July 15, 2007 - July 21, 2007 Archives

Well, at least someone is taking the recent threats against the Colorado biologists (http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/07/threat… ) seriously. (See also “Creato-terrorism update,” http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2007/07/creato… .) Today’s Boulder Daily Camera carries a signed editorial, “Fundamentalist threat not an isolated event” (http://www.dailycamera.com/news/2007/jul/20/fundam… ), by Jennifer Platte. Ms. Platte notes

The packages containing veiled threats that were slipped under the doors of labs at the department of evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado appear to be part of a larger campaign being waged by one man against the department.

Content on the blog www.pandasthumb.org suggests that e-mails that preceded the packages threatened to “take up a pen to kill the enemies of Truth,” and stated that the writer would file charges of child molestation against the professors for teaching evolution. The writer believes that these professors are “the source of every imaginable evil in our society: drugs, crime, prostitution, corruption, war, abortion, death…” He appears to have been inspired by the words of Pastor Jerry Gibson, who allegedly spoke at Doug White’s New Day Covenant Church in Boulder, saying that “every true Christian should be ready and willing to take up arms to kill the enemies of Christian society.”

Update 30 July 2007. A letter in today’s Boulder Daily Camera claims that Mr. Gibson “never said this or anything like it” and directs us to the New Day Covenant Church’s Web site.

A looong time ago, I mentioned that I spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend in Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, at a symposium I helped to plan (but neglected to blog! Oops). Along with other scientists, theologians, philosophers, and generally interested persons, we worked for a bit over a year to put this symposium together. Why?

The principal aim of the conference is to clarify the causes of the conflict between science educators and those who wish to have Intelligent Design taught in public schools. We do not claim to be neutral on this issue. We are convinced that ID is not good science and should not be presented as such. Our position is consonant with that of the National Center for Science Education and the Iowa Academy of Science. We believe that the polarization of opinion on this issue has created misunderstanding and confusion and that a clarification of terminology and concepts is essential for productive dialogue and decision making.

How did it turn out? I have the write-up over at Aetiology

Another unintelligent move

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Over at the Discovery Institute’s Media Complaints Division, Casey Luskin is keeping himself busy trying to fudge assert that the notion of “junk DNA” (which ID advocates consider erroneous, despite the fact that strong, independent lines of evidence indicate that a large fraction of genomic DNA in most eukaryotic organisms is phenotypically non-functional) was the result of application of Darwinian principles.

Several people (e.g. T. Ryan Gregory, Larry Moran and Steve Reuland, as well as myself ) have already pointed out that, on the contrary, a strict application of the Darwinian paradigm, also known as “panselectionism” or “adaptationism”, led many prominent evolutionary biologists to initially resist the idea that some DNA may be non-functional, an opposition which was later mostly lifted (sometimes partially, as we will see) by the progressive acceptance of neutralist views.

It’s another day, and Casey “The Energizer Bunny” Luskin is at it again, claiming that ID successfully predicted that “junk DNA” would be found to have a function. He has yet to explain how and why he believes that “Darwinism” somehow stifled research into those areas of the genome, and ignores the fact that scientists routinely use our understanding of evolution, common descent, and natural selection to identify areas of the genome to identify non-coding regions that are likely to have function. He does, however, provide us with an explanation for why he thinks that Intelligent Design somehow “predicts” function for all of the so-called “junk” DNA:

Intelligent design begins by studying the types of complexity produced by intelligent agents. We observe that intelligent agents produce things for a purpose, that is, to fulfill some function. This leads ID proponents to an expectation—yes, a prediction—that DNA will not tend to contain meaningless junk but will contain structures that have (or once had) a function for the organism. ID does not lead us to the expectation that our cells’ DNA will be largely non-functional garbate. The hypothesis—that “junk”-DNA will have function—is obviously experimentally testable. In fact, I know pro-ID biologists studying the function of junk-DNA who were inspired to do such research due to intelligent design. One biologist in particular is not yet tenured, and so I will not disclose his/her name. Suffice it to say, for this biologist, finding function for non-coding DNA was directly inspired by intelligent design.

If that explanation looks familiar to you, it should. It’s pretty much the same one he gave last month. This leads me to my two challenges - one that’s addressed to most of you, and one just for Casey:

Read more (at The Questionable Authority, where comments may be left):

Tangled Bank #84

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The Tangled Bank

Sorry. I just couldn't resist. This week's Tangled Bank has an ancient Greek theme, so I think it's entirely appropriate to have King Leonidas summon you to Tangled Bank #84. Don't worry, there isn't much carnage involved.

In a recent Panda’s Thumb comment thread, Pam asked (among other things) about our human species genetic Adam and Eve:

I have been reading for the last few years now, that there is a consensus among the majority, that humans have been genetically traced to a two human ancestory: A genetic “Adam and Eve”.

