June 17, 2007 - June 23, 2007 Archives

Dembski versus Europe

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Logo130X120.jpgAfter lamenting the honorary degree bestowed on Judge Jones, Dembski has set his sights on the Council of Europe who recently released a working document

The theory of evolution is being attacked by religious fundamentalists who call for creationist theories to be taught in European schools alongside or even in place of it. From a scientific view point there is absolutely no doubt that evolution is a central theory for our understanding of the Universe and of life on Earth.

Creationism in any of its forms, such as “intelligent design”, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are pathetically inadequate for science classes.

The Assembly calls on education authorities in member States to promote scientific knowledge and the teaching of evolution and to oppose firmly any attempts at teaching creationism as a scientific discipline.

Dembski was not amused:

Dembski Wrote:

The Council of Europe may justly be renamed as “The European Council for the Advancement of Atheism.” To believe in a God who acts in the world (aka theism) henceforward constitutes “religious extremism.” It will be interesting to see at what point advocacy of ID is regarded in Europe as a “hate crime” against … science? … society? … humanity?

This just after the Discovery Institute were touting the ‘expansion’ of ID into Europe. What has gone wrong?

As a side note, the term religious terrorism was used in the statement but in a rather different context. And neither does the proposal mention that the advocacy of ID is seen as a hate crime as the document is about the dangers of creationism (which includes ID) in education.

Given all of the recent ignorant yammering about “junk DNA” on the Discovery Institute’s blog and other ID blogs – unfortunately partially derived from a fair bit of ignorant yammering in the science media on the same topic – I think it is worth it to post a very simple and insightful post from April 2007 by T. Ryan Gregory entitled “The Onion Test.” Gregory is a professor at the University of Guelph and runs genomesize.org, an online database of animal genome sizes. He has recently become one heck of science blogger (at Genomicron) and has been doing a yeoman’s job of attempting to explain patiently and calmly to the world what the real scientific issues are with genome size, the “junk DNA” concept, and the problems with the ubiquitous-but-bogus storyline about junk DNA. Said ubiquitous-but-bogus storyline goes something like this: “Scientists have found that junk DNA is functional! Weren’t scientists (er, other scientists) stupid to think it was junk! What morons! Three cheers for our pet idea, which is that junk DNA does X.” ID advocates, who don’t even have an “X”, repeat the story but instead just riff off the vague idea that someone somewhere has explained what the function of “junk DNA” is, have played this storyline for all it’s worth, adding a completely vapid “We told you so!” on top of it.

For a dose of reality, I recommend that everyone read Gregory’s Onion Test. I quote it below for your convenience.

A correction to the paper by Liu & Ochman, “Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system,” was just published in PNAS. PT readers will recall that I and others had many problems with the methods and conclusions of this paper (see PT posts 1, 2, 3 for commentary and 4 for comprehensive links). The correction and brief comments are below.

A new ID book, a new selection of yummy delicious quote-mines to ponder. EoE offers up quite the little smorgasbord. Over at EvolutionBlog I analyze a tediously commonplace example of Behe not merely removing a quotation from its proper context, but actually deleting part of it to give a false impression of its meaning. Behe has done this before, as I also discuss. Comments can be left there.

I was back in Ohio last week to celebrate my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary. While I was in the area, a number of the PT regulars also met up south of Cincinnati to take our own tour of Answers in Genesis’ Creation Museum. (Wesley has a picture of the group here; I’ll also try to scan in another “official” picture tomorrow).

My brain still hurts. My thoughts on everything over at Aetiology (with photos, of course).

A few months ago I attended a talk by Professor Colin Groves of the Australian National University: ‘An update on Homo floresiensis, a.k.a. the “Hobbit”’ (available on YouTube in seven installments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). As is well known, there has been an unusually bitter scientific debate over the last couple of years as to whether the hobbit is indeed a new species, or just a small microcephalic human. The term ‘microcephaly’ covers a range of conditions which cause unusually small brain sizes. (Disclaimer: Groves is not a disinterested participant in this debate, having coauthored a paper which argues against the microcephalic interpretation.) Groves went over a long list of unusual features of the hobbit. The limb bone ratios are unlike those of any apes or humans. They are also very robust: in spite of their small size, hobbits would have been remarkably strong. The arms are too long for humans, and they had unusually large feet (like Tolkien’s hobbits!). The lower jaw lacks a chin, a feature found in all humans (even people who look chinless), and that is also true of a second jaw which has been found. The upper end of the humerus has a twist not found in modern humans, but which was then found in the Turkana Boy Homo erectus/ergaster skeleton once it was looked for. Groves’ conclusion: all of these features make it overwhelmingly unlikely that the hobbit was just a small microcephalic human.

In the question time afterwards, I asked Groves whether the scientific community was coming to any consensus about the hobbit.

Tangled Bank #82

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The Tangled Bank

The latest edition of the Tangled Bank is available at gregladen.com, but don't give Greg any credit for it. It's written by some guy named Derwin Darwin II; Laden is probably slacking off at the lake, fishing.

On Uncommon Descent Luskin asks Ayala the following question:

How would dual coding genes, which are nearly impossible to arise by chance, evolve via Darwinian processes?

Luskin “argues” that

Leading evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala recently wrote in Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that “Chance is an integral part of the evolutionary process.” Ayala then explained why he thinks Darwinian evolution is right and ID is wrong: “Biological evolution differs from a painting or an artifact in that it is not the outcome of preconceived design. The design of organisms is not intelligent but imperfect and, at times, outright dysfunctional.” (“Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer,” PNAS, 104:8567–8573 (May 15, 2007), emphasis added.) This questionable standard and conclusion is Ayala’s punchline against ID.

Ignoring for a moment the empty rhetoric of Luskin, let’s explore how Ayala may answer the question. Oh wait…

So-called “junk DNA” has been much the buzz lately. A recent (and outstandingly lousy) Wired magazine article on the topic uncritically printed assertions by the Discovery Institute’s lead hack Stephen Meyer that the discovery that some regions of DNA once thought to be functionless do have functions is, “a confirmation of a natural empirical prediction or expectation of the theory of intelligent design, and it disconfirms the neo-Darwinian hypothesis,” The author of the Wired article does not provide us with any explanation of how ID “theory” made that prediction, but a more recent article at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division does.

The basis for this astounding prediction (yes, I am using “astounding” sarcastically) is actually pretty simple, as Casey Luskin explains. “[D]esign theorists,” he tells us, “recognize that ‘Intelligent agents typically create functional things.’” That’s right. We can predict that noncoding DNA has some sort of function for the animal because we know that designers usually design functional things. If you have paid any sort of attention to what Intelligent Design proponents have said over the years, I should probably apologize to your next of kin, because there’s a pretty good chance that your head just exploded.

For the survivors, here’s why the sheer chutzpah of Casey’s assertion is enough to cause neurological overload.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

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