckel labeled the “first.” If it were true (as Darwin and Haeckel claimed) that vertebrates are most similar in their earliest stages, then the various classes would be most similar during cleavage and gastrulation. (Wells, PIGDID, p. 30)

There you have it: Darwin and Haeckel were ignorant of diversity in embryo gastrulation! What boobs!

Imagine my surprise when I actually took a look at Haeckel’s Anthropogenie (1891 edition):

On Evolution News Casey Luskin makes the following claim:

“North Korean Nuclear Test Forces Seismologists to Make a Design Inference”.

Luskin is correct to point out that seismologists have made a design inference. What Luskin fails to tell you is that the design inference has little relevance to Intelligent Design’s “Design Inference”.

Let me explain why Luskin’s claim shows that Intelligent Design has failed to address some of the many criticisms raised, and that ID’s concessions have rendered it to be scientifically vacuous.

See also SETI, archeology and other sciences at Skeptico’s blog for why Luskin’s arguments fail.

PZ Myers is such a LIAR!

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In my review of the embryology of Jonathan Wells in PIGDIG, I made a specific example of the abuse of a quote from Bill Ballard; I pointed out that he selectively edited the quote to completely distort Ballard's point in the cited paper, and used that to show how dishonest all of Wells' work was.

Now Tim McGrew of Kalamazoo wants to accuse me of intentionally distorting Wells' words. I didn't just selectively edit, he thinks I actively changed Wells' words to make my point.

Let me rephrase that: Myers has changed Wells's wording and then has the temerity to accuse Wells of misleading the reader at the very point where Myers himself has made the change in Wells's words.

Let me put that more bluntly: Myers is lying through his teeth. Literally. He is actually that dishonest. And not a single commentator on Panda's Thumb for the past two months could be bothered to check Myers's quotation against Wells's actual words to see whether Myers was telling the truth.

Sal Cordova, sycophant of the ID movement, has of course leapt upon this claim at Uncommon Descent as well. Let's see how accurate McGrew and Cordova are.

Continue reading "PZ Myers is such a LIAR!" (on Pharyngula)

This just in from the Pensacola News-Journal:

‘Dr. Dino,’ wife guilty

Jury deliberations took about three hours.

A federal jury has convicted Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo, of tax fraud.

Hovind faces a maximum of 288 years in prison. His wife faces up to 225 years. Her charges include aiding and abetting her husband with 44 counts of evading bank-reporting requirements.

And at the end:

Defense lawyers for the Hovinds rested their case on Wednesday without presenting evidence or calling witnesses.

My question: if the Hovinds weren’t going to put on a defense, why didn’t they just make a plea bargain agreement, avoid the ordeal of a trial, and get reduced sentences?

Server Issues


When we switched to our new server software, it appears to have screwed up how some browsers manage their cache. This means that some browsers are stuck on outdated pages.

To fix this issue, you need to clean out your cache (or temporary internet files).

I’ve made some layout changes to my personal blog. Why am I telling PT readers about it?

Well, depending on how the new layout works on my blog, I’m going to update the layout of PT. So let me know what you think about the new layout on De Rerum Natura.


Last week, I did an interview on the podcast program called The SciPhi show (Science Fiction and Philosophy), run by Jason Rennie. It has now been posted (direct link to mp3 – 16 MB). The show previously did interviews with Michael Shermer, and ID guys Salvador Cordova and Michael Behe. I was somewhat annoyed with what the latter two were getting away with in their interviews, so on the spur of the moment I dropped Rennie an email, and boom, he had me on.

In addition to pointing out all the usual ID mistakes, there was an interesting discussion about Star Trek: Remember that Star Trek episode where they discover that the suspiciously coincidental bipedal, humanlike form of all of the Star Trek aliens was (somehow) encoded into bacteria seeded across the galaxy billions of years ago, by an ancient bipedal race, a fact revealed when a 3-D holograph recording is deciphered out of the ancestral DNA genome (somehow!). The only thing the episode left out was an explanation for human-klingon-vulcan interfertility. Great episode, typically ludicrous science, but does it help the ID guys make their case? Listen to find out.

South Park

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It looks like tomorrow’s South Park is going to include a challenge on the teaching of evolution.

Cartman’s plan to propel himself into the future goes horribly wrong in an all-new “South Park” premiering Wednesday, November 1 at 10:00 p.m. on Comedy Central. South Park Elementary faces strong opposition to the topic of evolution being taught to the 4th graders. The most vocal protests are from Ms. Garrison who has to teach it. Eric Cartman can’t be bothered with what’s going on in class. He’s busy manipulating his own personal time-line to align with the precise release date of the newest, hottest game.