This is a relatively common misconception, and a very understandable one. There have been published studies that have looked at the most recent common mitochondrial DNA ancestor of all humans, and other studies that have looked at the most recent common Y-chromosome ancestor of all humans. Since mitochondrial DNA is only inherited from the mother, the most recent mitochondrial DNA ancestor is frequently referred to as “mitochondrial Eve.” Similarly, since the Y-chromosome is passed on exclusively from father to son, the most recent Y-chromosome ancestor gets called “Y-chromosome Adam” a lot. The use of those two terms is not entirely inappropriate, but it can be very misleading - particularly for those who haven’t taken a bunch of college-level biology.

Let’s start with the biggest misconception, and move on from there. When it comes to Adam and Eve, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that I can unequivocally state that they never got divorced. The bad news is that they never married. That’s understandable, of course, since Eve died more than 50,000 years before Adam was born.

Right about now, I’m guessing that we’re hitting the point when confusion sets in. After all, if every man on earth is descended from Y-chromosome Adam, and if we’re all descended from our fathers, and if Y-chromosome Adam was married, why wasn’t his wife “Eve?” We all clearly must be descended from her, too, right? (And if confusion hadn’t set in already, it almost certainly has now that I wrote that.) Let’s see what (if anything) I can do to clear things up.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority, where comments can be left):

By now, regular readers will probably be familiar with The Clergy Letter Project spearheaded by Michael Zimmerman. Formulated in part to respond to the framing of the evolution controversy as a battle between science and religion, the letter now boasts more than 10,700 signatures from clergy, and have sponsored Evolution Sunday events for the past 2 years.

Well, Zimmerman has a new project now:

Our latest initiative is to create a list of scientists around the world who are willing to answer scientific questions posed by clergy who are supportive of modern science in general and evolution in particular (Link). In just a bit over three weeks, we already have over 200 scientists signed up to help out. I hasten to add that the information these scientists will be providing will be solely of a scientific nature and thus their personal religious inclinations are absolutely irrelevant.

In addition to creating a useful resource for clergy, I am hoping for the list to make a major political statement: religious leaders and scientists can work together – despite what religious fundamentalists claim. I also would very much like to have more names on this list than the number of scientists the Discovery Institute has on a list it trumpets of scientists claiming to “question” evolution.

(Emphasis mine). If you’re interested, drop an email to Michael ([Enable javascript to see this email address.]) and include your name, title, address, area(s) of expertise, and email address–and spread the word!

(Cross-posted at Aetiology).

Back in the middle of last month, I had a few things to say about Casey Luskin (DI flak) and his understanding of so-called junk DNA. It’s now the middle of the month again, and Casey is again talking a lot - and understanding very little - about “junk” DNA. Larry Moran has a post up where he tries to educate Casey about the fact that a hell of a lot of DNA is still, at least as far as we know, junk. I’m going to take a look at something a little bit different - one of the methods scientists use to identify areas of “junk” DNA that have important functions. It’s a pretty cool way of doing things, but it’s not one that Casey likes to talk about - because it’s really one of the finest examples of how our understanding of Darwinian evolution has lead to new discoveries about living things.

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross have a paper titled Biochemistry by design published in TRENDS in Biochemical Sciences Vol.32 No.7 , 2007. (10 pages including 1.75 pages of references) I am not surprised why the defense in the Kitzmiller trial tried to get Forrest removed as an expert witness.

Creationists are attempting to use biochemistry to win acceptance for their doctrine in the public mind and especially in state-funded schools. Biochemist Michael Behe is a major figure in this effort. His contention that certain cellular structures and biochemical processes – bacterial flagella, the blood-clotting cascade and the vertebrate immune system – cannot be the products of evolution has generated vigorous opposition from fellow scientists, many of whom have refuted Behe’s claims. Yet, despite these refutations and a decisive defeat in a US federal court case, Behe and his associates at the Discovery Institute continue to cultivate American supporters. They are also stepping up their efforts abroad and, worryingly, have achieved some success. Should biochemists (and other scientists) be concerned? We think they should be.

After a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis issued a “fatwa” forbidding Jews even to touch books by Rabbi Nathan Slifkin, he became kind of a celebrity. The popularity of his books jumped dramatically. A number of reviewers (and blurb writers) proceeded to extol the merits of Slifkin’s literary output, and specifically of his latest book titled The Challenge of Creation. Slifkin asserted in this book that scientific theories including evolution theory, not only are fully compatible with the tenets of Judaism, but that all science is in fact rooted in the Torah. The list of blurbs for Slifkin’s book includes those by Professor Michael Ruse, and by a number of other university professors, and prominent rabbis.

There is, though, at least one reviewer whose opinion of Slifkin’s opus is quite different from the acclaims by Slifkin’s admirers. His review, titled “When Quote Mining Becomes Quote Mania” can be read at Talk Reason..

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