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Synthese issue on “Evolution and its rivals”


The news is out (see John Pieret) but I’ll repeat it here. Synthese, An International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, has an entire issue devoted to the topic of the title edited by Glenn Branch. It includes papers by names we know like Robert Pennock, John Wilkins (of TO fame), Wes Elsberry and Jeff Shallit on Dembski’s info theory foibles, Sahotra Sarkar, Barbara Forrest, and others. Best of all, all the articles are free online until December 31. Get ‘em while they’re hot!

New Issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach


T. Ryan Gregory flags the availability of the newest issue of “Evolution: Education and Outreach” a few days ago. The main emphasis is on ‘tree thinking’ and there are some very good resources available there. However, of interest to me was Mazur’s article on the relationship of religiosity, political conservatism, education, and acceptance of several scientific propositions about evolution, plate tectonics, the Big Bang, and heliocentrism.

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online

This site contains Darwin’s complete publications, thousands of handwritten manuscripts and the largest Darwin bibliography and manuscript catalogue ever published; [Click to enlarge] also hundreds of supplementary works: biographies, obituaries, reviews, reference works and more.

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.

Compliments to the Panda’s Thumb


The latest issue of Science (volume 310, number 5752) says some nice things about The Panda's Thumb in their Netwatch section:

Darwin's contemporaries Thomas Huxley and Joseph Hooker championed his theory in print and in lectures. If they were alive today and had a little attitude, they might craft something like The Panda's Thumb, a Web log in which a cadre of Darwin's modern-day defenders pummels antievolution pseudoscience such as "intelligent design" (ID). The site gets its name from a Stephen Jay Gould essay about the giant panda's adaptation for stripping bamboo leaves--it's a jury-rigged feature a clever designer wouldn't engineer. Panda's Thumb regulars--who range from Ph.D.s and grad students to a businessman and a lawyer--comb the news media for follies to expose and errors to correct. The site provided blanket coverage of the recent trial on the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board's decision to require teaching of ID (Science, 18 November, p. 1105). Panda's Thumb also highlights evolution-related research, such as a study showing that the antibiotics produced by our immune systems may not be a panacea for drug-resistant bacteria.

by Ian F. Musgrave, Steve Reuland, and Reed A. Cartwright

“There’s precious little real biology in this project,” Mr. Behe said. For example, he said, the results might be more persuasive if the simulations had operated on genetic sequences rather than fictitious computer programs.

Michael J. Behe was commenting in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Kiernan 2003) on a paper reporting that digital organisms could evolve irreducibly complex systems without intervention (Lenski et al. 2003). Ironically, Behe has just coauthored a theoretical paper with David W. Snoke on the evolution of complex molecular adaptations that has “precious little real biology” in it. William Dembski has already stated that Behe and Snoke’s research “may well be the nail in the coffin [and] the crumbling of the Berlin wall of Darwinian evolution” (Dembski 2004). Despite the common claim made by “intelligent design” activists that evolution is in trouble, they have so far been unsuccessful in presenting their arguments to the scientific community. Is this the long-awaited peer-reviewed publication which will finally do it?

Review of Meyer, Stephen C. 2004. The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2):213-239.

by Alan Gishlick, Nick Matzke, and Wesley R. Elsberry

[The views and statements expressed here are our own and not necessarily those of NCSE or its supporters.]

“Intelligent design” (ID) advocate Stephen C. Meyer has produced a “review article” that folds the various lines of “intelligent design” antievolutionary argumentation into one lump. The article is published in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. We congratulate ID on finally getting an article in a peer-reviewed biology journal, a mere fifteen years after the publication of the 1989 ID textbook Of Pandas and People, a textbook aimed at inserting ID into public schools. It is gratifying to see the ID movement finally attempt to make their case to the only scientifically relevant group, professional biologists. This is therefore the beginning (not the end) of the review process for ID. Perhaps one day the scientific community will be convinced that ID is worthwhile. Only through this route – convincing the scientific community, a route already taken by plate tectonics, endosymbiosis, and other revolutionary scientific ideas – can ID earn a legitimate place in textbooks.

Unfortunately, the ID movement will likely ignore the above considerations about how scientific review actually works, and instead trumpet the paper from coast to coast as proving the scientific legitimacy of ID. Therefore, we would like to do our part in the review process by providing a preliminary evaluation of the claims made in Meyer’s paper. Given the scientific stakes, we may assume that Meyer, Program Director of the Discovery Institute‘s Center for Science and Culture, the major organization promoting ID, has put forward the best case that ID has to offer. Discouragingly, it appears that ID’s best case is not very good. We cannot review every problem with Meyer’s article in this initial post, but we would like to highlight some of the most serious mistakes. These include errors in facts and reasoning. Even more seriously, Meyer’s paper omits discussion or even citation of vast amounts of directly relevant work available in the scientific literature.

Summary of the paper

Meyer’s paper predictably follows the same pattern that has characterized “intelligent design” since its inception: deny the sufficiency of evolutionary processes to account for life’s history and diversity, then assert that an “intelligent designer” provides a better explanation. Although ID is discussed in the concluding section of the paper, there is no positive account of “intelligent design” presented, just as in all previous work on “intelligent design”. Just as a detective doesn’t have a case against someone without motive, means, and opportunity, ID doesn’t stand a scientific chance without some kind of model of what happened, how, and why. Only a reasonably detailed model could provide explanatory hypotheses that can be empirically tested. “An unknown intelligent designer did something, somewhere, somehow, for no apparent reason” is not a model.

Meyer’s paper, therefore, is almost entirely based on negative argument. He focuses upon the Cambrian explosion as an event he thinks that evolutionary biology is unable to account for. Meyer asserts that the Cambrian explosion represented an actual sudden origin of higher taxa; that these taxa (such as phyla) are “real” and not an artifact of human retrospective classification; and that morphological disparity coincides with phyletic categories. Meyer then argues that the origin of these phyla would require dramatic increases in biological “information,” namely new proteins and new genes (and some vaguer forms of “information” at higher levels of biological organization). He argues that genes/proteins are highly “complex” and “specified,” and that therefore the evolutionary origin of new genes is so improbable as to be effectively impossible. Meyer briefly considers and rejects several theories proposed within evolutionary biology that deal with macroevolutionary phenomena. Having rejected these, Meyer argues that ID is a better alternative explanation for the emergence of new taxa in the Cambrian explosion, based solely upon an analogy between “designs” in biology and the designs of human designers observed in everyday experience.

The mistakes and omissions in Meyer’s work are many and varied, and often layered on top of each other. Not every aspect of Meyer’s work can be addressed in this initial review, so we have chosen several of Meyer’s major claims to assess. Among these, we will take up the Cambrian explosion and its relation to paleontology and systematics. We will examine Meyer’s negative arguments concerning evolutionary theories and the origin of biological “information” in the form of genes.

An expanded critique of this paper is in preparation.

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