I hope Colorado Citizens for Science and Colorado Evolution Response Team are ready to defend science eduction for the students of South Park, Colorado.

PNAS has published an article by Soyer and BonHoeffer titled Evolution of complexity in signaling pathways

Abstract: It is not clear how biological pathways evolve to mediate a certain physiological response and why they show a level of complexity that is generally above the minimum required to achieve such a response. One possibility is that pathway complexity increases due to the nature of evolutionary mechanisms. Here, we analyze this possibility by using mathematical models of biological pathways and evolutionary simulations. Starting with a population of small pathways of three proteins, we let the population evolve with mutations that affect pathway structure through duplication or deletion of existing proteins, deletion or creation of interactions among them, or addition of new proteins. Our simulations show that such mutational events, coupled with a selective pressure, leads to growth of pathways. These results indicate that pathways could be driven toward complexity via simple evolutionary mechanisms and that complexity can arise without any specific selective pressure for it. Furthermore, we find that the level of complexity that pathways evolve toward depends on the selection criteria. In general, we find that final pathway size tends to be lower when pathways evolve under stringent selection criteria. This leads to the counterintuitive conclusion that simple response requirements on a pathway would facilitate its evolution toward higher complexity.

Read on for some of my thoughts.

Dr. Dino case resumes

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According to the Pensacola News-Journal story, the Hovind tax evasion trial was delayed last week because his attorney, Jerry Barringer, was ill. See also this earlier story.

Hovind and his wife, Jo, are accused of tax evasion, including failure to pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes at his Creation Science Evangelism Ministry, which inlcudes Dinosaur Adventure Land on North Palafox Street.

Hovind, a tax protester, makes a substantial amount of money. But he believes he and his employees work for God, are paid by God and, therefore, aren’t subject to taxation.

Schneider testified this morning that Jo Hovind requested financial help for her bills from Baptist Health Care, claiming that she had no income.

Schneider also said the Hovinds wrote checks to their children from their Christian Science Evangelism account. They also withdrew money from that account for cashier’s checks.

On one day, a $9,000 check was withdrawn for their son, Eric. That same day, another $9,000 check was withdrawn for Eric’s wife, Tanya.

Schneider said Kent Hovind refused to give a tax identification number to the First Baptist Church of Satsuma in Alabama, where he spoke. The church paid him a $738 fee. The tax ID number would have been used on a tax-reporting form.

Well, if you needed any more evidence that creationists are doing their best to drag Europe down to America’s level, here you go:

Last week I announced that Kenneth Miller, Deborah “[The NAS is] a group of so-called scientists” Owens-Fink, and Tom “No, not from Mark Twain” Sawyer were doing a radio debate. ID guy Chris Williams was evidently the anti-Kenneth Miller guest, although for some reason they never realize that Ken Miller knows all their talking points.

Listening to it is like listening to the DI versus PT, actually. Owens-Fink really knows her DI talking points – although according to her, Icons of Evolution is not an ID book, and she thinks that it should have been left in the “critical analysis” lesson plan (the reference, but not the content, was deleted after scientists complained). And she is still defending the “critical analysis” lesson plan and claiming it isn’t creationism or ID. Chris Williams tries to say that evolution equals atheism, citing the recent cover story of Wired – and of course Ken Miller cheerily points out that he himself is a counterexample. For extra fun, board member Martha Wise called in to dispute claims that Owens-Fink made about board procedure. The radio guy’s introduction is pretty good also.

The show is online here (mp3 direct link, 22 MB).

PS: There is also a great bit where Chris Williams claims that evolution held back the discovery of small interfering RNA – and Kenneth Miller replied by pointing out that Craig Mello, who won the Nobel Prize 3 weeks ago for his work on RNA interference, was a student in the first biology class Ken Miller taught. Bam!

In what looks like “News of the Weird”, we have a report from Monroe County, Michigan of an antievolution activist taking up arms against the system. What sort of “intelligent design” weapons technology might the modern antievolutionist use? According to the report, Mark A. Wood entered the school offices of Monroe Middle School asking if people thought he looked like an ape while holding onto… a brick.

A man waving a brick barged into Monroe Middle School and ranted about the teachings of evolution before being arrested by police Tuesday morning.


”The best part is, no students were in danger,” Mr. McLeod said. “Fortunately for us, he came right into the office. It’s pretty obvious he was kind of disturbed.”

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